In it, but not of it. TPM DC

In an interview with the Washington Post, Michael Steele offered his own unique description of the job of party chairman, in response to those who have criticized him for gaffes: "I'm in the business of ticking people off," Steele explained. "That's why I'm chairman."

Steele also made the case that he -- and not Congressional figures, or perhaps Rush Limbaugh -- is the leader of the Republican Party. "Everyone has a role to play, but at the end of the day, all roads are going to lead to this desk," he said. "From the Hill, from the grass roots, the donors, it all comes here. They're all going to look to me to speak on issues."

Steele also explained that he is trying to break the GOP's mindset of outreach to traditionally non-Republican communities, as opposed to active involvement.

"'Outreach.' I have banned that word from the building," he said. "The Republican Party no longer does outreach. Outreach is a cocktail party where you put your arm around a black friend and say, 'Look who I know,' and that's about it. What I want the party to do and focus on is coalitions, know the major religious players, business players of both parties in your state."

Boehner Op-Ed: Rush Limbaugh Controversy Is A Dem Distraction In a new op-ed piece for the Washington Post, John Boehner denounces the Rush Limbaugh flare-up as a diversionary tactic by the Democrats: "And in a carefully calculated campaign, operatives and allies of the Obama administration are seeking to divert attention toward radio host Rush Limbaugh, and away from a debate about our alternative solutions on the economy and the irresponsible spending binge they are presiding over."

Obama's Day Ahead: Discussing Health Reform President Obama will be speaking at 1 p.m. ET at the White House Forum on Health Reform, at which he will be hosting representatives from labor, business, health providers, insurers and activist groups, plus members of Congress and members of the administration. At 2:30 p.m. ET he will be meeting with Tim Geithner, then at 4 p.m. he will be holding further discussions with the health forum members.

Biden In Miami, Speaking To Labor And Promoting Stimulus Vice President Biden will be speaking at 11 a.m. to the AFL-CIO Executive Council, in Miami Beach. At 1:45 p.m. ET, he will be joining Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz at the construction site of the Miami Intermodal Center, a transportation hub, to promote the stimulus program.

Napolitano, Donovan And Fugate Touring Gulf Coast The White House has announced that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan will be touring the Gulf Coast today to assess rebuilding efforts. The two of them will be joined by FEMA Director-designate Craig Fugate for a 1 p.m. ET press conference in New Orleans.

Carville: I'm Not Promoting Rush As Head Of GOP -- Rush Is In an interview on CNN yesterday, James Carville denied reports that he was behind any Democratic plan to promote Rush Limbaugh as head of the Republican Party. "I think that honestly I don't want to take credit away from the great Rush Limbaugh who did it on January 16 when he said he wanted the president's policies to fail, and that's what started the whole thing," Carville said. "So don't give Paul and I, or Rahm credit. Credit is due to the great Rush Limbaugh. So my hat's off to you, Rush."

Bill Clinton Wades Into Florida Senate Primary, Supporting Meek Bill Clinton will be holding a fundraiser tomorrow in Florida for Congressman Kendrick Meek's Senate campaign. Meek was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primary season, and by the St. Petersburg Times' count is only the third primary candidate that Bill has supported in a down-ticket race -- the other two were Rahm Emanuel for the House in 2002, and Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia this year.

AIG Retains Mark Penn's Firm For PR It turns out that AIG, the insurance giant that is now depending on continuous government rescue, has hired Burson-Marsteller to handle its public relations. An AIG spokesman told PRWeek a while ago that the firm was being retained because of the company's expertise, and not due to its high-profile CEO: Mark Penn, the former chief strategist for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

The Franken legal team made an interesting move this afternoon, in an obvious attempt to cut off Norm Coleman's suggestion that the election can be thrown out because of various instances of clerical errors by officials -- they have quite openly established in court that mistakes are made, and that a perfect election is impossible.

Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton has been examining Joe Mansky, the elections director for Ramsey County (St. Paul), about all the procedures used to recruit and train election workers, and the mechanics of absentee voting itself.

Hamilton then bluntly asked if there is any way to completely eliminate mistakes from this human process. "It's impossible," Mansky said, explaining that his responsibility as an election manager is to understand that mistakes are made, to plan for how they happen, and to minimize them.

"There's really no way to run a perfect election, with no mistakes?" Hamilton said.

Manksy responded: "I'm afraid that's right."

So why ask Mansky about this? It might not be a coincidence that Team Coleman started planting the seeds for this latest rationale when they were first questioning Mansky all the way back during the second week of the trial, when one of the Coleman lawyers asked him if there's a point at which the margin of error in an election can be higher than the difference in a close election, such that we can't tell who really won.

At the time, it was Hamilton who objected to Mansky answering. But now Hamilton has revisited the errors issue with Mansky, using it to illustrate that Coleman is asking the court to hold the election to an impossible standard.

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We told you yesterday about Sen. Robert Menendez's (D-NJ) frustration over provisions in the $410 billion 2009 spending bill that would loosen the trade embargo against Cuba. But while we're talking about Menendez's vote on that bill, we shouldn't forget that he is also holding up the confirmation of John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco, two nominees to become senior science advisers in the Obama administration.

And he's not alone. It seems that multiple anonymous senators are now holding up Holdren and Lubchenco's nominations, as Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) told CQ:

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As you've probably heard, Rush Limbaugh today launched a challenge to President Obama, daring Obama to come on his show and debate him on economic policy. What should we make of this?

Rush's challenge is sure interesting, such as the part where he attacks Rahm Emanuel for his "effeminate nature and his ballerina past," but this section really stands out:

I want to thank you guys for elevating me beyond the stature I already earned and achieved, because now more and more Americans have the opportunity to learn who you really are, what your ideas will really accomplish, and what damage and harm I think your policies will bring for a very, very long time to them and to this country. So I want to thank you for the opportunity. Obviously, it's a threat targeting me. I've extended the invitation. I'm looking forward to hearing back from whoever in your cabal one way or the other on accepting my offer.


Here's the real takeaway: Rush is really enjoying this. It's hard to tell who is taking more pleasure from Rush being crowned as the leader of the Republican Party -- the Democrats who are launching the attacks, or Rush himself.

Michael Steele just can't stop.

We're previously reported that Steele has gone back and forth on the question of whether the Republican Party would support primary challenges or decline to help out pro-stimulus Republicans. Now, in an appearance on right-wing talk radio, he's reiterated that this is a possibility.

Steele was pressed today by Laura Ingraham, who very much wants the party to cut off any wobblers, about whether the party would refuse to raise money or give money to GOPers who back the stimulus and earmark spending:



Said Ingraham: "Will you make good on that pledge that the RNC will not raise money and give money to Republicans who continue to put a stick in the eye of fiscal conservatism?"

"As I said, that is something that is absolutely on the table for me," Steele replied. "I'm not backing down from that. I'm not backing down from that."

Steele did add that this is ultimately up the state parties, citing his own past experience as a state GOP chairman. So if those state chairs want to revolt against an incumbent -- say, Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania -- it looks like they'll have a friend in Chairman Steele.

Here's a question: If earmarks alone are a cause for withdrawing support, is Mitch McConnell next?

(Via Think Progress.)

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), whose career became mired in the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal back in 2007, and is now headed into his 2010 re-election campaign, is championing the cause of family values in the omnibus bill, and the need to stop government spending on family planning. Really.

Vitter is offering an amendment to the omnibus, forbidding the distribution of any public money to Planned Parenthood. Indeed, the Washington Post points out that Vitter has offered dozens of amendments on social-conservatives issues.

It has to be noted, of course, that Vitter is facing potential primary challenges from a leading Christian-right activist, a former Congressman, and a porn star. (That's three different people, by the way, not one person matching all three descriptions.) As such, he has every reason to send social conservatives a strong message that he's getting things done for them.

Late Update: It turns out that former Rep. John Cooksey said yesterday that he won't challenge Vitter. So we're down to just the Christian Right activist and the porn star -- that is, two people.

No, of course not. But the conservative jurist did side with the Ginsburg, Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, and Breyer in the case of Wyeth v. Levine. The court ruled that FDA approval doesn't insulate drug companies from law suits. Thomas wrote a separate opinion taking shots at the court's use of pre-emption, letting federal law supercede state law. Still, it was an interesting ruling and surprising to see Thomas break from Alito, Scalia and Roberts.

We told you this morning about a group of centrist Democratic senators who have begun closed-door meetings to discuss how to pool their influence during the coming debate over President Obama's budget -- and perhaps slow the roll of its more ground-breaking spending programs.

When I asked a key member of that centrist group, Sen. Mary Landrieu (LA), which particular elements of the budget are sparking her concerns, she told me that senators "did not get into specifics" at their first meeting.

"We are hearing legitimate concerns that there is not enough focus right now on the intermediate and long-term fiscal concerns for the country," Landrieu said. Although "the mess the Bush administration has left is going to take years" to clean up, she added, 5-7 years is a reasonable period of time to "be able to start seeing the end of the red ink."

As Obama observed earlier today, however, he inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit from his predecessor, making total erasure of the deficit an incredibly heavy lift. The administration has vowed to cut the deficit in half by the end of Obama's first term, but that outcome relies on a series of revenue-raising moves that may not pass muster with Congress.

What does this mean for Landrieu's group of centrists?

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The story of centrist Democratic opposition to President Obama's budget, which began to trickle into view this morning, will unfold gradually over this month and next. Democrats won't be fully challenged to embrace Obama's vision for a remodeling of tax and health care policy until April, when the full details of the White House budget emerge.

Congress will then craft its own budget blueprint, taking some cues from Obama but potentially abandoning some of the White House's proposals. The 28% taxation limit on itemized deductions is already taking bipartisan fire and looks like a good bet to be jettisoned, despite uncertain evidence that it would have a negative effect on charitable giving.

So we know already that more than a dozen centrist Dems are meeting to weigh their concerns about the White House budget, while Republicans lick their chops in glee at the brewing rebellion.

But what about the three GOPers whose votes helped put the stimulus bill over the top? In their responses to the budget last week, Sens. Arlen Specter (PA), Olympia Snowe (ME), and Susan Collins (ME) offered one palpable clue about their opinion ...

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