In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The Minnesota election court handed down two rulings tonight, one of which should be regarded as an unambiguous defeat for Norm Coleman -- and the other should probably leave Al Franken cautiously optimistic.

First, the court completely denied Coleman's motion to launch a class-action suit on behalf of all 11,000-plus voters whose absentee ballots have still not been counted. The court found that the state's election laws make clear that individuals may apply to have their ballots counted, but that groups cannot be created and represented for this purpose.

The court also handed down a summary judgment on Franken's efforts to get some of his own votes counted, and they've given him a go-ahead on 12 individuals to be accepted and counted at a later time. And to give you an idea of how strict a standard they're using here, there are 38 others on Franken's list they're refusing to count at this time.

That kind of stringency isn't very good news for Coleman, as he's trying to get a lot of his own votes in that the court hasn't ruled on yet. And considering he's the one who's actually behind right now, this question has a lot more urgency for him.

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Here's some provisionally good news from Minnesota. Coleman spokesman/attorney Ben Ginsberg told reporters at a press conference that they expect to be done presenting their case by the end of this week.

Ginsberg did add, however, that this announcement came "with all the caveats about -- heck, I don't know what'll end up happening."

They don't expect to be calling any more rejected voters, though -- probably a good move, considering the judges singled out one of their witnesses as an example of an illegal voter.

After Coleman rests, the ball will be in Franken's court. And after Franken rests, we'll get a decision. And then...the appeals!

(Ginsberg press conference via The Uptake.)

The Minnesota election trial centered on a major claim of the Coleman campaign, claiming that absentee ballots were accidentally double-counted and gave an illegitimate leg-up to Al Franken.

The problem for them, though, is that this possibility came about under procedures to which they had agreed.

This all goes back to a procedure in Minnesota to make duplicates of absentee ballots that were too damaged to run through the machines on Election Night. After discussions with the two campaigns, state Elections Director Gary Poser created a rule for how to sort them in the recount. Unfortunately, scattered cases of negligence in creating or labeling the duplicates and originals introduced a bunch of problems.

Lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg questioned Poser about all of this, and even brought up an e-mail where Poser admitted to an unhappy county election official: "I don't disagree, I lost that battle."

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The scene was incredible really, a press conference with members of Congress and think tankers instead of reporters asking questions. I've really never seen anything like it and whether it and events like it can really change the tone in Washington, of course, remains to be seen. One indication it won't? This statement from Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees Medicare--the subject of much discussion at the Fiscal Responsibility Summit.

"Fixing America's long-term fiscal problems is a major issue, so I very much appreciate attention being paid to finding solutions. I hope today's summit marks the beginning of the kind of dialog, education and cooperation it will take to achieve a sustainable budget policy.

"I'll be working in the Senate as the Ranking Member of the Finance Committee and a senior member of the Budget Committee for fiscal responsibility and an honest accounting of how Congress and the administration tax and spend. The current administration inherited a $1 trillion deficit, and in just the first few weeks it added another $1 trillion to the debt with its economic stimulus bill. The bill included new and expanded entitlement programs, and if they're made permanent, they'll add at least another $2 trillion to the deficit.

"Looking ahead, we're hearing from some people that we can't reform government entitlement programs until we reform the entire health care system. The problems with our health care system need fixing, but for a lot of people, health care reform is code for spending more, not less. American taxpayers are being asked to swallow a lot right now, and it brings to mind the old joke about Wimpy's hamburgers. Wimpy said, 'I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.' There's too much of that kind of attitude in Congress and the White House today."

Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) has issued a statement apologizing for his public pronouncement at a local GOP dinner in Kentucky, that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be dead in nine months:

"I apologize if my comments offended Justice Ginsburg," said Bunning. "That certainly was not my intent. It is great to see her back at the Supreme Court today and I hope she recovers quickly. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family."


The Louisville Courier-Journal reported over the weekend that Bunning had told the Hardin County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner that he supports the appointment of conservative judges -- an issue that will be even more important because of Ginsburg's cancer. "Even though she was operated on, usually, nine months is the longest that anybody would live after (being diagnosed) with pancreatic cancer," Bunning said.

Late Update: Here's the audio from Saturday night, courtesy of the Courier-Journal:

The White House fiscal responsibility summit and the recently passed economic stimulus law continue to take up much of the capital's attention today -- but don't forget the $410 billion spending bill that the House is slated to approve by Thursday. The government is technically only funded until the first week of March, meaning that time is short to wind up the 2009 appropriations cycle.

Want to know what's in the massive spending measure? You can download each section of the bill right here.

But a more important question might be what's not in the 2009 spending bill. The Medicaid family-planning aid that was removed from the stimulus amid Republican attacks, for one, is nowhere to be found in the Health and Human Services title of the 2009 spending measure.

One wonders if that absence will draw fire from women's health advocates, some of whom believed the family-planning provision could make a quick comeback after it got dumped earlier this month. When GOP governors such as Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty are using Medicaid family-planning money as an excuse to cut their budgets, how can congressional conservatives get away with slamming the program as taxpayer-funded abortions?

Five years after that whole mess over forged documents about then-President Bush's service in the National Guard, CBS News sure seems to be trying awfully hard to convince the GOP that they aren't a Dem outlet.

Here's a very interesting piece of information about Jeff Ballabon, the Republican lobbyist and political strategist who was just hired by CBS News to be the new CBS News senior vice president for communications. During the 2008 election, Ballabon wasn't shy about courting Jewish voters and telling them just how dangerous Barack Obama is when it comes to Israel.

Here's what he told the Orthodox paper Hamodia:

Obama is incredibly dangerous. Not because he is evil, but because he is naive. Agreeing to meet -- without any pre-conditions -- with the terror-supporting president of Iran shows his naivete. And even his Jewish advisors want to pressure Israel to divide Yerushalayim and to make sacrifices of defensive positions against the will of the military and security experts in Israel. They want desperately to appease the UN, the Europeans, the Arabs.


On the bright side, Ballabon is denying an allegation that he called Democrats evil. Greg Sargent reports:

"I never said Democrats are evil," he told me by phone just now. "My mother is a Democrat."

Asked whether he would have any impact at all on editorial content at CBS, Ballabon said: "No."

But Ballabon wouldn't comment further, and he declined to say whether he still thinks Obama is "incredibly dangerous."

When an early copy of the agenda for today's White House fiscal summit leaked out on Friday, I half-jokingly questioned the wisdom of choosing Bill Lynn -- a former senior lobbyist for defense giant Raytheon who had to get a waiver from administration ethics rules to join the Pentagon -- to help lead a session on responsibility in contracting and procurement.

Now the final list of speakers at today's summit has been released, and guess who mysteriously disappeared from the list? Instead of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Transportation Secretary (and earmark fan) Ray LaHood, and Lynn, the Procurement session will now be led by Napolitano, Rahm Emanuel, and Jacob Lew.

Lew, incidentally, comes to the administration from Citigroup, where he headed an alternative investments unit that "ran up hundreds of millions of dollars in losses last year on [an] esoteric collection of investments ... even as they collected seven-figure salaries and bonuses," as the New York Times reported earlier this month.

I hate to ask the same question twice, but on a day when Citigroup is generating headlines like this one, is Lew the best choice to replace Lynn on this "fiscal responsibility" panel?

There are plenty of reasons liberals should like today's entitlement summit. My colleague, Elana Schor, notes them here and TAP's Ezra Klein here. Bob Greenstein, head of the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, made the liberal case for alarm in his remarks. He notes that the problem is primarily a health care problem If health care costs could just be brought in line with economic growth we'd be largely okay. "We will need to act before mounting debt and interest payments make this problem worse than it already is. The mere fact that Greenstein has such a prominent role addressing the conference ought to be of comfort to liberals. If that wasn't enough, OMB Director Peter Orszag made it clear that "health care reform is entitlement reform."

The New York Times reports this morning that the White House had abandoned plans to unveil a Social Security "task force" at today's fiscal summit, raising the question of whether the Obama administration is ready to conduct separate debate over the long-term health of Social Security and Medicare -- or whether the tired canard of "dangerous entitlement spending" will continue to rule the political roost.

One liberal activist who weighed in against the proposed task force told me that some within the administration are ready to attempt "one more fix" for Social Security, thinking of the 70-year-old benefits program "as an equation to be solved" and the Obama team as the mathematicians on the case.

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