In it, but not of it. TPM DC

With reports coming in that President Obama will appoint Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) as the new Secretary of the Army, the political world will now be gearing up for what could be yet another high-stakes special Congressional election in upstate New York, so soon after we already had a photo-finish for the former House seat of appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). And so far, both parties seem to be downplaying expectations.

The district itself has all the makings of a swing seat. President Obama carried it 52%-47% in 2008, just slightly behind the curve of his overall 53%-46% national victory over John McCain. Before that, it voted 51%-47% for George W. Bush in 2004. Compare this to the NY-20 special election, which was won by Democrat Scott Murphy by a razor-thin margin, where Obama had carried it 51%-48% in 2008, and Bush had taken it 53%-45% in 2004. So on paper, this could be a potential Dem pickup in the special election.

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Last night, with the typical eloquence of a 75 year old man using Twitter, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee wrote, "The prez is meetin w Finance and Help Demo bc doesn't appear they on same page Finance working biparty HELP more partisan. Where Prez land?"

Translated roughly from the Twitterese, that means that President Obama met with Democrats from both the Finance Committee and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee because they disagree about the direction health reform should take. Unsurprisingly, all signs indicate that the more liberal HELP Committee--chaired by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA)--will soon introduce a fairly dramatic reform proposal, with a truly robust public insurance option. Soon thereafter, though, the Finance Committee will unveil a rather less progressive proposal of its own with the issue of the public option--how robust it will be, or whether it will be included at all--still unsettled.

Grassley's spinning this as a rift between partisans and centrists within the Democratic party, and in a way that rift really exists. But the political play here is somewhat more complicated.

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Yesterday we reported that prominent Sonia Sotomayor critics including Tom Tancredo ("Latina KKK") and Pat Buchanan ("That woman... is for race-based justice") were employing, with full knowledge of the events, a young man named Marcus Epstein, who plead guilty to karate chopping a black female pedestrian and calling her a "nigger."

Dave Weigel of The Washington Independent asked a number of conservative Sotomayor critics what this apparent hypocrisy says about the larger campaign to block her confirmation, and one response, in particular was telling.

Curt Levey, the executive director of the Committee of Justice, has been optimistic about the right's fight against Sotomayor, but he admitted to TWI that he "underestimated the degree to which a few conservatives would say a few extreme things, and that would be characterized as what all conservatives think."

As we've noted before, the campaign against Sotomayor has exposed and widened a rift between a sensible faction within the conservative movement and die-hard activists. By basing the attacks on charges of racism, while simultaneously lobbing ethnically loaded insults at her, people like Levey have, inadvertently or not, poured gasoline on the embers of this conflict.

Obama: Cheney "Happens To Be Wrong" On National Security In an interview with National Public Radio, President Obama responded to Dick Cheney, saying that while Cheney has every right to speak up on national security, "He also happens to be wrong, right?" Obama added: "Last time, immediately after his last speech, I think there was a fact check on his speech that didn't get a very good grade."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will be meeting with Senate Democrats at 2:30 p.m. ET in the State Dining Room, to discuss health care reform. At 3:45 p.m. ET, he will sign the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act. At 4:15 p.m. ET, he will meet in the Oval Office with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. At 6:45 p.m. ET, he will depart from the White House, heading for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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The Sotomayor confirmation process moves forward, however slowly, tomorrow when she meets with Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The two will host a photo op in Leahy's Senate office building at 11:30 and Leahy will brief the press after the meeting at noon.

Last week, the committee sent Sotomayor a broad questionnaire in anticipation of her coming confirmation hearing.

Check out this appearance today on MSNBC by former McCain campaign spokesperson Nancy Pfotenhauer, saying how her candidate of course disagreed with Dick Cheney on "harsh interrogation" -- but she doesn't believe Cheney would say things he knew to be inaccurate:

"I don't believe, however, that the former Vice President would be making statements that he knew to be inaccurate," said Pfotenhauer -- spurring open laughter and ridicule from Bill Press and David Shuster.

People for the American Way have posted some incredible footage of anti-choice activist Randall Terry who, at the National Press Club earlier today, doubled down on his suggestion that Tiller got what was coming to him.

"The point that must be emphasized over, and over, and over again: pro-life leaders and the pro-life movement are not responsible for George Tiller's death. George Tiller was a mass-murderer and, horrifically, he reaped what he sowed."

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Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), a champion of the Christian Right who had been the subject of some speculation that he might not run for a second term in 2010, has now announced that he is in fact running.

Coburn added that if re-elected, he will stick by the pledge from his 2004 campaign to not serve more than two terms. And for the record, he previously honored a term-limits pledge back in 2000, when he retired from his House seat after six years.

Coburn had been publicly undecided about whether to make the race, and wasn't actively raising money. But in all truth, he didn't need to raise money -- he's a popular conservative from a deep-Republican state, and insofar as he'll need some money he will be able to get it easily. This might have been a competitive race as an open seat, but as it is now Coburn is in all likelihood a safe bet for re-election.

One thing that struck us about The Karate Chop Heard 'Round The Blogosphere was the news that the chopper--Marcus Epstein--is saying goodbye to Tom Tancredo and Pat Buchanan this summer to go to law school at the University of Virginia. Dave Weigel reported this, and Bay Buchanan told me the same thing.

But Jason Wu Trujillo, UVA's Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, now says Epstein will not enroll this fall, or ever.

Trujillo couldn't discuss the specifics of that decision, but it raises a question: The incident itself occurred on July 7, 2007, before Epstein applied, but the school requires applicants to disclose all criminal convictions.

Have you ever been convicted of any offense, excluding minor traffic violations which did not involve injury to others?

Are there any charges pending or expected to be brought against you?

....If, after you submit this application, you are charged with a criminal offense or disciplinary charges are brought against you, notify the Office of Admissions in writing immediately.

Now, suddenly, Epstein isn't going to UVA anymore. Trujillo couldn't comment further on the situation, saying that his office can only comment on students who are enrolled or intending to enroll at the school, and that Epstein fits neither description. Notably, though, he didn't suggest that this was somehow the first he'd ever heard of Epstein. So, did Epstein omit the information from his application?

It's been a crazy last few days in the 2010 Florida Senate race, where both parties are jockeying to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Mel Martinez in this perennial swing state.

Over the weekend, Democratic state Sen. Dan Gelber announced that he is "stepping back" from the race -- that is, he's dropping out -- in order to avoid a nasty primary (current press speculation is he could end up running for a different state office). The frontrunner for the Dem nomination is Rep. Kendrick Meek, who has already raised $1.5 million.

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