In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Two funny moments today from the Minnesota trial:

Coleman lawyer Tony Trimble was asking Kevin Boyle, the election/records manager in Republican-leaning Dakota County, about the requirement that an absentee voter put his residential address on the ballot envelope, as opposed to a P.O. box where he might actually receive his mail. Quite a few ballots have been thrown out because of this.

So Trimble asked what the county would do if a voter gave his P.O. box for the purposes of paying his property taxes, clearly expecting a simple, common-sense answer that the county would accept the money:

Trimble: Is there any reason you would reject it?

Boyle: I think you're talking about property taxation--

Trimble: That's correct.

Boyle: --and I'm a bit unfamiliar with what their practices are.


Trimble then confirmed that property taxation is the office where Boyle works.

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We wondered last week what would become of the growing House GOP frustration over the White House's plans to direct oversight of the 2010 Census, rather than leave the process to Commerce Secretary nominee -- and Census skeptic -- Judd Gregg.

House Republicans, no matter how ready they are to cry foul over the politicization of the Census, need at least one Senate GOPer to raise the issue during Gregg's coming confirmation hearing. And it looks like they've found that senator.

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One thing worth thinking about in the Senate's compromise bill is that one Senator is really putting his neck out here: Arlen Specter, who may be leaving himself wide open to a challenge in the Republican primary.

Unlike his fellow pro-stimulus Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Specter is up for re-election in 2010. And there exists an active element in the party that is always eager to push him out the door, even if it meant endangering the GOP's hold on the seat -- in fact, Specter just barely survived a conservative primary challenge 51%-49% in 2004, when the Club For Growth threw its weight behind then-Congressman Pat Toomey.

I spoke today with Nachama Soloveichik, the Club's communications director, and she confirmed that they're hearing a lot of anger over the compromise. "Grassroots Republicans are infuriated. They're fed up. They've had it," Soloveichik said, even going so far as to add that for many, "this is the ultimate act of treason."

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Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) may be a freshman member of the Banking Committee, but his fellow GOPers trust his instincts when it comes to financial issues, particularly after the auto bailout debate. And Corker's not always the dyed-in-the-wool conservative that he resembles 23 out of 24 hours each day.

Which is why I sought out his response to this morning's financial rescue speech by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Corker took pains to explain that he hopes to work productively with Geithner, whom he voted to confirm despite a lingering tax flap, before using the same word that Robert Reich did: vague.

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy's (D-VT) call yesterday for an independent "truth and reconciliation commission" to investigate the abuses committed under the Bush administration is meeting with strong support from at least two of his panel's Democratic members.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) just released a statement hailing Leahy's "leadership" on the issue and stressing the need for accountability: "We cannot simply sweep these assaults on the rule of law under the rug." Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) was the first to weigh in with support for the idea yesterday.

But one key question remains unanswered: Will senators follow the lead of their House colleagues and actually offer a bill to set up an independent investigative panel to shed sunlight on the misdeeds of the Bush years, from interrogations to warrantless wiretapping?

As Whitehouse told me today, the answer may be no -- but here's why.

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The Senate has now passed the stimulus plan on a 61-37 vote, with all the Democrats and three Republicans -- Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- joining together to pass a package weighing in at $838 billion.

This is not the end of the line, though. Next up, the bill goes to the House-Senate conference committee, where liberals will likely try to restore some of the larger spending increases that were trimmed back in the compromise Senate version, such as education, and to address the Senate package's relatively greater reliance on tax cuts over spending.

Then after that's over, the final version will come up for a whole new round of debate and voting in both chambers. That said, it seems like a safe bet that the stimulus will pass in some form, and that it will happen pretty soon.

The Minnesota election court has now taken some kind of meaningful action, handing down a ruling on a summary judgment motion that will now allow the counting of some -- but not all -- of a group of Franken-voters who filed a motion to have their rejected ballots counted. The ruling gives us some hints as to where things will go from here -- and it's not good news for Norm Coleman.

Out of over 60 voters who filed this motion, the court is ordering just 24 ballots to be counted at this time. The opinion lays out a pretty stringent standard for letting previously-rejected ballots in: It has to be demonstrated that the voter either fully complied with the relevant laws and procedures, and thus the rejection was wholly a clerical error, or that any actual non-compliance was credibly the fault of the election official.

An example of this second category would be if a voter pro-actively asked whether they were registered to vote, were told yes and provided an absentee ballot for a registered voter, but it turned out they really needed to re-register. This is a tough standard to meet, and will mean that the number of people who qualify for it will be a fairly limited number.

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If you've ever been to Sanibel Island for vacation or anywhere in the touristed parts of Lee County, Florida it's hard to think of the area as being in a recession. But as Barack Obama pointed out on his visit to Ft. Myers, Florida today, this once prosperous area is hurting.

"I know Fort Myers had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation last year," the President said, standing next to Charlie Crist, the state's Republican governor and a possible 2012 presidential candidate. He cited, Chico's, the women's clothing company whose headquarters is in Ft. Myers, as one of the local businesses that is reeling.

Once again, I think he did well stylistically and substantively--laying out the challenges facing the country, making the case that inaction or tax cuts alone, is not enough given the failed policies of the past and the gravity of what faces the country. In terms of raw salesmanship, he's doing fine. Wonk for wonk, he was Clintonesque in his handling of policy questions from the audience.

Obama may be doing well but the problem is what's going on in the lower right hand corner of your TV screen where the Dow is plummeting in reaction to the Geithner bailout plan. Following the markets' gyrations can be utterly misleading. But the market is going to dictate what happens with this latest bailout just as the plummeting Dow changed the politics in Washington last fall. Republicans and Democrats who stood against George W. Bush's bailout reversed course when the Dow plummeted and the thing to watch in the coming days is whewther a plummeting Dow will force Congressional Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the stimulus--probably not--and whether it will force the Obama administration to recalibrate its bailout plan or even to come back to Congress for a second stimulus in a few months. In other words, this is all very much a work in progress.

Especially with the Dow now down almost 350 points at 1:23.

The House Blue Dog Coalition continues to wield outsize political power, thanks to a canny willingness to leverage its votes on key issues, while the Congressional Progressive Caucus must fight to be heard.

Case in point: the Blue Dogs are meeting directly with President Obama this afternoon on the stimulus bill. The Progressives have yet to hear back about their request for a meeting, which was issued almost a month ago.

But that doesn't mean the Progressives are staying silent as the Senate proposes stimulus cuts to education and health insurance for the unemployment. Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chairs of the group, have fired off a letter to the House Speaker protesting the Senate's cuts. Here's an excerpt:

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