In it, but not of it. TPM DC

We've spent a lot of time reporting on the emerging defense budget debate, and the rhetoric around it for some time, but eventually that will all give way to Congressional wheeling and dealing, and leaders will emerge on all sides of the issue.

The House member who's most dedicated himself to advancing Defense Secretary Robert Gates' cause is Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA).

Sestak is a retired Rear Admiral, the highest ranking military officer ever to serve in Congress, and a member of the Armed Services Committee. I spoke with him yesterday in detail about how the fight is shaping up, and why he takes the position he does.

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Last night, I interviewed Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), who's positioning himself to be a leader on military issues in the House of Representatives. Sestak is a retired Navy rear admiral, and the highest ranking officer ever to serve in Congress. We spoke broadly about military issues--particularly about the Obama administration's proposed Pentagon overhaul--but we also touched on the coming Don't Ask, Don't Tell fight.

I asked Sestak for his position on the issue, and his take on how the administration--which seems very much to have put a repeal on the back burner--has handled it. Here's what he said:

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The latest absentee ballot count in the NY-20 special election is looking very good for Democratic candidate Scott Murphy, with his lead now at 168 votes as new results have come in from the pro-Murphy counties of Columbia, Dutchess and Warren, compared to a 47-vote lead at the close of business yesterday.

We're seeing a continuation of the trend of Murphy doing even better in the percentage of the absentee vote in a given county, compared to the Election Night vote. Some examples of what I mean: Murphy won Dutchess County with 51.5% on Election Night, but in the portion of absentees counted so far he has 54.0%. And although Murphy got only 44.4% of the Election Night vote in Greene County, he's at 48.3% in their absentees, ahead of the baseline.

Only one county, Otsego, has proven to be an exception to this rule. But it only cast about two percent of the total absentees, and is more than outweighed by the trend in other counties.

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The new poll of North Carolina from Public Policy Polling (D) confirms that GOP Sen. Richard Burr is in serious trouble going into his 2010 re-election race. The odd thing is that Burr's approval and horse-race numbers are more characteristic of an unknown candidate in an open-seat race, than they are of an incumbent.

Burr has an approval rating of only 35% and a disapproval of 31% -- with a very high undecided rate of 33%. Democratic state Attorney General Roy Cooper leads Burr by 41%-37%, with a 41% favorable and 20% unfavorable. Rep. Mike McIntyre, a relatively conservative Democrat, has even lower name recognition at 23% favorable and 21% unfavorable -- and Burr is only ahead by 39%-34%.

From the pollster's analysis: "If Roy Cooper enters the race for US Senate this race automatically becomes a tossup, if not even slightly Democratic leaning. It's quite unusual for an incumbent who doesn't have major ethical problems to trail an unannounced challenger."

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which endorsed Norm Coleman for re-election in 2008, has a new editorial that goes right down the middle on Coleman's intention to appeal his loss in the election trial. On the one hand, they say he raises serious issues that deserve a fair hearing at the state Supreme Court -- but on the other hand, it better be done quickly:

The gravity of his charge, and the need for this election contest to end with a result that Minnesotans widely accept as credible, make a Minnesota Supreme Court review of the district court panel's decision worthwhile.

We add this caveat: That review should be conducted with as much expedition as appellate jurists can muster. Coleman has a right to appeal, and the absentee voters whose ballots he seeks to add to the count have a right to serious consideration under the law.

But those rights stand in increasingly evident tension with Minnesota's constitutional right to dual representation in the U.S. Senate.

It does look like everyone's patience is running thin, insofar as it's still there at all.

Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) has made it official: He is running in the 2010 Senate primary against moderate GOP incumbent Arlen Specter, who he very nearly defeated in the last primary in 2004 -- a development that may well increase the chances of the Democrats picking up this seat.

Said Toomey: "Pennsylvanians deserve a voice in the U.S. Senate that will honor our values and fight for limited government, individual freedom and fiscal responsibility. I will be that voice." Toomey stepped down Monday from his position as head of the Club For Growth, which fueled his campaign last time, pretty much a giveaway that he was about to announce his candidacy.

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NYT: White House Making Plans To Reveal Bank Information The New York Times reports that the Obama Administration is drawing up plans to publicly reveal key information from the stress tests for the 19 biggest banks in the country. All are expected to pass the tests, but some would do so better than others. After initial reluctance to make this move, it has been decided that doing so will better help prevent the kind of market uncertainty that would send investors fleeing.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will be delivering a speech at 11:55 a.m. ET from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, recognizing Tax Day by discussing his efforts to make a fairer tax code and provide more tax relief for working families. Obama will meet for lunch with Vice President Biden at 12:30 p.m. ET, and at 4 p.m. ET he will meet with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

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The Democratic National Committee announced tonight that they're airing a radio ad in the Twin Cities media market, calling on Norm Coleman to concede defeat after the three-judge court ruled that Al Franken won the election -- the first major step in real political mobilization by either side after last night's verdict.

The announcer starts off by reading the legal language from the court's opinion, that Franken won the highest number of votes and is entitled to the certificate of election, and then emphasizing that Franken is the winner. "Yet Coleman, and national Republicans who want to thwart the will of the voters, have vowed to file more appeals and hopeless legal challenges that will only result in more delay," she then says.

The ad concludes by asking listeners to call Norm Coleman and tell him that it's time to concede defeat: "Tell Norm Coleman to stop putting his political ambition ahead of what is right for Minnesota."

The ad can be heard here.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has now published an op-ed piece lambasting the campaign of GOP candidate Jim Tedisco, for challenging her absentee ballot and keeping it out of the count for now in the special election for her old House seat:

Today the Republicans stooped to a new low by challenging my ballot. The Republican's challenge is frivolous and without merit.


Their latest move to challenge my ballot is part of a much larger attempt to disenfranchise legal Democratic voters and delay Scott Murphy's inevitable victory in the 20th.

National Republicans are trying to turn the 20th District of New York into the next Minnesota. It is wrong.

The reason Gillibrand's ballot is being challenged is that the Republicans allege she was in her home county on Election Day, and thus wasn't legally qualified to vote absentee and should have gone to the polls. Gillibrand spokesman Matt Canter told TPM that Gillibrand was in Albany that day, and was never in the district at all.

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I see via Politico that House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) has put together an online "Solutions Center," which purports to answer the four big questions Americans are asking. Patrick O'Connor and Mike Allen see this as the GOP scrambling "to show it has ideas," which suggests, perhaps, that they didn't spend too much time on the site. Because in all their scrambling, House Republicans didn't come up with much that hasn't already cost them the last two elections.

Here's an abbreviated version of the problems Americans face, and the solutions the GOP is positing.

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