In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) is starting to sound like a guy whose road to the Senate has just been hit by an avalanche. A 79-year-old, recently Republican avalanche. Earlier today on MSNBC, he reiterated his doubts about Sen. Arlen Specter's move into the Democratic party. But, at the end of his appearance, he almost explicitly threatened to run for the Senate if Specter didn't quickly prove a good steward of Democratic values.

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Gates Asks For War Funding; To Testify Before Committee Today Sec. of Defense Robert Gates is asking Congress to pass $83.4 billion in funding by Memorial Day for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Gates will testify today at a 10 a.m. ET hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee, joined by Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, where he will say: "After Memorial Day, we will need to consider options to delay running out of funds."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will meeting at 1:30 p.m. ET with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI), and Reps. Ike Skelton (D-MO) and John McHugh (R-NY). At 2:30 p.m. ET, he will speak at the "White House to Light House" Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride, a program to raise awareness about the challenges facing wounded veterans. At 3 p.m. ET, Obama will meet with Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner, and at 3:45 p.m. ET he will meet with Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, joined by Vice President Biden.

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Time's Michael Scherer just asked an excellent question. During the campaign, Obama took the position that the Bush administration had abused the state's secret privilege, but since coming into office he has used it repeatedly to argue that crucial national security cases be thrown out of court.

Scherer asked the President to reconcile that contradiction. And Obama's answer was...a bit disingenuous. "I actually think that the state secrets doctrine should be modified," he said. "I think right now it's overbroad."

So why has he been hiding behind its breadth? "We're in for a week, and suddenly we've got a court filing that's coming up...and we don't have the time to think up what an overarching form that doctrine should take."

But it's hard to square that with what the administration's actually done. DOJ lawyers haven't asked the courts for more time, or to withhold key pieces of information. Rather, they've argued that these cases--Jewel v NSA, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v Obama, and Mohammed v Jeppesen Dataplan--be tossed out entirely. And they've done that by invoking the state secrets privilege. In fact, in Jewel, the administration went so far as to claim "sovereign immunity" for the government from just about any lawsuit involving wiretapping. That position is even more radical than Bush's was.

It's hard to imagine Obama walking that claim back. But as far as state secrets go, now he's on the record. The administration, he said, is "searching for ways to redact to carve out certain cases to see what can be done... there should be some additional tools so that it's not such a blunt instrument." That's news--the White House hasn't always been so straightforward. But there are incipient efforts in Congress to do just what Obama said, and if I had been offered a followup question, I might have asked whether this means he'll throw his full weight behind them.

Obama just addressed the significance of Arlen Specter's move into the Democratic party, saying, "I am under no illusion that I'm going to have a rubber stamp Senate. I've got Democrats who disagree with me." And boy is he ever right about that.

Republicans see things differently, though, and to them Obama said, "I want them to realize that me reaching out to them has been genuine." He added, though, that he can't accept a definition of bipartisanship that means agreeing with "certain theories of theirs that have been tried for eight years and didn't work."

As an example he suggested that Republicans should work with him on a health care bill, even if they disagree with him philosophically over the need for a public insurance option. That's an interesting case in point. A number of liberal groups have become concerned that the administration isn't as committed to a public plan as they'd like, and this suggests, at least to some extent, that he is.

ABC's Jake Tapper just asked Obama if he thought that the Bush administration "sanctioned torture" in its use of waterboarding and Obama, after a moment's hesitation, said "Waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it's torture."

In his opening statement he also said that his administration put an end to torture, and there's no reason to say that unless you think torture was happening. But it's probably the most direct admission to date and, given recent events, it comes at noteworthy time.

After making that acknowledgment, Obama reiterated many of the points he made when he addressed the CIA after greenlighting the release of the Bush-era torture memoranda--that torture makes the country less safe, is untrue to American values, and less effective than humane interrogation techniques.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is taking some revenge on Arlen Specter, with a new robocall campaign targeted at Democratic primary voters in Pennsylvania -- reminding them of former President George W. Bush's support for Specter, in an effort to drive a wedge between Specter and the voters of his new party:

"I'm here to say it as plainly as I can, Arlen Specter is the right man for the United States Senate," Bush says, in the audio from a campaign ad from Specter's closely-fought 2004 primary against conservative challenger Pat Toomey. "I can count on this man -- see that's important. He's a firm ally when it matters most. I'm proud to tell you I think he's earned another term as the United States Senator."

That last line from Bush does have a certain dramatic irony, referring to a politician who switched parties five years later. A reader of ours has already told us they've received the call.

The NRSC has also set up a new Web page, Meet Democrat Arlen Specter, featuring some old Specter campaign ads from that 2004 primary, with the endorsements of George W. Bush and Rick Santorum, plus some video of Specter saying he'll stay a Republican, or criticizing Harry Reid, and all sorts of news clippings of Specter being a partisan Republican.

Full NRSC press release after the jump.

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In a guest-post today at the conservative Power Line blog, NRSC chairman John Cornyn has an interesting line in terms of playing up the dangers of a filibuster-proof Democratic majority:

Second, in the unfortunate and unlikely event that Senator Norm Coleman loses his legal battle in Minnesota, Harry Reid will now have his long-coveted 60-seat, filibuster-proof supermajority in the United States Senate. With Nancy Pelosi firmly in control of the U.S. House of Representatives and President Obama just 100 days into his administration, Republicans will have lost the ability to meaningfully impact legislation in any way.

Note that Cornyn refers to a Coleman legal defeat as an "unlikely" event -- despite the fact that hardly any neutral observer would predict that Coleman will win his court fight.

Cornyn has to walk a very fine line here. He obviously needs to communicate to the base just how dangerous a 60-seat Democratic majority is -- but if he admits that such a thing is actually happening, then he's given away far too much in the final remaining battle of the 2008 election.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is now trying to channel the understandable rage of their base regarding Sen. Arlen Specter's party switch towards a constructive end: Bringing in some cash.

At the NRSC's Web page, this contribution box pops up:

Not too subtle, but again it makes perfect sense. Don't curse the darkness -- turn on the light (or in this case, bring in some money).

The Senate has passed the President's budget by a vote of 53-43.

Just as earlier this month when the Senate passed it's version of the resolution (and just as in the House earlier today) not a single Republican voted for it. And just as last time, they were joined by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Ben Nelson (D-NE). And just as last time, Sen. Arlen Specter voted against it, too. Except last time around he was a Republican.

I'll post the full roll call when it becomes available.

Late update: Statements from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell below the fold.

Late late update: Here's the roll call. Specter's still listed as a Republican. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) also voted with the Republicans, presumably over the issue of reconciliation.

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Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) was just interviewed by Neil Cavuto on Fox News, and he predicted that Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) will easily have full Democratic support in his 2010 primary.

"Well, I think that Arlen will probably wind up running unopposed, or without a serious challenger," said Rendell. "Look, the President of the United States has already endorsed Arlen, the Vice President of the United States has. Everyone knows Arlen and I are personal friends, go back to when he hired me as an assistant district attorney without asking me what party I belonged to. I think every major Democrat is gonna be for Arlen. And I think he's got a lot of inherent support with Democrats and independents all across the state."

So despite any rumblings about Joe Sestak or some other Dem possibly running, Rendell is predicting a clear field.

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