In it, but not of it. TPM DC

It now looks like the grand saga of the New York state Senate, which involved the chamber coming to a halt as two Democrats flipped control of the chamber by joining up with the Republicans, is now coming to an end. And it has a very amusing denouement.

State Sen. Pedro Espada, a Bronx Democrat who had joined up with the Republicans in exchange for them making him state Senate President, is now returning to the Democratic caucus in a new role -- as Majority Leader! Espada told the New York Post that he has a "handshake deal" to return to the Dems in his new leadership position. His fellow renegade in this whole operation, Queens state Sen. Hiram Monserrate, had previously gone back to the Dems, too.

This is now Espada's fourth party switch in his career. Back in 2002, he'd switched from the Democrats to supporting Republican control, then was defeated for re-election by a Dem. Then last year he returned to the chamber as a Democrat from another district, then embarked on this whole adventure.

As Winston Churchill said of his own switch from the Conservative Party to the Liberals, then later back to the Conservatives: Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat. And in Sir Winston's defense, his switches took place over the course of 20 years, as various realignments of the British political system were going on. Espada, by contrast, has had the ingenuity to switch and re-switch in the course of weeks, after having already done it before.

Another poll shows that Democrats start off with the advantage for the 2010 Ohio Senate race, which is expected to be a close competition for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. George Voinovich, with both Democrats leading Republican former Rep. Rob Portman.

The new numbers from Daily Kos/Research 2000: Lt. Gov Lee Fisher 42%, Portman 35%; Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner 40%, Portman 36%. This more or less corroborates a Quinnipiac poll from two days ago, with slight differences in the numbers.

In the Democratic primary, Fisher leads Brunner by 22%-17%, with "Undecided" at the head of the pack with a whopping 61%.

The undecided numbers are very high in both the primary and general match-ups, and the cycle has just barely started. The major question for this big swing state is what the economy and overall political environment will be like in 2010 -- and there's only one way to find out.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear from all sides next week about Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination, and, as we've already noted, the invitation list includes the Connecticut firefighters who've become a cause célèbre for conservative activists.

But the GOP has also called upon Peter Kirsanow--a Bush appointee who heads the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and testified on behalf of Samuel Alito four years ago--to question Sotomayor's fitness.

Who is Kirsanow, you ask? According to a 2002 Knight-Ridder report, he's this guy: "A member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission said Friday that he could foresee a scenario in which the public would demand internment camps for Arab Americans if Arab terrorists strike again in this country."

If there's a future terrorist attack in America "and they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights," commission member Peter Kirsanow said.

The reason, he said, is that "the public would be less concerned about any perceived erosion of civil liberties than they are about protecting their own lives."

Kirsanow, who was appointed to the commission last year by President Bush, said that he personally doesn't support internment camps and the government would never envision setting them up. He said he was merely saying public opinion would so strongly favor the idea that it would be difficult to prevent. There would be a "groundswell of opinion" for such detentions, he said.

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The Hill reports that Senate Republicans will call two special witnesses in the Sotomayor confirmation hearings: Frank Ricci and Ben Vargas, two of the firefighters from New Haven, Connecticut, who recently won at the Supreme Court in their high-profile case.

That case, of course, involved a 5-4 Supreme Court overturning a three-judge appeals panel that included Sotomayor herself, and has become a centerpiece of Republican efforts to portray Sotomayor as biased in favor of minority groups.

After the Ricci decision was handed down, you had to know this kind of shoe would drop. Expect the firefighters to more or less testify that Sotomayor discriminated against them becuase of race, and for the GOP Senators to pitch them the kind of questions that will reinforce the point.

For more than a week now, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been publicly calling on his colleagues in the Democratic Caucus to vote their conscience on issues--but to vote with the party if and when Republicans filibuster agenda items like health care.

And, as I reported yesterday, with Senate leaders now on his side, Sanders seems confident his message is getting across.



In political terms, the Senate Majority Leader and his whip have little leverage over individual members. But this growing push--to make it clear that a procedural vote for cloture does not imply support for the underlying bill, and to force conservative Democrats to explain their decisions when they support GOP obstruction--is almost certainly necessary if the goal of party unity is to be met.

Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL), the big frontrunner for this perennial swing state's open Senate seat in 2010, has announced an astonishingly good fundraising quarter: $4.3 million raised in the time since he got into the race in early May.

Cash-on-hand figures won't be available until the campaign officially files its quarterly report, which is due July 15. It's also not known how much of that can be spent in the Republican primary, versus what must be reserved for the general election from maxed-out donors.

The initial reports had been that Crist would raise $3 million, about nine times more than his conservative primary challenger Marco Rubio's. As it turns out, the actual advantage is more like a 12.6-1 ratio, further solidifying Crist's momentum in this race.

The Senate Finance Committee's negotiations over the public option have been marked by predictable moments of egotism, chaos, and various other forms of legislative melodrama. But if at the end of the (much delayed) process, the panel chooses to include a public option of any kind in its bill, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will deserve most--if not all--of the thanks.

Back to Schumer in a moment, but it's worth considering just how important the difference between the two possible outcomes is. As it stands, the other two health care bills working their way through Congress both call for the creation of a public option, but neither is likely to win much, if any, Republican support. If the Finance Committee--more conservative, and more bipartisan--endorses a public option, then it will become a standard feature of the reform landscape, and will live or die with the final reform package. But if it eschews a public option, then the politics change dramatically. Suddenly the public option becomes the province of congressional liberals while the "sensible" centrist position is to delay a public option, or forego it altogether. That's a tough sell.

And that's at least part of the reason Schumer's been so insistent on including a public option--or something very close to it--in the bill the committee eventually unveils. Finance chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) tasked Schumer with being the point man on the public option from the outset of negotiations, but Schumer's gone above and beyond in that role, putting himself on the line very publicly at times when the momentum on the committee wasn't really on his side.

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A new national survey from Public Policy Polling (D) finds that the American public has a pretty solid verdict on Sarah Palin: A full majority, 55% of voters, say she is not fit to be president, compared to just 37% who say she is fit for it.

In addition, respondents were asked whether Palin's announcement that she will resign as Governor of Alaska makes them more or less likely to support her for president. Only 30% say more likely, with 57% saying less likely, and 14% not sure.

Oddly enough, though, her personal favorable ratings might have gone up slightly, to 46% favorable and 45% unfavorable, compared to a 43%-49% rating last month.

From the pollster's analysis: "It's not surprising Palin's overall favorability numbers haven't declined since most folks inclined to dislike her already did before she announced she was resigning as Governor," said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. "But even among people with a positive opinion of her this move seems to have raised some questions about her judgment such that a majority of Americans don't think she's fit to be President."

The headline sort of says it all. At her weekly press conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said we'd soon know the names of the men and women appointed to serve on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. In fact, she said we'd know "imminently." Leaders of both parties have spent weeks evaluating a range of experts, seeking a delicate balance between expertise and purity--many of the people who truly understand financial markets are also simply too close to the players that caused the meltdown, and that inconvenient reality has caused the selection process to move more slowly than expected. Additionally, some on the left are concerned that none of the names under consideration reflect a sufficiently skeptical view of the financial industry.

So now that former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) finally conceded the much-litigated 2008 Senate race to Democrat Al Franken, and Franken was sworn into office six months into the term, does Coleman have a political future as he reportedly eyes a run for Governor in 2010? A new survey of Minnesota by Public Policy Polling (D) suggests that Coleman has still got a long way to go if he wants to come back.

The numbers: Coleman's favorable rating is only 38%, with 52% viewing him unfavorably. Coleman was also tested in potential general elections against former one-term U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Dayton edges Coleman out 41%-39%, Rybak leads 43%-37%, and Coleman leads Kelliher 42%-34%, with a ±2.5% margin of error.

This question is also pretty rough: "Did the way Norm Coleman handled the recount in his Senate race make you more or less likely to support him in a future campaign for Governor or some other office?" The numbers: More likely 26%, less likely 54%, and no difference 20%.

From the pollster's analysis: "You have to wonder how much more goodwill he would have been able to earn with voters in the state if he had decided to take the high road and concede six months ago."

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