In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Will Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) will step down from his position as ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee and become the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee? A lot of signs point to yes, and that has reformers on the Hill and elsewhere--who prefer Grassley's record to that of his potential replacement--pretty worried.

If it happens, it will be thanks, indirectly, to Sen. Arlen Specter's defection into the Democratic party. Specter was the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee and his big move on Tuesday created an opening that has yet to be filled. As I reported earlier this week, though, the committee's senior Republican--Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)--is prohibited by Senate Republican Conference rules from taking over the committee. And only two of the three eligible senators--Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA)--make much sense.

Of those two, Grassley has some advantages: He's a more senior on the committee, for instance, and he isn't as controversial or conservative a senator as Sessions is. But he is ranking member of the Finance Committee--a committee with tremendous power, particularly with health reform on the horizon--and he'd have to leave that post if he were to take over for Specter.

So why would he do it?

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I have now had the chance to read through Norm Coleman's brief in his appeal of the Minnesota election trial -- check out Rick Hasen's take on it here -- and it sets up a coherent formulation of many of his previous arguments, boiling down to a few options Coleman wants the state Supreme Court to consider: To preferably count more ballots that are presumably for Coleman, or else subtract ballots that are presumably for Franken, or declare the whole election null.

The main focus of the brief is its argument that the trial court wrongly established a strict standard for admitting in any absentee ballots that had been previously rejected by local officials, as opposed to a more lenient standard that was the de facto standard for most jurisdictions across the state on Election Day. And these local standards are themselves deeply flawed, Team Coleman says, due to varying interpretations and applications of the state law by the human beings conducting the election from one place versus another.

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Ok, quick twitter post and then back to...serious...business. Several weeks ago, those of us who (for reasons unclear) communicate with friends, colleagues, and complete strangers on Twitter, began scratching our heads when we noticed various conservatives were ending their "tweets" with a puzzling hashtag: "#tcot".

(For the uninitiated, the "#" allows twitterers to code their messages in a way that makes them all easily accessible--all tweets appended with "#tcot" can be found by searching for the term at this website.)

What could "#tcot" mean, we thought? Teabagging Conservatives' Organizing Tool? Tremendous Collection of Ornery Tweets?

In fact, it stands for "Top Conservatives On Twitter," and it is, in a way, a perfectly accurate moniker.

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CNN reported last night the GOP was launching a new initiative, the "National Council for a New America," as a push to rebrand the party's image away and counter the label that the Democrats have put forward calling the Republicans the "Party of No."

However, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) appeared today on Fox News, and he said it is not a rebranding effort, but is instead an attempt to engage with the American people:



"Jane, it's not a rebranding effort," said Cantor. "What this is, is an attempt to engage and begin a conversation with the American people. what we're looking for on the National Council for a New America is to involve all the American people for wide-open policy debate about the issues confronting this nation, on the issues confronting the families and the communities across this country."

So did CNN read in too much, thinking that an effort to alter the party's image was tantamount to rebranding -- or is it that Cantor is walking the idea back?

A new survey of Illinois from Public Policy Polling (D) suggests that Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) could potentially be a competitive candidate in the 2010 election for the Senate seat now held by Democratic Sen. Roland Burris. But this could easily change against him, if currently undecided Democratic voters lock in for the eventual nominee.

Against Burris, Kirk wins in a 53%-19% landslide. It seems highly improbable that Burris will actually be the nominee, and PPP polled some other Democrats: Kirk edges Rep. Jan Schakowsky 37%-33% and ties state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias 35%-35%, with high numbers of undecideds. But the well-known and popular state Attorney General Lisa Madigan leads Kirk 49%-33%.

From the pollster's analysis of the match-ups with Schakowsky and Giannoulias: "Those numbers aren't quite as encouraging for Republicans as they may seem to be though. In each case only 19% of GOP voters are undecided, while more than 30% of Democratic ones are."

The American Energy Alliance describes itself as a "not-for-profit organization that engages in grassroots public policy advocacy and debate concerning energy and environmental policies." As a point of reference, those policies don't include the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill, which, AEA's website announces "will further cripple our already struggling economy."

AEA's policy ideas supposedly come from the industry-funded Institute for Energy Research (of which they are an affiliate) which supposedly conducts "intensive research and analysis on the functions, operations, and government regulation of global energy markets."

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Americans United For Change has just come out with this TV ad, calling upon Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) to resist pressure from his national party, and certify Al Franken as the winner of the Senate race after Franken presumably wins against Norm Coleman's appeal at the state Supreme Court:



"The Republican Campaign Chairman, Texas Senator Cornyn, said Norm Coleman's court challenges could take 'years' to resolve," the announcer says, accompanied by a fuzzy shot of Cornyn in a cowboy hat. "Now Governor Pawlenty has a choice. Will he act in the best interest of Minnesota, or his own national political ambitions?"

The ad will air on cable TV in the Twin Cities and Rochester media markets. The oral arguments at the Minnesota Supreme Court won't happen until a month from now, so there's plenty of time for people to argue about what should happen after a court decision that may be widely expected, but hasn't actually happened yet.

At the Senate GOP leadership's press conference on Tuesday, after Sen. Arlen Specter switched from the Republicans to the Democrats, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) made a very interesting statement in his capacity as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee:



"I will tell you that in 2010 we are working very hard to make sure that we have the kind of candidates across the country on a national scale," said Cornyn, "that will allow the Republican Party to regain our status as a national party, and run competitive races in blue states, and purple states, and in red states."

So was Cornyn saying that the GOP is not right now a national party? I asked NRSC press secretary Amber Wilkerson for comment, and she pointed me in the direction of something Cornyn said at CPAC earlier this year, about the need to be a big tent that can appeal to voters across the country.

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Appearing today on Morning Joe, Michael Steele provided an interesting metaphor for how different kinds of Republicans can co-exist. He asked Mika Brzezinski, Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan to imagine that they were all wearing hats that said "GOP," and that they hailed from different parts of the country:



"You (Brzezinski) wear your hat one way you like to wear it, you know, kind of cocked to the left, you know, 'cause that's cool out West," Steele said. "In the Midwest, you guys (Scarborough) like to wear it a little bit to the right. In the South, you guys (Buchanan) wear the brim straight ahead. Now the Northeast, I wear my hat backwards, you know, 'cause that's how we roll in the Northeast."

This gets into something I've observed before about Steele: He often sounds like a middle-aged man attempting to talk to his kids and sound cool, and not exactly being successful at it.

Michael Steele is firing back at his RNC detractors, who are bringing forward a proposed rewrite of the RNC's rules to effectively strip Steele of his control over the party's finances.

The Washington Times reports that Steele has fired off an e-mail to the proposal's five main sponsors. "No RNC chairman has ever had to deal with this," Steele wrote, "and I certainly have no intention of putting up with it either."

Steele also wrote: "It is of course not lost on me that each of you worked tirelessly down to the last minute in an effort to stop me from becoming chairman."

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