In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The NY-20 special election is now going to come down to the absentee ballots. For one thing, the Election Night numbers between Democratic candidate Scott Murphy and Republican Jim Tedisco are in a virtual tie as the vote totals are still being double-checked, but this does not take into account any absentee votes. So the next question becomes: Who exactly were the absentee voters?

This afternoon, with the assistance of TPM intern Versha Sharma, I called the various counties to get the breakdowns of how many of the returned absentee ballots have been from registered Democrats, registered Republicans, unaffiliated voters or people from any of the minor ideologically-driven parties that exist under New York's fusion-voting system.

So here's where we stand: From over 6,600 ballots that have been returned so far, Republicans are about 45%, Democrats 33%, with unaffiliated voters and minor parties making up the balance. Still more ballots can arrive in the mail between now and the deadline -- April 7 for most absentee voters, April 13 for overseas and military ballots -- but at this point the percentages probably won't change significantly.

And the bottom line answer, as you will see, is every bit as frustrating as the current status quo.

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House Democrats are hitting back against GOP distortions of climate change legislation and, more specifically, an MIT study on which we've reported extensively.

Earlier today Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA)--chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming--released a report on Republican energy and climate distortions called "Wrong in so many ways." The document (which can be read here) addresses four common Republican arguments about climate change legislation, including the controversy over the MIT study:

Rep. Boehner and others don't mention that revenues from a carbon pollution control program could be returned to consumers, or used to invest in clean energy jobs and cost-saving energy efficient technology. So it focuses on all the costs and ignores the benefits. It's just more of the same, tired arguments from a party out of ideas on energy policy.

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Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates raised some eyebrows (however briefly) by saying on Fox News Sunday that the administration had no immediate plans to move forward on President Obama's promise to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell. "I think the president and I feel like we've got a lot on our plates right now," Gates said. "Let's push that one down the road a little bit." Watch:

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Here's a quick alert in the NY-20 special election. As of right now, the leader in the vote totals is...we don't know.

PolitickerNY reports that Republican candidate Jim Tedisco has taken a lead of 12 votes, as the counties have gone through the standard process of checking for errors in their spreadsheets. These errors are a standard occurrence, by the way, and are usually very small and break about evenly. But in an election this close, they can have a real effect.

Meanwhile, the state elections board has given TPM their own most up to date numbers, with Democratic candidate Scott Murphy ahead by six votes. It looks like PolitickerNY has some data that the state doesn't -- and the state could very well have something that PolitickerNY doesn't.

Murphy led by 65 votes on Election Night, then by 25 votes yesterday afternoon. And who knows what it is now, or what it will be tomorrow.

In any case, this election is really going to come down to the more than 6,000 absentee ballots, which haven't been counted at all yet.

The McCain substitute amendment (a.k.a. the McCain budget) failed predictably on the Senate floor earlier. As with the Republicans' alternative stimulus bill, nearly ever member of the GOP voted to scrap the Democrats' plan in favor of a much more conservative option. The final tally was 60-38, with Sens. Collins, Corker, and Snowe voting with the Democrats. Sen. Arlen Specter, usually identified as a swing Republican, voted for the mid-recession spending freeze after having voted for a $700 billion stimulus bill intended to combat the economic downturn.

You can see the full roll call here.

In a new appeal to the Christian right, Newt Gingrich told OneNewsNow that President Obama's proposed changes to the charitable deduction for top earners amounts to a "war against churches and charities," deliberately designed to discourage the successful from donating money to churches and make us all dependent on the government.

"I think there's a clear to desire to replace the church with a bureaucracy, and to replace people's right to worship together with a government-dominated system," said Gingrich.

The proposal itself is to lower the deduction that people making over $250,000 receive for itemized charitable contributions, from its current 33% or 35% down to 28%. Obama has defended the proposal by saying: "I'm assuming that that shouldn't be the determining factor as to whether you're giving that $100 to the homeless shelter down the street."

What's next? Will we be hearing that Obama intends to ransack the Notre Dame cathedral, and convert it into the Temple of Reason?

Yesterday, the website Consortium News published an article by Charlotte Dennett pouring some cold water on the hope many liberals have that Congress will form a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate Bush-era torture and other instances of wrongdoing. Dennett reported that, at a meeting with Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary committee chairman had said the idea was dead in the water. "[I]t's not going to happen," Leahy reportedly said.

Today, Leahy released a statement addressing that article: "In contrast to reports circulating on the Internet, Leahy said he is continuing to explore the proposal."

"I am not interested in a panel comprised of partisans intent on advancing partisan conclusions," Leahy said. "I regret that Senate Republicans have approached this matter to date as partisans. That was not my intent or focus. Indeed, it will take bipartisan support in order to move this forward. I continue to talk about this prospect with others in Congress, and with outside groups and experts. I continue to call on Republicans to recognize that this is not about partisan politics. It is about being honest with ourselves as a country. We need to move forward together."


That leaves open the questions of Senate math--will any Republicans support the formation of such a commission?--and whether the committee will exercise any of its other options. As Daphne Eviatar wrote in the Washington Independent "Leahy and the Senate Judiciary Committee could still initiate a comprehensive inquiry into the role of the Justice Department in potentially illegal conduct under the Bush administration.... There's no need for a truth commission to get the investigative ball rolling."

I'll follow up with Dennett and will let you know what I find.

Republicans won't be changing their story on the cost of climate change legislation anytime soon. I just spoke with Michael Steel, spokesman for John Boehner, about the letter the House Minority Leader received from M.I.T. scientist John Reilly. By way of background, Reilly wrote to Boehner yesterday and gently informed him that he and other Republicans had "misrepresented in recent press releases" an M.I.T. study, which estimated that a cap and trade program would likely cost the average family $340 per year. The GOP is claiming, based on the same study, that the legislation would cost the average family $3,128 per year.

"We stand by our analysis," said Steel.

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A quick update on McCain's budget. His office hasn't sent out any related materials yet, and haven't released a statement, but a quick perusal of its terms over at Thomas reveals a few interesting details.

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The Hill reports that DSCC chairman Bob Menendez is fully standing behind Chris Dodd and predicts he'll be re-elected, despite the poll this morning showing Dodd behind Republican candidate Rob Simmons in a landslide:

Q: "Does the DSCC still support Chris whole-heartedly in light of these new numbers, and do they surprise you?"

Menendez: "Are you serious? Chris Dodd is going to be re-elected. He's a great senator."

Q: "So the DSCC still supports him all the way?"

Menendez: "Absolutely."

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