In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The National Republican Congressional Committee is getting an early start on the special election for New York's 23rd District -- so early in fact, that the seat hasn't actually become vacant yet!

Rep. John McHugh (R) has been nominated by President Obama to serve as Secretary of the Army, but hasn't been confirmed by the Senate nor resigned from his House seat yet. However, the NRCC has this new TV ad, running against a prospective Democratic candidate, state Sen. Darrel Aubertine -- who hasn't declared that he will be a candidate, either:

The ad has the populist tone we've seen of late from the Republicans -- bashing the Democrats as the party of bailing out Wall Street, for example. They tried this in the recent NY-20 special election, which in the end was narrowly won by Democrat Scott Murphy in a district that was a toss-up to begin with, leaving an inconclusive verdict on this line of attack.

Another fun complication from this race would occur if Aubertine were to run and win. Remember that recent crisis in the New York state Senate, with a whole bunch of party switches back and forth over which party would control the place? It could happen all over again if Aubertine were to vacate his seat, which would give the state Republicans a plausible shot at picking it up and making it a tie for control of the chamber.

Late Update: DCCC press secretary Ryan Rudominer gives us this comment: "The Republican Party of No realizes they have nothing to offer the folks of the 23rd district so they've resorted to attacking an unannounced candidate in a campaign that hasn't even started. That's pathetic."

If you were wondering how and why the weekend reports that Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) had come out in support of a true public option had become so confused, I may have an answer for you.

I've obtained, from two separate sources, video from the Maine health care rally in question, during which a Snowe representative named Cheryl Lehman really does say what she was reported to have said--that Snowe supports a public option, which should be "available from day one."

That rendering is a reformer catch phrase which basically means "no trigger mechanism." But Snowe's staff emailed me the full text of that statement today, and it contains an important qualifier. Snowe supports a public option, available on day one, "in any state where private plans fail to ensure guaranteed affordable coverage."

But as you can see from the footage, that qualifier wasn't appended to the statement Lehman read. It's difficult to say whether the error was Lehman's or Snowe's, but at the very least it creates the appearance that Snowe's telling her supporters in Maine one thing and her colleagues in Washington something else. I've sent the clip to Snowe's staff, with a request for an explanation and will post any response they send along.

The Democratic National Committee is now piling on against Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-SC) pronouncement that Republicans can "break" President Obama by stopping him on health care, with this new TV ad, which will air in Columbia, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C.

"But the only people Jim DeMint will break are South Carolina families and business owners," the announcer says. "Sen. DeMint is playing politics with our health care, putting the special interests in Washington ahead of South Carolina families and businesses. The only health care plan Jim DeMint supports is no plan at all."

In a joint press conference this afternoon with Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader John Boehner said the Democrats' health care reform bill is too expensive, and that it's time for them to scrap it and start over.

Boehner cited a figure--$1.6 trillion--with origins in Associated Press articles that put the price of House health care legislation at $1.5 trillion. But those articles were based on the assertion of an anonymous congressional aide. Though it hasn't scored a complete piece of legislation, the Congressional Budget Office--normally the authority on these matters--said in a preliminary report that the legislation would cost just over $1 trillion. And budget experts themselves are of a few minds over how various reform provisions should be evaluated, some note that certain measures like healthy lifestyle provisions, which will no doubt have some budgetary impact, but aren't analyzed by the CBO.

We'll have video for you shorlty. In recent days, the White House has characterized statements like Boehner's as backdoor attempts to kill reform entirely.

The latest Strategic Vision (R) poll of the New Jersey gubernatorial race finds Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine trailing his Republican opponent, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, by a hefty margin.

The numbers: Christie 53%, Corzine 38%, with a ±3% margin of error, not significantly changed from the 51%-39% Christie advantage a month ago.

Interestingly, this poll also says that President Obama's approval has been declining in New Jersey, down to 50% approval against 40% disapproval, compared to a 56%-38% margin a month ago. This is an important number because New Jersey is a traditionally Democratic state, and Corzine is expected to tie himself heavily to the Obama brand while tying Christie to the unpopular national GOP.

If Obama were to become something less than super-popular in this state, that could complicate Corzine's efforts.

In just over four hours, President Obama will host his fourth prime time press conference since January. The event is being billed by the White House as a six-month report card on the administration's performance since Obama took office, but the subtext--and presumably most of the substance--will be about health care.

In recent days, with a long congressional recess approaching and, perhaps, a whiff of potential defeat in the air, Obama has stepped up his public and private efforts to push the House and Senate into action. Obama now insists he wants to sign legislation by the end of the year--two months later than his earlier October deadline--and, It's time, he says, for leaders to bear down and pass legislation to reform the nation's dysfunctional health care system.

Publicly, Obama has been insisting that Republicans are causing the complications, singling out Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) who said health care reform would be Obama's "Waterloo" if Republicans could delay legislation to death. But in private, he's been focusing most of his efforts on recalcitrant Democrats--in both the House and Senate--who have echoed Republican calls to slow things down.

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In a move that might actually please reformers, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has dropped out of bipartisan health care negotiations in the Senate Finance Committee. Hatch was one of seven members who called themselves the "coalition of the willing," but apparently, he is no longer willing.

"Some of the things they're talking about, I just cannot support. So I don't want to mislead anybody," Hatch said.

The remaining Republicans in the group are Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Charles Grassley (R-IA)--though frankly health care overhaul supporters have long doubted that any compromise that might have won the support of Hatch and Enzi would have constituted an adequate reform bill.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee delayed by one week a scheduled vote on the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Prompted by committee Republicans, the delay is a procedural tactic, and a common one--other Judiciary Committee nominees, including Attorney General Eric Holder, and OLC chief-designate Dawn Johnsen, suffered similar obstacles, as have myriad Obama nominees in other committees.

But in a coincidence that will no doubt please health care reform opponents, the delay will almost certainly push a floor debate over Sotomayor's confirmation into August. And if leaders don't postpone recess, that will further imperil Democratic hopes of finishing a bill in the Senate before adjournment.

"We expected that," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid. "This is not going to impact our schedule at all."

Planned or not, though, the delay highlights the time crunch Senate Democrats have faced for weeks now. Judiciary Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is reportedly seeking four days of debate over Sotomayor on the Senate floor. President Bush's Supreme Court nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito faced similar timeframes.

Senate Democrats are currently debating the 2010 Defense Authorization act, while the Finance Committee continues drafting a health care bill. If the Senate finishes work on the defense legislation before health care legislation has been finalized, and before Sotomayor has been reported out of committee, precious days will slip away as progress is made on neither.

Asked at a press conference whether she'd support keeping the House of Representatives in session into the August recess to complete work on health care reform, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was fairly adamant.

"I think 70 percent of the American people would want that," she said. "I want a bill."

That could prove crucial if Blue Dogs hold up House Democrats' health care bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee much longer. The House is scheduled to adjourn on August 3rd. Whether or not she pushes that date back, though, it sounds like she's confident a bill will pass whenever it comes to the floor.

"I have no doubt we have the votes on the floor of the House to pass this legislation," she said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) released this statement on the defeat of the Thune Amendment, which would have allowed gun owners to carry their weapons into areas that had strict local laws against doing so:

"Lives have been saved with the defeat of this amendment. This measure, if it had passed, would have done more to threaten the safety of Americans than anything since the repeal of the assault weapons ban. It would have created havoc for law enforcement and endangered the safety of millions of Americans. We will remain vigilant to prevent any legislation like this from passing in the future."

The amendment received 58 votes in favor to 39 against, with 60 required for passage. Interestingly, nearly 20 Democrats voted for it -- including Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is coming up for re-election in 2010 in a heavily rural, pro-gun state. Schumer was the principal leader of the opposition against it.

Late Update: The roll call vote has been posted.