In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Florida GOP Chairman Defends Steele, Blasts Critics Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer has sent a letter to RNC members, defending Michael Steele -- and lambasting his critics: "What I find so disturbing is that some Republicans cannot see the absolute necessity of providing unwavering loyalty and support to Chairman Steele as he embarks upon leading the Republican Party into the future."

Steele Hires Chief of Staff For RNC The RNC announced that Michael Steele has hired Ken McKay, former campaign manager and chief of staff to Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri, to be the new RNC Chief of Staff. One of the criticisms of Steele in the last month and a half is that he has been slow to fill the key staff positions, but he is now starting to make progress on that front.

Obama's Day Ahead: Focusing On The Economy President Obama is having a closed meeting with Economic Recovery Advisory Board Chairman Paul Volcker at 12 p.m. ET. At 12:45 p.m. ET, he will deliver remarks from the Oval Office on the economy. At 1:15 p.m. ET he is meeting with Vice President Biden for lunch.

Biden Promoting Stimulus With Dem Members of Congress -- And Specter Vice President Biden will be administering the oath of office to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis this morning. At noon, he will head up an event at Union Station to announce funding for Amtrak as part of the stimulus program. Others in attendance include Democratic members of Congress such as Senators John Kerry, Jay Rockefeller, Frank Lautenberg and others -- plus Republican Senator Arlen Specter.

Big Day In Minnesota: Closing Arguments Closing arguments in the Minnesota election trial are scheduled for today. Each side will have an hour at bat to make their final case to the judges. After that, the judges are expected to spend two to three weeks working on a determination of who has legally won the most votes, and is entitled to the certificate of election -- a decision that is likely to be appealed.

WaPo: U.S. Attorney Situation Remains Unclear The Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration faces some very complicated choices in appointing new U.S. Attorneys, between the interest of appointing their own people versus the need in some cases to keep current Attorneys in places to pursue pending cases. Perhaps the most controversial example involves Mary Beth Buchanan, a conservative U.S. Attorney from western Pennsylvania who is quite publicly refusing to resign.

Virgil Goode Files Papers For Potential 2010 Comeback Bid Former Congressman Virgil Goode (R-VA), who was defeated in a huge upset by Democrat Tom Perriello by a margin of 727 votes out of over 315,000 in 2008, has filed papers to run again in 2010. Goode is perhaps best known for denouncing the election of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress.

Another fun detail to the story about the Coleman campaign's breach of online donors' credit-card data -- which was caused after the site's entire unencrypted database was briefly posted online in late January.

The campaign's FAQ page about the breach -- which promises that the individuals who stole this information will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and urges any concerned supporters to cancel their credit cards -- ends with a solicitation to send more money:



Of course, the donation has to be sent by snail-mail, or made with a credit card over the phone, because they've had to take down their Web site's credit-card functionality.

On a conference call with reporters just now, lead Franken attorney Marc Elias celebrated the imminent closing arguments tomorrow. "This is truly not only a historic recount and election contest in its size and the long period of time that it's gone on, but also in its thoroughness," said Elias. "And the people of Minnesota and all the people of the United States can take a great deal of confidence and pride in the process that has gone on for the last nearly five months."

I asked about the intriguing possibility raised to me by Professor David Schultz of Hamline University -- that the Franken camp could potentially use the loser-pays provision of the election-contest law to stop any appeal from Coleman, by forcing his campaign committee to come up with millions of dollars to be placed in escrow to cover Franken's attorney's fees before any appeals continue.

"You know I've gotten a number of questions over the course of the last five weeks about the cost-shifting provision of the law," said Elias. "And in honesty I'll give you the same answer now I've given before, which is I have not spent really any time looking at it. I will now have a chance, now that the evidence is closed, to now look to the next step in this, which would be what happens post-decision by the court. But I will take a look at that and probably be in a better position to answer that in the next few days."

It seems that the mystery of the holds on two of President Obama's senior science advisers has been solved.

All attempts to delay John Holdren, nominated to lead the White House science and technology office, and Jane Lubchenco, nominated to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, were lifted this afternoon after a closed-door meeting of the Senate Commerce Committee, according to Greenwire.

Why the Commerce panel needed to vote on Holdren and Lubchenco again after affirming them once last month remains unknown, as do the identities of the holders whom we've been working to unmask.

Greenwire reports that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), the senior GOPer on Commerce, pointed a finger at Democrats for slowing the nominees to win concessions on other issues. Hutchison told me earlier this week that she was unaware of any objections -- we'll let you know more as soon as we know.

Late Update: Here's why the committee had to meet again this afternoon ... CQ's original report that stated Holdren & Lubchenco were "approved" last month was incorrect. The nominees were actually "discharged," which in Senate parlance means that they were quickly cleared without the panel voting.

That seems to have made the duo a magnet for senatorial objections -- the source of which remains murky, even to folks in the Senate. Now that the committee has met again to give the official stamp of approval to Holdren & Lubchenco, however, they can be moved towards unanimous approval without further shenanigans.

Tomorrow is going to be a big day in the Minnesota trial: Closing arguments, which will then bring this whole phase of the court proceedings to an end, pending a ruling and subsequent appeals. And what happens next could be very long -- or not.

Lead attorney Joe Friedberg will do the closer for the former Republican Senator, and Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton will be delivering closing arguments for his side.

So what happens next? Hamline University professor David Schultz tells TPM that he now expects the court to probably rule at some point in the first week of April, with a declaration that Al Franken is the winner. From there, this goes into an appeals process at the state Supreme Court that could take perhaps two months -- and then there are the federal courts. So this could take from anywhere between early April, assuming no appeals, to all the way through Labor Day, with June as the ballpark middle figure.

"The lakes'll be fully melted before we have a U.S. Senator -- which is the opposite of when Hell freezes over," said Schultz. "Maybe when Hell thaws out, something like that."

On the other hand, Schultz poses a very interesting scenario, one that could bring the entire appeals process to a crashing halt and force the granting of a certificate of election.

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In an interview with TPM just now, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins was sharply critical of Michael Steele comments in the GQ interview, elaborating on his statement today that Steele had assured him earlier this week that he would uphold the party platform.

"Well, I mean he said as party chairman he would be upholding the party platform. The interview he did with GQ was done from the chairman's office," said Perkins. "And if in fact his personal views are subordinate to the party platform, the evidence is pretty thin that that's the case. In every interview I've seen, I've heard him talk about his personal views, and have yet to hear him talk about the party platform."

I asked Perkins if he felt misled -- that Steele had told him he would uphold the party platform, when in fact Steele had done an interview two weeks earlier that had yet to be published, in which he made apparently pro-choice statements. "I understand the time difference here," said Perkins. "But I don't think the time difference is important."

I asked Perkins if he'd seen Ken Blackwell's statement that Steele should "get to work -- or get out of the way." Perkins had indeed seen it, but declined to say if he agreed that Steele should shape up or resign. "That's a party function, that's up to members of the Republican Party to have to decide. My only interest is, those are policy issues that we work on at the Family Research Council," Perkins explained. "What the Republican Party does is their interest, but you have mixed signals sent because the party has said this is where we stand on the issues, and you have a leader of the party saying something different."

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If you were looking for watchdogs to ensure that the $790 billion economic stimulus law is put to work for the taxpayers, who would you choose? Earl Devaney, the former inspector general who's now the presidential stimulus watchdog? Elizabeth Warren, the much-praised monitor of the financial bailout?

How about the same GOPers who fought the stimulus tooth and nail?

Hmmm, might it be a bit counter-productive to put the stimulus' leading partisan critics in charge of its implementation? Not to the Republicans. At a press conference today, they announced their intentions to become guardians of the economic recovery effort.

The House and Senate GOP plan to hold hearings "of our own" and talk with state officials to make sure the stimulus is on the right track, Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (TN) told reporters:

So while most of us did not support spending the $1 trillion of taxpayer money because we didn't think it was targeted, timely, and temporary as Speaker Pelosi said stimulus bills should be, we absolutely intend to spend our time over the next two years to make sure it's spent as wisely as possible to help the American taxpayer.


This effort would seem to pose a potential conflict with the official stimulus monitoring being performed by the Obama administration.

Not to mention the logical question that it raises: If we take Republicans at their word, assuming they opposed the stimulus because they didn't think the spending would work ... why are they now forming an organized panel to ensure that it works?

Senate Democrats are facing a stark choice on climate change and energy this year, as I reported on Monday. The House looks poised to move ahead with one piece of legislation that strengthens clean-energy standards while tackling climate change, both issues under the jurisdiction of Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-CA) Energy and Commerce Committee.

The question facing the Senate, then, is whether they follow suit and shoot the moon with one bill, not two, on energy and climate change. Could trying to solve two problems at once help sway some of the swing votes on both issues?

One of those swing votes, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), made her feelings known today -- and she things the one-bill approach is a bad idea. Here's how Stabenow put it to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner during today's Budget Committee hearing:

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Franken attorney David Lillehaug just announced in court that Team Franken is done with its witnesses, and subject to some pending submissions of evidence from the Coleman side, "I am honored to say that contestee Al Franken rests his case."

The Franken legal team took only a week and a half to makes its case, after having also covered a lot of ground during Coleman's five weeks at bat.

The Franken legal team brought in a few more rejected absentee voters today, to testify about their circumstances. They also lodged objections to attempts by Team Coleman to introduce new evidence relating to voters they want to advocate for in the rebuttal phase, with the Franken lawyers saying that Coleman can only rebut Franken's arguments -- he cannot reopen his own case and fill in the remaining gaps. Judgments from the court are still pending on these objections.

They also questioned Clay County Auditor Lori Johnson about a precinct where nine ballots were randomly removed on Election Night after they had a surplus compared to the number of people on the roster. (Professor David Schultz of Hamline University tells me this practice is not inconsistent with state law, and is commonly used in this situation.) There were another five ballots also missing during the recount -- apparently all of them for Franken -- with a net loss of seven votes for Franken in a precinct that Norm Coleman had won to begin with.

Also, further progress was made in the separate petition from 61 Franken voters to have their ballots counted. Attorney Charlie Nauen, who has already obtained permission for 35 previously-rejected absentee ballots to be counted in motions for summary judgment, brought in a handful of witnesses who still had outstanding disputes of fact.

It really must be hard to be governor of California right now.

A new Rasmussen poll tests Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) against two Republicans for her 2010 re-election campaign: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO and McCain campaign surrogate. Fiorina had some had some memorable gaffes during the campaign, the most notable one being when she said Sarah Palin wasn't prepared to run a company like HP, for which she was taken off TV for a little while.

Boxer is way ahead in this Democratic state, leading Schwarzenegger 50%-34%. But it's actually a bit narrower against Fiorina, with Boxer at 47% to Fiorina's 38%.

That's right, Arnold: Carly Fiorina is polling better than you are.

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