In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Michael Steele has given in to his RNC critics who were seeking to curtail his power, the Washington Times reports, agreeing on a set of rules for Steele's spending as chairman.

Steele has agreed to restore "good governance" rules for contracts and other expenditures, which were instituted after 2004 and were scrapped after the 2008 primary season. In addition, he has agreed to bring in former long-time RNC financial officer Jay Banning -- who was fired by Steele last month -- to serve as an on-call adviser to the treasurer. Other staffers are also being kept on either payroll or retainer, as well.

As the Washington Times points out: "It represents the first time in memory that rebel members of the Republican Party's national governing body have successfully taken on the party's historically powerful national chairman and his loyalists."

The new Quinnipiac poll of Ohio shows that the 2010 Senate race for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. George Voinovich is wide open, with the Democrats appearing to start out with an early advantage.

In the Democratic primary, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher has 20% to Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner's 16%, followed by state Rep. Tyrone Yates at 4%. In the Republican primary, former Rep. Rob Portman has 29%, with his potential major opponent, state Auditor Mary Taylor, at 8%, and auto dealer Tom Ganley at 8%.

In the general election match-ups, Fisher leads Portman by 42%-31%, and he leads Taylor by 41%-29%. Brunner leads Portman by 40%-32%, and she's ahead of Taylor by 38%-29%. The undecideds are clearly very high, and anything could happen in the next year and a half, but for now the Dems have an advantage.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)--who, it's important to note, will probably be the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee next Congress--is on the record saying the President should be given deference when selecting his nominees. In a 2005 New Yorker article, he told Jeffrey Toobin, "Filibusters are designed so that the minority can bring about compromise on legislation. But you can't compromise a Presidential nomination. It's yes or no. So filibusters on nominations are an abuse of our function under the Constitution to advise and consent."

A number of Republicans have been quoted over the years laying out a similar philosophy, and that's led many to suspect that even conservative betes noir like Dawn Johnsen will be able to avoid a filibuster and sail to confirmation. But, as it turns out, that principle is an artifact of an era when the filibuster was about the only lever of power the Democrats held. Today the situation is more than reversed, and Republicans like Grassley are discovering not-so-subtle ways to abandon their old beliefs. "I will not vote for Dawn Johnsen and I will support a filibuster because she is so extreme in her views on that point," Grassley told one blogger.

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Specter Loses Seniority On Committees The Senate Democratic Conference voted unanimously last night to deny seniority to Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), putting him near or at the very bottom of the Democratic rankings in each of his five committees during this Congress. He will be the last Senator to ask questions during the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation hearings. This matter could potentially be revisited after the 2010 elections.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will meet with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) at 11:30 a.m. ET. Obama and Vice President Biden will then meet at 12 p.m. ET with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-MT). At 2 p.m. ET, Obama and Biden will meet with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, and then at 2:40 p.m. ET with President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, followed by a 3:30 p.m. trilateral meeting with both Karzai and Zardari. Obama will then deliver public remarks at 4:15 p.m. ET.

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Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) has backed off from his rather interesting comment: "There's still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner."

Specter explained to CQ that it was all a mistake:

"In the swirl of moving from one caucus to another, I have to get used to my new teammates," he said. "I'm ordinarily pretty correct in what I say. I've made a career of being precise. I conclusively misspoke."

Asked who he's backing now in elections, Specter said, "I'm looking for more Democratic members. Nothing personal."


As I've posted, I asked the New York Times' Deborah Solomon, who conducted the interview, whether Specter seemed like he meant it -- and she says he did.

So was Arlen Specter joking, when he seemed to say he wanted Norm Coleman to win in Minnesota? That's what some people have been wondering after Specter said this: "There's still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner."

So I asked New York Times reporter Deborah Solomon, who conducted the interview, what her impression was of Specter's actual tone of voice and overall expression.

"I trust he meant what he said," Solomon wrote to me. "If he had been joking, surely he could have come up with a wittier line."

Late Update: Specter has backed off of the comments, explaining: "In the swirl of moving from one caucus to another, I have to get used to my new teammates."

At today's White House briefing earlier this afternoon, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs indicated that President Obama will continue to support Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) -- even if he's not supporting the Democratic agenda:

Jake Tapper (ABC): A follow-up on a couple of issues, one regarding the Pennsylvania primary. President Obama has said he will commit to Senator Arlen Specter. Today, Congressman Sestak of Pennsylvania said he is inclined to challenge Specter in the primary. Given the fact that Specter's very first vote as a Democrat was against the President's budget, is there anything that Specter could do that would -- in terms of voting against the President -- that would change the President campaigning for him against a Democrat who is more in line with the President's priorities?

Gibbs: I think the President was pretty clear on this. Senator Specter has his full support, and he'll do what's necessary to see him reelected. I think Senator Specter said it the day he made his announcement that he's going to make decisions on individual bills. But I think that him switching to the Democratic Party was a belief that that's the party that could best serve his constituents. We don't get a hundred -- we don't generally get a hundred percent of any party voting for us, but we'll continue to try.


In Gibbs' defense, this was before reports came out that Specter said he supported Norm Coleman in the disputed Minnesota race.

Harry Reid spokesman Jim Manley gives us a comment about Sen. Arlen Specter's (D-PA) apparent desire for Norm Coleman to win the disputed Minnesota Senate race.

"Well, on that one we are just going to have to disagree," Manley writes, "because as far as Senator Reid and the people of Minnesota are concerned, Al Franken is going to be the next Senator from Minnesota."

Just a quick update on the nomination of Harold Koh to be the State Department's legal adviser. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was supposed to hold a vote today on whether to favorably report him to the full Senate, but was prevented from doing so by Sen. Jim DeMint (D-SC) who's placed a hold both on his nomination and on the nomination of Susan Burk to be the President's Special Representative for Non-Proliferation.

The holds will last until at least the committee's business meeting next week. DeMint didn't cite any particular reason for placing them, but I've placed a call to his office asking for an explanation.

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