In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Last week, I noted that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the Republicans' brand new Judiciary Committee ranking member, is bringing an almost entirely new team of aides along with him to replace many of the staffers who backed up the committee minority when its ranking member was Arlen Specter.

In particular, I highlighted the case of Brian Benczkowski, who, in a previous life, was a key Bush administration figure tasked with covering up corruption in the Justice Department.

It turns out, though, that Benczkowski is just one in a series of elite picks. Among others, he's joined by one William Smith, the panel's new chief Republican counsel, who has a colorful history of his own. For instance, if you're wondering what sort of legal mind Smith brings to the powerful committee, you need look no further than this post, which contains his measured thoughts on Republicans--like former McCain adviser Steve Schmidt--who support gay equality.

Read More →

In his lengthy speech to the RNC today, Michael Steele laid out a vision for a Republican Party that has to stop moping and take on President Obama directly.

Steele ridiculed strategists who say the party should avoid attacking the popular Obama, and focus instead on other targets like Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid -- which Steele likens to the Democrats' distracting attacks against Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney:

You know the thinking. In the same way that the Democrats target conservative talk show hosts and former vice presidents, we should also engage in some misdirection, just like they do.

The argument goes that we should be careful here, because the polls suggest that President Obama is popular.

Well, the president is personally popular. Pity the fool who paid for a poll to figure that out. Folks like him. He's got an easy demeanor. He's a great orator. His campaign was based on change and hope. He's young. He's cool. He's hip. He's got a good looking family. What's not to like? He's got all the qualities America likes in a celebrity, so, of course he is popular.

There's only one problem. He's taking us in the wrong direction and bankrupting our country. Were it not for that little detail, I'd be a big fan too.

Check out the full speech after the jump.

Read More →

The Obama administration may not be in a hurry to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but at least it's not actively arguing its merits before the Supreme Court. Eh?

The Obama administration has decided to accept an appeals-court ruling that could undermine the military's ban on service members found to be gay.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco last year ruled that the government must justify the expulsion of a decorated officer solely because she is a lesbian. The court rejected government arguments that the law banning gays in the military should have a blanket application, and that officials shouldn't be required to argue the merits in her individual case.

The administration let pass a May 3 deadline to appeal to the Supreme Court. That means the case will be returned to the district court, and administration officials said they will continue to defend the law there.

Read More →

A new poll of Oklahoma from Public Policy Polling (D) suggests that the 2010 Senate race in this deep-red state could potentially be a competitive one -- that is, if GOP Sen. Tom Coburn retires.

Coburn easily beats two prominent Democrats, leading popular Gov. Brad Henry by 52%-40% and Rep. Dan Boren by 53%-36%. But if Coburn is out, the new match-ups are close calls. Former GOP Rep. J.C. Watts edges Henry 45%-44% and leads Boren 46%-41%, while Rep. Tom Cole edges Henry 44%-43% and just barely leads Boren 42%-40%. The margin of error is ±3.7%.

Coburn has said he's genuinely undecided about whether he'll run, and he hasn't done much fundraising. We'll see what happens there.

That said, my own opinion is people shouldn't get their hopes up too much. This was John McCain's single best state last year, giving him a 66%-34% win over Barack Obama. And the 2004 open-seat Senate race saw a lot of close polls between Coburn and Dem Congressman Brad Carson, only to have Coburn win by 53%-41%.

A new Web promotion by the Republican National Committee, the "ObamaCard" -- parodying the national debt built up by the stimulus bill -- seems to be a bit confused about exactly when a presidential term ends:

Note that the ObamaCard is listed as being valid through January 2012 -- as opposed to, say, January 2013, when the current term will actually end as laid out by the Constitution. The card could have also potentially gone for November 2012, as an allusion to when Republicans hope to unseat President Obama on Election Day 2012.

But no, they went for January 2012, the month when we can actually expect the Republican Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.

A new Democracy Corps (D) poll finds that the Democratic Party could be reaching parity or perhaps even overtaking the Republicans on national security -- an issue area that has benefitted the GOP for decades.

President Obama has a 64%-31% approval rating on national security, and a 61%-31% rating on fighting terrorism -- both higher than his overall approval of 58%-33%. In addition, likely voters say by a 55%-37% margin that Obama's policies are increasing America's security -- rejecting the alternative statement that he's undermining security.

Indeed, a 51%-44% majority agreed with this statement: "President Bush's foreign and national security policies undermined America's security."

Read More →

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY), who has openly accused his party leadership of trying to force him into retirement -- especially his Kentucky co-Senator, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- is making it clear just how much he personally detests McConnell.

In a conference call with reporters, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports, Bunning declared that McConnell is a "control freak," and responded strongly to the leader's refusal to endorse Bunning's re-election this past weekend on Fox News Sunday.

Said Bunning: "If Mitch McConnell doesn't endorse me, it could be the best thing that ever happened to me in Kentucky."

A new Mason-Dixon poll shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with some very weak numbers in his home state of Nevada.

Only 38% of Nevadans have a favorable opinion of Reid, with a 50% unfavorable number. For his 2010 campaign, only 35% would vote to re-elect him, 17% would consider voting for a challenger, and 45% would definitely vote to replace him.

That said, Reid has reason for optimism: The Nevada GOP is very weak right now, and they don't have a suitable challenger as of this writing. He also has a lot of money saved up, and a lot can happen over the next year and a half.

In an e-mail to TPM, Reid spokesman Jim Manley brushed off the poll:

"Sen. Reid has never put a lot of weight in polls. And polls by the Review-Journal are consistently out of line with other polls. The primary number he's worried about is Nevada's 10.4% unemployment rate and that's why he's focused on fixing the economy and creating jobs in Nevada. Polling numbers move up and down, the only poll that really matters is on Election Day, which is 18 months from now. In the meantime he will continue talking to Nevadans everyday and working on solutions to help Nevadans who have been hit hard by these tough economic times."

The campaign to pass the Employee Free Choice Act has reached the Twittersphere, and, naturally, foes of organized labor, such as Newt Gingrich, are taking it all in stride.

"We are writing to demand that you immediately take down an illegal and fraudulent posting on Twitter...which falsely purports to be written by our clients and unlawfully uses the name of Messrs. [Newt] Gingrich and [Saul] Anuzis," reads a letter (PDF) from Stefan Passatino of the law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge.

The cease and desist notice comes in response to an online movement intended to convince Gingrich's Twitter followers (among others) to sign a petition in support of EFCA. Gingrich and his lawyer takes issue with the campaign, but that's possibly because the finer points of Twitter have eluded both of them.
We have recently learned that a pro-EFCA group calling itself "The Truth About EFCA.Org" and operating a website at that URL, has apparently publish the Posting on Twitter. The Posting falsely purports to have been written by Messrs. Gingrich and Anuzis and includes the Mark [ampersand] as well as the Twitter "handles" of the foregoing individuals.

Read More →

Democratic National Committee national press secretary Hari Sevugan released this statement responding to Michael Steele's speech declaring the GOP will not be looking backward:

"While we welcome Chairman Steele's words that the GOP wants to turn the page on its past, we are disheartened by the party's actions that tell the opposite story. While the Chairman talks of moving forward, the very convention he's addressing will not focus on coming up with new ideas to create jobs and setting right what the party got wrong over the last eight years, but instead will revolve around name calling and the petty politics of the past. While the Chairman speaks of no longer looking in the rearview mirror, just this weekend he and other party leaders stumbled over one another to endorse the leadership of one of the most divisive figures in recent American history, Dick Cheney. The test of the sincerity of the Chairman's words will be if he and the other GOP leaders stand up to the fringe elements of their party and whether they tell the polarizing faces of the past - including Cheney, Gingrich and Limbaugh - to stand aside. Unfortunately, they have shown no willingness to do so, which is why fewer and fewer Americans have confidence in the Republican party to lead during these tough times."

Late Update: Speak of the Devil, Newt Gingrich is now joining the GOP's rebranding effort, the National Council for a New America.