In it, but not of it. TPM DC

In an interview with TownHall.com, Norm Coleman bemoaned the political limbo status created by the Minnesota election trial. That is, he lamented that he is unable to take his seat and serve in the Senate right now.

"It's frustrating," said Coleman, "because you would hope as I humbly do that you have something to add to the debate and be apart of the discussion, both back in DC and also back home."

Remember that Minnesota is currently short one Senator, as the seat is vacant because of Coleman's lawsuit and a threatened filibuster by Republicans against provisionally seating Al Franken.

If you need proof of how obsessive the right-wing media gets about Democratic congressional recess, look at the "story" that was leading the Drudge Report for most of the day.

Oh, that Speaker Pelosi and her high-class, jet-setting habits! She's just the Antoinette-ish type who would oppose health care for disadvantaged kids or leave the middle class in the dust. The headline of "Hurry, Fellas, Let's Vote..." adds a nice ring of subtle sexism.

Yes, Pelosi is spending the recess meeting with Italian officials about the global financial crisis and addressing the nation's legislature. But three Republican officials are taking their own weekend trip to discuss NATO issues in Italy and Austria, as the WaPo reported. Congressional delegations abroad are a fact of recess life, and both parties embark on them.

If you want to see an extreme example of a lawmaker racing out of town after the stimulus vote, try Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). She could be heard by reporters outside the House chamber trying to book a flight out of D.C. before 3pm.

Whenever the Democratic Congress leaves town for a recess, GOPers like to take potshots based on the false notion that lawmakers are headed off for "vacations." (This past August's bizarre House Republican protest over high gas prices, in which the empty chamber floor was commandeered for the cameras was a perfect example.)

But in reality, lawmakers from both parties will use next week's recess to promote their policy goals, meet with constituents, raise money for their re-elections, and generally work their tails off. For anyone wondering what Democrats will be up to, here's an inside peek at caucus chairman Rep. John Larson's (D-CT) suggestions for promoting the stimulus bill.

The unstated goal of documents like these: generating positive news coverage of the economic recovery plan on a local level.

Looking through the vote tally at the seven House Democrats who opposed the final stimulus bill today, you see reliably right-leaning members of the party's Blue Dog Coalition: Reps. Heath Shuler (D-NC), Bobby Bright (D-AL), Walt Minnick (D-ID), Pete DeFazio (D-OR) ... hold on.

DeFazio is a stalwart liberal and member of the Progressive Caucus. Why would he vote against the bill his party and president backed so strongly?

As DeFazio explained following the vote, he believed in the bill's education and transportation goals -- though he has long decried the stimulus' shortchanging of infrastructure relative to highways. "I couldn't justify borrowing money for tax cuts," he said. Tax breaks make up more than 35% of the final stimulus bill.

"Come on, school construction?" he asked, visibly frustrated that money for that goal had been sliced from the bill. "Why did that have to come out for more tax cuts?"

When asked about the need to bridge the gap between the House and Senate bills in order to win over the three GOP votes needed to prevent a filibuster, DeFazio was as blunt as can be: "We all know that's a convenient artifice from the Senate ... do away with the filibuster or have a real filibuster. It's convenient for [the Senate]. It gives them clout to push around the House and the president."

Whether you agree with DeFazio or not, liberal Democrats have rarely felt free to buck their party on major votes in recent years. It remains to be seen how the Obama administration and DeFazio's leadership will view his stance.

It's official: Judd Gregg will vote against the stimulus package.

On the one hand this shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. His refusal to vote for it even while he was the Commerce Secretary-designate -- his recusal was effectively the same as a No vote on all cloture motions -- indicated he was never really on board.

But having him now officially against the bill, the day after he dropped his own nomination to join the cabinet, should tell us where things will be going forward. A week ago he was a bipartisan member of the Obama Administration -- and now he's a solid opponent.

The advertising campaign against them didn't matter. Entreaties from Republican governors didn't matter. House Republicans stayed united against President Obama's stimulus bill, and they looked plenty pleased about it today as the gavel came down and the measure passed despite their objections.

But don't tell Republicans that it's Obama's stimulus plan they're rejecting. GOPers are subtly aiming to capitalize on two very different numbers: the Democratic Congress' sub-30% approval rating and Obama's impressive 64% approval.

"The problem lies squarely with congressional Democrats," House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) told reporters after the vote. "My conversation with the president was clear; he said, 'it's the Speaker [Pelosi] and the Leader [Reid] running these chambers, they have the ability to control this process.'"

As the Church Lady might say, How conveeeenient.

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In the Minnesota election trial today, Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton appears to be laying out a case that election officials have applied inconsistent standards in how they treated absentee ballots -- exactly the sort of case Norm Coleman has made.

The rub: The case is that a local election official in a Republican area has been especially strict with ballots the Franken camp wants included, and permissive for Coleman.

Over the last two days the court has been interviewing Sandy Engdahl, the elections manager for the GOP-leaning Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth. Yesterday, Engdahl in many cases agreed with Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg that some ballots had been improperly rejected. She even went further and volunteered that over the last few days she'd found 11 more envelopes that ought to be included, which weren't ruled as such during the review of rejected ballots this past December.

Then it was Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton's turn.

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A new Rasmussen poll suggests that Arlen Specter may have put himself in serious political danger by supporting the stimulus bill -- that is, by alienating Republican voters back home, as he heads into his 2010 re-election campaign.

An overwhelming 69% of Pennsylvania Republicans oppose the bill, and 58% of Republicans say they are less likely to support Specter because of his vote for it.

Remember that Specter faced a right-wing challenge in the Republican primary back in 2004, and just barely survived by a 51%-49% margin. So his hold on the GOP base has been anything but solid in recent years.

This leave us with two important questions. First, will the grassroots GOP ire continue to linger about this bill? And second, will a viable primary challenger emerge, who could successfully tap into that feeling?

As patently mock-able as it is, this morning's Politico story on the GOP emboldening wrought by Sen. Judd Gregg's (R-NH) pullout from the Obama administration has a crazy kind of truth to it. Republicans are eagerly lionizing Gregg as a conservative hero whose conscience could not allow him to serve under a -- gasp! -- liberal president who believes that government spending can heal the economy.

Listen to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) on Fox this morning:

JORDAN: [Y]ou have Senator Gregg ... he understands that the stimulus package is going to do nothing to stimulate the economy. So I think it is kind of the final thing of a really bad week for the administration for Democrats.

REPORTER: You know, I'm not sure it was a bad week. They got an $800 billion stimulus plan pushed through. That's a pretty good week if you're a Democrat.

JORDAN: That's bad for the American people. That's what Senator Gregg understands.


And that's not even touching on control of the Census, which the GOP turned into a rallying cry to protect Gregg's power in the Obama administration -- before Gregg cited it as a major reason for his withdrawal. Suddenly the dry business of counting Americans, which helps determine congressional re-districting, has become a hot political debate for the GOP. Even our old buddy Hans von Spakovsky can't help but get in on the act.

Yesterday Matt likened Gregg to Sir Thomas More, but I'm thinking he might be congressional Republicans' William Wallace. "Tell our enemies that they can take our majority, but they'll never take ... THE CENSUS!!!"

Late Update: And the lionizing continues. Gregg's party is now imploring him to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election next year.

What's next, www.juddgreggisyournewbicycle.com?

It looks like Congressman Paul Hodes (D-NH), who declared his 2010 candidacy for the Senate when it looked like Judd Gregg was headed to the Commerce Department, is preparing for a scenario in which he has to run against Gregg after all.

Yesterday evening, Hodes released this scathing statement about Gregg:

"I am surprised and disappointed at this sudden withdrawal. Senator Gregg would take us back to the years of George W. Bush rather than moving forward with the change agenda that the American people clearly want. I will continue to work with President Obama to create jobs and rebuild our economy for the middle class.

I will be a candidate for the United State Senate in 2010. I look forward to working every day to stand up for New Hampshire as we come together to confront the economic crisis facing our nation."


Gregg said yesterday said he won't be running again, but while speaking to reporters he also left himself some wiggle room by saying he was "probably not" running. Considering how a week ago he was definitely going to be Commerce Secretary, a declaration that he's probably retiring isn't exactly a guarantee.

So Hodes at this point is clearly preparing for two contingencies: He either runs for an open seat, or he takes on the incumbent Gregg. In a state that swung drastically from the GOP to the Dems in the last few years, this will be a top-tier pickup opportunity for the Democrats in either case.

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