In it, but not of it. TPM DC

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.

I mentioned earlier today that Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) has an almost refreshing tendency to own up to his wackier attempts at antagonizing the environmental community. And here's a perfect case in point ...

Inhofe has teamed up with the Commerce Department's inspector general on a mission to unmask the source who gave the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) a draft of the Bush administration's regulatory attempt to unravel key portions of the Endangered Species Act.

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Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, winding down his testimony before the Senate Budget Committee today, was asked a simple question by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR): Does the government have the legal authority to prevent another company from imploding on the same monumental level as AIG?

Geithner's simple answer was "no."

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For two weeks now, TPMDC has been tracking the mysteriously delayed nominations of John Holdren, named as the president's next chief science adviser, and Jane Lubchenco, slated to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

A convincing, but still incomplete, trail of evidence points to Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who won cheers from conservatives for sharply questioning Holdren during the nominees' confirmation hearing last month. But when I asked him directly, Vitter denied placing the hold, raising the question of whether his staff may have been raising objections on his behalf.**

After all, a similar situation occurred in the case of Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), whose office stalled the confirmation of two other Obama environmental nominees in January. Barrasso aimed to use those nominees as leverage to meet with White House climate adviser Carol Browner, and he ended up getting what he was after. Could Vitter's staff be working a similar angle for him?

Strangely enough, Vitter's press office won't say. My multiple attempts to reach the senator's spokesman over the past few days have been unsuccessful. Why wouldn't the office simply confirm what Vitter told me himself, that he's not the source of the holdup?

We can rule out several other suspects in Holdren and Lubchenco's delay.

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