In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The latest news regarding Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) has been that of a Senator trying to get back to doing the people's business -- and not wanting to answer any further questions about his recent admission of an extramarital affair:

• "I said what I was going to say last week," he told the Politico.

• "I have no more other comments to make," he told The Hill. "I have nothing further to add."

• Ensign will address the Senate GOP at their weekly lunch today. As Roll Call points out, it's become something of a regular ritual for the caucus to hear a scandal-plagued member having to explain himself -- previous examples include, David Vitter, Larry Craig and Ted Stevens.

• Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has announced that it will file an ethics complaint regarding Ensign's hiring practices, seeing as how his ex-mistress had been a campaign staffer, and her husband was a top Senate staffer -- and their employment ended after the affair was over.

After seeing it through a number of inter- and intraparty obstacles, House leaders will soon bring the Waxman-Markey climate change bill up for a vote--perhaps as early as Friday.

"There are some issues still under discussion, but we are confident we can resolve them by the time the bill goes to the floor on Friday," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told Bloomberg's Simon Lomax.

If it passes, the bill--which would create a cap and trade system to price and reduce carbon emissions--may have to wait quite a while before further action as lawmakers scramble to pass major health care legislation before taking a month-long recess in August.

Sanford's Office: He's Hiking Gov. Mark Sanford's (R-SC) office told reporters last night that he is hiking the Appalachian Trail. However, they apparently do not know exactly where is along the Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine -- but interestingly enough, does not pass through South Carolina. "He's an avid outdoorsman," said his spokesman. "Nobody's ever accused our governor of being conventional."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will hold a news conference at 12:30 p.m. ET, in the Rose Garden. At 2:15 p.m. ET, he will meet one-on-one with President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, and they will have an expanded meeting at 2:45 p.m. ET. At 4:45 p.m. ET, Obama will meet with Sec. of Defense Robert Gates.

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Although her confirmation process has been stalled for months now, Dawn Johnsen seems confident that she's poised for a breakthrough. Maybe. Johnsen--who was nominated in April to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel--has been spotted around Washington in recent days, and is rumored to have moved in to town. And she's certainly not here to work for Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE).

For all intents and purposes--and thanks to the support of Republican Dick Lugar--Johnsen hasn't needed a ton of extra GOP support. For a while, Nelson himself was the key roadblock and he endured a lot of criticism as a result. But with his cloture vote looking more likely, now--and with Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Robert Byrd (D-WV) in poor health--Johnsen's confirmation now rests on the support of Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. And their reluctance is at least as puzzling as Nelson's.

Nelson, after all, is a pro-life Democrat from a conservative state, and, whether or not these concerns are sincere, Johnsen's detractors cite her history of pro-choice advocacy as their main grounds for opposition. But Collins and Snowe are pro-choice. And, moreover, they both have a consistent record of opposing the obstruction of executive branch nominees. Both Collins and Snowe voted to end every filibuster of Clinton and George W. Bush nominees. (Earlier this year, Collins supported a brief filibuster of Interior Department hopeful David Hayes, after Sen. Harry Reid ignored the objections of Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) who had placed a hold on his nomination--but Hayes was ultimately confirmed, with little controversy, by voice vote.)

For Snowe and Collins to slow walk Johnsen like this doesn't make much sense when you look at their records. But maybe Johnsen knows something we don't know.

Well, that didn't take two weeks at all, did it! Dave Weigel of The Washington Independent reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has just filed cloture on the nomination of Harold Koh to be legal adviser to the State Department.

Koh has raised howls on the right and Reid has been waiting until he's certain Koh could overcome a filibuster.

Check out this amazing line from RNC chairman Michael Steele this past Friday, via Matt Yglesias, explaining how we don't need the government to be involved in health care -- we just need get the interested people in the room and "do the deal":

STEELE: So if it's a cost problem, it's easy: Get the people in a room who have the most and the most direct impact on cost, and do the deal. Do the deal. It's not that complicated.

If it's an access question, people don't have access to health care, then figure out who they are, and give them access! Hello?! Am I missing something here? If my friend Trevor has access to health care, and I don't, why do I need to overhaul the entire system so I can get access he already has? why don't you just focus on me and get me access?

This sounds kind of like Kenan Thompson's "Fix It!" routine from Saturday Night Live last fall, explaining the solution to the financial crisis. "Take it one step at a time: Identify the problem -- fix it! Identify another problem -- fix it! Repeat as necessary until it's all fixed!"

This afternoon, the South Carolina state Senate Democratic Leader John C. Land III released this interesting statement about Mark Sanford's mysterious disappearance:

"We've been concerned by the Governor's erratic behavior for some time. We're praying for him and his family. I hope he is safe and that he contacts the First Lady and his family soon."

So what exactly does he mean by erratic behavior? I just spoke on the phone with the state Senate Dem caucus director Phil Bailey.

"Number one, is actively rejecting our own stimulus dollars back here in South Carolina. Number two is - gosh, where to begin with Mark Sanford, it goes on," said Bailey. "Suing the legislature to prevent our own tax dollars from coming back there to South Carolina to save teachers jobs, and prevent layoffs in law enforcement and prison officers. Sen. Land certainly believes that is erratic."

The conservative Power Line blog today has been vigorously attacking the CBS/New York Times poll showing overwhelming support for a public option -- criticism that was repeated on TV today by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). But a close examination shows that their supposed deconstruction of the poll doesn't actually have any merit.

Power Line says that this poll is worthless, because respondents were asked who they'd voted for in 2008, with the answer coming up as Obama 48%, McCain 25%. "Since Obama won the election by a 53%-46% margin, the poll obviously skews left," they say.

A big problem occurred to me, though, one known to anyone who's read about polling for a long time: The who-you-voted-for question is good for a lot of things -- except for finding out how people actually voted. It's really an indicator of people's willingness to say they voted for the incumbent (regardless of whether they're telling the truth) or to say they voted for the challenger. All this poll really tells us is that some people are eager to say they voted for Obama, and others won't readily admit they voted for McCain.

I checked with Prof. Larry Sabato, and he agreed with me that this is not in any way a good reason to impeach the credibility of the poll -- though he did add a caveat that due to the ongoing complexity of the health care debate, the listed support for the public option might not be reliable, either!

Check out Sabato's comment, after the jump.

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Taking just a moment to keep score, we now know quite a bit about three rather different health care draft bills. If reform efforts are to succeed through the regular legislative process (i.e. not through the budget reconciliation process) those proposals will have to be merged into one, and key players will have to make a number of compromises along the way.

Significantly--both on policy and political grounds--the government insurance option proposals run the gamut from the House bill, which contemplates a robust public insurance option comparable to Medicare, to the Senate Finance Committee bill, which scraps the idea of a national government-run plan in favor of a series of regional co-ops.

If bipartisanship does win the day, the action's in the Senate Finance Committee, so it's important not to assume this proposal will disappear just as the "trigger" proposal disappeared. But it's also worth remembering that the co-op proposal doesn't in practice or in spirit amount to a public option. The stated idea behind the public option is that, forced to compete with a national, not-for-profit, government-run system, private insurers will have to dramatically cut the wasteful practices that drive up the price of care. Regional co-ops would not be able to serve this function.

But it's also worth recalling that not all public options are created equal.

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Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), a champion of both economic and social conservatism, has gone missing, and has not been seen since this past Thursday.

From The State:

First lady Jenny Sanford told The Associated Press today her husband has been gone for several days and she doesn't know where he is.

The governor's personal and state phones have been turned off and he has not responded to phone and text message since Thursday, a source said.

Jenny Sanford said she was not concerned.

She said the governor said he needed time away from their children to write something.

The governor's office issued a statement Monday afternoon: "Gov. Sanford is taking some time away from the office this week to recharge after the stimulus battle and the legislative session, and to work on a couple of projects that have fallen by the wayside.

Late Update: As a quick reminder to readers, Sanford has been a mainstay of conservative opposition to the stimulus bill and other Obama initiatives. So he's been at the center of some attention for quite a while.