In it, but not of it. TPM DC

As if the situation with Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) couldn't be a bigger mess, he is now disputing Harry Reid's contention that he'll be a solid procedural vote for the Democrats.

Yesterday, you'll recall, Reid said on MSNBC yesterday, "on procedural votes he'll be with us all the time."

Well, Fox News caught up with Specter today and asked him about that: "Specter merely smiled and repeated several times, 'I'm going to have to talk to Sen. Reid about that.'"

Reid told Fox in response: "I have talked since Monday night of last week on Specter. I'm not going to talk any more about it. I have explained and re-explained and the re-explaining is over with."

And Reid's spokesman Jim Manley said Reid was being "hopeful and optimistic" about Specter's vote, and reiterated what he told me yesterday about this: "Sen. Reid never takes any votes for granted."

Oh, brother.

(Via Think Progress.)

When it became clear that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was poised to become ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, we recalled this 2002 article by Sarah Wildman which addresses some of the controversies that kept Sessions from being confirmed in 1986 as a U.S. District Court judge in Alabama.

Wildman writes in particular that the testimonies of two witnesses--a Justice Department employee named J. Gerald Hebert, and a black Sessions subordinate named Thomas Figures--helped to doom Sessions, then a U.S. Attorney, at his Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings. According to Wildman, Hebert testified reluctantly "that in a conversation between the two men Sessions had labeled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) "un-American" and "Communist-inspired." And Figures--then an assistant U.S. Attorney--told the committee that "during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he 'used to think they [the Klan] were OK' until he found out some of them were 'pot smokers.'"

Today we obtained a copy of the transcript of the Sessions hearings--over 500-pages worth--and it turns out there's quite a bit more. We're still going through it, of course, but the Figures testimony alone contains some damning details.

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A new Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll finds Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) in good overall shape to win re-election in 2010 -- though there just might be an opening for a Democratic primary challenger.

In a Democratic primary against the lesser-known Rep. Joe Sestak, Specter has 56% to Sestak's 11%, and Specter also leads current challenger Joe Torsella by 60%-5%. However, a separate question shows that only 37% of Dem primary voters say they would definitely vote for Specter, while 23% would consider someone else, 16% are definitely for someone else, and 24% are undecideds. This would indicate that some of Specter's support is soft, and a challenger could have a plausible (though definitely uphill) chance.

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As promised, over at The New Republic Jeffrey Rosen has responded to critics of an article he wrote earlier this week calling into question the fitness of appellate court judge Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the Supreme Court.

Rosen defends all aspects of his piece beyond its title, which he says was assigned without his knowledge by TNR's editors, and which he regrets. He makes a number of the same points he made to me yesterday when I asked him about the controversy, but adds a few more.

He writes, "I was satisfied that my sources's concerns were widely shared when I read Sotomayor's entry in the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, which includes the rating of judges based on the collective opinions of the lawyers who work with them. Usually lawyers provide fairly positive comments."

That Almanac entry is here. Rosen himself acknowledges that, according to the report, "most of lawyers interviewed said Sotomayor has good legal ability," and "lawyers said Sotomayor is very active and well-prepared at oral argument."

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Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA), whose conservative primary challenge against Sen. Arlen Specter caused the incumbent to switch parties, released this statement on the news that former Gov. Tom Ridge won't run for the GOP nomination:

"Tom Ridge is a true patriot and a leader. In his eloquent statement today, he said: 'My belief is that those in my home state can best be served by the principles of limited government, less taxes, competent governance and shared responsibility.' I agree with Governor Ridge's statement 100%. That is exactly the message I will carry to the people of Pennsylvania in my campaign for the U.S. Senate. It is a message that will not only unite the Republican Party, but more importantly, it is one that a majority of our fellow citizens can rally around, regardless of their party affiliation."

The Toomey campaign is off to a very fast start. In only three weeks since Pat Toomey declared his candidacy, the campaign has raised over $500,000 from over 4,000 contributors, signed up thousands more grassroots supporters, and brought on board many leading Republican elected officials and state party leaders.

Despite not being widely known throughout the entire state, two polls out this week show Toomey within a single digit margin of 30-year incumbent Senator Arlen Specter in the general election. This is in keeping with former Congressman Toomey's record of running and winning three general elections in the Democratic-leaning 15th Congressional District. By all accounts, Pat Toomey is the candidate who can unite Republicans and defeat the Democratic nominee in the general election.

It's always been an intractable political issue, but the number of reports indicating that new cap-and-trade legislation is hitting a lot of snags is remarkable for a couple reasons. The first is that the bill in question--the American Clean Energy and Security Act--has been introduced in the House, where legislation can be fast tracked much more easily than it can in the Senate. The second is that it's lead sponsor, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA), is an extremely talented legislator, who has put a tremendous number of professional resources into making sure the government addresses climate change.

Almost two weeks ago, worried that the bill would stall, Waxman had to delay its first markup hearing. Then, last week, a rift emerged between Waxman and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, over the viability of passing major energy legislation this year. Now, House Blue Dogs are trying to torpedo the bill, and Waxman has been put in the position of promising to provide manufacturers and energy producers with billions of dollars worth of free pollution permits under its terms.

And that's all before there's been a single vote on it. We'll keep tracking the bill's progress. Climate change legislation reportedly remains President Obama's and Speaker Pelosi's chief legislative priority. But these developments must come as unwelcome news both to them and to the environmentalists who came out quickly in praise of the bill when it was released earlier this spring.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), a vocal conservative who serves as a deputy Republican whip, appears to have just admitted openly that the GOP's policies are irrelevant.

In the new Time article on the current sorry state of the party, McHenry decried the endless rhetoric about tax cuts -- and apparently declared that the era of Reagan is over:

The most urgent question is the meaning of economic conservatism. Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, a conservative who keeps a bust of Reagan on his desk, surprised me by declaring that the Reagan era is over. "Marginal tax rates are the lowest they've been in generations, and all we can talk about is tax cuts," he said. "The people's desires have changed, but we're still stuck in our old issue set."

Tom Ridge will not be challenging Pat Toomey for the Republican Senate nomination in Pennsylvania in 2010. In a statement released today, the former governor and Homeland Security chief said, "[a]fter careful consideration and many conversations with friends and family and the leadership of my party, I have decided not to seek the Republican nomination for Senate."

I am enormously grateful for the confidence my party expressed in me, the encouragement and kindness of my fellow citizens in Pennsylvania and the valuable counsel I received from so many of my party colleagues. The 2010 race has significant implications for my party, and that required thoughtful reflection. All of the above made my decision a difficult and deeply personal conclusion to reach. However, this process also impressed upon me how fortunate I am to have so many friends who volunteered to support my journey if I chose to take it and continue to offer their support after I conveyed to them this morning how I believe I can best serve my commonwealth, my party and my country.

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Yesterday, Greg Sargent flagged a report that GOP pollster Frank Luntz had authored a strategy memo rehashing some of the themes Republicans used 16 years ago to torpedo Hillary Care. Greg noted that though "such messaging was very effective 16 years ago, the recycling of it could leave Republicans open to charges that they don't understand how much the landscape has changed since then."

Then Ben Smith dug up the memo itself, which is striking for a couple of reasons. First it advises Republicans to use many of the same banal platitudes they already use when arguing against comprehensive health reform. "Stop talking economic theory and start personalizing the impact of a government takeover of healthcare," Luntz warns.

They don't want to hear that you're opposed to government healthcare because it's too expensive (any help from the government to lower costs will be embraced) or because it's anti-competitive (they don't know about or care about current limits to competition). But they are deathly afraid that a government takeover will lower their quality of care - so they are extremely receptive to the anti-Washington approach. It's not an economic issue. It's a bureaucratic issue.

So what sort of language should Republicans resort to instead? Luntz says "too many politician [sic] say 'we don't want a government run healthcare system like Canada or Great Britain' without explaining those consequences."

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Is Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher really quitting the Republican Party? That's what a new Time article on the current sad state of the GOP says.

"Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, tells TIME he's so outraged by GOP overspending, he's quitting the party -- and he's the bull's-eye of its target audience," the article says.

Mr. The Plumber has been a figurehead among Republican activists since last October, when a chance encounter with Barack Obama and the active promotion by McCain campaign turned him into the face of blue-collar conservatism. If he's not willing to call himself a Republican, they're really in trouble.

But even here on spending, there's a catch when it comes to the ideological purity: "But he also said he wouldn't support any cuts in defense, Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid -- which, along with debt payments, would put more than two-thirds of the budget off limits."