In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Joe Lieberman is now doing something that might have seemed odd last summer: Singing the praises of Barack Obama.

In an interview with the Associated Press, examining how he has worked to repair his breach with Democratic Party, Lieberman said that Obama has shown "great leadership": "Bottom line: I think Barack Obama, president of the United States, is off to a very good start."

Lieberman still stands on principle about his support for John McCain, and his constant attacks against Obama and the Dems. "When I said those things not only did I believe them, but I believe looking at the records of the two people then, they were right," Lieberman said.

On the other hand, he says he never meant to suggest that Barack Obama doesn't put his country first -- but he does say his remarks were "too subject" to that interpretation and he wishes he'd said it differently.

So what might explain Lieberman's turnaround? It probably has a lot to do with the White House's help in him keeping his chairmanship. "President Obama played a very important role, he was very gracious," said Lieberman. "That obviously sealed the deal and I appreciated it a lot."

Americans United Continues Ad Campaign Against Limbaugh The pro-Obama labor group Americans United For Change has this new ad on national cable, continuing to link Republican opposition to the stimulus bill to Rush Limbaugh's desire for President Obama to fail:



"I want Barack Obama to fail," we see from Limbaugh's CPAC speech, followed by the announcer: "Tell Rush and the Republicans, America won't take 'no' for an answer."

Obama To Lift Ban On Stem-Cell Funding Today President Obama will be speaking from the White House at 11:45 a.m. ET, where he will discuss the importance of scientific integrity against political interference, and then sign an executive order lifting the Bush-era ban on government funding of embryonic stem-cell research. Then at 2:15 p.m. ET he will meet the finalists of the Intel Science Talent Search, a science research competition for high school students.

Biden Heading To Brussels, To Consult With NATO Vice President Biden is leaving today for Brussels, Belgium, where he will meet with the North Atlantic Council. Biden will be consulting with allies on Afghanistan and Pakistan, will meet with NATO's Secretary General, senior officials of the European Union, Belgian government officials, and with leaders from non-NATO countries who are contributing to Afghanistan.

Omnibus Could Pass Tomorrow The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday to end debate and pass the omnibus spending bill, after debate and votes tonight on four Republican amendments. Harry Reid came one vote short of 60 on Thursday night, necessitating the delay.

Obama Makes Surprise Appearance At Ted Kennedy Salute President Obama put in a surprise appearance last night at the Kennedy Center's tribute to Ted Kennedy. Obama appeared on stage toward the end of the event, leading the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday" to Kennedy.

NYT: Axelrod Still Close At Hand The New York Times profiles Obama White House adviser David Axelrod, examining how he has transitioned from the role of a campaign strategist to working on policy in Washington -- for example, he reportedly signed off on the recent attacks against Rush Limbaugh. However, Axelrod rejects any comparison to Karl Rove: "I'm not sitting here moving pieces around from the White House. I'm not trying to run the Democratic Party. I'm not trying to supplant the brilliant policy makers who are here."

Obama Open To Outreach To Some Taliban Elements In an interview with the New York Times, President Obama said that the United States is not winning the Afghanistan War, and that one option would be to negotiate with some elements of the Taliban. Though he acknowledged that the complexities of Afghanistan, he also said: "If you talk to General Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq."

Karzai Approves Of Obama's Stance On Taliban Negotiation At a public appearance yesterday in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said: "Yesterday, Mr. Obama accepted and approved the path of peace and talks with those Afghan Taliban who he called moderates." He added: "This is a good news ... this is approval of our previous stance and we accept and praise it."

Obama Arriving Back At White House From Camp David The First Family is scheduled to return to the White House at 2:50 p.m. ET, after spending the night at Camp David.

Ted Kennedy To Receive Award Tonight, Biden Attending Ted Kennedy will be honored tonight at the Kennedy Center in Washington, where he will be presented the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. Vice President Biden and Jill Biden will be in attendance.

Shelby: Improve Market By Letting Big Banks Fail Appearing on ABC's This Week, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) laid out his opposition to bank nationalization, and his support of letting big banks fail. "Close them down, get them out of business. If they're dead, they ought to be buried," Shelby said. "We bury the small banks; we've got to bury some big ones and send a strong message to the market. And I believe that people will start investing in banks."

McCain: GM Should Go Into Bankruptcy, Reorganize Appearing on Fox News Sunday, John McCain said: "I think the best thing that could probably happen to General Motors, in my view, is they go into Chapter 11, they reorganize, they renegotiate ... the union-management contracts and come out of it a stronger, better, leaner, more competitive automotive industry." Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, a Michigan Republican, strongly disagreed, saying that if GM and Chrysler go into bankruptcy they would likely not come out of it.

Orszag: Spending Bill Will Be Different Next Year Appearing on CNN, White House Budget Director Peter Orszag said the Obama Administration doesn't like aspects of the omnibus bill, but has to handle it as a matter left over from last year. "Is it uglier than we'd like? Yes. But again, this was negotiated last year," said Orszag. "We think we should just move on. When we are engaged in the fiscal year 2010 appropriations process, it's going to look a lot different."

Cantor: White House Has No Credibility On Spending Also appearing on CNN, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) fired back at Orszag. "There is no way anyone could take what Mr. Orszag has said with any credibility," said Cantor. "Of course they're negotiating on this bill in the Senate right now. To say that we would have drawn it differently, but leave $430 billion plus on the table like this? No way." A note about credibility: Cantor voted for all of the Bush White House's deficit-spending programs.

Obama: Economy Is Both Crisis And Opportunity In his weekly video address, President Obama reviews the problems facing the economy, the solutions being offered -- and the opportunity to leverage this towards greater success in the future:



"From the day I took office, I knew that solving this crisis would not be easy, nor would it happen overnight," said Obama. "And we will continue to face difficult days in the months ahead. But I also believe that we will get through this -- that if we act swiftly and boldly and responsibly, the United States of America will emerge stronger and more prosperous than it was before."

GOP Response Warns Of Health Care Becoming Like DMV -- Or IRS In this week's Republican response video, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) discussed health care policy, warning that health care proposals currently going around in Washington would crowd out the private sector and lead to government bureaucracy and rationing:



"Just imagine a health care system that looks like a government run operation most of us are all too familiar with - the local DMV," said Blunt. "Lines, paper work, taking a number. Or how about another government agency - the IRS."

Obama Family On Trip To Camp David The First Family is spending today and tonight at Camp David. They will return to the White House tomorrow afternoon. Vice President Biden is in Florida, and does not have any public events.

Obama To Visit Turkey Hillary Clinton announced during an appearance on Turkish television that President Obama will be visiting Turkey in roughly the next month, though the exact date hasn't been established yet. Clinton discussed the importance of outreach to the Muslim world, holding up Turkey as a model example of a secular democracy: "Democracy and modernity and Islam can all coexist."

Pro-Obama Group Launching More Limbaugh-Themed Ads The labor-backed group Americans United For Change is launching a new set of radio ads against five Republican House members -- Mike Castle (DE), Thaddeus McCotter (MI), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Dave Reichert (WA) and one other to be announced next week -- linking them to Rush Limbaugh. An excerpt:

First, Rush Limbaugh said of President Obama: "I hope he fails." Then, nearly every Republican in Congress followed Limbaugh's lead - including Congressman Mike Castle - and voted against the President's recovery plan and against three and a half million jobs.

Well - it passed any way - and it's already working to create jobs.


WaPo: Limbaugh's Ratings Impossible To Measure The Washington Post examines the various claims about Rush Limbaugh's ratings, and finds that while he certainly has millions of people tuning in, it may be impossible to really tell how many -- the show is on at different times and for different durations across markets, and people tune in for varying periods of time. "It's very hard to come up with an exact answer," said Michael Harrison, editor of the trade magazine Talkers. "It really reveals the embarrassing state of radio ratings."

Poll: Minnesotans Don't Think Pawlenty Should Run For President A new Rasmussen poll of Minnesota finds that 61% of the state's likely voters do not think Governor Tim Pawlenty should run for president. This is not to say he is unpopular, though, with an alternate majority of 56% approving of his job performance.

The Hill: Specter In Trouble -- Should He Switch Parties? The Hill takes a look at the math surrounding the expected conservative primary challenge by Pat Toomey against Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), and finds a huge problem that is now confronting Specter: Between 150,000 and 200,000 moderate voters changed their registrations from Republican to Democratic in 2008, seriously shrinking the base of potential GOP voters in the closed-primary state. Furthermore, Pennsylvania has a "sore loser" law, which would prevent a primary loser from running as an independent -- raising the possibility that Specter's best bet could be to switch parties.

The Franken campaign has sent us this statement from lead attorney Marc Elias, responding to the state Supreme Court's decision against their lawsuit to force the state to give Franken a certificate of election during the election-contest litigation: "We'd hoped for different results, but we're moving forward. At this point, we're within a couple weeks of completing the election contest."

Earlier today, the Coleman campaign posted a comparatively longer statement from legal spokesman Ben Ginsberg, celebrating the ruling. The first sentence: "The Minnesota Supreme Court's decision is a victory for Minnesota Law and Minnesotans. This wise ruling will ensure that Harry Reid, Al Franken and Chuck Schumer cannot short-circuit Minnesota Law in their partisan power play."

Ginbserg also referred in the statement to the court having an "obligation to certify the number of 'lawfully cast ballots' for each candidate." As I've pointed out, this is not what the law says -- nor can I recall ever seeing any Coleman lawyer actually saying this in court, where it matters.

The statute actually says the court is to decide which candidate "received the highest number of votes legally cast." This is obviously a much lower standard than certifying the exact number of votes for each candidate -- a task that no rational person would even attempt with 2.9 million ballots. Then again, this daily line from Ginsberg has to be viewed in light of the current push by the Coleman campaign to throw out the election result on the grounds that a winner can't be determined.

Another series of arguments took place in the Minnesota election court today, as lead Franken lawyer Marc Elias argued the campaign's motion to dismiss Norm Coleman's whole lawsuit, either in whole or at least partially.

Some good news: The "partially" part is now guaranteed, as Coleman lawyer James Langdon agreed during his counter-argument that the claims in the suit that weren't argued when Team Coleman presented its case have been abandoned and could be dismissed.

The others, as you can imagine, remained very contentious.

Elias reiterated his charge that Coleman has failed to present evidence on the absentee ballots he wanted to present -- and pointed out how Coleman's numbers seem to use a different standard, noting that they don't have the full registration information.

"I think a clue to where they get their number -- and I may be wrong, it's found in their brief -- because their brief seems to take the position that the registration of voter and witness is at this point optional."

Elias quoted a part of Coleman's latest brief, saying the lack of registration information "should not be dispositive" because of clerical errors in the system. "It's an essential element to prove that the voter was registered and the witness was registered," Elias said. "This court ruled that a month ago. A month ago."

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The budget debate has yet to reach critical mass on Capitol Hill, but here's one Republican talking point to watch out for in the coming days: criticism of President Obama's choice to put the cost of the Iraq war in the annual budget, rather than relying on "emergency supplemental" war funding that doesn't impact the deficit (as George W. Bush did).

Rep. Paul Ryan (WI), the senior GOPer on the House Budget Committee, was the first to raise this point during a hearing with White House budget chief Peter Orszag on Tuesday. Ryan derided as a "budget gimmick" the Obama team's decision to assume savings from a gradual end to the war in Iraq. As the AP put it, Ryan

told Orszag that administration claims of deficit-cutting are mostly bogus since the deficit would fall anyway as the war in Iraq winds down.


Orszag offered a rebuttal to this claim on his blog this afternoon, pointing out that former President George H.W. Bush assumed a similar savings from the gradual winding-down of the Cold War -- which ultimately panned out.

As Orszag's numbers show, assuming that defense spending would fall below the budget "baseline" (which Obama bases on 2008 previous war costs) ended up paying dividends for Bush 41.

The Senate Budget Committee's Republicans go into more detail in their critique of the president's budget, available for download here (second link from the top). The Senate GOPers argue that "the budget claims 'silly' savings by imagining new baselines," asserting that the real model for 2010 war spending is what was spent so far in 2009, or $70 billion.

Now, at the risk of attempting to analyze a budget debate that's far in the weeds, should the budget baseline assume a full year of war spending or a partial one? The former is a far more honest method.

The Minnesota election court today heard a series of contentious oral arguments, with the decisions likely to have a huge impact on the future of this case.

First up, let's take a look at the Coleman campaign's motion to declare that "Rule 9" -- the set of procedures that the campaigns created for counting original damaged absentee ballots, rather than the duplicates made on Election Night -- was illegal. The Coleman has maintained that human errors in the labeling of duplicates and originals resulted Franken gaining an illegitimate gain, that votes were counted twice.

Lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg argued that the rule created by the Coleman campaign was illegal, overriding the interests of the voters, and pointed out how the Secretary of State's office didn't want to go along. "And the Secretary of State abdicated his function by allowing two political parties to set aside a statute that was not designed for their benefit in the first place," he said. "You can't do that."

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It's often tempting to dive into the GOP's noisy crusade against earmarks, if only to point out the unabashed hypocrisy of lawmakers like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- who watched many in his party decry the earmarks in this year's $410 billion spending bill while securing a nice bit of cash for his own home-state projects.

And on the topic of shooting fish in a barrel, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) was pretty exercised about earmarks today on Fox News:

Now is not the time to be earmarking a lot of this money. People don't mind paying taxes and they understand the government needs to be run, but they hate to see their money wasted. So that's a second reason for opposing [the bill.

...

Well, I suspect there will be some that vote for it. Some like these earmarks, for one thing.


And Kyl would be one of those who likes earmarks. He secured $5 million in funding for solo earmarks in the bill, along with $25.8 million for joint earmarks with other lawmakers, according to a database assembled by the non-partisan Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Or as Kyl told the Washington Examiner this week, "Anything I have in the bill, I have a reason for."

The Minnesota Supreme Court just handed down their opinion on Al Franken's lawsuit to force the state to issue him a certificate of election -- and it's a unanimous No:

It is our legislature that is charged by both the federal and state constitutions with the authority and responsibility to fashion the processes for the election of United States Senators from Minnesota. The legislature has done so and has clearly chosen not to authorize issuance of a certificate of election until an election contest is completed. Franken has failed to establish that either the United States Constitution or federal statutes mandate the issuance of a certificate of election immediately. In the absence of such a mandate, overturning a legislative choice in order to maintain comity with a federal scheme is not within our judicial powers.


The remaining question, then, is when does somebody get a certificate? When does a "court of proper jurisdiction," as the law terms it, decide the case? The court cites prior case law declaring "the term 'proper court' in the same section applies to the state court which is given jurisdiction." This appears to suggest that a certificate could be issued after this goes through state court -- and not an onerous federal appeals process as the state's solicitor general said during oral arguments in this case.

However, the possibility would still exist of federal appeals placing an injunction against issuing a certificate -- so who knows.

This line has to be the cruelest cut for Franken. The opinion also says that Franken is not being hurt by the lack of a certificate -- the Senate can seat him if it wants:

In other words, if the Senate believes delay in seating the second Senator from Minnesota adversely affects the Senate, it has the authority to remedy the situation and needs no certificate of election from the Governor to do so. We cannot conclude, therefore, that the Minnesota Legislature's choice to defer issuance of a certificate of election until the full state election process has run its course unconstitutionally usurps the Senate's authority.


Of course, Senate Republicans are saying they'll block any attempt to suspend the rules and seat Franken without a certificate, even if theoretically the Senate has the power to do so. Remember all that fuss the Democratic leadership made over Roland Burris, demanding that everything be checked out on his credentials? Oy.

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