In it, but not of it. TPM DC

CNN reported last night the GOP was launching a new initiative, the "National Council for a New America," as a push to rebrand the party's image away and counter the label that the Democrats have put forward calling the Republicans the "Party of No."

However, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) appeared today on Fox News, and he said it is not a rebranding effort, but is instead an attempt to engage with the American people:

"Jane, it's not a rebranding effort," said Cantor. "What this is, is an attempt to engage and begin a conversation with the American people. what we're looking for on the National Council for a New America is to involve all the American people for wide-open policy debate about the issues confronting this nation, on the issues confronting the families and the communities across this country."

So did CNN read in too much, thinking that an effort to alter the party's image was tantamount to rebranding -- or is it that Cantor is walking the idea back?

A new survey of Illinois from Public Policy Polling (D) suggests that Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) could potentially be a competitive candidate in the 2010 election for the Senate seat now held by Democratic Sen. Roland Burris. But this could easily change against him, if currently undecided Democratic voters lock in for the eventual nominee.

Against Burris, Kirk wins in a 53%-19% landslide. It seems highly improbable that Burris will actually be the nominee, and PPP polled some other Democrats: Kirk edges Rep. Jan Schakowsky 37%-33% and ties state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias 35%-35%, with high numbers of undecideds. But the well-known and popular state Attorney General Lisa Madigan leads Kirk 49%-33%.

From the pollster's analysis of the match-ups with Schakowsky and Giannoulias: "Those numbers aren't quite as encouraging for Republicans as they may seem to be though. In each case only 19% of GOP voters are undecided, while more than 30% of Democratic ones are."

The American Energy Alliance describes itself as a "not-for-profit organization that engages in grassroots public policy advocacy and debate concerning energy and environmental policies." As a point of reference, those policies don't include the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill, which, AEA's website announces "will further cripple our already struggling economy."

AEA's policy ideas supposedly come from the industry-funded Institute for Energy Research (of which they are an affiliate) which supposedly conducts "intensive research and analysis on the functions, operations, and government regulation of global energy markets."

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Americans United For Change has just come out with this TV ad, calling upon Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) to resist pressure from his national party, and certify Al Franken as the winner of the Senate race after Franken presumably wins against Norm Coleman's appeal at the state Supreme Court:

"The Republican Campaign Chairman, Texas Senator Cornyn, said Norm Coleman's court challenges could take 'years' to resolve," the announcer says, accompanied by a fuzzy shot of Cornyn in a cowboy hat. "Now Governor Pawlenty has a choice. Will he act in the best interest of Minnesota, or his own national political ambitions?"

The ad will air on cable TV in the Twin Cities and Rochester media markets. The oral arguments at the Minnesota Supreme Court won't happen until a month from now, so there's plenty of time for people to argue about what should happen after a court decision that may be widely expected, but hasn't actually happened yet.

At the Senate GOP leadership's press conference on Tuesday, after Sen. Arlen Specter switched from the Republicans to the Democrats, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) made a very interesting statement in his capacity as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee:

"I will tell you that in 2010 we are working very hard to make sure that we have the kind of candidates across the country on a national scale," said Cornyn, "that will allow the Republican Party to regain our status as a national party, and run competitive races in blue states, and purple states, and in red states."

So was Cornyn saying that the GOP is not right now a national party? I asked NRSC press secretary Amber Wilkerson for comment, and she pointed me in the direction of something Cornyn said at CPAC earlier this year, about the need to be a big tent that can appeal to voters across the country.

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Appearing today on Morning Joe, Michael Steele provided an interesting metaphor for how different kinds of Republicans can co-exist. He asked Mika Brzezinski, Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan to imagine that they were all wearing hats that said "GOP," and that they hailed from different parts of the country:

"You (Brzezinski) wear your hat one way you like to wear it, you know, kind of cocked to the left, you know, 'cause that's cool out West," Steele said. "In the Midwest, you guys (Scarborough) like to wear it a little bit to the right. In the South, you guys (Buchanan) wear the brim straight ahead. Now the Northeast, I wear my hat backwards, you know, 'cause that's how we roll in the Northeast."

This gets into something I've observed before about Steele: He often sounds like a middle-aged man attempting to talk to his kids and sound cool, and not exactly being successful at it.

Michael Steele is firing back at his RNC detractors, who are bringing forward a proposed rewrite of the RNC's rules to effectively strip Steele of his control over the party's finances.

The Washington Times reports that Steele has fired off an e-mail to the proposal's five main sponsors. "No RNC chairman has ever had to deal with this," Steele wrote, "and I certainly have no intention of putting up with it either."

Steele also wrote: "It is of course not lost on me that each of you worked tirelessly down to the last minute in an effort to stop me from becoming chairman."

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) is starting to sound like a guy whose road to the Senate has just been hit by an avalanche. A 79-year-old, recently Republican avalanche. Earlier today on MSNBC, he reiterated his doubts about Sen. Arlen Specter's move into the Democratic party. But, at the end of his appearance, he almost explicitly threatened to run for the Senate if Specter didn't quickly prove a good steward of Democratic values.

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Gates Asks For War Funding; To Testify Before Committee Today Sec. of Defense Robert Gates is asking Congress to pass $83.4 billion in funding by Memorial Day for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Gates will testify today at a 10 a.m. ET hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee, joined by Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, where he will say: "After Memorial Day, we will need to consider options to delay running out of funds."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will meeting at 1:30 p.m. ET with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI), and Reps. Ike Skelton (D-MO) and John McHugh (R-NY). At 2:30 p.m. ET, he will speak at the "White House to Light House" Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride, a program to raise awareness about the challenges facing wounded veterans. At 3 p.m. ET, Obama will meet with Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner, and at 3:45 p.m. ET he will meet with Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, joined by Vice President Biden.

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Time's Michael Scherer just asked an excellent question. During the campaign, Obama took the position that the Bush administration had abused the state's secret privilege, but since coming into office he has used it repeatedly to argue that crucial national security cases be thrown out of court.

Scherer asked the President to reconcile that contradiction. And Obama's answer was...a bit disingenuous. "I actually think that the state secrets doctrine should be modified," he said. "I think right now it's overbroad."

So why has he been hiding behind its breadth? "We're in for a week, and suddenly we've got a court filing that's coming up...and we don't have the time to think up what an overarching form that doctrine should take."

But it's hard to square that with what the administration's actually done. DOJ lawyers haven't asked the courts for more time, or to withhold key pieces of information. Rather, they've argued that these cases--Jewel v NSA, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v Obama, and Mohammed v Jeppesen Dataplan--be tossed out entirely. And they've done that by invoking the state secrets privilege. In fact, in Jewel, the administration went so far as to claim "sovereign immunity" for the government from just about any lawsuit involving wiretapping. That position is even more radical than Bush's was.

It's hard to imagine Obama walking that claim back. But as far as state secrets go, now he's on the record. The administration, he said, is "searching for ways to redact to carve out certain cases to see what can be done... there should be some additional tools so that it's not such a blunt instrument." That's news--the White House hasn't always been so straightforward. But there are incipient efforts in Congress to do just what Obama said, and if I had been offered a followup question, I might have asked whether this means he'll throw his full weight behind them.