In it, but not of it. TPM DC

I realize that the very word Lieberman sends a lot of liberals into fits of apoplexy. But it's worth making an additional point to the fine post from my colleague, Eric Kleefeld. Lieberman is talking about leaving the door open to returning to the Democratic party. I think that's unlikely since he would probably be eviscerated in a primary. Still, it's a remarkable shift from a few months ago when it seemed entirely possible that Lieberman would choose to caucus with Senate Republicans.

It's worth noting what's happened to Lieberman since Obama took office. He never wavered on the stimulus. He's supporting the Employee Free Choice Act. He's been fulsome in his praise of President Obama. Think of how much harder things would be for the president if Lieberman had bolted on those issues or had chosen to caucus with Republicans.

I understand Democratic anger with Lieberman. After all, he not only opposed Barack Obama but actively campaigned for the McCain-Palin ticket and endorsed Norm Coleman in Minnesota. The sentiment to kick him out of the caucus had a lot of merit to it. And I'm not suggesting that Lieberman won't stick it to Obama and the Democrats in the future. He probably will.

That said, I think it now seems clear that Harry Reid and Barack Obama were wise not to follow the Netroots call for a Lieberman purge and to let him keep his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. I assume most readers will disagree but while the anger of kicking him to the curb would have felt good at the time, wouldn't it have made life harder for President Obama? Discuss.

Christopher Hill, the Obama administration's nominee to become the next ambassador to Baghdad, hasn't made many friends on the right since his time as the Bush administration's chief negotiator on the North Korean nuclear deal.

And now Hill has drawn fire from Senate Republicans who could make serious trouble for his nomination. John McCain (AZ) and Lindsey Graham (SC) released a joint statement last night blasting Hill's "controversial legacy" in the Pyongyang talks and alleging that he lacks the Middle East experience required in a Baghdad envoy.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) echoed the criticisms in a later interview with the AP. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) is already out in front with a defense of Hill, telling Fox News that his conservative critics should take up their North Korea beef with the departed Bush administration.

The AP reports that the trio of critical Republicans means Hill's chances of confirmation are "dimming," which seems to be something of an overstatement given that he would only need one GOP supporter to break a filibuster. But the GOPers' move clearly signals intense political jockeying to come -- with the accompanying media coverage that McCain often draws.

Late Update: Another Democratic senator on the Foreign Relations panel, Jim Webb (VA), has joined Kerry in sending a positive signal on Hill's nomination. Here's Webb's statement:

I have tremendous regard for the service Christopher Hill has given our country. He is one of the best negotiators in the Foreign Service today. There will be ample opportunity to fully explore the full range of his qualifications during the confirmation hearings.

When President Obama submitted a budget that predicted passage of a revenue-raising climate change bill, hopes rose that Congress could successfully rein in carbon emissions this year.

But a cap-and-trade climate bill is almost certain to be filibustered by Republicans -- and in a letter delivered to the Senate Budget Committee yesterday, eight Democratic senators joined 25 Republicans to defend the GOP's right to set a 60-vote margin for passing emissions limits.

"We oppose using the budget process to expedite passage of climate legislation," the senators, including eight centrist Democrats, wrote in their missive.

Using the procedure of budget reconciliation, which would allow a climate change measure to become law with 50 votes while preventing filibusters, "would circumvent normal Senate practice and would be inconsistent with the administration's goals of bipartisanship, cooperation, and openness," the 33 senators wrote.

Budget reconciliation was used by George W. Bush and congressional Republicans to prevent Democrats from stalling both the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. The opposition of nearly one-half of the Senate, however, means that President Obama's party will have little room to use the tactic as successfully as Bush's supporters did.

Filibuster-proofing the upcoming health care reform bill through reconciliation already has been ruled out strongly discouraged* by pivotal Democratic senators on the Finance Committee, Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).

Democrats' reluctance to take advantage of their procedural arsenal to pass climate change and health care this year doesn't mean that both pieces of legislation would necessarily fall to filibusters. But it does mean that Republicans will have significantly more opportunities to insert pro-business provisions into these pivotal bills. Late Update: The eight Democratic senators who signed on to the letter are Robert Byrd (WV), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Ben Nelson (NE), Evan Bayh (IN), Mark Pryor (AR), Bob Casey (PA), Carl Levin (MI), and Mary Landrieu (LA).

*Late Late Update: Baucus has not ruled out reconciliation entirely. As he told the Kaiser Family Foundation last week, "I am doing whatever I can to avoid reconciliation [on health care] and don't take it off the table totally, because it is a backup.

In yet another indication that Joe Lieberman is going out of his way to patch things up with the Democratic Party, The Hill reports that Lieberman is floating the idea of running for re-election in 2012 -- as a Democrat.

Lieberman said that friends have asked him whether he might go back fully to the Democratic Party. "I'm an independent Democrat, and that gives me options," said Lieberman. However, he did caution against assuming that his praise of President Obama and his work within the Democratic caucus mean he will ultimately rejoin the party: "I wouldn't reach that conclusion."

The new Quinnipiac poll from earlier this week suggests that Lieberman would have a very hard time in a Democratic primary. Among Democratic voters, his approval rating is at only 32%, with 61% disapproval. And another Quinnipiac poll from a month ago tested Lieberman as an independent in a general election against Democratic state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, with Blumenthal winning by a 58%-30% landslide, with an 83%-9% margin among Democrats alone.

But there's no denying that a lot can happen in a three and half years. In 2008 alone, for example, Lieberman travelled the country and vociferously attacked Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. And look at him now.

Florida GOP Chairman Defends Steele, Blasts Critics Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer has sent a letter to RNC members, defending Michael Steele -- and lambasting his critics: "What I find so disturbing is that some Republicans cannot see the absolute necessity of providing unwavering loyalty and support to Chairman Steele as he embarks upon leading the Republican Party into the future."

Steele Hires Chief of Staff For RNC The RNC announced that Michael Steele has hired Ken McKay, former campaign manager and chief of staff to Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri, to be the new RNC Chief of Staff. One of the criticisms of Steele in the last month and a half is that he has been slow to fill the key staff positions, but he is now starting to make progress on that front.

Obama's Day Ahead: Focusing On The Economy President Obama is having a closed meeting with Economic Recovery Advisory Board Chairman Paul Volcker at 12 p.m. ET. At 12:45 p.m. ET, he will deliver remarks from the Oval Office on the economy. At 1:15 p.m. ET he is meeting with Vice President Biden for lunch.

Biden Promoting Stimulus With Dem Members of Congress -- And Specter Vice President Biden will be administering the oath of office to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis this morning. At noon, he will head up an event at Union Station to announce funding for Amtrak as part of the stimulus program. Others in attendance include Democratic members of Congress such as Senators John Kerry, Jay Rockefeller, Frank Lautenberg and others -- plus Republican Senator Arlen Specter.

Big Day In Minnesota: Closing Arguments Closing arguments in the Minnesota election trial are scheduled for today. Each side will have an hour at bat to make their final case to the judges. After that, the judges are expected to spend two to three weeks working on a determination of who has legally won the most votes, and is entitled to the certificate of election -- a decision that is likely to be appealed.

WaPo: U.S. Attorney Situation Remains Unclear The Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration faces some very complicated choices in appointing new U.S. Attorneys, between the interest of appointing their own people versus the need in some cases to keep current Attorneys in places to pursue pending cases. Perhaps the most controversial example involves Mary Beth Buchanan, a conservative U.S. Attorney from western Pennsylvania who is quite publicly refusing to resign.

Virgil Goode Files Papers For Potential 2010 Comeback Bid Former Congressman Virgil Goode (R-VA), who was defeated in a huge upset by Democrat Tom Perriello by a margin of 727 votes out of over 315,000 in 2008, has filed papers to run again in 2010. Goode is perhaps best known for denouncing the election of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress.

Another fun detail to the story about the Coleman campaign's breach of online donors' credit-card data -- which was caused after the site's entire unencrypted database was briefly posted online in late January.

The campaign's FAQ page about the breach -- which promises that the individuals who stole this information will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and urges any concerned supporters to cancel their credit cards -- ends with a solicitation to send more money:



Of course, the donation has to be sent by snail-mail, or made with a credit card over the phone, because they've had to take down their Web site's credit-card functionality.

On a conference call with reporters just now, lead Franken attorney Marc Elias celebrated the imminent closing arguments tomorrow. "This is truly not only a historic recount and election contest in its size and the long period of time that it's gone on, but also in its thoroughness," said Elias. "And the people of Minnesota and all the people of the United States can take a great deal of confidence and pride in the process that has gone on for the last nearly five months."

I asked about the intriguing possibility raised to me by Professor David Schultz of Hamline University -- that the Franken camp could potentially use the loser-pays provision of the election-contest law to stop any appeal from Coleman, by forcing his campaign committee to come up with millions of dollars to be placed in escrow to cover Franken's attorney's fees before any appeals continue.

"You know I've gotten a number of questions over the course of the last five weeks about the cost-shifting provision of the law," said Elias. "And in honesty I'll give you the same answer now I've given before, which is I have not spent really any time looking at it. I will now have a chance, now that the evidence is closed, to now look to the next step in this, which would be what happens post-decision by the court. But I will take a look at that and probably be in a better position to answer that in the next few days."

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.

Read More →

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."

Read More →

TPMLivewire