In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Of all the odd phenomena in Republican Washington, perhaps the most inexplicable is the party's embrace of Newt Gingrich--a man who hasn't been elected to political office since the kids still listened to Fastball--as a man of ideas and political relevance. Today they turned to him to articulate some of those ideas before a House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on climate change legislation. We liked this exchange between Gingrich and committee chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) in particular:

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The Democratic National Committee is quickly seizing the opportunity presented by the party's victory in the NY-20 special election -- to gloat over all the effort that Michael Steele and the Republicans put into this race.

The Dems have released this new Web video, entitled "Broken Steele":



"That's a seat that we should be able to go in and be competitive and win," Steele is shown saying. "I'm gonna put -- make it a focal point, right out of the box."

The NY-20 special election is now officially over, with Democrat Scott Murphy the winner.

GOP candidate Jim Tedisco, who trailed by 401 votes as of yesterday's vote count, has called Murphy to concede, according to Murphy spokesman Ryan Rudominer. (The latest vote count puts Murphy ahead by 399 votes.)

Murphy takes over in the seat from its previous Democratic occupant, Kirsten Gillibrand, whose appointment to the United States Senate set up the special election for this marginal district.

The election was on March 31, three and a half weeks ago, but it took this long to get a winner because it was so close and involved a lengthy process of counting and litigation of absentee ballots. Still not all of the ballots have been reported in, but it became very clear over the last few days that there was really no way Tedisco could have pulled it off.

Tedisco has released a statement, saying among other things:

"This was a close campaign every step of the way. Ultimately, it became clear that the numbers were not going our way and that the time had come to step aside and ensure that the next Congressman be seated as quickly as possible. In the interest of the citizens of the 20th Congressional district and our nation, I wish Scott the very best as he works with our new President and Congress to address the tremendous challenges facing our country."


Speaker Pelosi's office confirms to us that Murphy will be sworn in next week.

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The recent Department of Homeland Security report, which attracted so much criticism on the right for its warnings about domestic right-wing extremists, has another big-time detractor: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).

Bachmann took to the House floor on Wednesday night, delivering an impassioned speech about the government tagging decent Americans as extremists for being pro-life, pro-gun rights and anti-illegal immigration -- and asking whether Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has gone "absolutely stark raving mad":



There's no doubt that Bachmann has a genuine stake in this argument. For one thing, she is staunchly pro-life. She is also in favor of gun rights, and wants to secure the borders. Oh, and she's called for revolution against President Obama's tyranny and Marxism.

Congressional Quarterly and The New Republic are reporting that House and Senate negotiators, along with members of the Obama administration, have determined that the final budget will include reconciliation instructions for health care.

As I detailed in this post--already outdated--that's a huge deal. Keep the date October 15 in mind. If the House and Senate don't agree on a comprehensive health reform bill by that date, this tactic will be operative.

Now the conferees will smooth over other discrepancies between the House and Senate budgets and then both bodies will vote on a final resolution.

Jumping off of this post, I just got some data on Ben Nelson's voting history--and it's certainly interesting. Nelson opposed the filibuster on the confirmation of two extremely controversial Bush appointees--EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, and, twice, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton (if you'll recall, Bolton was ultimately not confirmed, but became ambassador anyhow via recess appointment).

I've got a more complete history below the fold. The record tells a pretty convincing tale--Nelson generally opposes the filibuster on nominees, even if he doesn't like the candidate. Of course, if he decides to break with his own tradition and filibuster Dawn Johnsen, he'll have to explain to a lot of angry, senior Democrats why Bolton was worth an up and down vote but Johnsen is not.

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Just as a quick addendum to this post: The Senate agreed last night to send Sens. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Judd Gregg (R-NH)--the chair and ranking member of the Budget Committee--and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to the budget conference committee. There they will hash out all the differences between the Senate's budget and the House's.

So what does this mean for reconciliation? Recall that reconciliation is a process that allows Congress to circumvent a filibuster, and, potentially, an avenue for passing major reform with little room for obstruction or debate. It's a potentially huge deal and, at the very least, a tool that could provide Democrats tons of leverage in their pursuit of health reform through the standard legislative process. The House budget includes reconciliation "instructions", but the Senate bill does not, and the crucial question--will the final budget include reconciliation instructions?--will be settled in the conference committee.

Conrad and Gregg have made their opposition to the process known (though according to The Hill, "Conrad told reporters that he doesn't want to use reconciliation rules to pass healthcare reform but that he is feeling pressure to include the option in the budget resolution from House members and the Obama administration").

But what about Murray?

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The DSCC has just unveiled a new online illustration of the Minnesota Senate dispute: The "Coleman Obstruction Timeline," laying out the Senate votes that Minnesota has missed during the time they've been without a full two Senators.



"The people of Minnesota deserve their second Senator and it is time to for Republicans to stop holding the seat hostage to pursue an ideological agenda," DSCC chairman Robert Menendez said in a statement promoting the new Web page. "We have always said Norm Coleman deserved his day in court - he got two months. It is now time to move on, and let Senator-elect Al Franken get to work for the people of Minnesota."

Former Clinton Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, brother of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, has decided that he is not running for the Illinois Senate seat currently held by Roland Burris and formerly held by Barack Obama.

It had been reported a month and a half ago that Daley was likely to run, but he has now changed his mind. "I was gung-ho, and hired pollsters and talked to fund-raisers and planned to make an announcement in mid-April," he told the Chicago Sun-Times. "But I'm getting remarried in June and decided I want to take a new tack in my life."

This appears to leave the Democratic field for now to state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who has raised over $1 million -- and perhaps Roland Burris, who thus far has only raised less than $1,000, and has not made a decision yet.

Via ThinkProgress, I see Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is taking a sanguine and, dare I say, democratic, view of the budget reconciliation process.

"It's their right. They did win the election," said Ryan, R-Wis. "That's what I tell all my constituents who are worried about this. They won the election. They did run on these ideas. They did run on nationalizing health care. So, you're right about that. They have the votes with reconciliation. They nailed down the process so that they can make sure they have the votes and that they can get this thing through really fast. It is their right. It is what they can do."


One can quibble with some of this rhetoric. Democrats won the election on a platform of universalizing health care through a combination of private and public insurance, and government subsidies. But this is certainly a more realistic assessment than that of, say, Ryan's Senate counterpart Judd Gregg (R-NH) who supports the reconciliation process when Republicans use it to pass tax cuts and ANWR drilling, but compares it to "running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River," when the Democrats so much as propose it for health reform.

But has Ryan always been so fair? Let's go to the tape:

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