In it, but not of it. TPM DC

I'm surprised only one commentator so far as I know, Michael Barone, and few Democrats like Congressional Black Caucus Chair Barbara Lee, have made this point. By putting Judd Gregg at Commerce, Obama has put a Republican in charge of one of the most politically frought tasks facing any president: the Census. Mandated by the Constitution, the Census is, of course, essential for allocating congressional seats as well as the disbursement of certain federal funds.

The methods of Census collection are often in dispute. In 2000 Democrats pushed for statistical sampling to achieve a better count of underrepresented groups--the homeless, transient poor, and so on. They lost. It's not clear that there will be as much controversy in 2010 when the next Census will take place but by putting Gregg at the Commerce Department--which oversees the Bureau of the Census--Obama has handed a potentially very politically sensitive position to a Republican. My old colleague, Barone weighs in against sampling as liberal subterfuge although any number of groups of like the American Association for the Advancement of Science have supported it.

New Hampshire's Democratic Governor John Lynch has officially announced that he will appoint Republican Bonnie Newman to the Senate seat of Judd Gregg, as soon as Gregg resigns to become Secretary of Commerce.

Gregg made it a clear condition for accepting the cabinet appointment that a Republican would be appointed to his seat, rather than let a Dem come in and potentially give the party a filibuster-proof majority. Thus Newman, Gregg's former chief of staff and an ex-interim president of the University of New Hampshire, is getting the seat.

It is now also official that Newman is serving strictly as a caretaker -- she will not run for the seat in 2010. This means that while Democrats haven't gotten the seat immediately, the chance of picking it up later is actually pretty good. New Hampshire has realigned to the Dems in recent years, and an open-seat race has to be considered as leaning towards a Democratic takeover.

The Minnesota election court just handed down a ruling on a key motion by Al Franken's legal team, seeking to limit the scope of Norm Coleman's inquiry into rejected absentee ballots.

And it turns out they've split the difference. Coleman's lawyers have alternately been talking about looking at all 11,000 remaining absentee ballots that have been rejected, or just looking at 4,797 of them, while Franken wants to limit Coleman to a prior list of 654.

The court is allowing Coleman to continue presenting evidence on the 4,797, which had been disclosed to the Franken camp in the summary judgment filings before the trial began. But that's it.

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A very awkward moment just happened in the Minnesota Senate trial. Judge Kurt Marben, as opposed to a Franken lawyer, actively asked about a problem with the photocopy of an absentee ballot that Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg was presenting, which was missing the section where a voter would list proof of residence.

Friedberg said that this was how they received the document itself from the county. This led to a very uncomfortable exchange between the lawyers, the judges and even the witness Kevin Corbid, the head elections official in Washington County, lasting for several minutes.

Judge Denise Reilly chimed in: "The issue is it was rejected for proof of residence, and the part of the ballot showing proof of residence is the part that's been cut off." Corbid added that it was possible that the proof of residence was removed when a separate flap was torn off of the envelope, accidentally taking that section with it.

Who knows.

On the other hand, Coleman has managed to make some headway today in his fundamental legal claim.

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I'm still reporting but what I've heard jibes with what's come out in the last couple of hours: That Daschle made the decision to go himself after the New York Times op-ed and the sense that the opposition could grow and not diminish over the next week. No one in the administration wanted to talk him out of it but they weren't going to pull the plug either. President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Congressional liasion Phil Schilero had all been making calls on Daschle's behalf through yesterday and Daschle's apologetic tone seemed to help. Still, White House officials knew that the story was likely to get worse next week when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is scheduled to announce more detailed plans for bailing out the financial industry. That is likely to once again raise the issue of executive compensation. "Those aren't good atmospherics to be discussing free limo rides," said one Democrat close to the White House.

While no Democrat in the Senate had come out against his nomination, Republican opposition to his nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services was growing. This morning he called White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel to say he was quitting. (Obama later spoke with Daschle from the president's private study off the Oval Office.) This morning's announced withdrawal of Nancy Killefer, nominated to the newly created post of Chief Performance Officer, made White House officials more appreciative of Daschle's withdrawal. Had he stayed in the administration would have been seen as sexist, backing two male candidates with tax problems (Daschle and Treasury Secretary Tim Getihner) and jettisoning one woman. Daschle saved them the trouble of explaining that one. That said, Obama has to go on all the network news show tonite and talk about these withdrawals rather than the economic crisis and the stimulus package, his original reason for booking the interviews with the Katie Couric, Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson.

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A reader writes in to note my description of a Senate transportation amendment as falling "two votes short" today, suggesting that it had in fact been filibustered by the GOP.

The Republicans certainly did block the amendment, but it wasn't a filibuster -- what occurred was a motion to waive budgetary rules to allow for more new spending that isn't offset by cuts. Such a motion is more of a fiscal box-checking than a political obstruction, though it has the same effect in practice. Sixty votes are needed to waive budgetary rules, the same margin needed to break a filibuster.

But If no budgetary motion had been made on the amendment, it likely would have been deemed "non-germane" according to Senate rules -- and fallen short in the end. Such is the mind-numbing tradition of parliamentary procedure.

As I noted earlier today, Senate environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is said to be on the verge of endorsing an effort to open up the stimulus bill's $5.5 billion transportation grants program to highways rather than limit it to mass transit systems that sorely need more money.

Who on earth would push such an amendment in the first place, you ask? Why, the headed-for-retirement Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO). From CQ's report today:

[Bond] plans to offer an amendment that would transfer $5.5 billion in the bill for surface transportation competitive grants to the highway and bridge formula. The grants are meant for larger projects of national or regional significance that can be started within three years. Bond said that is not stimulative.


"Projects of national and regional significance" that can give Americans an alternative to car travel are "not stimulative"? Say what? Then again, Bond has long denied a human role in climate change and helped block congressional action on the issue. So if Boxer agrees to sign on to his proposal, it's not without being warned.

... but he's not telling who. Max Baucus (D-MT), who would have had to shepherd former rival Tom Daschle's health secretary nomination to passage through his Senate Finance Committee, described himself as "surprised" by Daschle's sudden withdrawal today.

Baucus reiterated that he supported confirming Daschle's nomination, while acknowledging that the nominee's scheduled hearing was "a week from today ... it's hard to know what would have happened." When I asked if he had any suggestions for President Obama to fill the health secretary post, Baucus said coyly that "I've got some ideas" but declined to elaborate.

Could he be talking about Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the Nancy Pelosi ally who rents an apartment to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel? Or perhaps health care expert Jeanne Lambrew, now serving as a deputy health adviser to Obama? Or could Baucus be talking about ... himself?

The Feinstein-Murray amendment to increase transportation funding in the stimulus bill -- with an emphasis on highways and mass transit in the background -- just fell two votes short of passage in the Senate. Two Republican appropriators, Sens. Kit Bond (MO) and Arlen Specter (PA), voted in favor, with one Democrat, Mary Landrieu (LA), voting no.

And Landrieu didn't look shy about explaining her vote. I saw her huddling animatedly with White House adviser David Axelrod in a Senate corridor this afternoon and asked Landrieu about their conversation. Her response sheds some light on the apparent slowdown of the stimulus bill in the upper chamber of Congress after its burst of early momentum.

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White House adviser David Axelrod just briefed reporters outside the Senate chamber on the withdrawal of Tom Daschle's nomination as health secretary. Axelrod attributed the decision to pull out to Daschle -- not anyone within the administration -- and suggested that the news came as a surprise to the president, especially coming one day after Democratic senators stood behind their former leader.

"He called [the White House] this morning" to withdraw from consideration, Axelrod said. "I think he made the decision this morning." The

As a former senator, Axelrod added, Daschle "had a clear picture that there was going to be a delay" in his confirmation after revelations that he make a late payment of more than $100,000 in back taxes on a free car and driver as well as other benefits.

Asked about the stimulus bill pending before Congress, Axelrod offered a noticeably temperate endorsement of the legislation as it stands.

"Obviously, no piece of legislation is perfect. This is a very complicated one ... you can point to any number of small things" to have concerns with, he said before touting the larger need for an economic recovery bill.

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