In it, but not of it. TPM DC

As President Obama takes the podium in the Capitol tonight, members of both parties are looking ahead to the next legislative challenge and wondering whether the stimulus bill -- which began with noble goals of bipartisanship but ended in an acrimonious round of finger-pointing -- will set the tone for the early days of the administration.

All signs are pointing to health care reform as the next issue topping the agenda for the White House and Congress. So will Republican senators close ranks against the popular president on health care, leaving the majority Democrats to horse-trade their way to a slim 60-vote victory?

Senior GOP senators have a clear, and perhaps surprising, answer to that question: they're ready to work with the president's party on health care.

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Today was another fun day in the never-ending disaster that is the Minnesota trial. The Coleman campaign presented this week about 100 absentee ballots that they said were wrongly rejected because local officials mistakenly believed the witnesses weren't registered voters. And then Franken lawyer David Lillehaug demolished them.

Lillehaug went over the voter registration system with state Elections Director Gary Poser, showing that many of these witnesses weren't actually registered at the time they signed those ballot envelopes.

Lillehaug went over ballot after ballot, getting Poser to say that they were properly rejected, either because of this witness issue or for another registration problem. The Star Tribune estimates it at around 100 ballots -- which would be roughly the total amount in the latest batch -- and that sounds about right.

At one point, Lillehaug asked if Coleman's people had asked how to properly read the database.

Now this isn't a surprise that so many ballots offered by a campaign would be struck down. The point here is that Lillehaug was damaging what seemed to be some of Coleman's better prospects.

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White House spokesman Robert Gibbs briefed House Democratic press secretaries behind closed doors this afternoon, giving a preview of tonight's presidential speech on health care and the economy.

Gibbs told the aides that the president broke bread with major news anchors this afternoon, depicting himself as "Dr. Obama" (as Katie Couric put it) and the nation as a patient in need of a positive diagnosis.

So it's safe to say that tonight's speech will be optimistic -- but will it break news? What's gone under-reported in the anticipation of Thursday's White House budget release is the fact that the plan will be a broad outline. The full Obama budget isn't expected until April, as this Politico story notes near the bottom.

Jim Tedisco, the Republican candidate for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat, sure has an interesting rebuttal to Democrats attacking him over his refusal to say how he would have voted on the stimulus bill.

Tedisco told the New York Times that if he answered this hypothetical question, it would only open the door: "It won't just be this, it'll be, 'How would you vote on the war in Iraq?'"

Isn't he now just leaving himself wide open for questions about Iraq?

So what should we think of the fact that Norm Coleman is still attending Senate GOP policy lunches, even though he's not a Senator?

Here's what Eric Schultz, the new DSCC spokesman (and a former communications man for Franken) told us when we asked him for comment on the story: "Springing for lunch is the least they can do for using his prolonged and increasingly desperate legal battle to obstruct the Democratic agenda."

Schultz is referring here to the widespread perception that this lawsuit is only being done in order to prevent Al Franken from being seated, thanks to the unique Minnesota law that prevents certification of a victory while a legal contest is still going, and which has made it a lot harder for Dems to reach 60 votes on cloture motions.

Norm Coleman appeared yesterday on the Armstrong Williams radio show, and the Minnesota GOP has posted this interesting excerpt of Norm responding to Williams' question regarding how Minnesotans feel about their current lack of full representation.



"Those of us who have had the honor to serve as public servants, public officials, we serve with the consent of the governed," Coleman said. "You're not gonna get that consent if the governed -- if the citizens -- don't think the guy who got the most votes is the guy that got elected, the guy that sits in the office."

He later added: "But people in Minnesota understand that you've gotta get it right."

Where were you eight years ago, Norm, when we really needed you?

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) just told reporters that he asked Roland Burris (in a very polite manner) to resign. And Burris said no.

"If I were in your shoes, I would consider resigning," Durbin said, reciting what he told Burris.

Durbin said he also asked Burris whether he would be running for a full term in 2010, and Burris said he hasn't made up his mind. Durbin then recalled telling Burris that it would be very difficult to win either the primary or general elections.

"What I've done is, I made my recommendation to Senator Burris," Durbin said. "And he's told me clearly that he will not resign."

Durbin added that he doesn't have much persuasive power with Burris -- he previously advised Burris during the Blagojevich scandal to not seek or accept the appointment, and Burris did that, anyway.

Josh just posted the video of Michael Steele's appearance on Fox News yesterday, when the national Republican chairman suggested that he would be open to denying political funds to the three GOP senators who supported the economic stimulus law.



See more at Foxnews.com.

It sounds like a brash bit of moxie from Steele. But when I asked him about it today -- the RNC chief joined ex-Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) as an official lunch guest of Senate GOPers -- Steele backtracked.

"It's totally up to the state parties," he told me, in a stark contrast to his comment on Fox that he would "talk to the state parties" about withholding funds to the three stimulus-supporting Republican senators. (The three in question: Arlen Specter, up for re-election in Pennsylvania next year, and Mainers Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both out of cycle in 2010.)

Incidentally, the Senate Republican campaigns chief, John Cornyn (TX) was also bearish on Steele's initial vow. When I asked if he was open to blocking party aid to the three Cornyn said simply: "We're going to support incumbents."

[ed. note: This post has been edited from the original, which incorrectly noted that the winner of last week's Northern Trust golf tournament had received a phone call from the president.]

When it rains, it pours ... hours after a major labor group asked the Treasury Department to deny bailout money to a bank that dropped half a million dollars on lobbying in three months, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) is telling another bank to give back some of its government aid right now.

In a letter to Northern Trust -- which, it should be noted, is the president's personal bank -- Frank and every Democrat on his committee chastise bank president Frederick Waddell for sponsoring a lavish golf tournament in Los Angeles and giving out Tiffany souvenirs to clients while taking taxpayer money.

"We insist that you immediately return to the federal government the equivalent of what Northern Trust frittered away on these lavish events," the Democrats wrote to Waddell.

The Democrats' full letter to Northern Trust is after the jump.

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The House is on the verge of taking up a mortgage aid proposal that would, for the first time, allow judges to modify the terms of primary mortgages for individuals facing bankruptcy -- a reform known as the "cram-down."

The bankruptcy law change is backed by the Obama administration as well as Citigroup (which is increasingly looking like a ward of the Obama administration). But the American Bankers Association, the Mortgage Bankers Association, and other K Street players are no fans of the cram-downs plan.

In a letter sent today to every House member, a group of financial lobbying giants urges Congress to reject the cram-downs bill. Lobbyists are especially concerned about language in the bill "provid[ing] that even minor violations of the Truth-in-Lending Act (TILA) could result in a home equity loan or even a mortgage being disallowed in bankruptcy."

You read that right: K Street is asking Congress to permit lenders to get away with minor violations of the TILA, a 40-year-old law that was passed to protect consumers from banks that hide punitive terms in the fine print of loans.

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