In it, but not of it. TPM DC

... 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.

Well, the Daschle nomination is no more. He's withdrawn his name which is in keeping with the idea that Obama would not actually have to fire him. We're still sorting out details on what happened between Obama's endorsement yesterday and the predictions of the likes of myself and George Stephanopoulos who thought that he'd muscle through it despite being bruised. Were there more tax problems? Did he just grow tired of the scrutiny? Was he asked to withdraw or did he do it of his own volition? We'll know more, I'm sure, as the day goes on.

After Daschle, a few big questions:

1. How many more officials are going to run into the tax buzzsaw. Just spoke to someone who is applying for a senior job in the administration. "If you haven't been preparing for public service your whole life, you're really kind of screwed," said the person. That may be a bit much, but it does raise the question of what tax indiscretion/error is now enough to derail your career in the Obama administration.

2. What's Plan B for HHS and the health care campaign? Remember Daschle was not only supposed to run the largest cabinet agency but also to quarterback health care reform. Will the jobs now be bifurcated?

3. What're the recriminations for Leo Hindery, the New York financier for whom Daschle worked? Did he do anything untoward or was this all Daschle's failure to keep his accounting straight?

4. How badly is Obama tarnished by this both in terms of his competence--two cabinet nominees choke before they reach their confirmation hearings--and his promise of reform.

5. It's No Fun Being Majority Leader. Look what's happened to the last majority leaders in the Senate. Bob Dole quit the post and his senate seat in 1996 and lost badly. Trent Lott got ushered out of office thanks to TPM and others who noted his praise of Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential campaign. Bill Frist was a flameout. Now Daschle's career in public service seems at an end. Makes you not want to run for the leadership.

John McCain is now adding his voice to the Republican activism against the stimulus bill, sending out an e-mail to his supporter list that asks recipients to sign a petition opposing it.

McCain's e-mail complains that there is too much government spending in the bill that won't create jobs, and that instead there should be payroll tax cuts and a clear "end game" to the stimulus to guarantee that the spending stops after the recessions is over. McCain also complains that the White House has behaved in a partisan manner, as evidenced by the House Republicans' unanimous vote against the bill:

But as of yet, Republicans have not been given the opportunity to be involved. The House of Representatives passed a stimulus bill without a single Republican supporting it. In the Senate, the Democrat leadership is trying to jam the existing proposal through regardless of reservations from a number of members. With so much at stake, the last thing we need is partisanship driving our attempts to turn the economy around.


The Republican position here is now clear: They say that government spending during an economic crisis does not prop up the economy. The question is whether they will maintain just enough strength in the Senate to put this theory into practice, by making sure that whatever bill does eventually pass would be more to their liking.

The full McCain e-mail is available after the jump.

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The Democrats now have a top-tier candidate in the wings for the 2010 New Hampshire Senate race, the Union Leader reports, with sources telling them that second-term Congressman Paul Hodes will announced his campaign for Judd Gregg's seat within the week.

Republican Bonnie Newman is expected to be appointed to the seat, but it's believed that she won't be running for a full term in 2010.

The Republicans were until just recently the long-dominant party in New Hampshire. But in recent years the Dems have taken over pretty much everything: Both House seats, the other Senate seat, both houses of the state legislature, the governorship, and Barack Obama beat John McCain by nine points.

Democrats could have possibly made a real race against Judd Gregg had he been running again, but he probably would have still started out as the favorite. On the other hand, taking Gregg off the political stage entirely leaves the race now subject to the political lay of the land in New Hampshire as it now stands -- meaning that this now has be considered as leaning towards a Dem takeover.

Republicans truly did consider Sen. Judd Gregg (NH) one of their most effective strategists, both on policy and politics, and they'll miss him in leadership meetings now that Gregg has accepted the Commerce Secretary nod. As Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) acknowledged this morning on CNBC's "Kudlow & Cramer":

ENSIGN: To me, I told Judd this. I think Judd's one of our best strategists. He's a great thinker. And I think it's a mistake for him to leave the U.S. Senate.

REPORTER: I was afraid of that. ... Come on, Senator, rally the troops. Unified bill. The time is now. Profiles in courage.


Here's a challenge: Can anyone name a substantive similarity between Obama's first choice for Commerce Secretary and his second one?

Some news out of the Minnesota trial: The Coleman legal team has now dropped another complaint from their lawsuit against the election results.

The Coleman campaign has let go of a complaint alleging that some of the 933 previously-rejected absentee ballots that were opened up on January 3 -- after both campaigns sorted through the envelopes and agreed that they were legally cast, and had been improperly tossed because of clerical errors -- were not in fact legally cast, and shouldn't have been counted.

To be blunt, this was perhaps the single worst gambit that Coleman was trying to make. Remember that all of these envelopes were declared by his own campaign to have been legally cast -- but once they were opened and revealed to have gone for Al Franken by a 176-vote margin, they suddenly became illegal and had to be picked through for potential rejection.

The Coleman team probably realized two important things. First, this complaint had no chance of winning. And second, having this claim still out there was undercutting their current drive to open up even more rejected absentees, even in cases where a lighter standard would be needed to forgive obvious voter errors. So they're now stipulating that the votes were legit.

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