In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The Obama administration has ordered a wide-ranging review of the signing statements that his predecessor frequently used to sidestep congressional edicts -- but that's not stopping the president from issuing one of his own.

After Obama signed the $410 spending bill that keeps the government funded until October, the White House released a statement outlining its take on the constitutionality of several of the bill's provisions.

Perhaps the most notable portion of the statement gives Obama room to reallocate money as he sees fit without abiding by the spending bill's requirement to first get approval from Congress:

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If I was a gambling man, I would bet that Michael Steele is going to make it.

I realize that he's not popular, that a lot of people in the Republican Party would like to see him go and as Josh Marshall pointed out he doesn't have a single, solid constituency like the conservative Christian activists or state party chairs united behind him.

But look at Roland Burris. I point to him not because of race, although surely the forcible removal of the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee would have racial overtones. Burris is arguably much less popular among his peers than Steele is with the Republican National Committee members who elected him RNC Chairman in January. Burris seems like a goner just a few weeks ago. Now, he's a Senate regular and his ouster seems unlikely in the extreme.

Still it's worth examining just what the party rules say about removing a chairman if it comes to that. If you look at Rule 5 of the RNC rules it says explicitly: "The chairman or co- chairman may be removed from office only by a two- thirds (2/3) vote of the entire Republican National Committee." The ballot has to be open under Roberts Rules of Order which is the playbook for RNC rules--which is kind of amusing given the opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. That is a pretty high bar.

And the vote could only come--as best I can tell; I have a call into the RNC-- at one of the two semiannual meetings of the RNC. Thus, you couldn't have a phone coup d'etat or the Executive Committee of the RNC lead the fight.

Can Steele hold a third of RNC members? My bet is yes although the fact that it's even a question is pretty amazing.

By the way, the shortest chairmanship of the RNC ever was C. Wesley Roberts of Kansas who served four months as chair in 1953. According to Wikipedia, Alvin Scott of The Kansas City Star won a Pulitzer Prize in 1954 for local reporting for a series of articles that drove Roberts to resign. Roberts was accused of collecting a $10,000 commission on the sale of a hospital to the State of Kansas which the state already owned. His son, interestingly, is U.S. Senator Pat Roberts.

Remember Ted Haggard, the politically powerful megachurch pastor from Colorado who's career came crashing down in a male-prostitution scandal in late 2006? Haggard has since moved on -- he's no longer a preacher, but is instead working as an insurance salesman -- and seems to be adjusting to an undesired place in pop culture.

Time Out New York reports that Haggard attended the performance of a play called The Beautiful City, all about evangelical culture in Colorado. And an important plot point in the play is...the downfall of Ted Haggard.

Haggard kept a low profile, with the cast not knowing he was there, although the crew knew about it. Artistic director Steven Cosson said: "And they would come back and say, 'Oh, he laughed at this line. He smiled at that. He's sticking around for the second act.'"

Haggard and his wife were also accompanied to the show by a friend of theirs: Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of Nancy Pelosi, who made the HBO documentary The Trials of Ted Haggard, plus Alexandra's husband.

Haggard didn't bask in any limelight, though. He, his wife and the Pelosis were the first to leave the theater after the play was over, and Pelosi was overheard saying, "I didn't understand the point."

Three House Democratic committee chairmen -- Henry Waxman (CA) at Energy & Commerce, Charles Rangel (NY) at Ways & Means, and George Miller (CA) at Education & Labor -- have just sent a letter to President Obama vowing to work together on health care reform legislation that can become law this year.

The letter is notable for its emphasis on a uniform, coordinated timetable to ensure that turf battles over committee jurisdiction do not slow down the debate over health reform. The still-unwritten climate change bill, by contrast, is already the subject of some jockeying for position by Rangel and Waxman.

Also, the House chairmen's letter contains stronger indications of a coordinated effort than a similar missive sent to Obama by the Senate's key chairmen on health care, Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA).

The senators declared their "continuing commitment to enacting comprehensive health care reform this year," while their House counterparts committed specifically to "work from a harmonized approach [in their committees] to ensure success." There was some initial concern on the Hill that Baucus and Kennedy would butt heads as both committees moved forward with health care, but the Boston Globe reported this week that the two are working well together.

You can read the House chairmen's full letter after the jump.

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Has Michael Steele's bumbling reached a critical mass that it will cost him the chairmanship of the RNC -- or will he just keep on bumbling instead?

The latest bad news for Steele is a report that certain Republicans may be plotting a coup against him, a no-confidence vote to be held after the March 31 special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat is out of the way.

In an interview with Cal Thomas, Steele dismissed any call for a resignation. "No!" he shouted. "And shame on [those] who should have the cojones to at least come and talk to me." And here's how he characterized his detractors: "The mice who are scurrying about the Hill are upset because they no longer have access to the cheese, so they don't know what's going on."

Meanwhile, Mike Allen thinks Steele isn't leaving any time in the immediate future. However, the real test will be when the fundraising numbers come in for the next two quarters.

Granted, there have been some foul-ups so far. It's been just under a month and a half since Steele became RNC chairman, and in that time he has, among other things:

• Promised a new "off the hook" image for the Republican Party, appealing to "hip-hop settings."

• Gone back and forth on threatening to cut off financial support for pro-stimulus Republicans, and attracted criticism from Senators for doing so.

• And of course, he disassociated himself from Rush Limbaugh, was then attacked by Limbaugh, and then apologized to Limbaugh and praised his leadership. And he was later denounced by Joe The Plumber.

The question, then, is to what degree the anti-Steele push may be coming from people who were against him to begin with, and thus see an opening, and how much political capital there may be among the rest of the GOP to either keep or dump him.

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TPM alum Spencer Ackerman points to a genuinely inexplicable revenue-raising move being considered by the Obama administration: charging veterans through their private health insurance companies for injuries suffered during their service.

Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki confirmed yesterday that the administration is weighing whether to start charging veterans for their combat-related injuries -- an admission that got strongly shot down by both Democratic and Republican senators.

It's worth noting that progressives hammered Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during his presidential bid last year for suggesting that veterans should be able to seek private treatment for health problems unrelated to their service. Should the Obama VA follow through with the plan it's now considering, it would arguably be moving farther right than McCain on the sensitive question of privatizing veterans' health care.

Late Update: The Navy Times offers more background on the private-insurance proposal under consideration by the Obama VA, explaining:

Whether private insurers would pay anything [on service-related claims] would depend on their policies on serving as the second payer on medical expenses. Some insurance policies cover such costs and others do not.

Neel Kashkari, the assistant Treasury Secretary for financial stability who has run the bailout since the Bush administration, took some frustrated questions today from Democratic Reps. Diane Watson (CA) and John Tierney (MA) during his appearance before a House oversight subcommittee.

Watson and Tierney were searching for a way to prevent banks that take bailout money from planning lavish parties and sales conferences before repaying the taxpayers -- an embarrassing pattern that has been seen at Northern Trust, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo in recent weeks.

Kashkari said the Obama administration would seek approval from bailed-out banks' boards of expense standards that would govern spending on resort conferences, private jets, office re-decorations, and other goodies.

Those standards will be made "clear and public for the world to judge," Kashkari told the lawmakers -- though he acknowledged that the new standards would be in effect going forward as opposed to retroactively. There is one exception, he said ...

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The Democratic polling/strategy firm Democracy Corps, James Carville and Stan Greenberg's outfit, is continuing to push the message that Rush Limbaugh is a political winner for Democrats -- and an inescapable loser for Republicans.

When asked if they agree with the statement, "Rush Limbaugh shares my values," or the opposite statement that he does not share their values, all voters break out at 32% yes, to 57% no. Among independents, it's 30%-58%.

But here's the thing: Limbaugh scores 60%-29% with Republicans. "There is a reason why," the polling memo says triumphantly. "Limbaugh ranks very high as a leader of the Republican Party's ideas and direction."

When asked if Limbaugh has too much influence over the Republican Party, too little influence or about the right amount, all voters put it at 49%-15%-26%. Republicans, however, weigh in at 27%-20%-43%, and independents are at 50%-12%-29%.

There is one silver lining: Voters do not agree with the idea that Republicans are following Limbaugh's lead because they want to see Obama fail, with only 32% agreeing.

The memo concludes: "With Rush Limbaugh's vision and values so strong among the conservative Republicans who are the heart of the party's base, Republican leaders carry a heavy weight when they attempt to position themselves to act for the broader electorate."

TPMDC has obtained a letter from the leading players in American public broadcasting -- National Public Radio (NPR), PBS Television, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) -- to White House budget director Peter Orszag.

The letter (read it here) outlines the dire financial straits facing public media and seeks $307 million in additional government funding as part of the president's 2010 budget. In stark terms, the CEOs of the four public broadcasting entities urge the Obama administration to help shield them from a rapid drop in support caused by the economic recession:

Every revenue source upon which our operations depend is under siege. State funding support is in a wholesale free-fall. Financial contributions from foundations and underwriters, at the local and national levels, have declined precipitously. Individual contributions, the bedrock of every public station's annual operating budget, are dropping, reflecting the effects of rising unemployment and declining personal discretionary income.


Looking back to congressional Republicans' failed attempt to cut off their budgets in 2005, the CEOs of the four public broadcasting entities add:

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The Coleman campaign now has another headache to deal with: They are advising contributors to cancel their credits cards, The Hill reports, after an apparent security foul-up in late January.

Last night, Coleman's entire online donor list received an e-mail from a Wikileaks.org e-mail address, notifying them that their private information had been posted in a publicly accessible area of Coleman's campaign site this past January 28, and has circulated out of public view. The e-mail also contained a link to the Minnesota statute requiring organizations to disclose "in the most expedient time possible" to any Minnesotan if they reasonably believe their private information was illicitly accessed, and informed recipients that they were being notified as a courtesy by Wikileaks, in case the Coleman camp hadn't already.

The Wikileaks e-mail also includes a link to an Excel spreadsheet purported to contain all the donors' names, addresses, employers, and the last four digits and CSC security codes on their credit cards.

Coleman spokesman Cullen Sheehan told The Hill that they had contacted federal authorities at the time, and after reviewing the site logs they did not believe that any unauthorized party had downloaded private information. However, he is nevertheless urging some serious precautions -- encouraging supporters who may have donated to cancel their credit cards.

"Let me be very clear: At this point, we don't know if last evening's e-mail is a political dirty trick or what the objective is of the person who sent the e-mail," said Sheehan. "What we do know, however, is that there is a strong likelihood that these individuals have found a way to breach private and confidential information."

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