In it, but not of it. TPM DC

I reported earlier today on Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl's (R-AZ) amendment to this week's 2009 spending bill, which appears to be directly inspired by a debunked internet rumor about plans to resettle Palestinian refugees in America.

Earlier today, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) gave a refreshingly candid speech urging rejection of the amendment and comparing today's everyday Palestinian citizens to his Irish ancestors, who were "hunted because they wouldn't renounce their religion" and concluding: "Thank goodness the United States had open arms for them."

A brief excerpt of Leahy's remarks is after the jump.

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The Coleman camp is reacting to the discovery of only 89 "3-A" rejected ballots -- absentee ballots that contained registration forms inside the inner secrecy envelope, rather than immediately within the outer envelope a -- and insisting that the real number is much bigger.

The short version: In order to win, Coleman needs to expand the universe of countable ballots. But this expansion was much smaller than some expected, out of the 1,500 ballots that were searched. At his post-court press conference, Coleman legal spokesman Ginsberg boasted that the search "found between 100 and 150 that were wrongly rejected and should be put in. so that gives you an increasing idea that the universe of ballots with which we're dealing continues to fluctuate."

What Ginsberg is relying on is the addition of 72 more envelopes that had incomplete registration cards, and are unlikely to be included under the court's strict standards for letting in new ballots -- a point that the Coleman camp seems sure to appeal.

Two-thirds of the 89 came from pro-Coleman counties, but the sample of votes is by itself too small to provide much of a swing for him -- and that's assuming they do break for Coleman. It's also likely that some of these envelopes will have other flaws with them, thus shrinking the pool even further.

So obviously, Ginsberg wants to be able to expand the universe of votes as much as possible, declaring: "89 plus 72 with -- apparently have some deficiencies in them, whatever that may mean."

(Ginsberg presser c/o The Uptake.)

On a day when President Obama struck a blow for truth-based science by reversing his predecessor's restrictions on stem cell research, it's unfortunate to report that two of Obama's top science advisors remain in limbo as anonymous Senate holds slow their confirmation.

I reported on Friday that John Holdren, nominated to become chief White House science adviser, and Jane Lubchenco, nominated to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, were being slowed by multiple GOP objections. But TPMDC is on the case quizzing potential culprits, and we can rule out two likely suspects: Sens. David Vitter (R-LA) and Mel Martinez (R-FL), both members of the Commerce Committee with jurisdiction over the nominees.

A Martinez spokesman confirmed today that he has no hold on Holdren and Lubchenco, while Vitter told me that "I've expressed concerns about Dr. Holdren in particular, but I do not have a hold."

The search continues ...

Late Update: To answer those wondering about Sen. Robert Menendez's (D-NJ) reported hold on Holdren and Lubchenco, per the WaPo, his spokesman confirmed on Friday that Menendez is not standing in the nominees' way as of now. Other unnamed senators still are holding them, however, according to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).

National Journal has assembled an excellent graphic that details which senators have crossed party lines the most frequently on the $410 billion 2009 spending bill. That measure is expected to become law by mid-week but has sparked nagging questions about Democratic party unity from the Beltway media.

It may not surprise many political junkies, but Sen. Evan Bayh (IN) is the Democrat who has crossed party lines most often on the spending bill, voting with the GOP eight times since debate on the legislation began last week. (Sen. Olympia Snowe [R-ME] mirrors him on the Republican side, voting alongside Democrats eight times during the process.)

But that's not the only National Journal study that deems Bayh his party's most conservative senator. When the magazine's annual vote rankings came out a few weeks ago, Bayh was ranked 51st in the Senate on a composite score of liberalism -- placing him ahead of former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who placed 43rd, as well as Snowe, who was No. 47, and Collins, who was No. 50.

Now, the National Journal rankings are no ordinary congressional vote study. After then-candidate Barack Obama was ranked the most liberal senator for 2007, the GOP had a field day using the statistic for attack lines on the presidential campaign trail.

It appears that Bayh is emerging as his party's most vocal centrist ... and just in time for the budget debate to heat up.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is slated to address House Democrats tonight, providing a preview of the Obama administration's planned "stress tests" of the largest banks receiving bailout money.

But the real question is whether Geithner will get grilled by the president's party about his recent performance, particularly after today's New York Times report that staff shortages and long to-do lists at Treasury have forced a postponement of the detailed financial re-regulation plan that was once expected by April.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee who took the lead on the executive-compensation issue during the stimulus debate, indicated via e-mail that he plans to ask Geithner "why we are fully protecting counterparties and general uninsured creditors of the big banks while we do no such thing as to insolvent small and medium banks."

Is Barack Obama "trying to do too much"? It's been a topic on the morning talk shows and again today.

For an example, see this video from The Page by Mark Halperin.

Halperin is joined by Louis Burgdorf from MSNBC who says this question of distraction is a big deal and suggests that if Obama put other things aside it will "restore confidence in the consumer." Halperin asks Bergdorf if Obama should cancel today's stem cell event. Bergdorf says no, citing it as an important issue and noting that his stepmother has MS.

The whole conversation seemed slightly ridiculous, if you ask me. Presidents obviously do more than one thing at a time. No one asked Reagan to ignore the Cold War and focus on the recession.

Yes, a president can wander too far afield. If Obama suddenly devoted significant energy to a border dispute between Columbia and Venezuela or a revamp of the Law of the Sea Treaty that would be a distraction from the pressing matters facing the country. But to sign an executive order reversing George W. Bush on stem cells and to do an event publicizing the new order seems eminently reasonable in a country where so many are looking to embryonic stem cell research to improve their lives. And, of course, many of the things that may seem like a distraction--health care, green energy--are inextricably linked to the economic health of the country. You can disagree with Obama's policies but to talk about distraction seems like a misunderstanding of what presidents do. Send in examples you see of the "distracted" meme.

One of Michael Steele's top advisers, Curt Anderson, has a new op-ed piece in the Politico arguing that Republicans are attacking Steele for one reason: he's shaking up the party's organization, and the entrenched powers don't like it.

"Steele's election as chairman of the Republican Party was a shock to the system for many of the Republican ruling class, the old guard in Washington," Anderson writes. "Over the past week, countless anonymous sources have brought out the long knives. Indeed, over the past week, the empire has struck back."

Anderson does concede that Steele has made mistakes, but also says that Steele's detractors were waiting for his beginner's errors as a pretense to pounce.

But come on, the empire struck back? The GOP is supposed to represent old-fashioned values, but not so old-fashioned that we're a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

There's been interesting buzz about an item from Ken Silverstein of Harper's about Richard Gephardt, the former House Majority Leader and presidential candidate, whose firm is doing lobbying for the Chamber of Commerce.

When the item first appeared online last week, it seemed to suggest that the champion of organized labor might be doing something untoward. Was Gephardt betraying his union brothers and sisters to work for the man?

Lobbying disclosure forms are notoriously vague and so an item from PRWatch.org, Gephardt's firm noted Gephardt's firm, the Gepardt Group, is registered to represent the Chamber on "intellectual property," environmental and manufacturing issues.

So what's the real deal? Gephardt's office told me that it has represented NBC/Universal and U.S. Chamber as part of it work for a group called the Coalition Against Counterfiting and Piracy, dedicated to stamping out intellectual piracy. (Labor is a member of the group too.)

Gephardt's firm's work for NBC/Universal and the Chamber was on an intellectual property bill, the Prioritizing Resources and Orgainzation for Intellectual Property Act of 2008 of PRO IP bill which became law last year. And they're working on other legislation related to intellectual property. So did the Chamber pay Gephardt? Yes. Was it for something anti labor? No.

If you care about health care, you have to care about the Senate Finance Committee. It's the choke point for any health care legislation. Make it work there in a bipartisan way and you'll get health care. Fail there and kiss it goodbye--again.

One of the tragedies of the Clinton-era effort to reform health care is that Pat Moynihan, then the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over health care, was eager to promote some kind of health care deal with Bob Dole, the Senate minority leader at the time, who had expressed interest in finding a deal. That's why it is so encouraging at the moment that Charles Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, is working on a health care proposal with Max Baucus, the committee's chairman.

If they can come up with something health care has a much better chance of passage. If they can't, it's hard to imagine health care passing. Such is the importanxw of the Senate Finance Committee.

So I was surprised to see last week, after the health care summit with all its bonhomie and the president's encouaging words for the Baucus-Grassley effort, this item on March 5 about the administration canceling an effort at collecting back taxes. The effort used private companies to collect back taxes and was fought heavily by the union representing Treasury workers. TIm Geithner called Grassley on Friday evening to announce that he was putting the kibosh on the program which happened to cost 60 jobs in Iowa. A source close to Grassley says he's still "very unhappy" about the cancellation although, thank goodness, Geithner, understaffed and overwhelmed, managed to make the call. Grassley would surely had been more angry if he'd read it in the papers.

Leaving aside the merits of the debt collection program, one would think that with so much at stake on health care, the administration would be going out of its way to court and soothe Grassley. Granted, Grassley is not the vindictive sort who would hold up health care because of 60 jobs in Waterloo, but a move like this can't help relations. (Some senators are more mercurial. In 1993, the Clinton administration punished Sen. Richard Shelby, then a Democrat, for not supporting it on a number of issues by moving some NASA jobs from Huntsville, AL to Houston. It was one of the factors in Shelby converting to the GOP in 1994.)

Let's hope the administration is working a charm offensive on Grassley in other ways. Grassley and Baucus are working on their bill now and hope to have some kind of mark up by June although that's not realistic, one staff member told me. So let's see where it goes from here.

For those who want to follow Grassley, I highly recommend his Twitter account. Note the entry complete with original misspellings and abbreviations: "Geithner call to tel me he's cancling 60 jobs in Wloo. No renewal of contract to collect bk taxes. Vry disapted"

Let's hope he doesn't stay dissapointed

Michael Steele now has another high-profile Republican publicly bashing him: Samuel "Joe The Plumber" Wurzelbacher.

At a meeting of conservative activists in Milwaukee, Mr. The Plumber had some tough words for the RNC chairman: "Unfortunately we have a chairman up there who wants to redefine conservatism; he wants to make it hip hop, put it in a new package and sell it."

"You can't sell principles; either you have them or you don't," he added, to applause from the audience of 800 people.

Joe The Plumber has really embraced his self-proclaimed role as the voice of the right-wing working-class voter -- quite a different audience from Steele's desire to expand the GOP into minority communities. And Joe's pronouncement that conservative principles can't be repackaged and sold -- you either have them or you don't -- is strikingly similar to Rush Limbaugh's line from CPAC that conservatism is unchanging and permanent, solidifying a definite line of anti-Steele thought.

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