In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Today is a big day in the Minnesota trial: The Franken campaign is finally beginning to present their side of the case, after Coleman rested yesterday.

The Franken camp has spent today bringing in a queue of aggrieved voters whose absentee ballots were rejected, 17 of them in total this morning, trying to get the court to rule that these ballots -- presumably all for Franken -- were wrongly tossed and ought to be put in the count.

The previous attempts by Team Coleman to play this game didn't go very well -- the judges even cited one Coleman witness by name by name as an illegal voter in an important opinion they handed down. So far, it seems to be going well for Franken, though it hasn't been perfect.

Lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg doesn't seem to be making too much of an effort to declare that these votes were rejected properly, as the Franken campaign worked to accomplish against his own witnesses. This seems to be for two reasons: Team Coleman has been trying to get the court to reverse itself on their strict standards for letting in rejected votes, and therefore he needs to show good faith. And furthermore, the Coleman camp seem to have changed their approach, to demonstrate the fallibility and unreliability of the system, in order to possibly get the whole election thrown out.

Here's one exchange between Friedberg and a Franken witness:

Friedberg: Ms. Meyer, can you think of any reason your ballot shouldn't be opened and counted?

Pamela Meyer: No.

Friedberg: Neither can I. We stipulate this ballot should be opened and counted, Your Honor.


Other cross-examinations were more drawn out than this one was, but you get the idea.

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President Obama's budget, released last week and downloadable here, is almost ten times shorter than the economic recovery law passed last month, but it packs just as big an ideological punch as the stimulus.

Both the presidential and congressional budgets set frameworks for future spending without instituting binding new policies, but the dense documents are considered important "statements of priorities" for the party in power. In the case of Obama and his Democrats, one priority emerges most clearly from the budget: spreading wealth around for the common good (apologies for the Joe the Plumber reference).

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DNC chairman Tim Kaine just appeared on Fox News, and took the opportunity to dig in against Rush Limbaugh's "leadership role" in the Republican Party, and how this is endangering the country in a time of crisis.

See more at FoxNews.com.

Fox host Jon Scott brought up the recent Limbaugh-Steele flap, and asked Kaine: "Democrats are sort of enjoying this, aren't they?"

"Well you know, yeah -- in a way, yes," said Kaine. "But it's a lot at stake when somebody who is in a leadership role -- as Rush Limbaugh clearly is -- states that he wants for the president to fail, and he is followed in that by members of Congress voting against the Recovery Act. That's pretty dire, given our situation right now."

Kaine then went after Michael Steele's apology for having offended Rush, and Steele's having backed down from what Kaine said was a "courageous" comment. "You know, it left a lot of us wondering, who's really in charge? Kaine said. "It seems like Rush Limbaugh is kind of the He Who Must Be Obeyed these days in the Republican Party."

Finally, Kaine played up the national interest: "Again, we're in a time of national crisis. And the shouters aren't gonna get us through it. It's gonna be problem-solvers who will, and that's what we need from both parties right now."

The new Marist poll has some truly horrible news for David Paterson, saying that he could lose both primary and general elections in landslides.

In a primary against Andrew Cuomo, Paterson is behind by an amazing 62%-26% margin. In a general election match-up with Rudy Giuliani, Paterson gets crushed by 53%-38%, while Cuomo beats Rudy by 56%-39%.

The poll is a whole lot better for newly-appointed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, though it's not great. Gillibrand edges former GOP Governor George Pataki 45%-41%, and is ahead of GOP Congressman Peter King 49%-28%. In a Democratic primary, Gillibrand is in a near-tie with pro-gun-control Congressman Carolyn McCarthy, with 36% for Gillibrand and 33% for McCarthy.

Here's a sign of just how awful Paterson's ratings are: His approval numbers are worse than Eliot Spitzer's were, when he was in the middle of the prostitution scandal that forced his resignation. Just before he resigned, Spitzer had a 30% excellent/good rating and 64% fair/poor in the Marist poll. By comparison, Paterson is at only 26%-71%.

Another person to feel sorry for here is former Congressman Rick Lazio (R), who ran against Hillary Clinton for the Senate in 2000 -- he actually manages to trail Paterson in a possible gubernatorial match-up by a 47%-35% margin.

When the new Democratic Congress passed a sweeping ethics bill in 2007, controversy erupted over the proposed new "revolving-door" ban on ex-lawmakers and aides lobbying their former colleagues. Senators wanted to double the ban to two years, while House Democrats pushed for keeping a one-year ban that would allow them to nail down lucrative lobbying gigs after leaving the Hill.

But no matter the length of the revolving-door ban, both Republicans and Democrats have long taken advantage of its enormous loophole. Let's call it the "senior adviser" route -- instead of lobbying current lawmakers directly, defeated members of Congress are flocking in droves to become behind-the-scenes consiglieres to the lobbyists that are allowed to contact sitting members.

The "senior adviser" club got another member just this morning ...

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DSCC communications director Eric Schultz just sent TPM this statement in response to the Coleman legal team's suggestion that the election court throw out the whole election result:

"I'm sure Senator John McCain would like to throw out the results of November 4, 2008 as well. I applaud the Coleman campaign for their candor: at least after five weeks in court the Coleman camp is admitting they lost the election, and I also applaud them for their creativity - maybe next they'll suggest aliens from Mars come down to make Norm Coleman Senator again - because that's as far-fetched as asking for a revote when you lose an election. If Senator Coleman wants a revote, he can have one: in 2014 when Senator Franken's first term expires."

The Democrats are clearly more than happy to see leading Republican politicians bow down before Rush Limbaugh, with a new Democratic National Committee press release attacking the GOP for siding with Rush on ... transportation and infrastructure.

Specifically, the release from DNC chairman Tim Kaine praises the infrastructure improvements contained in the stimulus bill, and then lambastes Congressional Republicans for voting No on the bill at Rush's urging:

Today, President Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood unveiled new job-creating infrastructure projects that were made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These projects are helping put Americans back to work while also investing in repairing our crumbling infrastructure. But, instead of joining Democrats in supporting the President's economic recovery plan, almost every single Republican in Congress chose to follow Rush Limbaugh by voting against a plan that will create or save 3.5 million jobs.


And of course, Kaine reminds us that Michael Steele apologized for offending Limbaugh: "Now, instead of the denouncing Limbaugh's claim that he is rooting for the President to fail, my counterpart at the Republican National Committee proved who is really leading their party -- calling Rush Limbaugh to apologize after courageously criticizing him just this weekend."

In short, the Democrats' new message is that the Republican Party is dominated by an obnoxious bully who wants the country to tank -- and the GOP politicians aren't brave enough to stand up to him.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a strong supporter of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, is launching a full-on battle this week to remove several provisions from the 2009 government spending bill that would open a small crack in the slammed door of relations with Havana.

Menendez fired a broadside at the Obama administration yesterday for backing a provision buried in the $410 billion spending bill, which must become law by next week in order to keep the government running. The New Jersey senator, a Cuban-American, objects to language in the bill that would allow Cuban-Americans to visit relatives on the island once a year and end limits on the sale of American food and medicines in Cuba.

Menendez even suggested yesterday that he might oppose the spending bill if the Cuba provisions were not removed, saying in a floor speech that they "[put] the omnibus appropriations package in jeopardy, in spite of all the other tremendously important funding that this bill would provide.''

Polls suggest that the majority of Cuban-Americans side with the administration, rather than Menendez -- an influential poll of the community, conducted in Florida every year since 1991, found in December that 55% of Cuban-Americans supported lifting the embargo against Havana.

But regardless of where public opinion stands, Menendez's effort is no longer confined to the spending bill. The WaPo reports today that the senator has held up two Obama science nominees in an attempt to twist the arms of his fellow Dems:

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Check out this excerpt from Bobby Jindal's appearance last night on Larry King Live. Jindal was asked about Rush Limbaugh's declarations of wanting President Obama to fail. He not only couldn't bring himself to repudiate Rush's remarks, but also praised Rush as a "great leader for conservatives" -- and he said he was glad that Michael Steele had apologized for taking a shot at him:

King: All right, governor, here was Rush Limbaugh at this weekend's CPAC Conference. Watch.

Rush Limbaugh: What is so strange about being honest and saying I want Barack Obama to fail if his mission is to restructure and reform this country so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation? Why would I want that to succeed?

King: Governor, do you think people are thinking about capitalism now or are they thinking about problems?

Jindal: Look, clearly, the American people are worried about paying their mortgages, keeping their jobs and paying their health care bills. I think Rush is a great leader for conservatives. I think he articulates what a lot of people are concerned about.

King: Do you want him [Obama] to fail?

Jindal: I don't want those policies to be adopted. I want my country to succeed, but I don't want policies to be adopted.

King: What if the policies work?

Jindal: Well, again...

King: What if they work?

Jindal: This is where we have a fundamental disagreement. I don't think it's going work ... to spend in excess of our revenues.


Jindal also responded to Michael Steele's recent flap about Limbaugh: "I'm glad he apologized. I think the chairman is a breath of fresh air for the party. As I said before, I think Rush is a leader for many conservatives and says things that people are concerned about."

The Service Employees International Union, SEIU, has an amusing new web ad up to make fun of the more hysterical claims from the right about Employee Free Choice Act:

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