In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy's (D-VT) call yesterday for an independent "truth and reconciliation commission" to investigate the abuses committed under the Bush administration is meeting with strong support from at least two of his panel's Democratic members.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) just released a statement hailing Leahy's "leadership" on the issue and stressing the need for accountability: "We cannot simply sweep these assaults on the rule of law under the rug." Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) was the first to weigh in with support for the idea yesterday.

But one key question remains unanswered: Will senators follow the lead of their House colleagues and actually offer a bill to set up an independent investigative panel to shed sunlight on the misdeeds of the Bush years, from interrogations to warrantless wiretapping?

As Whitehouse told me today, the answer may be no -- but here's why.

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The Senate has now passed the stimulus plan on a 61-37 vote, with all the Democrats and three Republicans -- Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- joining together to pass a package weighing in at $838 billion.

This is not the end of the line, though. Next up, the bill goes to the House-Senate conference committee, where liberals will likely try to restore some of the larger spending increases that were trimmed back in the compromise Senate version, such as education, and to address the Senate package's relatively greater reliance on tax cuts over spending.

Then after that's over, the final version will come up for a whole new round of debate and voting in both chambers. That said, it seems like a safe bet that the stimulus will pass in some form, and that it will happen pretty soon.

The Minnesota election court has now taken some kind of meaningful action, handing down a ruling on a summary judgment motion that will now allow the counting of some -- but not all -- of a group of Franken-voters who filed a motion to have their rejected ballots counted. The ruling gives us some hints as to where things will go from here -- and it's not good news for Norm Coleman.

Out of over 60 voters who filed this motion, the court is ordering just 24 ballots to be counted at this time. The opinion lays out a pretty stringent standard for letting previously-rejected ballots in: It has to be demonstrated that the voter either fully complied with the relevant laws and procedures, and thus the rejection was wholly a clerical error, or that any actual non-compliance was credibly the fault of the election official.

An example of this second category would be if a voter pro-actively asked whether they were registered to vote, were told yes and provided an absentee ballot for a registered voter, but it turned out they really needed to re-register. This is a tough standard to meet, and will mean that the number of people who qualify for it will be a fairly limited number.

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If you've ever been to Sanibel Island for vacation or anywhere in the touristed parts of Lee County, Florida it's hard to think of the area as being in a recession. But as Barack Obama pointed out on his visit to Ft. Myers, Florida today, this once prosperous area is hurting.

"I know Fort Myers had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation last year," the President said, standing next to Charlie Crist, the state's Republican governor and a possible 2012 presidential candidate. He cited, Chico's, the women's clothing company whose headquarters is in Ft. Myers, as one of the local businesses that is reeling.

Once again, I think he did well stylistically and substantively--laying out the challenges facing the country, making the case that inaction or tax cuts alone, is not enough given the failed policies of the past and the gravity of what faces the country. In terms of raw salesmanship, he's doing fine. Wonk for wonk, he was Clintonesque in his handling of policy questions from the audience.

Obama may be doing well but the problem is what's going on in the lower right hand corner of your TV screen where the Dow is plummeting in reaction to the Geithner bailout plan. Following the markets' gyrations can be utterly misleading. But the market is going to dictate what happens with this latest bailout just as the plummeting Dow changed the politics in Washington last fall. Republicans and Democrats who stood against George W. Bush's bailout reversed course when the Dow plummeted and the thing to watch in the coming days is whewther a plummeting Dow will force Congressional Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the stimulus--probably not--and whether it will force the Obama administration to recalibrate its bailout plan or even to come back to Congress for a second stimulus in a few months. In other words, this is all very much a work in progress.

Especially with the Dow now down almost 350 points at 1:23.

The House Blue Dog Coalition continues to wield outsize political power, thanks to a canny willingness to leverage its votes on key issues, while the Congressional Progressive Caucus must fight to be heard.

Case in point: the Blue Dogs are meeting directly with President Obama this afternoon on the stimulus bill. The Progressives have yet to hear back about their request for a meeting, which was issued almost a month ago.

But that doesn't mean the Progressives are staying silent as the Senate proposes stimulus cuts to education and health insurance for the unemployment. Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chairs of the group, have fired off a letter to the House Speaker protesting the Senate's cuts. Here's an excerpt:

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Yet another poll is showing that Americans are blaming Republicans, not Barack Obama, for the impasse on the stimulus bill.

The new Pew poll has 51% of respondents saying the stimulus plan is a good idea, with only 34% who say it's a bad idea. The poll also shows 43% saying Obama and Republicans have worked together, while 45% say they have not. Within the group who say they have not worked together, 61% blame Republican leaders, only 16% blame Obama, another 10% blame both, and 4% blame the Democratic Congressional leaders.

The survey also shows Republicans squarely losing the popularity contest. Obama's approval rating is at 64%, with only 17% disapproval. Democratic leaders in Congress are in positive territory at 48%-38%, while the Republican leadership is at only 34%-51%.

There's one number in here that can be read in a favorable way for Republicans: Respondents believed tax cuts are a more effective stimulus over spending by a 48%-39% margin. So expect the GOP leadership to play this number up, if they do cite the poll.

(Via Greg Sargent)

The overall dynamic of stimulus negotiations between the two chambers of Congress, which Democrats are aiming to finish by the end of the week, involves senators pressing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to accept the $100 billion or so in cuts that were insisted upon by three GOP centrists.

But Pelosi's side of the Capitol isn't going totally unheard by the Senate. Democrats are growing confident that the final stimulus package will include some, if not all, of the $16 billion in school construction aid that was sliced by centrist senators last week.

"We feel that the wind is at our back on that one," one Democratic source told me. And there's good reason to think so -- President Obama made a strong case for preserving the schools money during his press conference last night. Here's how Obama put it:

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It's time for an amusing peek at a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Check out what Pawlenty said to Minnesota Public Radio, firing back at a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who criticized him for traveling to the Munich Security Conference:

And when you're the commander in chief of the Minnesota National Guard, and you're going to deploy soldiers -- like we are tomorrow night at the St. Paul civic center, a thousand soldiers going off to Iran (Editor Note: Pawlenty said Iran on the air. His spokesman said he misspoke and corrected himself on the air later) and a month from now another thousand going to the middle east to fight in the war -- it helps to have an understanding of those issues, the dynamics, the security issues.


There are two things to consider here. First, Pawlenty apparently has a Palin-style belief that a governor's official role as head of the state National Guard has some importance in foreign policy. And while explaining this concept, he managed to get wrong which country his state's troops are actually being sent to.

No one doubted last night that the Senate's stimulus bill would clear the 60-vote hurdle it needed to move towards final approval today. But while cancer-stricken Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) summoned the strength to cast his vote, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) was the only active senator who missed the boat entirely.

As Ben Smith explains, Cornyn was in New York charming a group of conservative bigwigs -- and likely donors to the Senate GOP's 2010 campaign effort, which Cornyn is leading.

Cornyn's decision to prioritize donor outreach over Senate business is a pretty stunning display of chutzpah. Here's why ...

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If Joe Lieberman decides to run for a fifth term in 2012, a new Quinnipiac poll suggests that it may be a lost cause.

The new poll tests Lieberman as an independent against Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. The numbers: Blumenthal 58%, Lieberman 30%. Yikes.

Lieberman's active campaigning against the Democratic Party last year hasn't won him too many friends back home. Democrats go for Blumenthal by 83%-9%, and independents are for Blumenthal 55%-29%. Lieberman is the de facto Republican nominee in this match, and with GOP voters he scores 67%-23% over Blumenthal.

Lieberman's job approval is also at only 45%, with 48% disapproving. Among Democrats that's a 21%-70% rating, Republicans 75%-20%, while independents give him a narrow approval of 48%-46%.

A lot can happen in four years, but right now it doesn't look like Lieberman has too many options. He can't run as a Democrat, he would still lose as a Republican, and there's no reason to believe that staying as an independent will provide much more of an opportunity.

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