In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Fun fact: Every court in the state of Minnesota is closed today for the federal holiday -- except the Senate election court.

Today it was very much abbreviated, though. The attorneys spent the morning with the judges in closed negotiations over how to sort through the evidence, then the court held a short 18-minute session.

And even during that 18 minutes, it turns out, lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg was still looking for a loophole to allow forgery. Friedberg presented five ballot envelopes where he admitted a person other than the voter signed the ballot application form. But, he said, it had been done with the "knowledge and authority" of the voter, and was thus a legitimate, genuine signature.

Friedberg did not give any indication that the voters in these cases were disabled or otherwise physically unable to sign their forms, which is the specific statutory exception to allow someone else to sign in one's own name. Without that, the court's opinion from Friday forbade the counting of these votes -- indeed, they singled out one of Coleman's witnesses as an example of this kind of illegal voter.

But Friedberg still seems to be pushing ahead on forgery.

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During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Obama campaign famously ran circles around its opponents when it comes to digital technology and outreach. This item on TechPresident notes that Hillary Clinton's off to a pretty good start at State when it comes to technology. Some of that is owing to the digital outreach of James Glassman, the author and conservative publisher who ran public diplomacy under Condi Rice. (Okay, so my former New Republic colleague was a little off about Dow 36,000) Still it leaves Clinton with a powerful set of tools. Given the world financial crisis has become part of her purview, Geithner and who ever runs Commerce might want to get up to speed.

A funny thing happened this weekend, after congressional Democrats surmounted a fierce lobbying effort and maintained one of three executive-pay limitation plans that were being eyed for removal from the final stimulus bill.

It turns out that Wall Street wasn't the only opponent of more stringent limits on bonuses for bailed-out executives -- Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House economic adviser Larry Summers were leading the charge to keep CEO pay caps out of the stimulus.

Oops. Though Geithner and Summers wanted President Obama's loophole-riddled executive compensation limits to be the only game in town, they ultimately lost that battle with Congress. Now what can they do to make sure eminently qualified leaders at companies like AIG and Merrill Lynch don't have to forgo their lucrative pay packages?

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Adam Liptak has an interesting Times piece up on the fact that now every single supreme court justice is a former federal judge, a fact pointed out recently by Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts noted this approvingly. I'm not so sure. Supreme Court justices used to have more diverse backgrounds and former governors and senators and even presidents (okay one, Taft) have served on the court. I have nothing against experience from the bench although I think a life spent entirely on the bench and in the classroom is more likely to yield the likes of a Scalia. I was somewhat comforted by the fact that Roberts himself was primarily a private practice attorney before joining the federal bench. That's no guarantee that you won't be an ideologue but real world court room experience as a litigator is something worth having. I'd love it if Obama put a politician on the Court. Bill Clinton is said to have a lot of regret about not having put one on. I could think of a few including: Jennifer Granholm (being born Canadian is allowed), Kathleen Sebelius, Janet Napolitano, Ed Rendell, even North Carolina Governor Mike Easley. Feingold would be sort of fun, in an irritable way. There's no guarantee that any on them would be a great but if diversity means anything it should mean more than race and gender but also experience. A politician would bring that and could be a unifying force against a conservative chief justice who isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

As the intense debate over the economic stimulus bill wound to a close on Friday, I had the chance to ask Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) about Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the conservative-leaning freshman congresswoman who has had something of a rocky ride since being appointed to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat less than a month ago.

Gillibrand's record and persona have sparked a string of heartburn-inducing headlines for liberals, from her stint as a defense lawyer for Big Tobacco -- exposed in last week's Village Voice -- to her Palin-esque penchant for keeping rifles under her bed, reported just this morning.

One New York Democrat, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, already has vowed to pursue a primary against Gillibrand on the gun control issue. During our discussion, Maloney also declined to rule out a challenge, citing an entirely different policy dispute with Gillibrand.

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In the coming weeks, hopefully we'll be able to provide some insight into the various banking lobbies and how they operate and what we can expect as a bank bailout package goes from blueprint to practice. As I tried to explain on Thursday, the banking lobby is hardly a monolith. While the banking lobby merits interest on its own, it's also a useful prism for asking the larger questions about how much Washington is or is not changing in the Obama era.

On Thursday, before Congress left town for its Presidents Day recess, I had the chance to speak with Jim Himes, the Democratic Congressman from Connecticut who defeated Christopher Shays in last fall's election. The 43-year-old Harvard grad sits on the House Financial Services Committee and he's also co chairing the New Democratic Coalition task force on financial reform along with Rep. Melissa Bean of Illinois. His story offers some insight into why its hard to use simple metrics to explain the story that's unfolding in Washington.

Himes's district includes Stamford and the prosperous New York City suburbs that have come to be known as Hedgefundistan for all of the wealth financiers who built megamansions in his district along side the oldline prosperous homes. If you were trying to identify who among Congressional Democrats might be an advocate for the hedge fund industry it would make sense to examine Himes. After all, so many of them live in his district. Besides he's taken a lot of money from various banking interests.

According to the Center for Repsonsive Politics, he received more money from recipients of the Troubled Assets Relief Program or TARP than any other member of the House Financial Services Committee in the 2008 campaign cycle--over $195,000 which is significantly more than the next highest recipient, the ranking member, Spencer Bauchus, the Alabama Republican. Himes earned more than $144,000 from Goldman Sachs employees alone. Oh, and the Rhodes Scholar also used to work for Goldman Sachs

Still, it would be wrong to assume from contributions or a financial services background alone dictates what a Congressman might or might not do. I asked Himes where he stood on the question of compelling hedge funds to disclose their investments, something that is being promoted indirectly in Congress by Senators Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat, and Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican. Their bill would give the Securities and Exchange Commission clear regulatory authority over hedge funds. (Right now the SEC's jurisdiction is ambiguous and has been taken up by the courts.) While Himes would have every incentive, given his district and where much of his money comes from, to protect the industry he said to me that "the highest priority is transparency." He didn't take a definitive position on the Levin-Grassley when I spoke to him but he was emphasizing transparency above all else which cannot be comforting to his neighbors in Hedgefundistan.

On the larger question of financial restructuring, Himes emphasized that "I want to make sure that risk resides with the people who take it."

Himes is one person to watch as we go forward. If winds up voting for a tough oversight of financial services, I think you'll have a good sense that Washington really is changing. The Fourth Congressional District of Connecticut has been in Republican hands since 1969. That it's now represented by a Democrat and one claiming, despite his pedigree, to take on financial services shows that this are changing here.

Al Franken is now asserting some semblance of political authority, while his paper-thin election victory remains bottled up in court. Franken has just launched a series of town-hall meetings around Minnesota, taking on the role of a sort of Shadow-Senator to discuss the economy -- and obviously, the importance of sending him to Washington soon so he can help fix it.

The Franken camp just announced that Al held the first meeting today in St. Paul, and has more planned for Duluth and Rochester in the next two days. At the events, "Senator-Elect Franken" has been discussing the economic issues with the local mayors, starting today with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (no relation to Norm, who is also a former St. Paul mayor).

From the Franken camp's press release:

"This is not an easy time to be a mayor," said Franken. "Every day, you're asked to do more with less. That's why it was so critical that we pass the economic recovery package. America and Minnesota have been through times of crisis before, and each time we have found ways to turn crisis into opportunity. Minnesota's cities are centers of incredible innovation and economic growth, and I want to help you keep your cities strong."

Mayor Coleman said, "Right now, Washington is debating matters of enormous consequence to Minnesota's economy. Senator Elect Franken understands what our cities need to prosper and we're ready for him to go to Washington to be a voice for us."

The lousy economy is now hurting George W. Bush in a pretty direct way: U.S. News reports that fundraising has slowed down for the Bush library, making it difficult to meet the $500 million goal.

The situation is so bad that Bush has had to personally make phone calls to raise money, along with his father and Karl Rove, in order to meet the deadline of a 2013 construction.

Bailout, anyone?

(Via Think Progress)

With the stimulus bill set to be signed tomorrow, a new Rasmussen poll looks at what the public expects the impact to be: It's really up in the air.

A 38% plurality believe the bill will help the economy, 29% think it will hurt, and 24% expect it to have little impact. Among Democrats, 66% expect it to help, while 49% of Republicans expect it to hurt. The help-hurt number among independents is in the red, at 27%-34%.

So what to make of this? It appears the Republican attacks against the bill haven't spread beyond their base of self-identified Republicans and GOP-leaning independents -- but at the same time, the Democratic spin for the bill hasn't expanded past their own base, either. And in the middle are a whole lot of people who either don't know what to expect, or expect nothing at all.

If the bill works, expect the Democrats to win a huge political advantage. But if it fails -- or simply doesn't succeed enough -- the GOP could have their opening.

Here's an interesting item to think about in the debate over executive-compensation limits. A British politician is now calling for bonuses at bailed-out banks to be limited to £2,000, the amount typically received by low-level bank tellers.

At current exchange rates this is equal to $2,854.30 -- less than 1% of the cap that Claire McCaskill has advocated over here, and for which she's been either praised or reviled as a populist lefty.

The British pol who is calling for this: David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party.

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