In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Obama's Day Ahead: Announcing Sebelius For HHS President Obama will announce at 1 p.m. the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Then at 2 p.m. ET, he will meet with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.

NYT: Washington Offers Sebelius Big Chance On Health Care The New York Times examines Kathleen Sebelius' record on health care, finding a Democrat whose efforts to expand health coverage have faltered against a heavily-Republican state legislature. "Now, with the backing of a Democratic Congress," the Times says, "Ms. Sebelius will have a chance to achieve in Washington what she failed to accomplish in Topeka, and then some."

Dean: I Would Have Liked Health And Human Services Post In an interview with the Huffington Post, Howard Dean discussed his previous desire for the HHS post. "I was pretty clear that I would have liked to have been Secretary of HHS but it is the president's choice and he decided to go in a different direction," Dean told Sam Stein. But he made sure to compliment Kathleen Sebelius: "I think she will be very good. She is a very nice person and I think she will be fine."

WaPo: Geithner And Summers Steer Obama's Economic Policy The Washington Post profiles the partnership that has developed between Tim Geithner and Larry Summers. "I'm struck in meetings by the fact that when Tim says something, it was exactly what I thought needed to be said," said Summers, also adding that the two of them will often finish each other's sentences, and can communicate through a single glance.

Reid Reopens Senate Debate, Allowing More GOP Amendments Roll Call reports that Harry Reid has made a decision to open up Senate debate in a much less controlled manner than he did during 2007 and 2008, in the hopes that such an environment can make it easier to adopt amendments and attract the necessary Republican support to pass bills. Thus far, the paper notes, the decision has attracted praise from Republicans and some consternation from Dems.

Durbin: Race Factored Into Burris Controversies Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has acknowledged that race became a factor in the discussions surround Roland Burris' appointment to the Senate. "My colleague from Illinois, Congressman Bobby Rush, made strong statements along those (racial) lines," said Durbin. "They were painful and hurtful, and it became part of this calculation."

Hillary Promises Aid For Palestinians, Says No Funds For Hamas Hillary Clinton is pledging $900 million in U.S. aid for humanitarian help for the Palestinians, including $300 million for Gaza. Hillary has also promised that the money will not go to Hamas: "We have worked with the Palestinian Authority to install safeguards that will ensure our funding is only used where and for whom it is intended and does not end up in the wrong hands."

Canada's Harper: Afghan War Can Never Be Won Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is making it clearer that his county will not be providing more troops for Afghanistan, a war that President Obama is trying to beef up, without a clear exit strategy. "My own judgment is, quite frankly, that we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency," the Conservative prime minister said, adding: "We have to have an Afghan government that is capable of managing that insurgency and improving its own governance."

Obama Picks Sebelius For Health And Human Services President Obama has reportedly selected Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) to be his Secretary of Health and Human Services, and will officially announce the pick on Monday. Sebelius' move to the cabinet would seem to take her out of the running for the 2010 Senate race, for which some had hoped she could be first Democrat to win a Senate seat from Kansas since 1932.

Limbaugh Reaffirms It -- He Wants Obama To Fail, And America To Succeed Rush Limbaugh accepted his "Defender of the Constitution Award" at CPAC last night, reaffirming that he wants President Obama's policies to fail. "You can't say, Mr. Limbaugh, that you want the President to fail because that's like saying you want the country to fail," Limbaugh said rhetorically. "It's the opposite. I want the country to survive. I want the country to succeed," he added, as the crowd cheered.

Cantor Distances Himself From Limbaugh, Says GOP Doesn't Want Obama To Fail Appearing on This Week, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) rejected the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh, that Republicans want Obama to fail:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So the Rush Limbaugh approach of hoping the president fails is not the Eric Cantor , House Republican approach?

CANTOR: George, absolutely not. And I don't -- I don't think anyone wants anything to fail right now. We have such challenges.

What we need to do is we need to put forth solutions to the problems that real families are facing today. And our common-sense, conservative principles of limited government, and the belief in free markets, and the belief that really opportunity can only be created by the private sector are going to undergird our proposals going forward.

Rahm: Limbaugh "The Intellectual Force And Energy" Of GOP Appearing on Face The Nation, Rahm Emanuel moved to further tie the Republican Party to Rush Limbaugh, declaring him to be "the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party." Of Limbaugh's rhetoric about failure, Rahm said: "He said it, and I compliment him on his honesty. But that's their philosophy that's enunciated by Rush Limbaugh and I think that's the wrong philosophy for America."

Orszag: Deficit Will Go Down In Near Future Appearing on This Week, White House Budget Director Peter Orszag reaffirmed the White House's projections that they can cut the deficit in half in the next few years, as the economy recovers and the Bush tax cuts expire. "We've got both spending constraints and additional revenue, as the economy recovers," Orszag explained. "That's where a lot of the deficit reduction comes from."

Gates: Obama 'More Analytical' Than Bush Appearing on Meet The Press, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates compared President Obama to his previous boss, George W. Bush: "I think that probably President Obama is somewhat more analytical. And he makes sure he hears from everybody in the room on an issue. And if they don't speak up, he calls on them." He also said it is "fairly remote" that the current plan for withdrawal from Iraq would change.

Mullen Expresses Confidence In Obama, Withdrawal Plan Appearing today on Fox News Sunday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said that the current timeline to withdraw from Iraq is acceptable, and expressed his confidence in President Obama: "He clearly has sought my advice. I feel very comfortable that as a senior military officer and adviser to the president that he is giving me the time and the opportunity to advise him accordingly."

Pawlenty: Coleman Has 'Plausible' Chance In an interview with The Hill, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) said of the disputed Senate race in his home state: "Norm has a plausible chance, a decent chance of winning this thing. He has raised irregularities that rise to the level of legal issues, legitimate legal issues, that could change the result."

The CPAC straw poll results are in showing that there is no clear favorite among the assembled conservative activists for the 2012 Republican nomination:

Mitt Romney 20%
Bobby Jindal 14%
Ron Paul 13%
Sarah Palin 13%
Newt Gingrich 10%
Mike Huckabee 7%
Mark Sanford 4%
Rudy Giuliani 3%
Tim Pawlenty 2%
Charlie Crist 1%
Undecided 9%

A lot of news outlets are reporting this as a Romney win, but that doesn't seem all that accurate for a 20% plurality in a field this large. The bottom line is that there are a whole bunch of possible candidates who could pick up support, and the field still has a lot of time to really form.

It's a wide-open field with no clear favorite -- and it doesn't really have to be anything other than that, at this very early point in the game.

Obama's Weekly Address: Budget Keeps Promise Of "Sweeping Change" In this weekend's YouTube address, President Obama declares that with his new budget he is keeping the promises he made during the campaign on issues such as the tax code, education, energy policy and other issues -- and that he expects a fight in Washington to get it passed:

"The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long, but I don't. I work for the American people," says Obama. "I didn't come here to do the same thing we've been doing or to take small steps forward, I came to provide the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November."

GOP Response: Senator Burr Blasts Deficit Spending In this weekend's Republican response, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) -- who voted for the Bush tax cuts and expansions in entitlement spending -- denounces the deficit spending being conducted under President Obama:

"Looking at the spending priorities of Democrats in Washington in the proposed budget and over the past month, it's hard to escape the reality that for the first time we could see the American Dream vanish," says Burr. "Now, instead of working hard so our children can have a better life tomorrow, we are asking our children to work hard so that we don't have to make tough choices today."

CPAC Honoring Limbaugh The 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference third and final day is today, featuring such speakers as Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, Phyllis Schlafly, Bill Bennett, Ann Coulter, David Horowitz and others. The crowning moment will come at 5:30 p.m. ET, when the "Defender of the Constitution Award" is presented to Rush Limbaugh.

No Obama Or Biden Events President Obama and Vice President Biden do not have any public events scheduled for today.

Pawlenty: GOP Must Reach Out To 'Sam's Club Voters' During his speech at CPAC, Minnesota Governor and possible presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty made the case that the Republican Party has to reach out to working-class "Sam's Club Voters." Pawlenty declared that the GOP must speak "with a feel and concern and tone and an understanding of the importance and the challenges of the working class of this country," also adding: "And it doesn't mean we have to sacrifice our principles to do it."

Romney: Bush Should Done A Stimulus; GOP Needs A Spokesperson In an interview with the Politico, Mitt Romney criticized George W. Bush for failing to propose his own stimulus plan last fall, "so that in September, October, November, December, there would have been a stimulus plan," rather than the one eventually passed by President Obama. Romney also got to the bottom of the problem now facing the GOP: "What's challenging about being in the minority is we don't have a spokesperson for our position who lays out a plan."

Labor Unions Aiming For Reconciliation, New Federation The Associated Press reports that the top labor unions are negotiating to re-forum under a single new federation, four years after several AFL-CIO member unions broke away to form Change to Win. "There's obvious benefits in terms of efficiency, message delivery, financial savings and a host of other reasons," said former House Dem Whip David Bonior, who has been brokering the discussions. "You can always be more effective if you're talking in one house as opposed to three."

Bunning Denies Story About Threatened Resignation Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) is denying reports that he threatened at a Washington fundraiser to resign his seat -- and thus let the Democratic governor appoint his replacement -- if Republican leaders keep trying to pressure him into retirement. "It's not true," he told Roll Call in a statement. "I intend to fulfill my obligation to the people of Kentucky. If you are going to write something like this, you'd better make your sources known because they are lying."

Grover Norquist, the conservative activist and head of Americans for Tax Reform, chatted wih TPM about the annual Conservative Political Action Conference and how enthusiasm is still high among Republicans even after last year's electoral drubbing. He also explains how the conference has approached one of the most famous conservatives of all: George W. Bush.

The Coleman campaign could potentially be in some serious hot water in their effort to prove that double-counting of absentee ballots occurred, after it was revealed that they concealed evidence involving the testimony of a key witness, Republican precinct worker Pamela Howell.

But here's the thing about Howell's testimony: The story itself appears to be true. Democratic precinct worker Shawn Isenhart, who served in the same precinct with Howell, confirmed to me that there was indeed a failure to properly label the original and duplicate copies of a few damaged absentee ballots in that precinct.

Isenhart was there when the precinct workers realized what had happened, which was the key event in Howell's testimony. He thinks it happened to around six ballots, but could possibly as high as 15.

These instances of human error, when election workers failed to fully prepare and label the copied ballots, were the first step that created the potential for a very small number of votes to be counted twice during the recount -- or in some cases the opposite occurring, and the vote not counted at all. This was due in large part to the rules that both campaigns had agreed to in conducting the recount, for how to handle these ballots, and which the Coleman campaign has since declared to have been improper and illegal.

However, my own observation after speaking to Isenhart is that this doesn't really redeem Team Coleman. If anything, it shows just how sloppy and reckless they've been in making their case.

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The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) is now making a very interesting threat to his national party: If you keep trying to force me into retirement, I'll just resign -- and hand the seat to the Democrats.

Bunning reportedly said at a campaign fundraiser in Washington that the rumors being spread about his possible retirement, or of a potential Republican primary challenger, have been hindering his fundraising efforts. "I would get the last laugh," Bunning said, according to three sources speaking to the paper. "Don't forget Kentucky has a Democrat governor."

Bunning has previously threatened to sue the NRSC if he gets a primary challenger. If he were to take this revenge on them through this particular method, that would immediately bring the Democrats to 59 seats. Add in an Al Franken victory in the Minnesota election dispute, and you now have 60 seats -- the filibuster-proof majority.

One of the Courier-Journal's sources was clearly worried: "It's not because he's old and senile -- he's always been like that. He'll tell you what he thinks."

Late Update: Upon further reflection, it occurs to me that Bunning is a brilliant strategist, if this is indeed true. It's the political equivalent of nuclear brinksmanship, with the threat of mutually-assured destruction as a safety mechanism against widespread war and conflict.

One of the interesting things at CPAC is the extensive Bush bashing. Newt Gingrich, this morning, attacked the "Bush-Obama" policies on bailouts and stimulus. John Bolton attacked Bush's policies on Iran and North Korea. Not surprisingly, Ron Paul took extensive shots at Bush. (He also fired at broadside at U.S. entry--in World War I.) I guess we shouldn't be shocked that conservatives are putting distance between themselves and the unpopular former president. What is surprising is that there are no shots at John McCain for his campaign or his moderate positions on climate change and immigration. It's all about Bush. I have a video coming up soon with Grover Norquist in which he offers some thoughts on the topic.

Today I had the opportunity to speak with Dean Barkley, the Independence Party candidate who received 15% of the vote in the Minnesota Senate race, and he confirmed to me that if there is indeed a new election -- an idea that Norm Coleman has been floating -- he will be a candidate.

Barkley doesn't think a do-over will actually happen -- nor does he think it should happen -- and he traces the Coleman rhetoric to one reason. "Well that's probably because they're coming to the realization that they're gonna lose. It's that simple," said Barkley. "He's lost some pretty significant motions and decisions in court the last week, and I think he's coming to the realization that he's not gonna prevail in the finality. So obviously if you don't want to lose, you're gonna do everything you can to muddy up the waters."

But if it does happen, Barkley is in. "I wouldn't mind having another shot at the apple -- bring it on," Barkley told me. "If it was a do-over with everybody, not just Coleman and Franken. They seem to think they're the only two people with a stake in the outcome."

He added: "I might win it this time, after the behavior of those two."

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It's looking more and more like Senator David Vitter (R-LA), the staunch social conservative whose career became mired in the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal in 2007, will have a very interesting re-election campaign on his hands for 2010, with yet another name being floated as a potential primary challenger.

Former Rep. John Cooksey, who ran for Senate in 2002 and came in third place with 14% in the multi-party open primary that Louisiana used at the time, is reportedly prepared to spend $200,000 of his own money on the race if a draft site shows him that he could get enough support.

Fun fact: Cooksey got in trouble during the 2002 cycle when he compared turbans to diapers, prompting the NRSC to recruit another Republican to get into the race against Dem Senator Mary Landrieu.

There are already two others who are considering getting into the GOP race, as well: Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who would be challenging Vitter from the standpoint of a Christian Right activist, and porno star Stormy Daniels, who would wage a campaign to highlight Vitter's personal hypocrisy.