In it, but not of it. TPM DC

So how are the political fortunes right now for New York Governor David Paterson and the newly-appointed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand? The answer, according to a new Quinnipiac poll: Horrible, with both of them trailing potential challengers in the Democratic primary in 2010.

The poll says that Paterson would lose nomination against state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo by a whopping 55%-23%, while Gillibrand is behind Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, a champion of gun control, by 34%-24%.

In a general election, Paterson is tied 43%-43% with Rudy Giuliani, while Cuomo has a 51%-37% lead over Rudy. Gillibrand is still ahead in a general election against Republican Congressman Peter King, with a 42%-26% lead. Unfortunately, there is no match-up of McCarthy against King for comparison.

It gets worse for Paterson. Only 35% approve of how he handled the process of picking a new Senator, with 52% disapproving. Those numbers are distributed pretty evenly across all party lines. Gillibrand herself gets a better approval number on her own specific appointment, with 45% approving of her selection and 33% disapproving, again distributed evenly across party identification.

The primary is a certainly a while from now, and a lot of things can change. But this is not a good starting point.

Obama Signing Stimulus Bill Today, In Denver President Obama is scheduled to leave Washington at 10 a.m. ET, en route to Colorado. He will arrive in Colorado at 1:30 p.m. ET, where he will conduct a 2:15 p.m. ET tour of a solar panel installation in Denver -- and then at 2:40 p.m. ET, he will sign the stimulus bill into law at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Afterwards, he'll leave for Phoenix, Arizona, where he will talk about the housing crisis tomorrow.

Obama Giving Interview With Canadian TV, Ahead Of Visit This Thursday President Obama is also preparing for his first trip to another country, namely Canada, with an interview set for this morning at 9:25 a.m. ET with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. During Thursday's visit, Obama will meet Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff, with trade issues expected to be a major point of discussion.

Japanese P.M. Will Be First Foreign Leader To Visit Obama Hillary Clinton has announced that Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso will be the first foreign leader to visit President Obama at the White House. The meeting will happen next week.

WaPo: Geithner's Bailout Speech Spoiled By Last-Minute About-Face The Washington Post reports that Tim Geithner's speech last week on the revamped financial bailout -- which was heavily criticized for a lack of detail -- happened that way because of a last-minute decision to drop the whole plan he'd been working on: "They needed an alternative and found it in a previously considered initiative to pair private investments and public loans to try to buy the risky assets and take them off the books of banks."

NYT: Obama Fights With Congressional GOP -- And Gets Help From Republican Governors The New York Times says that the stimulus bill has shown a split between the Congressional Republicans and the party's governors -- that is, the GOPers who actually have real political power right now have almost entirely supported the stimulus bill. Florida Governor Charlie Crist told the Times: "As a governor, the pragmatism that you have to exercise because of the constitutional obligation to balance your budget is a very compelling pull."

Pope To Meet With Pelosi Nancy Pelosi will be meeting Wednesday with Pope Benedict XVI, as part of her official trip this week to Italy. The Pope is officially receiving Pelosi in her capacity as a head of state, but The Hill points out there could be some friction -- Benedict has endorsed religious sanctions, from denying communion to full-blown excommunication, against pro-choice Catholic politicians.

Steele Reaches Out To The Online "Rightroots" As part of his efforts to modernize the Republican Party's organization and reach out on the Internet, Michael Steele and former RNC rival Saul Anuzis held a meeting with 300 conservative techies this past Friday morning. "When we get to 2010, I want my campaigns here," Steele declared, holding up a BlackBerry. A tip for Steele: Don't seek out any advice from this man.

Here a footnote to Al Franken's speaking tour of Minnesota, in which the campaign is promoting him as "Senator-Elect Franken" as he speaks to crowds around Minnesota about the economy, and the need for him to get to Washington soon to help out.

Franken told CNN that he doesn't insist that people address him as Senator-elect -- but that it isn't inaccurate, either. "I won the recount," said the apparent-provisional-sort-of-Senator-elect. "You can call me Al."

"I don't think this is presumptuous at all," he added, when asked that particular question about his speaking tour. "I think that Minnesotans know that it's...very possible that I'll be in the Senate, and that I want to hit the ground running when I get there."

At today's post-court press conferences, Coleman lawyer/spin-man Ben Ginsberg was asked about Franken's speaking tour as Senator-elect. "I think it's a cute media stunt," Ginsberg replied with a smile.

A number of progressive scribes have recently restarted the debate over banning, or phasing out, the Senate's oft-abused filibuster power. (Ezra Klein's argument for burying the filibuster is found here.)

I'm not about to defend the nauseating eagerness of Republicans to filibuster at a record-breaking pace during the past two years. Nor am I prepared to defend the hypocrisy of now-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) insistence on 60 votes to pass even uncontroversial legislation -- with the support of his Democratic counterpart, Harry Reid (D-NV) -- when four years ago McConnell was ready to deploy the "nuclear option" to eliminate any filibuster threat to Bush judicial nominees with questionable qualifications.

The filibuster's checkered history as a weapon of pro-segregation southerners seeking to block civil rights bills is also utterly indefensible.

Despite the filibuster's frequent abused for undemocratic ends, I was initially eager to defend the need to keep it alive in some form. Reducing the number of votes needed to remove a block on legislation, from 60 to 55, is one good idea on the table. After researching the history of meritorious filibusters, however, I was amazed to see how few instances there are of a successful stalling of just-plain-bad legislation.

The Democratic campaign during 2003-05 to block grossly partisan Bush judicial nominees, such as mining industry lawyer William G. Myers, represents the most obvious argument in support of filibustering. Three more examples of worthy filibusters (or threats of such) follow after the jump. If I've omitted any compelling reasons to preserve the filibuster, let me know ...

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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.

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