In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Has Michael Steele averted the cultural and political train-wreck that would have come from the RNC's proposed "Democrat Socialist Party" resolution? That's what CNN now reports.

RNC member David Norcross of New Jersey, who had been a sponsor of the resolution, told CNN: "The language is being changed so that the proposers and chairman Steele are on the same page." Steele had opposed this thing from the start, and had sought to avoid the spectacle -- yes, Michael Steele thought this was too goofy.

Instead, Norcross said the resolution will now simply "condemn the Democrats' march to socialism" instead of renaming the Dems as the "Democrat Socialist Party." Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus, a Steele ally, predicted that such an altered version should pass easily once the final language has cleared the resolutions committee.

Terry McAuliffe is now the target of the attack ads in this year's Virginia gubernatorial race, as recent polling has put him ahead in the three-way Democratic primary set for June 9.

Former state Del. Brian Moran has launched this new TV ad against McAuliffe, casting McAuliffe as a greedy businessman who has gotten rich while other people got laid off:

"Barack Obama ran against exactly the kind of big-money politics that McAuliffe represents," the announcer says -- seemingly an effort to both tie Moran to the popular President Obama, and to remind voters that McAuliffe was for Hillary Clinton during the primaries.

The Republican National Committee could potentially take a very bold, politically momentous move tomorrow. I am speaking, of course, about the upcoming vote on a resolution to declare that the Democratic Party should be renamed the "Democrat Socialist Party."

The Politico reported last week that, at least as of that writing, the resolution was expected to pass. If it does pass, it will be against the wishes of RNC Chairman Michael Steele, who had opposed bringing this vote up at all -- and would thus be something of a blow to his command of the party organization and its overall message against the Dems.

This morning, Steele appeared on Fox News and couldn't suppress his laughter at the idea when the subject came up.

"No (laughs), well I don't -- I don't know how that resolution is gonna turn out," Steele said. "We have members who have very strong passions about the direction the Administration is taking with our economy."

When Steve Doocy asked whether Steele is for or against the resolution, Steele made it clear. "No, I am not for that at all," said Steele. "And I've mentioned that to folks inside the party and said, you know, I think that we should be smart and strategic about that. But a lot of people have passions, and the beauty of the Republican Party is you get to express those passions in various ways."

A new Mason-Dixon poll in Florida, commissioned by the Tallahassee-based public relations first Ron Sachs Communications, confirms the general consensus that Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is the immediate favorite to win the open Senate seat of retiring GOP Sen. Mel Martinez in 2010.

In the Republican primary against his more conservative challenger, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, Crist currently enjoys a 53%-18% lead. Granted, a lot can happen between now and the primary in August 2010, but at the moment Crist is on top.

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Michele Bachmann faced off with Barney Frank on the Lou Dobbs show last night over Bachmann's proposal to strip ACORN of any federal funds, by denying money to groups who have any members that become indicted.

In the battle of wits, the winner was...Barney Frank:

Frank pointed out that far from being a bunch of Democratic cronies, ACORN's housing work received a lot of funding from the Bush Administration, as part of the general Republican idea of contracting out community activities instead of growing the federal workforce. As for the substance of Bachmann's amendment, he argued that the low bar of criminal accusation against individual members would give too much power to a prosecutor to go after a group -- and could affect folks such as AIPAC, whose indicted members later saw all the charges against them dropped, or even the House Republicans when Tom DeLay was indicted.

"I'm sorry, Michele, why do you keep interrupting?" an exasperated Frank said at one point. "I'm sorry you don't like what I'm saying."

And by the way, this was posted on Bachmann's own YouTube account, much like another awkward TV appearance from two-and-a-half weeks ago.

TPMDC's daily update on the biggest legislative initiatives on the Hill:

  • Credit Card Reform:The Senate passed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act today by an overwhelming vote of 90-5. The roll call is here. The legislation lacks some key progressive provisions, such as a cap on interest rates, but has nonetheless received plaudits from the progressive Campaign for America's Future.

  • Climate Change: After hitting some early snags, the markup process for the Waxman-Markey energy bill begins in earnest today. Republicans opted not to invoke a delay tactic that would have required the entire 946 page bill to be read aloud before the committee proceeded to debate, but they do plan to offer up to 449 amendments to the bill, which should make this a grueling week for the Energy and Commerce Committee

  • Health Care: According to Jon Cohn, forthcoming estimates from the Congressional Budget office will suggest that comprehensive health reform won't cost as much as some observers expected. That's good news for the prospects of passing legislation--but, as a package released today by the Senate Finance Committee shows, coming up with the money won't be all that easy.

Yesterday, Gallup posted a new study showing that the Republican Party has lost significant numbers of voters across nearly all demographics since 2001 -- except for their conservative, church-going base. Republican self-identification is down from 32% in 2001 to 27% now, and including independents who lean GOP they've decreased from 44% to 39%.

So it's worth asking: Do these numbers work out to a more right-wing GOP, one that will have even more trouble winning elections? The answer appears to be yes -- at least for now.

I spoke with the Gallup study's author, Jeffrey M. Jones, and he confirmed to me that the shrunken GOP is indeed more conservative. In 2001, core Republicans were 62% conservative, 31% moderate and six percent liberal. After Republican-leaners were pushed, all Republicans and leaners were 57% conservative, 35% moderate and 8% liberal.

But now, the core Republicans are 68% conservative, 27% moderate and 5% liberal. Including GOP-leaners, they are 71% conservative, 24% moderate and 3% liberal.

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Some pleasant news from Capitol Hill: The Hill reports that Ted Kennedy's cancer is now in remission, and he should be back to work full time soon.

Harry Reid told reporters that he spoke with Kennedy's wife, and was told that the Senator will return to work the first week of June.

Kennedy is expected to have a big order of business to deal with, too: The markup for health reform legislation in his Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Michael Steele is really showing just how much he resents the challenges to his financial authority from his internal RNC critics. Appearing on Fox News today, Steele seemed to threaten to resign if their proposed rules to curtail his financial control go through:

"Well, they can contemplate all they want to," he said. "But the reality of it is, if you want a figurehead chairman, you can have a figurehead chairman, but it won't be Michael Steele."

Meanwhile, the Washington Times reports that Steele has paid his hired staffers -- his own people that he brought in -- rather handsomely, with his personal assistant even making three times as much as her predecessor made under RNC chairman Mike Duncan.

Said the Hawaii GOP chairman: "These salaries we hear about are way out of line for what staff should be paid for working for a political party, which most of us think of as a cause."

Last week, I noted that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the Republicans' brand new Judiciary Committee ranking member, is bringing an almost entirely new team of aides along with him to replace many of the staffers who backed up the committee minority when its ranking member was Arlen Specter.

In particular, I highlighted the case of Brian Benczkowski, who, in a previous life, was a key Bush administration figure tasked with covering up corruption in the Justice Department.

It turns out, though, that Benczkowski is just one in a series of elite picks. Among others, he's joined by one William Smith, the panel's new chief Republican counsel, who has a colorful history of his own. For instance, if you're wondering what sort of legal mind Smith brings to the powerful committee, you need look no further than this post, which contains his measured thoughts on Republicans--like former McCain adviser Steve Schmidt--who support gay equality.

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