In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Much of the day will no doubt be spent gaming the retirement of Supreme Court Justice David Souter. Is it good for Democrats? For Republicans? Who will Obama nominate? How quickly and ferociously will charges of socialism and judicial activism begin to fly? And would Specter have switched parties if he'd known that he'd have had a golden opportunity to obstruct an Obama Supreme Court appointee in order to shore up his right?

All worthy questions, but all impossible to answer. At least for now.

What I want to focus on is a bit deeper in the weeds, but could prove very important, and, for Republicans, a potential source of poetic justice. (No pun intended.)

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WaPo: Biden In Charge Of Search For SCOTUS Nominee The Washington Post reports that Vice President Biden has been tasked with with drawing up a list of potential Supreme Court nominees to replace Justice David Souter, whose retirement has not yet been officially announced but is widely reported to be a settled issue. Souter will reportedly step down after this current court term ends in June, effective upon confirmation of his successor. The next term begins in October.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will be meeting with his cabinet at 11:15 a.m. ET. AT 12 p.m. ET, he will have lunch with Vice President Biden, and it's not unreasonable to imagine that the Supreme Court will be a key topic of discussion. At 1 p.m. ET, he and Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano will attend a naturalization ceremony for active-duty service members, with Napolitano swearing them in as citizens and Obama presenting an Outstanding American by Choice Award. At 4:30 p.m. ET, he will attend a ceremonial swearing-in of Commerce Sec. Gary Lock and Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius, with Biden delivering the oath of office.

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Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) may be a lone critic of Sen. Arlen Specter among Pennsylvania Democrats and party leaders, but if he looks past his colleagues he'll find a natural (though perhaps convenient and temporary) friend in labor. For now, Sestak is sending warning shots at Specter, pressuring him to get with the program, and groups like AFL-CIO and SEIU are doing the exact same thing. Especially vis-a-vis issues like health care and employee free choice.

Officially, AFL-CIO say they "look forward to continuing an open and honest debate with Senator Specter about the issues that are important to Pennsylvania and America."

"Sen. Specter," they say, "has said all along that he recognizes the need to reform our broken labor law system and we will continue to work with Congress to give workers back the freedom to form and join unions and pass legislation that stays true to the principals of the Employee free Choice Act."

And their Pennsylvania president agrees.

But Stewart Acuff, AFL-CIO's Director of Organizing hasn't been so timid.

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Will Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) will step down from his position as ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee and become the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee? A lot of signs point to yes, and that has reformers on the Hill and elsewhere--who prefer Grassley's record to that of his potential replacement--pretty worried.

If it happens, it will be thanks, indirectly, to Sen. Arlen Specter's defection into the Democratic party. Specter was the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee and his big move on Tuesday created an opening that has yet to be filled. As I reported earlier this week, though, the committee's senior Republican--Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)--is prohibited by Senate Republican Conference rules from taking over the committee. And only two of the three eligible senators--Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA)--make much sense.

Of those two, Grassley has some advantages: He's a more senior on the committee, for instance, and he isn't as controversial or conservative a senator as Sessions is. But he is ranking member of the Finance Committee--a committee with tremendous power, particularly with health reform on the horizon--and he'd have to leave that post if he were to take over for Specter.

So why would he do it?

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I have now had the chance to read through Norm Coleman's brief in his appeal of the Minnesota election trial -- check out Rick Hasen's take on it here -- and it sets up a coherent formulation of many of his previous arguments, boiling down to a few options Coleman wants the state Supreme Court to consider: To preferably count more ballots that are presumably for Coleman, or else subtract ballots that are presumably for Franken, or declare the whole election null.

The main focus of the brief is its argument that the trial court wrongly established a strict standard for admitting in any absentee ballots that had been previously rejected by local officials, as opposed to a more lenient standard that was the de facto standard for most jurisdictions across the state on Election Day. And these local standards are themselves deeply flawed, Team Coleman says, due to varying interpretations and applications of the state law by the human beings conducting the election from one place versus another.

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Ok, quick twitter post and then back Several weeks ago, those of us who (for reasons unclear) communicate with friends, colleagues, and complete strangers on Twitter, began scratching our heads when we noticed various conservatives were ending their "tweets" with a puzzling hashtag: "#tcot".

(For the uninitiated, the "#" allows twitterers to code their messages in a way that makes them all easily accessible--all tweets appended with "#tcot" can be found by searching for the term at this website.)

What could "#tcot" mean, we thought? Teabagging Conservatives' Organizing Tool? Tremendous Collection of Ornery Tweets?

In fact, it stands for "Top Conservatives On Twitter," and it is, in a way, a perfectly accurate moniker.

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CNN reported last night the GOP was launching a new initiative, the "National Council for a New America," as a push to rebrand the party's image away and counter the label that the Democrats have put forward calling the Republicans the "Party of No."

However, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) appeared today on Fox News, and he said it is not a rebranding effort, but is instead an attempt to engage with the American people:

"Jane, it's not a rebranding effort," said Cantor. "What this is, is an attempt to engage and begin a conversation with the American people. what we're looking for on the National Council for a New America is to involve all the American people for wide-open policy debate about the issues confronting this nation, on the issues confronting the families and the communities across this country."

So did CNN read in too much, thinking that an effort to alter the party's image was tantamount to rebranding -- or is it that Cantor is walking the idea back?

A new survey of Illinois from Public Policy Polling (D) suggests that Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) could potentially be a competitive candidate in the 2010 election for the Senate seat now held by Democratic Sen. Roland Burris. But this could easily change against him, if currently undecided Democratic voters lock in for the eventual nominee.

Against Burris, Kirk wins in a 53%-19% landslide. It seems highly improbable that Burris will actually be the nominee, and PPP polled some other Democrats: Kirk edges Rep. Jan Schakowsky 37%-33% and ties state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias 35%-35%, with high numbers of undecideds. But the well-known and popular state Attorney General Lisa Madigan leads Kirk 49%-33%.

From the pollster's analysis of the match-ups with Schakowsky and Giannoulias: "Those numbers aren't quite as encouraging for Republicans as they may seem to be though. In each case only 19% of GOP voters are undecided, while more than 30% of Democratic ones are."

The American Energy Alliance describes itself as a "not-for-profit organization that engages in grassroots public policy advocacy and debate concerning energy and environmental policies." As a point of reference, those policies don't include the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill, which, AEA's website announces "will further cripple our already struggling economy."

AEA's policy ideas supposedly come from the industry-funded Institute for Energy Research (of which they are an affiliate) which supposedly conducts "intensive research and analysis on the functions, operations, and government regulation of global energy markets."

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Americans United For Change has just come out with this TV ad, calling upon Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) to resist pressure from his national party, and certify Al Franken as the winner of the Senate race after Franken presumably wins against Norm Coleman's appeal at the state Supreme Court:

"The Republican Campaign Chairman, Texas Senator Cornyn, said Norm Coleman's court challenges could take 'years' to resolve," the announcer says, accompanied by a fuzzy shot of Cornyn in a cowboy hat. "Now Governor Pawlenty has a choice. Will he act in the best interest of Minnesota, or his own national political ambitions?"

The ad will air on cable TV in the Twin Cities and Rochester media markets. The oral arguments at the Minnesota Supreme Court won't happen until a month from now, so there's plenty of time for people to argue about what should happen after a court decision that may be widely expected, but hasn't actually happened yet.