In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The Republican National Committee's winter meeting has just announced the vote totals from the first round of balloting in the heated race for RNC chairman. No candidate has received the 85-vote majority needed to win just yet, but so far it's a tight race between incumbent chairman Mike Duncan and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele:

• Duncan 52

• Steele 46

• South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson 28

• Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis 22

• Former Ohio Sec. of State Ken Blackwell 20

Overall this is not a good result for Duncan -- he is an incumbent who only received 31% of the vote in the first round of voting, and a viable non-Duncan candidate is trailing just narrowly behind. This is also a bit of an embarrassment for right-wing bloggers and movement conservative activists, who had actively been supporting Blackwell.

The RNC has now gone out to lunch -- and presumably a lot of deal-making -- before we go into the second round later.

Fridays are often slow news days in the capital, and today is no exception. Aside from some talk of a third Republican in the Obama Cabinet and the RNC chairman's race, few major storylines are unspooling at the moment -- part of the reason for that is the House GOP's departure for their annual retreat in the mountain town of Hot Springs, Virginia.

But in another sense, the relative quiet of a slow news Friday is a Washington cultural tradition.

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Americans United For Change, the labor-backed political group that is currently campaigning for President Obama's stimulus package, has a new round of radio ads tying the GOP to Barack Obama's most vocal critic at this point: Rush Limbaugh, who is taking on the role of the true Leader of the Opposition in the current media environment.

The radio ads are running in the Cleveland, Reno and Philadelphia media markets, targeting the Republican Senators from those states. Here's the one for Pennsylvania:



"Every Republican voted with Limbaugh, and against creating 4 million new American jobs," the announcer says, referring to the House Republicans' unanimous vote against the stimulus package.

The announcer goes on to say: "Will our Senator, Arlen Specter, side with Rush Limbaugh too" --interrupted by Limbaugh's "I hope he fails!" interjection -- "or will he reject the partisanship and failed economic policies of the past, and stand up for the people of Pennsylvania?"

The Beltway media circuit is minorly abuzz this morning about the possibility that Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) could be named as Barack Obama's Commerce Secretary. The New York Times reports that the Obama administration "has approached" Gregg -- whose nomination would ostensibly trigger a Democratic appointment from New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, bringing Democrats to the edge of a pivotal 60-vote majority.

But the original report in Roll Call, as well as subsequent reports, source the notion to the Senate and not the Obama camp. If you were Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and you wanted to send a message to the GOP about its perilous hold on the ability to filibuster with a major stimulus bill coming up ... how would you do it?

Late Update: Gregg acknowledges the talk of a Cabinet slot in a statement just released by his office.

I am aware that my name is one of those being considered by the White House for Secretary of Commerce, and am honored to be considered, along with others, for the position. Beyond that there is nothing more I can say at this time.


And then he pulled off an article of clothing, in the slow striptease of a moderate Republican up for re-election ...

Today: RNC Elects Its Chairman Today is a big day for the Republican National Committee, as they hold the chairmanship election pitting incumbent Mike Duncan against a field of four challengers who say they can do a better job of rebuilding the party. Nobody is expected to win a full majority on the first ballot, and the big question is whether Duncan will be able to pick up support on successive ballots or whether the opposition will solidify around another candidate.

Obama And Biden To Speak On Middle-Class Task Force President Obama and Vice President Biden are holding a series of closed meetings with advisers this morning, and then at 10:45 a.m. ET they will both speak about the Middle Class Working Families Task Force. Biden is heading up the Task Force, which is charged with conducting outreach to labor, business and other advocacy groups to formulate policies helping the middle class.

Obama Meeting With Senior Military Officials The president is also holding a meeting at 1:45 p.m. ET today with senior enlisted military officials, as the new president works with the Armed Forces on his foreign policy.

Obama Expected To Undo Bush Executive Orders On Unions President Obama is also expected today to undo Bush-era executive orders on some key issues for organized labor. The Bush orders made it easier through various means for federal contractors to discourage workers from unionizing.

Day Five Of Minnesota Senate Trial This is the fifth day of the Minnesota Senate trial, with the court scheduled to reconvene at 10 a.m. ET. Norm Coleman's legal team has been questioning Ramsey County (St. Paul) elections director Joe Mansky, trying to build their case that some absentee ballots that favored Al Franken were accidentally counted twice.

Obama: Blago Removal "Ends A Painful Episode For Illinois" President Obama released this statement last night, regarding the removal from office of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich: "Today ends a painful episode for Illinois. For months, the state had been crippled by a crisis of leadership. Now that cloud has lifted. I wish Governor Quinn the best and pledge my full cooperation as he undertakes his new responsibilities."

Holbrooke To Travel To South Asia Richard Holbrooke, who has been named as the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, will be traveling to the region next week.

Obama Reportedly Eyeing GOP Sen. Gregg For Commerce Pick The White House is reportedly considering Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) for the role of Commerce Secretary. If this nomination were to in fact go through, it would have huge ramifications for the Senate -- New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) would presumably appoint a Democrat, and along with an Al Franken win in Minnesota this would give the Dems a filibuster-proof 60 seats.

Ever since banking stocks started plummeting, or should I say replummeting, a couple of weeks ago there's been renewed interest in nationalization. In some ways the question is pure semantics. Ever since Henry Paulson gathered banking CEOs at the Treasury Department last year and told them that the government was going to stick capital injections in their aching behemoths, we crossed a line that involved partial government ownership. Even as they beg for more handouts, the bankers are, not surprisingly, resisting the idea. Yesterday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Jamie Dimon, the head of JPMorgan Chase, denounced all the nationalization talk. "JPMorgan would be fine if we stopped talking about (the) damn nationalization of banks ... we've got plenty of capital," Dimon said. And Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner decried the term yesterday, too. I think Dimon and Geithner are basically right in the sense that we're not going to full nationalization and its a distracting term. Utilities are the better model.

But the fits and starts towards wherever we're heading are deeply worrisome. It's worth noting what happened with Credit Unions last night. Credit Unions are owned by their members and they offer, as anyone who's joined them knows, very favorable terms to those who are lucky enough to be able to sign up for one. They also have had the advantage of being relatively conservative. They don't have wild-ass hedge funds under their wings like Citigroup does. And they generally don't trade in mortgage backed securites but some do. Thus they're not immune from the financial turmoil that's unfolding.

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Chip Saltsman, the former Tennessee GOP chairman and ex-campaign manager for Mike Huckabee, has just announced that he is withdrawing from the race to be the next RNC chairman.

Saltsman's campaign was upended when he sent a gift CD to committee members by Paul Shanklin, a right-wing comedian who plays parody songs on the Rush Limbaugh show. This CD contained a track called "Barack The Magic Negro," in which Shanklin did an Amos & Andy-style impersonation of Al Sharpton ridiculing white liberals who support Barack Obama. Saltsman blamed the flap on the media.

A survey of committee members by NBC News, published yesterday morning, showed Saltsman with the declared support of only one out of the 168 members.

The full withdrawal statement that Saltsman sent to the membership is available after the jump.

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Rod Blagojevich has been convicted in his impeachment trial by the state Senate, removing him from office, making him as of now the former governor of Illinois.

The vote by the Illinois state Senate just came to a close, with a unanimous 59-0 verdict against him. A threshold of 40 was required to convict, and the impeachers definitely got more than that.

Late Update: The Illinois Senate has just taken the next step in this process, voting unanimously that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is disqualified from holding public office in the state of Illinois ever again.

Much of the debate over the potential effectiveness of Congress' economic stimulus bill centers on how quickly the $800-billion-plus can be spent.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office -- formerly run by Obama's new budget director, Peter Orszag -- has estimated that 64% of the House stimulus money can be disbursed within the first 18 months. Meanwhile, Orszag himself has promised to let loose 75% of it into the economy.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND), who's been concerned with thae spend-out rate in general, recently asked the CBO to evaluate ways that the stimulus money could be spent quicker. The CBO's first answer? "Waiving requirements for environmental and judicial reviews" of the impact of stimulus spending projects, according to a letter released today (and downloadable here).

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Women's health advocates were dismayed this week to see the removal of family-planning aid from Congress' economic recovery bill after a push by Republicans to politicize a generally cut-and-dry issue of Medicaid waivers. (Time has some good background here.)

But the dismay may not last long. A source present at today's White House signing ceremony for the Lilly Ledbetter bill tells me that President Obama gave assurances that the family planning aid would be done soon -- perhaps as soon as next week, when the House is set to take up a spending bill that would keep the government funded until October.

Obama emphasized that the family-planning aid "makes the budget look better, it's a money saver," the source said. In fact, removing the need for Medicaid waivers for family planning saves states an estimated $700 million over 10 years.

By removing the family-planning aid from the stimulus at Obama's request, Democrats "were giving a nod to the Republicans, believing they would act in good faith," the source added. And given how many GOPers voted for the stimulus bill, sounds like the family-planning aid is back on track.

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