In it, but not of it. TPM DC

As soon as Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination to be HHS Secretary , a lot of liberal bloggers started throwing around the names of Howard Dean and John Kitzaber, both former Democratic governors and both physicians, to replace him. Neither, we noted at the time, was seriously in play. We seem to be right. (Whew.)

We did mention Kathleen Sebelius and while there's no certain confirmation that the Kansas Governor will be nominated to be Barack Obama's HHS Secretary, outside groups following this closely tell me that Sebelius is undergoing final vetting and the White House wants to be extra, extra careful not to have this one blow up. After all it would be the fourth withdrawn cabinet nomination, following Tom Daschle, Bill Richardson and Judd Gregg. Sebelius was vetted for vice president but that's not enough. Everything is being updated, I hear. The announcement could come this week and certainly by Obama's address to the nation and a joint session of Congress on Feb 24 where Sebelius is likely to be in the gallery seated near Michelle Obama.

There's some disappointment among liberal groups about Sebelius's nomination, not because of her positions which they like but because she had the best shot at a Democratic pickup of the Senate seat that will be vacated by Sam Brownback, the Kansas Republican, when he retires at the end of his term.

You might be forgiven for thinking the Minnesota trial is quite simply insane.

Earlier today Franken lawyer David Lillehaug was cross-examining Pamela Fuller, the election official for Republican-friendly Olmsted County, attempting to show how lost ballots in a Rochester precinct had resulted in a net minus-two for Al Franken in the recount.

Then Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg got back up to demonstrate how the math really shows that Coleman lost a net-one vote here.

Lillehaug objected. To which Friedberg snapped back: "I believe he started this, your honor!" Lillehaug was overruled, and Friedberg continued.

He started it!

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine posted today, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) edges toward endorsing the congressional proposal to create a "truth and reconciliation commission" that would investigate a panoply of misdeeds perpetrated during the Bush years.

When interviewer Tim Dickinson asked if Pelosi could "foresee a scenario in which senior members of the Bush administration are actually prosecuted," she replied:

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The new AP/GfK poll shows that the public is optimistic that the stimulus plan will work, and they approve the performance of Democrats on the economy -- and disapprove of the Republicans.

The poll was conducted from February 12-17, during the final days of the compromise process for the stimulus bill. So we now have a look at public opinion during the period when it became clear that the bill was going to pass:

• 52% of Americans approve of the stimulus bill, with 41% disapproving. And the public is confident by a 54%-45% margin that the plan will result in significant improvement.

• President Obama's overall approval rating comes in at 67%, with only 24% disapproval. His specific approval on the economy is 68%-27%.

• Congress' approval is at only 31%-59%, but additional questions show a much more complicated picture. The number for Congressional Democrats is at 49%-45%, while Republicans are at 33%-59%. The Republicans appear to be cramping Congress' style.

• Only 30% say Obama hasn't done enough to cooperate with Republicans in Congress -- the GOP base vote, basically -- while 62% say he's doing the right amount and 6% say it's been too much. Flipping it around, only 27% say Republicans have done enough to cooperate with Obama, with 64% saying not enough and 5% saying too much.

• And here's another interesting number. Respondents were asked whether various measures would help the economy -- and 65% say pulling out of Iraq would help.

Yet another anti-stimulus GOP governor, who had been hinting previously that his state would be turning down cash, is now accepting the money.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who co-wrote an op-ed piece with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford about all the things that were wrong with the bill, has now informed the White House that he'll accept the money. (By the way, Sanford is taking some of the money, too.)

Perry is, however, leaving the door open to not taking all of it, as he doesn't want to spend money that would expand existing social programs, and thus trap him into having to continue the increases later on with state money. Perry's spokeswoman said that they are studying the aid package "line by line to determine what is in the best interest of Texas taxpayers."

Barack Obama's in Ottawa today. The snow's falling. People are skating on the canals. The president and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet and Obama will fly home after a few hours. It's the classic first presidential visit abroad.

But there are a couple of things to watch out for in this meeting with America's largest trading partner. The first is backtracking on the North American Free Trade Agreement. During the primaries Candidate Obama vowed to rewrite the deal. Now, uh, not so much. In an interview with Canadian TV he hinted that this wasn't the time to start getting all disruptive with settled agreements. Will organized labor let this one slide? A lot will depend on the language coming out of Obama's meeting with Harper.

Here's Thea Lee, policy director at the AFL-CIO was pretty mellow in her comments about the trip:

"We hope there will be greater fiscal cooperation in response to the economic crisis ... both in terms of scale and content," she said.

"We would like to see the labor and environment provisions in NAFTA strengthened and enforced more effectively."

Second, Afghanistan. What kind of commitments can he get out of Canada to help with the Obama surge? Canada's been in this fight from the start and their military is not huge but can Obama get more out of them? It'll be at least a bit of a harbinger of what could happen when he goes to the Europeans hat in hand.

National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones is on the trip. Hillary Clinton is in Asia. Could be some intereseting Kremlinology in who actually does the readouts to the press. Jones, by the way, won't need translation gear. Raised in France for much of his youth, he speaks fluent French.

There's been a lot of talk in recent months about bailed-out banks getting help from the taxpayers, then turning around to pour vast sums of money into lobbying Congress.

Bank of America even claimed to the New York Times last month that it was "sensitive" enough to stop lobbying on the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) -- but the bank kept its in-house lobbyists and two private firms active on the issue, according to disclosure forms filed publicly with the Clerk of the House. (We've put a call in to B of A asking for clarification on this point.)

So what can be done to ensure that public money isn't spent by businesses on watering down executive compensation caps and other measures that pose a threat to Wall Street?

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TPM alum Greg reported yesterday that Blue Dog Democrats had convinced House leaders to let the Senate go first on the Employee Free Choice Act, the labor movement's central legislative priority this year.

The conservative Blue Dogs' lack of love for the EFCA -- dubbed the "card-check" bill by GOP critics -- is no secret on Capitol Hill and even in Arkansas, where one columnist wrote yesterday that one prominent Blue Dog was reassuring local business leaders about slowing progress on the measure.

But have the Blue Dogs truly convinced House leaders to hold off on EFCA? I asked the House Education and Labor Committee, where Chairman George Miller (D-CA) has yet to even introduce this year's version of the EFCA bill, and got a short, to-the-point answer: "No decision has been made on legislative strategy for the Employee Free Choice Act."

Michael Steele is promising a drastic makeover of the Republican Party's image -- and he really means it!

"We want to convey that the modern-day GOP looks like the conservative party that stands on principles," Steele told the Washington Times. "But we want to apply them to urban-suburban hip-hop settings."

"It will be avant garde, technically," he said of the new public relations team he's signing on. "It will come to the table with things that will surprise everyone - off the hook." He also added: "I don't do 'cutting-edge.' That's what Democrats are doing. We're going beyond cutting-edge."

This sort of sounds like a middle-aged man talking to his kids, trying his utter best to sound as if he's cool.

Reps. Brian Baird (D-WA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) arrived in the Gaza Strip in recent hours, becoming the first U.S. governmental representatives to visit the region in more than three years, according to a joint release from their offices. (Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry [D-MA] was also visiting Gaza today as part of a broader regional swing.)

Baird and Ellison met with representatives of the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, but neither they nor Kerry will meet with Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007. The House Dems' trip was not officially sanctioned by the Obama administration. Hopefully, however, it will mark the beginning of a greater recognition on Capitol Hill of the humanitarian costs the Palestinians have paid amid the ongoing conflict with Israel.