In it, but not of it. TPM DC

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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In his lengthy speech to the RNC today, Michael Steele laid out a vision for a Republican Party that has to stop moping and take on President Obama directly.

Steele ridiculed strategists who say the party should avoid attacking the popular Obama, and focus instead on other targets like Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid -- which Steele likens to the Democrats' distracting attacks against Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney:

You know the thinking. In the same way that the Democrats target conservative talk show hosts and former vice presidents, we should also engage in some misdirection, just like they do.

The argument goes that we should be careful here, because the polls suggest that President Obama is popular.

Well, the president is personally popular. Pity the fool who paid for a poll to figure that out. Folks like him. He's got an easy demeanor. He's a great orator. His campaign was based on change and hope. He's young. He's cool. He's hip. He's got a good looking family. What's not to like? He's got all the qualities America likes in a celebrity, so, of course he is popular.

There's only one problem. He's taking us in the wrong direction and bankrupting our country. Were it not for that little detail, I'd be a big fan too.

Check out the full speech after the jump.

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The Obama administration may not be in a hurry to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but at least it's not actively arguing its merits before the Supreme Court. Eh?

The Obama administration has decided to accept an appeals-court ruling that could undermine the military's ban on service members found to be gay.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco last year ruled that the government must justify the expulsion of a decorated officer solely because she is a lesbian. The court rejected government arguments that the law banning gays in the military should have a blanket application, and that officials shouldn't be required to argue the merits in her individual case.

The administration let pass a May 3 deadline to appeal to the Supreme Court. That means the case will be returned to the district court, and administration officials said they will continue to defend the law there.

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A new poll of Oklahoma from Public Policy Polling (D) suggests that the 2010 Senate race in this deep-red state could potentially be a competitive one -- that is, if GOP Sen. Tom Coburn retires.

Coburn easily beats two prominent Democrats, leading popular Gov. Brad Henry by 52%-40% and Rep. Dan Boren by 53%-36%. But if Coburn is out, the new match-ups are close calls. Former GOP Rep. J.C. Watts edges Henry 45%-44% and leads Boren 46%-41%, while Rep. Tom Cole edges Henry 44%-43% and just barely leads Boren 42%-40%. The margin of error is ±3.7%.

Coburn has said he's genuinely undecided about whether he'll run, and he hasn't done much fundraising. We'll see what happens there.

That said, my own opinion is people shouldn't get their hopes up too much. This was John McCain's single best state last year, giving him a 66%-34% win over Barack Obama. And the 2004 open-seat Senate race saw a lot of close polls between Coburn and Dem Congressman Brad Carson, only to have Coburn win by 53%-41%.

A new Web promotion by the Republican National Committee, the "ObamaCard" -- parodying the national debt built up by the stimulus bill -- seems to be a bit confused about exactly when a presidential term ends:

Note that the ObamaCard is listed as being valid through January 2012 -- as opposed to, say, January 2013, when the current term will actually end as laid out by the Constitution. The card could have also potentially gone for November 2012, as an allusion to when Republicans hope to unseat President Obama on Election Day 2012.

But no, they went for January 2012, the month when we can actually expect the Republican Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.