In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The Senate has now passed the stimulus plan on a 61-37 vote, with all the Democrats and three Republicans -- Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- joining together to pass a package weighing in at $838 billion.

This is not the end of the line, though. Next up, the bill goes to the House-Senate conference committee, where liberals will likely try to restore some of the larger spending increases that were trimmed back in the compromise Senate version, such as education, and to address the Senate package's relatively greater reliance on tax cuts over spending.

Then after that's over, the final version will come up for a whole new round of debate and voting in both chambers. That said, it seems like a safe bet that the stimulus will pass in some form, and that it will happen pretty soon.

The Minnesota election court has now taken some kind of meaningful action, handing down a ruling on a summary judgment motion that will now allow the counting of some -- but not all -- of a group of Franken-voters who filed a motion to have their rejected ballots counted. The ruling gives us some hints as to where things will go from here -- and it's not good news for Norm Coleman.

Out of over 60 voters who filed this motion, the court is ordering just 24 ballots to be counted at this time. The opinion lays out a pretty stringent standard for letting previously-rejected ballots in: It has to be demonstrated that the voter either fully complied with the relevant laws and procedures, and thus the rejection was wholly a clerical error, or that any actual non-compliance was credibly the fault of the election official.

An example of this second category would be if a voter pro-actively asked whether they were registered to vote, were told yes and provided an absentee ballot for a registered voter, but it turned out they really needed to re-register. This is a tough standard to meet, and will mean that the number of people who qualify for it will be a fairly limited number.

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If you've ever been to Sanibel Island for vacation or anywhere in the touristed parts of Lee County, Florida it's hard to think of the area as being in a recession. But as Barack Obama pointed out on his visit to Ft. Myers, Florida today, this once prosperous area is hurting.

"I know Fort Myers had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation last year," the President said, standing next to Charlie Crist, the state's Republican governor and a possible 2012 presidential candidate. He cited, Chico's, the women's clothing company whose headquarters is in Ft. Myers, as one of the local businesses that is reeling.

Once again, I think he did well stylistically and substantively--laying out the challenges facing the country, making the case that inaction or tax cuts alone, is not enough given the failed policies of the past and the gravity of what faces the country. In terms of raw salesmanship, he's doing fine. Wonk for wonk, he was Clintonesque in his handling of policy questions from the audience.

Obama may be doing well but the problem is what's going on in the lower right hand corner of your TV screen where the Dow is plummeting in reaction to the Geithner bailout plan. Following the markets' gyrations can be utterly misleading. But the market is going to dictate what happens with this latest bailout just as the plummeting Dow changed the politics in Washington last fall. Republicans and Democrats who stood against George W. Bush's bailout reversed course when the Dow plummeted and the thing to watch in the coming days is whewther a plummeting Dow will force Congressional Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the stimulus--probably not--and whether it will force the Obama administration to recalibrate its bailout plan or even to come back to Congress for a second stimulus in a few months. In other words, this is all very much a work in progress.

Especially with the Dow now down almost 350 points at 1:23.

The House Blue Dog Coalition continues to wield outsize political power, thanks to a canny willingness to leverage its votes on key issues, while the Congressional Progressive Caucus must fight to be heard.

Case in point: the Blue Dogs are meeting directly with President Obama this afternoon on the stimulus bill. The Progressives have yet to hear back about their request for a meeting, which was issued almost a month ago.

But that doesn't mean the Progressives are staying silent as the Senate proposes stimulus cuts to education and health insurance for the unemployment. Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chairs of the group, have fired off a letter to the House Speaker protesting the Senate's cuts. Here's an excerpt:

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Yet another poll is showing that Americans are blaming Republicans, not Barack Obama, for the impasse on the stimulus bill.

The new Pew poll has 51% of respondents saying the stimulus plan is a good idea, with only 34% who say it's a bad idea. The poll also shows 43% saying Obama and Republicans have worked together, while 45% say they have not. Within the group who say they have not worked together, 61% blame Republican leaders, only 16% blame Obama, another 10% blame both, and 4% blame the Democratic Congressional leaders.

The survey also shows Republicans squarely losing the popularity contest. Obama's approval rating is at 64%, with only 17% disapproval. Democratic leaders in Congress are in positive territory at 48%-38%, while the Republican leadership is at only 34%-51%.

There's one number in here that can be read in a favorable way for Republicans: Respondents believed tax cuts are a more effective stimulus over spending by a 48%-39% margin. So expect the GOP leadership to play this number up, if they do cite the poll.

(Via Greg Sargent)

The overall dynamic of stimulus negotiations between the two chambers of Congress, which Democrats are aiming to finish by the end of the week, involves senators pressing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to accept the $100 billion or so in cuts that were insisted upon by three GOP centrists.

But Pelosi's side of the Capitol isn't going totally unheard by the Senate. Democrats are growing confident that the final stimulus package will include some, if not all, of the $16 billion in school construction aid that was sliced by centrist senators last week.

"We feel that the wind is at our back on that one," one Democratic source told me. And there's good reason to think so -- President Obama made a strong case for preserving the schools money during his press conference last night. Here's how Obama put it:

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It's time for an amusing peek at a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Check out what Pawlenty said to Minnesota Public Radio, firing back at a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who criticized him for traveling to the Munich Security Conference:

And when you're the commander in chief of the Minnesota National Guard, and you're going to deploy soldiers -- like we are tomorrow night at the St. Paul civic center, a thousand soldiers going off to Iran (Editor Note: Pawlenty said Iran on the air. His spokesman said he misspoke and corrected himself on the air later) and a month from now another thousand going to the middle east to fight in the war -- it helps to have an understanding of those issues, the dynamics, the security issues.


There are two things to consider here. First, Pawlenty apparently has a Palin-style belief that a governor's official role as head of the state National Guard has some importance in foreign policy. And while explaining this concept, he managed to get wrong which country his state's troops are actually being sent to.

No one doubted last night that the Senate's stimulus bill would clear the 60-vote hurdle it needed to move towards final approval today. But while cancer-stricken Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) summoned the strength to cast his vote, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) was the only active senator who missed the boat entirely.

As Ben Smith explains, Cornyn was in New York charming a group of conservative bigwigs -- and likely donors to the Senate GOP's 2010 campaign effort, which Cornyn is leading.

Cornyn's decision to prioritize donor outreach over Senate business is a pretty stunning display of chutzpah. Here's why ...

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If Joe Lieberman decides to run for a fifth term in 2012, a new Quinnipiac poll suggests that it may be a lost cause.

The new poll tests Lieberman as an independent against Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. The numbers: Blumenthal 58%, Lieberman 30%. Yikes.

Lieberman's active campaigning against the Democratic Party last year hasn't won him too many friends back home. Democrats go for Blumenthal by 83%-9%, and independents are for Blumenthal 55%-29%. Lieberman is the de facto Republican nominee in this match, and with GOP voters he scores 67%-23% over Blumenthal.

Lieberman's job approval is also at only 45%, with 48% disapproving. Among Democrats that's a 21%-70% rating, Republicans 75%-20%, while independents give him a narrow approval of 48%-46%.

A lot can happen in four years, but right now it doesn't look like Lieberman has too many options. He can't run as a Democrat, he would still lose as a Republican, and there's no reason to believe that staying as an independent will provide much more of an opportunity.

Today: Senate Voting On Stimulus Package The Senate is set to vote today on President Obama's economic recovery package, which is assured passage after it cleared the 60-vote threshold yesterday to overcome a Republican filibuster. Next up, the bill will head to a House-Senate conference committee to iron out differences, with the White House hoping to get it fully passed in both chambers within a week's time.

Obama Promoting Stimulus In Red Area of Florida, Then Meeting Blue Dogs President Obama is holding a 12:05 p.m. ET town hall in Fort Myers, Florida, an area that voted for John McCain and where unemployment is now 10%, to promote the stimulus plan alongside Republican Governor Charlie Crist. At 5:50 p.m. ET, he will meet with members of the Blue Dog Coalition at the White House.

Biden Meeting With Freshman Senators Vice President Biden is hosting a cocktail reception this evening at the Naval Observatory, meeting with freshman Senators from both parties.

Geithner Launching Bailout v. 2.0 Today Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is set to roll out a revamped financial bailout, focusing on increased corporate transparency of how public money is being spent. The plan will reportedly incorporate public-private partnerships to buy up trouble assets, with the goal of increasing the availability of credit to consumers and businesses.

NYT: Geithner Resisted Tougher Restrictions On Banks The New York Times reports that Tim Geithner successfully opposed calls within the Obama Administration for harder restrictions on banks receiving federal aid. Others, such as David Axelrod, had favored tougher limits on executive pay, and Geithner also turned back those who wanted to directly replace bank executives or wipe out shareholders.

Report: Friction Between Cantor And Rest Of GOP Leadership Roll Call reports that House Minority Whip Eric Cantor had a very angry private conversation with Minority Leader John Boehner, after Boehner boasted about how the entire House Republican caucus voted against the stimulus bill -- without the benefit of a big whip operation. Boehner's spokesman played down the event, saying the team is unified: "Our focus is where it should be: on helping the American people, not wasting time on inside-the-Beltway gossip."

Ohio Lt. Governor Forms Senate Committee For 2010 Ohio Lt. Governor Lee Fisher (D) has formed an exploratory committee to run for the open Senate seat of retiring GOP Senator George Voinovich. Former Congressman Rob Portman is current in on the Republican side, while other possible Democrats include Rep. Tim Ryan and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, in what is expected to be a close election.

Bredesen Hits Back At Health Care Critics Governor Phil Bredesen (D-TN) is firing back at health-care advocates who oppose a potential appointment for him as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Responding to criticism over his cuts in the state health care program, which removed coverage for 168,000 people, Bredesen told the Wall St. Journal: "I did what I had to do and I'd have no choice to do the same thing over again."

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