In it, but not of it. TPM DC

In the coming weeks, hopefully we'll be able to provide some insight into the various banking lobbies and how they operate and what we can expect as a bank bailout package goes from blueprint to practice. As I tried to explain on Thursday, the banking lobby is hardly a monolith. While the banking lobby merits interest on its own, it's also a useful prism for asking the larger questions about how much Washington is or is not changing in the Obama era.

On Thursday, before Congress left town for its Presidents Day recess, I had the chance to speak with Jim Himes, the Democratic Congressman from Connecticut who defeated Christopher Shays in last fall's election. The 43-year-old Harvard grad sits on the House Financial Services Committee and he's also co chairing the New Democratic Coalition task force on financial reform along with Rep. Melissa Bean of Illinois. His story offers some insight into why its hard to use simple metrics to explain the story that's unfolding in Washington.

Himes's district includes Stamford and the prosperous New York City suburbs that have come to be known as Hedgefundistan for all of the wealth financiers who built megamansions in his district along side the oldline prosperous homes. If you were trying to identify who among Congressional Democrats might be an advocate for the hedge fund industry it would make sense to examine Himes. After all, so many of them live in his district. Besides he's taken a lot of money from various banking interests.

According to the Center for Repsonsive Politics, he received more money from recipients of the Troubled Assets Relief Program or TARP than any other member of the House Financial Services Committee in the 2008 campaign cycle--over $195,000 which is significantly more than the next highest recipient, the ranking member, Spencer Bauchus, the Alabama Republican. Himes earned more than $144,000 from Goldman Sachs employees alone. Oh, and the Rhodes Scholar also used to work for Goldman Sachs

Still, it would be wrong to assume from contributions or a financial services background alone dictates what a Congressman might or might not do. I asked Himes where he stood on the question of compelling hedge funds to disclose their investments, something that is being promoted indirectly in Congress by Senators Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat, and Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican. Their bill would give the Securities and Exchange Commission clear regulatory authority over hedge funds. (Right now the SEC's jurisdiction is ambiguous and has been taken up by the courts.) While Himes would have every incentive, given his district and where much of his money comes from, to protect the industry he said to me that "the highest priority is transparency." He didn't take a definitive position on the Levin-Grassley when I spoke to him but he was emphasizing transparency above all else which cannot be comforting to his neighbors in Hedgefundistan.

On the larger question of financial restructuring, Himes emphasized that "I want to make sure that risk resides with the people who take it."

Himes is one person to watch as we go forward. If winds up voting for a tough oversight of financial services, I think you'll have a good sense that Washington really is changing. The Fourth Congressional District of Connecticut has been in Republican hands since 1969. That it's now represented by a Democrat and one claiming, despite his pedigree, to take on financial services shows that this are changing here.

Al Franken is now asserting some semblance of political authority, while his paper-thin election victory remains bottled up in court. Franken has just launched a series of town-hall meetings around Minnesota, taking on the role of a sort of Shadow-Senator to discuss the economy -- and obviously, the importance of sending him to Washington soon so he can help fix it.

The Franken camp just announced that Al held the first meeting today in St. Paul, and has more planned for Duluth and Rochester in the next two days. At the events, "Senator-Elect Franken" has been discussing the economic issues with the local mayors, starting today with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (no relation to Norm, who is also a former St. Paul mayor).

From the Franken camp's press release:

"This is not an easy time to be a mayor," said Franken. "Every day, you're asked to do more with less. That's why it was so critical that we pass the economic recovery package. America and Minnesota have been through times of crisis before, and each time we have found ways to turn crisis into opportunity. Minnesota's cities are centers of incredible innovation and economic growth, and I want to help you keep your cities strong."

Mayor Coleman said, "Right now, Washington is debating matters of enormous consequence to Minnesota's economy. Senator Elect Franken understands what our cities need to prosper and we're ready for him to go to Washington to be a voice for us."

The lousy economy is now hurting George W. Bush in a pretty direct way: U.S. News reports that fundraising has slowed down for the Bush library, making it difficult to meet the $500 million goal.

The situation is so bad that Bush has had to personally make phone calls to raise money, along with his father and Karl Rove, in order to meet the deadline of a 2013 construction.

Bailout, anyone?

(Via Think Progress)

With the stimulus bill set to be signed tomorrow, a new Rasmussen poll looks at what the public expects the impact to be: It's really up in the air.

A 38% plurality believe the bill will help the economy, 29% think it will hurt, and 24% expect it to have little impact. Among Democrats, 66% expect it to help, while 49% of Republicans expect it to hurt. The help-hurt number among independents is in the red, at 27%-34%.

So what to make of this? It appears the Republican attacks against the bill haven't spread beyond their base of self-identified Republicans and GOP-leaning independents -- but at the same time, the Democratic spin for the bill hasn't expanded past their own base, either. And in the middle are a whole lot of people who either don't know what to expect, or expect nothing at all.

If the bill works, expect the Democrats to win a huge political advantage. But if it fails -- or simply doesn't succeed enough -- the GOP could have their opening.

Here's an interesting item to think about in the debate over executive-compensation limits. A British politician is now calling for bonuses at bailed-out banks to be limited to £2,000, the amount typically received by low-level bank tellers.

At current exchange rates this is equal to $2,854.30 -- less than 1% of the cap that Claire McCaskill has advocated over here, and for which she's been either praised or reviled as a populist lefty.

The British pol who is calling for this: David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party.

Hillary Warns North Korea -- And Slams Bush During her overseas trip to Asia, Hillary Clinton simultaneously warned North Korea about their nuclear program -- and blasted the Bush Administration for creating the conditions that have helped it get this far. "There is no debate that, once the Agreed Framework was torn up, the North Koreans began to reprocess plutonium with a vengeance because all bets were off," said Clinton. "The result is they now have nuclear weapons, which they did not have before."

Obama Going Back To Washington Today President Obama is heading back to Washington today, after having spent the weekend in Chicago. He is scheduled to leave O'Hare at 11 a.m. ET, and to arrive back at the White House at 12:45 p.m. ET.

Biden Meeting With Fire Fighters Union Head Vice President Biden is in Washington today, where he'll be meeting with Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Report: Obama To Form Auto Task Force, Drop "Car Czar" Plan President Obama will reportedly appoint a special task force, co-chaired by Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, to oversee the restructuring of the auto industry, replacing the prior proposal to appoint a single "car czar." This comes as General Motors and Chrysler face a deadline tomorrow to submit a business plan for how they can become viable again after receiving $13.4 billion in aid from the Bush Administration.

Burris: "I Responded To All Questions" At a press conference yesterday, Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) responded to his critics over his failure to disclose during the Blagojevich impeachment hearings that Blago's brother had asked him for political contributions this past November -- though Burris says he didn't actually donate. "I responded to all questions that were asked of me by the impeachment committee in the time allotted," said Burris. "At no time did I ever make any inconsistent statements."

Cornyn: Coleman Knows How Important Keeping The Seat Is To Us Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), the chairman of the NRSC, told the Politico that Norm Coleman will keep contesting the MInnesota Senate race "however long it takes" -- and it's important to the GOP. "I encourage him to see it through the end," Cornyn said. "He feels like he owes it to the voters of Minnesota and his colleagues here. He realizes how important retaining that seat is to us."

Stimulus Includes Money For Health Care Effectiveness Study The New York Times reports that the stimulus bill now includes a key piece of health-care reform: $1.1 billion, and a 15-member advisory council to the president, to compare the costs and benefits of different treatments for the same illness. Rep. Peter Stark (D-CA) said the new research "will save money and lives," while Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) was less than enthusiastic, warning that "federal bureaucrats will misuse this research to ration care, to deny life-saving treatments to seniors and disabled people."

Ken Starr Predicts Trouble For Obama's SCOTUS Nominees Speaking on Friday to a group of attorneys in Boston, Ken Starr hinted at some more partisan rancor to come when Barack Obama appoints a Supreme Court Justice. Starr gave this line about Obama, which is sure to be repeated by any Republicans who might filibuster a nominee: "He is the first president of the United States ever in our history to have participated in a Senate filibuster of a judicial nominee. Never before has that happened."

Obama: I'm An Optimist -- But Not A Sap In an interview with National Journal, President Obama said he is open to reaching across the aisle, but policy results matter. "My bottom line is not how pretty the process was," he said. "My bottom line was: Am I getting help to people who need it?" He also added: "I am an eternal optimist [but] that doesn't mean I'm a sap."

Obama Heading To U. of Chicago Campus President Obama and Vice President Biden do not have any scheduled public events for today. However, Obama is visiting the University of Chicago campus today, where he formerly taught as a part-time law professor.

Obama To Sign Stimulus On Tuesday, Discuss Foreclosures Wednesday President Obama will sign the stimulus bill on Tuesday, in a special trip to Denver -- the city where he formally accepted the Democratic nomination. Then on Wednesday he will head to Phoenix, Arizona -- John McCain's home state -- to put forward a plan to fight home foreclosures.

Axelrod: Obama To Take Action On Stem Cells David Axelrod said on Fox News Sunday that President Obama will soon take action on stem-cell research, and is considering an order to formally lift the ban on federal funding that was put in place by George W. Bush.

Burris: Blagojevich's Brother Asked Me For Contribution Last November Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) has now admitted that Rod Blagojevich's brother asked him for campaign contributions last fall, which Burris says he declined to do. Burris didn't disclose this when asked by the state impeachment committee to name any contact he'd had with Blago's people about the Senate seat.

Cantor: I Get Advice From Gingrich In a new profile in the New York Times, Eric Cantor said he has regularly sought out the advice of a previous House Republican Whip who faced similar circumstances as he did, and then put his party in the majority: Newt Gingrich. Said Cantor: "I talk to Newt on a regular basis because he was in the position that we are in: in the extreme minority."

McCain: Stimulus Bill A 'Bad Beginning' For Obama Appearing on CNN today, John McCain lambasted President Obama's performance in passing the stimulus bill. "It was a bad beginning because it wasn't what we promised the American people, what President Obama promised the American people - that we would sit down together," said McCain, adding that "almost all of our proposals went down on a party-line vote."

GOP Senator Graham: 'The Country's Screwed' Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) expressed his dissatisfaction today with the legislative process that led to the stimulus bill. Appearing on This Week, Graham had this to say about Democrats dominating the process: "If I may say, if this is going to be bipartisanship, the country's screwed."

Smart take from Ron Brownstein on where we stand now after the stimulus has passed. I think it's the right take.

Many on the left seem truly despairing after this week, feeling that Obama got rolled by the right on the stimulus and the Judd Gregg withdrawal, that Washington media is arrayed against them and that things are generally lousy. I think that's unduly pessimistic. I'm persuaded by the economists who say that a bigger stimulus would have been better and I think the cuts imposed by the centrist gang were more nonsensical than not. Still...This is a $14 trillion economy and the differnece between a stimulus package in the $700 billion range and the $800 billion range is not going to be the determining factor in the fate of the republic. The fact is that Obama remains incredibly popular and he just passed as mammoth a rescue package as we've seen in generations. There are many reasons for despair at the moment but the events of this week, it seems to me anyway, are not really deserving of them.

I think Obama's efforts at bipartisanship on the stimulus and in his cabinet appointments will work to his advantage in the long run. He's not a sucker. The president knows that there will be occasions when he can pick up Republican votes and it wills erve him well.

I'm not sure I buy my colleague Josh's assessment about Washington being arrayed against Obama. Obviously there are institutional impediments to change of any kind, whether it's Reagan's or Obama's. Ours isn't a system designed for dramatic shifts in power. But the White House was pleased with the way business lobbies supported the stimulus. K Street, far from being Tom DeLay's pet, was more in the Democratic camp than not. It won't always be so but to see the culture of lobbying as being irreversably and irrevocably opposed to Democratic or progressive goals is the stuff of lampoon and caricature. Does an on-one-hand-on-the-other media continue to turn out some lame copy about who's at fault when the parties split? Sure, but so what? The important thing is not the atmosphere but the results.

I don't underestimate what lies ahead but I'm pretty amazed by how despairing the tone on the left has been in the wake of what was a very significant passage of legislation.

Obama Celebrates Stimulus Passage In New Web Address In his newest YouTube address, President Obama praises the passage of the economic stimulus bill, while also telling the public that this is only the start of a long road to economic reform and recovery:

Obama did take a bit of a shot at his Republican critics: "Now, some fear we won't be able to effectively implement a plan of this size and scope, and I understand their skepticism. Washington hasn't set a very good example in recent years. And with so much on the line, it's time to begin doing things differently."

No Obama Or Biden Events This Weekend President Obama is spending the weekend with his family in Chicago, while Vice President Biden will be in New York City and Wilmington, Delaware. They do not have any scheduled public events today or tomorrow.

Coleman Campaign: We're Still In It -- And It'll Take A Long Time The Coleman campaign says yesterday's court ruling -- which forbade the counting of various categories of rejected absentee ballots -- has only reduced them to a pool of 3,500 remaining envelopes out of their original set of 4,800. Coleman attorney/spokesman Ben Ginsberg also said the court's imposition of strict requirements for newly-admitted ballots could lengthen the trial: "There may be fewer ballots to look at, but proving them up may take longer."

NYT: Obama Finds Out Bipartisanship Isn't So Easy The New York Times reports that the Obama Administration has discovered in the stimulus debates just how difficult it will be to craft bipartisan legislation with the Republican opposition. David Axelrod said the White House has "learned some lessons from this," but is happy with the result, while former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta predicted that Republican support was "wishful thinking" that won't be coming to pass: "If you're going to do this at the moment of greatest need, at the height of his popularity, what sort of thing would get you to change?"

House GOP: We Are Not The Party Of 'No' House Republicans are denying the assertion that they are simply a party opposed to the Democrats' agenda -- instead, they are offering better ideas that aren't being adopted. "I said on the opening day that we wouldn't be the party of 'no' and we haven't been," John Boehner told reporters yesterday. He later added: "If they are not willing to take any of our ideas to work with us in any way - you can't blame us, they are the majority."

Poll: Public Approves Direct Negotiations With Iran A new Gallup poll shows large public support for direct diplomacy with Iran: 56% for it, to 38% against it -- and with even 48% of Republicans supporting it. This is not to say that Americans view Iran favorably, with only 12% favorable and 80% unfavorable, but it does show a large majority in favor of Obama's position of direct engagement with adversaries.

Obama Web Strategist Advising Australian Labor Party Former Obama Web guru Ben Self, founder of Blue State Digital, is following in the footsteps of other American political advisers who break through in a big way. Self is now consulting for an ideologically-aligned party in another county, the Australian Labor Party. (Note that whenever he will be working in Australian politics, Self won't be doing anything to advance liberal policies.)

The Franken campaign just held a conference call with reporters -- quite understandably celebrating a huge win in tonight's ruling by the Minnesota election court, which rejected out of hand counting a large number of absentee ballots that Norm Coleman had been seeking to put into play.

Lead Franken lawyer Marc Elias said that the court has essentially ruled on all 19 disputed categories of rejected absentee ballots -- explicitly against Coleman on 13 of them, and the others are revealed between the lines. "There are four additional categories that the court didn't address either way, but the reasoning of the court would suggest that we also prevailed on those," Elias said. "So there are a total of 17 of the 19 that it appears we've prevailed on, either explicitly or implicitly in the reasoning."

Elias said the Franken campaign appears to have lost on two categories where they wanted some permissiveness, relating to registration issues -- but those rulings were consistent with the others. All in all, he counts this as an extraordinary victory, making Coleman's job of putting additional ballots into the count immensely more difficult.

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