In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Can President Obama bring his no-drama style to national security? Historically the tensions between State and Defense and the National Security Council have run through every administration in the post-war era in some more than others. It was particularly tense in the first years of Reagan and throughout the Carter White House and most notoriously in the George W. Bush years. The national security adviser is supposed to be the honest broker but often winds up a contentious player in his or her own right. (See Brzezinski, Zbigniew)

Obama though has several things going for him. The first is the high stakes of having important figures with reputations to protect at the State and Pentagon jobs. It's in everybody's interest to make this work: Certainly it is for Hillary Clinton who will be at a party tonite to celebrate her swearing in. Certainly it is for Robert Gates who doesn't want to end his career in government looking like he can't get along with Democrats. And it is certainly in the interest of Gen. James Jones at the NSC who has a reputation for being as genial as he is smart.

Another thing helping Obama: It also helps when people know each other at the staff level. One Clinton veteran noted to me the close ties between Tom Donilon, the number two at the NSC, and Jim Steinberg, number two at State. They worked together in the Warren Christopher State Department. The two remain close and have known each other for decades. Those kinds of friendships can be quite helpful when institutional tensions arise as they undoubtedly well for this president just like his predecessors. I'm told they continue to talk often. That is a good thing for their organizations and for the rest of us.

Looks like a split is developing in the Senate Democratic ranks over the contentious question of using the stimulus bill to give "repatriation" tax benefits to corporations.

The idea is a simple one, though likely to alarm progressives: multinational companies with U.S. headquarters would be given a one-time discounted tax rate of 5.25% -- down from a normal rate of 35% -- if they declare their offshore earnings in this country.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Ensign (R-NV) are amassing support to add repatriation to the stimulus bill, and they've got at least a partial vote of confidence from the Senate Democratic No. 3 leader, Chuck Schumer (NY). But two fellow senior Dems, Carl Levin (MI) and Byron Dorgan (ND), are decrying what they call a business "lobbying blitz" to secure repatriation benefits.

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Senator Judd Gregg and New Hampshire's Democratic Gov. John Lynch have both confirmed what has been much discussed over the last several days: Gregg has made it clear that he would only accept an appointment to the Obama Administration if it would not cause the Democrats to gain his Senate seat.

"Senator Gregg has said he would not resign his seat in the U.S. Senate if it changed the balance in the Senate," the governor said in a statement given to the Union Leader. "Based on my discussions, it is clear the White House and Senate leadership understand this as well."

Gregg issued his own statement, making the point even clearer: "I have made it clear to the Senate Leadership on both sides of the aisle and to the governor that I would not leave the Senate if I felt my departure would cause a change in the makeup of the Senate. The Senate Leadership, both Democratic and Republican, and the Governor understand this concern and I appreciate their consideration of this position."

So there you have it. A Democratic governor will appoint a Republican Senator, as a condition of the Republican leaving the seat and creating the vacancy in the first place.

Josh makes a good point today about the dearth of appointments at Treasury. I'm told that major posts are going to get filled in this month and that the Geithner delay accounted for a lot of the subcabinet delay, although Holder seems to have gotten up to speed quickly. Meanwhile, smart additions at the National Economic Council include Michael Froman, a Harvard classmate of Obama's from law school and a former chief of staff to Robert Rubin. Jeremy Stein is also going over there. He's a Harvard economist who has had smart things to say about the bailout.

Remember last week, when Republicans were beating their chests over a Congressional Budget Office report that showed 64% of the money in the House stimulus bill would be spent during the first 18 months after its enactment?

After all, the GOP told us in no uncertain terms, the Obama administration had vowed to spend 75% of the stimulus in 18 months -- so the 64% spend-out rate of the House bill represented total failure.

Given that agita, one wonders how the GOP will respond to the CBO's newest report on the Senate stimulus bill. The budget office found that $694 billion of the bill's total $884 billion cost would be spent during the first 18 months after enactment, or a spend-out rate of 78%.

By the Republicans' own metric, that makes the bill a smashing success! Does that mean you'll promise not to filibuster it, guys?

At the moment, you have to think Tom Daschle is going to pull this out. It's possible that his failure to pay taxes on a limo rides and other benefits he accrued from a New York financier may yet do in his nomination to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. But several things have turned Daschle's way today.

First, he apologized which is a necessary but not sufficent precondition to surviving these things. Second, Max Baucus, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee which has jurisdiction over Daschle's nomination, came out for him despite a history of tension between the two. Third, Obama stood by Daschle--a sentiment echoed by Robert Gibbs at his press conference although Gibbs used the slightly miffed phrase, "a report we heard this weekend," about the Daschle contretemps. Fourth: Silence. The blogs are not on fire--yes, there's Greenwald, I know--but there's not pitchfork mob calling for his head of the size and scope usually needed to kill a nomination. The optics of the thing are terrible but it's not deadly

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The Coleman team appears to be laying out a continued strategy of casting doubt on the legitimacy of the Minnesota election result by pointing to a fundamental underlying idea of this dispute: The margin of error is simply too big in a race this close.

"Is there some point at which the margin of error is just too wide compared to the difference in votes to determine who truly won?" Coleman lawyer John Rock asked Ramsey County (St. Paul) elections director Joe Mansky. Mansky replied that there is absolutely such a point, with accuracy topping out at over 99.9%.

"All of which is pretty good," Mansky said. "But remember that one in every thousand is not an issue when somebody wins by 200,000 votes. When they win by 200 votes, the margin of error in our computation is likely large enough to have an impact on our result, and I think that's the situation that we find ourselves in here."

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While questioning Ramsey County (St. Paul) elections director Joe Mansky, Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton just got a confirmation that a friendly Coleman witnesses who said his ballot was improperly rejected was in fact tossed out properly -- and he also appears to have broken a serious law.

Hamilton reviewed the matter of Douglas Thompson, the Coleman witness whose girlfriend forged his signature on his absentee ballot application. Thompson later signed his own absentee ballot itself, and the ballot was rejected because of the mismatched signatures.

Hamilton asked Mansky if his office would in any way be able to verify the provenance of a ballot if someone else, "just to maybe pick an example, his girlfriend," had signed the application. Mansky confirmed that it would not only be impossible to verify such a ballot, but also that someone having his girlfriend falsely sign his application is a felony, outside of a set of specific exemptions for people who are unable to sign for themselves.

"If just anybody could request a ballot in someone else's name, that would be a problem ,wouldn't it?" Hamilton later asked, specifically referring back to Douglas Thompson.

"It would be a big problem," said Mansky, appearing to smile at the absurdity of this whole situation. Mansky then confirmed that Thompson's ballot was properly rejected.

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Friends of the Earth has put together a new analysis of 19 states' requests for transportation projects to be funded as part of the coming stimulus bill. (Hat tip to the excellent Streetsblog network.)

As the FoE analysis shows, states are wildly divergent on the key political question of whether to spend transportation stimulus money on building new roads or repairing existing ones. The House has nothing in its version that would require states to use stimulus cash only on repairs, despite strong sentiments in that direction from Democratic leaders and the American public.

Of the 19 state transportation proposals examined by FoE, Utah is the worst offender, with 97% in proposed spending on new capacity and 3% on repairs. Massachusetts, by contrast, scores a perfect 100% in seeking only stimulus money for road maintenance.

Does anyone think this will make Congress think twice about requiring states to first spend the money on improving existing infrastructure before building shiny new highways?

Are in for some real political fireworks in Florida?

Roll Call reports that lame-duck Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) is considering an early resignation, rather than serve out the rest of his term through 2010. Meanwhile, the potential Republican field is all waiting on word from Governor Charlie Crist, who is said to be seriously considering a run.

The rub here is that Crist might then be presented with the opportunity appoint himself to the seat - either doing it directly or by resigning and having his Lt. Governor do the job for him -- which sounds just a little too good to be true. The history of governors appointing themselves to the Senate is almost entirely negative. The last person to do this was Governor-turned-Senator Wendell Anderson (D-MN), whose move into Walter Mondale's Senate seat in December 1976 resulted in a Republican landslide all across Minnesota in 1978.

If Martinez does end up deciding that he'd like to leave the Senate early, Crist would be well-advised to pick someone else to keep the seat warm.