In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Tony Perkins, the president of the religious-right activist group the Family Research Council, has just announced that he will not challenge Senator David Vitter (R-LA) in the 2010 Republican primary.

Not only that, but he's endorsing Vitter: "I am grateful for those who've encouraged me to consider returning to elected office, but this is not the right time. Along those lines, I would like members of the State Central Committee to know that I support Senator David Vitter's bid for reelection in 2010."

Perkins is also a former Louisiana state Representative, and he ran for Senate in 2002, winning 10% of the vote in the all-party primary that the state used at the time. Had he run, Perkins might have posed a real threat to Vitter's renomination -- after all, one of them is a top-level social-conservative activist, and the other is a social-conservative politician whose career got bogged down in the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal in 2007.

Of course, there was a serious risk in any potential candidacy: That he might run against Vitter, lose the primary, and have only succeeded in softening up the incumbent against a Democratic challenger.

The Democratic National Committee is now going after South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, perhaps the most prominent anti-stimulus Republican in the country, with this new TV ad set to begin airing Monday in the Columbia media market:

The ad accuses Sanford, a vocal conservative, of playing politics in his refusal of stimulus money. "South Carolina is facing tough times - but Governor Sanford is playing politics instead of doing what's right," the announcer says. "Turning down millions in Recovery Act funds, putting politics ahead of health care, jobs and schools."

We mentioned earlier this morning that the AP got a little ahead of itself in reporting that Chris Hill's chances of getting confirmed as ambassador to Baghdad were "dimming" thanks to opposition from Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has just released a statement declaring in no uncertain terms that Hill's right on track:

Chris Hill is a strong, skilled and effective negotiator and an accomplished career foreign service officer who demonstrated his significant expertise in some of the most protracted and complex diplomatic challenges in the world, including those in North Korea and Bosnia. Hill is precisely the kind of diplomat America needs in the Middle East and Iraq, where a long-term resolution must be achieved politically and diplomatically, not militarily. I look forward to confirming him as quickly as possible.

Late Update: A potent takedown of Hill's conservative critics is just out from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), who asserts that Hill's effectiveness during the North Korea nuclear talks was "hamstrung by in-fighting among senior members of the Bush administration":

I have every confidence that Ambassador Hill is the right person to represent the United States in Baghdad. By nominating Ambassador Hill to serve in Bagdad, President Obama has chosen one of our very best to help bring lasting peace to Iraq. I look forward to his confirmation hearings, and am confident that those of my colleagues who may not yet be familiar with his service to the nation will be as impressed by his skill and dedication as I have been.

Some of my colleagues, frustrated by North Korea's dogged pursuit of nuclear weapons, have implied that Ambassador Hill is somehow responsible for the fact that North Korea exploded a nuclear device on President Bush's watch. But the responsibility for that lies first and foremost with North Korea and second with President Bush and his senior advisers, who did not empower Ambassador Hill to engage in direct talks with Pyongyang until after the North had withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, exported nuclear technology to Syria, and tested a nuclear bomb. In fact, had Ambassador Hill not been hamstrung by in-fighting among senior members of the Bush Administration, President Obama might not have inherited such a dangerous problem on the Korean Peninsula.

There are limits to what any one person can do in the realm of foreign affairs, but individual talent still matters. Hill has it in abundance.

Closing arguments were conducted this morning in the Minnesota election trial, with the political world now awaiting the decision and any potential appeals. Having examined the Franken campaign's closing arguments, let's now take a look at the closer from lead Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg.

In many ways, Friedberg's closing argument felt like it was a preemptive appeal -- that the current rules point to a Coleman loss, and Friedberg was asking this court, or perhaps a future appeals court, to reverse key orders that had gone against Coleman during or before the trial.

At one point, Friedberg said how he's always hopeful that when he argues as a defense attorney, before juries that have become convinced of the prosecution's case, "I might get them to step back, clear their minds, open their minds, and let me try to convince them to the contrary."

But he also admitted, in a flattering tone of voice, "It's more difficult to do that with judges, because basically you know more about the law than I do."

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We reported yesterday on the abrupt resolution of the Senate holds that had snagged John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco, President Obama's nominees to lead the White House science office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, respectively.

Now that the nominees have been affirmatively sent to the Senate floor, their path to confirmation looks clear -- although the names and party affiliations of the senators holding them up remains murky. We're going to keep sniffing around to try to unmask the anonymous objectors.

But in the meantime, after the jump you can check out a letter on the nominations that was sent to the Senate today by 20 leading environmental groups (h/t Politico).

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The closing arguments in the Minnesota election trial are now over, bringing the proceedings in this trial itself to an end. We now await the ruling from the court, and any subsequent appeals that might occur.

First up, let's take a look at Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton's closing. Hamilton began by rebutting the various claims of Team Coleman, starting with the allegation of errors in the election. "No election is perfect," said Hamilton. "No election has ever been perfect. No election ever will be perfect. That's how our democracy works -- it relies on citizens, it relies on volunteers."

However, Hamilton said Coleman has failed to meet his burden of demonstrating that the errors not only occurred, but that they made a difference in the result, but has only spent his time deriding the integrity of the state's electoral system: "To disappointed candidates who would seek to tear down the system in an attempt to overturn results they wish were different, I would say: Prove it."

Hamilton then went over the three major claims from the Coleman camp, one by one, then proceeded to two counter-claims from the Franken side.

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Tim Geithner. Tom Daschle. Ron Kirk. What do these men have in common, other than their nominations to join the Obama administration?

Each man owed back taxes to the U.S. government that became an issue during their confirmations -- in Daschle's case, the debts were enough to derail his bid -- and each man had their missteps unmasked by the Senate Finance Committee.

The Politico reported earlier this week that the Finance panel's rigorous vetting was being supervised by Mary Baker, an IRS tax investigator doing a stint in the Senate. In that story, one anonymous "tax expert" quoted by the newspaper accused the committee of "going a bit overboard" with tax inquiries that are "detailed to the point of being silly."

And that anonymous dissing didn't sit well with Sen. Chuck Grassley (IA), the senior Republican on Finance. In a little-noticed statement released late yesterday, Grassley teed off on the "cowardly approach" taken by critics of his committee's Obama-nominee vetting:

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I realize that the very word Lieberman sends a lot of liberals into fits of apoplexy. But it's worth making an additional point to the fine post from my colleague, Eric Kleefeld. Lieberman is talking about leaving the door open to returning to the Democratic party. I think that's unlikely since he would probably be eviscerated in a primary. Still, it's a remarkable shift from a few months ago when it seemed entirely possible that Lieberman would choose to caucus with Senate Republicans.

It's worth noting what's happened to Lieberman since Obama took office. He never wavered on the stimulus. He's supporting the Employee Free Choice Act. He's been fulsome in his praise of President Obama. Think of how much harder things would be for the president if Lieberman had bolted on those issues or had chosen to caucus with Republicans.

I understand Democratic anger with Lieberman. After all, he not only opposed Barack Obama but actively campaigned for the McCain-Palin ticket and endorsed Norm Coleman in Minnesota. The sentiment to kick him out of the caucus had a lot of merit to it. And I'm not suggesting that Lieberman won't stick it to Obama and the Democrats in the future. He probably will.

That said, I think it now seems clear that Harry Reid and Barack Obama were wise not to follow the Netroots call for a Lieberman purge and to let him keep his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. I assume most readers will disagree but while the anger of kicking him to the curb would have felt good at the time, wouldn't it have made life harder for President Obama? Discuss.

Christopher Hill, the Obama administration's nominee to become the next ambassador to Baghdad, hasn't made many friends on the right since his time as the Bush administration's chief negotiator on the North Korean nuclear deal.

And now Hill has drawn fire from Senate Republicans who could make serious trouble for his nomination. John McCain (AZ) and Lindsey Graham (SC) released a joint statement last night blasting Hill's "controversial legacy" in the Pyongyang talks and alleging that he lacks the Middle East experience required in a Baghdad envoy.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) echoed the criticisms in a later interview with the AP. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) is already out in front with a defense of Hill, telling Fox News that his conservative critics should take up their North Korea beef with the departed Bush administration.

The AP reports that the trio of critical Republicans means Hill's chances of confirmation are "dimming," which seems to be something of an overstatement given that he would only need one GOP supporter to break a filibuster. But the GOPers' move clearly signals intense political jockeying to come -- with the accompanying media coverage that McCain often draws.

Late Update: Another Democratic senator on the Foreign Relations panel, Jim Webb (VA), has joined Kerry in sending a positive signal on Hill's nomination. Here's Webb's statement:

I have tremendous regard for the service Christopher Hill has given our country. He is one of the best negotiators in the Foreign Service today. There will be ample opportunity to fully explore the full range of his qualifications during the confirmation hearings.

When President Obama submitted a budget that predicted passage of a revenue-raising climate change bill, hopes rose that Congress could successfully rein in carbon emissions this year.

But a cap-and-trade climate bill is almost certain to be filibustered by Republicans -- and in a letter delivered to the Senate Budget Committee yesterday, eight Democratic senators joined 25 Republicans to defend the GOP's right to set a 60-vote margin for passing emissions limits.

"We oppose using the budget process to expedite passage of climate legislation," the senators, including eight centrist Democrats, wrote in their missive.

Using the procedure of budget reconciliation, which would allow a climate change measure to become law with 50 votes while preventing filibusters, "would circumvent normal Senate practice and would be inconsistent with the administration's goals of bipartisanship, cooperation, and openness," the 33 senators wrote.

Budget reconciliation was used by George W. Bush and congressional Republicans to prevent Democrats from stalling both the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. The opposition of nearly one-half of the Senate, however, means that President Obama's party will have little room to use the tactic as successfully as Bush's supporters did.

Filibuster-proofing the upcoming health care reform bill through reconciliation already has been ruled out strongly discouraged* by pivotal Democratic senators on the Finance Committee, Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).

Democrats' reluctance to take advantage of their procedural arsenal to pass climate change and health care this year doesn't mean that both pieces of legislation would necessarily fall to filibusters. But it does mean that Republicans will have significantly more opportunities to insert pro-business provisions into these pivotal bills. Late Update: The eight Democratic senators who signed on to the letter are Robert Byrd (WV), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Ben Nelson (NE), Evan Bayh (IN), Mark Pryor (AR), Bob Casey (PA), Carl Levin (MI), and Mary Landrieu (LA).

*Late Late Update: Baucus has not ruled out reconciliation entirely. As he told the Kaiser Family Foundation last week, "I am doing whatever I can to avoid reconciliation [on health care] and don't take it off the table totally, because it is a backup.