In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is one of the rising stars in the GOP, constantly prodding Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) from the right while feeling the love from conservative think tanks and bloggers.

And DeMint gave some love back today at the Heritage Foundation, delivering a speech that encapsulates the emerging Republican strategy for dealing with the popular president. He plays nice early on ...

I like President Obama very much. We were elected to the Senate at the same time and we've worked together on a number of common goals. I believe he wants to do what is best for our country ...


... and then he gets nasty.

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The Minnesota election trial is continuing today, after the Franken campaign spent the morning laying out their claim that Norm Coleman's legal arguments at this point cannot be taken at face value.

Specifically, Franken attorney David Lillehaug reviewed rejected absentee ballots that were vetoed by the Coleman campaign, under the state Supreme Court's controversial decision that gave the candidates a veto power over improperly-rejected absentees. The presentation made an interesting display of the Coleman camp's reasons for rejecting ballots then -- and though Lillehaug didn't directly say it just yet, it provides a contrast to Coleman's positions now:

• A ballot was rejected because the witness failed to fill in their address. This past Monday, Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg was arguing that a lighter standard should be used to include ballots such as these.

• A ballot was affirmed by the Coleman camp as being properly rejected because the voter failed to sign their absentee application, but were given the ballot anyway. Yesterday, Friedberg was saying this sort of state negligence wasn't a specific legal reason to throw out a vote.

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At this very moment, President Obama is preparing to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. It's an admirable bill that remedies a regrettable 2007 Supreme Court ruling which had constrained the time limit for women to file pay-discrimination claims against their employers.

Media coverage of today's White House ceremony depicts the Ledbetter signing as a major victory for gender pay equity. But a much broader bill addressing pay discrimination -- the Paycheck Fairness Act -- faces a mysteriously uncertain future in the Senate, where it has yet to receive a floor vote despite approval in the House last year and again this year.

What's the holdup? And will the (well-deserved) hoopla over the Ledbetter victory obscure the facts behind the inaction on Paycheck Fairness?

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Today: Blago Speaking To Illinois Senate Rod Blagojevich will be speaking to the Illinois state Senate, the body that is poised to remove him from office in his impeachment trial, delivering a closing argument in his own defense at 12 p.m. ET. This should be very interesting to watch.

Obama's Day Ahead -- Signing Ledbetter Bill President Obama will be signing the Lily Ledbetter Bill, a law to make it easier for women to sue for pay discrimination, at 10 a.m. ET. He will also be holding a series of closed meetings throughout the day with his economic advisers, Hillary Clinton and others. There will also be a pooled press meeting with Vice President Biden and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, scheduled for 3 p.m. ET.

Biden Meets With Daschle Vice President Biden is meeting for breakfast this morning with Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Tom Daschle. He will then join with President Obama for the meetings and events listed above.

NYT: Stimulus Varies In Speed, Efficiency The New York Times takes a look at the stimulus plan as it currently stands in the House-passed package, finding that its various components vary in terms of just how quickly they will spread through the economy. The quickest portions will be in unemployment benefits, food-stamp increase and tax cuts, while infrastructure spending would take a while to get going.

Minnesota Senate Trial Continues This is the fourth day of the Minnesota election trial, scheduled to reconvene at 10 a.m. ET. Al Franken's legal team will continue their cross-examination of Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann, who was originally called by the Coleman campaign to examine the fallibility in the system -- and which the Franken camp has rebutted by pointing out that Coleman's team fought against the fallibility case right up until he fell behind.

Senate Expected To Pass Children's Health Care Bill The Senate today will likely pass a bill expanding the SCHIP program, extending health insurance to 11 million children who are currently not eligible. The bill passed in the last Congress, but was vetoed by President George W. Bush.

Mitchell Speaks To Palestinian Leaders In West Bank Middle East Envoy George Mitchell travelled to the West Bank today to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, in an effort by the Obama Administration to restart the Middle East peace process. He did not meet with Hamas.

Obama To Make First Foreign Trip To Canada President Obama will be making his first trip outside the United States as president next month, the White House has announced. Obama will be visiting Canada, the United States' largest trading partner, on February 19.

The Coleman campaign has launched the latest P.R. front in their effort to have the rejected absentee ballots reconsidered, with some interesting potential ethical ramifications.

The Coleman camp's Web site has now published in an easily accessible form the names and home counties of every individual who delivered an absentee ballot and who has not yet been counted. In Hennepin County (Minneapolis), which has its municipalities run elections instead of the county, we are also shown the home towns of the people involved.

"Check below to see if you are one of the thousands of Minnesotans the Franken campaign is seeking to disenfranchise," the page says. "And please contact us at info@colemanforsenate.com to express your support for our effort to have your vote counted."

It gets better. By including every last rejected ballot, regardless of backstory or merit, they are including ballots they themselves earlier objected to counting, under the state Supreme Court's controversial decision that gave the candidates a veto power over improperly-rejected absentees -- and they're now saying it's the Franken campaign who is disenfranchising these people.

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Guess that dinner at the White House didn't go so well ... the $825 billion stimulus bill just passed the House of Representatives with zero Republicans voting in favor. Eleven Democrats -- 10 centrist Blue Dogs and the unconvinced Rep. Paul Kanjorski (PA) -- joined the GOP in opposing the package.

Brad Woodhouse, president of the Dem-allied group Americans United for Change, described the GOP's stalwart opposition in two words: "political suicide," the subject of his e-mailed statement on the stimulus vote.

But maybe this was the Republicans' plan all along. Now Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his troops can start the next act in the show and ask for just a few more concessions in order to give the stimulus its bipartisan stripes.

Either way, with GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME) signaling her support, its passage in the Senate by next week is looking assured.

Norm Coleman briefly spoke to reporters outside his election trial after it ended for the day, and he stressed the importance of the drawn-out proceedings we've seen -- with a handy pop-culture reference.

"What you're observing out there may not seem as exciting as what you see on Law & Order," said Coleman. "But the principles that we're fighting for, that I fully believe are being established today, are more important than anything you'll see on Law & Order."

Later on he said that the trial is "not as exciting as Law & Order, though I'd take [Coleman attorney] Joe Friedberg over Fred Thompson, at least in the courtroom."

Fred Thompson must be feeling pretty put down right now. First Norm endorsed Rudy Giuliani for the Republican nomination, and now this.

(Press conference viewed at The Uptake.)

My colleague Zack at TPMmuck just heard from an aide to Attorney General nominee Eric Holder. The aide definitively denied Sen. Kit Bond's (R-MO) claim that Holder had given him "assurances" of avoiding future prosecutions of Bush intelligence officials who engaged in torturous interrogations.

"Eric Holder has not made any commitments about who would or would not be prosecuted," the aide said via e-mail. "He explained his position to Senator Bond as he did in the public hearing and in his responses to written questions."

The aide pointed to Holder's written response to a question from Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ):

Prosecutorial and investigative judgments must depend on the facts, and no one is above the law. But where it is clear that a government agent has acted in "reasonable and good-faith reliance on Justice Department legal opinions" authoritatively permitting his conduct, I would find it difficult to justify commencing a full-blown criminal investigation, let alone a prosecution.

Sen. Bob Corker (TN) can be one of the hardest congressional Republicans to pin down ideologically, and he proved that today during Al Gore's appearance in the Foreign Relations Committee.

Corker's easygoing criticism of a cap-and-trade system for regulating emissions won him a glowing profile last year in National Review, which called him "the most pleasant surprise conservatives have had" in the Senate since Paul Coverdell in the 1990s.

Wonder what the NRO folks would make of Corker's kumbaya moment with Gore today? From Corker's comments to Gore:

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