In it, but not of it. TPM DC

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.

In yet another indication that Joe Lieberman is going out of his way to patch things up with the Democratic Party, The Hill reports that Lieberman is floating the idea of running for re-election in 2012 -- as a Democrat.

Lieberman said that friends have asked him whether he might go back fully to the Democratic Party. "I'm an independent Democrat, and that gives me options," said Lieberman. However, he did caution against assuming that his praise of President Obama and his work within the Democratic caucus mean he will ultimately rejoin the party: "I wouldn't reach that conclusion."

The new Quinnipiac poll from earlier this week suggests that Lieberman would have a very hard time in a Democratic primary. Among Democratic voters, his approval rating is at only 32%, with 61% disapproval. And another Quinnipiac poll from a month ago tested Lieberman as an independent in a general election against Democratic state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, with Blumenthal winning by a 58%-30% landslide, with an 83%-9% margin among Democrats alone.

But there's no denying that a lot can happen in a three and half years. In 2008 alone, for example, Lieberman travelled the country and vociferously attacked Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. And look at him now.

Florida GOP Chairman Defends Steele, Blasts Critics Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer has sent a letter to RNC members, defending Michael Steele -- and lambasting his critics: "What I find so disturbing is that some Republicans cannot see the absolute necessity of providing unwavering loyalty and support to Chairman Steele as he embarks upon leading the Republican Party into the future."

Steele Hires Chief of Staff For RNC The RNC announced that Michael Steele has hired Ken McKay, former campaign manager and chief of staff to Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri, to be the new RNC Chief of Staff. One of the criticisms of Steele in the last month and a half is that he has been slow to fill the key staff positions, but he is now starting to make progress on that front.

Obama's Day Ahead: Focusing On The Economy President Obama is having a closed meeting with Economic Recovery Advisory Board Chairman Paul Volcker at 12 p.m. ET. At 12:45 p.m. ET, he will deliver remarks from the Oval Office on the economy. At 1:15 p.m. ET he is meeting with Vice President Biden for lunch.

Biden Promoting Stimulus With Dem Members of Congress -- And Specter Vice President Biden will be administering the oath of office to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis this morning. At noon, he will head up an event at Union Station to announce funding for Amtrak as part of the stimulus program. Others in attendance include Democratic members of Congress such as Senators John Kerry, Jay Rockefeller, Frank Lautenberg and others -- plus Republican Senator Arlen Specter.

Big Day In Minnesota: Closing Arguments Closing arguments in the Minnesota election trial are scheduled for today. Each side will have an hour at bat to make their final case to the judges. After that, the judges are expected to spend two to three weeks working on a determination of who has legally won the most votes, and is entitled to the certificate of election -- a decision that is likely to be appealed.

WaPo: U.S. Attorney Situation Remains Unclear The Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration faces some very complicated choices in appointing new U.S. Attorneys, between the interest of appointing their own people versus the need in some cases to keep current Attorneys in places to pursue pending cases. Perhaps the most controversial example involves Mary Beth Buchanan, a conservative U.S. Attorney from western Pennsylvania who is quite publicly refusing to resign.

Virgil Goode Files Papers For Potential 2010 Comeback Bid Former Congressman Virgil Goode (R-VA), who was defeated in a huge upset by Democrat Tom Perriello by a margin of 727 votes out of over 315,000 in 2008, has filed papers to run again in 2010. Goode is perhaps best known for denouncing the election of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress.

Another fun detail to the story about the Coleman campaign's breach of online donors' credit-card data -- which was caused after the site's entire unencrypted database was briefly posted online in late January.

The campaign's FAQ page about the breach -- which promises that the individuals who stole this information will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and urges any concerned supporters to cancel their credit cards -- ends with a solicitation to send more money:



Of course, the donation has to be sent by snail-mail, or made with a credit card over the phone, because they've had to take down their Web site's credit-card functionality.

On a conference call with reporters just now, lead Franken attorney Marc Elias celebrated the imminent closing arguments tomorrow. "This is truly not only a historic recount and election contest in its size and the long period of time that it's gone on, but also in its thoroughness," said Elias. "And the people of Minnesota and all the people of the United States can take a great deal of confidence and pride in the process that has gone on for the last nearly five months."

I asked about the intriguing possibility raised to me by Professor David Schultz of Hamline University -- that the Franken camp could potentially use the loser-pays provision of the election-contest law to stop any appeal from Coleman, by forcing his campaign committee to come up with millions of dollars to be placed in escrow to cover Franken's attorney's fees before any appeals continue.

"You know I've gotten a number of questions over the course of the last five weeks about the cost-shifting provision of the law," said Elias. "And in honesty I'll give you the same answer now I've given before, which is I have not spent really any time looking at it. I will now have a chance, now that the evidence is closed, to now look to the next step in this, which would be what happens post-decision by the court. But I will take a look at that and probably be in a better position to answer that in the next few days."

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