In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The AP finally takes a look today at our January Sleeper Bill of the Month, the congressional proposal for an independent commission that would investigate civil-liberties and human-rights abuses permitted during the Bush years.

Shocking as it is, Republicans tell the AP that a post-Bush "truth commission" is a terrible concept. But you've got to applaud the sheer chutzpah of Sen. John Cornyn's (R-TX) response:

This not only a bad idea, it is a diversion from the economic crisis we face.

I can't wait until the economic recession becomes a reason not to debate union organizing rules and pass health care reform.

Now that President Obama has unveiled his long anticipated mortgage relief plan, what does the permanent government of Washington have to say about the plan? The plan got a tentative thumbs up from the American Bankers Association. Diane Casey-Landry, ABA senior executive vice president and chief operating officer said in a statement.

"The American Bankers Association welcomes the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan announced today by President Obama. The plan is a constructive, flexible and multifaceted initiative likely to have a positive effect on preventing mortgage foreclosures. The ABA is committed to working closely with the administration as it completes the remaining details of the plan. In particular, the plan is:

*A major commitment of funding sufficient in scope to have a significant impact. *Aimed at those at-risk homeowners most likely to avoid foreclosure under the planned assistance and incentives. * Designed to include market incentives, and to complement and reinforce industry initiatives and FHA programs."

I've been trying to reach the National Association of Realtors and the National Home Builders Association for their reaction as well.

Not surprisingly, the reaction from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has been positive. They stand to get $200 billion in new funds. Besides, they're under government conservatorship and not really in a position to criticize the big guy.

"The Administration's unprecedented effort to prevent foreclosures and expand refinancing options for more borrowers offers hope to many struggling families across America. This is just the beginning of a sustained effort that will build over time. Fannie Mae is committed to working with the Administration," says Herb Allison, Fannie's CEO.

The biggest obstacle that lies ahead is the administration's plan to give bankruptcy court judges the power to rewrite mortgage terms. Not surprisingly, the banks are not crazy about this and will oppose it but the threat of giving judges such power--something opposed by the Bush administration--gives the banks plenty of incentive to rewrite the terms of loans before the judges do. Benjamin Lockwood in The Atlantic argues against these judicial "cram downs" here.

Will update as we hear more but this fight over bankruptcy judges is the one to watch.

Here's a telling counter-point to the four House Republicans who are touting the benefits of the newly signed stimulus law ... despite their unanimous opposition to it.

Sen. Arlen Specter (PA), one of three GOPers in the upper chamber who supported the stimulus after insisting on significant cuts to the bill, just emailed Pennsylvanian constituents a letter putting his vote in context -- and fairly agonized context at that.

After suggesting last week that his fellow Republicans were too lily-livered to join him in backing President Obama's plan, Specter's new note practically apologizes for his stance on the stimulus, calling it "the best ... we could [do] under the circumstances."

But my favorite part has to be the finale, where Specter depicts himself as a lone defender of the common good over political gain: "[M]y duty was to look out for the public interest and not my own personal political interest." Keep in mind that even as he tagged other Republicans as too politically motivated to support the stimulus, Specter was openly fretting about a likely primary challenge from the right.

His full letter to Pennsylvanians is after the jump, with the original bolded text intact.

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The GOP leadership is stepping up their public appeals for everyone to help Norm Coleman keep this trial going. The Coleman camp has posted this YouTube, featuring prominent Capitol Hill Republicans asking for donations:

"I'm proud of Norm and his perseverance," says Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who is currently the head of the NRSC. "I'm proud that he is willing to continue to fight hard to represent the people of Minnesota, and to make sure that their votes count. And we want him back."

Keep in mind that this lawsuit has made sure that not only is Norm Coleman not representing the people of Minnesota -- but nobody is, because the Republicans have blocked any idea of seating Al Franken provisionally. And as a result, the voters of Minnesota don't count as much as other states in the Senate.

(Via Minnesota Public Radio)

Displaying unexpected care for "the welfare of congressional Dems," as TPM alum Greg notes, the National Review suggested yesterday that President Obama was hogging the spotlight by signing the stimulus bill into law alone, sans Senate and House Democrats.

The notion that conservatives watched yesterday's bill signing and asked themselves, "Why aren't Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid getting their moment in the sun?!" is pretty hilarious. But here's something even funnier: Four House Republicans have come out in recent days taking credit for the passage of an economic recovery plan that every single member of their party opposed.

Here's a list of the GOPers in question and their faux-victory laps, courtesy of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:

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If you're interested in the question of whether Barack Obama can change the culture of Washington, one of the things worth looking at is the lobbying efforts over the F 22 Raptor. The decision of what to do with this fighter aircraft is one of the more important defense procurement questions the administration will face. And, like all defense issues, it's wrapped up in politics especially in a deep recession when jobs are scarce and good-aying jobs are even scarcer.

Some background: Over decades, weapons systems have taken on a life of their own and proven hard to halt even when the Pentagon is ambivalent about having them. My former TIME colleague, Mark Thompson, a veteran defense correspondent, has, for instance, written at length about the problems bedeviling the V-22 Osprey aircraft and why, despite its woes, billions have been pumped into the project.

When it comes to the F 22 Raptor, the administration is facing a March 1 deadline to decide how many more F22s to order. Lockheed is supposed to deliver the last of the current batch of 181 on order in 2011. The argument against ordering still more F22s is that the Pentagon already has a similar aircraft, the F 35 Joint Strike fighter online and, besides, the more pressing issue for the U.S. is not air superiority in a conventional war but rooting out terrorists in the Khyber Pass. The Air Force has indicated that it would like a total of 381 but several senior Pentagon officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have hinted that they'd like far fewer if not to put the kabosh on the program entirely. The Pentagon "has not demonstrated the need or value for making further investments" in the plane, the Government Accountability Office found.

So not surprisingly there's a lot of lobbying going on to keep the F 22 rolling. Northrop and Lockheed Martin are lobbying heavily to keep the plane in production and there's a large press availability this week where reporters can sit in simulators and learn all about the 95,000 jobs the plane's advocates say are at state. Any state where there's work related to the Raptor is lobbying for it. "With rising unemployment, we need to make sure that we're not making a knee-jerk reaction and we keep this program going strong," Keith Scott, president of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce told the Baltimore Sun. Our point is, No. 1, this preserves jobs, and No. 2, it is immediate. You don't have to develop anything," Lawson said. "This is 'shovel ready.' "

According to the Los Angeles Times
, the F-22 program is directly responsible for 25,000 jobs at Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin and its major suppliers. But Lockheed officials say when jobs from sub-suppliers are added in, the F-22 program maintains 95,000 jobs in 44 states. Among the firms helping Lockheed in Washington is Public Strategies, home to George W. Bush media adviser Mark McKinnon. In Congress, prominent senators from Ted Kennedy to Judd Gregg to Dianne Feinstein signed a letter back in January urging then President Elect Obama to keep the F22 going. Not surprisingly there's a website, that's just part of the lobbying campaign being waged by the Lockheed, Boeing and other suppliers of the jet fighter. We'll know soon whether their efforts have been successful.

So with the stimulus bill now fully passed and signed into law, are there still any Republican governors who might actually go so far as refuse some or all of the cash, even if it goes against the immediate interests of their states? The answer is Yes.

Most Republican governors are now going ahead and figuring out how to spend the money, even if a bunch of them were opposed to the bill itself. But there are still some holdouts, people who are making noise about turning down a check from Washington.

First up is the most prominent anti-stimulus governor of all, South Carolina's Mark Sanford. In response to critics of his public position to not spend the money, Sanford wrote an op-ed piece for The State: "The bailout approach undermines what has historically been the ultimate source of economic stimulus -- the American worker and entrepreneur."

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Accused $8 billion fraudster Allen Stanford is making headlines today, but he's no stranger to D.C. politics. After government officials caught wind of Stanford's cozy relationship with the government of Antigua, where he maintained his offshore banking operations, the flamboyant Texas financier worked hard to make friends in Congress.

Between July 2000 and July 2001, Stanford was the single largest contributor to the unregulated "527" fundraising groups run by then-Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle (SD) and then-House Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost (TX), according to the watchdog group Public Citizen.

Stanford's company "gave soft money to Daschle, Frost, and the party committees at a time when it had only one lobbying objective," Steve Weissman, who was Public Citizen's legislative representative during that period, told me. "The people who received the money basically did nothing to advance the money laundering bill that was from the Clinton administration. Even if they were Democrats and it was the Democratic Clinton administration that wanted to push the bill, they complied with what the donor wanted."

Frost, now a lobbyist in D.C. and president of America Votes, recalls meeting with Stanford as well as taking no action on his fellow Texan's concerns. Their interaction was wholly routine, as the former lawmaker described it.

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We know that Allen Stanford, the Texas financier accused of a multi-billion-dollar fraud yesterday, helped send several amenable members of Congress to soak up the sun in Antigua. But Stanford first got involved with Washington policy-making long before 2003, when the first reported congressional trips took place.

Our tale begins in the Clinton administration, when the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa helped jump-start a legislative push to crack down on international tax havens. At that time, Jonathan Winer, a senior State Department official under Clinton, was well aware of Stanford's offshore activities.

"In the late '90s, Stanford came to my attention ... because he was reaching out to people in our government to say he was a good guy and we should be comfortable with him," Winer, now a senior vice president at APCO Worldwide in Washington, told me.

"He hired people to reform Antigua's banking system, which was overwhelmed by offshore banks and shell banks [but] he was also regulated by the entity governing the sector that he was spending money to organize in what was characterized as a clean-up. We thought that was a conflict and inappropriate."

Meanwhile, as Time reported three years later, the attempt to tighten money laundering rules got pushback from ... guess who? (emphasis mine)

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Norm Coleman is off to a rough start this morning, with the Minnesota election court having just formally denied his request for them to reconsider their ruling last week to stop him from advocating for certain rejected absentee ballots.

This isn't a big surprise, but it has some interesting ramifications. The court handed down a ruling on Friday that Coleman didn't like, because it immediately cut off about a thousand ballots that he wanted to put in the count. He then immediately turned around and asked them to change their minds, arguing that other ballots like these are already in the count, and the court didn't do it.

The important part here is that Coleman is establishing a record of this court shooting him down on matters of law -- which he will be practically certain to appeal should the trial end with him still losing the race. And remember that the Coleman camp is already calling out the vote count as "fatally flawed," hinting that one contingency plan for after this trial could be to seek a do-over election.