In it, but not of it. TPM DC

It's been clear for weeks now that Senate leadership hadn't brought the question of confirming Dawn Johnsen--the President's nominee to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel--to a vote on the floor because he hasn't had the votes. Sen. Harry Reid's office never said as much, but how else to explain that other, less critical nominations were moving and not hers?

Last night Reid made it explicit. "Right now we're finding out when to do that," Reid said, according to Roll Call. "We need a couple Republican votes until we can get to 60."

Right now there are 59 Democrats in the caucus. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) has said he's "concerned" about her nomination, but his office strongly suggested to me that he'd vote for cloture on her confirmation. Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) has said he "opposes" Johnsen, but hasn't answered the cloture question thusfar. Republican Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN), though, says he supports her. Assuming Nelson's cloture vote really will be there, but that Specter will continue his...unpredictable streak, that means Democrats need one more Republican to get behind her.

For what it's worth, the Senators from Maine haven't responded to my repeated requests for comment on this question.

Judiciary Subcommittee Holding Torture Memos Hearing Today Capitol Hill is set to hold the first hearing on the torture memos today, with a 10 a.m. ET hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts. The meeting is entitled, "What Went Wrong: Torture and the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush Administration," and witnesses will include former FBI supervisory special agent Ali Soufan, former State Department counselor Phillip Zelikow, and others.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama and Vice President Biden will meet at 9:30 a.m. ET with some top House Democrats: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Reps. Charlie Rangel (NY), Henry Waxman (CA) and George Miller (CA). Obama will deliver a statement at 10 a.m. ET. At 11:15 a.m. ET, Obama and Biden will meet with top Senators of both parties to discuss the Supreme Court vacancy: Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, and ranking Judiciary Republican Jeff Sessions. Obama and Biden will have lunch at 1 p.m. ET. Obama will depart the White House at 4:15 p.m. ET, and at 9:10 p.m. ET he will deliver the commencement address at Arizona State University.

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I wrote a bit skeptically about yesterday's White House health care event. In a broad sense, even if the administration did move the ball forward, it was a small advancement through the legislative minefield comprehensive health reform will no doubt prove to be.

But could the event, in and of itself, have actually been a setback? When the health care fight kicks off on the Hill, one of the major points of friction will be the issue of a public insurance option. Commercial health care interests oppose it. Republicans oppose it. Several Democrats oppose a serious version of it. But, in the minds of reformers, it's a crucial element of real progress. Without a public option--an affordable health care plan, run and subsidized by the government--insurers and other interests will have little incentive to cut costs and waste such that private plans will be affordable to all consumers.

Yesterday, those interests came together and pledged to shave 1.5 percent a year off the approximately six percent a year annual growth in health care costs. That's not unsubstantial--if they really follow through they'll save people about $2 trillion over the next 10 years. (More accurately, if they follow through, health care costs will grow by $2 trillion less than they would have in absence of any reforms.)

But there are a few problems.

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Appearing on Fox News with Neil Cavuto, former Vice President Dick Cheney strongly responded to those who have criticized him for his public campaign against the Obama administration's decisions about interrogation/torture programs.

"Well, I don't pay a lot of attention to what the critics say, obviously," said Cheney. "I - from my standpoint, the notion that I should remain silent while they go public, that I shouldn't say anything while they threaten to disbar the lawyers who gave us the advice that was crucial in terms of this program, that I shouldn't say anything when they go out and release information that they believe is critical of the program, and critical of our policies but refuse to put out information that would show the results that we're able to achieve -- bottom line is we successfully defended the nation for seven and half years against a follow-on attack to 9/11. That was a remarkable achievement, nobody would have thought that was possible, but it was. I believe it was possible because of the policies we had in place, which they're now dismantling."

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Former Gov. Jesse Ventura (Independence Party-MN) appeared on Larry King Live last night, and he had some choice words for former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), the man that he defeated in the race for governor back in 1998:

Ventura said that the legal process in Minnesota is working out as it's supposed to be -- but at the same time it looks like Al Franken is the winner, and any federal appeal by Coleman should be thrown out.

King asked whether Ventura criticizes Coleman: "Well I criticize him only that Coleman's always been a hypocrite. He never does what he says," Ventura responded. "He said Election Night, when he won, that Franken should drop out, and he should be the Senator. Well, then the same should hold true after the recount."

Former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio, who is running a conservative primary challenge in the Republican Senate primary against moderate Gov. Charlie Crist, is all set to use Crist's support for the stimulus bill against him. Rubio now has this new Web ad, tying Crist directly to President Obama:

As Greg Sargent says: "It isn't every day that a politician seeks to turn a race into a referendum on his opponent's support for a President with an approval rating in the 60s, but these aren't ordinary times for today's GOP."

Obama might be popular with most Americans right now, but he's unpopular with the people who count in this race: The folks who will be voting in that Republican primary.

Last week, in the halcyon days before my recent haircut, I recorded an episode of bloggingheads with Matt Lewis of Politics Daily. As the title of this post suggests, he and I discussed a lot of the same issues we've been covering here at TPMDC, and, if you're interested you can see the full episode at this link. Below is a clip of our musings on a Sestak, Specter primary match up.

Again, this was filmed Wednesday, before Tom Ridge announced he will not run for Senate in Pennsylvania next year. But aside from that--and the...unusual 'do--the discussion's still pretty germane. Hope you enjoy.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) visited his newfound party last night, speaking at a Philadelphia Democratic Committee fundraiser -- and commenting on the big change he's made in recent weeks.

A reporter asked Specter how Democratic gatherings differ from Republican ones. His answer: "There are a lot more people here than when Republicans get together."

That fact alone seems to be a self-perpetuating cycle -- after all, it was the decrease in moderate registered Republican voters in Pennsylvania that helped spur Arlen Specter to switch parties in the first place.

Specter also remarked of his transition: "There are a few bumps in the road. But I've got good shock absorption."

A Congressional Quarterly article about GOP efforts to get conservative Democrats to oppose major legislation contains an interesting admission from Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH).

Acording to the piece, Republicans "have vowed to block, reshape or defeat a number of Democratic initiatives in coming months, even though Specter's defection has left the Senate Republican caucus with just 40 members."

But in a 99-member Senate, 40 votes are enough to keep Democrats from cutting off debate on major legislation. "Usually you need 41 votes to get anything done around here. But right now, you can do a lot with 40 votes,'' said Judd Gregg

In a 99-seat Senate, 40 votes isn't nearly enough to "get anything done." Not at all. It is rather the bare minimum necessary to make sure nothing gets done. And it explains why so many Republican senators will routinely vote against cloture on major Democratic agenda items. It's called a filibuster--and it isn't typically thought of as way to "get stuff done."

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Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL) has officially announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring GOP Sen. Mel Martinez, giving the Republicans an immediate frontrunner in this perennial swing state.

Crist faces a primary against conservative challenger Marco Rubio, the former state House Speaker who will likely blast Crist's support for the stimulus bill. Rubio put out a statement declaring: "My campaign will offer GOP voters a clear alternative to the direction some want to take our party."

The GOP establishment has made its choice clear: NRSC chairman John Cornyn put out a statement endorsing Crist: "With his record of reform in Florida, I know that Governor Crist will bring a fresh perspective to Washington in our efforts to fight for lower taxes, less government, and new job creation for all Americans."

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