In it, but not of it. TPM DC

With the major proceedings of the Minnesota trial now over -- the closing arguments have been done, and it's now in the three-judge panel's hands -- here are some other news items from the disputed race.

At a brief press conference held after the closing arguments were done, Norm Coleman commended his legal team, and discussed the importance of the issues at hand. "Whatever the outcome is, ultimately we'll get to a conclusion in this," said Norm. "But the bottom line is, people have a right to have their votes be counted."

A reporter asked Norm if he would appeal, in the event that he loses in this court. "Let's deal with this step right now," said Norm. "There are a lot of votes to be counted. There are still a lot of issues to be sorted." He then reiterated that he's not looking forward, but is focused on the issues present right now.

Coleman legal spokesman Ben Ginsberg continued to insist on the inaccuracies in the election system, and kept up the campaign's position that it might not be possible to certify any winner at all.

Ginsberg mentioned a line from Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton's closing argument that Minnesota's election system works, and is one of the best in the country. "It is indeed," said Ginsberg. "But he really proved our point that as good as the Minnesota system is, it is not finely-calibrated enough to tell who won this election."

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Reader CT Voter notes that John Negroponte, Bush's ambassador to Iraq, and another much esteemed career diplomat--although his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras came under criticism--didn't have Mideast experience. He'd been at the U.N. dealing with Mideast issues as part of his tenure there but that's not the kind of specific expertise Graham and McCain seem to want. It's all very odd. TPM readers are encouraged, though, to search for more examples of McCain and Graham not asking for regional expertise for a major appointment.

The Democratic National Committee released a "Party of No" clock today that tallies how much time Republicans have spent criticizing President Obama's budget without offering an alternative of their own.

And it's a good thing that there's no limit on how high the clock can go, because Senate GOPers have no intention of ever offering an alternative budget this year. As senior Budget Committee Republican Judd Gregg (NH) tells the Times:

The responsibility of the majority is to produce the budget, and we think it is more constructive to point out how we would improve their budget.

Good plan! Seriously, though, the senators' task may be complicated by their House GOP counterparts, who -- to their credit -- are planning to unveil an alternative budget proposal.

This all may sound like political back-and-forth, but alternative plans put forward by the minority party often get an actual vote; Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-SC) alterna-stimulus, for example, won the support of all but four Republican senators last month.

It's too bad that Senate Republicans aren't prepared to come together on a budget they can believe in ... but perhaps a Democratic senator would be kind enough to submit the House GOP's alterna-budget to a vote in the upper chamber? I'd love to see how many on Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) team would be willing to vote for it.

Here are the line-ups for the Sunday talk shows this weekend:

• ABC, This Week: Lawrence Summers, Director of the National Economic Council, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

• CBS, Face The Nation: Lawrence Summers, Director of the National Economic Council, and Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.

• CNN, State Of The Union: Former Vice President Dick Cheney, in his first TV interview since leaving office.

• Fox News Sunday: Austan Goolsbee, White House Council of Economic Advisers; Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN); Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA); Mark Zandi, Moody's; and FDIC Chair Sheila Blair.

• NBC, Meet The Press: House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Dr. Christina Romer, Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers.

One of the biggest flashpoints in the coming congressional health care debate will be how much money can be saved by reforming the nation's presently broken system. The White House budget included $634 billion over 10 years for health reform, paid for by in part by trimming the system's existing payments to insurance companies, doctors, and drug-makers.

Not surprisingly, the same industries in line for a fiscal whacking to help fund the health care bill are hoping that Congress gets a little more creative with its attempts to pay for the measure.

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Newly-appointed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is flexing some of her political muscle back home in her upstate House district, cutting this ad for Democratic candidate Scott Murphy:

"I hope you'll join me in voting for Scott Murphy," says Gillibrand. "We need him in Congress."

On paper, the Republicans started out with some advantages to pick up this marginal seat, given the lead they have in voter-registration -- though on the other hand, the GOP brand is in pretty bad shape, and the district voted narrowly for Barack Obama last year. If Murphy wins, expect Gillibrand's supporters to say that her image, as a local woman done good, provided at least some significant help.

Meanwhile, Republican candidate Jim Tedisco has announced that he wants the NRCC out of his campaign, after a recent poll said that Murphy has nearly erased Tedisco's initial lead, with a drastic turnaround among independent voters. He'll manage it himself, and seek to refocus the race in a positive direction.

Just to add to what my colleague, Elana Schor had earlier on Chris Hill: At his press briefing today, Robert Gibbs stood behind Chris Hill as the President's choice to be the next Ambassador to Iraq. So for the moment at least, there's no backing down to the McCain-Graham assault on Hill as being unready for Iraq. Hill is one of the most accomplished career diplomats at State but his assignments have all been European and Asian. He speaks Polish and Serbo-Croatian, according to the State Department web site.

But here's something interesting. McCain and Graham had no problem voting for Hill to be come George W. Bush's Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs even thought his previous experience was overwhelmingly European with one tour in Seoul. In general the country's supported the idea that senior State Department officials can move around the world and not have to prove their credentials each time they're assigned to a new region. McCain and Graham are imposing a new standard that seems odd. It's not wildly irrational to want an Iraq ambassador with Mideast experience but it's a bar that I've never heard Senators ask of any other career diplomat before. Perhaps TPM readers can think of other examples where Graham and McCain had no qualms about supporting a nominee for a key diplomatic post who had no previous experience in the region?

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.