In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Despite a rousing, psych-you-up speech from President Obama last night, the Senate is still facing the same core dilemma on the economic recovery bill.

Call it the Goldilocks problem. The 15 centrist senators still in talks on slicing about $100 billion from the bill have yet to hit on a package of spending cuts that's not too hot, not too cold, but just right to get the stimulus to 60 votes.

If they don't figure it out by day's end, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will do what I suspected he'd ultimately have to -- move to cut off debate on the bill entirely, setting up a Sunday vote that will test all this talk of resistance from centrists on both sides.

One thing that bears repeating throughout today's Senate drama: This debate over trimming the stimulus is spending little time on what it means to cut as much as $13 billion in state education aid and $5.5 billion in surface transportation funding. The process is just moving too fast.

"It's very hard to get your case made in a fully substantive way," Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), one of the dozen-plus negotiators, admitted last night. (He had just finished asserting that "substance matters here, what's in the package matters a lot.")

So by all means, call your senator and holler if you saw something on the list of potential cuts that concerns you.

Remember the case of Kathie Olsen, the Bush political appointee who's now safely ensconced in a suspiciously junior position at the same agency where she was once the No. 2?

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) thinks she's uncovered a similar situation at the Pentagon's Office of Detainee Affairs, where former Bushies are still involved in politically sensitive debates over the Guantanamo Bay prison. Feinstein wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday seeking an inquiry into whether two political appointees "have been improperly converted to career positions within the Department of Defense." From her letter:

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Obama To Stimulus Critics: Spending "Is The Whole Point" President Obama spoke last night to the House Democrats, where he rallied support for the stimulus bill -- and hammered the opposition. "They say this isn't a stimulus bill. It's a spending bill," said Obama. "Well, that's the whole point." A full transcript is available here.

Obama's Day Ahead: Discussing The Economy, And Gitmo President Obama and Paul Volcker are holding an 11:15 a.m. event at the White, to introduce members of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. At 3:30 p.m., Obama will be holding a closed meeting at the White House with family members of the victims of 9/11 and the USS Cole bombing, in order to discuss his decision to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay -- a decision that has been strongly objected to by some of the people he'll be meeting today.

Biden Speaking To House Dems, Then Heading To Germany Joe Biden will be speaking today to the House Democratic Issues Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. He will then travel to Germany, where he will be representing the United States at the 45th Munich Conference on Security Policy.

Reid Wants To Hold Stimulus Vote Today The Washington Post reports that Harry Reid hopes to hold a vote on final passage of the stimulus bill today, after yesterday's negotiations with a small handful of Senate Republicans dragged on. If today's effort fails, Reid will call for a Sunday session.

Hillary Going To Asia For First Overseas Trip As Secretary Hillary Clinton is set to go to Asia for her first overseas trip the Secretary of State, visiting Japan, South Korea, China and Indonesia. She is scheduled to embark on her trip on February 15.

Steele Shakes Up RNC, Asks For Resignations The Hill reports that Michael Steele is undertaking a top-to-bottom review of the Republican National Committee's staff, asking all top staffers to submit their resignations. Some of them could be rehired, but the ironically named "state victory directors" won't be coming back.

Poll: GOPer Ahead In Virginia-Gov. Race, But It's Still Wide Open A new Rasmussen poll shows Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell leading all three Democrats in the open race for governor, though the undecided numbers remain high: McDonnell leads state Senator Creigh Deeds 39%-30%, is ahead of former state Delegate Brian Moran 39%-36%, and leads Terry McAuliffe 42%-35%.

Obama Takes First Ride On Air Force One President Obama took his first ride as the sitting president on Air Force One last night, as he traveled to the House Dems' retreat in Williamsburg. Said Obama to the reporters: "Hey guys, what do you think of my -- this spiffy ride here?"

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs quipped yesterday that Congress' stimulus debate was in the "bottom of the fifth" inning. So it's looking like a long seventh-inning stretch this evening as Senate centrists continue hashing out a package of cuts to the $900-billion-plus package.

Democratic leaders understandably would prefer the focus to be on what's in the package rather than what's in line for cuts. But to use another familiar metaphor, Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have grabbed the wheel of the economic recovery plan with their still-evolving proposal to trim as much as $100 billion from education, mass transit, and other areas. Talking to reporters in the ornate Senate reception room this evening, Collins described the group of centrist senators as pretty far from an agreement.

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Norm Coleman may have just made a little bit of progress in his election lawsuit, with the potential to gain back three votes that had been lost during the recount. Now if he can get those in, he'll just have to work on making up the remaining 222 votes in Al Franken's lead.

This all goes back to the duplication process for absentee ballots that have been damaged, a standard process performed at the precincts on Election Night. At a precinct in the Republican stronghold of Anoka County, three labelled duplicates were found for which the labelled originals could not be located. The decision made at the time was to assume that the originals weren't properly labelled and were elsewhere in the count, so the duplicates shouldn't be included.

The problem with this: Throwing out these three duplicates, sans the originals, meant that Norm had lost exactly three votes in this precinct during the recount, compared to the Election Night totals.

While she was on the stand today, Anoka County elections manager Rachel Smith said she was looking yesterday through envelopes containing stacks of ballots...and found the originals, which are now back at her office. Normally there would be serious chain of custody problems for ballots that are found at this stage, but the match-up with the Election Night totals could give Coleman an opening to get these votes in.

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Mike Enzi (WY), the senior Republican on the Senate labor committee, just revealed some more backstory behind today's seemingly sudden postponement of the confirmation vote on Labor Secretary nominee Hilda Solis.

Turns out that the Solis delay wasn't so shocking to Enzi, who said he and fellow senators knew last night about $6,700 in California tax liens long left unpaid by Solis' husband. Enzi said Republicans knew this morning that the confirmation vote wasn't going to happen, but that it was left on the committee schedule because senators "wanted answers from the White House."

Now that the tax liens have been repaid, then, is the committee ready to take up Solis' nomination -- even if it has to pass with only Democratic support? Enzi said no. "[There is a] joint effort to make sure we have all the information before we vote," he said. "There isn't enough information yet."

And if you thought the tax liens were the only thing standing in the way for Solis, that's not so -- Enzi said Republicans are still raising questions about her role as treasurer for American Rights at Work (ARW), a labor-allied non-profit group. It's not Solis' service on the board necessarily, Enzi explained, but the possibility that as treasurer, she had jurisdiction over ARW's political spending. The anti-union group National Right to Work explains the GOP's line of attack at length.

The sad news that Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being treated for pancreatic cancer raises the possibility that President Obama may face his first Supreme Court nomination sooner than anyone imagined. Ginsburg, a thoughtful liberal, named to the bench by Bill Clinton in 1993, has many friends and admirers in Washington and people wish her well and hope she can stay in her post.

Still, the speculation has already begun in the Beltway about who could be named to the post. Since there is only one woman on the nine-member panel, the president would be under enormous pressure to make sure the court doesn't become all-male for the first time since 1981 when Sandra Day O'Connor was sworn in. Since Ginsburg was a leading womens rights advocate there would be all the more pressure on Obama to name a woman.

Among the possible female candidates the president could consider are Elena Kagan, the Harvard Law School dean who has been named to be solicitor general. Nancy Gertner, a district court judge in Massachusetts. If Obama's interested in returning to the historic tradition of appointing a politician to the bench, the possibilities include Jennifer Granholm, the governor of Michigan and a Harvard Law School graduate and former state attorney general. Janet Napolitano is the former attorney general and governor of Arizona and now Secretary of Homeland Security. Diane Wood is a federal judge in Chicago. Sonia Sotomayer, a federal judge in New York, if named, would be the first Hispanic justice. The aborted nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court in 2005 suggests that the Senate and public would not settle for a second-class nominee just for gender reasons but there's no reason to think that Obama, a former Constitutional law professor, would be interested in a personal friend over a widely respected figure.

The Coleman legal team is continuing to review the rejected absentee ballots one by one, spending this afternoon questioning Pine County Auditor Cathy Clemmer. One particular ballot came from a man whose ballot was tossed because he was not a resident of the county.

Well, he was a resident of the county -- in the county jail, awaiting trial for an unspecified charge. He requested a ballot from jail, and Clemmer admitted that the application should have been forwarded to his adjacent home county. Instead, the bailiff delivered him a ballot for Pine, which was later rejected because of his home address.

"By the time it was returned, was Mr. Grewe still in--" said Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg, "still in custodia legis?"

The answer: Yes, the voter was still in the joint.

Now it may well be that this individual was legally allowed to vote, if he wasn't a convicted felon at that time. But just imagine the media outcry that would have occurred if a Democrat were waging an election lawsuit and tried to get this one counted.

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Amidst all the debate over the stimulus package, Tom Daschle's limos, and when the White House puppies will arrive, it's worth keeping an eye on TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program that was supposed to get us out of this mess in the first place. The TARP's genesis from three-page memo to $700 billion fund is history but not so Neel Kashkari, the 35-year-old interim Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability that Henry Paulson appointed to run the program. Kashkari continues to run it having been asked to stay on by the Obama team until a replacement is found. Finding a replacement for Kashkari has not been easy just as it's been difficult to round out all the assistant secretary positions at Treasury because of Geithner's delay in confirmation. (That was when a tax problem led to delay instead of self immolation.) I hear that diversity issues are holding up some of the appointments as well as trying to find people who are both versed in banking but are untainted by the current mess and, most importantly, are not coming directly from firms that are asking for TARP funds. We're still reporting on the names of some of the people who may be coming in. I'm told one Wall Street executive turned the job down several times before the administration took no for an answer. Expect a new TARP head next week when Geithner unveils more comprehensive plans for repairing the financial system.

Meanwhile, at a Senate Banking committee hearing today, the program was lambasted by a Congressional watchdog. The GAO has a report saying the program is poorly run and the public has been misled about how the Treasury priced assets. More here. Neil Barofsky, the independent TARP inspector , told the committee that he wants a criminal investigation. "That's going to be a large focus of my office," he said.