In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The pool of votes in Minnesota could be poised to expand by the enormous amount of...89.

This comes after a court-ordered statewide search for a type of rejected absentee ballot known as a 3-A ballot -- an absentee ballot for a non-registered voter, in which the voter mistakenly placed the registration form inside the inner secrecy envelope, rather than immediately within the outer envelope as they were supposed to.

Out of about 1,500 envelopes searched, only 89 were found with completed registration forms, and could potentially be counted by this court. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann told TPM that the ballots represent a pretty even distribution of votes from across the state, though there are some standouts -- for example, Olmsted County had 15 of them, and Washington County had 12. Both counties' overall vote totals were heavily pro-Coleman.

It's hard to tell how this whole pool of votes will turn out -- it's possible (though not certain) that it may have a pro-Coleman geographic tilt. On the other hand, Al Franken won the absentee ballots by a decent margin, and also did very well among new voters. In either case, we're talking about only 89 ballots, drawn from throughout the state, so don't expect a big swing either way.

For environmental groups that have waited nearly a decade to see meaningful action on climate change, a key choice is facing congressional Democrats: Do they tackle a cap-and-trade climate system separately from other energy issues, or do they draft one bill that includes regulation of carbon emissions as well as a new renewable electricity standard for states?

The question sounds wonkish -- but it's likely to determine whether the cap-and-trade and renewable electricity proposals can become law this year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is already on board with the one-bill approach in her chamber, as Bloomberg reports today, but that makes sense for two reasons.

First, Pelosi's nearly 80-seat margin of control in the House makes the task of passing a combined energy-environment package much easier for her than for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV); second, climate change and energy are both controlled by the same House committee, the Energy and Commerce panel chaired by the influential progressive Henry Waxman (D-CA).

As Politico notes today, Waxman is facing a possible hiccup if Charles Rangel's (D-NY) Ways and Means Committee decides to push its own carbon tax plan, but Pelosi is sure to remain confident in his ability to steer a massive dual bill to passage. In the Senate, matters are much different -- the energy committee, chaired by Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), has jurisdiction over renewable electricity, while the environment panel led by Barbara Boxer (D-CA) takes the lead on climate change.

Does that mean passing both issues in one Senate bill would be impossible?

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Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who just narrowly lost his 2004 primary challenge against Arlen Specter and is widely reported to be about to jump in again this year, is already making the rounds of the right-wing Web.

In an interview with NewsMax, Toomey discussed his disgust with the three Senate Republicans who enabled the Obama stimulus package to pass, saying that the Senate Republicans had been empowered to force a more favorable compromise with greater tax cuts: "Instead, these guys just completely sold out, and the answer is I think they will inevitably face consequences for this."

When asked if he'll be the one to challenge Specter: "I'm giving that some very serious thought, and there's a real chance I'll decide to do that. I think we really need people in the United States Senate who are willing to stand up and say, 'Enough of this, you know, crazy economic policy.'"

Toomey also made it clear that he's looking more at the Senate race now than the governorship, which he'd been publicly mulling before Specter came out for the stimulus: "I've given that some consideration as well. At this point I'm more inclined and more focused, and I think I can probably accomplish more, in the United States Senate."

If you thought there was already a war of words over the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) -- the labor movement's No. 1 priority and business' bete noire on the Hill -- just wait until the bill actually gets its official introduction tomorrow.

We can expect dramatic rhetoric, and amped-up campaign donations, from interest groups on both sides as the battle comes down to a handful of swing votes in the Senate. One connected Democrat in the upper chamber, Claire McCaskill (MO), said yesterday that her party may not have the votes to break a GOP filibuster of Employee Free Choice ... but is she right on?

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As Washington slowly catches on to the simmering wave of populist anger at bailed-out banks, House Democrats are considering an admirably drastic step ahead of next year's midterm elections. Per Roll Call, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is weighing whether to issue official guidance to lawmakers on turning down donations from banks that are receiving taxpayer aid.

Roll Call also reveals that several senior Democrats are already saying no to campaign cash from bailout recipients, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA), and Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), and John Campbell (R-CA).

Senate Banking Commitee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) is also eschewing money from the political action committees (PACs) of bailed-out banks -- an even more surprising gesture given that he is up for re-election in 2010 and likely to face a well-funded GOP challenger.

The political optics of these lawmakers' decision to refuse bailout-linked donations, however, raises another question: just how much are they giving up? Is it really that meaningful, or just a good PR move? Here's the answer.

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Republicans have won votes on a dozen of their amendments thanks to their successful filibuster of the $410 billion 2009 spending bill last week -- and one-quarter of that dozen were introduced by Sen. Jon Kyl (AZ), the second-ranked GOPer in the upper chamber.

Interestingly enough, all three of Kyl's amendments deal with U.S. policy towards Palestine at a time when signs are pointing to a possible unity government by Fatah and Hamas. The most eyebrow-raising of the three, however, is a bid to prevent any government money from being used to resettle Palestinian refugees from Gaza to America.

As the Mondoweiss blog explains, an Internet rumor making the rounds on the right has accused President Obama of signing an order to resettle hundreds of thousands of Hamas sympathizers in the U.S. ... without a grain of truth to it.

And even Kyl himself seems to acknowledge that his amendment is based on speculation, saying on the Senate floor last week that:

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Joe Lieberman is now doing something that might have seemed odd last summer: Singing the praises of Barack Obama.

In an interview with the Associated Press, examining how he has worked to repair his breach with Democratic Party, Lieberman said that Obama has shown "great leadership": "Bottom line: I think Barack Obama, president of the United States, is off to a very good start."

Lieberman still stands on principle about his support for John McCain, and his constant attacks against Obama and the Dems. "When I said those things not only did I believe them, but I believe looking at the records of the two people then, they were right," Lieberman said.

On the other hand, he says he never meant to suggest that Barack Obama doesn't put his country first -- but he does say his remarks were "too subject" to that interpretation and he wishes he'd said it differently.

So what might explain Lieberman's turnaround? It probably has a lot to do with the White House's help in him keeping his chairmanship. "President Obama played a very important role, he was very gracious," said Lieberman. "That obviously sealed the deal and I appreciated it a lot."

Americans United Continues Ad Campaign Against Limbaugh The pro-Obama labor group Americans United For Change has this new ad on national cable, continuing to link Republican opposition to the stimulus bill to Rush Limbaugh's desire for President Obama to fail:

"I want Barack Obama to fail," we see from Limbaugh's CPAC speech, followed by the announcer: "Tell Rush and the Republicans, America won't take 'no' for an answer."

Obama To Lift Ban On Stem-Cell Funding Today President Obama will be speaking from the White House at 11:45 a.m. ET, where he will discuss the importance of scientific integrity against political interference, and then sign an executive order lifting the Bush-era ban on government funding of embryonic stem-cell research. Then at 2:15 p.m. ET he will meet the finalists of the Intel Science Talent Search, a science research competition for high school students.

Biden Heading To Brussels, To Consult With NATO Vice President Biden is leaving today for Brussels, Belgium, where he will meet with the North Atlantic Council. Biden will be consulting with allies on Afghanistan and Pakistan, will meet with NATO's Secretary General, senior officials of the European Union, Belgian government officials, and with leaders from non-NATO countries who are contributing to Afghanistan.

Omnibus Could Pass Tomorrow The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday to end debate and pass the omnibus spending bill, after debate and votes tonight on four Republican amendments. Harry Reid came one vote short of 60 on Thursday night, necessitating the delay.

Obama Makes Surprise Appearance At Ted Kennedy Salute President Obama put in a surprise appearance last night at the Kennedy Center's tribute to Ted Kennedy. Obama appeared on stage toward the end of the event, leading the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday" to Kennedy.

NYT: Axelrod Still Close At Hand The New York Times profiles Obama White House adviser David Axelrod, examining how he has transitioned from the role of a campaign strategist to working on policy in Washington -- for example, he reportedly signed off on the recent attacks against Rush Limbaugh. However, Axelrod rejects any comparison to Karl Rove: "I'm not sitting here moving pieces around from the White House. I'm not trying to run the Democratic Party. I'm not trying to supplant the brilliant policy makers who are here."

Obama Open To Outreach To Some Taliban Elements In an interview with the New York Times, President Obama said that the United States is not winning the Afghanistan War, and that one option would be to negotiate with some elements of the Taliban. Though he acknowledged that the complexities of Afghanistan, he also said: "If you talk to General Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq."

Karzai Approves Of Obama's Stance On Taliban Negotiation At a public appearance yesterday in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said: "Yesterday, Mr. Obama accepted and approved the path of peace and talks with those Afghan Taliban who he called moderates." He added: "This is a good news ... this is approval of our previous stance and we accept and praise it."

Obama Arriving Back At White House From Camp David The First Family is scheduled to return to the White House at 2:50 p.m. ET, after spending the night at Camp David.

Ted Kennedy To Receive Award Tonight, Biden Attending Ted Kennedy will be honored tonight at the Kennedy Center in Washington, where he will be presented the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. Vice President Biden and Jill Biden will be in attendance.

Shelby: Improve Market By Letting Big Banks Fail Appearing on ABC's This Week, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) laid out his opposition to bank nationalization, and his support of letting big banks fail. "Close them down, get them out of business. If they're dead, they ought to be buried," Shelby said. "We bury the small banks; we've got to bury some big ones and send a strong message to the market. And I believe that people will start investing in banks."

McCain: GM Should Go Into Bankruptcy, Reorganize Appearing on Fox News Sunday, John McCain said: "I think the best thing that could probably happen to General Motors, in my view, is they go into Chapter 11, they reorganize, they renegotiate ... the union-management contracts and come out of it a stronger, better, leaner, more competitive automotive industry." Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, a Michigan Republican, strongly disagreed, saying that if GM and Chrysler go into bankruptcy they would likely not come out of it.

Orszag: Spending Bill Will Be Different Next Year Appearing on CNN, White House Budget Director Peter Orszag said the Obama Administration doesn't like aspects of the omnibus bill, but has to handle it as a matter left over from last year. "Is it uglier than we'd like? Yes. But again, this was negotiated last year," said Orszag. "We think we should just move on. When we are engaged in the fiscal year 2010 appropriations process, it's going to look a lot different."

Cantor: White House Has No Credibility On Spending Also appearing on CNN, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) fired back at Orszag. "There is no way anyone could take what Mr. Orszag has said with any credibility," said Cantor. "Of course they're negotiating on this bill in the Senate right now. To say that we would have drawn it differently, but leave $430 billion plus on the table like this? No way." A note about credibility: Cantor voted for all of the Bush White House's deficit-spending programs.

Obama: Economy Is Both Crisis And Opportunity In his weekly video address, President Obama reviews the problems facing the economy, the solutions being offered -- and the opportunity to leverage this towards greater success in the future:

"From the day I took office, I knew that solving this crisis would not be easy, nor would it happen overnight," said Obama. "And we will continue to face difficult days in the months ahead. But I also believe that we will get through this -- that if we act swiftly and boldly and responsibly, the United States of America will emerge stronger and more prosperous than it was before."

GOP Response Warns Of Health Care Becoming Like DMV -- Or IRS In this week's Republican response video, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) discussed health care policy, warning that health care proposals currently going around in Washington would crowd out the private sector and lead to government bureaucracy and rationing:

"Just imagine a health care system that looks like a government run operation most of us are all too familiar with - the local DMV," said Blunt. "Lines, paper work, taking a number. Or how about another government agency - the IRS."

Obama Family On Trip To Camp David The First Family is spending today and tonight at Camp David. They will return to the White House tomorrow afternoon. Vice President Biden is in Florida, and does not have any public events.

Obama To Visit Turkey Hillary Clinton announced during an appearance on Turkish television that President Obama will be visiting Turkey in roughly the next month, though the exact date hasn't been established yet. Clinton discussed the importance of outreach to the Muslim world, holding up Turkey as a model example of a secular democracy: "Democracy and modernity and Islam can all coexist."

Pro-Obama Group Launching More Limbaugh-Themed Ads The labor-backed group Americans United For Change is launching a new set of radio ads against five Republican House members -- Mike Castle (DE), Thaddeus McCotter (MI), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Dave Reichert (WA) and one other to be announced next week -- linking them to Rush Limbaugh. An excerpt:

First, Rush Limbaugh said of President Obama: "I hope he fails." Then, nearly every Republican in Congress followed Limbaugh's lead - including Congressman Mike Castle - and voted against the President's recovery plan and against three and a half million jobs.

Well - it passed any way - and it's already working to create jobs.

WaPo: Limbaugh's Ratings Impossible To Measure The Washington Post examines the various claims about Rush Limbaugh's ratings, and finds that while he certainly has millions of people tuning in, it may be impossible to really tell how many -- the show is on at different times and for different durations across markets, and people tune in for varying periods of time. "It's very hard to come up with an exact answer," said Michael Harrison, editor of the trade magazine Talkers. "It really reveals the embarrassing state of radio ratings."

Poll: Minnesotans Don't Think Pawlenty Should Run For President A new Rasmussen poll of Minnesota finds that 61% of the state's likely voters do not think Governor Tim Pawlenty should run for president. This is not to say he is unpopular, though, with an alternate majority of 56% approving of his job performance.

The Hill: Specter In Trouble -- Should He Switch Parties? The Hill takes a look at the math surrounding the expected conservative primary challenge by Pat Toomey against Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), and finds a huge problem that is now confronting Specter: Between 150,000 and 200,000 moderate voters changed their registrations from Republican to Democratic in 2008, seriously shrinking the base of potential GOP voters in the closed-primary state. Furthermore, Pennsylvania has a "sore loser" law, which would prevent a primary loser from running as an independent -- raising the possibility that Specter's best bet could be to switch parties.