In it, but not of it. TPM DC

So what exactly is the deal with the Republicans' new outreach project, the National Council for a New America, and how is it complying with the letter and spirit of ethics rules and guidelines for financing?

Roll Call explored the topic on Monday looking at how the NCNA's spending has been bifurcated. Its main Web site is hosted on Cantor's official House Web site, and his staff have helped build the site, while other aspects such as its recent town hall event have been paid for out of campaign funds. In a follow-up editorial, they called on House Minority Whip Eric Cantor to refund his House account with campaign money for whatever has been spent on this, and for the ethics rules to be revised against this whole thing.

Jan Baran, an ethics attorney advising the group, referred any questions regarding the editorial to Cantor's office. In turn, Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring gives us this comment: "As Roll Call reported, the NCNA is in compliance with the law and House ethics rules just like other congressional groups such as the Progressive Caucus, the Democratic Caucus, Republican Conference, and the Blue Dog Coalition."

I spoke with Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, and she had some tough things to say about it, saying that it went against the overriding principles of the ethics guidelines: "This may be legally permissible, but it's a pretty tortured reading of the rules."

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Several weeks ago, when Robert Gates released early details of the Pentagon budget, we noticed a peculiar, but, I suppose, predictable trend. With an assist from the media, conservatives and other stakeholders--seeking to attack the administration, and protect their parochial interests--began to portray the proposal as a soft-on-defense spending cut, when, in fact, the bottom line represented a modest defense spending increase.

You don't hear too much of that meme anymore. But you do hear quite a bit these days, from Congressional Republicans, and others, that the budget process has been maddeningly opaque--that, for instance officials have been barred via non-disclosure agreement from discussing budget details with anybody outside the Pentagon or relevant government agency while the document was being assembled. John T. Bennett of Defense News first reported the existence of the agreement in February, and he sends along a copy, which you can see for yourself here. The terms of the agreement were rescinded earlier this week.

Still, that didn't please members of Congress who will have ultimate say over the budget itself. At a House Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) grilled Gates about the so-called "gag order," and what he described as the general lack of transparency in the budget process as a whole.

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The Coleman campaign has filed its reply brief to the Minnesota Supreme Court, quite possibly the final written filing before oral arguments on June 1 in Norm's appeal of his defeat at the Minnesota Senate trial. The reply brief, responding to Team Franken's own response brief on Monday, is a passionate argument for more rejected absentee ballots from pro-Coleman areas to be allowed in and counted.

There is also a dog that doesn't bark here: Team Coleman seems to have abandoned its attempts to have the whole election result thrown out. There are numerous points in the brief where it seems like the authors are about to raise this option, as they have before -- arguing that the elections results are unreliable -- only to go in a different direction by arguing for a positive remedy. Coleman is banking squarely on getting more rejected absentee votes counted, as his only remaining hope (and even this is slim) of winning this race.

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RNC Chairman Michael Steele addressed the National Rifle Association's "Celebration of American Values" in Phoenix today, leveling some harsh rhetoric against President Obama: That Obama could end up appointing left-wing ideological Justices to the Supreme Court -- and Dems want to away Americans' guns while moving Al Qaeda terrorists to our neighborhoods!

"It is ironic, to say the least, that at the same time Democrats in Congress are threatening to deny Americans their second amendment right to own a firearm and defend their families and homes," Steele said, "they are considering bringing terrorists like 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other Al Qaeda detainees to our communities once the President follows through on his campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay."

Steele also said that liberal groups will be pressuring Obama on the Supreme Court vacancy: "They want a young, activist, left-wing justice who will leave a liberal legacy long after the Obama administration is over. Obama is considering including politicians, not judges, among his short-list of Supreme Court nominees. We don't need a justice on the Court with an ideological agenda."

More excerpts from Steele's speech, after the jump.

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When Arlen Specter became a Democrat nearly three weeks ago, everyone in Washington was extremely "surprised," but nobody was really all that surprised. Specter had been taking a beating from the right for, among other things, supporting the stimulus bill. He had lost the confidence of many in his party and, to ward off attackers, he was tacking steadily to the right to protect himself from a primary challenge he nonetheless seemed poised to lose.

So he became a Democrat. The move made sense as a matter of both Senate and electoral politics. Specter fits in just as well among the significant ranks of conservative Senate Democrats as he does among the ever-shrinking ranks of moderate Republicans, and his move into the majority renews what had been his dwindling hopes of re-election.

But then, unthinkably, he doubled down on all of the positions he'd taken as a threatened Republican. He bucked his new party on health care, reiterated his freshly minted objection to the Employee Free Choice Act (a bill he once wholly endorsed), and he flatly opposed the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, who President Obama has nominated to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

Now, though, he's showing some signs of easing up on the Republicanisms.

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The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is now getting in on the same fundraising act as their Senate-side counterparts at the DSCC: Offering small donors a chance to win a paid trip to Washington and get their picture taken with President Obama.

The DCCC has sent out its own fundraising e-mail, much like the DSCC's e-mail from yesterday, telling donors of only $5 or more that they can be entered into a drawing to attend the Democratic Party's big fundraising dinner in Washington on June 18, and get their picture taken with Obama. The lucky winner will have his or her hotel and airfare paid for, including a guest.

Both committees are essentially making a wager: That this raffle will bring in enough money to generate a profit over the costs of the airfare and hotel. In the modern age of Internet fundraising, this doesn't seem like an unreasonable guess.

Full DCCC e-mail after the jump.

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In a blow to national Democrats in their effort to reach 60 seats in the U.S. Senate, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has announced that he will not challenge GOP Sen. Richard Burr in 2010.

"While I am honored by the encouragement I've received, I don't want to go to Washington and serve as a U.S. Senator at this time," Cooper said in a statement. "I am committed to public service and I want to serve here in North Carolina rather than in Washington."

Polls had shown that Cooper could beat Burr, who for his own part has very weak approval ratings. That said, Democrats could still potentially find a good candidate. The state is trending Democratic and voted for Barack Obama for president in 2008, and few people would have ever guessed at this point in the 2007/2008 campaign cycle that GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole would have lost re-election by nine points against Democrat Kay Hagan.

A new Rasmussen poll finds that only 37% of Republican voters think the party has no clear leader, a definite improvement from a 68% figure two months ago. But there's a catch: There's no agreement on who the party's clear leader actually is.

John McCain comes in first place among possible leaders at 18%, followed by Michael Steele with 14%, Sarah Palin on 10%, Mitt Romney at 8%, Rush Limbaugh with 6%, and Dick Cheney at 4%.

The polling memo reiterates a recent point by Scott Rasmussen: "To be relevant in politics, you need either formal power or a lot of people willing to follow your lead. The governing Republicans in the nation's capital have lost both on their continuing path to irrelevance."

In the latest development in the 2010 Florida Senate race, where moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is facing a more conservative opponent in the GOP primary, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, both candidates have signed the anti-tax pledge of Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform.

In a possible move by Crist to appeal to right-wing voters and activists -- a demographic that might oppose him because of his support for the stimulus bill -- his campaign announced yesterday that he was the first candidate to sign the pledge. Rubio then signed up hours later.

The pledge binds candidates to "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses ... and oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar-for-dollar by further reducing taxes."

For several weeks--while torture revelations have dominated headlines and with the scandal still very much alive--Dawn Johnsen has been waiting. She's Obama's pick to head the Office of Legal Counsel--the same Justice Department shop that famously blessed Bush-era interrogation policies--and her strong stance on that issue has united Republicans against her. But that's not her biggest problem. Her biggest problem is that Harry Reid has not been able to muster enough Democrats to overcome a filibuster threat.

Here are the numbers as they stand right now:

Votes Against Johnsen: 37 Republicans

Votes for Johnsen: 57 Democrats plus Indiana Republican Richard Lugar

Undecideds: Republicans Olypmia Snowe and Susan Collins and Democrats Arlen Specter and Ben Nelson

Reid frames the issue by saying he needs a couple Republicans to cross the line before he has the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster. But as the numbers show, it's just as much an issue of Reid not being able to muster the entire Democratic caucus in support of Johnsen.

The nomination isn't dead yet, but with Reid trying to put the onus on the White House to shore up support for the beleaguered nominee and the White House staying mum about what it role in all this is, or should be, Johnsen's nomination isnt going anywhere fast.

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