In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Yesterday I reported that Rep. John McHugh (R-NY), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, had said that Defense Secretary Robert Gates' budget proposal was "tantamount to an $8 billion cut in defense spending." His staff had a difficult time defending the number, though, reiterating several times that the figure had come from senior Pentagon officials who'd briefed the committee in advance of Gates' speech.

I just got off the phone with a Pentagon spokesman who said he couldn't get into details about the briefing itself, but that the Pentagon stands by Gates' representation that his outline, if approved by Congress, would amount to a spending increase.

"If people in Congress want to go on the record with what they think they heard" that's their right, said Commander Darryn James.

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Wow, the American public's general opinion on foreign policy really has shifted away from the uber-hawkishness of the Bush era. Check out this new CNN poll:

Do you think Obama administration officials should hold diplomatic talks with the leaders of Iran in the next few weeks, or should they wait to hold diplomatic talks with Iran until that country makes significant changes in its policies towards other countries?

Yes hold talks with Iran - 59%
No, wait to hold talks - 40%


The poll also finds that only 22% of Americans say Iran is an immediate threat, 60% say it's a long-term threat, and 17% say it's no threat at all.

What will John Bolton say?

Here's MSNBC reporting "STEEP CUTS IN MILITARY SPENDING".



More specifically, they're reporting "DEFENSE SECY. GATES ANNOUNCES STEEP CUTS IN MILITARY SPENDING", when what Gates has announced is modest increase in military spending. In fact, as they reported this, their guest William Cohen, a Republican who served as Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton, was on the air trying to set the record straight--that the Gates proposal constitutes a four percent increase over last years budget. Watch:

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In a new profile in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) takes the controversies surrounding herself in stride:

"I haven't purposely been trying to be inflammatory," she said in an interview last week. "I'm trying to just explain to the American people what's happening here in Washington, D.C."


Consider for a moment that this is the Congresswoman who has said the country is at the point of revolution, or that we have to decide whether we want to be free or want to be slaves. Just imagine if she were trying to be inflammatory.

The Franken campaign is now going public with one major reason for why they handled the recount so effectively: They were prepared well in advance for the possibility. In a profile by MinnPost of Franken's general election campaign manager Stephanie Schriock, we find out that Schriock had a recount plan fully drawn up months in advance, putting it into motion immediately the day after the election.

Schriock had taken a similar tack in her campaign work in 2006, when she managed Jon Tester's campaign for Senate from Montana. Correctly predicting that the race would be close -- Tester won by less than a point, and wasn't able to actually claim victory until the next day -- Schriock had drawn up a full recount plan just in case. In fact, one of the attorneys involved at the time was none other than DNC attorney Marc Elias, who later became Al Franken's lead attorney.

"There are two reasons Al won the recount," said Elias. "He had more lawful votes and because of the organization that Stephanie has overseen."

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Roll Call is reporting that Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) will take the lead in advancing legislation to overturn the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy when it's current sponsor, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), is confirmed by the Senate and moves over to the State Department to be President Obama's Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

There's major symbolic significance to that move.

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The counting of the absentee ballots is set to begin today in the NY-20 special election, where Republican candidate Jim Tedisco and Democrat Scott Murphy are in a near-tie that now hinges on the nearly 7,000 absentees. But as it turns out, we shouldn't expect a quick verdict.

Whether the counting processes would happen at all had been the subject of some litigation on Monday, with the Tedisco campaign arguing that the counties should wait until April 13, the final deadline for all the military and overseas ballots to arrive in the mail under an extension that had been worked out with the federal Justice Department. But a judge sided with the Murphy camp, ruling that the counting should commence right after the deadline for all the other absentees had passed, which occurred yesterday.

The counties are now going through the process of identifying the ballots and approving them for opening, which should be a time-consuming process. For example, Washington County's deputy Republican commissioner Linda Falkouski explained to TPM that the county probably won't actually count any ballots today.

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The new survey of Kentucky by Public Policy Polling (D) finds some really bad numbers for GOP Sen. Jim Bunning, who has accused his own party of trying to force him into a retirement, with Bunning trailing all potential Democratic opponents.

Bunning trails Lt. Governor Dan Mongiardo, the only declared big-name Democratic candidate in the race -- and who nearly beat Bunning in a 51%-49% race in 2004 -- by a 43%-36% margin. Dem Congressman Ben Chandler is ahead of Bunning 47%-33%; state Attorney General Jack Conway is up 42%-33%; and state Auditor Crit Luallen is up 42%-34%.

From the pollster's analysis: "If there was ever any doubt Republicans would be better off with Jim Bunning retiring these numbers can put that to rest."

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Here's the spin you should expect to hear in the coming days and weeks: Obama and the Democrats are cutting defense spending (read: making Americans less safe) to free up money to spend on separate liberal agenda items.

There were whisperings along these lines a couple weeks ago, but the framing appeared in full force yesterday in the Wall Street Journal in an op-ed by Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute.

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