In it, but not of it. TPM DC

In a move that might actually please reformers, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has dropped out of bipartisan health care negotiations in the Senate Finance Committee. Hatch was one of seven members who called themselves the "coalition of the willing," but apparently, he is no longer willing.

"Some of the things they're talking about, I just cannot support. So I don't want to mislead anybody," Hatch said.

The remaining Republicans in the group are Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Charles Grassley (R-IA)--though frankly health care overhaul supporters have long doubted that any compromise that might have won the support of Hatch and Enzi would have constituted an adequate reform bill.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee delayed by one week a scheduled vote on the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Prompted by committee Republicans, the delay is a procedural tactic, and a common one--other Judiciary Committee nominees, including Attorney General Eric Holder, and OLC chief-designate Dawn Johnsen, suffered similar obstacles, as have myriad Obama nominees in other committees.

But in a coincidence that will no doubt please health care reform opponents, the delay will almost certainly push a floor debate over Sotomayor's confirmation into August. And if leaders don't postpone recess, that will further imperil Democratic hopes of finishing a bill in the Senate before adjournment.

"We expected that," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid. "This is not going to impact our schedule at all."

Planned or not, though, the delay highlights the time crunch Senate Democrats have faced for weeks now. Judiciary Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is reportedly seeking four days of debate over Sotomayor on the Senate floor. President Bush's Supreme Court nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito faced similar timeframes.

Senate Democrats are currently debating the 2010 Defense Authorization act, while the Finance Committee continues drafting a health care bill. If the Senate finishes work on the defense legislation before health care legislation has been finalized, and before Sotomayor has been reported out of committee, precious days will slip away as progress is made on neither.

Asked at a press conference whether she'd support keeping the House of Representatives in session into the August recess to complete work on health care reform, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was fairly adamant.

"I think 70 percent of the American people would want that," she said. "I want a bill."

That could prove crucial if Blue Dogs hold up House Democrats' health care bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee much longer. The House is scheduled to adjourn on August 3rd. Whether or not she pushes that date back, though, it sounds like she's confident a bill will pass whenever it comes to the floor.

"I have no doubt we have the votes on the floor of the House to pass this legislation," she said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) released this statement on the defeat of the Thune Amendment, which would have allowed gun owners to carry their weapons into areas that had strict local laws against doing so:

"Lives have been saved with the defeat of this amendment. This measure, if it had passed, would have done more to threaten the safety of Americans than anything since the repeal of the assault weapons ban. It would have created havoc for law enforcement and endangered the safety of millions of Americans. We will remain vigilant to prevent any legislation like this from passing in the future."

The amendment received 58 votes in favor to 39 against, with 60 required for passage. Interestingly, nearly 20 Democrats voted for it -- including Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is coming up for re-election in 2010 in a heavily rural, pro-gun state. Schumer was the principal leader of the opposition against it.

Late Update: The roll call vote has been posted.

The newest round-up of polls suggests that President Obama has a narrow plurality of approval on health care, CNN reports, though the poll of polls does put him under 50%.

The CNN polling average gives Obama a 47% approval on health care, to 44% disapproval. This is compiled from three recent surveys:

• Gallup: Approve 44%, Disapprove 50%.

• ABC/WaPo: Approve 49%, Disapprove 44%.

• CBS: Approve 49%, Disapprove 37%.

A new email out from Organizing for America suggests that President Obama's campaign arm is setting its sights on Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

"[W]e need to bring grassroots pressure directly to our senators," the note reads.

Senator Bill Nelson and Senator Mel Martinez are both crucial votes in the fight for real reform, and we need to do everything we can here in Florida to show them that their constituents are standing up to demand change.

So we've organized events outside of their offices all across the state for tomorrow -- Thursday, July 23rd -- to demonstrate support for reform in Florida.

You might wonder why I characterize this as pressure on Nelson alone, when the email clearly names Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) as well. The answer can be found at this link, embedded within the email itself. Only one of the nine scheduled events targets Martinez (who is retiring this year). The other eight target Nelson.

Earlier this month, OFA ran ads in seven states including Florida. Those ads were silent about who, specifically, was being targeted, but these rallies make it clear: they're more concerned with Nelson. OFA is holding events in all 50 states, but, it's safe to say, isn't bringing this much pressure to bear on known quantities.

A new survey of Louisiana from Public Policy Polling (D) has some mixed news for Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal: A huge majority of Louisiana voters don't want him to run for President in 2012 -- but if he does run, he should expect to carry the state by a wide margin, anyway.

The numbers: Only 27% say he should run, to 61% against. Among Democrats this is 15%-78%, but even Republicans only favor it 43%-39%, and independents are against it 24%-62%.

However, Jindal would defeat President Obama for this red state's electoral votes, by a solid margin of 54%-40%. Sarah Palin would carry the state, too, leading Obama by 49%-42%.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) aimed a scathing floor speech this morning at Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who is fast becoming the face of health care opposition for Democrats.

Reid called out DeMint, who said Monday that, "We can give every American access to affordable health insurance plans if we get out of the way and allow the market to work." Here's some of what Reid said today, according to his prepared remarks:

If we sit this one out, as the Senator suggests, more parents will decide they can't take their children to the doctor because it simply costs too much to pay the medical bills, and more small businesses will lay off more of their workers because it simply costs too much to give them health coverage....

'Allowing the market to work' is code for letting the greedy insurance companies - companies that care more about profits than people - continue to deny you coverage because you have a preexisting condition, or you are a certain age, or because you changed jobs.

That's at least the second time Reid has used DeMint's line to frame the health care debate as a fight between Democrats and do-nothing, accept-the-status-quo Republicans.

President Obama himself lashed out at DeMint in a speech on Monday, taking issue with the senator's remark that health care could be Obama's Waterloo. ("If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him," DeMint said.)

In the speech, Obama quoted DeMint and said, "Think about that. This isn't about me. This isn't about politics."

DeMint, though, took that as a compliment.

"I think he played right into my hands," he said yesterday. "Any time the president of the United States goes after a freshman senator, he's losing his grip a little bit."

Check out Reid's full speech after the jump.

Read More →

Yesterday, I noted that reports had emerged out of Maine that, at a health care rally this past weekend, Sen. Olympia Snowe had changed course and come out in support of a trigger-free public option--a public option "available from day one," as reformers like to say.

That turns out not to be the case. Here's the quote that was first reported:

I believe that the reforms we are creating will result in more competitive, affordable and innovative options for Mainers, yet we can all agree that we must not leave universal access to chance. That is why I also support a public plan which must be available from day one.

And here's the full quote, provided by Sen. Snowe's staff:
I believe that the reforms we are creating will result in more competitive, affordable and innovative options for Mainers, yet we can all agree that we must not leave universal access to chance. That is why I support a public plan which is available from day one--in any state where private plans fail to ensure guaranteed affordable coverage."

You can read her full statement here. This will frustrate reformers--who coined the language Snowe's using here. It represents no change from Snowe's previous position--that the public option should only be made available, on the state level, if private insurance companies don't expand access and lower prices enough to get everybody covered.

"Throughout the entire health care debate, Senator Snowe has emphasized that we must first, reform health insurance, and if plans then fail to offer affordable coverage, a public plan should then be offered from day one," says Snowe Press Secretary Julia Wanzco. "Senator Snowe's position remains the same on this issue."

Appearing last night on Larry King Live, Liz Cheney gave a defense of the Birthers:

"You know, one of the reasons I think you see people so concerned about this," Cheney explained, "I think that, you know, this issue is people are uncomfortable with having, for the first time ever, I think, a president who seems so reluctant to defend the nation overseas."

Larry King later bluntly asked, "Are you saying because he's a Kenyan?" To which she responded: "No, I'm not saying that."

In an e-mail to Ben Smith, Cheney clarified her position:

I don't have any question about Barack Obama's right to be President of the United States.

My concern is with his policies. I am deeply troubled about the path he is taking this country down -- massively expanding the size of government, weakening our national defenses, increasing taxes on all Americans and nationalizing health care. These are dangerous policies for the nation.

Note the artful phrasing that she uses. She says that she does not question Obama's "right to be President of the United States," which would logically imply that she accepts his citizenship. But she doesn't use the actual word "citizen," or otherwise include a more direct denunciation of Birther conspiracy theories.

Read More →