TPM News

A Republican candidate for the U.S. House from Illinois has apologized for sending out a mailer that suggests his primary opponent condones human trafficking, The Hill reports.

State Sen. Randy Hultgren last week sent out the mailer, which claims that his Republican opponent, Ethan Hastert, "was employed by the same law firm that lobbies on behalf of foreign mining companies with deplorable human rights records and a history of human trafficking."

Hultgren's campaign released a statement on Monday saying Hultgren had recorded a robo-call apologizing to Republican voters.

"I believe that this was a mistake as it has taken the campaign discourse away from the issues. Because I did this, I feel that I owe you an apology," he said in the call.

Hastert's campaign had lashed out at Hultgren, calling the claim a "vicious lie" and a "personal attack."

Hastert is the son of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R).

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The National Republican Congressional Committee has a new against Rep. John Spratt (D-SC), one of the senior House Democrats they are targeting this year.

"Spratt is Nancy Pelosi's budget chairman. And the Spratt budget has a trillion-dollar deficit," the announcer says. "And Spratt's the architect of legislation Democrats may use to ram through a government takeover of health care. Call John Spratt. Tell him to represent South Carolina -- and not Nancy Pelosi."

Spratt was first elected in 1982, and has had many easy re-elections. However, his district voted for John McCain by 53%-46%, and voted twice for George W. Bush by greater margins than that. Republicans hope to tie him to national Democratic figures like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama, in order to toss him out of his Southern district.

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Pro-choice groups fear a decision by the judge in the murder trial of abortion doctor George Tiller will essentially give defendant Scott Roeder a high-profile platform to argue that he was justified in killing Tiller last May.

In what one legal expert calls an "unprecedented" decision, Sedgwick County Judge Warren Wilbert two weeks ago declined to bar Roeder's lawyers from pursuing a defense based on "voluntary manslaughter" -- a lesser charge than first-degree murder that carries a sentence of roughly five years. Roeder faces a life sentence if convicted of murder.

But attorneys for pro-choice groups tell TPMmuckraker the real fear is not that Roeder will be convicted of the lesser crime, but that the judge's move sets a bad precedent, and could in essence put the issue of abortion and Tiller's practice on trial.

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Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) has announced on his Facebook page that he will not run for Senate this year against second-term Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh.

"After much prayer and deliberation, I have decided to remain in the House and to seek reelection to the 6th Congressional District in 2010," Pence writes. "I am staying for two reasons. First because I have been given the responsibility to shape the Republican comeback as a member of the House Republican Leadership and, second, because I believe Republicans will win back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010."

A Rasmussen poll released yesterday had shown Pence with a 47%-44% lead over Bayh in a hypothetical match-up. Against the Republican candidates who are currently in the race, Bayh had a slim lead of 47%-44% over former Rep. John Hostettler, who lost reelection in 2006, and a 45%-33% lead over state Sen. Marlin Stutzman.

The man who chaired Barack Obama's transition to the presidency, and who runs the most influential Democratic think tank in Washington has a message for the Senate: The House won't pass your health care bill until you take action first--so it's on you.

"My own view...is that you have to insure that the Senate goes first," John Podesta told me after an event with leading union figures at the Center for American Progress this morning. "You have to have the fix before the package can pass the House. I just didn't see any way, if you will, that the House was going to bet" on the Senate acting later.

"It seems me that asking the House to take a flier on what the Senate can do--we've kind of watched that move all along the past year, it hasn't worked out that good. So it's incumbent upon the Senate to really go first," Podesta added.

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NBA superstar Magic Johnson made a second trip to the White House today, and plans to shoot some hoops with President Obama soon.

Johnson, spotted by a TPMDC reporter as he left the White House grounds this morning, said there are no hard feelings after Obama teased him yesterday when presenting the Los Angeles Lakers with recognition. Obama is an avid Chicago Bulls fan who has made basketball a regular White House activity.

Asked if he planned to play ball on the court Obama erected last year in place of the White House tennis court near the South Lawn, Johnson grinned.

"Once the weather breaks we'll be out there," said Johnson, who campaigned for Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Presidential Primary.

According to the Boston Herald, Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-MA) expects to be sworn in Feb. 11.

Although Brown had been pushing to get seated right away -- and other Republicans, including Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), had supported a petition to have him sworn in immediately -- Brown's campaign said he's no longer in a rush.

"Scott appreciates that both President Obama and Majority Leader Reid have said that no major action will be taken on health care until he is sworn and seated," Brown's campaign manager, Eric Fehrnstrom, told the Herald.

A spokesman for Reid would not confirm the swearing-in date to TPM, saying only that Brown will be seated when the Senate receives certification from the Massachusetts Secretary of State.

Brown will become the 41st Republican in the Senate, allowing the GOP to stage unbreakable filibusters.

The Republican National Committee is headed to Hawaii this week for its winter meeting. One of the top issues on the agenda, being put forward in a series of resolutions on Friday by Indiana committee member James Bopp Jr., is whether the party's candidates will be conservative enough -- and what steps the party can take to enforce it.

Bopp is offering two key resolutions. The first is a test that requires GOP candidates to show that they hold conservative positions on eight out of ten key conservative positions, such as opposing President Obama on health care and the stimulus, in order to receive RNC funding. This has been commonly referred to in the media as the "purity" test. The other, which Bopp calls the "accountability" resolution, would empower the chairman to cut off party funding for a candidate if the chair judged them to be insufficiently conservative. In an interview with TPMDC, Bopp explained that the resolutions serve an important need of maintaining the party's credibility.

"Well, we would just like to pass some forceful provision that requires accountability and puts our money where our mouth is, not just talk," said Bopp. "We're great at talking a game, but people don't trust us to follow through, and that's what we're trying to fix. So if we put our money where our mouth is, I think people will believe us."

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John Podesta, the president and chief executive officer of the Center For American Progress (CAP), offered tacit support today for having the House pass the Senate's health care bill but only with guarantees that it could later be amended through a reconciliation bill.

Podesta described this as the "consensus" approach. He was speaking at a CAP event on jobs, health care and the state of the American worker.

TPMDC reported yesterday that (CAP), the most influential Democratic think tank in Washington, had been silent on where it stands as House Leadership tries to navigate a path ahead for health care reform. The political calculus had become even more difficult since Republican Scott Brown (R-MA) won the Massachusetts special election to fill the late Ted Kennedy's seat. Brown became the 41st Republican and vowed to help filibuster the legislation.

(Reporting by Brian Beutler)

Editor's Note: This post has been revised since it was originally published.

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