TPM News

The Hill reports that Michael Steele has gone into damage-control mode -- canceling interviews, possibly getting to work on actually hiring staffers, and holding a conference call to apologize to RNC members for his recent gaffes:

Following a series of misstatements that have resulted in criticism from both inside and outside the GOP, Steele canceled a number of interviews scheduled for this week, including one with The Hill, ostensibly to focus on hiring several senior staffers.

As part of his damage-control efforts, Steele participated in a Friday conference call with members of the RNC, where he apologized and sought to reassure them that he would refocus on the task at hand, according to several people who participated in the call.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner paid a visit to House Democrats last night for a wide-ranging talk that didn't include any requests for more financial bailout money, but did come with a plea for patience as the Obama administration attempts to stabilize the economy.

"We're doing more in weeks than other countries do in years," Geithner told Democrats, according to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). In a post-meeting interview with ABC, Cummings was addressed the critics that have been decidedly unenthused* with Geithner's performance thus far:

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The Texas Senate will decide today whether voters should be required to present photo identification at the polls. Texas Republicans argue that this is a necessary step to protect against voter fraud, but have produced little evidence that such fraud is a significant problem. Democrats criticize the measure, which will have an undue impact on minorities and the elderly, both key Democratic constituencies. Laws requiring photo identification at the polls have been approved in seven states, but State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) said that its only an effort by Republicans to scare off "enough eligible elderly, disabled, blacks and Hispanics to stay in power four more years, plain and simple." (Chron.com)

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a letter Monday that he would continue to seek information on bonuses that Merrill Lynch paid to its employees. In a recent interview, Bank of America's CEO Ken Lewis refused to reveal information about these bonuses. But Cuomo maintains that as a recipient of bailout funds, B of A is obligated to disclose how they spent taxpayer money. Refusal to do so, he said, "fuels distrust and cynicism at a most sensitive time." (New York Times)

Documents released by a group of California Democrats indicate that they received thousands of dollars worth of gifts from lobbyists the day after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared California's fiscal emergency last December. Lobbyists for lawyers, firefighters and carpenters hosted a two-day retreat to influence lawmakers on California's budget passed in February. The lobbyists also paid for international travel, tickets to sporting events, and tens of thousands of dollars in restaurant tabs. The L.A. Times reports that each of the lobbyists' goals was represented in the budget. (L.A. Times)

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Omnibus Could Pass Today The Senate is expected to vote today on the omnibus spending bill, with the Democratic leadership claiming they now have enough crossover Republican support -- and assurances from some wavering Democrats -- to cross the 60-vote threshold. Notably, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said that Treasury officials have compromised on proposed changes to Cuba policy.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama is speaking at 9:45 a.m. ET to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's 19th Annual Legislative Conference. At 3:30 p.m. he will be meeting with the New Democrat Coalition, the caucus of centrist Democrats in Congress. Then at 5:30 p.m. ET he will meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Biden Meeting With NATO, European Leaders Vice President Biden has been spending the day in Brussels, Belgium, meeting with NATO and European leaders. He met at 4 a.m. ET with Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer; at 4:30 a.m. ET he met with a NATO session; and at 7:20 a.m. ET he and de Hoop Scheffer held a press conference. At 8:35 a.m. he met with members of the European Union; at 10:05 a.m. ET he will meet with Belgian Prime Minister Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy; and at 11:05 a.m. he will meet with the Non-NATO International Security Assistance Force.

Dean Challenges GOP: "Be My Guest" And Filibuster Health Care In an interview with the Washington Times, Howard Dean warned Republicans that serious political backlash will await if they block President Obama's health care plan: "They called Medicare socialized medicine. If they want to filibuster this to death, be my guest and let's see how they do in 2010." He also had this to say about the Rush Limbaugh controversies: "You expect people to have fun, and it was fun, but enough is enough. The reason it's fun is because it's true."

Poll: Dodd Trails By One Point A new Quinnipiac poll in Connecticut shows Chris Dodd down by one point against former GOP Rep. Rob Simmons, with a high undecided number: Simmons 43%, Dodd 42%, within the ±2.8% margin of error. Against right-wing economist/pundit Larry Kudlow, who is reportedly looking at the race, Dodd leads 46%-34%.

Shuler Not Running For Senate Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) has announced through his spokesman that he is not running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Richard Burr in 2010. Burr has proven to be a strong vote-getter in a conservative region of his state, but has also clashed with Democratic leaders and voted against the stimulus bill.

McCain Doesn't Want Obama To Fail, But Says White House Is "Lurching" In an interview with the Politico, John McCain said these are "terrible, perilous" times for the economy, and that "I don't want him [President Obama] to fail in his mission of restoring our economy." However, he also continued to criticize the administration's policies thus far: "There is no clear message. They're just sort of lurching from one crisis to another, and that's the perception the American people have."

Vogel Named DCCC Executive Director The DCCC has announced that political strategist Jon Vogel has been named as the organization's new Executive Director. Vogel previously led the DCCC's independent expenditure arm in 2008, running ad campaigns that helped pick up 24 seats, and in 2006 he served as Northeastern and Florida Regional Political Director.

So about that RNC Request-For-Proposal for a contract to redesign the committee's website...

As we told you earlier, the document's hilarious vagueness and notably short time frame, flagged by the site Tech President, among others, haven't just provoked ridicule at the apparent incompetence of Michael Steele's RNC. They've also spurred one leading conservative blogger, Red State's Erick Erickson, to angrily suggest that Steele's team has already decided to give the contract to a favored firm, and sent out the RFP merely for the sake of optics.

That got us to poking around. And there's at least one web development firm that fits the bill as being close to Steele.

That would be iWeb Strategies, a political web design company with a long list of conservative and GOP clients. In fact, one of those clients, according to the firm's website, was Steele himself, whose own now-defunct site, promoting his recent run for RNC chair, was designed by iWeb.

iWeb is run by Blaise Hazelwood, an experienced GOP consultant, who, while at the RNC, played a key role in building the vaunted Voter Vault database that helped produce the impressive GOP turnout in 2004 that carried President Bush to victory. Hazelwood also runs a voter-targeting firm called Grassroots Strategies.

During his run for RNC chair, Steele responded to a questionnaire sent out by a GOP committeman. Asked which political consultants were assisting him, he named Hazelwood, as well as Curt Anderson, who runs a consulting firm called On Message.

Anderson also has close ties to Hazelwood. According to reports, he was her boss while both were at the RNC. And iWeb also touts its design work for On Message.

It seems clear that Anderson, at least, is still helping to call the shots at the RNC. In a piece published by Politico today, Anderson defended Steele's controversial tenure at the committee, identifying himself in a bio line as a "top adviser to Chairman Steele" who "has been Steele's personal friend for 15 years."

And last week, Politico reported, amid resignations by several RNC staffers:

For now, "the fourth floor," as the RNC's executive suite is known, is being run by a pair of consultants.


So: could those two consultants be Hazelwood and Anderson? And was that embarrassing RFP a reflection of the new chairman's pre-existing desire to give the web consulting contract to Hazelwood's iWeb?

Neither the RNC nor Hazelwood responded immediately to TPMmuckraker's requests for comment.

I reported earlier today on Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl's (R-AZ) amendment to this week's 2009 spending bill, which appears to be directly inspired by a debunked internet rumor about plans to resettle Palestinian refugees in America.

Earlier today, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) gave a refreshingly candid speech urging rejection of the amendment and comparing today's everyday Palestinian citizens to his Irish ancestors, who were "hunted because they wouldn't renounce their religion" and concluding: "Thank goodness the United States had open arms for them."

A brief excerpt of Leahy's remarks is after the jump.

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The Coleman camp is reacting to the discovery of only 89 "3-A" rejected ballots -- absentee ballots that contained registration forms inside the inner secrecy envelope, rather than immediately within the outer envelope a -- and insisting that the real number is much bigger.

The short version: In order to win, Coleman needs to expand the universe of countable ballots. But this expansion was much smaller than some expected, out of the 1,500 ballots that were searched. At his post-court press conference, Coleman legal spokesman Ginsberg boasted that the search "found between 100 and 150 that were wrongly rejected and should be put in. so that gives you an increasing idea that the universe of ballots with which we're dealing continues to fluctuate."

What Ginsberg is relying on is the addition of 72 more envelopes that had incomplete registration cards, and are unlikely to be included under the court's strict standards for letting in new ballots -- a point that the Coleman camp seems sure to appeal.

Two-thirds of the 89 came from pro-Coleman counties, but the sample of votes is by itself too small to provide much of a swing for him -- and that's assuming they do break for Coleman. It's also likely that some of these envelopes will have other flaws with them, thus shrinking the pool even further.

So obviously, Ginsberg wants to be able to expand the universe of votes as much as possible, declaring: "89 plus 72 with -- apparently have some deficiencies in them, whatever that may mean."

(Ginsberg presser c/o The Uptake.)

On a day when President Obama struck a blow for truth-based science by reversing his predecessor's restrictions on stem cell research, it's unfortunate to report that two of Obama's top science advisors remain in limbo as anonymous Senate holds slow their confirmation.

I reported on Friday that John Holdren, nominated to become chief White House science adviser, and Jane Lubchenco, nominated to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, were being slowed by multiple GOP objections. But TPMDC is on the case quizzing potential culprits, and we can rule out two likely suspects: Sens. David Vitter (R-LA) and Mel Martinez (R-FL), both members of the Commerce Committee with jurisdiction over the nominees.

A Martinez spokesman confirmed today that he has no hold on Holdren and Lubchenco, while Vitter told me that "I've expressed concerns about Dr. Holdren in particular, but I do not have a hold."

The search continues ...

Late Update: To answer those wondering about Sen. Robert Menendez's (D-NJ) reported hold on Holdren and Lubchenco, per the WaPo, his spokesman confirmed on Friday that Menendez is not standing in the nominees' way as of now. Other unnamed senators still are holding them, however, according to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).

President Obama has issued a new memo that seeks to restrict his administration's use of presidential signing statements, one of the key techniques that President Bush used to get around the law.

Among other things, the memo directs executive branch officials to tell Congress ahead of time if there are constitutional concerns about pending legislation, thereby reducing the number of occasions when a signing statement will be needed.

It also declares that the president will act with "caution and restraint" in determining whether an act of Congress is unconstitutional.

And it pledges that the president's signing statements will identify "constitutional concerns about a statutory provision with sufficient specificity to make clear the nature and basis of the constitutional objection."

You can see the full memo here ...

National Journal has assembled an excellent graphic that details which senators have crossed party lines the most frequently on the $410 billion 2009 spending bill. That measure is expected to become law by mid-week but has sparked nagging questions about Democratic party unity from the Beltway media.

It may not surprise many political junkies, but Sen. Evan Bayh (IN) is the Democrat who has crossed party lines most often on the spending bill, voting with the GOP eight times since debate on the legislation began last week. (Sen. Olympia Snowe [R-ME] mirrors him on the Republican side, voting alongside Democrats eight times during the process.)

But that's not the only National Journal study that deems Bayh his party's most conservative senator. When the magazine's annual vote rankings came out a few weeks ago, Bayh was ranked 51st in the Senate on a composite score of liberalism -- placing him ahead of former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who placed 43rd, as well as Snowe, who was No. 47, and Collins, who was No. 50.

Now, the National Journal rankings are no ordinary congressional vote study. After then-candidate Barack Obama was ranked the most liberal senator for 2007, the GOP had a field day using the statistic for attack lines on the presidential campaign trail.

It appears that Bayh is emerging as his party's most vocal centrist ... and just in time for the budget debate to heat up.

TPMLivewire