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The House Republican caucus is getting a present in its Christmas stocking: A new member of the caucus, with freshman conservative Democratic Congressman Parker Griffith of Alabama switching parties.

Griffith's switch was first reported by Politico, and confirmed to TPM by a GOP source who requested anonymity so as not to pre-empt Griffith's official announcement later today. Griffith's change of party puts the current makeup of the House at 257 Democrats to 178 Republicans -- the GOP would need to pick up 40 seats, without any other party switches, to win control in 2010.

Griffith, a medical doctor and former Alabama state legislator, was first elected to Congress in 2008, to an open seat previously held by retiring Blue Dog Democratic Rep. Bud Cramer. John McCain carried his district by 61%-38%, while Griffith defeated Republican opponent Wayne Parker by the slender margin of 51%-48%. Over this past summer, he told a local newspaper that he wouldn't support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker again, saying she was too divisive.

Griffith's party switch will provide Republicans with some rhetorical muscle about people rushing to their banner against the Democratic agenda, but in practical terms in Congress it won't mean much for Democrats. Griffith was a consistent vote against the Democratic agenda this whole year -- as examples, he voted against the stimulus, against the cap-and-trade bill, and against the health care bill.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs took a shot at RNC Chair Michael Steele today, referencing a Washington Times story about Steele's speaking fees and calling him "delusional."

Gibbs was asked about Steele's comment yesterday that Congress is "flipping the bird" at the American people.

"How much did that interview cost him?" Gibbs asked, eliciting sitcom-style "ooo"s from the press corps.

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The new survey of Kentucky by Public Policy Polling (D) gives Rand Paul, a conservative activist and son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), a huge lead over the establishment candidate in the Republican primary for Senate in 2010.

The numbers: Rand Paul 44%, Secretary of State Trey Grayson 25%. Grayson was recruited to run in place of two-term GOP Sen. Jim Bunning, who is retiring. Paul, however, has mobilized his campaign around the Tea Party movement and his outsider conservative message.

From the pollster's analysis: "Paul is winning the votes of conservatives by a 47-20 margin, while Grayson holds a 36-34 lead with moderates. Paul is having a particularly good amount of success with folks who think that the Republican Party in Washington has become too liberal -- his lead with them is 54-18."

The Democratic primary is a tight race with state Attorney General Jack Conway at 37%, and Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo at 33%, within the ±4.2% margin of error.

Rachel Maddow last night interviewed journalist Aram Roston about the finer points of the revelation, published in Playboy, that a December 2003 Orange terror alert was prompted by supposed decoding technology that revealed terrorist communications in Al Jazeera broadcasts.

Maddow plays some remarkable media reports from 2003, complete with scare quotes from Tom Ridge about catastrophic attacks "against the homeland."

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Last week, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee asked its members if it was time to pressure left-leaning Senators to fight for a public option during the conference negotiations for a final health care reform package.

The answer from PCCC's 300,000-plus members? Heck yes.

In Wisconsin, home to Sen. Russ Feingold, the group has already begun its efforts to push Feingold, with some local progressives threatening the pull their support from the three-term Senator if he supports a final bill that doesn't include a government-run insurance plan.

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When the House of Representatives agreed to adopt tight restrictions on the ability of lower- and middle-class consumers to purchase insurance that covers abortions, a team of researchers at George Washington University concluded that the legislation--the so-called Stupak amendment to the House health care bill--could have far-reaching consequences, including potentially eliminating abortion coverage in the insurance market completely, over time.

Now, the report's lead author says that a new compromise in the Senate--adopted in a bid to secure the support of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE)--could have similarly significant ramifications.

"Taken together, the provisions of the amendment can be expected to have a significant impact on the ability or willingness of insurance issuers to offer Exchange products that cover a full range of medically indicated abortions," writes Sara Rosenbaum, Chair of the Department of Health Policy at GWU, in a memo obtained by TPMDC.

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The Republican National Committee raised $6.3 million in November and has $8.74 million cash on hand.

Party officials say the RNC, with no debt, "averaged 2,352 new donors per day and by the end of November the RNC broke its own record of total new donors for an off election year." Chairman Mike Steele said he was proud of the numbers and grateful for fundraising in tough economic times.

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House Democrats believe they will secure additional health care reform votes from Blue Dog Democrats thanks to the Senate's more conservative version of the legislation. And despite deep misgivings, the House Democratic leadership expects to lose few if any progressive Democratic votes over the demise of the public option, paving the way to get a final bill to President Obama's desk by Feb. 1.

As the Senate prepares for a final vote to clear the bill, TPMDC chatted with several top House aides to get a sense of where things stand and what can be expected over the next few weeks. There are four key sticking points to be negotiated: the public option, abortion language, immigration and how taxes are applied to pay for it.

Leadership aides say progressives are prepared to take it on the chin and will vote for a final bill without a public option. But they say pro-life Democrats will seek direction from the U.S. Conference of Bishops as to whether they can support an amendment weaker than Rep. Bart Stupak's, thus setting up what will likely be the most difficult negotiation before a final vote.

Senate Democrats have repeatedly warned that any substantive changes to the bill they will pass tomorrow night will lose the fragile 60-vote coalition they've built, and it looks like they will get their way.

"I don't see how we don't largely accede to the Senate," a House leadership aide said.

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Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer, an ally of moderate Gov. Charlie Crist, has sent out a letter to party committee members insisting that he will not resign -- and lambasting supporters of the more conservative former state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the Senate primary, accusing them of "slander," "libel," "treason" and all manner of other bad deeds against the GOP in their efforts to bring him down.

The letter, sent out last night in the midst of calls for Greer's resignation, makes for some very interesting reading as part of an intra-party slugfest:

What has transpired in the last week has been nothing short of slander and libel by a group of people bent on the destruction of the Republican Party. A coordinated campaign of misinformation, complete with late night phone calls and e-mails filled with rumors and innuendo, all in attempt to create the appearance of chaos at a time when the party is laser-focused on defeating Democrats.

...

Now, if I may, I'd like to talk about these recent calls for my resignation. They all have one thing in common, and it is not geography, ideology or good intention. It is treason that for the sake of personal ambition that members of this party are airing dirty laundry and even budget and strategy plans publicly to serve their selfish interests.


Check out the full letter, after the jump.

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