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About a month ago, before the economic recovery debate started on Capitol Hill, I wondered aloud about the wisdom of setting clear, public deadlines for Congress to pass a stimulus bill.

When a politician starts the clock on a major initiative, the resulting flood of media coverage and public expectation makes it well-nigh impossible to avoid losing momentum after even a small stumble. And given the lack of consensus in the Senate -- even among Democrats -- on how to move forward, it's hard to see the stimulus bill being approved by the end of the week, as the White House and congressional leaders had hoped.

Now, anything can happen. There could be a breakthrough on infrastructure spending tomorrow that creates a palpable shift. Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) could win enough fellow centrists to downsize the legislation, with the president's blessing.

But in order for the stimulus to pass the Senate by Friday, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would need to move to cut off debate on the bill ("filing for cloture," in Senate parlance) by tomorrow. And given how many Democrats are holding back from full support right now, I suspect that Republicans would answer that move with a successful filibuster.

Still, everything changes quickly in the Capitol. We'll keep you posted.

Check out the latest episode of TPMtv, on the investigation into possible pay to play in New Mexico, which last month forced Bill Richardson to withdraw his bid to be Commerce Secretary, and has now seemingly ensnared the Democratic Governors Association.

At last: Change We Can Believe In!

Remember Leslie Hagan, who last April was dismissed by Monica Goodling from the Justice Department's Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys because she was rumored to be gay?

Well, the Obama administration has righted that wrong, giving Hagen her job back, reports NPR, which broke the original story of her dismissal.

Hagen served as the liaison between DOJ and the U.S. Attorneys' committee on Native American affairs. In her performance evaluation, she received the highest possible ratings -- "outstanding" -- in each of five categories.

But Goodling, a Christian fundamentalist, heard a rumor that Hagen was gay. So it was curtains for her.

A report by the department's inspector general last, released last year, added new details to the saga.

NPR reports on how Hagen got her job back: Last year, the Justice Department posted Hagen's old job again. The department conducted a national search. Applications came in from around the country. After several rounds of interviews, Hagen eventually won the job.

The paperwork makes it official as of Monday, Feb. 2. Hagen now has her old position back, but this time it's a little different. Her contract no longer comes up for renewal every year. Now, the job is permanent.

Hagen still owes thousands of dollars in lawyers' fees, which the Bush DOJ refused to pay (though it took a different view of Alberto Gonzales' legal fees). But the new leadership may reverse that decision too. Here's hoping.

I'm surprised only one commentator so far as I know, Michael Barone, and few Democrats like Congressional Black Caucus Chair Barbara Lee, have made this point. By putting Judd Gregg at Commerce, Obama has put a Republican in charge of one of the most politically frought tasks facing any president: the Census. Mandated by the Constitution, the Census is, of course, essential for allocating congressional seats as well as the disbursement of certain federal funds.

The methods of Census collection are often in dispute. In 2000 Democrats pushed for statistical sampling to achieve a better count of underrepresented groups--the homeless, transient poor, and so on. They lost. It's not clear that there will be as much controversy in 2010 when the next Census will take place but by putting Gregg at the Commerce Department--which oversees the Bureau of the Census--Obama has handed a potentially very politically sensitive position to a Republican. My old colleague, Barone weighs in against sampling as liberal subterfuge although any number of groups of like the American Association for the Advancement of Science have supported it.

New Hampshire's Democratic Governor John Lynch has officially announced that he will appoint Republican Bonnie Newman to the Senate seat of Judd Gregg, as soon as Gregg resigns to become Secretary of Commerce.

Gregg made it a clear condition for accepting the cabinet appointment that a Republican would be appointed to his seat, rather than let a Dem come in and potentially give the party a filibuster-proof majority. Thus Newman, Gregg's former chief of staff and an ex-interim president of the University of New Hampshire, is getting the seat.

It is now also official that Newman is serving strictly as a caretaker -- she will not run for the seat in 2010. This means that while Democrats haven't gotten the seat immediately, the chance of picking it up later is actually pretty good. New Hampshire has realigned to the Dems in recent years, and an open-seat race has to be considered as leaning towards a Democratic takeover.

The Minnesota election court just handed down a ruling on a key motion by Al Franken's legal team, seeking to limit the scope of Norm Coleman's inquiry into rejected absentee ballots.

And it turns out they've split the difference. Coleman's lawyers have alternately been talking about looking at all 11,000 remaining absentee ballots that have been rejected, or just looking at 4,797 of them, while Franken wants to limit Coleman to a prior list of 654.

The court is allowing Coleman to continue presenting evidence on the 4,797, which had been disclosed to the Franken camp in the summary judgment filings before the trial began. But that's it.

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A very awkward moment just happened in the Minnesota Senate trial. Judge Kurt Marben, as opposed to a Franken lawyer, actively asked about a problem with the photocopy of an absentee ballot that Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg was presenting, which was missing the section where a voter would list proof of residence.

Friedberg said that this was how they received the document itself from the county. This led to a very uncomfortable exchange between the lawyers, the judges and even the witness Kevin Corbid, the head elections official in Washington County, lasting for several minutes.

Judge Denise Reilly chimed in: "The issue is it was rejected for proof of residence, and the part of the ballot showing proof of residence is the part that's been cut off." Corbid added that it was possible that the proof of residence was removed when a separate flap was torn off of the envelope, accidentally taking that section with it.

Who knows.

On the other hand, Coleman has managed to make some headway today in his fundamental legal claim.

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I'm still reporting but what I've heard jibes with what's come out in the last couple of hours: That Daschle made the decision to go himself after the New York Times op-ed and the sense that the opposition could grow and not diminish over the next week. No one in the administration wanted to talk him out of it but they weren't going to pull the plug either. President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Congressional liasion Phil Schilero had all been making calls on Daschle's behalf through yesterday and Daschle's apologetic tone seemed to help. Still, White House officials knew that the story was likely to get worse next week when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is scheduled to announce more detailed plans for bailing out the financial industry. That is likely to once again raise the issue of executive compensation. "Those aren't good atmospherics to be discussing free limo rides," said one Democrat close to the White House.

While no Democrat in the Senate had come out against his nomination, Republican opposition to his nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services was growing. This morning he called White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel to say he was quitting. (Obama later spoke with Daschle from the president's private study off the Oval Office.) This morning's announced withdrawal of Nancy Killefer, nominated to the newly created post of Chief Performance Officer, made White House officials more appreciative of Daschle's withdrawal. Had he stayed in the administration would have been seen as sexist, backing two male candidates with tax problems (Daschle and Treasury Secretary Tim Getihner) and jettisoning one woman. Daschle saved them the trouble of explaining that one. That said, Obama has to go on all the network news show tonite and talk about these withdrawals rather than the economic crisis and the stimulus package, his original reason for booking the interviews with the Katie Couric, Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson.

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A reader writes in to note my description of a Senate transportation amendment as falling "two votes short" today, suggesting that it had in fact been filibustered by the GOP.

The Republicans certainly did block the amendment, but it wasn't a filibuster -- what occurred was a motion to waive budgetary rules to allow for more new spending that isn't offset by cuts. Such a motion is more of a fiscal box-checking than a political obstruction, though it has the same effect in practice. Sixty votes are needed to waive budgetary rules, the same margin needed to break a filibuster.

But If no budgetary motion had been made on the amendment, it likely would have been deemed "non-germane" according to Senate rules -- and fallen short in the end. Such is the mind-numbing tradition of parliamentary procedure.

As I noted earlier today, Senate environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is said to be on the verge of endorsing an effort to open up the stimulus bill's $5.5 billion transportation grants program to highways rather than limit it to mass transit systems that sorely need more money.

Who on earth would push such an amendment in the first place, you ask? Why, the headed-for-retirement Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO). From CQ's report today:

[Bond] plans to offer an amendment that would transfer $5.5 billion in the bill for surface transportation competitive grants to the highway and bridge formula. The grants are meant for larger projects of national or regional significance that can be started within three years. Bond said that is not stimulative.


"Projects of national and regional significance" that can give Americans an alternative to car travel are "not stimulative"? Say what? Then again, Bond has long denied a human role in climate change and helped block congressional action on the issue. So if Boxer agrees to sign on to his proposal, it's not without being warned.

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