TPM News

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), the fiery liberal best known for his frequent insults against the Republicans, has just attracted another GOP opponent, with state Rep. Kurt Kelly getting into the race this morning.

Republicans have had some problems finding a candidate to run against a high-profile liberal in what is very much a swing seat, with previous top prospects ultimately deciding not to run. One possible factor could be the need to raise a lot of money against Grayson, who self-financed with $2.6 million of his own money in 2008, and on top of his own wealth has been able to raise quite a bit of money from liberals across the country.

The only significant candidate so far has been real estate developer Armando Gutierrez, who moved from Miami to Orlando just to run against Grayson and is opposed by many in the GOP. With Kelly, however, Republicans could finally have what they want -- a credible candidate from the local area.

The St. Petersburg Times points out that Kelly comes in with high name recognition in Ocala, but most of the district is in Orlando -- so he still has a lot of work to do.

The New Jersey state senate will vote on whether to legalize gay marriage this Thursday, Senate President Richard Codey announced today.

If the bill passes the senate -- something that is far from certain -- it must still pass the state assembly. Both houses only have two voting sessions left, scheduled for Thursday and the following Monday, before Gov-elect Chris Christie takes office on Jan. 19.

Christie opposes gay marriage while the current governor, Jon Corzine, has promised to sign such a bill.

Although Democrats hold a majority in both houses, not all support gay marriage. But supporters don't have time to wait for more votes.

One of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Ray Lesniak (D), told TPM that if the bill fails, he would try to legalize gay marriage by taking it to the state supreme court.

Thursday's voting session begins at 2 p.m.

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters today that the U.S. will not transfer anymore Guantanamo Bay detainees to Yemen for the time being, following an attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day.

"We are not going to make decisions about transfers to a country like Yemen that they're not capable of handling. And I think that, while we remain committed to closing the facility, the determination has been made that right now any additional transfers to Yemen is not a good idea," Gibbs said.

Administration officials have anonymously said the U.S. would stop sending detainees to the unstable country. From the New York Times:

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On a conference call with reporters just now, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer officially announced his resignation, effective on February 20. He took the opportunity to tear into his right-wing critics for wanting a smaller party and accused them of pulling apart the GOP itself in order to take him out.

Greer is an ally of Gov. Charlie Crist, a relative GOP moderate who is being vigorously challenged in this year's Senate primary by the more conservative former state House Speaker Marco Rubio. Supporters of Rubio had been accusing Greer of mismanaging party funds and of being biased in Crist's favor, all of which Greer has strongly denied. In his resignation, Greer said he could no longer put the party through this divisive process -- but he clearly didn't mind taking some parting shots on the way out.

"As you know, there is a great debate in our party on the direction, moderates vs. conservatives, whether we should have a big tent or a small tent," said Greer. "And while I have made it my utmost concern to try and keep those arguments and discontents out of the Republican Party of Florida, over the last six months there has been a very vocal group within our party that has become very active in seeking an effort to oust me as chairman. They have distorted facts, they have talked about misspending of money, when the facts have been shown over and over and over that that's not true. They have talked about my support of Gov. Crist for the U.S. Senate race. They have, as they say, thrown everything up against the wall as they possibly can, to either embarrass me or embarrass the Republican Party of Florida."

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As the federal government closed in on Allen Stanford in 2008, he began desperately pulling out all the stops in a bid to stay one step ahead. The Texas banker launched his own in-house lobbying shop, run by a former top aide to a powerful congressman. And he hired a former Clinton administration PR specialist to aggressively deflect reporters looking into his financial empire.

The Stanford story, of course, is primarily about how a high-living tycoon used a Caribbean tax shelter to allegedly orchestrate a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme. But it's also an object lesson in how Washington works: How wealthy and powerful people can buy a level of influence and access that allows them to play by a different set of rules. In Stanford's case, that only worked for so long. But it's not hard to see how he could have thought playing the Beltway influence game might be his salvation.

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House aides have distributed a memo, describing in precise detail dozens of ways the House health care bill differs from the Senate package. It's a useful primer, but it's also a clear sign that the House, which will be forced to make major concessions to the Senate, isn't prepared to roll over entirely. However, they may be on a different page than the White House, which is projecting confidence about the relative ease of the task ahead.

The memo begins by listing a single page worth of similarities between the two chamber's bills. "However," it goes on, "especially on a topic as historic and sweeping as health reform, there are differences between the chambers that will have to be resolved."

What follows is an 11-page chart of disparities between the two packages--some narrow, some fairly significant--suggesting a complex job ahead for congressional and White House negotiators.

That's not what the White House wants you to think, though.

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Sheriff Raymond Martin once pulled his service revolver from its holster and pointed it at his drug-dealing partner, warning the man there was no "getting out" of their relationship, a criminal complaint against Martin alleges.

We told you earlier about how Martin, the sheriff in rural Gallatin County in southern Illinois, was arrested last May on drug and gun charges for allegedly dealing marijuana that had been confiscated by police.

Martin and his wife and son were charged Monday with murder-for-hire, reportedly for targeting witnesses who are going to testify against Martin. While the details of the alleged murder plot have not been released, we've now dug into the original drug complaint against the sheriff.

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House Democratic leaders and key committee chairmen are meeting this afternoon with Speaker Nancy Pelosi to set the stage for future negotiations with their Senate counterparts, where they will shape a final health care reform bill in the coming days and weeks.

Those in attendance include Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA), George Miller (D-CA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), John Larson (D-CT), and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

These principals will be fielding input from rank and file members to enter negotiations with a series of issues on which they'd like to see the House bill prevail over the Senate's.

"That's what we're going to [be meeting about] right now," Van Hollen said.

The president and CEO of C-SPAN sent a letter last week to Congressional leadership of both parties asking them to open health care negotiations to be televised.

The letter from Brian Lamb is addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"As your respective chambers work to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate health care bills, C-SPAN requests that you open all important negotiations, including any conference committee meetings, to electronic media coverage," Lamb writes.

The health care bills passed by the House and Senate are expected to be merged in informal meetings, rather than an official conference committee, in order to save time.

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On a conference call with reporters in a few minutes, Florida Republican Party Chair Jim Greer is expected to step down from the chairmanship Gov. Charlie Crist gave him in 2007. The move leaves Crist without one of his most important allies, and supporters of Marco Rubio with real hope they can defeat Crist in this year's primary.

It's hard to overstate the importance of this resignation to the national GOP landscape.

Florida is shaping up to be the epicenter of the intraparty GOP war in 2010, and the resignation of Greer suggests the battle is tilting toward the ultra-conservatives on the tea party side of the line. Ever since Crist entered the Senate race, Rubio backers have accused Greer of turning the state party into an arm of the Crist campaign. Crist and Greer are longtime political friends, and Greer made it clear from the get-go that he supported Crist over Rubio (he promised to run the party objectively, however.) Rubio backers began to attack him and call for his resignation. Now -- over Crist's objections -- they appear to have gotten their wish.

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