TPM News

Remember that move by Texas governor Rick Perry to not to reappoint the chair of a panel looking into a flawed arson investigation that may have led to the execution of an innocent man? Well it's looking dodgier than ever.

Last week, Perry announced he would not reappoint Chair Sam Bassett and two other members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which is looking into the probe that led to the execution of Cameron Willingham -- despite strong evidence that he may have been innocent. The panel members terms had expired.

Perry himself, as governor, had signed off on the 2004 execution, leading critics to charge that the decision on Bassett -- who had appeared to push for an aggressive inquiry into missteps in the original probe -- was an attempt by the governor to short-circuit an effort that could have been politically damaging as he faces a tough re-election campaign.

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At a press conference today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is considering imposing a windfall profits tax on health insurers in order to pay for health care reform.

"I believe that all of the participants, whether it's the insurance companies or the pharmaceutical industry, have much more they can put on the table to help reduce cost," she said.

She said she's asked Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, to look into such a tax.

"When we see that, maybe that's something we can put in the mix," she said, warning that the idea is "very preliminary."

Meet Randolph Bragg, a Northern Virginia actor who was paid $150 to educate the public about the national debt by standing outside the White House in a tattered Uncle Sam costume.

The 17 bearded "Sams" were all over the D.C. area Tuesday, holding signs and handing out fancy brochures sending people to Defeat the Debt to get a handle on "why you should care" about skyrocketing debt. The group also ran a full-page Wall Street Journal ad.

The Employment Policies Institute is behind the effort, which senior research analyst Justin Wilson told TPMDC has cost them "millions" and is funded by private donations.

TPM readers may be familiar with EPI front man Rick Berman, a conservative who is affiliated with tons of groups working to "defeat" various things, including the Employee Free Choice Act.

"People accuse us of being a front group on this issue ... there's no hidden agenda," Wilson said.

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Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL), the frontrunner for the 2010 Senate race in his state, raised $2.4 million in the third quarter, and has $6.2 million on hand.

It is not immediately known how much of the money can be used in the Republican primary, where Crist faces a challenge from the more conservative former state House Speaker Marco Rubio. Rubio has raised much less money, taking in only about $1 million in this past quarter and $350,00 in the quarter before that. His campaign has said that nearly all the money is for the primary, but it's probably still much lower than Crist's primary funds.

Rubio campaign spokesman Alex Burgos responded to the numbers in a statement to TPM: "Money can't wipe away Charlie Crist's record of support for wasteful stimulus spending, historic tax increases and cap-and-trade. We're going to make sure he spends every last cent trying."

(Additional reporting by Evan McMorris-Santoro.)

President Obama is having lunch today in his private dining room with several business leaders: Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, Lew Hay of Florida Power & Light, Antonio Perez of Eastman Kodak and Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft.

According to a White House press release:

The Administration has continued to seek the input of a diverse group of business leaders in order to hear directly from the private sector about key issues including the health of the financial sector, health insurance reform, climate change policy and job creation.

At a town hall in Commerce, Ga., last week, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a "domestic enem[y] of the Constitution."

"When I was sworn into the Marine Corps, I was sworn to uphold the Constitution against every enemy, foreign and domestic," he said. "We've got a lot of domestic enemies of the Constitution and one of those sits in the speaker's chair of the United States Congress, Nancy Pelosi."

Athens Banner-Herald reporter Blake Aued was at the Sept. 28 town hall and forwarded his transcript to TPM. He had liveblogged the event, but the liveblog didn't remain on the Banner-Herald's site afterward.

He also said the Second Amendment is "critical to prevent treason in America."

Broun was responding to a woman who asked, "What would our founding fathers say about the mess that we have?"

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The White House issued a press release today regarding First Lady Michelle Obama's upcoming schedule. She'll be traveling to Florida next week. Here's the full text:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009: The First Lady will continue to discuss the importance of healthy eating and good nutrition for children by visiting the Department of Health and Human Services, which recently announced the availability of $493 million dollars in grants for state and community initiatives to promote good health and prevent disease. The First Lady will deliver remarks at HHS. This afternoon visit will be pooled press.

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Vice President Joe Biden will be headed to Pennsylvania later this month, to raise money for Sen. Arlen Specter.

Specter announced the event, set for October 19, in an e-mail to his supporter list. He also quotes Biden:

Earlier this year, Vice President Biden welcomed me to the Democratic Party, saying:

"[Arlen's] independence, integrity, and piercing intellect will continue to be a tremendous asset to the people of Pennsylvania, and now, to the Democratic caucus in the Senate."


(Emphasis in the original.)

Specter faces a primary challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak, who is attacking Specter for his prior history as a Republican, and is arguing that Specter is not a genuine Democrat. Look for Biden to say a lot of great things about how much Specter has contributed to the Democratic cause over the last six months.

A new survey by Public Policy Polling (D) finds that Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) continues to have lackluster approval ratings -- but that his prospects for re-election are simultaneously pretty good, a sign that the political climate is not good for Democrats in this 2010 race.

Burr's approval rating is only 36%, with 35% disapproval and a whopping 29% undecided -- as we've noted before, it's not that Burr is unpopular, but that he hasn't actually made a real impression with the voters during his term. In a way, this makes him a good barometer of the overall political climate in his state.

At the same time, Burr leads a generic Democrat by 45%-34%, and holds double-digit leads over six different named Democrats.

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