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Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) spoke today before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Election Laws, testifying in favor of the proposed law to empower Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint a Senator to Ted Kennedy's seat until the special election in January.

"This is no time for the people of Massachusetts to not be represented fully in Washington. We need to be in the strongest position possible," said Kerry. "Big decisions are being made now -- not in five months. And important votes are coming now -- not in five months. Massachusetts cannot and should not be underrepresented."

There's a certain irony in Kerry coming before the committee -- the legislation that took away the power of governors to appoint Senators was passed by the state Democrats in 2004, when they thought that Kerry himself might get elected President while Republican Mitt Romney was Governor. The old law had provided for an appointment until the next regular general election, and legislators rejected the possibility of even having an appointment combined with an expedited special election.

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Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus (D-MT) is becoming less relevant to the health care debate, report MSNBC correspondents Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell.

Baucus, who's been the lead negotiator in the Senate, released his own proposal for legislation earlier this week. But, Todd said, he had quietly circulated the same document to the White House in June. If Baucus had released it publicly then, Todd said, he may have been able to get Republicans Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi to sign on -- but now it's too late.

"How he managed the politics of this has made him less relevant to this process," he went on. "He is still relevant because he is an important committee chair, but he is no longer the person playing point. The president of the United States is playing point. He's drafting, frankly, the legislation with what he says tonight."

As Mitchell said, the White House is passing him by.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) may be the deciding vote--and the deciding voice--on health care reform, but for the time being she's warning President Obama that she doesn't support a public option without a trigger and urging the White House to compromise with other Republicans.

"I talked to [President Obama] last week while I was in Maine and I talked to him on Monday as well," Snowe said on MSNBC earlier today. "We talked about the public option. I was ... urging him if he could take the public option off the table in his speech this evening so it could provide, I think, a momentum of a different kind in moving this issue forward overall."

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Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) will reportedly be taking over the chairmanship of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee -- which was vacated by the death of Ted Kennedy -- after Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) declined to take the post.

This was a widely-expected move after Dodd turned down the position, as Harkin was next in line in seniority.

Another key development here in the committee shuffle is that Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) will take over Harkin's chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee -- which could potentially give her a real boost as she goes into a tough re-election fight in 2010. Lincoln would be better positioned to argue that she can advocate for her rural state's interest.

On the other hand, Lincoln's move to the Agriculture gavel could also be bad news for climate change legislation.

The momentum is building for a potential impeachment of Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), the Palmetto Scoop reports, with 60 House Republicans signing a letter calling on him to resign.

"Your decision to abandon our state for five days, with no defined order of succession and with no known way to contact you, is inexcusable," the letter says, later adding: "But perhaps even more disturbing than the abandonment of your post and the multiple ethics allegations against you is the extreme amount of stress, uncertainty, an negative scrutiny that the citizens of South Carolina, our government and our party have had to endure due to your behavior."

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Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY)--a single payer-supporter and one of the most visible surrogates for a public option in Congress--has some stark words of warning for Congressional liberals: If they don't vote against a health care bill without a public option, as he intends to do, nobody will ever buy their threats.

"There is clearly a sense that progressives in Congress are easily rolled," Weiner told Greg Sargent.

"If the Congressional left can't pass even something as modest as a watered down public option, then frankly I don't think anyone is going to take the left very seriously later on in this Congress," he added. "When Blue Dogs talk, there are fewer of them but they have more influence than when progressives talk."

Weiner reiterated his intent to vote no on health care legislation without a public option. In mid-August, Weiner cautioned that "unless [President Obama] says a public option is the way to go, I'm gonna be a no, and so will a lot of people."

The University of Wyoming has decided to name a new center for international students after former Vice President Dick Cheney, prompting a backlash from students, teachers, and local residents.

The center is partially funded by $3.2 million the Cheneys gave to the university while he was in office. A dedication ceremony is planned for 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, with Dick Cheney and wife Lynne slated to attend. Protesters are organizing a demonstration in the campus quad during the ceremony (they "don't plan to disrupt the ceremony but will be visible," according to the AP).

Laramie, Wyoming resident Nancy Sindelar, who is with the group Veterans for Peace, said that "Mr. Cheney is not the best example of demonstrating how nations should get along with each other...putting his name on an international center is counterintuitive." That statement is a touch milder than what she told The Wyoming Underground: "I feel sorry for the University of Wyoming and the state of Wyoming when they have to change the name after he's indicted."

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Senate Finance Committee chariman Max Baucus (D-MT) told reporters today that he's moving forward on his health care proposal with or without Republicans. He said that the trigger concept hasn't really been discussed in his panel's negotiation, and that he's increasingly of the belief that a public option can not pass the Senate.

"I will move forward anyway," Baucus said. "We have to move forward. I told Chuck Grassley that."

Grassley is the Finance Committee's ranking member, and the Republican leader on health care negotiations in the committee's so-called "Gang of Six"

Baucus said the proposal he unveils next week will be similar to the draft he released yesterday, which mandates subsidized coverage and expands Medicaid, but only provides for the creation of private co-ops--not for a public option.

"It is similar to the proposal I issued on Sunday night. I think that is close to a measure that will pass both the committee and Senate," Baucus said.

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The new AP/GfK poll today, coming out just as President Obama is about to address Congress on health care, finds that he's coming into the debate in a weak position.

Obama's approval on his handling of health care right now is only 42%, with 52% disapproval on health care.

This other question should concern Democrats: "If President Obama and the Democrats in Congress are unable to win support from Republicans to pass a health care plan this year, what should they do?" The numbers: Go ahead and pass a bill without Republican support, 28%; Keep trying until they are able to make a deal with the Republicans, 66%.

Looking at this number, it's clear that the burden on Obama and the Democrats at this point is to demonstrate clearly through tonight's speech and the following events that Republicans won't make a deal. If that case isn't made, there really might not be enough political capital to withstand the potential fallout from a Dems-only bill.

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