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One of the most vexing issues facing the Republicans these days is what to do about the federal debt ceiling. Does the GOP-controlled House do what its tea party members want and refuse to increase the amount of money the government can borrow, thereby setting a stage for a redux of the 1995 government shutdowns that cost the last Republican majority so dearly? Or do they do what House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) -- and many other Republicans -- have suggested and do the "adult" thing and grit their teeth and let the ceiling rise?

It's a problem, and one that has no solution yet. No one really knows how the debt argument will play out among the GOP, nor how the decision will affect the Republican party in the long run.



At CPAC today, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made it clear that for him, the argument is over. And he's on the side of the tea party. Not only does he not want the ceiling raised, he's actually touting the state government shutdown of which he was part.

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Sen. John Thune (R-SD) just got finished speaking here at CPAC, offering up a speech long on biography and short on anything too memorable policy-wise -- like most here, he thinks big government is horrible, and that under President Obama government is getting bigger, therefore Obama is horrible. He's yet another in the line of speakers today who is not running for president but kind of is, too.

But where others have a very pat "I'll tell you when I tell you" response to questions about when or if they'll run for the GOP nomination, Thune likes to push the envelope -- getting as close to saying yes as he possibly can without actually admitting anything.

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The FBI told the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) back in the early 80s that they would appreciate a heads-up next time he met with the Chinese.

As Reuters reports, the FBI file posted by the bureau this morning included the senator's contacts with a diplomat from the Chinese Embassy in 1982. The FBI requested that he inform them when he met with the Chinese in the future.

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Students duped in the Tri-Valley University scam were given some relief on Thursday after ICE officials announced guidelines that may enable them to stay in the U.S. to finish their studies. The students, 95 percent of which were Indian nationals, will not be automatically deported as they initially feared.

Students have three options, according to ICE officials -- but only one of them involves staying to complete their schooling.

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Do the folks at CPAC wish they knew how to quit GOProud?

As Frum Forum reports, the new head of the conservative conference's parent organization, American Conservative Union chairman Al Cardenas, now says that "it's going to be difficult to continue the relationship" with the gay conservative group. GOProud has been at odds with social conservative groups who have criticized its participation in CPAC, some having gone so far as to boycott the convention as a result.

"I have been disappointed with their website and their quotes in the media, taunting organizations that are respected in our movement and part of our movement, and that's not acceptable," said Cardenas. "And that puts them in a difficult light in terms of how I view things."

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TPM just caught up with Sen. John Thune ahead of his speech at CPAC, where he's another of the coy maybe 2012ers to take the stage. I asked him if Mubarak's exit in Egypt said anything about how Obama handled the crisis.

Thune declined to talk about Obama, but said he's glad Mubarak is leaving and the military's taking over.

"I think it's right he stepped down," Thune told TPM. He praised the military as "one of the most reliable intstitutions in the country."

A U.S. District Judge sentenced Michael Scanlon, Jack Abramoff's partner in a wide-ranging lobbying sandal, to 20 months in federal prison and 300 hours of community service.

Scanlon also may have to cough up more than $20 million to compensate several Indian tribes, as well as Abramoff's former lobbying firm, for his role in defrauding them. Judge Ellen Huvelle ordered him to pay $20 million to the tribes and Greenberg Traurig, but Scanlon is disputing whether he should be forced to pay Greenberg Traurig, and that matter will be decided separately in the coming months.

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Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who effectively won his Senate seat when he defeated incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett for the Republican nomination, now says he won't take any position in the next GOP Senate contest in Utah -- where his senior Senator, Orrin Hatch will likely face a primary challenge of his own.

It is widely expected that Hatch will face a stiff challenge from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, already leading in recent polls . Hatch has recently gone out of his way to impress the Tea Partiers, most notably appearing at the Tea Party Express town hall in Washington this week. TPMDC's own Evan McMorris-Santoro asked Lee at that event whether he would endorse Hatch -- and got no answer.

Lee appeared this morning on The Daily Rundown on MSNBC, where Chuck Todd asked him: "Senator Lee, does your colleague in Utah, Senator Orrin Hatch, deserve re-election?"

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