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Check out this interview Michael Steele did Saturday night with D.L. Hughley on CNN, in the wake of Rush Limbaugh's speech at CPAC proudly proclaiming that he wants President Obama to fail.

Finding himself in unfriendly territory, Steele said that Rush is not the leader of the Republican Party -- Steele is:



"Let's put it in the context here," said Steele. "Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh, his whole thing is entertainment."

"Yes, it's incendiary," Steele added. "Yes, it's ugly."

You start to see why Dems are so eager to tie Republicans to Limbaugh. The man can do an hour-plus speech for the activist base, declaring that he wants the president to fail so the country can survive and succeed -- but in polite society, most people don't want to be anywhere near this stuff.

The Coleman campaign is scheduled to rest their case today in the election trial, and they're ending on a high note by pointing to what they say is the uncertainty of this whole result, due to clerical errors in the election system, even going so far as to blame "corruption" -- of computer data, that is.

This morning, state elections director Gary Poser revealed on the stand that over the past weekend he looked further into the workings of the Secretary of State's voter-registration database -- at the request of the Coleman campaign, after the Franken camp used the database to demolish a whole bunch of rejected ballots that Coleman wanted. And Poser discovered that there can be clerical errors in that very database, relating to when and how people registered, leading to arguments over whether we definitively know in a few cases whether someone was properly registered or even if their vote was counted.

During the lunch-hour press conference Coleman legal spokesman Ben Ginsberg said you can't tell the outcome of this election: "But the problem is it's tough to have faith in -- it's impossible to have faith now in what those numbers are, given the sort of systemic corruption of the Secretary of State's database."

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Labor's on board for the Sebelius nomination. See this statement by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney:

We congratulate President Obama on his choice of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as our next Secretary of Health and Human Services. The nomination of Gov. Sebelius will provide a great boost to the effort to enact sweeping health care reform.

Her experience as Kansas insurance commissioner and her outstanding record as governor uniquely qualify Gov. Sebelius for this demanding position. Time's selection of her in 2005 as one of the country's five best governors speaks to the critically important leadership and managerial abilities needed for this job.

Gov. Sebelius brings a track record of bipartisanship and the ability to work well with all the players in health care. We look forward to work with her to enact affordable, comprehensive health care for all.


The American Medical Association is similarly enthused. From Nancy Nielsen, MD, President, American Medical Association:

"In Gov. Sebelius' roles as insurance commissioner and governor, she has demonstrated the leadership skills required to direct HHS and implement health system reform. During her time as governor, she demonstrated her commitment to health care reform by expanding access to care for children.

"As insurance commissioner, she helped preserve competition and choice in the health care marketplace by halting a problematic health insurance merger in the state.

"In these tough economic times, the need for health system reform that provides coverage and high quality, affordable health care for all Americans is clear. We must strengthen the public-private mix of health insurance, and achieve greater value from the nation's health care spending. We look forward to working with Gov. Sebelius the Administration and Congress to improve the health care system for all Americans."

"She's forged a reputation for bipartisanship in her own right," said the President. And with that, Barack Obama announced that he was naming Kathleen Sebelius to be HHS Secretary. In another bipartisan move, the president was also flanked by former Kansas Senator Bob Dole and current Kansas Senator Pat Roberts. He was also joined by Nancy Ann DeParle, who becomes head of the White House Health Care Office. DeParle, he said, would lead the "public and legislative effort" for health care. Obama also brought Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus and House Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman on to the state as well.

Sebelius and Obama became close during the presidential campaign. She was an early endorser of his bid and Obama took frequent trips to Kansas, the birthplace of his mother. She was considered for vice president and went through a thorough vetting last summer.

Neera Tanden, who advised Hillary Clinton on domestic policy, and then worked for the Obama campaign, will also play an important role as will Jeanne Lambrew who, at least at the moment, is the deputy director at the White House Health Care office. Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of Rahm Emmanuel, the White House Chief of Staff, is also likely to play a major role in health care reform. It's important ro remember, too, that any plan that emerges will be scrutinized by Larry Summers, the director of the National Economic Council.

The real question about health care's success depends on whether Obama can make it seem like an essential part of economic recovery. As Obama spoke the Dow continued to sink well below 7000. If he can make universal health care seem like an essential part of economic recovery he has a shot at prevailing. But at the moment too many people see health care as an expensive nicety, something that's desirable but not essential to recovery. The upcoming White House Health Care Summit should give the president another opportunity to reframe the debate but at the moment the fight is not being fought on terrain that's favorable to the president.

Franken lawyer David Lillehaug today questioned Pamela Howell, the precinct election worker from Minneapolis whose testimony on potential double-counting of ballots has become the center of controversy due to the Coleman camp's prior efforts to hide evidence surrounding her. He's been spending time running her down as a partisan, pro-Coleman witness -- and she hasn't exactly been disagreeing.

Lillehaug reviewed with Howell the fact that she spoke and e-mailed numerous times with Team Coleman during the recount and this past January. On the other hand, she refused all opportunities to speak with Franken lawyers when they'd previously attempted to contact her:

Lillehaug: And that's because, fundamentally, your sympathies were with Senator Coleman, correct?

Howell: Not -- not my object.

Lillehaug: But your sympathies were with him, were they not?

Howell: Somewhat.

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The Minnesota election court just announced their decision after last week's blow-up, which involved secret e-mails by Coleman lawyers showing that they intentionally delayed telling the Franken side about a key witness, precinct election judge Pamela Howell.

The bottom line: Howell is not being struck from the record, nor is the double-counting claim connected to her being tossed, as Team Franken wanted. Instead, the court is going to fine the Coleman campaign for the amount of time that this whole back and forth has cost.

"Clearly, we've spent a great deal of time thinking about this," said Judge Elizabeth Hayden, "weighing what would be the proper sanction."

The court is pretty much in a bind here -- if they strike the witness or the double-counting claim, they could leave too much room for an appeal by Coleman. They've clearly taken the most cautious road: To let this testimony play out.

Franken lawyer David Lillehaug, a former U.S. attorney, is now questioning Howell -- and it's pretty rough so far, as Lillehaug moves to discredit her as a partisan Coleman witness. More on that in a bit.

From the start of the Allen Stanford mess, we've sort of had a hunch that the Inter-American Economic Council -- which paid for several Caribbean junkets and other events for US lawmakers -- was largely a creature of the Texas billionaire. And that hunch is looking increasingly accurate.

The Dallas Morning News reports that in 2005, the year the IAEC funded that big trip to Antigua for lawmakers of both parties that we posted pictures of, Stanford Financial provided 85 percent of the IAEC's revenue, according to its president, Barry Featherman.

Featherman also told the DMN that the IAEC raises no money except for the funds it receives from sponsors like Stanford for specific events. In other words, the organization exists, it appears, only to hold events with public officials.

And Featherman added that the group hasn't paid for any trips since 2007, thanks mostly to ethics rules passed by the new Democratic Congress early in that year, which banned House members from accepting free trips on private planes.

There are some other interesting nuggets in the DMN story. The paper reports that Tom DeLay "made at least 11 trips on Stanford planes between 2003 and 2006, according to federal campaign finance records."

And remember how the office of Texas GOP congressman Pete Sessions first claimed that Sessions didn't know Stanford personally -- a claim that was undone when we posted pictures of the two men schmoozing on that 2005 trip to Antigua? Well it looks like Sessions was getting more than just a nice Caribbean trip out of Stanford. The DMN reports that in 2004 when, thanks to redistricting, Sessions was in a razor-tight race to hold onto his Congressional seat against the powerful incumbent Democrat Martin Frost, Stanford's company came to the rescue, giving $37,875 in the final weeks of the race.

Separately, it looks like Team Stanford is staying mum on the charges that it orchestrated an $8 billion fraud. James Davis, Stanford's college roommate and the number two at Stanford Financial, who has also been charged in the SEC complaint, took the Fifth last week under questioning by agency investigators.

And last week, Laura Pendergest-Holt, the company's chief investment officer, was charged with criminally obstructing the SEC probe. The FBI filed court documents claiming Pendergest-Holt made "misrepresentations" about her knowledge of Stanford's investment portfolio, and about whether she met with other Stanford officials to prepare for her testimony. The charge may be evidence that the government is trying to flip Pendergest-Holt to testify about Stanford himself.

Former Congressman Pat Toomey (R-PA), who just barely lost a 51%-49% primary challenge from the right against GOP Senator Arlen Specter back in 2004, now says that a run against Specter is "back on the table" in the wake of Specter's support for the stimulus.

Toomey had been publicly mulling a run for governor in 2010, but he told talk-radio host Bobby Gunther Walsh just how much he objected to the stimulus bill: "Senator Specter cast the deciding vote on the very worrisome stimulus Bill, when he could have negotiated with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama for more productive tax cuts and less wasteful spending."

If Specter wins the primary, he'll be the initial favorite against the Democratic candidate. But if Toomey or another right-wing challenger takes the nomination, the Dems' chances of gaining the seat would likely go up significantly.

(Via Taegan Goddard.)

As TPM reported the day Tom Daschle dropped out, Howard Dean was never in play to be the HHS Secretary and Kathleen Sebelius was a leading candidate. It looks like we'll get Sebelius named to the HHS slot later today. As Kansas's governor, she's got a mixed record on health care, as the New York Times notes today. Can she fare better with the much more difficult job ahead? Interestingly, Nancy Ann DeParle, a friend and spouse of New York Times reporter Jason DeParle, seems headed for the White House health care czar job. (Daschle was originally going to hold both positions.) As the Times notes:

From 1997 to 2000, Ms. DeParle was administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration, now known as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Ms. DeParle has extensive experience in the business world that has prompted questions from some liberals and from some of the people who vet appointments for Mr. Obama. Ms DeParle is now or has been a director of huge health care companies including Medco Health Solutions, a pharmacy benefit manager; Cerner, a supplier of health information technology; Boston Scientific, a medical device company; DaVita, which runs kidney dialysis centers; and Triad Hospitals.


A Rhodes Scholar and veteran of Tennessee policy and politics, she's as well versed as anyone to take on the challenge of getting health care passed. No word if Jeanne Lambrew will stay at the White House or move on to HHS. Lambrew is the University of Texas professor who was Tom Daschle's intellectual guru on health care issues. The two wrote a book together and she was to be his deput in the White House health care office. If she stays at the White House or goes to HHS, she'll have huge influence. She was one of the designers of the State Childrens Health Insurance Program, SCHIP, that President Obama recently expanded.

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