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Despite outward appearances that Sen. Jim Bunning's (R-KY) filibuster of the unemployment benefits extension was partisan gridlock at its worst, Democratic sources tell TPMDC that the Bunning's one-man government shutdown actually united partisans on both sides toward a common goal: breaking the filibuster. Democrats are calling the affair "Bunning-gate."

According to Democratic sources in the Senate, Republicans were pressuring Bunning behind the scenes to relent on his filibuster -- even as many Republicans seemed uninterested in saying so publicly. But Bunning's relationship with his party isn't exactly rosy, so the Republican appeals had no effect.

In the end, the Democrats ended the standoff by promising Bunning votes they say he knows he will lose: first came his amendment to the unemployment bill, which failed last night. There's more coming, say Democratic sources -- the party agreed to allow more of his legislation to reach the floor, even though everyone knows the bills are doomed to fail.

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With Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) being challenged from the right in the Republican primary by former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), a very important question must be asked: Is it possible that McCain could actually lose, a mere two years after he was his party's nominee for president?

A Rasmussen poll from November 2009 gave McCain only a 45%-43% edge, within the margin of error. McCain began his ad campaign soon thereafter, and by late January he was up by a stronger margin of 53%-41%, the most recent independent data on the race. McCain has also been endorsed by a Who's Who of the Republican Party -- most notably his former running mate Sarah Palin, a hero to many conservative activists.

A Republican source in Arizona told us that McCain is the frontrunner, but it is indeed possible for Hayworth to win. "Absolutely, it's feasible," said the source. "It's a primary, it's the base of the Republican Party. That being said, the independents can vote in the Republican Party. So it should be a very dynamic and energized race in which either can certainly win."

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At a press conference today, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) questioned whether Rep. Charles Rangel's decision to take a "leave of absence" as Ways and Means chairman is permitted under House rules.

"There is nothing in the rules of the House that refers to temporarily stepping aside. Either you're the chairman, or you're not," Boehner said in a clip of the press conference shown on Fox.

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The White House just released excerpts from the health care speech President Obama will deliver at 1:45 p.m. ET, when he's scheduled to unveil his final health care proposal.

Here are the excerpts of his remarks, as prepared for delivery.

"I don't believe we should give government bureaucrats or insurance company bureaucrats more control over health care in America. I believe it's time to give the American people more control over their own health insurance. I don't believe we can afford to leave life-and-death decisions about health care to the discretion of insurance company executives alone. I believe that doctors and nurses like the ones in this room should be free to decide what's best for their patients.

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In Liz Cheney's worldview, Rudy Giuliani is a disloyal al Qaeda sympathizer.

Let us explain.

Yesterday, Cheney's outfit, a group called Keep America Safe, went up with a blistering ad that attacked Justice Department lawyers who previously represented Guantanamo detainees and are now working on detainee issues. The ad dubbed the lawyers "the Al Qaeda Seven" and asked "whose values do they share?" while flashing an image of Osama bin Laden.

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Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-DE) has become the latest senator to say he would support passing a public option via reconciliation, his spokeswoman confirms to TPMDC.

Kaufman has become the 33rd senator to do so -- or 34th, if you count Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who would try to pass the measure if there are enough votes for it.

"I'm for a public option, if there's some way that it can get done," he told the Huffington Post. "If it qualified under reconciliation, then I would" vote for it.

Check out TPM's running list of senators who support passing the public option with a simple majority.

A top Tea Party leader who has publicly distanced his group from the GOP was recently paid by a campaign run by an influential California Republican business organization, to gather signatures for a ballot initiative that's long been a key goal of the state party.

Mark Meckler, one of two national spokespeople for the Tea Party Patriots, was recently paid $7,500 for "petition circulation management" by the "Citizen Power Campaign Supported by the Lincoln Club of Orange County," according to state disclosure records. Meckler's involvement with the campaign was first reported last month by the website Red County.

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