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A self-styled Nevada codebreaker convinced the CIA he could decode secret terrorist targeting information sent through Al Jazeera broadcasts, prompting the Bush White House to raise the terror alert level to Orange (high) in December 2003, with Tom Ridge warning of "near-term attacks that could either rival or exceed what we experience on September 11," according to a new report in Playboy.

The report deals another blow to the credibility of the Department of Homeland Security's color-coded terror alert system, and comes after Ridge's claim that the system was used as a political tool when he was DHS secretary.

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A new Rasmussen poll finds that Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) could be seriously vulnerable in 2010 -- but only if the GOP manages to get just the right candidate to oppose him, third-term Republican Gov. John Hoeven.

When Dorgan is tested against Duane Sand, a Navy veteran who has previously run unsuccessfully for the Senate and the House, Dorgan leads by 52%-37%. But if Hoeven were the GOP candidate, Dorgan would trail by a 58%-36% margin.

Hoeven has previously declined a Senate run. The GOP tried to recruit him to run against Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad in the 2006 cycle, but he didn't make the race. Earlier this year, he said he would decide on a Senate run by September -- which has obviously passed already. But if he were to get in, he would start as the frontrunner.

From the pollster's analysis: "Along with Hoeven's popularity in the state, Dorgan has to contend with President Obama's unpopularity. John McCain carried North Dakota over Obama 53% to 45%, and now just 41% approve of how the president is doing his job. Fifty-eight percent (58%) disapprove."

Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern, who criticized the Senate health care bill last week, issued a statement last night calling the vote a step closer to "reforming" the system.

"While the process to get to sixty and the willingness of individual Senators to use the Senate's rules to distort democracy for their own interest was disappointing - make no mistake about it: for working Americans this vote signals progress," Stern said.

He also blasted Republicans for sitting on the sidelines "jeering, rooting for America to fail."

Stern said there will be a chance to improve the bill after it passes the Senate and lawmakers look to a conference committee to merge that legislation with the House bill. He outlined on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday what he'd like to see changed during the conference process.

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Specter: Senate's Status As Greatest Deliberative Body 'Has Been Destroyed' The New York Times reports that the debate on health care has exacerbated the sense of partisanship in the Senate. "This body prides itself on being the world's greatest deliberative body," said Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), who switched parties from the Republicans earlier this year. "That designation has been destroyed with what has occurred here the past few days."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will receive the presidential daily briefing at 9:30 a.m. ET, and will meet at 10 a.m. ET with members of the National Economic Council. He will meet at 11:15 a.m. ET with SAVE award winner Nancy Fichtner, and will deliver remarks at 11:30 a.m. ET on making government more efficient and effective. He will meet with senior advisers at 11:45 a.m. ET. He will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at 4:30 p.m. ET.

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At sundown on Friday, Democrats didn't have a lock on health care reform. That changed late Friday night over a handshake between Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. On Saturday, Reid signaled his confidence that his party was unified and ready to move forward by drawing the amendment process to a close and committing the Senate to voting on his bill. At 1 a.m. Monday morning, Reid proved he was right: All 60 Democrats voted to move ahead with reform, demonstrating with one procedural vote that they will pass major, historic, controversial legislation.

What stands between Senate Democrats and passing legislation now are a series of yet more procedural votes, which will likely take place over the next four days, culminating in a final up or down vote on reform, on Christmas eve at the latest.

That could come earlier, if Republicans accept what everybody knows: they're in checkmate. Barring a truly shocking development, health care reform will pass--can pass today, in theory--and at this point the delays have nothing to do with Democrats coming to agreement, and everything to do with Republicans maximizing the amount of time they can squeeze out of the legislative process under the rules of the Senate.

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After months of negotiating, struggling, and agonizing, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) has come off the fence. She does not support the Senate health care bill. That's much to President Obama's disappointment. As recently as this weekend he was trying to bring her into the fold.

"He was trying to solicit my support for this legislation," Snowe told reporters.

But is she out of the picture for good? The answer is: probably. But she's not ruling out voting for the legislation that comes out of negotiations between the House and Senate.

I asked her if she'd ruled out voting for the conference report.

"I have no idea...and I said I would help to play a constructive role in any way that I could," Snowe said. "But I wanted time to be able to modify this legislation. I mean, it really, it, I think it defies logic and reasonableness on this generational change that is transcendent for the President and for Congress, and not to have the opportunity to amend it. I mean it's almost absurd, frankly."

So. Not likely. But maybe!

"The die is cast. It's done," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), moments after 60 Democrats signaled, with a single procedural vote, that they will stick together to pass health care reform.

As the clerk read the final tally aloud in the Senate chamber, Democrats, seated at their desks, muffled all of their emotions--enthusiasm, anxiety, relief. Sitting at his desk Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) clutched Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) and Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-DE)--his colleague on either side--by the arms. Members smiled and softly pumped their fists, but in accordance with the rules, the floor was mostly silent.

In the reception room just outside the chamber, Sen. Ted Kennedy's widow Vicki embraced Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and John Kerry (D-MA). Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, standing alone in the corner of the room, shouted a hearty congratulations to Dodd.

"Harry's going to almost have a drink," Schumer joked about the Mormon majority leader.

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By a vote of 60-40, the Senate agreed to end debate on a major package of health care amendments--and by doing so, signaled that the Democratic caucus is unified, and ready to pass a far-reaching reform bill straight down party lines.

The Senate is now expected to hold more procedural votes on Tuesday and Wednesday before finally voting on the bill late Christmas eve. Keep your eyes on TPMDC for all developments.


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