TPM News

The AP reports this morning that House Democrats are on the verge of removing a Medicaid provision added to their stimulus bill which would have eliminated the need for states to seek a waiver before providing more family-planning services to lower-income women.

The Medicaid provision had become controversial over the past few days not because of its monetary value -- in fact, it would save states an estimated $400 million over 10 years -- but because Republicans had loudly moaned that it amounted to "taxpayer funding" for "the abortion industry."

Never mind that a GOP president helped create the waiver program. Never mind that eight GOP governors participate in it. Family planning must be stopped in order to get "bipartisan support" for the stimulus bill.

And buried in the middle of the AP story is one notable tidbit:

Several Democrats said Monday night that Obama had spoken personally with Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., about removing the provision. Waxman is chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over Medicaid and a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Obama Visiting The Hill Today President Obama is headed to Capitol Hill today to work with lawmakers on crafting his economic stimulus plan. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that Obama wants to hear lawmakers' ideas, and will take good ones into consideration.

Minnesota Trial Continues Today The Minnesota election trial is continuing all day today, beginning at 10 a.m. ET in St. Paul. Yesterday was very interesting to say the least, with the Coleman campaign having been revealed to be using altered evidence -- they say the changes were accidental -- and we'll see how today turns out. The pooled video feed is easily available at The Uptake.

Coleman Going On Hannity Tonight Norm Coleman will be appearing on Fox News tonight, for an interview with Sean Hannity. This should be interesting.

Blago Impeachment Trial Keeps Moving To the southeast of Minnesota, the Illinois state Senate's impeachment trial of Gov. Rod Blagojevich is also going into its second day. The state Senate will be hearing from FBI Special Agent Daniel Cain, who will review wiretaps allegedly showing Blago shaking down horse-racing industry officials for campaign money, as Blagojevich himself continues to boycott the trial.

Mitchell In Egypt Today President Obama's new Middle East envoy George Mitchell has arrived in Cairo for his tour of the Middle East today, a mission to help solidify the Gaza ceasefire and to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Mitchell will be traveling through Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, France and Britain.

Gillibrand To Be Sworn In Today Senator-designate Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) will be sworn in today as the newly-appointed occupant of Hillary Clinton's former Senate seat. Gillibrand will be sworn in by Vice President Biden in the afternoon.

NYT: Geography Divides Dems On Energy The New York Times reports that the energy debate is revealing divides among Democrats between those from the coasts, who are more favorable to environmentalists, and the industry-friendly Midwesterners. "It's up to those of us in the Midwest to show how important manufacturing is," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). "If we pass a climate bill the wrong way, it will hurt American jobs and the American economy, as more and more production jobs go to places like China, where it's cheaper."

Terry McAuliffe: Virginia Political Outsider Check out this new TV ad from Terry McAuliffe, in which the former Democratic National Committee chairman presents himself as a political outsider who hasn't been connected to the legislative fights in Virginia, but is instead a successful businessman:



"It goes to show, the best ideas don't always come out of Richmond," says McAuliffe.

President Obama has a new Treasury Secretary -- but only just barely.

Tim Geithner was just approved by the Senate, 60-34, with 30 members of the 41-strong Republican conference voting no. That margin suggests that a successful filibuster was within reach for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), although GOPers ultimately did not attempt to slow down the confirmation. Even more interestingly, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) opposed Geithner, joining three liberal Democrats: Tom Harkin (IA), Russ Feingold (WI), and Robert Byrd (WV).

The Treasury nomination ran into political trouble earlier this month after Geithner admitted an initial failure to pay $34,000 in self-employment taxes earlier this decade.

It remains to be seen whether the level of Republican resistance to Geithner will spark more hand-wringing over the Obama administration's level of bipartisanship, but one thing's for sure: Were it not for the recession presently plaguing the nation, Geithner would have had a much higher hill to climb.

The John Thain rehabilitation campaign continues.

He hasn't been on The View yet, but the chair-throwing ex-Merrill CEO did the next best thing this afternoon, talking to Maria Bartiromo of CNBC about his departure last week from Bank of America, why he's not to blame for Merrill's multiple billion dollar losses, and the whether it was a good idea to spend $1.2 million of Merill's money redecorating his office suite. (Short answer: No, but it was a "different economic environment.")

Thain said he was "surprised" by his ouster at the hands of B of A CEO Ken Lewis, saying that results from the first 20 days of the merger, which went into effect January 1, were "very good."

He blamed Merrill's losses on positions the company held before he took over in 2007, and the larger market meltdown. "Over the course of the year I was at Merrill, I was constantly sheding assets," he said, referring to toxic mortgage assets. "We were in a position of owning very illiquid things that could not be sold and had to be marked down."

And he denied that Merrill's continued buying of mortgage assets into the fall were at the heart of the massive fourth quarter losses. "Did we continue to trade? Yes. Did we put on big risk positions ...? No... The vast majority of loses in the fourth quarter were from positions that had been there since I started."

As for the claim that Thain wasn't open with B of A about Merrill's losses, Thain said: "They were seeing exactly the same info that we saw. We gave them complete access to everything we had."

Those billion dollar bonuses Thain signed off on? "If you dont pay your best people, you will destroy your franchise. Those best people can get jobs other places, they will leave."

And about that redecoration, Thain said it was a "very different economic environment." He added: "It is clear to me in today's world that it was a mistake. I apologize for spending that money on those things."

Asked by Bartiromo why he couldn't have left the office as it was when his predecessor as CEO, Stanley O'Neal, took off, Thain replied:

"His office was very different than the general decor of Merrill's offices. It would have been very difficult for me to use it in the form that it was in.


Watch the video of that exchange:

Last week, we talked to a number of experts who said that President Obama's executive order on presidential records might well affect the ongoing effort to get information about the Bush White House's role in the US Attorney firings.

And it looks like John Conyers is of the same mind. The House Judiciary chair this afternoon issued a subpoena to Karl Rove to testify before the committee on February 2.

Rove had claimed immunity from an earlier Conyers-issued subpoena, citing executive privilege. As a press release accompanying today's subpoena points out, "[t]hat "absolute immunity" position was supported by then-President Bush, but it has been rejected by U.S. District Judge John Bates and President Obama has previously dismissed the claim as 'completely misguided.'"

In other words, although Obama's order on records directly addressed only the question of a former president's material docuement -- not testimony from his aides -- there's reason to think that the principle of openness over secrecy that Obama has outlined both in the order and elsewhere could strengthen Conyers' position on this issue.

Said Conyers:

I have said many times that I will carry this investigation forward to its conclusion, whether in Congress or in court, and today's action is an important step along the way. Change has come to Washington, and I hope Karl Rove is ready for it. After two years of stonewalling, it's time for him to talk.


We'll be watching this very closely...

The first day of the Minnesota election trial has come to a close, and it couldn't have been a fun day for Norm Coleman, who was present in the courtroom to watch everything that happened.

It's not a good day when the court throws out your evidence and tells your legal team to submit it all over again.

Earlier today, Franken attorney Marc Elias raised serious questions about the Coleman campaign erasing sections from photocopies of rejected absentee-ballot envelopes that they're attempting to get put into the count. Later questioning by Elias of Coleman legal staffer Gloria Sonnen revealed that the submitted copies also include written notes added on to the envelopes by the Coleman team, and it's impossible to tell what writing was there originally and what was added by the Coleman camp.

The judges have now ordered Coleman's legal team to subpoena and submit the original ballot envelopes themselves, if they want them to be reviewed and potentially counted.

Read More →

My colleague, Elana Shor, has an excellent item up on the lack of mass transit in the stimulus bill. In that same vein, Phillip Longman has a persuasive cover story in the new issue of The Washington Monthly, arguing that freight rail deserves big attention in the bill because it would be good for the economy, get trucks off the roads, and so on. I'm sure Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern will be sending the piece around but that doesn't make it wrong.

Last week, the folks at Politics magazine, also known as Campaigns & Elections, asked me to host their Reed Awards which are given out to political consultants in catagories ranging from Best Independent Expenditure Radio Ad in a Statewide Race to polybag inserts and yard signs. A few years ago I hosted the Pollies, which is a rival set of awards given out by the Association of Political Consultants. There were fewer awards at that one and I got to do more shtick, like how Frank Luntz would advise Saddam Hussein (it's been a few years as I said.) "People don't see Saddam, the family man....Try do more events with your wives." This time the buzz of awards meant less shtick and more handing them out.

One can have a laugh at the whole thing, but the fact is that in an era of McCain-Feingold, political consulting and messaging remains a part of life and it's not going to away. The bipartisan panel of judges doles out awards on the basis of effectiveness and not ideology or, dare we say, truth in advertising so the evening had a kind of moral neutrality about it that would probably infuriate TPM readers about all that's wrong with Washington. One of the awards went to an ad for Alaska Rep. Don Young. That said, what the judges came up with was the panoply of the American political adviertisement. My favorite was the Truthandhope.org's local voices spot which, I think, historians may look at to understand how Obama won. It also won the equivalent of Best Picture, i.e. Best TV Ad in the Presidential Race.

See it here:

The Minnesota election trial just had a truly brutal moment, one that could undermine the credibility of Norm Coleman's whole case.

The Coleman campaign summoned political director Kristen Fuzer up to the stand to testify to the provenance of the photocopies of rejected absentee ballots that they've submitted in their efforts to get those ballots counted. You may recall that the Franken campaign last week pointed to some apparent alterations in the photocopied envelopes.

Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg briefly interviewed Fuzer. Then it was Franken lawyer Marc Elias' turn.

Read More →

Al Franken's lawyer Kevin Hamilton just finished his opening arguments against Norm Coleman's lawsuit to contest the results of the Minnesota Senate race. His case boils down to this: Norm Coleman is suing because he lost, and is searching for things to complain about.

Hamilton said that Coleman has failed to meet the very burden that is necessary to win an election contest -- that is, to overturn the presumption of regularity on the part of the state and local officials -- and is instead set on finding little errors that may still exist out there. "It's better than most," Hamilton said of Minnesota's election system, "but it's not immune."

Hamilton also pointed to Coleman having reversed his position on the crucial issue of improperly-rejected absentee ballots, noting that his campaign litigated during the recount to keep ballots out -- but are now trying to get up to 5,000 ballots put in. "Against that history, against that backdrop, it's simply stunning to see the most recent position," said Hamilton.

Read More →

TPMLivewire