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Texas state lawmakers considered a GOP-backed bill Tuesday that would require voters to present photo identification at the polls, what Democrats call "a modern-day poll tax" because it disproportionately impacts minorities. Republicans claim that this law is necessary to prevent voter fraud, but have offered little evidence that such fraud is a problem. Dems, in the minority, called Attorney General Greg Abbott -- who spent $1.4 million probing voter fraud claims without finding a single vote -- to testify. But, backed by a GOPer, Abbott didn't show up. (Dallas Morning News)

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating whether the massive bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch executives were designed in part to give traders and incentive to mark down their shares, the Financial Times reports. That might suggest that B of A pressured Merrill to understate its fourth quarter earnings in order to make the companies subsequent gains under B of A appear larger. (Reuters)

E-mails released Monday indicated a number of previously unknown links between the Chicago-based Tribune Co. and the Governor Rod Blagojevich. Tribune Co. retained Marc Ganis as a sports business consultant to work with the Blagojevich administration to broker the sale of Wrigley Field. Ganis spoke to Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris about the declining state of the Chicago Tribune and openly expressed his desire for a spot on the 2016 Olympic Committee. Federal agents also allege that members of the Blagojevich administration pressured Nils Larson, an executive vice-president of Tribune Co., to fire members of the Tribune editorial board in exchange for the Governor's assistance in the sale of Wrigley Field. (Chicago Tribune)

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Roll Call reports that Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), the staunch social conservative whose career became bogged down in the 2007 D.C. Madam prostitution scandal, was sighted this past Thursday night having an incident of airport rage at Dulles Airport.

Vitter arrived 20 minutes before the plane was scheduled to depart, and found the gate locked. He then opened the door, setting off the alarm and inviting the attention of an airline worker:

Vitter, our spy said, gave the airline worker an earful, employing the timeworn "do-you-know-who-I-am" tirade that apparently grew quite heated.

That led to some back and forth, and the worker announced to the irritable Vitter that he was going to summon security.

Vitter, according to the witness, remained defiant, yelling that the employee could call the police if he wanted to and their supervisors, who, presumably, might be more impressed with his Senator's pin.

But after talking a huffy big game, Vitter apparently thought better of pushing the confrontation any further. When the gate attendant left to find a security guard, Vitter turned tail and simply fled the scene.

Late Update: Vitter is now responding to the story, after a spokesman declined to comment in the initial reports:

"After being delayed on the Senate floor ensuring a vote on my anti-pay-raise amendment and in a rush to make my flight home for town hall meetings the next day, I accidentally went through a wrong door at the gate," Vitter said in a statement. "I did have a conversation with an airline employee, but it was certainly not like this silly gossip column made it out to be."

Congress Passes $410 Billion Omnibus Spending Bill Congress approved last night the $410 billion omnibus bill, left over from last fall, sending it to the White House for President Obama's signature today. The Senate voted for cloture by a 62-35 margin, with three Democrats voting No and eight Republicans voting Yes.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will be speaking at 11:20 a.m. from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where he will make an announcement on earmark reform. At 1 p.m. ET he will sign an executive order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls, chaired by Valerie Jarrett, with Michelle Obama and Jill Biden also attending the announcement. At 4 p.m. ET he will hold a closed meeting with the Democratic members of the Senate Budget Committee, and at 5:15 p.m. he will meet with the Democratic members of the House Budget Committee.

Biden's Day Ahead Vice President Biden is meeting this afternoon with Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Act Implementation and Oversight Board. In the late afternoon he will join President Obama's meetings with the Democratic members of the House and Senate Budget Committee.

Conrad: Obama's Budget Can't Pass In Current Form Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) told The Hill that President Obama's budget does not currently have sufficient support in Congress to pass, with the cap-and-trade proposal being the biggest sticking point. Said Conrad: "Anybody who thinks it will be easy to get the votes on the budget in the conditions that we face is smoking something."

Report: Steele May Face RNC No-Confidence Vote Taegan Goddard reports that Republicans insiders say Michael Steele is likely to face a no-confidence vote from RNC members after the March 31 special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat -- and this vote would happen regardless of the election results.

GOP Sen. Thune Criticizes Steele's Slow Pace Roll Call reports that Steele is also coming under increasing criticism from Republican Senators, who are annoyed at the non-progress in staff hiring and the lack of messaging at the RNC. "We don't have the luxury of time. I know they're trying to get staffed up over there, so they're working it," said Sen. John Thune (R-SD). "It needs to happen soon. Two-year election cycles go very, very quickly."

CQ: Republicans' Biggest Enemy On Earmarks Is...Themselves CQ points out that Republicans have struggled to gain credibility in their opposition to the omnibus bill in large part because they have criticized earmark spending -- at the same time as many of their own members have included earmarks, and are standing by the practice. "In my opinion I would be doing my constituents a disservice if I didn't request earmarks," said Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), who added that the alternative is "letting a 23-year-old bureaucrat" decide where the money goes.

NYT: Obama Has Opportunity To Turn Lower Courts Left The New York Times examines the pending opportunities of President Obama to reshape the country's appeals courts, with the most notable example being the Richmond-based Fourth Circuit. The court currently has a 6-5 majority of Republican-appointed judges, and has gone in an activist conservative direction on such issues as the Miranda rule, affirmative action and detention of terror suspects -- and it has four vacancies to be filled.

Today's announcement by the Franken campaign -- that they will provisionally rest their case tomorrow -- has likely changed the timeline of the case dramatically, a top election expert in Minnesota tells TPM.

Professor David Schultz, a teacher of election law at Hamline University, was previously predicting that a ruling would take until mid-April at the earliest. But that assumed Team Franken would take 2-3 weeks to make its case, as opposed to the week and two days they'll have actually used. "I would say we could anticipate -- we should anticipate at this point -- definitely before the end of the month," said Schultz. "It very well might be in a couple of weeks."

After that, the next step will be the appeals, which are likely to be fast-tracked straight to the state Supreme Court -- and which Schultz expects will come from Coleman, with the court likely to have ruled that Franken is the winner: "It doesn't look like at this point the Coleman campaign has either made the arguments or has the numbers to switch it over to his side for victory. So I presume at this point that the court will find for Franken."

Schultz also affirmed that the Coleman camp's latest gambit -- to declare that the true winner cannot be determined, and the election results should be set aside -- is simply off the table legally. "He has to do more than simply cast doubt," said Schultz. "He has to make the case as to why, on the preponderance of evidence, he won."

Looks like someone's been reading a few too many of those Republican talking points on the financial crisis.

You may not have been aware of this, but apparently "good intentions caused the financial crisis." That's the headline of a helpful educational primer for kids on the website of McGraw-Hill, a major provider of school textbooks.

In places, the writeup, which explains the historical background of the push for increased home-ownership, and offers a cogent explication of mortgage-backed securities, is quite helpful.

But it's hard to tell this story properly if, for political reasons, you have to steer clear of any explicit acknowledgment that the deregulation of the financial system -- out of a mix of misguided ideology and fealty to corporate interests -- was a major contributor to the collapse. Nor does the flat-out greed and borderline fraud of many major Wall Street banks enter into McGraw-Hill's telling of the story.

Still, maybe we're being too harsh. After all, everyone tried their hardest.

Bonus note: In case you forgot, we told you last month about how McGraw-Hill pulled out of a book deal with major financial blogger (and TPM friend) Barry Ritholtz, after learning that the book, Bailout Nation, would slam Standard & Poor's, the credit-ratings agency owned by McGraw.

Hmmm? Where would Chuck Schumer come down on the withdrawal of Chas Freeman? In the shy and retiring style which Brooklynites and all New Yorkers know so well, the Senior Senator declared:

Charles Freeman was the wrong guy for this position. His statements against Israel were way over the top and severely out of step with the administration. I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing.

I will confess to being a total agnostic on Freeman's appointment to the National Intelligence Council. My friend James Fallows made a good case for him as did my boss, Josh Marshall. My former New Republic colleague and friend, Jonathan Chait, made the case against him here. All are pretty thoughtful looks at the guy, unlike Schumer's I-told-you-so.

President Obama's science adviser and NOAA nominee aren't the only ones getting held up by mysterious Senate Republican concerns.

As Bloomberg reported on Friday, two nominees to join Obama's Council of Economic Advisers -- Austan Goolsbee and Cecilia Rouse -- have also stalled amid anonymous GOP objections.

But that delay could come to an end as soon as this week, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He told reporters today that "we're going to have a discussion of the nominees" and "they probably will be confirmed later this week."

In his Times opinion column this morning, David Brooks urged Republicans to adopt a singular focus on the financial crisis as a way of countering President Obama's agenda. As Brooks wrote:

Republicans could admit that they don't know what the future holds, and they're not going to try to make long-range plans based on assumptions that will be obsolete by summer. Unlike the Democrats, they're not for making trillions of dollars in long-term spending commitments until they know where things stand.


Do I expect them to shift course in this manner? Not really.

But Brooks appears to have underestimated his own influence. Senior Republicans came out in force today to contend that the financial crisis was getting short shrift from the White House, expanding on the "Obama is distracted" meme that Matt has blogged about this week to accuse the president of not tackling the economy as intensely as he should.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) relayed the new message loud and clear, as The Hill reports:

Following the GOP's weekly conference meeting, the second-ranking House Republican told reporters that President Obama should be focusing on the "economic crisis," as opposed to holding four-hour meetings on healthcare, as the president did last week. The efforts may be laudable, Cantor said, but the White House should be devoting all resources to fixing the economy and not to "impose these cap-and-trade schemes."

And Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) echoed the assertion that Obama's team needs to do more intense work on the economy. "I wish Secretary Geithner and the president would actually begin to solve the problem that's Number One, the credit crisis," he told me today, urging the president to "attend to the problems of the most importance to our country first."

The GOP also seems to be moving forward on Brooks' other recommendation this morning: the introduction of a coherent conservative alternative to the Obama administration's financial policies. Ideas under consideration include a tax credit to homebuyers who make a 5% down payment, tax benefits for those who sell investment properties ... and likely more breaks in the tax code.

We told you earlier today about Allen Stanford's lobbying to get some businesses taxed at the US Virgin Islands rate rather than the US rate. And about how Stanford had lately been in the process of moving his Caribbean headquarters to St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands.

Well, one Virgin Islands paper, the St. Thomas Source, has some more interesting details on those subjects...

The paper reports that, in a speech at a 2007 economic summit in St. Croix, Stanford made his pitch for more favorable tax laws that he said would spur more investment. He sought changes that would have allowed money from companies headquartered in the Virgin Islands (like his own) to flow into the US virtually tax free.

Stanford presented this change as a boon to the whole region:

"If that were to happen, the Caribbean Basin as a whole, and the Virgin Islands in particular, would see serious investment begin to flow in almost overnight."

Stanford even said he brought up the idea to US Treasury Department officials, and hoped to have "draft legislation" ready to present by mid October.

He repeated the pitch at a ceremony to break ground on his new planned Caribbean headquarters in the V.I.

"The law must include all Caribbean-created revenues, as long as the company is headquartered in the Virgin Islands," he told the crowd, which contained local dignitaries and lawmakers.

There is no record of any such legislation being introduced since at least 2005, says the paper.