TPM News

Obama To Stimulus Critics: Spending "Is The Whole Point" President Obama spoke last night to the House Democrats, where he rallied support for the stimulus bill -- and hammered the opposition. "They say this isn't a stimulus bill. It's a spending bill," said Obama. "Well, that's the whole point." A full transcript is available here.

Obama's Day Ahead: Discussing The Economy, And Gitmo President Obama and Paul Volcker are holding an 11:15 a.m. event at the White, to introduce members of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. At 3:30 p.m., Obama will be holding a closed meeting at the White House with family members of the victims of 9/11 and the USS Cole bombing, in order to discuss his decision to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay -- a decision that has been strongly objected to by some of the people he'll be meeting today.

Biden Speaking To House Dems, Then Heading To Germany Joe Biden will be speaking today to the House Democratic Issues Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. He will then travel to Germany, where he will be representing the United States at the 45th Munich Conference on Security Policy.

Reid Wants To Hold Stimulus Vote Today The Washington Post reports that Harry Reid hopes to hold a vote on final passage of the stimulus bill today, after yesterday's negotiations with a small handful of Senate Republicans dragged on. If today's effort fails, Reid will call for a Sunday session.

Hillary Going To Asia For First Overseas Trip As Secretary Hillary Clinton is set to go to Asia for her first overseas trip the Secretary of State, visiting Japan, South Korea, China and Indonesia. She is scheduled to embark on her trip on February 15.

Steele Shakes Up RNC, Asks For Resignations The Hill reports that Michael Steele is undertaking a top-to-bottom review of the Republican National Committee's staff, asking all top staffers to submit their resignations. Some of them could be rehired, but the ironically named "state victory directors" won't be coming back.

Poll: GOPer Ahead In Virginia-Gov. Race, But It's Still Wide Open A new Rasmussen poll shows Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell leading all three Democrats in the open race for governor, though the undecided numbers remain high: McDonnell leads state Senator Creigh Deeds 39%-30%, is ahead of former state Delegate Brian Moran 39%-36%, and leads Terry McAuliffe 42%-35%.

Obama Takes First Ride On Air Force One President Obama took his first ride as the sitting president on Air Force One last night, as he traveled to the House Dems' retreat in Williamsburg. Said Obama to the reporters: "Hey guys, what do you think of my -- this spiffy ride here?"

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs quipped yesterday that Congress' stimulus debate was in the "bottom of the fifth" inning. So it's looking like a long seventh-inning stretch this evening as Senate centrists continue hashing out a package of cuts to the $900-billion-plus package.

Democratic leaders understandably would prefer the focus to be on what's in the package rather than what's in line for cuts. But to use another familiar metaphor, Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have grabbed the wheel of the economic recovery plan with their still-evolving proposal to trim as much as $100 billion from education, mass transit, and other areas. Talking to reporters in the ornate Senate reception room this evening, Collins described the group of centrist senators as pretty far from an agreement.

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Norm Coleman may have just made a little bit of progress in his election lawsuit, with the potential to gain back three votes that had been lost during the recount. Now if he can get those in, he'll just have to work on making up the remaining 222 votes in Al Franken's lead.

This all goes back to the duplication process for absentee ballots that have been damaged, a standard process performed at the precincts on Election Night. At a precinct in the Republican stronghold of Anoka County, three labelled duplicates were found for which the labelled originals could not be located. The decision made at the time was to assume that the originals weren't properly labelled and were elsewhere in the count, so the duplicates shouldn't be included.

The problem with this: Throwing out these three duplicates, sans the originals, meant that Norm had lost exactly three votes in this precinct during the recount, compared to the Election Night totals.

While she was on the stand today, Anoka County elections manager Rachel Smith said she was looking yesterday through envelopes containing stacks of ballots...and found the originals, which are now back at her office. Normally there would be serious chain of custody problems for ballots that are found at this stage, but the match-up with the Election Night totals could give Coleman an opening to get these votes in.

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Mike Enzi (WY), the senior Republican on the Senate labor committee, just revealed some more backstory behind today's seemingly sudden postponement of the confirmation vote on Labor Secretary nominee Hilda Solis.

Turns out that the Solis delay wasn't so shocking to Enzi, who said he and fellow senators knew last night about $6,700 in California tax liens long left unpaid by Solis' husband. Enzi said Republicans knew this morning that the confirmation vote wasn't going to happen, but that it was left on the committee schedule because senators "wanted answers from the White House."

Now that the tax liens have been repaid, then, is the committee ready to take up Solis' nomination -- even if it has to pass with only Democratic support? Enzi said no. "[There is a] joint effort to make sure we have all the information before we vote," he said. "There isn't enough information yet."

And if you thought the tax liens were the only thing standing in the way for Solis, that's not so -- Enzi said Republicans are still raising questions about her role as treasurer for American Rights at Work (ARW), a labor-allied non-profit group. It's not Solis' service on the board necessarily, Enzi explained, but the possibility that as treasurer, she had jurisdiction over ARW's political spending. The anti-union group National Right to Work explains the GOP's line of attack at length.

The SEC is deep in the midst of beating itself up over its failure over many years to catch Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Just yesterday, agency chair Mary Schapiro told Congress in a letter that "there needs to be a full accounting, both of Mr. Madoff's activities and why we did not detect the fraud, which we regret."

But is it in danger of making the same mistakes the second time around as the first?

The SEC's civil case against Madoff, hurriedly filed in December 2008 after Madoff allegedly confessed to his lawyer, is being conducted out of the agency's New York regional office, where Madoff's business was based. But it was the New York office that conducted the 2006 inquiry into Madoff that famously came up dry. That inquiry, which found only a few technical violations and recommended that Madoff register as an investment adviser, is now itself one focus of the investigation by the SEC's inspector general into how the agency failed to catch Madoff.

According to one former SEC enforcement veteran, in other cases where the agency opened a second investigation after a regional office was found to have slipped up the first time around, the second probe has sometimes been run out of the Washington headquarters, to ensure that it retains public confidence. That wasn't done here.

Asked about the matter by TPMmuckraker, an SEC spokesman declined to comment.

But there may be even less distance between the two Madoff investigations.

The current case is being led by Andrew Calamari, the Associate Regional Director for the New York office, who last month publicly called the Madoff case "a stunning fraud that appears to be of epic proportions." Calamari's name is listed prominently on the agency's civil complaint.

But Calamari appears tied to the ill-fated 2006 effort. Doria Bachenheimer, an Assistant Regional Director in the New York office "reviewed and approved" the decision to close that inquiry, according to a "Case Closing Recommendation" document obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

And an organizational chart produced by the agency in 2006, and obtained by TPMmuckraker, indicates that Calamari is Bachenheimer's supervisor. That reading of the chart was confirmed to TPMmucraker by the ex-SECer.

It's not clear that Calamari played any active role in the failed 2006 inquiry. But at the very least, the fact that he supervised the staffer who wrongly approved closing it -- and the fact that there's no evidence he raised red flags about her work -- might suggest he's not the ideal person to handle the followup, especially given the high public profile the case has taken on.

Calamari referred an inquiry from TPMmuckraker to the SEC's press office, which again declined to comment.

The sad news that Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being treated for pancreatic cancer raises the possibility that President Obama may face his first Supreme Court nomination sooner than anyone imagined. Ginsburg, a thoughtful liberal, named to the bench by Bill Clinton in 1993, has many friends and admirers in Washington and people wish her well and hope she can stay in her post.

Still, the speculation has already begun in the Beltway about who could be named to the post. Since there is only one woman on the nine-member panel, the president would be under enormous pressure to make sure the court doesn't become all-male for the first time since 1981 when Sandra Day O'Connor was sworn in. Since Ginsburg was a leading womens rights advocate there would be all the more pressure on Obama to name a woman.

Among the possible female candidates the president could consider are Elena Kagan, the Harvard Law School dean who has been named to be solicitor general. Nancy Gertner, a district court judge in Massachusetts. If Obama's interested in returning to the historic tradition of appointing a politician to the bench, the possibilities include Jennifer Granholm, the governor of Michigan and a Harvard Law School graduate and former state attorney general. Janet Napolitano is the former attorney general and governor of Arizona and now Secretary of Homeland Security. Diane Wood is a federal judge in Chicago. Sonia Sotomayer, a federal judge in New York, if named, would be the first Hispanic justice. The aborted nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court in 2005 suggests that the Senate and public would not settle for a second-class nominee just for gender reasons but there's no reason to think that Obama, a former Constitutional law professor, would be interested in a personal friend over a widely respected figure.

The Coleman legal team is continuing to review the rejected absentee ballots one by one, spending this afternoon questioning Pine County Auditor Cathy Clemmer. One particular ballot came from a man whose ballot was tossed because he was not a resident of the county.

Well, he was a resident of the county -- in the county jail, awaiting trial for an unspecified charge. He requested a ballot from jail, and Clemmer admitted that the application should have been forwarded to his adjacent home county. Instead, the bailiff delivered him a ballot for Pine, which was later rejected because of his home address.

"By the time it was returned, was Mr. Grewe still in--" said Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg, "still in custodia legis?"

The answer: Yes, the voter was still in the joint.

Now it may well be that this individual was legally allowed to vote, if he wasn't a convicted felon at that time. But just imagine the media outcry that would have occurred if a Democrat were waging an election lawsuit and tried to get this one counted.

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Amidst all the debate over the stimulus package, Tom Daschle's limos, and when the White House puppies will arrive, it's worth keeping an eye on TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program that was supposed to get us out of this mess in the first place. The TARP's genesis from three-page memo to $700 billion fund is history but not so Neel Kashkari, the 35-year-old interim Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability that Henry Paulson appointed to run the program. Kashkari continues to run it having been asked to stay on by the Obama team until a replacement is found. Finding a replacement for Kashkari has not been easy just as it's been difficult to round out all the assistant secretary positions at Treasury because of Geithner's delay in confirmation. (That was when a tax problem led to delay instead of self immolation.) I hear that diversity issues are holding up some of the appointments as well as trying to find people who are both versed in banking but are untainted by the current mess and, most importantly, are not coming directly from firms that are asking for TARP funds. We're still reporting on the names of some of the people who may be coming in. I'm told one Wall Street executive turned the job down several times before the administration took no for an answer. Expect a new TARP head next week when Geithner unveils more comprehensive plans for repairing the financial system.

Meanwhile, at a Senate Banking committee hearing today, the program was lambasted by a Congressional watchdog. The GAO has a report saying the program is poorly run and the public has been misled about how the Treasury priced assets. More here. Neil Barofsky, the independent TARP inspector , told the committee that he wants a criminal investigation. "That's going to be a large focus of my office," he said.

The Senate labor committee has postponed its vote on Hilda Solis' nomination to become Labor Secretary, with no clear date set to reconsider her confirmation.

Solis has been put through the wringer by Republicans aiming to slow up the Employee Free Choice Act, a core priority of the labor movement. But today's sudden postponement had a lot more to do with a USA Today inquiry that prompted Solis' husband to pay $6,400 yesterday in order to settle long-outstanding California tax liens.

Asked how much of the labor committee's move was attributable to the USA Today report, one GOP source said simply: "100%."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters today that "we're not going to penalize [Solis] for her husband's mistakes," but Republicans are unlikely to leave the matter at that. After the jump is the full Solis statement from Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Mike Enzi (WY), the labor committee's chairman and senior Republican.

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Looks like Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) reads TPMDC ... he's now threatening to hold up progress on the stimulus bill today until Democratic leaders allow a vote on 15 of his amendments limiting funding in the bill.

And at the top of Coburn's list is the $2 billion in funding for a "near-zero emissions" coal plant -- money that could go straight to FutureGen, the Illinois-based "clean coal" project that the Obama administration had said it would keep out of the stimulus.

Coburn's office has rustled up yet another reason to put the brakes on the FutureGen cash: impeached former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) has lavished hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists to restart the cash flow to the project since the Bush administration canceled FutureGen funding one year ago.

It's unclear as of now whether Coburn's threat will win him a vote on the FutureGen amendment, but we'll keep you posted.

TPMLivewire