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In a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. will encourage members of the Taliban to denounce al-Qaeda and join normal community life in Afghanistan.

The members will have to denounce al-Qaeda and violence, Clinton said, and vow to become a part of life in the community. They may be encouraged to join the Afghan security forces or other groups.

Asked by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) how they could tell if such a person was sincere, Clinton said it would be done on a case-by-case basis.

"It's a very painstaking process," she said.

Gates added that, because many join the Taliban because foot soldiers are paid, part of the strategy will focus on creating more economic opportunities for Afhganis.

The theme of this year's White House Christmas is "Reflect, rejoice, and renew" and it's reflected in the refurbished ornaments festooned on the 18-foot tall White House Christmas tree.

First Lady Michelle Obama introduced the holiday decorations, which were inspired by the White House's "residential, warm atmosphere," her office said.

The 800 ornaments on display throughout the house and on the Christmas tree are from past administrations. They were sent out to communities to be personalized - with decopage and beading to reflect local landmarks and flavor.

The first lady said her favorite depicted Chicago's Lincoln Park zoo. The decorations included "natural materials" such as flowers, berries and dried roots from the White House kitchen garden.

Obama also announced a new "Feed a neighbor" initiative via Serve.gov to help fight hunger across the country.

The program would allow citizens to volunteer to help homebound seniors and start community gardens.

Obama encouraged giving to Toys for Tots and said she would personally deliver the toys collected at the White House to Quantico later this month.

She thanked the volunteers who put in more than 3,000 hours to flock the home, saying their work "has really transformed the White House." She noted that more than 50,000 visitors would take tours this season.

A fragile gentleman's agreement between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is breaking down, and now, three days into the health care debate, having held not a single vote on a single amendment, Democrats are saying enough is enough. And if they have to stay in session through Christmas to pass the bill, that's what they'll do.

After an impromptu caucus meeting on health care, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) told reporters, "the Republican leadership is stalling us and we have decided that we are going right through Christmas." If it comes to that. "We go through as long as it takes, including Christmas day, if it takes it to pass it."

In response to a question from TPMDC, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told reporters, "unless the Republican leadership comes forward with a reasonable approach to these amendments, I think our patience is wearing thin."

"We're just not going to sit here forever and watch this bill go down," he said.

"There was a lot of talk about, if we have to be here Christmas, we'll be here Christmas," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)

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Testifying today before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there will be a thorough review of President Obama's Afghanistan strategy one year from now.

Gates said the review, to be performed in December 2010, will allow the military to evaluate whether the strategy is working and, if necessary, form a new strategy.

Gates was responding to questioning by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who criticized setting a date -- July 2011 -- for beginning a drawdown of U.S. troops.

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The legalization of gay marriage could soon be a reality in New York state, as historic and beleaguered legislation moves to the state Senate floor today. The New York Times reports that, after passing easily in the State Assembly, the bill to extend marriage rights to all couples has moved to the senior legislative body.

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As Think Progress first pointed out, things got a little heated on Lou Dobbs's radio show Tuesday when Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) brought up the climate summit in Copenhagen, and posited that President Obama will commit to the provisions of the Waxman-Markey bill, even though he doesn't have the authority to do so since the bill has not yet passed the Senate.

Dobbs responded: "Who the hell does this president think he is?"

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The retirement of Rep. John Tanner (D-TN) appears at first glance to give the Republicans a decent pickup opportunity in 2010, in a district that voted heavily for John McCain in 2008 -- but the Dems could have a shot at keeping the seat, too.

The district's recent voting history in presidential elections suggests a Republican trend. It voted for Al Gore in 2000 by 51%-48%, but in 2004 went for George W. Bush by 53%-46%, and in 2008 for John McCain by 56%-43%.

However, a Democratic source told us that the picture isn't so simple. "The biggest misnomer out there right now is this a Republican seat," the source said, pointing out that the district also voted for the Democratic candidates in the 2002 gubernatorial and Senate races -- Dems narrowly won the former, and substantially lost the other -- and also voted for Harold Ford Jr. in his unsuccessful 2006 Senate race.

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Last night, NBC reported on a series of e-mails between White House party crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi and Michele Jones -- a White House liaison to the Department of Defense -- that the Salahis seem to believe suggest that the couple didn't crash the White House state dinner last week after all.

"I think the American public is actually going to be extremely surprised with all the details," Tareq Salahi said yesterday on NBC's Today.

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Tom Daschle is taking heat from a good government group for his dual role as a participant in high-level health care reform talks and a quasi-lobbiyst for a law firm -- and the Republicans aren't missing the chance to take a shot at Daschle as well.

A "senior policy adviser" at DLA Piper, Daschle was the only outsider at a Monday meeting that included Harry Reid, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Obama health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle, and White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, Politico reports.

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