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A new Pew poll shows adult Americans evenly split over whether gays and lesbians should be legally allowed to marry -- and there's a clear trend of Americans' views becoming increasingly favorable toward the ssue over the past few years.

That finding comes just weeks after the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend key elements of the Defense of Marriage Act -- the federal law that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman -- in court. And it also shows that Republicans may not have an upper hand in next years' presidential election if they try to thrust social issues to the forefront of the debate.

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Vice President Joe Biden is set to meet with House and Senate leaders today to jumpstart negotiations on a resolution to fund the government through September, but not every Democratic lawmaker is happy to see the White House take a more hands-on approach.

"It depends on what kind of hands they're putting on it," Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) told TPM. "I'm greatly disappointed so far in what they're advocating."

Harkin said that he objected to the White House's emphasis on non-security discretionary spending, which is about 12% of the overall budget but has drawn the overwhelming attention of both parties in their efforts to trim the deficit. Neither Democratic or Republican leaders are proposing raising taxes to help bridge the gap. According to Harkin, discretionary spending cuts disproportionately hurt working families by targeting safety net programs and education.

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TPM spoke Thursday with Wisconsin state Sen. Chris Larson, one of the 14 Democrats who have fled the state in order to block the budget quorum on Gov. Scott Walker's anti-public employee union proposals, getting his reaction to another one of the Senate Republicans' efforts to pressure the Dems into coming back: Reassigning their staffers to work under GOP state senators.

State Senate Republicans passed the measure Wednesday, as another retaliatory move against the absentee Dems. WisPolitics reported: "Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the change is not intended to allow the Republican members to direct the activities of the Dem staffers. He said it is merely to give the staffers a point of contact with a senator who is in the building if concerns arise."

TPM got in touch with Dem. state Sen. Chris Larson, whose staff has been reassigned to Republican state Sen. Neal Kedzie. "Well it's a pretty dangerous thing that they're trying to do," said Larson, who has spent the last two weeks in Illinois. "They're basically putting different Senate districts that are independently elected by the constituents under the control of somebody who is not elected to represent that area. I don't know if it's that they're going on a binge with the power grab here or what. But they've already trampled on freedom of speech -- so why not take over people's districts?"

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Newt Gingrich secured $200 thousand for a successful campaign by anti-gay groups last fall to oust Iowa Supreme Court justices who voted to allow gay marriage in Iowa, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"It wouldn't have happened without Newt," said David Lane, executive director of the group that spearheaded the campaign, Iowa For Freedom.

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The checkered flag apparently has not waved yet on Rep. Betty McCollum's (D-MN) fight to strip away Pentagon funding from NASCAR.

On MSNBC this afternoon, the St. Paul, Minn., congresswoman showed no signs of backing down on her staunch criticism of the Defense Department spending $7 million sponsoring the #39 Sprint Cup U.S. Army Chevy Impala, driven by Ryan Newman.

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1||The President and First Lady gather on March 2nd to honor recipients of the 2010 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal.||Jeff Malet/

2||Van Cliburn, world renowned pianist and winner of the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958. Cliburn won the competition at the age of 23.||Jeff Malet/

3||Donald Hall, who served as poet laureate of the United States from 2006-2007, is perhaps best known for his 1988 collection of poems The One Day, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.||Jeff Malet/

4||Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1997 with his novel American Pastoral. He has published 24 novels in his 51 year career.||Jeff Malet/

5||Quincy Jones, musician, composer and producer extraordinaire, is perhaps best known for his work with Michael Jackson on the Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad albums.||Jeff Malet/

6||Robert Brustein is an American playwright, educator, theatrical critic and producer. He founded the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts as well as the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven Conneticut.||Jeff Malet/

7||Ella Baff, executive director of Jacob's Pillow and Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the longest running dance festival in America.||Jeff Malet/

8||Mark di Suvero, abstract expressionist sculptor and founding member of the Park Place Gallery.||Jeff Malet/

9||Sonny Rollins, legendary jazz saxophonist widely believed to be one of the most influential and important musicians of the 20th century.||Jeff Malet/

10||Stanley Nider Katz, historian, director of the Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies and president of the American Council of Learned Societies.||Jeff Malet/

11||Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, Cuban-born scholar and literary critic, and author of Myth and Archive and The Pride of Havana.|||Jeff Malet/

12||Arnold Rampersad, literary critic and renowned biographer, is currently professor of English and the Sara Hart Kimball Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University. Rampersad is best known for his profiles of authors such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois and Ralph Ellison.|||Jeff Malet/

13||James Taylor, five-time Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter.|||Jeff Malet/

14||Gordon Wood, historian, scholar and author. In 1993, he won the Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution.|||Jeff Malet/

15||Anna Mundow Aaron, accepting for Daniel Aaron, writer, scholar and founding president of the Library of America, committed to publishing and preserving America's most significant writing.|||Jeff Malet/

16||Bernard Bailyn, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning historian and author whose work specializes in early American history.|||Jeff Malet/

17||Marguerite Barzun, accepting for Jacques Barzun, distinguished educator and leading scholar of cultural history.|||Jeff Malet/

18||Wendell E. Berry, writer, poet, novelist, conservationist and elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.|||Jeff Malet/

19||Joyce Carol Oates, prolific author, National Book Award winning novelist and professor in creative writing at Princeton University.|||Jeff Malet/

Anti-abortion rights activist Randall Terry and anti-Islam Rev. Terry Jones -- undoubtably two of slickest self-promoting crusaders for their respective causes -- ran into one another outside the White House on Thursday, where Terry said the pastor "blinked" on his plan to burn copies of the Koran.

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Wisconsin state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, one of the 14 Democrats who have fled the state in order to block budget quorum on Gov. Scott Walker's anti-public employee union proposals, has just beaten the Republicans in one of their key efforts to force Dems back to the state - by collecting his legislative pay.

Senate Republicans last week passed a rule suspending the direct-deposit of absent legislators' pay, requiring them to show up in person at the Capitol -- in effect, to provide a quorum -- in order to receive a check.

However, as WisPolitics reports, Erpenbach found a workaround: He granted power-of-attorney to two members of his staff, thus authorizing them to conduct many important personal decisions and financial actions on his behalf -- such as picking up his paycheck.

Ultimately, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) put the check in the mail, instead of giving it to the staffers. Fitzgerald spokesman Andrew Welhouse told WisPolitics: "We confirmed with our attorneys and with the chief clerk that was proper."

There appears to be some light between President Obama's position on arming Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents while in Mexico and that of Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation's top law enforcement official, just three weeks after ICE agent Jaime Zapata was shot to death in northern Mexico with a gun smuggled in from the U.S.

After a White House meeting between Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Obama seemed to convey a reluctance to arm ICE agents while they are traveling in Mexico.

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