TPM News

Last year, Republican Carly Fiorina put a scare into the Democratic Party by making her race against incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) seem close, if only for a few months. Yet Republicans may have less cause for excitement when they challenge Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) in 2012, as a new PPP poll shows Feinstein dominating a slate of prominent GOP challengers by anywhere from 14 to 34 points.

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The Senate Ethics Committee's decision to appoint a special counsel to lead the investigation into activities surrounding Sen. John Ensign's (R-NV) affair with a political staffer is raising age-old questions about the panel's relevancy.

Members of Congress are the first to admit that they hate serving on the Ethics Committee, and policing their peers puts them in an unusually awkward position. If that's the case and the panel has to farm out its work to true professional investigators, then why have lawmakers investigating their colleagues misbehavior in the first place?

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NBC News and Politico hope to kick off the 2012 presidential race with one of the earliest televised debates in recent memory, scheduled for May 2 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. But it sounds like the show might have to go on without one of the top contenders for the nomination.

In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt this afternoon, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said he hasn't accepted the invitation to appear at the debate yet, and criticized the timing of the event which comes more than 6 months before the first Iowa voters head out to caucus.

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An effort spearheaded by Republicans to repeal the new health care law collapsed Wednesday evening after the Senate refused to ignore its adverse impact on the deficit.

By a vote of 47-51, the Senate sustained an objection to the legislation on the grounds that it does not comply with congressional budget rules. Because a full repeal of the law is projected to increase the deficit, waiving that point of order would have required 60 votes.

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Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is now no longer the only Democratic state attorney general in the country to have joined the lawsuit against health care reform -- he has now officially switched parties to the Republicans.

Caldwell was first elected as a Democrat in 2007, after serving as a district attorney, defeating unpopular Democratic incumbent Charles Foti and Republican candidate Royal Alexander. Now, as Louisiana has another state-level election year, he announced today that he is switching to the Republicans.

Caldwell's move now leaves Sen. Mary Landrieu as the only statewide elected Democrat, in a state where Republicans have made significant gains over the past decade.

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Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) is already taking the gloves off against his soon-to-be Republican opponent, Rep. Denny Rehberg, pointing out that Rehberg will reportedly be launching his campaign at a state GOP dinner this weekend featuring...Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann!

In an appearance on ABC's Top Line Web program, Tester tied Rehberg to Bachmann's recent budget proposal, which calls for freezes and cuts in veterans' benefits.

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Planned Parenthood has fired an employee who apparently advised a man pretending to be a pimp to underage girls and illegal immigrants. The New Jersey attorney general is also investigating.

The firing stems from an undercover video released by the anti-abortion, anti-Planned Parenthood group LiveAction. LiveAction staged visits to eight Planned Parenthood clinics this month, including the Central New Jersey clinic shown in the video, during which an activist pretended to be a pimp. He told employees that he "managed girls," including 14- and 15-year-olds and illegal immigrants, and wanted to know how to get them tested for sexually transmitted diseases and potentially get abortions without alerting authorities.

In the video, a manager at the clinic appears to advise the man and a female companion on how to avoid scrutiny by having the girls lie about their age or go to another non-Planned Parenthood clinic altogether.

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Most Democrats believe, or say they believe, that the courts will uphold the individual insurance mandate as constitutional -- and slice off one prong of the GOP attack on the health care law.

But they're also exploring their options.

One plan is modeled on an existing incentive built into the Medicare prescription drug benefit: Create an open-enrollment period for people who want to buy health insurance, and assess a penalty on anybody who tries to enter the insurance market after that window closes.

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New estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center find that the "number of children born to at least one unauthorized-immigrant parent in 2009 was 350,000, essentially the same as it was a year earlier." These children accounted for 8% of newborns in the U.S. from March 2009 to March 2010. But interestingly, only a fraction of the babies were born to parents who have recently arrived in the country -- running counter to an argument made by conservatives who want to do away with birthright citizenship.

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The anti-abortion community is defending the controversial abortion funding law in the House from critics by saying that the new language on rape and incest exceptions represent a change in law but not a change in policy. It's a strong argument -- supporters of the bill say the goal is to make permanent the already existing ban on abortion funding in the federal code.

There's just one problem, according to law professors who spoke with TPM: the argument is entirely false. The House ban's exceptions for "forcible rape" and incest only under the age of 18 would be a policy shift, they said. A big shift.

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