TPM News

Obama: Administration Will Increase Credit Availability In his newest YouTube address, President Obama announced that his administration will soon be rolling out a new set of policies for the financial system to ensure that credit finds its way to businesses and families, though no specific details have been announced just yet:

"We'll help lower mortgage costs and extend loans to small businesses so they can create jobs," said Obama. "We'll ensure that CEOs are not draining funds that should be advancing our recovery. And we will insist on unprecedented transparency, rigorous oversight, and clear accountability -- so taxpayers know how their money is being spent and whether it is achieving results."

No Obama Or Biden Events Today President Obama and Vice President Biden do not have any public events scheduled for today. (Late Update: It should be noted that President Obama is speaking to the Alfalfa Dinner in Washington tonight, but this event is not public -- it is closed press.)

Steele Speaks to House GOP, Praises Vote Against Stimulus Michael Steele addressed the House Republican Retreat today, his first interaction with the Congressional GOP since he was election RNC chairman yesterday. Steele praised the caucus for voting against the economic stimulus package: "I thought it was very important to send a signal, and you sent it loudly, very clearly, that this party, the leadership of this caucus, would stand first and foremost with the American people. You made it very clear that in order to grow through this recession that you not redistribute the wealth of the people of this nation."

Daschle Nomination Runs Into Tax Problem Tom Daschle has now filed an amended tax return in order to pay $128,000 in back taxes, plus $12,000 in penalties, for his failure to properly pay taxes relating mostly to his work for the equity firm InterMedia Partners. Daschle is still expected to be confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services, making him the second Obama cabinet officer after Tim Geithner to be tripped up by the tax code.

ABC: Gregg Could Be Picked For Commerce On Monday ABC News reports that Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) is now the leading candidate for Secretary of Commerce, and could be announced as early as this Monday. If Gregg does end up joining the Obama Administration, this could potentially give the Democrats the 60th Senate seat -- New Hampshire has a Democratic governor who would make an appointment, and in Minnesota it still looks like Al Franken is the most likely winner of their disputed election.

Reid Staffer Detailed To Work For Burris Harry Reid's office has announced that staffer Darrel Thompson will now be working on detail for Roland Burris, serving temporarily as the appointed Illinois Senator's chief of staff. Thompson served as chief of staff for Barack Obama's Senate campaign in 2004, and will now be helping Burris get his own office up and running while still holding his position as a top Reid adviser.

SEIU Rolls Out Pro-Reid Ad In Nevada SEIU has announced that they are now running this ad in Nevada on statewide cable TV, praising the work of Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader:

This ad comes after the National Republican Senatorial Committee began their own ad campaign against Reid, targeting the Democratic leader as he goes into his 2010 re-election campaign.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) just released a letter to White House budget director Peter Orszag that makes a pretty eyebrow-raising claim: The special inspector general charged with overseeing the $700 billion in TARP funds for Wall Street is getting the run-around from the administration as he seeks more information from banks getting bailout money.

According to Grassley, Orszag's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) originally gave Neil Barofsky, the TARP inspector general, freedom to seek information from bailout-participating banks without being subject to the requirements of a law called the Paperwork Reduction Act that aims to limit government agencies' ability to collect third party information.

But then, for reasons unbeknownst to Grassley or Barofsky, it seems that OMB went back on its decision. As Grassley states in his letter:

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Justice delayed?

The House Judiciary committee has agreed to a request from Karl Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, to postpone the deadline by which Rove must respond to a subpoena issued by the committee.

Here's the letter sent by the committee, agreeing to Luskin's request and setting a new date of February 23 for Rove's testimony.

The hold-off serves the interests of the White House. The Obama administration is scheduled to file a brief on February 18 in the ongoing court case over the House's subpoena of two other senior Bush White House aides, Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten. At that time, it will likely indicate whether it intends to back President Bush's claim of retroactive executive privilege on behalf of his aides. So the committee's decision to agree to Luskin's request means the Obama administration has until then to formulate its position.

The ball, then, is still in Obama's court. And court is still exactly where the battle over Rove's testimony is most likely headed.

Today's courtroom proceedings in the Minnesota election trial ended a little while ago, and looking back on the day something is becoming clear: After a week of one comedic misstep after another, the Coleman legal team seems to have finally gotten its act together and managed to score some points -- and take some interesting risks, too.

While examining Ramsey County (St. Paul) elections director Joe Mansky this morning, Coleman attorney John Rock was able to secure an expert opinion that the most likely reason for some of the voting discrepancies that Coleman has complained about is that a number of absentee ballots were accidentally counted twice, thanks to a duplication process for damaged ballots and a failure to label them properly.

The Coleman camp has maintained that Franken has netted about 110 votes out of this process, using about two-dozen specifically picked Democratic precincts. Winning this claim would cut Franken's 225-vote lead in half -- though the Franken camp's legal filings have also shown they could play this game, too, and subtract a net 34 votes for Coleman. But obviously this is not a place the Franken camp wants to go.

The Franken camp will have the opportunity on Monday to cross-examine Mansky, at which time they will be exploring alternative explanations and the difficulties in calculating this stuff.

Now, let's take a look at the calculated risk they also took.

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Goodbye Savile Row, hello orange jumpsuit.

Todd Boulanger, the fashion-forward former lobbyist and Jack Abramoff crony who was indicted earlier this week for bribing government aides, has pleaded guilty, reports the Associated Press.

Boulanger has been cooperating with the investigation, according to his lawyer. Under the terms of his plea deal, prosecutors are recommending that he spend 18-24 months in prison, with reduced time if he continues to cooperate.

Boulanger was an aide to Sen. Bob Smith, a New Hampshire GOPer, before working with Abramoff as a lobbyist.

Court documents suggested that Boulanger and other members of Team Abramoff had schemed to provide a staffer to Mississippi senator Thad Cochran with tickets for concerts, ice skating, and other events.

Separate court records suggested that Boulanger also helped arrange a an all-expenses-paid trip to the 2003 World Series for Trevor Blackann, a former aide to Missouri senator Kit Bond. In November, Blackann pleaded guilty to making false statements on his tax returns in an effort to conceal the gift.

Meet the new chairman of the Republican National Committee: Former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele, who defeated South Carolina party chairman Katon Dawson by a 91-77 margin on the sixth ballot.

"As a little boy growing up in this town -- this is awesome," Steele said bluntly in accepting his victory.

Steele came six votes shy of the magic number 85 on the fifth ballot, and was able to get over the top after Michigan chairman Saul Anuzis dropped out to make it a clear two-man race. Steele is now the first African-American chairman of the RNC.

The Republicans might have realized just how awful it would have been for the GOP's image if Steele hadn't won. The alternative was Dawson, who until just recently belonged to an all-white country club and has said he got involved in politics as a teenage opponent of busing programs in the 1960s -- not exactly the best face to oppose Barack Obama's agenda. Dawson briefly took the lead on the fourth ballot, and after that the movement to Steele very quickly put him on top.

As it happens, we're not the only ones noting that that the fight to add mass transit money to the stimulus bill is far from over.

Senate Democratic Vice Chairman Chuck Schumer (NY) just mentioned on a conference call with reporters that he'll be introducing a version of Rep. Jerrold Nadler's (D-NY) amendment to add $3 billion in public transportation cash to the economic recovery pot.

That would bring the total mass transit funding in the Senate's bill to more than $15 billion, if you include a $5.5 billion competitive transport grants program that can be accessed by rail or road projects. That's still half as much money for mass transit as for highways.

Et tu, State Department?

Earlier this week, we told you that the Iraqi government had decided not to renew Blackwater's contract to operate in Iraq, thanks to a 2007 incident in which Blackwater guards opened fire in a Baghdad square, killing 17 Iraqis, among several other cases of excessive force. Five ex-Blackwater guards were charged with voluntary manslaughter and are awaiting trial in connection with the 2007 incident.

Now, the State Department, which depended on Blackwater as its biggest contractor providing security to US diplomats in Iraq, has followed suit, according to the Associated Press, declining to renew the controversial company's contract to protect department personnel in Iraq when it expires in May.

The decision was a result of the Iraqi government's move, according to a department official.

In the AP's words, the state Department is "still considering its options" as to how to proceed.

Michael Steele is back in the lead for RNC Chairman, after Ken Blackwell dropped out and endorsed him -- but he's still just short of a full majority. On top of that, third-place finisher Saul Anuzis dropped out and endorsed nobody.

Here are the fifth-ballot numbers, compared to the fourth:

• Steele 79 (+19)

• Dawson 69 (+7)

• Anuzis 20 (-11)

As mentioned above, Anuzis dropped out after the vote, but didn't make an endorsement. "We've got two great people still running," said Anuzis, wishing the best of luck to the eventual winner.

Steele at this point should be regarded as the most likely to win, as he is only six votes short of the magic number 85.

As this slow news day moves on, it's a good time to prepare for the Senate stimulus debate that will begin on Monday -- it's shaping up an only slightly more genial cage match than we saw in the House.

One possible X factor arising today is the sideline maneuvering of Sen. Ben "Gang of 14" Nelson. He's staying true to form by trying to build a bipartisan coalition of senators to support major changes to the House bill.

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