TPM News

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich now has nothing to lose, at least politically, and may be making the most of it. In recent days Blagojevich has been lashing out at those who ousted him, referring to Illinois state lawmakers as drunkards and adulterers who don't know how to do their jobs. While most lawmakers are brushing off his comments as gossip, some fear that Blagojevich may be able to reduce his sentence by informing on others. As a former congressman and twice-elected governor, he likely knows where a lot of bodies are buried.. (Associated Press)

Yesterday, in a letter to the House Financial Services committee, New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo gave details on how Merrill Lynch distributed its 2008 bonus pool, revealing that 696 employees received $1 million or more in bonuses--only a very small fraction of the company's 39,000 employees. A reminder: Merrill lost $27 billion last year. (New York Times)

It seems that the staff at Los Alamos National Laboratory is having trouble keeping track of its computers. A recent memo shows that currently 67 computers are missing and that 13 of them are confirmed lost or stolen in the past year alone. Furthermore, officials at the laboratory may have erred when they decided to treat the lost computers as a property management issue and not a potential lapse in cyber security. Among the losses is a laboratory BlackBerry that went missing in a "sensitive foreign country." (Project on Government Oversight)

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Obama's Day: Promoting Stimulus And Paying Tribute To Lincoln President Obama is meeting with Hillary Clinton at 10:45 a.m. ET. Then at 11:30 a.m. he will be speaking at the Capitol Rotunda, honoring the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. He will then be heading to Illinois, where he'll be meeting at 4:25 p.m. ET with workers at a Caterpillar Plant in East Peoria, promoting the stimulus plan. Then at 8 p.m. ET he will attend a dinner in Springfield, honoring Lincoln.

Joe Biden Visiting the Special Olympics Joe Biden is traveling today to Boise, Idaho, where he will attend a 3:45 p.m. ET reception for Special Olympics athletes and their families.

WaPo: Yes, Economists Say The New Deal Helped The Depression The Washington Post has a new article this morning, rebutting the Republican critique that the New Deal either failed to help or even caused the Great Depression. While the verdict is mixed on some particular aspects, most economists say the New Deal helped -- and if anything, the problem was Roosevelt didn't spend enough. Said Berkeley economics professor Barry Eichengreen: "Should we be surprised that it didn't end the Depression given its small size by the standards of the problem? No."

Karl Rove Praises House GOP On Stimulus, Denounces 'My Way or The Highway' Obama White House Karl Rove's latest column in the Wall St. Journal provides some interesting perspective into the stimulus spin war, making the case that Republicans -- especially the House leadership team -- have performed well in the stimulus debates. "House Republicans had the wisdom to continue to talk to the Obama White House," Rove says. "This made them look gracious, even as the president edged toward a 'my way or the highway' attitude."

Obama Honors Lincoln At Ford's Theatre President Obama also honored Lincoln last night, at the rededication of Ford's Theatre. "We know that Ford's Theatre will remain a place where Lincoln's legacy thrives," said Obama, "where his love of the humanities and belief in the power of education have a home, and where his generosity of spirit are reflected in all the work that takes place."

Poll: Crist The Early Favorite For 2010 Florida Senate Race A new Strategic Vision (R) poll of Florida shows that Republican Governor Charlie Crist would be the easy favorite to hold this seat, should he decide to run. Crist currently tops Dem Congressman Kendrick Meet by 60%-26%, beats state Senator Dan Gelber 58%-27%, and has similarly huge margins over other Dems -- though this is probably to some extent furthered by his higher name recognition. If Crist doesn't get in, the poll shows other Republicans with narrow leads, and very high undecided numbers.

LaHood Pushing House Republicans On Stimulus Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has been making phone calls to his former colleagues in the House Republican caucus, asking them to support the stimulus plan. Republicans who have gotten his calls include Reps. John Mica (FL), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Steven LaTourette (OH), Shelly Moore Capito (WV), Charlie Dent (PA), and others.

Dem Candidate For Gillibrand's Seat Debuts New Ad Scott Murphy, a businessman and the Democratic candidate in the March 31 special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat, is already up on the air with this new ad:

Murphy's challenge in this race is that the Republican candidate, Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco, starts off with much higher name recognition. So it's important for Murphy to get on the air as soon as possible.

Last week, TPMmuckraker reported that the investigation by prosecutor Nora Dannehy into the US Attorney firings was focusing on Pete Domenici.

And today, the Washington Post reports that Dannehy has issued a subpoena to the former New Mexico Republican senator.

The Post adds that Dannehy will interview Scott Jennings, who was a top White House deputy to Karl Rove, as early as today. Jennings' lawyer told the paper he will "cooperate to the best of his ability" and is not a target in the case.

A report by the Justice Department's inspector general found that Domenici several times complained to Bush administration officials about David Iglesias, then the US Attorney for New Mexico. Domenici wanted Iglesias to quicken the pace of prosecutions against Democratic office-holders in the state. The report concluded that Iglesias had been fired for political reasons*.

The report also recommended appointing a prosecutor to look into possible crimes in connection with the firings, and the Justice Department named Dannehy for that role.

* This paragraph has been corrected from an earlier version.

Another great coup for the centrists!

Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine GOP dealmaker who's been in the limelight this week for helping to pass a watered down stimulus, has been talking a good game about the need to avoid wasting taxpayer money. But it looks like Collins also worked today to strip from the final bill a measure that's crucial to exposing that waste.

Here's what happened:

The House stimulus bill contained a provision designed to protect federal whistleblowers. Currently, those protections are shockingly weak. According to the Project On Government Oversight, whistleblowers who are fired or demoted can file a complaint with a government board -- but over the last eight years, that board has ruled in favor of whistleblowers only twice in 55 cases.

More to the point, the protections were designed to encourage federal workers to point out cases where taxpayer money is subject to waste, fraud, or abuse -- a legitimate concern when Congress spends $800 billion, and one that centrists and Republicans have been particularly exercised about.

Yesterday, 20 members of the House, from both parties, sent a letter to House negotiators urging them to ensure that the protections remained.

But, according to a person following the bill closely, Collins used today's conference committee to drastically water down the measure, citing national security concerns as the reason for her opposition. In the end, the protections were so weakened that House negotiators balked, and the result was that the entire amendment was removed.

According to the person following the bill, Collins was the "central roadblock" to passing the protections.

To make matter worse, Collins is the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs commitee, which, as an oversight committee, might be expected to see its role as protecting whistleblowers. She also sits on the Senate appropriations committee, giving her a strong position from which to wield influence during today's negotiations.

Though Senate leader Harry Reid supported the protections, said the source, he wasn't willing to strong-arm Collins on the issue, given her central role in negotiations over the stimulus bill as a whole.

So when, in the coming months, conservatives start jumping up and down over the fact that money from the stimulus bill is being wasted, as they surely will, it's worth remember that a key measure designed to help expose that waste was removed from the bill -- and by a senator said to be a champion of fiscal discipline.

Senator Collins's press secretary did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sometimes you have to wonder if there's a method to the madness of Joe Friedberg, Norm Coleman's top lawyer -- or whether he's just plain mad.

Each side has raised concerns about precincts where fewer ballots ended up getting tallied during the recount than were recorded as cast on election night. The reason why is a bit complicated, but it has to do with how the campaigns and election officials dealt with damaged absentee ballots that had been duplicated -- and which the Coleman campaign wants to undo in places where it hurt him. Naturally, both campaigns have focused on precincts where the loss of votes created a net "gain" for the other guy, in protest of what seems like an obvious disenfranchisement -- though as the Franken campaign notes, it was under a set of rules that everyone agreed to going in, and it cut both ways.

Friedberg had a very odd alternative explanation for a precinct that created a net gain of four votes for Coleman. "Well," he asked Dakota County elections manager Kevin Boyle, "Couldn't a dishonest person have picked up 24 ballots, run them through the machine, and then made them disappear?"

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As my colleague Matt reported, Labor Secretary nominee Hilda Solis got her long-awaited approval this afternoon in the Senate labor committee.

This means that her nomination is now before the full Senate for final approval -- but unfortunately, it also means that any GOPer can place one of those annoying anonymous "holds" that could create another delay. And given Republican eagerness to turn Solis' confirmation into a referendum on the Employee Free Choice Act, there's always the danger of another roadblock being thrown up.

Matt reports that Sens. Tom Coburn (OK) and Pat Roberts (KS) were the two Republicans who requested that their "no" votes on Solis be recorded today, so we'll keep an eye to see whether they take their opposition to the next level.

No matter what, however, this was a step forward for the Obama administration as well as major labor unions that mounted a full-court press for Solis this week. They deserve a victory lap.

Congressional Democrats have just begun a public meeting to bless the already-agreed-upon details of their $789 billion stimulus bill, pushing past an awkward first step that saw House negotiators fail to show up for an earlier sitdown on the economic recovery plan.

The House discontent, as many outlets are reporting, stems from the House's $16 billion in school-building aid. As I reported this afternoon, a senior Democratic chairman was appearing with the New York City mayor to declare himself "cautiously optimistic" about the school-building money -- while senators were zeroing out that cash behind closed doors.

Democrats are bouncing back with promises to that the stimulus money given to stabilize state budgets ($39 billion in the Senate compromise, $79 billion in the House bill, now boosted to $54 billion) could also be used for school repairs. But that's unlikely to be enough for House members, and we could see targeted school-building aid put back in before the first votes on the stimulus package occur tomorrow.

Why was this less than a complete victory for Democrats?

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The Republican Party's embrace of technology, which many inside and outside the party see as essential to a political recovery, so far is working out like...well, it's not working out at all.

Yesterday the Virginia GOP came very close to taking control of the state Senate, nearly luring a Democratic Senator to switch parties and put them at a 20-20 tie, which would have been broken by the Republican Lt. Governor. Then Jeff Frederick, a state legislator and the party chairman, ruined it all by Twittering this:

Big news coming out of Senate: Apparently one dem is either switching or leaving the dem caucus. Negotiations for power sharing underway.

The Dems then read the message, quickly mobilized to talk the renegade out of it, and stopped the GOP coup before it could happen.

We usually don't cover state-level politics, but this is just too much. Really, Mr. Frederick, you don't live-blog about ongoing secret negotiations!

(Via the Not Larry Sabato blog, and National Review.)

Well, it's a new era in Washington. A little bit, at least. The administration just finished their first event for bloggers and progressive media, a conference call with, appropriately enough, Jared Bernstein, one of the more liberal leaning members of the president's economic team. He's the top economic policy adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and he spoke for about 45 minutes with the likes of and yours truly.

A veteran of think tanks and a trained TV pundit, Bernstein, who has written for TPM, seemed a bit cautious and not at all eager to make news. The highlights were that he praised the stimulus package while noting that it doesn't have everything the administration and others would have liked. He noted, too, that just because something was excised from the stimulus package that in now way means the administration won't come back and try it again at a later point. He wouldn't get into specifics on what they might come back to but it's in keeping with a larger point I've tried to make (but that he refrained from explicitly making): This probably isn't the last stimulus.

I asked him how much good the bill could really do while the bank bailout plan remains so sketchy. Bernstein used a medical analogy saying that the stimulus plan was designed to "get the patient's heart beating again" while the bank stabilization plan was about getting the patient's arteries cleaned out.

Another interesting point he made was that the stimulus package could probably shave a couple of points off of the unemployment rate but with the rate heading towards double digits you might well find the rate at 7.5 percent or so by the end of 2010. It's a sobering thought. We'll be coming out of this thing when the unemployment rate is what it is now. In other words, the roller coaster still has farther to go down.

But the biggest headline was probably the meeting itself. Jesse Lee, the online director at Casa Blanca, introduced Bernstein on the call and said he hoped that the progressive media call would be "the first in a newly sustained tradition." Let's hope.

We now have the first poll of the Senate seat in New Hampshire, which will be an open GOP-held seat in 2010 because of the appointment of Judd Gregg as Commerce Secretary and the selection of a caretaker Republican to hold the seat for now. And it's a close race.

Public Policy Polling (D) has close results in all four trial runs. Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes leads former Congressman Charlie Bass 40%-37%, and edges edges former Senator John Sununu 46%-44%. The Republicans have statistically insignificant leads over Dem Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter: Bass leads 43%-42%, and Sununu is up 46%-45%. The margin of error is ±2.7%.

Hodes is currently the only announced candidate. You might have noticed that the two Republicans above are both ex-officeholders who were defeated. There is a reason for this: New Hampshire has swung drastically from the Republicans to the Democrats in recent years, and there simply isn't a bench of elected Republicans who already have enough statewide recognition to be included in a poll. That fact alone could lead one to believe this race leans slightly Dem.