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A new Rasmussen poll out this morning shows that President Obama may have some work to do with the American public at today's "Beer Summit," with an overall negative review of his handling of the Gates-Crowley situation so far:

How do you rate the way the President has handled the situation over the past week?

13% Excellent
17% Good
18% Fair
44% Poor
8% Not sure

The Hill reports that some liberal members of the Senate are toying with the idea of stripping Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) of his chairmanship of the Finance Committee. Well..."toying" maybe a bit too strong. But they're not happy. Without naming names, they're nodding toward the idea of creating a referendum system, which would allow caucus members to decide every two years whether particular committee chairmen get to keep their gavels.

Most senators would be in fine shape under such a system--but Baucus hasn't won many friends over the years. He was instrumental in the passage of Bush tax cuts and in Republican Medicare reforms and has provoked the ire of senior Democrats many times in the past. In 2003, The New Republic suggested stripping Baucus of his seniority on the Finance Committee; and in a 2006 article that's been lost to the magazine's archive abyss its editors argued that he should be kicked off the Finance Committee altogether.

Not to suggest that anything like that anything like this is in the works. But in addition to past heresies, Baucus' broken health care process--and the degree to which he's let that process be held hostage by Republicans--hasn't gone unnoticed by many of his peers.

Jon Stewart is further exploring something we've also noticed over here: That the right-wingers who oppose President Obama have taken to using some pretty racially-charged, amazingly paranoid rhetoric:

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Jon Stewart is right -- really anything can become scary if you put the score music from The Omen behind it.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has accused the Democrats of using race as a wedge issue in the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation process -- that is, the Dems have been "giving cover to groups and individuals to nurture racial grievances for political advantage."

Cornyn was responding to statements from Harry Reid and other Democrats, that the GOP's opposition to Sotomayor will hurt them among Latino voters.

"I don't think it influences people's votes, but what it does encourage is a very poisonous -- indeed a very toxic -- tone of destructive politics," said Cornyn. "They ought to be ashamed of themselves."

Of course, this accusation can certainly cut both ways. Remember how the right wing celebrated the New Haven firefighters case?

After several derailings, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is once again on track to mark up health care legislation, and should resume deliberations this morning.

After brokering a deal with Blue Dog Democrats yesterday, chairman Henry Waxman thought he'd cleared the last big pre-recess hurdle standing in the way of a committee vote on health care legislation. He expected to resume mark up yesterday afternoon en route to a Friday passage. But then, House progressives--reluctant to further weaken the public option, but, moreover, displeased with leadership's solicitousness of conservative Democrats--threw another obstacle in the way, and threatened to block the bill once more. Addressing those objections proved challenging for House leaders, and led Waxman to (again) delay proceedings.

But last night there was yet another breakthrough, as House progressives agreed, reluctantly, to let the bill move forward. They note that there remains plenty of opposition among House progressives, and are still holding out the possibility of opposing the final legislation. But for now it looks like the committee will wrap things up before recess and a final bill will be put together for a likely floor vote in September.

CBS/NYT Poll: Public Conflicted About Health Care A new CBS/New York Times poll finds the public feeling conflicted about health care reform. On the one hand 66% of adults favor a public options, and 55% say the government should guarantee health coverage for all Americans. On the other hand, 56% are very concerned that businesses would cut jobs if government acts to cover all Americans, and a 45% plurality are very concerned that their own taxes would go up.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will meet with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines, at 3 p.m. ET. He will meet with Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner at 4 p.m. ET, and with Vice President Biden at 4:30 p.m. Then at 6 p.m. ET, he will meet outside the Oval Office with Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley and Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr, for that round of beer that was announced last week.

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Some commentators on the right have been pointing to an interesting number that has been coming from the Rasmussen daily tracking poll, which Rasmussen bills as the "Presidential Approval Index," which Scott Rasmussen only began bringing out in late 2008. The key questions then are: What is this number, and is it a valid measurement of real popularity? In an interview today with TPM, Rasmussen defended the index's validity against some harsh criticism, saying that intensity of opinion -- the true figure measured by his index -- does indeed matter.

The thing to remember is that this is not simply subtracting all the respondents who disapprove of President Obama from the people who approve. Instead, Rasmussen takes the numbers who strongly approve or disapprove, and then performs this math. As of today, that index number is -10, compared to an overall rating of +1 in Rasmussen's daily tracker.

It would seem at first glance that this number can skew negative -- that is, the people who disapprove of a president are inherently more likely to feel strongly about it, compared to a certain level of lukewarm support for a president. For example, the 2004 exit poll put George W. Bush's strong approval at 33%, to strong disapproval of 34%. But his overall approval was 53% to disapproval at 46%, and he was re-elected 51%-48%.

I asked three prominent polling experts about this, and they all lambasted it.

Read More →

In a couple of interviews this week, a political consultant to porn star and possible Senate candidate Stormy Daniels claimed an unknown man tampered with his car, causing it to explode last Thursday with such force it sent the car's roof five stories into the air.

But, according to the New Orleans Fire Department, there was no explosion.

"It was a fire. The car didn't explode," said Public Information Officer Jonathan Pajeaud. An arson investigation is underway and foul play hasn't been ruled out. But, Pajeaud said, Welsh told firefighters he'd recently gotten electrical work done on his 1996 Audi, and investigators are also looking into that as a possible cause.

Welsh told a local TV news station that police told him they'd never seen anything like it.

But, Pajeaud said, "Car fires here are very common."

He added that investigators, on average, have a preliminary report in about two weeks. Pajeaud said that, for now, the investigation is being handled solely by the fire department and not by police. The police department has not responded to our questions.

Welsh, who's worked in recent years as a spokesman for Louisiana Victory and the Louisiana Democratic Party, has been insinuating that someone was trying to "send (him) a message" by destroying his car. He posted a video from a nearby surveillance camera showing a person loitering near the car. The video is unclear to us, but Welsh claims that the person, who he describes as a black male in his late 20s or early 30s, climbs into the car before walking away a few minutes before the fire erupts.

However, Welsh has been careful not to say outright that a political opponent caused the fire.

"It's too early for me to go pointing fingers. I'd like to hear what officially happened and then we'll take it from there," Welsh told a local TV news station. But, he added, "When you rule out everything else, you're sort of left with the obvious."

He also said the fledgling Daniels campaign would not be deterred, in an interview with a local radio station.

"What we're talking about and what we've been doing over the past few months is way too important to have it be deterred by the loss of a nice little car," he said.

The fire happened at about 11:23 p.m. Thursday near the corner of Gaiennie and South Peters streets while Welsh says he and his wife were out walking their dog.

Two days later, on Saturday, Daniels was arrested for allegedly assaulting her husband. Welsh posted the YouTube videos and went on TV Monday.

Daniels formed an exploratory committee in May to look into a possible run for Republican David Vitter's Senate seat. Vitter is running for re-election despite his connection to the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal.

In the radio interview, Welsh said he expects Daniels to make a decision in September on whether to run for the Senate. If she does decide so, she'll have to move back to Louisiana from her current home in Tampa, Fla.

Late update: Welsh just called us back and said that, while the electrical work -- a replaced fuse -- was his first thought as to the cause, the surveillance tapes convinced him otherwise.

We also asked him why, if he didn't want to say that it was a political opponent who caused the fire, would he post the videos on YouTube in the first place?

"If somebody is (trying to send a message) then I believe the most important thing I can do is to make sure people saw that," Welsh said. "If anybody was trying to do that, they would think twice about doing something in the future. You can't be quiet about something and wait for it to happen in the future."

Welsh also commented on Daniels's arrest, saying it won't affect her decision to run for Senate.

"She's always been considering the prospect and is still considering her prospect," he said.

And here we go again. Now that House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman has enough Blue Dog support to pass the bill, he has to sell it with progressives. And that's not proving to be as easy as he'd hoped.

"[They] have a lot of questions about the legislation," Waxman told reporters, "and I think it's more important that we sit in the Democratic Caucus and let people ask questions, get answers, hear each other out."

What exactly are their concerns? Well, for one, the compromise included a change to the public option that could weaken it on the merits. As originally written, the House bill would have temporarily tied the public option's pay rates to Medicare rates. Now they'll be negotiated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, meaning the rates will vary regionally, and often fall closer to private insurance rates than government rates.

But more generally, the Congressional Progressive Caucus basically believes that their views have been marginalized throughout the Blue Dog process, and are understandably frustrated about being asked to accept compromises with Blue Dogs when they've already compromised a great deal. Last week, several House progressives warned that they couldn't tolerate any further weakening of the public option, and asked to play a greater role in negotiations. Now they feel leaders ignored their concerns.

The mark up was scheduled to resume tonight, but now it looks like it will have to wait until tomorrow, with the goal still to pass the bill by Friday.

Four out of seven Energy and Commerce Blue Dogs have signed on to a compromise on health care reform legislation. But can we use that split as a stand in for the broader Blue Dog caucus? Not necessarily.

"The 52-member Blue Dog Coalition has not taken a group position on the draft health care legislation that is working through the committee process," said Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD), Blue Dog Co-Chair for Administration. "Today's announcement signifies that the committee process is moving forward. The committee will work its will, but the broader coalition has not ratified any agreements related to the draft legislation."

"If you poll the Blue Dog coalition individually and separately, you'll find that not everybody is on the same page and there is no position collectively," said Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA) one of the three Energy and Commerce Blue Dogs who still opposes the bill.

To provide a bit more data still, only one of the five Blue Dogs on the Education and Labor, and Ways and Means Commmittees--Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA)--voted for the legislation.

But that was before this compromise was brokered, and even then, other Blue Dogs had articulated support for health care reform. At the same time, last week, House progressives told Democratic leaders they could not countenance any further weakening of the public option--and today the House's public option was somewhat weakened.

Which is all to say that barring the defection of a number of House progressives, Henry Waxman bought himself and his allies in leadership some breathing room today.