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Women's health advocates were dismayed this week to see the removal of family-planning aid from Congress' economic recovery bill after a push by Republicans to politicize a generally cut-and-dry issue of Medicaid waivers. (Time has some good background here.)

But the dismay may not last long. A source present at today's White House signing ceremony for the Lilly Ledbetter bill tells me that President Obama gave assurances that the family planning aid would be done soon -- perhaps as soon as next week, when the House is set to take up a spending bill that would keep the government funded until October.

Obama emphasized that the family-planning aid "makes the budget look better, it's a money saver," the source said. In fact, removing the need for Medicaid waivers for family planning saves states an estimated $700 million over 10 years.

By removing the family-planning aid from the stimulus at Obama's request, Democrats "were giving a nod to the Republicans, believing they would act in good faith," the source added. And given how many GOPers voted for the stimulus bill, sounds like the family-planning aid is back on track.

Here's another funny moment earlier today from the slow-motion comedy show that is the Minnesota Senate trial.

The Coleman team is continuing to call as witnesses some aggrieved voters to complain that their ballots were wrongly rejected. This didn't go too well last time, and the newest pair had their fun moments. One of them was college student Peter DeMuth, who sent away for an absentee ballot because he goes to school in Fargo, North Dakota -- he even drove several hours to St. Paul this morning, just so he could get his vote counted.

Upon cross-examination by Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton, DeMuth said he was contacted by the Republican Party and told about the problem. "They asked me if I knew my absentee ballot had been rejected. I said no," said DeMuth. "They asked me if I was a supporter of Norm Coleman, and I said yes, and they proceeded to ask me if I would like to go further."

Let's think about this for a moment: Over the last several days, the Coleman camp has said repeatedly that they are not cherry-picking who they're helping out, that they don't know who the people they're advocating for actually supported, and for all they know they're helping out Franken-voters.

So much for that argument. On top of that, DeMuth's story is by itself fascinating.

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Ahead of last night's vote on the $819 billion House stimulus bill, which no Republican supported, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) frequently asserted that his party's alternative stimulus plan -- consisting largely of tax cuts -- would create 6.2 million jobs.

That sounds great. After all, it's double the 3 million jobs that the president aims to create or save. But where did the Republicans get that number? By drawing some fuzzy conclusions from a 2007 paper by Dr. Christina Romer, chair of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.

If you look at page 3 of the GOP's document, you'll see this passage:

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Are Blackwater's days in Iraq numbered?

The Iraqi government has said it won't be issuing a new operating license for the contractor, which is the prime security company for the US Embassy in the country.

It's hard to blame the Iraqis. Blackwater has several times been accused of using excessive force. In 2007, its guards opened fire in a crowded street, killing 17 civilians. The guards were charged with voluntary manslaughter and are awaiting trial.

According to Iraqi officials, it was this incident that prompted them not to renew the license, reports the Washington Post.

There's a bit of a catch though. The Post adds:

Blackwater employees who have not been accused of improper conduct will be allowed to continue working as private security contractors in Iraq if they switch employers, Iraqi officials said Wednesday.


And according to Wired magazine, that's exactly what could easily happen. It reports:
The State Department has a contract for "Worldwide Personal Protective Services" with three firms: Blackwater, DynCorp, and Triple Canopy. If Blackwater is no longer allowed to operate in Iraq, a lawyer steeped in the field tells Danger Room, there's no legal reason why the other two firms can't scoop up Blackwater's employees. "State simply issues a new task order to DynCorp or Triple Canopy, who turn around and hire some or all of Blackwater's employees," he says.


So we may ultimately find out whether the string of violent acts we've seen from Blackwater guards were the result of the company's culture itself -- or the types of personnel they hired.

Norm Coleman is not giving up on forgery as a constitutional right.

Just now in court, Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg launched into an aggressive defense in the case of Douglas Thompson, the friendly Coleman witness from two days ago who said his absentee ballot should be counted even though his girlfriend forged his signature on the application. Thus, Thompson's ballot was rejected because of a very real signature mismatch against his own signature on the ballot itself.

Friedberg didn't directly mention Thompson by name, but he described the exact same situation. "Now suppose I said to Mr. Trimble [another Coleman lawyer], 'Hey, I'm busy, could you sign an application for me, and send it in for me?' I'm gonna get the ballot, aren't I?" said Friedberg.

After some more back and forth, we got to this interesting exchange:

Friedberg: In point of fact, even though I did something I wasn't supposed to do with the application, my ballot should still count because my signature is genuine.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann: Not according to the procedures we use to determine whether the signature is genuine.

Friedberg: I don't care about your procedures.

(Franken lawyer calls an objection, is sustained.)

Friedberg: Okay, I do care...

Last week, in one of its first moves, the Obama administration told its military prosecutors to ask for delays in the proceedings of 21 Guantanamo detainees who have been charged, so that their cases, and the military commissions process as a whole, could be reviewed.

Most military judges have complied with that request. But one judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, has now declined to do so, saying he found the government's reasoning "unpersuasive," reports the Washington Post.

Pohl wrote:

The Commission is unaware of how conducting an arraignment would preclude any option by the administration. Congress passed the military commissions act, which remains in effect. The Commission is bound by the law as it currently exists, not as it may change in the future.


Pohl is presiding over the case of Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen of Yemeni descent accused of planning the October 2000 Al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole warship, which killed 17 service members.

The Pentagon may now be forced to withdraw the charges against Nashiri if it wants to impose the broader delay. It could bring them up again, but that would bring the case back to square one, costing the government time.

But the wider impact of Pohl's opinion isn't yet clear. It may be limited to this specific case, but it could also potentially throw a wrench into the new administration's plan to put the process on hold pending a review, and even complicate Obama's plan to close Guantanamo.

We'll keep you posted as things become clearer.

Late Update: The ACLU has called on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to withdraw the charges against Nashiri so that the charges can be tried in a legitimate court. In a statement, the group's executive director, Anthony Romero, said:
Judge Pohl's decision to unabashedly move forward in the al-Nashiri military commission case shows how officials held over from the Bush administration are exploiting ambiguities in President Obama's executive order as a strategy to undercut the president's unequivocal promise to shut down Guantánamo and end the military commissions. Judge Pohl's decision to move forward despite a clear statement from the president also raises questions about Secretary of Defense Gates - is he the 'new Gates' or is he the same old Gates under a new president? Secretary Gates has the power to stop the military commissions and ought to follow his new boss' directives.


Later Update: But the commander of the USS Cole, Kirk Lippold, who is now affiliated with Military Families United, a group that bills itself as a "the nation's premier military family advocacy organization", takes the opposite view. Lippold said in a statement:
Today's decision is a victory for the 17 families of the sailors who lost their lives on the USS Cole over eight years ago. This trial is a long overdue step toward accountability and justice for the attacks on the USS Cole. The seventeen American sailors who lost their lives on October 12, 2000, when we came under suicide terrorist attack by al Qaeda, were not just sailors. They were sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and friends to so many. The sacrifice of these sailors and all of our brave military service members who have died to protect this country and apprehend terrorists is a key reason why we should not close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay precipitously.

By President Obama signing the executive order to close Guantanamo Bay within a year, he is not considering or addressing the impact on the families who have paid so dearly to defend our freedom.

President Obama has weighed in on the controversy over Wall Street bonuses.

Obama this morning called the bonuses "outrageous", according to White House Robert Gibbs, speaking at a press briefing moments ago.

A report released by the New York State comptroller's office and written up today by the New York Times found that Wall Street firms awarded over $18 billion in bonuses, despite the financial crisis that many of them helped trigger.

Yestrday, it was reported that AIG paid $450 million in bonuses to the unit that sold those disastrous credit default swaps.

And of course, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating Merrill Lynch's awarding of billions in bonuses, on an accelerated schedule, before it went formally went under the control of Bank of America.

Late Update: Obama went further in comments to reporters today after meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. The presIdent said that awarding billions in bonuses "at a time when most of these institutions are teetering on the brink of collapse and they are asking for taxpayers to sustain them" is "the height of irresponsibility" and "shameful."

He added: "Show some restraint, and show some discipline, and show some sense of responsibility."

Another important development happened today in the Minnesota Senate trial: The Coleman campaign actually dropped one of their many claims against the election result.

Coleman was previously objecting to the counting of 171 ballots during the recount in the St. Paul suburb of Maplewood, which were in addition to the Election Night totals for that precinct. The ballots were found in a machine that had broken down on Election Night, thus leading to them not being in the original totals, and they gave Al Franken a net gain of 37 votes.

The Coleman camp initially tried to raise suspicions over the chain of custody, but were never able to find evidence of actual malfeasance. And over the last couple days the Franken camp laid out cases where Coleman approved of counting other found ballots during the recount, which just so happened to come from Republican areas. In other words, two can play this game.

So Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg realized there were bigger fish to fry, and dropped this complaint. Then he moved on to the next order of business: The use of Election Night totals in a pro-Franken precinct where officials concluded that 133 ballots went missing in the recount, a decision that saved Franken from losing a net 46 votes. So don't think this is all being resolved nicely.

The Coleman campaign just had some fun with the Franken campaign, who have accused them of reversing all their positions on counting votes. The Coleman reply: So have you!

The Franken camp spent yesterday and this morning reading over the vast number of examples where the Coleman campaign argued that the requirements for properly filling out absentee ballots should be strictly construed, and that absentee voting is not a right but a privilege. By contrast, the Coleman camp is now arguing for lenient standards to bring in more ballots.

So Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg just got up for another turn, bringing up legal filings by the Franken campaign from during in the recount, a mix of direct Franken arguments or favorable quotations from prior case law:

• "The Minnesota courts have repeatedly emphasized that the overriding concern in interpretation of the election laws is the enfranchisement of voters. Consequently, all ballots cast in substantial compliance with the law must be counted."

• "As long as there is substantial compliance with the laws and no showing of fraud or bad faith, the true result of an election should not be defeated by an innocent failure to comply strictly with the statute, and mere irregularities in following statutory procedure will often be overlooked."

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With the Senate expected to approve Attorney General nominee Eric Holder on Monday, one conspicuous opening remains in President Obama's Cabinet: Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) has yet to be confirmed as Secretary of Labor.

We reported last week on GOP concerns with how Solis addressed queries on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) during her confirmation hearing. It's worth repeating that the problem is not technically a Senate "hold," as some outlets have reported.

Chamber rules prevent official holds from being placed until a committee has released a nominee to the full Senate -- and a spokesman for Sen. Mike Enzi (WY), chief GOPer on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions panel, told me that Republicans are still awaiting answers to more written queries from Solis.

"Republicans are still doing our due diligence on this nomination," the Enzi spokesman said, noting that the latest round of written questions was sent to Solis on Tuesday. He declined to discuss the nature of the GOP's queries, but said that more than just the EFCA is at issue.

Late Update: TPM alum Greg reports at The Plum Line that the president will host labor leaders for a signing of executive orders tomorrow. One suspects that the Solis nomination will be much-discussed on the sidelines ...

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