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Government watchdogs are condemning a decision to allow a Republican office to become a safe haven for supposedly nonpartisan Ethics Committee staff, saying it's one of the leading reasons why the panel is so dysfunctional.

The House Ethics Committee, led by Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL), has virtually shut down amid partisan recriminations and staff sniping over last year's handling of the case against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA). Last week TPM reported that at least one of the panel's attorneys who had been suspended for allegedly mishandling the case had soft-landed on the GOP side of the House Natural Resources Committee, run by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA).

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The saga of the "Wisconsin 14" -- the state Senate Democrats who fled the state in an attempt to block the three-fifths budget quorum on Gov. Scott Walker's anti-public employee union proposals -- isn't over just because Republicans used a parliamentary end run to pass the bill with a simple majority quorum last week, and the Dems have since come home.

As WisPolitics reports, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) sent a letter to his fellow Republicans, reminding them that they had previously found the Democrats to be in contempt of the chamber -- and as such, they are not to be allowed to vote on committees:

Please note that all 14 Democrat senators are still in contempt of the Senate. Therefore, when taking roll call votes on amendments and bills during executive sessions, Senate Democrats' votes will not be reflected in the Records of Committee Proceedings or the Senate Journal. They are free to attend hearings, listen to testimony, debate legislation, introduce amendments, and cast votes to signal their support/opposition, but those votes will not count, and will not be recorded.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a longtime fiscal conservative who is running for Senate, is closing ranks with his fellow Tea Party loyalists in rejecting the latest stop-gap spending measure crafted to avoid a government shutdown and which has the backing of the House GOP leadership.

"How are we ever supposed to tackle the grave fiscal challenges before us like the debt ceiling, the debt, and the FY2012 budget when we just keep punting on FY2011 spending?" Flake said in release Monday afternoon.

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Kansas State Rep. Virgil Peck (R) suggested Monday that the best way to deal with the illegal immigration problem may be the same way the state might deal with the problem of "feral hogs" -- by shooting them from a helicopter.

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State Rep. Martin Harty (R-NH) has resigned from the New Hampshire House of Representatives following his comment to a constituent that mentally challenged people and other "defective" people should die in a modern-day Siberia.

Harty, who is 91, apologized for the comment and his party leaders treated his gaffe somewhat gingerly until now. William O'Brien, speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, issued this statement:

Representative Harty came to my office today to offer his resignation in person. We both agreed that this is what is best for the House to move forward and focus on critical issues, like balancing our budget without raising taxes and giving the voters an opportunity to pass a school funding amendment to ensure local control. We will move quickly to request a special election to fill this vacancy.

Harty's resignation letter will be read on the floor of the New Hampshire House Tuesday, at which point the office will become vacant.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took a break from budget negotiations this week to get back to one of the Senate GOP's most popular pastimes: blocking presidential nominees. McConnell, along with Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), pledged in a letter on Monday to hold up any White House nominee to replace departing Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as well as nominees for any other trade-related posts until trade agreements with Colombia and Panama clear the Senate.

"My fear is in trying to appease their union allies the administration is willing to let these two agreements wither on the vine," Hatch said at a press conference Monday announcing the move. "We are here today to make clear that we will not allow that to happen."

President Obama said that the agreements were a priority in his State of the Union this year, but U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said last month that the Latin American countries must address their own outstanding labor issues, including accusations of violence against labor leaders in Colombia, before a final deal is reached.

President Barack Obama's editorial calling for a fresh dialogue on the issue of guns in the wake of the shootings in Arizona went out of its way to avoid offending gun owners. He said "almost all gun owners in America are highly responsible," called them "our friends and neighbors," and said they "buy their guns legally and use them safely, whether for hunting or target shooting, collection or protection."

He pointed out that gun rights have been expanded during his administration, and didn't call for any new restrictions on guns -- instead advocating for "enforcing laws that are already on the books."

But the National Rifle Association appears determined to be offended by Obama's call for a new tone in the discussion over gun policy. Appearing on Fox News on Monday, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre told Megyn Kelly that Obama has an "administration embedded with people who spent their lifetime trying to destroy" the freedom of the Second Amendment.

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Scott Bloch, the former Bush administration official who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor contempt of Congress but has been trying to withdraw that plea since a judge ruled he would have to spend at least one month in prison, appeared in a Washington, D.C. court Monday to formally ask a federal judge to reconsider her refusal to allow him to take it back.

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Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is not afraid to continue to beat the birth certificate drum as a criticism of President Obama. Appearing on the radio show of conservative host Jeff Katz, Bachmann didn't bring up the birther issue, but when prompted by Katz with it, happily declared how she would be different than Obama.

Katz was amazed that his sons had to provide more documentation to play little league baseball than what he alleged Obama ever had to provide. Bachmann assured Katz how there won't be any lingering questions with her:

"I'll tell you one thing, if I was ever to run for President of the United States, I think the first thing I would do in the first debate is offer my birth certificate, so we can get that off the table."

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