TPM News

The New York legislature entered its final day of the session Monday, with lawmakers and gay rights advocates continuing to pursue a deal to pass marriage equality legislation in the state Senate.

The New York Post reports that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R) are closing in on a deal to get the legislation passed. The Senate Republicans had still not decided whether to bring the legislation up for a vote at the end of last week, as some in the caucus pushed for more specific exemptions for religious groups.

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Jon Stewart appeared in his first Sunday morning news show interview ever with Chris Wallace, and unlike his often entertaining and jovial encounters with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, this confrontation was a bit more heated. Wallace opened the segment suggesting to Stewart "you love to take shots at Fox News" and from there Wallace was determined to get Stewart to admit that the mainstream media has a liberal bias. Yet Stewart refused to believe that anyone in the media is as "relentlessly activist" as Fox News.

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Republican voters have sampled their party's presidential choices, but are still left wanting.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released last week found that less than half of GOP primary voters are "satisfied" with the Republican slate. And in a recent Pew study, when asked for their reaction to the current GOP field, Americans' top three responses to the were "unimpressed," "disappointed," and "weak."

It's no surprise then that some voters are hoping for a white knight to leap into the fold and shake things up. Several polls bear this out, as they've shown non-candidates like Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani running well or even topping the entire field.

So who are these dream candidates? And will any of them answer the call?

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Democrats' rallying cry on deficit talks couldn't be clearer: It's the elderly, stupid.

That means Medicare benefits are off-limits, a message that Democrats plan to reinforce at every opportunity through November 2012. With Republicans demanding trillions in cuts to raise the debt limit, however, savings are going to have to come from somewhere. The most logical option left is Medicaid, a favorite conservative target whose low-income recipients carry little clout in Washington compared to Medicare's elderly and middle-class base.

But there is one politically tricky obstacle to cutting Medicaid: Millions of seniors -- including those who consider themselves middle class -- rely on Medicaid cover their nursing home care, meaning any raid on its funding could complicate Democrats' image a the tireless champion of retirees across the land.

Mindful of the problem, aides and lawmakers are floating a way forward: shielding the elderly from Medicaid cuts while slashing aid to poor and uninsured Americans.

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Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) seems poised to collect his first scalp. The Obama administration wants to oust Ken Melson as head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) over the troubled anti-gun-trafficking program called Fast and Furious, the Wall Street Journal reported late Friday.

Issa's committee released an email last week that showed that as deputy director of the agency, Melson was closely monitoring the Fast and Furious operation -- an effort to stop the flow of weapons from the U.S. to Mexican drug cartels. One email from ATF described a request Melson made for a web link so he could watch from hidden cameras in the gun stores that were cooperating with the operation.

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A Republican lawmaker from Idaho was arrested early Sunday morning for allegedly stealing and driving a Ford Excursion under the influence of alcohol.

State Sen. John McGee (R), who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for higher office, including governor, was charged with misdemeanor drunk driving and felony grand theft.

The Idaho Statesman has the details:

According to Sgt. Carlos De Leon with the Ada County Sheriff's Office, events unfolded like this:

McGee began drinking at a golf course at about 10 p.m. Saturday night. At some point, McGee left the clubhouse on foot and walked for a distance, eventually coming upon a parked Ford Excursion with a 20-foot travel trailer near the Muir Woods Subdivision in Southeast Boise.

The keys were in the vehicle and McGee drove away just before 3 a.m. Sunday. McGee pulled the vehicle into a long driveway in the subdivision near Overland and Victory roads and Five Mile Road, in an attempt to turn around. The Excursion and travel trailer were jack-knifed in the driveway.

Two kids in the house were watching McGee's activities. He exited the vehicle, walked up and down the street a few times, got in the back of the Excursion and went to sleep. The kids called police.

Deputies arrive on scene at 3 a.m. and found McGee in the truck. McGee told deputies he was headed to Jackpot. Deputies determined he had been drinking and McGee was arrested. He was booked into the jail at 4:27 a.m. Sunday.

McGee is the Idaho Senate Majority Caucus Chairman and the chairman of the Canyon County GOP.

Some degree of conflict of interest is inherent in any judge's professional life -- Justice Sonia Sotomayor, for instance, saw it necessary to recuse herself from at least 141 cases before she joined the Supreme Court -- but when it comes to ethical complications on the nation's highest court, Clarence Thomas takes the cake. Of particular concern is Thomas' wife, Virginia, who founded a Tea Party-affiliated group called Liberty Central that opposes various progressive causes, including health care reform -- an issue that's almost certain to come before her husband's court.

But an increasing number of revelations about Clarence Thomas' own activities are raising questions about his impartiality. The New York Times reports that the real estate magnate Harlan Crow -- a good friend of Thomas and a benefactor of his wife, to whom he gave $500,000 to help start Liberty Central -- is now financing a multimillion-dollar restoration of an old Georgia cannery where Thomas' mother once worked, at the justice's behest.

These activities do not appear to be illegal, since Supreme Court justices are not required to abide by the ethics code that binds federal judges. Still, other justices have said they adhere to it, and Thomas' apparent disregard of it is raising red flags.

The Times reports:

The code says judges "should not personally participate" in raising money for charitable endeavors, out of concern that donors might feel pressured to give or entitled to favorable treatment from the judge. In addition, judges are not even supposed to know who donates to projects honoring them.

While the nonprofit Pin Point museum is not intended to honor Justice Thomas, people involved in the project said his role in the community's history would inevitably be part of it, and he participated in a documentary film that is to accompany the exhibits.

Deborah L. Rhode, a Stanford University law professor who has called for stricter ethics rules for Supreme Court justices, said Justice Thomas "should not be directly involved in fund-raising activities, no matter how worthy they are or whether he's being centrally honored by the museum."

In another potential conflict of interest, Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia attended a political retreat run by the Koch brothers; their subsequent ruling in the Citizens United campaign finance case greatly benefited the Koch brothers' political activities. The advocacy group Common Cause has asked the Justice Department to open an investigation into the propriety of the justices' participation in the case.

MINNEAPOLIS -- On the one hand, Herman Cain is prepared to tell anyone who asks that he'll take "extra precautions" to assure that a potential Muslim appointee is not, in fact, bent on the destruction of the United States.

On the other hand, he doesn't mean that at all.

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