TPM News

A new Rasmussen poll in Massachusetts finds that support has fallen for changing the law to allow for a temporary appointment to the Senate, and the question is now evenly split.

The numbers: 44% are in favor of a temporary appointment while waiting for the special election, to 43% against it, within the ±3.5% margin of error.

A poll taken nearly three weeks ago, shortly before Ted Kennedy's death, found that 52% supported an interim appointment, to 40% against. The news had just broken at the time that Kennedy had requested a change to the law, to allow Gov. Deval Patrick to make an interim appointment.

Numerous reports now suggest that President Obama's health care speech tonight will include a fairly ringing endorsement of--though not a demand for--a public option. And though from all accounts, Obama's position on the public option (supportive, but not insistent) will remain unchanged, the development might come as a surprise to those who were paying close attention to the news last week. And, if it's emphatic enough, it will be a welcome sign to reformers that the public option will fight another day.

On Wednesday, a number White House officials began whispering to members of the White House press corps that the public option was on its way out--a trial balloon that led George Stephanopoulos to ask, "What is "death with dignity" for the public option?"

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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), in an interview with The American Prospect, said he's "always favored using reconciliation for the good parts" of the health care reform bill.

"We've looked at it and you can't use reconciliation for everything, [but] you can use it for a good number of things," he said. "There's nothing wrong with using it for the places where you can use it and then trying to get the 60 votes on the places where when you can't. You'd be surprised -- the number of places where you can use it is larger than we first thought."

He declined to be more specific.

Schumer also said piece-by-piece reconciliation would strengthen the bill.

"I think that will get you the best bill, the strongest bill and the bill that will have the greatest positive effect on the American people. Ultimately, we'll be judged not by whether we pass the bill, but ultimately we'll be judged by whether it works," he said.

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That was quick. Mike Duvall has resigned from public office.

In a statement on his campaign website, he wrote:

I am deeply saddened that my inappropriate comments have become a major distraction for my colleagues in the Assembly, who are working hard on the very serious problems facing our state. I have come to the conclusion that it would not be fair to my family, my constituents or to my friends on both sides of the aisle to remain in office. Therefore, I have decided to resign my office, effective immediately, so that the Assembly can get back to work.

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Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) spoke today before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Election Laws, testifying in favor of the proposed law to empower Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint a Senator to Ted Kennedy's seat until the special election in January.

"This is no time for the people of Massachusetts to not be represented fully in Washington. We need to be in the strongest position possible," said Kerry. "Big decisions are being made now -- not in five months. And important votes are coming now -- not in five months. Massachusetts cannot and should not be underrepresented."

There's a certain irony in Kerry coming before the committee -- the legislation that took away the power of governors to appoint Senators was passed by the state Democrats in 2004, when they thought that Kerry himself might get elected President while Republican Mitt Romney was Governor. The old law had provided for an appointment until the next regular general election, and legislators rejected the possibility of even having an appointment combined with an expedited special election.

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Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus (D-MT) is becoming less relevant to the health care debate, report MSNBC correspondents Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell.

Baucus, who's been the lead negotiator in the Senate, released his own proposal for legislation earlier this week. But, Todd said, he had quietly circulated the same document to the White House in June. If Baucus had released it publicly then, Todd said, he may have been able to get Republicans Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi to sign on -- but now it's too late.

"How he managed the politics of this has made him less relevant to this process," he went on. "He is still relevant because he is an important committee chair, but he is no longer the person playing point. The president of the United States is playing point. He's drafting, frankly, the legislation with what he says tonight."

As Mitchell said, the White House is passing him by.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) may be the deciding vote--and the deciding voice--on health care reform, but for the time being she's warning President Obama that she doesn't support a public option without a trigger and urging the White House to compromise with other Republicans.

"I talked to [President Obama] last week while I was in Maine and I talked to him on Monday as well," Snowe said on MSNBC earlier today. "We talked about the public option. I was ... urging him if he could take the public option off the table in his speech this evening so it could provide, I think, a momentum of a different kind in moving this issue forward overall."

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Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) will reportedly be taking over the chairmanship of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee -- which was vacated by the death of Ted Kennedy -- after Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) declined to take the post.

This was a widely-expected move after Dodd turned down the position, as Harkin was next in line in seniority.

Another key development here in the committee shuffle is that Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) will take over Harkin's chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee -- which could potentially give her a real boost as she goes into a tough re-election fight in 2010. Lincoln would be better positioned to argue that she can advocate for her rural state's interest.

On the other hand, Lincoln's move to the Agriculture gavel could also be bad news for climate change legislation.

The momentum is building for a potential impeachment of Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), the Palmetto Scoop reports, with 60 House Republicans signing a letter calling on him to resign.

"Your decision to abandon our state for five days, with no defined order of succession and with no known way to contact you, is inexcusable," the letter says, later adding: "But perhaps even more disturbing than the abandonment of your post and the multiple ethics allegations against you is the extreme amount of stress, uncertainty, an negative scrutiny that the citizens of South Carolina, our government and our party have had to endure due to your behavior."

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