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We're probably not going out on a limb by saying that Doug Hampton's entire televised interview about John Ensign's affair with Hampton's wife Cindy, and the fallout from it, had to have been pretty embarrassing for the Nevada senator, if he's even been able to bring himself to watch it.

But one particular narrative that Hampton lays out really brings out what seems like the utter pathetic-ness of a man who Republicans once talked about as presidential material -- as well as the strangely paternalistic culture of the religious organization with which he's affiliated. And it jibes with yesterday's news that Ensign went to his parents to pay off the Hamptons, painting a picture of a man who, despite being 51 years old and a powerful US senator, still seems strangely weak-willed and dependent on those around him.

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Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the likely Republican nominee in this swing state's top-tier 2010 Senate race, made a very interesting statement about health care reform: Suggesting that government should never have gotten involved in health care through Medicare and Medicaid back in the 1960s -- and possibly blaming those programs for the problems we have today.



"Well, you could certainly argue that government should have never have gotten in the health care business, and that might have been the best argument of all, to figure out how people could have had more access to a competitive marketplace," Blunt said during a radio interview. "Government did get into the health care business in a big way in 1965 with Medicare, and later with Medicaid, and government already distorts the marketplace."

"A government competitor would drive all the other competitors away," he explained. "What we should be doing is creating more competition. One of the reasons the marketplace doesn't work the way it should work right now is we really don't have the competitive marketplace that I'd like to see put in place."

A new survey of Minnesota from Public Policy Polling (D) has some tough news for Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is widely believed to be a potential presidential candidate for 2012. In his home state, where he is currently the two-term governor, he trails President Obama by a significant margin.

The numbers: Obama 51%, Pawlenty 40%, with a ±2.5% margin of error. This isn't all that different from the 54%-44% margin by which Obama defeated John McCain in Minnesota for the 2008 election.

Still, Pawlenty does better here than Sarah Palin: Obama leads her in this state by 56%-35%.

Obama's approval rating here is 54%, to a 39% disapproval, down from a 60%-30% score in April. From the pollster's analysis: "Barack Obama's popularity is declining as the economy continues to stagnate, but voters don't trust the Republican leaders either. It doesn't bode well for Tim Pawlenty's prospects nationally when he has such an uphill battle in his own state."

The Service Employees International Union is demanding that television stations in Arkansas and Nebraska pull down ads calling on Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Ben Nelson (D-NE) to vote against the "Employee Forced Choice Act."



"Your news network is running an advertisement sponsored by the Employee Freedom Action Committee," reads a letter the union sent to networks in both states, "which is demonstrably false and maliciously misleads viewers about unions and the Employee Free Choice Act."

In particular, the ad misleadingly refers to the "Employee Forced Choice Act."... The falsehoods and misrepresentations...warrant its immediate removal from the air.


The letter, which you can read here in full, explains the ads numerous distortions. The Employee Freedom Action Committee is the brainchild of notorious lobbyist Richard Berman, whose anti-union activities are well known to the labor movement.

Facing a deluge of letters from (mainly conservative) party members, House leaders have delayed unveiling their health care reform bill for at least a few days as they address a number of members' concerns. But the prime mover in their decision seems to have been pressure from Blue Dog Democrats, who delivered a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer last night.

"From where we are today, significant progress on the draft tri-committee health care reform proposal needs to be made in order to address each of these concerns," the letter reads. "We cannot support a final product that fails to do so. "

The letter, which you can access here, was signed by 40 of the 52-member coalition. Their concerns include deficit neutrality (the Blue Dog hobby horse) but also, financing, and the public option--which they say should not be able to use Medicare, or Medicare-like reimbursement rates (about 20 to 30 percent below the private market) but ought to compete on a level playing field. "We also wish to reiterate our support for the recommendations previously made by our Coalition regarding how to appropriately structure a public option," the letter reads. "In order to establish a level playing field, providers must be fairly reimbursed at negotiated rates and their participation must be voluntary."

That's fairly gentle language, and pretty remarkable when you consider that, until recently, a number of Senate Democrats were vying to scrap the public option altogether. I'll have more on this later today, but my immediate read on all this is that the Senate--its rules and its political makeup--remains the biggest hurdle to health care reform.

President Obama took questions this morning about health care legislation after his closing remarks at the G8 summit in Italy.

A reporter asked if the bill was "do or die" by Congress's August recess.

"I never believe anything is do or die. But I really wanna get it done by August recess," he said with a grin.

Obama also said that, although the negotiations will be tough, "I'm confident we're gonna get it done."

He acknowledged his opponents' criticisms that the deficit is growing under his presidency. "Fair enough," he said. "This occurs on my watch."

He added that the only way to get a handle on deficits is to corral health care costs.

Late last night, House leadership decided it would postpone the release of its completed draft of health care reform legislation, after Blue Dog Democrats--and a variety of other concerned members--raised a number of objections to aspects of the proposal.

The bill was originally supposed to be unveiled late last night, but will now be postponed until at least early next week.

Leadership characterizes this as part of the negotiating process--and that's fair enough. The House is still on a much clearer, more united course toward passing legislation than is the Senate. But after weeks of smooth sailing in the lower chamber, this is the first serious speedbump.

Obama: "Full Recovery Is Still A Ways Off" During his press conference this morning, President Obama said the world seems to have avoided a total economic collapse, but that "full recovery is still a ways off." With the end of the G-8 Summit, Obama said leaders have agreed on significant measures for the economy, the environment and national security, with a "widespread consensus we must continue our work to restore economic growth and restore our financial regulatory systems."

Obama's Day: Meeting With The Pope President Obama attended a working breakfast with G-8 and African leaders, at 2:30 a.m. ET (8:30 a.m. local time). At 4:30 a.m. ET, he attended a meeting with G-8 and African leaders, and then at 6:35 a.m. ET he met with South African President Jacob Zuma. He held a press conference at 8 a.m. ET. At 10 a.m. ET, he will meet with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at the Vatican, and then at 10:15 a.m. he will have a bilateral meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. The First Family will have an audience with the Pope at 10:40 a.m. ET. At 12 p.m. ET, Obama will leave Rome for Accra, Ghana, arriving there at 4:20 p.m. ET.

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Defying a government ban on rallies, hundreds of demonstrators once again took to the streets of Tehran today to protest the results of last month's presidential election. Protesters were also marking the 10th anniversary of violent student demonstrations in which one student was killed.

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Reports indicated that riot police were out in full force and fired in the air to disperse the protesters.

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See TPM photo galleries of the June protests in Iran here.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office just told TPMDC that the senator will file for cloture on the nomination of Robert Groves, whom President Obama tapped to be director of the Census Bureau on April 2.

Groves, the 60-year-old director of the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center, sailed through confirmation hearings in mid-May, but shortly thereafter, anonymous Republican senators held up his nomination, preventing a confirmation vote and leaving the bureau without a director. Earlier today Roll Call (sub. req.) reported that those holds were placed by Sens. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and David Vitter (R-LA).

The census, performed every ten years by Constitutional mandate, is not merely an exercise in demography: The populations of states and counties are used to determine Congressional reapportionment and redistricting, which will happen again before the 2012 election cycle. Moreover, state population totals affect the allocation of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to states for highway construction and renovation, Medicaid, and education, among other expenditures.

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