TPM News

In a speech today, President Obama announced several new programs, including an annual White House science fair, to boost interest in science and math education, especially among minorities and girls.

"If you win the NAACP championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you're a young person, and you produced the best experiment or design, or the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement too," Obama said to an audience that included students, the first American female astronaut Sally Ride and those guys from Mythbusters.

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A new national survey from Public Policy Polling (D) finds that health care has put the Democrats in a tricky situation -- passing a bill with a public option doesn't offer a clear political benefit, but not passing anything would cause an even greater problem.

The Democrats lead on an initial generic Congressional ballot by 46%-38%. If they pass a health care with a public option, the gap becomes 46%-41%. If they don't pass a health care bill at all, though, it becomes a 40%-40% tie -- reminiscent of the loss in Democratic support in 1994, after they failed to pass a health care bill.

"Clearly Democrats need to pass a health care bill if they want to do well at the polls next year," said PPP president Dean Debnam, in the polling memo. "But they don't need to take an all or nothing approach. Allowing the status quo to remain rather than accepting a bill without a public option would be a poor decision politically."

The poll was conducted from November 13th to November 15th, before this past weekend's vote in the Senate to proceed with debate on the health care bill. The margin of error is ±3%.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson did not give back donations to his presidential campaign from accused fraudster Hassan Nemazee, and Richardson may have also kept $5,000 given by Nemazee to his 2006 gubernatorial campaign.

The donations to Richardson have come under increased scrutiny since Forbes reported last week that Nemazee's investment firm was gunning for a state contract at the same time Nemazee gave the money to the '06 gubernatorial campaign. Carret Asset Management, partially owned by Nemazee, won the contract in 2007 and has made nearly $2 million in fees.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got his 60 on Saturday, and when the Senate returns from Thanksgiving recess next week, they'll be debating and amending a major piece of health care legislation. However, the vote, and its aftermath exposed or clarified the cleavages within the Democratic party that will have to be bridged if Reid hopes to keep his caucus in line on the next cloture motion--to end a Republican filibuster and hold a simple majority vote on reform.

If you thought the opt-out compromise was a silver bullet for the public option, you may have gotten a bit ahead of yourself. It held up for a while, and could still survive, but that's going to require some interesting gymnastics from Democratic leaders. Leading up to Saturday's vote, and in its immediate aftermath, conservative Democrats entrenched their opposition to the public option in the Senate bill. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) repeated his threat to support a health care filibuster if it includes a public option of any kind, and, despite her earlier support for the provision, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) took to the Senate floor Saturday and announced, "I'm promising my colleagues that I'm prepared to vote against moving to the next stage of consideration as long as a government-run public option is included." That gives her a bit more wiggle room than Lieberman's left himself, and Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) have a bit more still, but that makes 60 for the opt out a tough climb. On the other side of the caucus, though, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Roland Burris (D-IL) have inched closer to threatening to block a health care bill from the left if the public option is weakened further. If reform is to pass, one side of the caucus will have to hold its collective nose and vote for something they don't like.

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Could Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-SC) leadership PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, be on the verge of getting involved in the Illinois Senate race, and opposing establishment favorite Rep. Mark Kirk?

DeMint's group held an online poll this past week, asking supporters to choose between Kirk, attorney and conservative activist Patrick Hughes, and "Other." As it turns out, Kirk came in third, even trailing "Other": Hughes 644 votes (73.9%), "Other" 132 votes (15.1%), Kirk 71 votes (8.1%), with "Undecided" and "No Response" totaling 24 votes (2.7%).

Hughes has met with DeMint twice, and is working to mobilize conservatives against the frontrunner. DeMint has taken the sides of more conservative candidates over the establishment in recent months, including Doug Hoffman in the NY-23 special election, Marco Rubio in the Florida Senate race, and Chuck DeVore in the California Senate race.

Kirk has worked hard to move to the right -- such as when he changed his position on the climate change bill, right in the middle of a speech to a local Republican crowd.

Former DNC chair Howard Dean, one of the most outspoken advocates of health care reform and a public option, said today that neither the House nor the Senate bill represents real insurance reform.

"This thing has been pretty watered down. Right now, it's about as watered down as it could be and still be a real bill. For example, there's really no insurance reform in this bill, already," Dean said on MSNBC.

He added that the Senate bill is "decent" and the House bill is "better." But, he said, insurance companies can still charge double for those with pre-existing conditions under the House bill.

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San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was irritable during a recent interview about the city's budget deficit, telling a reporter he was "disappointed" in the line of questioning.

It was his first sit-down with the press since he last month abruptly and without explanation dropped out of the race to be California's next governor.

In the Thursday interview, Newsom criticized CBS 5 political reporter Hank Plante, who asked about the mayor's recent travel schedule and unusual behavior since ending his political bid.

Newsom wanted to talk about San Francisco's $522 million budget deficit but ended up playing defense against Plante's questions. As he left the interview while the cameras were still rolling, he told Plante "off the record," he was disappointed.

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Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, a candidate for the Republican nomination to run against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), may have just gotten herself in trouble with the right -- saying that she probably would have voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

Dave Weigel reports:

At a breakfast with reporters this morning, California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina responded to a question about whether she would filibuster Obama nominees by saying that "elections have consequences," but that she'd look at the nominees' qualifications.

"I did not closely follow the Sonia Sotomayor nomination," said Fiorina. "I was battling breast cancer. But I probably would have voted for Sotomayor. She seemed qualified."

Look for state Rep. Chuck DeVore, Fiorina's opponent in the Republican primary, to use this against her in his efforts to be the hard-line conservative option.