TPM News

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), the oldest member of Congress, was officially confirmed as the next chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday.

The Texas representative is a strong supporter of the oil and gas industry and has voiced his support for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. The League of Conservation Voters has given him a zero-percent rating every year since 2004 due to his positions and votes on environmental issues.

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DataCell, the Icelandic company that processes payments to Wikileaks, says it will sue Visa for cutting off payments to the organization.

"DataCell, who facilitates those payments towards WikiLeaks, has decided to take up immediate legal action to make donations possible again," the company's chief executive Andreas Fink said in a statement.

"Visa is hurting WikiLeaks and DataCell in high figures," he said. "Visa users have explicitly expressed their will to send their donations to Wikileaks and Visa is not fulfilling this wish."

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Senate Democrats are on the precipice of getting a Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal past a key procedural hurdle tonight. But key negotiators have grown frustrated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his staff for upping the pressure at a fragile moment, potentially scuttling the deal.

"I've been pleading with Senator Reid, don't hold a vote on the defense authorization bill, the repeal of DADT, until we have a good opportunity to work out a fair process for the consideration bill with Senator Collins and some of the other Republican," said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) this afternoon after a Dem caucus meeting. "Senator Collins really wants to vote for the bill with the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and Senator Scott Brown is the same and I think there may be at least one other Republican Senator to make that clear today."

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Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) has climbed off the Don't Ask, Don't Tell fence and decided to cast her vote for repeal. That makes her the third member of the Republican caucus -- behind Scott Brown (MA) and Susan Collins (ME) -- to say they'll vote to end the military's ban on openly gay service members, a number that should give proponents of repeal much to celebrate. It seems entirely likely now that Democrats have the necessary votes to block a filibuster of the defense authorization bill that includes the DADT repeal language.

But like Collins, Murkowski's vote comes with the stipulation that Democrats allow enough amendments for the debate to be deemed "open." Exactly what number that may be is the subject of much gnashing of teeth up here on Capitol Hill today.

As Greg Sargent reports, Murkowski's staff hasn't spelled out what her magic number of amendments is.

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The new survey of Minnesota from Public Policy Polling (D) finds President Obama leading various potential Republican challengers for 2012 -- including the state's departing governor, Tim Pawlenty. And not only that, but this poll has an extra-bad data point for Pawlenty. Mitt Romney actually does better in Minnesota than Minnesota's governor.

Obama carried Minnesota by a 54%-44% margin against John McCain in 2008. The state has not voted Republican at the presidential level since the Nixon landslide of 1972. It was the only state to vote for its Democratic native son Walter Mondale in the Reagan landslide of 1984, but in fact he won it only narrowly.

In this poll, Obama leads Newt Gingrich by 51%-38%, leads Mike Huckabee by 50%-40%, and trounces Sarah Palin by 54%-36%. As it turns out, he leads Pawlenty by 51%-43%, but only leads Romney by 47%-42%.

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South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) has stumbled upon a simple formula for legislating: experience a career-killing scandal. The term-limited Republican, who will leave office in January, saw his upward political trajectory apparently end in June 2009, after he disappeared for six days and later admitted he'd run off to Argentina to be with his lover. But his approval ratings have bounced back (Rasmussen recently pegged him at an Obama-would-be-envious 55%) and in an interview with WISTV this week, he credited the scandal itself with helping him accomplish a number of things in his last legislative session. How's that?

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Staff for Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who Democrats point to as the woman who can make or break Don't Ask, Don't Tell's repeal in the Senate this year, say their boss is negotiating in "good faith" on a compromise that will allow a cloture vote on the Senate defense spending bill containing the repeal language.

And when I asked whether they were making progress, I was told that "yes," and that "negotiations continue."

"Senator Collins is working in good faith with the Majority Leader to come up with a fair process under which the Defense Authorization bill could be considered," spokesperson Kevin Kelly told TPM. "She and Senator Lieberman met with the Majority Leader last week and they shared with him very specific information about how the Defense Authorization bill has been handled in the past."

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Here's an interesting tidbit we can thank jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for: according to cables included in the recent WikiLeaks document drop, informants have told diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia that American television-particularly Fox News Channel and David Letterman's Late Show-are proving to be powerful weapons against "violent jihad."

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Yesterday, House Republicans dealt the Tea Party and conservative advocacy groups a blow by electing Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) to chair the powerful Appropriations Committee next year.

Rogers is a famous earmarker, and a lot of critics see this as a harbinger that the GOP earmark ban might not be as ironclad as they'd like folks to believe. But just how much earmarking did Rogers really do? Enough to be named "Porker of the Month" by an anti-pork pressure group just four months ago.

Citizens Against Government Waste saddled Rogers with the award for "sponsoring legislation that could give federal funding to his daughter's nonprofit organization, which promotes overseas wildlife protection for cheetahs."

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Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and Fox News' Megyn Kelly this afternoon spent the better part of 10 minutes talking over each other on the White House's compromise with Republicans to temporarily extend the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans.

Weiner lamented the fact that the House in the past two years has sent more than 200 bills to the Senate only to see them "die," which he said makes it essentially impossible to get much of anything done.

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