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For the last week folks across Washington - from the Commerce Department to Senate leadership to left-leaning advocacy groups - have had a bad case of heartburn over a potential floor fight on an amendment Republican senators were pushing to force the Census Bureau to ask immigration status during their 2010 count.

I wrote about the issue last week when Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) attempted to attach the amendment to the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill outlining spending for the next year.

Senate leaders feared the amendment was getting some support from red-state Democrats so the Obama administration worked furiously to get it stripped from the bill, killed or at least pushed down the road to debate when Congress finally tackles immigration reform.

Commerce Sec. Gary Locke made a tough case to senators asking they oppose the amendment, reminding them such a change would cost "hundreds of millions of dollars," and long delays since the 300 million census forms would need to be reprinted and reshipped.

"It is too late to shift gears at this point in the process," Locke wrote in a memo obtained by TPMDC.

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What began with J Street reaching out to Ambassador Michael Oren with a speaking invitation for its upcoming conference turned into a spat Sunday when the Israeli Embassy spokesman went after the young "pro-Israeli pro-peace" group using unusually blunt language.

Since then, the head of J Street penned an open letter to Oren, Israel's ambassador to the US, requesting he address J Street's conference later this month, and the Israeli Embassy has said that Oren is still considering the request.

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Speaking to reporters just outside the Senate chamber this afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scoffed at the suggestion--articulated last night by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)--that the public option is simply in his hands.

"He would rather say anything so it wasn't up to him," Reid said, before departing for a meeting with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Chris Dodd (D-CT). The four will hold the first meeting about how to shape a health care bill that will soon be introduced on the Senate floor.

Other senators have been significantly less vocal than Schumer (at least in public) with respect to what steps Reid should take to include the public option. I caught up with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin and asked him whether he agreed with Schumer. He said, "I'm definitely for the public option, I want it included in the final bill. I'm gonna leave it up to the Majority Leader's judgment and the vote of the Senate as to when that's going to take place."

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) was less forthcoming. "I never second guess the leadership on what kind of procedural moves they make," he said. "I just vote as I choose. I don't comment on their decisions."

President Barack Obama spoke this afternoon at the construction site of the largest Recovery Act project in Virginia about the economy and his $787 billion stimulus package.

"We are going to keep on going until we make sure that every single American in this country who's looking for work is going to be able to get the kind of well-paying job that supports their family," Obama said.

Obama said "we've made some meaningful progress" and that "our economy is in better shape today than when I took office."

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Sens. Harry Reid, Max Baucus and Chris Dodd held a press conference today before meeting with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to merge the HELP and Finance Committee health care reform bills.

"I believe in a public option, but remember, I said 'I do,'" Reid said, attempting to show his support for the public option without promising it will make it into the merged bill. As Sen. Chuck Schumer said last night, the public option is now in Reid's hands.

Baucus, whose committee yesterday passed their version of the bill, was positively giddy.

"Frankly, I am excited," he said, saying that the differences between what the parties want "pale in comparison" to the things they agree on. "We are united."

"All senators who want health care reform are in the room," he said.

Former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT), the national GOP's favored candidate for Senate against Democratic incumbent Chris Dodd in 2010, has departed from his former reputation as a moderate Republican -- he's now become such a devotee of the Tea Party movement, that he's inserted a tea bag inside his pocket Constitution!

"I've made it a habit over the years to carry my Constitution in my pocket as a reminder of what this country and what this country's government is all about," Simmons told a recent event. "But more recently because of the participation of many of you, I've added something to my Constitution. I've added a tea bag."

Simmons seems a bit half-hearted, though -- the tea bag is still inside the wrapper.

Former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, one of the candidates for the Republican nomination against Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), has been spending a lot of her own money on the race -- $2 million of it in just two weeks, the Hartford Courant reports:

McMahon is already spending at a blistering pace compared with her opponents. She launched a major television advertising blitz with commercials on the season premiere of "Saturday Night Live" and during a prime-time Notre Dame football game.

McMahon spent $2.05 million for the period ending Sept. 30 and has $1.45 million in cash on hand, her campaign said Tuesday night. She loaned $3 million to the campaign and made $496,000 in in-kind contributions for expenses she paid on behalf of the campaign.


It's interesting to note that when McMahon launched her campaign a month ago, she said would be running a different kind of campaign, and that she would be limiting all individual contributions to $100. It appears one individual is excluded from that rule, and is making up the difference.

Could the worst be still to come for John Ensign?

An expert consensus may be forming that the Justice Department will likely launch a criminal investigation into the philandering Nevada senator and his relationship with Doug and Cynthia Hampton.

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As the Associated Press has it, "[a]nother Republican senator says she's open to voting for a sweeping health care overhaul this year."

Reflexively, it makes sense to assume that Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) might be a gettable vote for health care reform. She's the moderate Republican besides her Maine colleague Olympia Snowe to vote with Democrats on major agenda items. But, as Greg Sargent notes, that's almost certainly not going to be the case on health care reform.

Her official statement in response to the passage of health care legislation on the Senate Finance Committee was to lambaste it in pretty clear terms. AP appears to be basing their headline on her final words:

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Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL), who is fending off a challenge from the right by former state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, is busy burnishing his conservative credentials, the Lakeland Ledger reports.

"When I was in the state Senate I was nicknamed 'Chain Gang Charlie,'" said Crist. "It's hard to get right of that."

Crist also boasted that he has been "about as conservative as you can get": "No governor has cut taxes more, no governor has vetoed more pork bills and no governor has spent more time reducing spending."

The single biggest issue that Rubio can use against Crist is the governor's endorsement of President Obama's stimulus bill. Let's see if "Chain Gang Charlie" can fight his way out of it.

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