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As if there weren't already too many factions of the Democratic party working at cross-purposes on health care, eight members of the House progressives are now saying, on behalf of the entire Congressional Progressive Caucus, that they won't tolerate any more weakening of the public option.

"We cannot tolerate further weakening of the public option," the letter reads.

We are also concerned about the latest discussion regarding the Independent Medicare Advisory Commission. We understand that no final decision has been made. However if discussions move forward to make IMAC a reality, we ask that you include us in discussion.

You can read the entire letter here. Some of the signatories are on record saying they won't vote for a bill unless it creates a public option--but now they're saying they won't vote for it if the one on the books right now is weakened any further.

About as soon as the letter was released, though, the status of the House health care bill became all-but unknowable, and it's not really clear how germane these concerns will be once the smoke has cleared. Still, it's a rare show of muscle from a group whose vote is often taken for granted, and that's sure to lift the spirits of beleaguered reformers after a hectic and disappointing week.

During his surprise press appearance, President Obama said he had spoken to Sgt. James Crowley on the phone. The White House just released a statement saying the president called Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard professor whom Crowley arrested, just after the presser.

"The President called and connected with Professor Gates at 3:15 this afternoon. They had a positive discussion during which the President told Gates about his call with Sgt. Crowley and statement to the media. The President also invited Gates to join him with Sgt. Crowley at the White House in the near future."

David McKalip, whose racist email showing President Obama dressed as a witch doctor triggered a barrage of outrage, has worked closely in recent weeks with one of the leading organized efforts to stop health-care reform.

After we posted McKalip's racist email yesterday, he sent a message to several online discussion groups attacking what he saw as "race baiting by Obama camp" and accusing TPM of "painting me as a racist." In addition to the Tea Party group to which he had sent the original image, that second message also went to an address for a discussion group run by Conservatives for Patients Rights, the prominent anti-reform group founded and bankrolled by multimillionaire former hospital CEO Rick Scott, and spotlighted in May by the Washington Post.

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This story is changing so quickly, it's all but impossible to stay on top of--but here are a few key issues--cribbed from conversations and my own observations--to keep you moored.

First of all, because everything's moving so fast, just about anything's possible.

Second, it really does seem as if the Blue Dog negotiations are dead. Differences are irreconcilable and time is basically up.

Earlier today, Waxman struck a deal with rural Democrats, concerned with Medicare reimbursement rates in their districts. It's unclear whether he thought that deal meant he'd shored up enough support for the bill that he no longer needed acquiescence of the Blue Dogs on his committee, but once that deal was struck he told them, basically, to play ball or go home. So they went home.

Democrats seem to have entered regroup mode, after mixed messages flew across the Capitol. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on the floor that a vote on a bill before recess is unlikely (though he added that the House might stay in session past next Friday if success was in reach). House Whip James Clyburn, was more hopeful, saying that all decisions would be made after Waxman and Speaker Pelosi sit down and take stock of where things stand. And within the last hour or so there's been something of a lock down on new, verifiable information as Democratic leaders figure out what to do next.

An interesting situation just might be going on in New York's 23rd District, which will have a special election some time this year after GOP Rep. John McHugh is presumably confirmed by the Senate to be President Obama's Secretary of the Army: The Republicans actually have their act together, while Democrats are still sorting things out.

State Sen. Darrel Aubertine, who had been a favorite of national Democrats, announced that he would not make the race. "My commitment is to the people of the 48th Senate District and has been all along," Aubertine said in his statement. Keep in mind that if Aubertine had won, the state Senate could have been flung right back into the chaotic situation we saw over the past several weeks, due to the fact that Democrats have only a two-seat margin and the Republicans would have had a plausible shot of winning a special election for his seat.

Republicans, meanwhile, already have a candidate who seems like a good fit for a Democratic-leaning district: State Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, a social liberal who is not only pro-choice, but has voted in favor of gay marriage. It's not often you see Republicans who favor that in any context, much less a high-profile race.

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The Republican National Committee has launched a new radio campaign, targeting House Democrats and trying to mobilize opposition to the Dems' health care proposals:

Voice: "Most Americans agree. It's time to take action to reform our healthcare system. But the dangerous experiment President Obama and the Democrats in Congress want just can't be the right answer. The question is what [Congressman/Congresswoman NAME] will do."

Voice: "Look at their record. The stimulus package cost us hundreds of billions without creating new jobs. The national debt has more than doubled."

Voice: "If Barack Obama and the Democrats get their way, the Federal Government will make the decisions about your health care. And, their plan costs a trillion dollars we don't have. You have to pay a new tax to keep your private insurance. It's too much, too fast."

Voice: "Call [Congressman/Congresswoman NAME] at 202-225-3121, that's 202-225-3121 and tell him/her to say no to this dangerous experiment."

On Air Disclaimer: The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising. Paid for by the Republican National Committee. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.

The RNC press release says the ad will begin running today in 33 states, though it has not been specified exactly which states those are.

CNN President Jon Klein wrote an email last night to "Lou Dobbs Tonight" staffers telling them the Obama birth certificate story is "dead," TVNewser reports.

"It seems this story is dead," Klein wrote, "because anyone who still is not convinced doesn't really have a legitimate beef."

He sent the email just before Lou Dobbs went on the air. He included information CNN's political researchers had gotten from the Hawaii Health Department -- information which "seems to definitively answer the question."

"Since the show's mission is for Lou to be the explainer and enlightener, he should be sure to cite this during your segment tonite," Klein wrote.

This is what he sent:

*In 2001 - the state of Hawaii Health Department went paperless.*Paper documents were discarded*The official record of Obama's birth is now an official ELECTRONIC record Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the Health Department told the Honolulu Star Bulletin, "At that time, all information for births from 1908 (on) was put into electronic files for consistent reporting," she said.

This is what Dobbs then said during his show:

The state of Hawaii says it can't release a paper copy of the president's original birth certificate because they say the state government discarded the original document when the health department records went electronic some eight years ago. That explanation, however, has not satisfied some critics.

He then continued with a segment about the birth certificate.

Dobbs, who's said he believes the president was born in the U.S., has nonetheless given airtime (and a measure of validity) to "birthers," people who question Obama's right to be president and argue that he's hiding his real birth certificate.

Late Update: In an interview today with Greg Sargent, Klein said CNN wouldn't take action against Dobbs if he continues pursuing the birther story, saying it's "his editorial decision to make."

When pressed about the fact that CNN has debunked the birthers' argument, Klein said, "We respect our viewers enough to present them the facts and let them make up their own minds."

Just about an hour ago, negotiations between Blue Dogs on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and chairman Henry Waxman broke down, perhaps irreconcilably.

Earlier today, Waxman lashed out at the conservative Democrats for trying to "eviscerate" house health care legislation, and threatened to bypass their concerns completely in order to get a timely floor vote on a healthy bill. That seems to have sent tempers flaring.

"It pretty much fell apart this afternoon," said key Blue Dog Mike Ross (D-AR), who called Waxman's rhetoric "not helpful," according to Congressional Quarterly.

"It's my understanding that will be the last meeting we have," Ross said.

Now the ball is in Waxman's court. Will he try to mark the bill up anyhow? Or will he freeze them out completely. Democratic leaders will host a caucus meeting on Monday to address all members' concerns about the bill--a sign, perhaps, that they aren't going to wait for this intra-panel tiff to be resolved. If that's the case, all eyes will return again to the Blue Dogs to see whether they'll revolt against the bill. Showdown!

President Obama just made a surprise appearance at the daily White House press briefing, taking over the podium from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to make a few comments about the hullabaloo over the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

"These are two decent people," Obama said. He said he spoke by phone with Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer, which he said confirmed his impression of Crowley as "an outstanding police officer, and a good man."

He said both parties overreacted.

But, he said, "African-Americans are sensitive to these issues, and even when you've got a police officer who has a fine track record on racial sensitivity, interactions between police officers and the African-American community can sometimes be fraught with misunderstanding."

"My hope is that, as a consequence of this event, this ends up being what's called a teachable moment," Obama said.

...where all of us, instead of pumping up the volume, spend a little more time listening to each other, and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities, and that instead of flinging accusations we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity.

As for those who criticized the president for getting involved:

There are some who say as president I shouldn't have stepped into this at all, (which) I disagree with. The fact that this has become such big issue is indicative of fact that race is still a troubling aspect of our society.

"Whether I were black or white, I think me commenting on this and hopefully contributing to constructive, not negative, (discussion) ... is part of my portfolio," Obama said.

As for the teachable moment, he said we need to spend "a little more time listening to each other, and focus on how we can generally improve relationships between police officers and minority communities."

He also said Crowley suggested that he, the president and Gates meet over a beer in the White House. Obama said it hasn't been scheduled, but seemed open to the idea.

Crowley apparently asked Obama how to get reporters off his lawn.

"I informed him I can't get the press off my lawn. He pointed out my lawn is bigger than his lawn," he said, to laughter from the press corps. "Sgt. Crowley would be happy for you to stop trampling his grass."

Obama also joked that no one's been paying much attention to health care because of this story.