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From the AP:

Two signature gatherers charged with tricking Orange County voters into registering as Republicans were sentenced to three years’ probation....

According to prosecutors, the recruiters went to shopping malls and campuses and asked residents to sign petitions for lower taxes or stricter sex offender laws, then tricked them into signing voter registration cards for the Republican party. The registration drive paid up to $10 per registrant.

Ah, so the question finally gets answered. Isn't the Republican newfound concern for minority rights a tad hypocritical?

From Roll Call (sub. req.):

When asked why Republicans were now endorsing proposals they long ignored, incoming Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) conceded the GOP had erred last year.

“In hindsight, I think [Pelosi] was right,” Cantor told reporters, adding that Pelosi is now the one ignoring the resolution, which would require more specific minority rights to control the floor, including the 24-hour requirement to review bills and conference reports.

Cantor, of course, was a member of the Republican leadership in the last Congress.

White House Won't Condemn Saddam Taunts "The Bush administration sent conflicting signals Wednesday about the taunting and baiting that accompanied Saddam Hussein's execution, with the White House declining to join criticism of the procedure and the State Department and U.S. military raising questions about it.

"'The president is focused on the new way forward in Iraq so these issues are best addressed out of Iraq, out of Baghdad,' deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel said. 'Prime Minister Maliki's staff have already expressed their disappointment in the filmings, so I guess we'll leave it at that.'

"Stanzel said the U.S. military and the U.S. Embassy in Iraq had expressed concerns about the timing of Saddam's execution and later about 'the process and what took place.'" (AP)

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Today, the House ethics committee ordered Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL) to repay the cost of a golf junket to Scotland with Jack Abramoff in 2003. Abramoff paid for the trip, for one, but the committee found that Feeney should have been paying for his own golf outing anyway.

Feeney's response?

“Tom felt, on balance, the trip was a waste of time,” [Feeney's chief of staff Jason Roe] said, adding, “It’s an expensive lesson, but we’re glad it’s behind us.”

Well, at least his Scotland junket didn't land him in jail.

The House returns tomorrow to begin a new session. Democrats have announced they'll push an ambitious legislative agenda in the first 100 hours, but some people -- us, of course, and many of our readers -- are eager to see congressional investigations kick off a new era of more involved oversight. Well, I hear we're all going to have to wait a while for those fireworks to begin. Just like the Fourth of July, the parade comes first.

"People shouldn't expect oversight hearings right out of the gate," one Democratic Hill insider told me today. While some, like incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joe Biden (D-DE), are planning immediate oversight hearings -- in Biden's case, on Iraq -- it will be several weeks or months before most panels will have significant new findings to release.

"It has surprised me how much of a dragged-out process this has been," said the insider, referring to the length of time it has taken many oversight operations to add staff and develop their agendas. He didn't believe disorganization was to blame. Rather, it has taken time for leadership in the House and Senate to determine budgets for the committees. "Until people knew what their budgets were, they wouldn't know what their staffing would be."

As a result, when the curtain rises on the 110th Congress, some committees are reportedly still interviewing for new investigations staff.

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Is there such a thing as irony-deafness?

Republican lawmakers held a press conference today to continue their push for a "Minority Bill of Rights" in the new Congress.

"The Minority Bill of Rights gives [Speaker Nancy Pelosi (R-CA)] a chance to lead with integrity instead of rule by force," Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) said, ignoring the Republican-controlled 109th Congress' reputation for strong-arm tactics.

"Washington, D.C. has just enacted a smoking ban, yet somehow Nancy Pelosi and her liberal colleagues have found a way to lock themselves in a smoky backroom in the Capitol to make deals for the next two years," Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) added.

Even House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), who as one of the top Republican leaders in the past two congresses was as responsible as anyone for the Republican majority's penchant for backroom deals and hard-nosed legislating, got in on the act, issuing a separate statement on the Democrats' diabolical intent:

In their first one hundred hours of governance, House Democrats will renege on a pledge to fully debate policy alternatives, denying the citizens of this country an open, honest discussion of the issues.

Just-departed Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) was cited by the House ethics committee for improperly accepting $23,000 worth of travel last summer, but has so far failed to repay that amount, according to a new statement from the panel.

The statement, released today, contradicts earlier claims by Weldon's lawyer that the committee had "apparently" cleared the congressman of wrongdoing in the affair.

In October, McClatchy Newspapers reported Weldon's personal attorney William Canfield told a report that the ethics committee had "apparently dismissed the matter because he's heard nothing in more than two years."

Yet the statement from the committee's chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) and ranking member Howard Berman (D-CA), states, "We therefore concluded in the middle of this year [sic], and advised Representative Weldon, that he was required to repay to the donors certain expenses of that trip, which exceeded $23,000."

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A moment of silence, if you please -- one year ago today, Jack Abramoff pled guilty.

A lot of things have changed since then. We've said goodbye to Reps. Tom DeLay (R-TX), Bob Ney (R-OH), Richard Pombo (R-CA), Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), and the Republican congressional majority. And now, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), once Abramoff's nemesis in Congress, is set to make another change, finally closing an egregious loophole Abramoff successfully protected for nearly a decade.

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Dem Lobbyists Hired To Align With New Congress "Washington's $2.3 billion lobbying industry is undergoing one of its periodic adjustments to shifts in government power — the first since the White House changed hands in 2001.

"Accustomed to dealing with Republicans and at times discouraged by Republican lawmakers from hiring Democrats, lobbying firms and business groups are now filling their ranks with policy experts and lobbyists more closely aligned with the new leadership on Capitol Hill.

"'Nobody on our side is telling them fire the Republicans, but they certainly understand they need to have a bipartisan team if they want to get anything done,' said Steve Elmendorf, a top adviser to former Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., who took up lobbying with Bryan Cave Strategies last year and opened his own shop after the election." (AP)

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