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The DCCC has a new radio ad out in their effort to attack Jim Tedisco, the Republican candidate for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat, over his refusal to take a definite position on how he would have voted on the stimulus bill -- and they throw in some other issues, too:

"But Jim Tedisco refuses to say whether he supports President Obama's economic policies," the announcer says. "Jim Tedisco even refuses to say whether he supports the stimulus." The ad later expands this theme into Dem candidate's support for executive pay caps: "Scott Murphy supports caps on executive compensation for companies receiving federal bailout money, too. Jim Tedisco? Again, he refuses to say."

Republicans have a serious chance of winning this seat, thanks to its historic Republican lean (though Barack Obama narrowly carried it in 2008) and the fact that Tedisco comes into the race with much higher name recognition as a state legislator than the Democrat does as a first-time candidate. But the Democrats obviously think that economic populism could be a real winner here, and are building their campaign around President Obama's popularity and the stimulus bill.

A charity co-founded by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) -- a key Congressional champion of the pharmaceutical industry -- has received over $172,000 in contributions from drugmakers. Hatch's son has also been hired as a lobbyist by the industry. Big Pharma's contributions only came to light because the IRS mistakenly released a confidential tax filing to a nonprofit last year. Good government advocates say that points up the need for stronger disclosure laws. (Washington Times)

Court documents released in the Dusty Foggo case show that in 2005, Foggo and defense contractor Brent Wilkes had dinner at Washington's Capital Grille with then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and then-House Appropriations Committee chair Jerry Lewis, according to a report by the journalist Seth Hettena. Lewis has since claimed not to remember seeing Wilkes -- who pleaded guilty to bribing former GOP congressman Duke Cunningham -- in ten years. (

Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater Worldwide -- now known as "Xe" -- has announced he is stepping down as CEO of the parent company. Though Prince will remain chairman, he'll no longer be involved in the day-to-day running of the firm he founded 11 years ago. Five former Blackwater guards are scheduled to stand trial for a shooting incident in a Baghdad Square that killed 17 Iraqi civilans in 2007. And both the State Department and Iraq recently declined to renew the company's license to operate in that country. "I'm a little worn out by the whole thing, the politics of it all," Prince said. (Wall Street Journal).

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Roland Burris hasn't given a definite answer as to whether he'll be running for a full term in 2010, but he's clearly taking the steps to run just in case the answer is yes. Burris now has a new campaign Web site, complete with a "Contribute" button:

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that a whole bunch of potential candidates are lining up on both sides to run for the seat. One possibility would even involve the state passing legislation to hold a special election in the middle of Burris' term, which he might challenge in court.

But if that Web site above means anything, it's that any new candidates should assume, until contrary evidence pops up, that they'll have one particular person as an opponent: Roland Burris.

(Via Politics1.)

Late Update: The Hotline reports that the site is a placeholder, set up by a Burris associate, and has been up since he was first seated, though it only just attracted notice. A Burris spokesperson says the Junior Senator from Illinois still hasn't made a decision about 2010.

The Federal Election Commission has now ruled in favor of John McCain, finding that he did not violate the law when he opted out of the public-finance system during the primaries.

At issue is the fact that McCain obtained a $3 million bank loan in 2007, when his campaign was in serious trouble, which would have potentially been paid back using federal funds had he failed to win the primaries. He instead went on to win the Republican nomination, raised money the old-fashioned way, and never actually collected federal cash until the general election.

The Democratic National Committee filed a complaint over the deal. But the FEC decided that McCain "permissibly withdrew from the matching payment program and thus was released from his obligations," and that there was no reason to believe a violation occurred.

Obama's Day Ahead: Announcing Sebelius For HHS President Obama will announce at 1 p.m. the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Then at 2 p.m. ET, he will meet with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.

NYT: Washington Offers Sebelius Big Chance On Health Care The New York Times examines Kathleen Sebelius' record on health care, finding a Democrat whose efforts to expand health coverage have faltered against a heavily-Republican state legislature. "Now, with the backing of a Democratic Congress," the Times says, "Ms. Sebelius will have a chance to achieve in Washington what she failed to accomplish in Topeka, and then some."

Dean: I Would Have Liked Health And Human Services Post In an interview with the Huffington Post, Howard Dean discussed his previous desire for the HHS post. "I was pretty clear that I would have liked to have been Secretary of HHS but it is the president's choice and he decided to go in a different direction," Dean told Sam Stein. But he made sure to compliment Kathleen Sebelius: "I think she will be very good. She is a very nice person and I think she will be fine."

WaPo: Geithner And Summers Steer Obama's Economic Policy The Washington Post profiles the partnership that has developed between Tim Geithner and Larry Summers. "I'm struck in meetings by the fact that when Tim says something, it was exactly what I thought needed to be said," said Summers, also adding that the two of them will often finish each other's sentences, and can communicate through a single glance.

Reid Reopens Senate Debate, Allowing More GOP Amendments Roll Call reports that Harry Reid has made a decision to open up Senate debate in a much less controlled manner than he did during 2007 and 2008, in the hopes that such an environment can make it easier to adopt amendments and attract the necessary Republican support to pass bills. Thus far, the paper notes, the decision has attracted praise from Republicans and some consternation from Dems.

Durbin: Race Factored Into Burris Controversies Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has acknowledged that race became a factor in the discussions surround Roland Burris' appointment to the Senate. "My colleague from Illinois, Congressman Bobby Rush, made strong statements along those (racial) lines," said Durbin. "They were painful and hurtful, and it became part of this calculation."

Hillary Promises Aid For Palestinians, Says No Funds For Hamas Hillary Clinton is pledging $900 million in U.S. aid for humanitarian help for the Palestinians, including $300 million for Gaza. Hillary has also promised that the money will not go to Hamas: "We have worked with the Palestinian Authority to install safeguards that will ensure our funding is only used where and for whom it is intended and does not end up in the wrong hands."

Canada's Harper: Afghan War Can Never Be Won Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is making it clearer that his county will not be providing more troops for Afghanistan, a war that President Obama is trying to beef up, without a clear exit strategy. "My own judgment is, quite frankly, that we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency," the Conservative prime minister said, adding: "We have to have an Afghan government that is capable of managing that insurgency and improving its own governance."

Obama Picks Sebelius For Health And Human Services President Obama has reportedly selected Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) to be his Secretary of Health and Human Services, and will officially announce the pick on Monday. Sebelius' move to the cabinet would seem to take her out of the running for the 2010 Senate race, for which some had hoped she could be first Democrat to win a Senate seat from Kansas since 1932.

Limbaugh Reaffirms It -- He Wants Obama To Fail, And America To Succeed Rush Limbaugh accepted his "Defender of the Constitution Award" at CPAC last night, reaffirming that he wants President Obama's policies to fail. "You can't say, Mr. Limbaugh, that you want the President to fail because that's like saying you want the country to fail," Limbaugh said rhetorically. "It's the opposite. I want the country to survive. I want the country to succeed," he added, as the crowd cheered.

Cantor Distances Himself From Limbaugh, Says GOP Doesn't Want Obama To Fail Appearing on This Week, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) rejected the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh, that Republicans want Obama to fail:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So the Rush Limbaugh approach of hoping the president fails is not the Eric Cantor , House Republican approach?

CANTOR: George, absolutely not. And I don't -- I don't think anyone wants anything to fail right now. We have such challenges.

What we need to do is we need to put forth solutions to the problems that real families are facing today. And our common-sense, conservative principles of limited government, and the belief in free markets, and the belief that really opportunity can only be created by the private sector are going to undergird our proposals going forward.

Rahm: Limbaugh "The Intellectual Force And Energy" Of GOP Appearing on Face The Nation, Rahm Emanuel moved to further tie the Republican Party to Rush Limbaugh, declaring him to be "the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party." Of Limbaugh's rhetoric about failure, Rahm said: "He said it, and I compliment him on his honesty. But that's their philosophy that's enunciated by Rush Limbaugh and I think that's the wrong philosophy for America."

Orszag: Deficit Will Go Down In Near Future Appearing on This Week, White House Budget Director Peter Orszag reaffirmed the White House's projections that they can cut the deficit in half in the next few years, as the economy recovers and the Bush tax cuts expire. "We've got both spending constraints and additional revenue, as the economy recovers," Orszag explained. "That's where a lot of the deficit reduction comes from."

Gates: Obama 'More Analytical' Than Bush Appearing on Meet The Press, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates compared President Obama to his previous boss, George W. Bush: "I think that probably President Obama is somewhat more analytical. And he makes sure he hears from everybody in the room on an issue. And if they don't speak up, he calls on them." He also said it is "fairly remote" that the current plan for withdrawal from Iraq would change.

Mullen Expresses Confidence In Obama, Withdrawal Plan Appearing today on Fox News Sunday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said that the current timeline to withdraw from Iraq is acceptable, and expressed his confidence in President Obama: "He clearly has sought my advice. I feel very comfortable that as a senior military officer and adviser to the president that he is giving me the time and the opportunity to advise him accordingly."

Pawlenty: Coleman Has 'Plausible' Chance In an interview with The Hill, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) said of the disputed Senate race in his home state: "Norm has a plausible chance, a decent chance of winning this thing. He has raised irregularities that rise to the level of legal issues, legitimate legal issues, that could change the result."

The CPAC straw poll results are in showing that there is no clear favorite among the assembled conservative activists for the 2012 Republican nomination:

Mitt Romney 20%
Bobby Jindal 14%
Ron Paul 13%
Sarah Palin 13%
Newt Gingrich 10%
Mike Huckabee 7%
Mark Sanford 4%
Rudy Giuliani 3%
Tim Pawlenty 2%
Charlie Crist 1%
Undecided 9%

A lot of news outlets are reporting this as a Romney win, but that doesn't seem all that accurate for a 20% plurality in a field this large. The bottom line is that there are a whole bunch of possible candidates who could pick up support, and the field still has a lot of time to really form.

It's a wide-open field with no clear favorite -- and it doesn't really have to be anything other than that, at this very early point in the game.

Obama's Weekly Address: Budget Keeps Promise Of "Sweeping Change" In this weekend's YouTube address, President Obama declares that with his new budget he is keeping the promises he made during the campaign on issues such as the tax code, education, energy policy and other issues -- and that he expects a fight in Washington to get it passed:

"The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long, but I don't. I work for the American people," says Obama. "I didn't come here to do the same thing we've been doing or to take small steps forward, I came to provide the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November."

GOP Response: Senator Burr Blasts Deficit Spending In this weekend's Republican response, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) -- who voted for the Bush tax cuts and expansions in entitlement spending -- denounces the deficit spending being conducted under President Obama:

"Looking at the spending priorities of Democrats in Washington in the proposed budget and over the past month, it's hard to escape the reality that for the first time we could see the American Dream vanish," says Burr. "Now, instead of working hard so our children can have a better life tomorrow, we are asking our children to work hard so that we don't have to make tough choices today."

CPAC Honoring Limbaugh The 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference third and final day is today, featuring such speakers as Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, Phyllis Schlafly, Bill Bennett, Ann Coulter, David Horowitz and others. The crowning moment will come at 5:30 p.m. ET, when the "Defender of the Constitution Award" is presented to Rush Limbaugh.

No Obama Or Biden Events President Obama and Vice President Biden do not have any public events scheduled for today.

Pawlenty: GOP Must Reach Out To 'Sam's Club Voters' During his speech at CPAC, Minnesota Governor and possible presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty made the case that the Republican Party has to reach out to working-class "Sam's Club Voters." Pawlenty declared that the GOP must speak "with a feel and concern and tone and an understanding of the importance and the challenges of the working class of this country," also adding: "And it doesn't mean we have to sacrifice our principles to do it."

Romney: Bush Should Done A Stimulus; GOP Needs A Spokesperson In an interview with the Politico, Mitt Romney criticized George W. Bush for failing to propose his own stimulus plan last fall, "so that in September, October, November, December, there would have been a stimulus plan," rather than the one eventually passed by President Obama. Romney also got to the bottom of the problem now facing the GOP: "What's challenging about being in the minority is we don't have a spokesperson for our position who lays out a plan."

Labor Unions Aiming For Reconciliation, New Federation The Associated Press reports that the top labor unions are negotiating to re-forum under a single new federation, four years after several AFL-CIO member unions broke away to form Change to Win. "There's obvious benefits in terms of efficiency, message delivery, financial savings and a host of other reasons," said former House Dem Whip David Bonior, who has been brokering the discussions. "You can always be more effective if you're talking in one house as opposed to three."

Bunning Denies Story About Threatened Resignation Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) is denying reports that he threatened at a Washington fundraiser to resign his seat -- and thus let the Democratic governor appoint his replacement -- if Republican leaders keep trying to pressure him into retirement. "It's not true," he told Roll Call in a statement. "I intend to fulfill my obligation to the people of Kentucky. If you are going to write something like this, you'd better make your sources known because they are lying."

John Sununu, who serves on the Congressional Oversight Panel monitoring the government's bailout program, has joined the board of a subsidiary to Bank of New York Mellon -- a firm that, in addition to receiving bailout funds, has been hired by the Treasury Department to administer the program.

Given that the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) is charged broadly with assessing how the TARP program is working, in order to help Congress determine whether to continue injecting capital into the financial sector, the arrangement would appear to create a significant conflict of interest for the former New Hampshire GOP senator.

On Wednesday, the investment firm BNY ConvergEx Group announced that Sununu had joined its board of governors. "His experience as a thoughtful leader and champion of innovation makes him an ideal match for ConvergEx's entrepreneurial spirit," said company chairman Joseph Velli of Sununu.

According to its press release, the company is an affiliate of Bank of New York Mellon (BONY). Founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1784, BONY received $3 billion in TARP funds back in October -- less than some Wall Street firms, but not chump change.

Just as significantly, it was also picked to be the master custodian for the bailout funds. According to reports, that means it's charged with handling accounting and record-keeping for the program, and even with tracking limits on executive pay at banks that got TARP money.

Sununu was appointed to the COP by GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell in December -- a little over a month after he was defeated by Democrat Jeanne Shaheen in his bid for reelection to the Senate.

Sununu's conflict, then, appears clear. As a member of the COP, he's in part responsible for evaluating whether taxpayers got a good deal through TARP, and for assessing whether Treasury and the banks are doing enough to track the bailout money, as well as whether banks are using the money to make loans, as they were supposed to. On the broadest level, COP's job is to help Congress figure out whether the TARP program is working as it should, and how to adjust it going forward. It's not hard to see how that responsibility could conflict with his activities as a member of the board of a company that both administers the TARP program, has received funds from it, and could potentially be in line for more.

In his work on the panel so far, Sununu has hardly been an advocate for taking a hard line on the banks. Earlier this month, the COP, which is chaired by Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren, released a report detailing the kinds of far-reaching reforms to bolster the financial regulatory system that the crisis has pointed up the need for. But Sununu and the panel's other Republican, Rep. Jeb Hensarling didn't sign on. Instead, they attached their own alternative report, that recommended an approach to financial regulation that was more friendly to Wall Street, and emphasized the need to rein in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage firms.

No one answered a listed number for Sen. John E. Sununu in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

We've also contacted COP to ask whether Sununu discussed his ties to Bank of New York Mellon with panel staff. And we're hearing there's more to this story ... so we'll keep you posted.

Grover Norquist, the conservative activist and head of Americans for Tax Reform, chatted wih TPM about the annual Conservative Political Action Conference and how enthusiasm is still high among Republicans even after last year's electoral drubbing. He also explains how the conference has approached one of the most famous conservatives of all: George W. Bush.