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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) tells me he thinks President Obama gave the cause of health reform "a big boost last night, but though he supports Obama's proposal, he does have a few concerns.

"I think it was very powerful and even more importantly very persuasive," Wyden told me. "Health care is such a complicated issue, and intensely personal and the way the President outlined it, it really served as a trampoline--a jump--to the next part of the debate which is on the Senate Finance Committee on which I serve."

On the specifics of the President's plan, Wyden laid out a small handful of issues he'd like to see improved. Specifically, and foremost, Wyden says, "the area that i would like to be bolder in is in this area of creating a market through choice and competition."

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RNC Chairman Michael Steele told the Washington Times that it was "bad form" for President Obama to talk about a letter he received from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), at last night's speech to Congress.

"I'm sorry, but I just felt a bit unnerved by it, in the sense he just passed," said Steele.

"His wife was still clearly emotional," Steele added. "I just thought that was bad form. We all understand and appreciate the role Sen. Kennedy has played in this debate and the passion he brought to health care. I just thought that was a little bit much for me, so soon after his death, using that as a political tool."

Steele seems to be under the impression that this was all a surprise to Vicki Kennedy -- that it was some kind of coincidence that she'd been invited to sit as a guest of Michelle Obama during a speech on one of her late husband's biggest political issues.

(Via Political Wire)

In another freewheeling performance in front of the cameras this afternoon, Mark Sanford accused state lawmakers of trying to railroad him out of office, and demanded that he be given a chance to present his "side of the story."

"It is not OK to short-circuit an ethics process to try and get the result that you want," said the beleaguered governor, referring to an ethics inquiry that's focused on his decision to leave the state in the lurch when he visited his Argentinean mistress, and his use of state aircraft.

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Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) gave an interview with WIS, the local NBC affiliate in Columbia, South Carolina, and expressed contrition for his "You lied!" outburst -- but he also said he's received a lot of support for it back home.

"Well, I have been overwhelmed by phone calls from constituents -- people of the Second District -- who say, 'Joe, thank you for speaking up for us,'" said Wilson. "'Thank you for your passion, for the people who you represent, because you understand the threat to the health care system -- the potential for rationing -- and we appreciate so much you speaking up for the people of the United States.'"

Congressional investigators have found yet another forged letter to a lawmaker -- purporting to be from a local group, but really sent by the DC astroturf lobbying firm Bonner & Associates on behalf of a coal industry client -- criticizing climate change legislation. That brings the known total to fourteen, sent to at least three different members of Congress.

The new letter is on the letterhead of an American Legion post in Rocky Mount, Virginia. Like many of the others, it was sent to Rep. Tom Perriello. It asks the Democratic congressman to "make sure the Waxman-Markey bill includes provisions to promote American energy independence, while protecting already cash-strapped constituents from increases in electricity prices." It concludes, "Thank you for listening to concerns of vets in your district."

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Maybe President Obama's health care speech yesterday did have an impact on Republicans. For instance, earlier this afternoon, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) told MSNBC "of course there's common ground. There is plenty of common ground."

"In fact," he said, "I would venture to say that we agree on about 80% of the issues right now. It's just a matter of hashing out those few areas where we disagree, but there's really not been that kind of real discussion, and it needs to happen."

That's downright Obama-esque language right there.

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The Justice Department's internal ethics unit has opened an investigation into the decision to drop a voter intimidation complaint against members of the New Black Panther Party, the Washington Times reported yesterday.

In a letter sent late last month, Mary Patrice Brown, who runs DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility, told Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) that OPR had "initiated an inquiry into the matter."

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid often says that he supports a public option "or something like a public option." But he spoke about that a bit more specifically today:

"The purpose of a public option is to create competition, which is so important, and to create quality healthcare," Reid told reporters today. "If we can come up with a concept of a cooperative that does just that, that is it makes more competition and makes insurance companies honest, yes, I think that would fit the bill," Reid said.

A couple things jump out about this. First, this is a bit more specific than we're used to with Reid. He's very clear here that, at least in theory, a co-op could meet all of his and the President's requirements with respect to creating competition and honesty in the insurance market.

More importantly, though, this comes a day after Obama's speech where he specifically warned liberals that he doesn't see a government-run public option as an end in and of itself. It's a tool. Reid is using very similar language to say a co-op model might serve that function as well. And since the just-released Senate Finance Committee draft provides for the creation of a co-op system, it seems pretty clear that Reid's taking the idea seriously.

Late update: A Reid spokesperson tells me "Reid did not endorse the co-op plan at today's press conference. He reiterated again today that he supports a public option but is open to interpretations of such a plan. The goals for him are lowering cost and keeping the insurance industry in check." And indeed, it does seem that other reports have overstated Reid's remarks.

On his radio show today, Rush Limbaugh lambasted Republicans for condemning Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-SC) outburst of "You lie!" during President Obama's speech last night -- and even said he wished Wilson hadn't apologized:

"That was a blatant lie. I'm gonna tell you something. I've -- one of the things that's really irritated me all morning and last night, was listening to Republicans, even after wilson has apologized -- and I wish he had not. But he's apologized, and even after he's apologized, members of his own party are all over television denigrating him."

Does this mean Wilson will now have to apologize to Limbaugh for the apology to Obama?

What did conservative Republicans think of President Obama's health care speech last night? Not very much, apparently. Sen Orrin Hatch (R-UT)--who, you'll recall was a part of the "gang of six" back when it was the "gang of seven"--even went so far as to predict that the proposal Obama outlined would get zero Republican votes. No Collins. No Snowe.

"I really sincerely doubt if Olympia or Susan will go with them. I really sincerely doubt that Chuck Grassley and Senator Enzi will go with them," Hatch said.

The one thing the President said where people can get insurance across state lines, anywhere in the country, lowest possible prices they can, that's a good idea but that's an idea that Republicans came up with long ago. That takes some conservative Democrats came up with that as well. When he talked about medical liability reform, he is talking about, you know, small projects. We don't need small projects.

We'll have video for you shortly. And, we'll try to get an answer from Sens. Snowe and Collins on what they think of Hatch's powers of prognostication.

Late update: Video Below.