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A new polling analysis from Gallup shows a very interesting piece of data within the slight decline of President Obama's approval rating, down from its 68% honeymoon rating when he took office, to 63% now. Not only is the dip fueled solely by a fall in Republican support -- in fact, his ratings have gone up slightly among everyone else.

Between the polling sample from January 21-25, compared to February 9-15, Obama's ratings went from 90% to 94% among self-identified liberal Democrats, from 87% to 88% among moderate Dems, from 80% to 84% with conservative Dems, and from 47% to 50% among independents. On the other hand, his approval fell from 53% to 47% moderate Republicans, with a plummet of 36% down to 22% with conservative Republicans.

Obama's ratings are still very strong, and it appears the dip in his ratings is coming from people who were unlikely to have approved of him in the first place, but for the honeymoon factor. Everyone else, on the other hand, is either staying the same or approving even more.

The next domino is set to fall in the Jack Abramoff saga.

Ann Copland, a former longtime aide to Sen. Thad Cochrain (R-MS), was charged late last week with accepting gifts from, and doing favors for, the corrupt lobbyist and his cronies.

Reports the Associated Press:

Court documents filed Thursday say Ann Copland took thousands of dollars worth of event tickets and meals out in Washington from Abramoff and associates at his firm. Prosecutors say the gifts were in exchange for her favors benefiting one of their top clients, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

For weeks, there had been speculation that this move might be coming. When Team Abramoff member Todd Boulanger was charged last month, court documents referred to a Cochran staffer as having accepted gifts from Boulanger, in exchange for doing legislative favors for the Choctaw. The Associated Press quickly identified the staffer as Copland.

Then when Boulanger pleaded guilty shortly after, court documents revealed email exchanges between him and Copland, in which she complained that there were no "Hebrew National hotdogs" in the corporate suite at a Baltimore Orioles game that Abramoff's firm had provided her, and declared she was "freaking out" because no food was provided for her party at a Washington ice skating event.

Boulanger once wrote to Abramoff of Copland:
She's more valuable to us than a rank and file house member.

Copland abruptly left Cochran's office last year as Abramoff prosecutors gained more convictions of Hill aides. She had worked there 29 years.

So: Could the wide-ranging probe now have Cochran in its sights? We may be about to find out...

Obama To Pick Interior Dept. Inspector General To Oversee Stimulus President Obama will reportedly appoint Earl Devaney, the Interior Department inspector general responsible for investigating the Abramoff scandal, to be the chairman of the new Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, overseeing the economic stimulus program. Obama is expected to announce the pick today.

Obama And Biden Speaking to Governors, Addressing Fiscal Summit President Obama and Vice President Biden are speaking at 10:15 a.m. ET to the National Governors Association, where they will discuss what governors can do to implement the economic stimulus program. At 1 p.m. ET they will be delivering opening remarks to the Fiscal Responsibility Summit, with closing remarks at 4 p.m. ET.

Biden Meeting With George Clooney To Discuss Darfur Conflict Vice President Biden is holding a closed-door meeting tonight with George Clooney, to discuss the Darfur conflict and Clooney's recent travels there.

GOP Looks Back To Early 90's For Opposition And Comeback Strategies The Politico reports that Republicans are quite consciously looking back to the strategies employed during the first two years of Bill Clinton's presidency, in their opposition to President Obama's policies now. Grover Norquist said there are two choices: "One is 1990, [President George H.W.] Bush gets together with the Democrats at Andrews Air Force Base, raises taxes and loses the next election. The other is 1993, Democrats have a series of proposals to spend and tax. Republicans vote no and regain the House and Senate."

Feingold And Dreier Pitch Special Senate Elections To Illinois Russ Feingold and Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) have co-authored an op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune, finding a likely positive audience in the push for a constitutional amendment to end gubernatorial appointments to Senate vacancies in the wake of the recent controversies. "In the age of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, the backroom dealing isn't staying in the backroom anymore," the two write.

Bunning Predicts Ginsburg's Death, Blasts GOP For Lack Of Support In explaining his commitment to ensuring the appointments of conservative judges, Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) told a local Republican dinner on Saturday that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has nine months to live. "Bad cancer. The kind that you don't get better from," Bunning said. He also criticized his national party for not giving him sufficient financial support, also claiming a lack of support for conservatives Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn and...David Vitter.

George P. Bush Attacks Pro-Stimulus Republicans On Fiscal Responsibility George P. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush, spoke to a national conference of Young Republicans over the weekend and criticized certain unnamed Republicans -- understood to be Florida Gov. Charlie Crist -- for supporting the stimulus package. "We as conservatives have to ultimately balance the federal government's checkbook," the younger Bush said -- possibly unaware of certain events over the last eight years.

Oh, brother. The conspiracy-mongering that Barack Obama is secretly a Kenyan citizen who has hidden his real birth certificate has now found its way into the utterances of a United States Senator: Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama.

"Well his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven't seen any birth certificate," Shelby said on Saturday, in response to a constituent's question at a public event. "You have to be born in America to be president."

Click here for's debunking of this whole business.

Late Update: Shelby's spokesman has responded to the story, telling Ben Smith that it's a "distortion." The spokesman says Shelby mentioned the birth certificate as a "throwaway line" in explaining the qualifications for office, and that Shelby "doesn't have any doubt" of Obama's eligibility.

Obama Plans To Cut Deficit -- From Enormous Down To Huge President Obama is reportedly planning a budget policy that would cut the deficit in half by cutting the budgets for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and by ending the Bush tax cuts for individuals making over $250,000. But here's some math to show just what a tough job he has ahead of him: The deficit would still be $533 billion by the end of his first term, down from the $1.3 trillion he inherited from George W. Bush.

Obama Hosting Governors At The White House Tonight President Obama and the First Lady are hosting the National Governors Association for dinner at the White House tonight, with entertainment by Earth, Wind and Fire. Expect this to be a huge, momentous gathering -- and that's just Earth, Wind and Fire.

Sanford: Clyburn's Accusation About Stimulus Money "Is Absurd" Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) fired back at House Majority whip James Clyburn (D-SC) for saying his potential refusal of stimulus money was a "slap in the face" to his African-American constituents. "I think that any of us as governors -- and we do have 50 different incubators of different ideas and trying to get it right within our respective states, trying to make the judgment as best they can," said Sanford. "But the idea that color would filter into that decision-making process is absurd."

Barbour Accuses Obama Of Waging Permanent Campaign In an interview with CNN, Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), a former RNC chairman, noted that President Obama has been promoting the stimulus plan in swing states like Colorado, Indiana and Florida. "He's going to those places for a reason," Barbour said, attributing this development to the campaign skills of David Axelrod. "And so this is what we've become accustomed to, the perpetual campaign."

Feds Question Burris About Blago The Chicago Sun-Times reports that federal authorities questioned Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) at his lawyer's office on Saturday, regarding the Blagojevich case and the circumstances of his Senate appointment. He has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Franken Camp Files New Ballot List The Franken campaign has filed an amended list of 1,585 rejected absentee ballots that they say should be reconsidered for counting. Quite interestingly, nearly half of them were already on Norm Coleman's list of 4,800 -- but the conventional wisdom has been that both sides pick ballots that they believe will skew towards themselves. Does the Franken campaign know something that Team Coleman doesn't?

Schwarzenegger: GOP Is Creating Insecurity, Should Work With Obama Appearing on This Week, Arnold Schwarzenegger criticized the Republican Party in Washington for being overly ideological, and not working constructively with President Obama. "They should make an effort to work together and to find what is best for the people," said Arnold, "because by derailing everything, it's not going to help anybody, and it creates instability and insecurity."

Obama Focuses On Stimulus Tax Cuts In YouTube Address In his latest YouTube address, President Obama seeks to focus the public's attention on the tax-cut portions of the stimulus bill. "Never before in our history has a tax cut taken effect faster or gone to so many hardworking Americans," he says:

But Obama also stresses work remains to be done on helping people pay their bills, unlocking the credit markets, solving the housing crisis, generating growth and restoring fiscal discipline -- and that these issues are all inter-connected: "In short, we cannot successfully address any of our problems without addressing them all."

GOP Keeps Up Debunked Math About Stimulus In the new weekly Republican response to president Obama's YouTube, Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI) continues to push the GOP's line that their own plan would have created more jobs at half the cost:

As we've pointed out, this claim is based on some very questionable math -- it involves reversing prior calculations about what a tax increase would do, and declaring the mirror image to be true for a tax cut, and also ignores the fact that the current deflationary crisis involves different fundamental economic assumptions than usual.

Governors In Washington This Weekend The National Governors Association is meeting in Washington this weekend, and are set to have dinner at the White House tomorrow with President Obama. CQ points out that several of the Republican governors have also been seen as potential presidential candidates -- Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal and Charlie Crist, among others -- and could be testing any potential support while they're in Washington.

WaPo Profiles Jim Messina, Obama's 'Fixer' The Washington Post has a new profile of President Obama's Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, dubbing him "the fixer" who deals with solving Obama's problems. "The exact nature of that task changes from day to day," the Post says -- ranging from smoothing over the confirmation of Tim Geithner, to finding new potential nominees for Health and Human Services, or devising a strategy to track stimulus spending.

National GOP Sending Big Bucks To Minnesota Senate Fight The Hill reports that the national Republican Party has invested heavily in the Minnesota election dispute, with the RNC sending $250,000 to the Minnesota GOP. John McCain has sent $142,000 to the state GOP, as well, and other national figures have also sent money. "The RNC made the Minnesota recount a priority because we think Sen. Coleman has a strong case and deserves to return to the Senate," RNC spokesman Alex Conant told The Hill.

Report: Burris Has No Plans To Quit -- For Now Roll Call reports that Roland Burris has no plans to resign -- at least not yet. "Resigning has not been an option discussed," a source told the paper. "Who knows what's going to happen over the weekend? Anything can change."

Hillary Asks China For Cooperation On Climate Change While touring China, Hillary Clinton called upon the country to work with the United States to curb greenhouse gases, and to manage its economic growth in an environmentally sound way. "When we were industrializing and growing, we didn't know any better; neither did Europe," said Hillary. "Now we're smart enough to figure out how to have the right kind of growth."

Socks The Cat Dies Socks, the cat formerly owned by the Clintons during their years in the White House, and then given to personal secretary Betty Currie, has died at age 19. "Socks brought much happiness to Chelsea and us over the years, and enjoyment to kids and cat lovers everywhere," the Clintons said in a statement.

[Editor's Note: These photographs of President Obama's trip to Canada were released by the White House.]

By now, we've all seen those pictures of Allen Stanford hobnobbing with lawmakers in Antigua. But, with the exception of one trip by Sen. John Cornyn, it wasn't Stanford himself who picked up the tab for these jaunts -- it was an obscure outfit called the Inter-American Economic Council.

And taking a closer look at the IAEC, and its ties to Stanford, sheds some light on how the Texas billionaire gained access to all those members of Congress -- and what he hoped to gain by doing so.

The IAEC's website says that the Washington-based group was founded in 1999 and that it aims to "provide senior Government Officials, leading Business Executives, and Academic Professionals the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about current and future economic strategies in the Hemisphere." And in 2003, the Associated Press reported (via Nexis) that, according to IAEC president Barry Featherman, the organization "relies mostly on contributions from U.S. corporations."

But the group appears to have remarkably close ties to Stanford himself. In this 2006 report, Bloomberg described Stanford as a "principal backer" of the organization. And Stanford Financial told Bloomberg that it had "donated the use of its aircraft" to the IAEC for one 2006 trip to Jamaica that four Democratic lawmakers went on.

That same year, the IAEC gave Stanford its "Excellence in Leadership" award. A press release put out by the group (since removed from its website) declared that Stanford "has strongly supported the work that the IAEC is doing in Latin America and the Caribbean."

Stanford also appears to have taken advantage of IAEC-funded events by showing up personally to schmooze lawmakers. We already posted these shots of current or former lawmakers including Katherine Harris, Pete Sessions, Tom Feeney, James Clyburn, and John Sweeney chilling with Stanford and Caribbean dignitaries in Antigua in 2005.

But there's also another set of interesting shots from the previous year, showing Stanford breaking bread with, and addressing, lawmakers -- including former GOP congressman Bob Ney (since jailed for taking bribes from Jack Abramoff) -- at an IAEC-sponsored event in Washington.

(You can see the slideshow of photographs from that event

What was Stanford talking to lawmakers about? An IAEC press release from (via Nexis) from the event gives a hint. It says that in his speech, Stanford "addressed the need to streamline regulatory regimes that make it difficult for investors to take advantage of all of the opportunities that exist in the region."

And that same year, Newsday reported (via Nexis) on an IAEC-sponsored trip to Jamaica that included Democratic congressman Gregory Meeks. The IAEC, said the paper, hoped to "ease Patriot Act restrictions on offshore banking," and that according to Meeks, "the trip was an effort by the Inter-American Economic Council to explain the hardships the act has imposed on Caribbean banks."

In other words, Stanford and the IAEC used these events to try to convince lawmakers not to crack down on tax loopholes that work to benefit offshore banking -- exactly the loopholes that allowed Stanford to operate his alleged multi-billion-dollar scam, free from regulatory scrutiny, for so long .

In fact, the IAEC even seems to have used its clout to create a new congressional caucus -- the Caribbean Caucus -- made up of may of the lawmakers who went on the IAEC-backed trips.

After one such trip in 2003, attended by then-Rep. Phil Crane (R-IL), among others, Featherman, the IAEC president, revealed that "Congress is expected to form an informal, bipartisan Caribbean caucus to focus on issues of interest to the region," according to the AP (via Nexis).

The Caribbean Caucus would at various times include, among others, Ney, Meeks, Sweeney, Sessions, Feeney, Charlie Rangel, Mel Watt, Donald Payne, Phil English, Steve Chabot, Donna Christensen, Diane Watson, and Al Wynn, all of whom went to events on IAEC's dime.

Indeed, Stanford seems to have had some sway not only over the IAEC, but over the membership of the Caribbean Caucus itself. That Bloomberg story from 2006 reports that it was Stanford himself who asked Sessions to become a member of the caucus. Sessions seems to have agreed.

The IAEC is staying mum about its relationship to Stanford -- it hasn't returned either of TPMmuckraker's calls over the last few days. And the office of Rep. Payne, who was at one time listed as a co-chair, along with Ney, of the Caribbean Caucus, declined to make anyone available to answer TPMmuckraker's questions.

The Minnesota election court just heard arguments on Norm Coleman's motion to declare illegal ballots that he had previously agreed were legal, and boy was it tense.

The Coleman camp sent up James Langdon, the member of the team who has best come across as sympathetic and sincere. "We understand that we stipulated, and we take that very seriously," Langdon said. "However, our research told us we could not stipulate to make something legal that was in fact illegal."

The claim here is that the court has ruled that only strict standards will be applied in letting in any new ballots. But some of those 933 previously-rejected ballots that were counted on January 3 wouldn't pass this test. Therefore, the Coleman camp says, these ballots must be culled, tying the ballot itself to the original envelope for potential un-counting.

Langdon went even further and said that the Coleman campaign has filed a motion to apply the court's standards to all absentee ballots that have already been counted -- that is, the absentees from Election Night.

This contains an obvious problem: All those previous absentees were de-coupled from their envelopes on Election Night.

So the Coleman camp is now attempting to create a legal trap for the court: Undo the February 13th ruling and let in all those votes we want, or we will insist that the result is illegal.

And really, even if those other voters are let in, the Coleman camp might turn around and still insist that the whole count is illegal.

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