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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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The Justice Department has declined to provide documents on the CIA's detention and interrogation of terror suspects that were requested by a Democratic Senator.

In a letter to incoming Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Justice Department said it "was not in a position" to give him copies of the the two documents he had requested in November.

"We remain committed to continuing these discussions," the Dec. 22 letter stated. "We must do so, however, in a manner that protects classified information and the confidentiality of legal advice and internal deliberations within the Executive Branch."

In a statement e-mailed to reporters, Leahy said he was disappointed by the administration's decision to "brush off" his request, but wasn't dropping the matter. "I have advised the Attorney General that I plan to pursue this matter further at the Committee’s first oversight hearing of the Department of Justice."

Leahy's full statement, after the jump.

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Two of the sharpest-toothed hunters among House Democrats are also among the longest-serving: Reps. John Dingell (D-MI) and John Conyers (D-MI). Combined the two men have over 95 years of service in Congress, yet their instincts for oversight remain sharp.

Player: Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) Position: Chair, House Energy & Commerce Committee

"You're the biggest pain in the ass on Capitol Hill," President Bush reportedly told Dingell in 2005 as the two fought over health care legislation. It's a reputation the senior lawmaker does little to diminish. He's claimed his share of scalps from the executive branch, including at least one jailing mixed in with the forced resignations. Rove pal Ken Tomlinson quit the Corporation for Public Broadcasting board under Dingell's pressure. (Tomlinson couldn't stay out of trouble, however.)

Since it became clear he would retake his committee's chairmanship, Dingell has held his list of executive-branch targets close to the vest. Natural targets would include the administration's trade policies, and its ties to Big Oil. He's made no secret of his appetite for investigating the private sector. So far, he's tipped his hand enough to show plans to investigate Medicare and Medicaid fraud involving big pharmaceutical companies, as well as the Food and Drug Administration and the dietary supplement industry.

Player: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) Position: Chair, House Judiciary Committee

Convers, in his fifth decade on Capitol Hill, has emerged as one of the Democrats' most vocal critics of the White House. After holding hearings on the topic in 2005, he's held tenaciously to questions from the Downing Street Memo that were never answered to his satisfaction. The memo is a British government document from 2002 which alleged the Bush White House was "fixing" the intelligence about Iraq to make a case for war.

Last August, Conyers' staff produced a report detailing at least 26 violations of law on the part of the Bush administration, mostly involving pre-war intelligence, the NSA domestic spying program, and the CIA's black sites operations. Despite producing a list of potential criminal charges against President Bush, Conyers has repeatedly denied allegations that he seeks to impeach the president. He has called for "Watergate-style hearings" to learn the details of many of the administration's questionable programs.

"[W]e are leaving ourselves vulnerable to infiltration by those who want to mold the United States into the image of their religion, rather than working within the Judeo-Christian principles that have made us a beacon for freedom-loving persons around the world."

-- Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA), in an op-ed published in today's USA Today, explaining why he believes the United States should refuse immigrants from the Middle East.

Republicans aren't yet an official minority in the House, but they're already beginning a campaign to portray themselves as victims of a heartless Democratic majority.

In a "Dear Colleague" letter circulated to fellow Republicans, three House GOPers are trying to push a "Minority Bill of Rights" -- based on a two-year-old proposal by then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). You can read the letter here.

"Unfortunately, as you are well aware, the Democrats' forty-year reign over the House was plagued by consistent, systematic efforts to usurp the rights and privileges of the Republican minority," write Reps. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Tom Price (R-GA).

They don't mention their party's own strongarm tactics -- which is striking, given that since 2002 Cantor himself was a member of the House GOP leadership, which was known for ruthlessly engineering legislative victories. "[R]eveling in the power they have, [Republicans] are using techniques to jam bills through even when they don't have to . . . simply because they can," is how congressional expert Norman Ornstein characterized the GOP's screw-the-minority tactics from 1994 to the present, according to a 2004 Washington Post article.

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