TPM News

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took a break from budget negotiations this week to get back to one of the Senate GOP's most popular pastimes: blocking presidential nominees. McConnell, along with Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), pledged in a letter on Monday to hold up any White House nominee to replace departing Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as well as nominees for any other trade-related posts until trade agreements with Colombia and Panama clear the Senate.

"My fear is in trying to appease their union allies the administration is willing to let these two agreements wither on the vine," Hatch said at a press conference Monday announcing the move. "We are here today to make clear that we will not allow that to happen."

President Obama said that the agreements were a priority in his State of the Union this year, but U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said last month that the Latin American countries must address their own outstanding labor issues, including accusations of violence against labor leaders in Colombia, before a final deal is reached.

President Barack Obama's editorial calling for a fresh dialogue on the issue of guns in the wake of the shootings in Arizona went out of its way to avoid offending gun owners. He said "almost all gun owners in America are highly responsible," called them "our friends and neighbors," and said they "buy their guns legally and use them safely, whether for hunting or target shooting, collection or protection."

He pointed out that gun rights have been expanded during his administration, and didn't call for any new restrictions on guns -- instead advocating for "enforcing laws that are already on the books."

But the National Rifle Association appears determined to be offended by Obama's call for a new tone in the discussion over gun policy. Appearing on Fox News on Monday, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre told Megyn Kelly that Obama has an "administration embedded with people who spent their lifetime trying to destroy" the freedom of the Second Amendment.

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Scott Bloch, the former Bush administration official who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor contempt of Congress but has been trying to withdraw that plea since a judge ruled he would have to spend at least one month in prison, appeared in a Washington, D.C. court Monday to formally ask a federal judge to reconsider her refusal to allow him to take it back.

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Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is not afraid to continue to beat the birth certificate drum as a criticism of President Obama. Appearing on the radio show of conservative host Jeff Katz, Bachmann didn't bring up the birther issue, but when prompted by Katz with it, happily declared how she would be different than Obama.

Katz was amazed that his sons had to provide more documentation to play little league baseball than what he alleged Obama ever had to provide. Bachmann assured Katz how there won't be any lingering questions with her:

"I'll tell you one thing, if I was ever to run for President of the United States, I think the first thing I would do in the first debate is offer my birth certificate, so we can get that off the table."

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This won't go over well with a lot of his fellow GOPers. Freshman Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), the Staten Island Republican who defeated Democrat Michael McMahon in November, just launched a broadside against conservative members of his own party who are threatening to defect from spending legislation that seeks to prevent a government shutdown.

"The extreme wing of the Republican Party is making a big mistake with their flat-out opposition to a short-term continuing resolution," Grimm said in a statement. "I know that there is some opposition to working with Senate Democrats from the extreme right of the tea party who would rather see a government shutdown than pass a short-term solution; however, as long as we continue to cut spending each time, we are keeping our promise to the American people to reduce the deficit and fix the economy."

File that under statements that will make Chuck Schumer very happy. Counter-intuitively, though, John Boehner might also be breathing a sigh of relief. Not because he's happy about the rifts within his party, or because he secretly agrees with Grimm on the merits. But Grimm and others like him represent a potential buffer for Boehner if the right flank of his party becomes too unwieldy and he has to legislate, as Schumer suggested, with the help of a lot of Democrats. For now he's shown no signs of moving in that direction.

Eric Cantor (R-VA) pushed aside criticism on Monday that GOP budget cuts would compromise America's ability to detect a Japan-style tsunami and help allies like Japan with their own disasters.

The president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization warned last week that the Republican House's spending plan would cut funding for NOAA by $450 million from President Obama's proposed budget, potentially requiring furloughs at tsunami watch centers. Cantor was asked at his weekly press briefing about the funding as well as cuts to USAID, which provides relief to disaster areas.

"I mean, essentially what you're saying is go borrow from the Japanese so we can go and spend it to help the Japanese," Cantor told reporters.

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President Obama's plan to overhaul the nation's energy policy, already beset by strong GOP opposition in Congress and the BP oil spill, is facing a new setback as Japan struggles to prevent multiple nuclear reactor meltdowns in the aftermath of Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The President's call for the government to support a new generation of nuclear power plants as part of his "clean energy" agenda is under intense new scrutiny since several nuclear reactors at multiple power plants in Japan were stricken by a cascading series of natural disasters and other failures.

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On Friday, a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake, the fifth largest in the past century, struck Japan. The earthquake, and the subsequent tsunami it triggered, devastated the island nation, leveling homes and buildings and washing away entire neighborhoods.

Compiled below are some of the most shocking, terrifying, and unbelievable videos of the disaster as it unfolded.

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