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Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), who switched from the Republicans to the Democrats earlier this year, is now trying to seize the left ground against his primary challenger, Rep. Joe Sestak. Specter's campaign is accusing Sestak of flip-flopping by supporting the Afghanistan surge, when he'd previously wanted a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq -- and Sestak is firing back that Specter supported George W. Bush on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Specter's campaign has posted this on their Web site:

Not only does Joe Sestak support expanding the war in Afghanistan, he also opposes a timetable for withdrawal, a clear flip flop from his 2006 Congressional campaign when he strongly urged the use of a timetable in Iraq.

Advocating "an exit strategy of measurements," on MSNBC last night, Sestak said of President Obama's commitment to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 18 months: "I wish he hadn't set a definitive timetable."

That plea comes in stark contrast to Sestak's 2006 support for a strict timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

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Worth a read this evening is Vanity Fair's new 6,000-word profile of Blackwater Xe chief Erik Prince, which comes complete with man-of-action photo spread and a shot of a Blackwater facility near the Pakistani border.

Perhaps the biggest revelation in the story, written with Prince's full cooperation, are the unprecedented levels of collaboration between Prince and the CIA -- to the point, according to Vanity Fair, that he was "a full-blown asset."

It's worth noting that the author of the piece, Adam Ciralsky, was himself a lawyer for the CIA before leaving in the 1990s amid a controversy about allegations he was wrongly suspended on suspicions of unauthorized contact with Israel.

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The Politico reports that Senate Republicans are outraged at Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) due to their votes against an amendment he introduced, to crack down on the rape of employees of military contractors, now being used against them:

The Republicans are steamed at Franken because partisans on the left are using a measure he sponsored to paint them as rapist sympathizers -- and because Franken isn't doing much to stop them.

"Trying to tap into the natural sympathy that we have for this victim of this rape --and use that as a justification to frankly misrepresent and embarrass his colleagues, I don't think it's a very constructive thing," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said in an interview.

...

"I don't know what his motivation was for taking us on, but I would hope that we won't see a lot of Daily Kos-inspired amendments in the future coming from him," said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, No. 4 in the Senate Republican leadership. "I think hopefully he'll settle down and do kind of the serious work of legislating that's important to Minnesota."


No, this is not The Onion.

At a press gaggle just now, Rep. Darrell Issa told reporters that the Salahis didn't invent White House party crashing.

"This is not the first time -- this has happened before," he said. "I got into the White House when my name wasn't on a slip during the Clinton administration."

As Issa told it, his party crash came in 1995 -- before he was a Representative -- at a NAFTA event held on the White House South Lawn. Issa said he was supposed to be on the list of attendees, but wasn't on the list the gate keepers had. So was turned away at the door. That's when he decided to pull a Salahi and waltz in anyway.

"My name wasn't on, I was rejected, I then walked through with what I recall was the Xerox group," he said. "We just came in en masse."

An Issa aide told TPMDC after the gaggle that Issa's breach did not result in a Secret Service investigation. Or, it seems, a shot at reality TV fame.

Few of the arcane traditions and privileges enjoyed by U.S. senators fly in the face of the principles of accountability and transparency as blatantly as the secret hold -- the legislative technique whereby a single lawmaker can scuttle a nomination or pending legislation anonymously.

As TPM readers know, we've tracked a number of secret holds in recent years, with the goal of bringing the lawmaker's identity to light. In 2006, for instance, we enlisted readers' help in identifying the senator who had placed a secret hold on legislation to make a searchable database of government grants and contracts.

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We reported earlier that the White House has changed its procedures for parties after the incident at the state dinner last week.

They just posted the new guidelines on the White House Web site.

The memo, written by Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, praises the Secret Service and details that they failed to stop the crashers when they weren't on the guest list.

The money line in the conclusion goes to the heart of the problem that allowed Michaele and Tareq Salahi to get into the dinner and hobnob with Vice President Joe Biden, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and others.

After reviewing our actions, it is clear that the White House did not do everything we could have done to assist the United States Secret Service in ensuring that only invited guests enter the complex. White House staff were walking back and forth outside between the check points helping guests and were available to the Secret Service throughout the evening, but clearly we can do more, and we will do more.


The memo in full after the jump.

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There's a lot of action going on behind the scenes in the Senate, particularly regarding a public option compromise, and the big question is will liberal (or conservative) Democrats go for it.

Leadership is working with them, and that might explain the silence, but I ran into Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) earlier today, who said he's working with "various senators" on the compromise.

I asked him whether caucus liberals have been receptive to the ongoing talks.

"They know we have to get 60 votes," he said.

Not a whole lot to go on there, but it doesn't sound like they're making a huge stink. Expect more on this soon.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is taping robocalls urging independent voters to support his amendment to send the health care reform bill back to committee.

Hotline on Call (sub. req.) reports that the robocall, paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, will target independents in Colorado, Arkansas and Nebraska -- constituents of moderate Democratic senators Michael Bennet (CO), Blanche Lincoln (AR) and Ben Nelson (NE).

In the call, McCain urges voters to go to a web site called healthcaretaskforce.org (which redirects to healthcare.nrsc.org), where they can sign a petition encouraging their senators to vote for McCain's amendment.

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If Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) gets his way, the dilatory tactics that have marked the early days of the Senate health care debate will grow more and more severe.

"We, the minority party, must use the tools we have under Senate rules to insist on a full, complete and fully informed debate on the health care legislation - as well as all legislation - coming before the Senate," Gregg wrote in a letter to Republican colleagues yesterday. "As laid out in the attached document, we have certain rights before measures are considered on the floor as well as certain rights during the actual consideration of measures. Every Republican senator should be familiar with the scope of these rights, which serve to protect our ability to speak on behalf of the millions of Americans who depend on us to be their voice during this historic debate."

Gregg says Republicans should be prepared to filibuster every motion, "with the exception of Conference Reports and Budget Resolutions, most such motions are fully debatable and 60 votes for cloture is needed to cut off extended debate."

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