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Tierney Sneed

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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GOP House leaders are scrambling to quell the backlash to a failed attempt to reverse limits on Confederate flags in national parks. But at least one Republican is willing to defend the efforts to protect the Confederate flag.

"I don't think it’s a racist symbol, I think people have misused it," Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) told reporters Thursday. "I haven't given it much thought because it's something in the South you kind of grow up being around, just seeing it at different venues or whatever. But I have never thought of it as a racist flag."

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Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who introduced one of the original amendments to remove the Confederate flag from national parks, suggested Thursday that Republicans' late-night move Wednesday to reverse the effort was a last ditch attempt to save the larger Interior appropriations bill.

Republican leadership was struggling to gain support for the Interior bill among the most conservative members of the GOP conference right, McCollum said.

McCollum told reporters on the Hill that she heard "this bill was in trouble because it didn't go far enough in repealing the Endangered Species Act. It did not go [far] enough in eliminating the EPA totally, which many of their members, you can tell by the amendments that they offered, wanted."

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For weeks, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) has been arbitrarily vetoing bills by the dozen -- even those with broad bipartisan support -- to punish lawmakers for not jumping on board with his Tea Party agenda. But this time it appears LePage may have finally overplayed his hand.

In what first appeared to be an attempt to "pocket veto" 19 bills, LePage instead may have let them become law due his inaction, as Democrats and the House rule-keeper say that under the state's Constitution he waited too long to veto the round of legislation. The governor and lawmakers are now in a tussle over the legal complexities of Maine's constitution and whether the legislature formally adjourned in a dispute that may require the intervention of the courts.

The current stand-off is just the latest act in LePage's scorched-earth campaign against his statehouse rivals and is the culmination of the governor’s veto shenanigans that have frustrated lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

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With Democrats and legal experts saying Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) screwed up an attempt to veto 19 bills and that the legislation is now law, the governor is promising to take the question to court to prove them wrong.

"We’ll go to the courts and we’ll ask them,” LePage said to reporters Wednesday, according to the Portland Press Herald. “It’s in the Constitution ... It’s very clear – very, very clear. Even I can understand it and I’m French."

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The office of Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) and the clerk in the Maine House are in disagreement over the fate of 19 bills that the governor apparently did not veto in time to prevent them from becoming law. One of the bills grants welfare benefits to some immigrants, which LePage vehemently campaigned against in 2014.

As the Bangor Daily News reported Tuesday evening, LePage appeared to be attempting to use the parliamentary procedure known as the pocket veto. By not signing the bills and "pocketing" them, LePage could under some circumstances have effectively vetoed them. In theory, that would have allowed the proposals to die without legislators having a chance to override his veto. But the pocket veto only works if the legislature has adjourned after the end of the second regular session. And there is the rub.

The clerk of the Maine House told TPM Wednesday morning that the legislature, which is nearing the end of the first regular session, has not adjourned. By not vetoing the bills within the required 10-day period, LePage allowed the bills he opposed -- some ferociously -- to become law.

But LePage's office is now claiming the legislature did adjourn. "The Legislature passed a joint order on June 30, 2015 to adjourn—not to 'recess,'” LePage's office said in a Wednesday email to TPM.

That has left the clerk of the Maine House thoroughly confused.

"Frankly, if he returns them to me, I don't know what I’ll do," Maine's Clerk of the House Robert Hunt told TPM, after being read the new statement from the governor's office. Hunt added that it appeared he and the governor's office have different interpretations of what, under the Maine Constitution, qualifies as an adjournment.

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As fallout continues from Wisconsin Republicans' failed attempt to gut the state's government transparency laws, a GOP leader finally admitted Tuesday Gov. Scott Walker's (R) office was involved in the proposal, which was dropped after passing a legislative committee.

"Sure. Yeah," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) said when reporters asked him whether the governor's office was part of conversations about the proposal, as reported by The Capitol Times.

"Along the way we had talked to them about open records issues and the amount of requests the governor gets," Fitzgerald said, according to WISC-TV. "The assembly obviously was involved as well."

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A provision in a Wisconsin budget package that would have gutted the state’s open records laws were scrapped after the Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the GOP legislative leadership came under intense scrutiny. However, a number of other consequential policy initiatives tucked into the larger budget bill remain intact. Some provisions appear to double down on Walker’s longstanding war on labor. Others roll back efforts to hold law enforcement accountable through transparency measures.

The governor’s office did not return TPM’s request for comment as to whether Walker, who will make his run for the White House official next week, intended to support or veto the measures. However, in the fallout over the open records law changes, legislators of both parties signaled his office was aware -- if not approving -- of all the provisions in the budget package, known as Motion 999, that passed the Joint Finance Committee on Thursday.

Here is what else is the package:

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A group of New Jersey Democratic lawmakers have vowed to introduce a bill that would force Gov. Christie Christie (R) to step down in order to run for president. The proposal, expected to be introduced in the days to come, is being sponsored by state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D) as well as Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D), NJ.com reports. They say Christie has been missing in action during his third gubernatorial term — often traveling to early primary states like New Hampshire — due to his presidential campaign, which he made official last week.

"He's not doing the state any good by spending the bulk of his time out of state," Lesniak told NJ.com. "And even when he's in-state, he's focusing on what he has to do to get elected president — which often runs contrary to what he ought to do for the state."

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Wisconsin Republicans may have swiftly backtracked on a proposal that would have gutted the state’s open records law, but the big question remains as to who inserted the language into the budget bill in the first place and whether Gov. Scott Walker (R) -- who was already facing a lawsuit challenging him to release certain legislative documents -- was involved in pushing the changes.

The changes to the public records law were initially approved by the Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Finance Committee by a party-line vote Thursday evening, before the long Independence Day weekend. But a fierce backlash prompted Republican leaders, led by Walker, to announce during the holiday weekend they were dropping the provisions. The proposal, part of a budget package known as Motion #999, would have removed a number of legislative documents from under the scope of government transparency laws, and would have permitted lawmakers to opt out of submitting to other types of public records requests. The proposal appeared to target communications tracking how legislation is developed, which often reveals the influence of special interests.

So far, Republicans have stayed mum on who initially pushed for the changes, though it has emerged in the last 72 hours that most of leadership chain was at the very least aware of them before they were put in front of the Joint Finance Committee on Thursday. As for Walker's role, the specifics of his involvement, if any, remain unknown. But the consensus in Madison is nothing would have gotten that far in the legislative process without at least Walker's tacit approval.

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