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Blog Home Page --> April 2009

House Passes Credit Card Bill

The House, as expected, easily passed the Credit Card Holders' Bill of Rights legislation today. At a morning press conference, Rep. Carolyn Maloney said she expected the margin to increase from September, when the House passed it by a 312-112 vote, with 84 Republicans supporting it. And it did.

The bill passed today 357-70, with 105 Republicans supporting it and 69 against it. Just one Democrat (Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.) opposed the bill.

Republican Leadership, including Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), voted against the measure, while Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) did not vote.

Click here for our earlier coverage of the bill and its prospects in the Senate.

IL Senate Poll: Kirk Looks Good

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), first elected in 2000, is fresh off two close races in his moderate district north of Chicago, which has voted for Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama in the last three presidential elections. He's reportedly "poised" to run for Senate, and a new PPP poll indicates he's in good position at the starting gate.

According to the survey (April 24-26, 991 RV, MoE +/- 3.1%), Kirk, who's still not well-known statewide, runs even with Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and leads both Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Sen. Roland Burris. He trails Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, though many expect her to run for governor.

Kirk 53 - Burris 19 - Und 28

Kirk 37 - Schakowsky 33 - Und 30

Kirk 35 - Giannoulias 35 - Und 29

Kirk 33 - Madigan 49 - Und 18

Should Kirk choose to run for re-election, he'll have a Democratic challenger awaiting him. State Sen. Michael Bond announced yesterday his intentions to run for the 10th District seat.

Boehner Releases Web Video on American Safety

House Minority Leader John Boehner, along with Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), released a web video today asking whether the administration's strategy toward terrorism is keeping Americans' safe.

Asked at his weekly press conference today whether the video was alarmist, Boehner said he was simply raising his own concerns on behalf of Americans regarding the decision to close the Guantanamo detainee facilities and release of the CIA interrogation memos.

"Well, the question is, do you feel safer?" Boehner said. "What I'm trying to do here is to push the adminstration to tell us, what is the overarching strategy to take on the terrorists and defeat them, and to help keep America safe."

Earlier in his comments, however, Boehner expressed support for President Obama's Iraq and Afghanistan strategies.

"I support the president's responsible plans to bring our troops home from Iraq after victory, and to bring stability to the country of Afghanistan," Boehner said. "I think the president's made very good decisions with regard to how to approach those two theaters."

Credit Card Bill Makes Way Through Congress

Rep. Carolyn Maloney's (D-N.Y.) pet project may finally see the president's desk this year. The Credit Card Holder's Bill of Rights is expected to pass the House today, while the Senate will begin considering a companion version of the bill next week.

The legislation would prohibit credit card companies from retroactively increasing interest rates on existing balances, as well as end so-called "double-cycle" billing, in which interest is charged on debt already paid.

At Speaker Pelosi's weekly press briefing this morning, she and Maloney expressed confidence the bill would pass, as it did last September on a 312-112 roll call vote -- with 84 Republicans supporting it.

"We will increase this margin," Maloney said, adding that President Obama's support for the bill will lead more Members to support it.

"Ninety percent of the American people support this. I don't know about the other 10 percent. I don't know what they're thinking," said Pelosi. "We expect it to get the sufficient number of votes in the Senate and go to the president's desk."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he did not yet know whether there were 60 votes in support of the measure in the Senate, but said there could be backlash from the American people against those who did not.

"Democrats, independents and Republicans in the country want something done," he said.

The House bill is currently being debated on the floor, with a vote expected this afternoon.

Strategy Memo: First Day of the Rest of Your...

Good Thursday morning. Today, on his 101st day (is it safe to stop that now?) President Obama pays special attention to the military, first in a meeting with top Armed Services committee members in Congress (including John McCain) to talk military procurement. He will later speak at an event called "White House to Light House," benefiting veterans who suffer "life-altering injuries" in battle.

Both chambers of Congress move on today after approving the budget resolution yesterday. The Senate takes up a bill that would help prevent mortgage foreclosures, and the House will complete consideration of the Credit Card Holder's Bill of Rights.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will testify this morning to the Senate Appropriations Committee regarding the war supplemental.

**100 Days Press Conference
*Kyle's take, from the White House: The president handled this press conference perhaps as well as he ever has. While he slightly evaded a question here or there, Obama took good questions and churned out great answers more often than not.

*Politics Daily's Carl Cannon: "Obama handled himself deftly, articulately striking a balance between sticking to his talking points and actually answering the questions that were asked-something presidents don't always do. The White House press corps acquitted itself well, too, which is not always the case, asking an eclectic mix of questions about policy, politics, and governing style."

*The AP's lead: "President Barack Obama said Wednesday night that waterboarding authorized by former President George W. Bush was torture and that the information it gained from terror suspects could have been obtained by other means. 'In some cases, it may be harder,' he conceded at a White House news conference capping a whirlwind first 100 days in office."

*Pakistan: Obama said he was "gravely concerned" about the stability of the Pakistani government but that he was confident Pakistan's nuclear arsenal would not fall into the hands of Islamic militants.

*Politico's Martin and Harris: "Far from electric, this was a tranquilizing performance. So much so that it was impossible not to conclude that a president who certainly knows how to be exciting was making a calculated effort not to be."

*The Fix: "Obama didn't offer any insight into whether he is rethinking his opposition to a truth commission or prosecutions of those involved in the CIA's harsh interrogation of terror suspects, but he did make a VERY clean break with the Bush administration on waterboarding -- among the most controversial of those tactics."

*Congress passes budget: "Democrats in Congress capped President Obama's 100th day in office yesterday by pushing through a $3.4 trillion federal budget blueprint - a third of it borrowed - that lays out the path for his chief policy initiatives. The vote of 233 to 193 in the House, closely following party lines, demonstrated again the deep ideological divisions, as all Republicans rejected the spending plan, joined by 17 Democrats. The Senate vote later yesterday afternoon was 53 to 43, also with no Republican support. Newly turned Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania voted no, as he did earlier this month when it initially passed the Senate."

*"Legislation to rein in credit card practices and eliminate sudden rate hikes and late fees that have entangled millions of American consumers is getting closer to becoming law, bolstered by presidential pressure and the backdrop of economic calamity," AP reports.

**Specter Fallout/Republican Party
*"As Specter was greeted warmly by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, many in his old party pushed to paint him as a political opportunist and argued that his move did not reflect a wholesale public rejection of the GOP," L.A. Times reports.

*"Faced with a high-profile defection and the prospect of political irrelevance in the Senate, Republicans took off the gloves Wednesday for a ferocious game of finger-pointing," Politico reports.

*"By this morning, the transformation will be officially complete, as Senate officials plan to unbolt Specter's desk from the right side of the chamber, where he has sat since January 1981, and wedge it into the cramped quarters on the Democratic side of the aisle," Washington Post reports.

*"Senior Senate Democrats are objecting to the deal Majority Leader Harry Reid made with Sen. Arlen Specter, saying they will vote against letting the former Republican shoot to the top of powerful committees after he switches parties," The Hill reports.

*The New York Times gets at the key debate amongst Republicans: "Should it purge moderate voices like Mr. Specter and embrace its conservative roots or seek to broaden its appeal to regain a competitive position against Democrats?"

Chris Chocola, of Club for Growth: "We strayed from our principles of limited government, individual responsibility and economic freedom. ... We have to adhere to those principles to rebuild the party. Those are the brand of the Republican Party, and people feel that we betrayed the brand." Sen. Lindsay Graham: "We are not losing blue states and shrinking as a party because we are not conservative enough. If we pursue a party that has no place for someone who agrees with me 70 percent of the time, that is based on an ideological purity test rather than a coalition test, then we are going to keep losing.

*WaPo's Perry Bacon: "Looking to rebrand a struggling Republican Party, a group of party heavyweights including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) are launching a new group that will hold town halls around the country and look to produce GOP ideas on issues like education and health care." The so-called "National Council for a New America," also includes former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. "A letter announcing the group's creation does not specifically say that it is separate from the Republican National Committee, but controversial RNC chair Michael Steele is not involved in the effort. "

*Speaking of Steele, the Washington Times reports that the "embattled" RNC chair "angrily returned fire in his fight with current and former officers over control of the GOP's purse strings," blasting a group of members who want new checks on his spending abilities. "I have just returned from an overseas trip to learn that the five of you have developed a scheme to transfer the RNC chairman's authority to the treasurer and the executive committee," he writes. "It is of course not lost on me that each of you worked tirelessly down to the last minute in an effort to stop me from becoming chairman."

*The Washington Post notes that Specter voted against Obama's budget yesterday, because of the reconciliation issue with health care.

*Washington Times: Republican donors are asking Specter for their money back, including fellow Sens. Johnny Isakson, Lamar Alexander, Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn.

**Campaign Stuff
*"Despite Republican Norm Coleman's appeal to the state Supreme Court, Democrat Al Franken continues to hire staff," First Read reports.

*"The NRSC late Wednesday announced a phone campaign to registered Pennsylvania Democrats, 'introducing them to their new Democrat U.S. Senator, Arlen Specter.' The calls feature a glowing endorsement by former GOP President George W. Bush and Specter's own words stating his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act and his intention not to be a guaranteed Democratic vote," The Hill reports.

*Jim Bunning said on Tuesday that he does not expect any major GOP opposition. He also said there are promising signs in fundraising: ""In fact, I'm having a much better second quarter (of the year) than I had first," Bunning said, per the Louisville Courier Journal.

*VA GOV: Gun control was a major topic as the three Democratic candidates for Virginia governor debated in Blacksburg last night. Brian Moran criticized Creigh Deeds for voting to override Gov. Tim Kaine's veto of a bill to let people with concealed weapons permits carry concealed weapons into bars.

**Live Free Or Die!: The New Hampshire Senate approved bills authorizing gay marriage and the use of medical marijuana.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

House Approves Budget Conference Report

The House of Represenatives gave final approval today to the $3.4 trillion budget resolution agreed to late Monday night in a conference of House and Senate members. The resolution was passed on a 233-193 roll call vote just before noon.

In another unifying show of protest, no Republicans voted in favor of the budget. Seventeen Democrats crossed over and voted against it as well.

The Senate is currently debating the resolution, and is expected to pass it later today.

During the vote, Democratic leaders from both sides of the Capitol gathered to celebrate the legislative accomplishments achieved during President Obama's first 100 days. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the bills passed already were "all about jobs, jobs, jobs" and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called it a "fast start to a long race."

Corzine: I'm Going to Run

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) told Andrea Mitchell this afternoon on MSNBC that he will indeed run for governor this year.

"I am going to be running," Corzine said. "I think that's the first time I've said that on television, so you're breaking news. Although, everybody knows that we filed our papers in front of the primary deadline. We're actively pursuing building our organization and preparing to run."

A Monmouth/Gannett poll out today finds Corzine trailing former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie by 4 points -- the latest in a long run of disappointing numbers for Corzine.

The governor said property taxes, a local issue in the state, were a drag on his numbers there, and that the nation's dismal economy hurts most incumbents around the country.

"It is a time when people are very uncomfortable, and if you're in office, some of that is going to rub off on the incumbent," Corzine said. "I am quite hopeful that working as a partner with the White House, we'll be able to see some of that change come about here in New Jersey, and we'll see a better outcome in November in those polls."

100 Days Stories

There have been plenty of articles today looking at President Obama's first 100 days in office. Well, Mike and I wrote some as well.

You can read Mike's story that looks at Obama's past and future 100 days here.

And you can read my look at Congress and Republicans' difficult transition during Obama's first 100 days here.

Strategy Memo: 100

President Obama marks his 100th day with a recent political victory and a more distant minor defeat. He and Vice President Biden were just joined by Arlen Specter (D-PA), the newest members of the caucus, for a brief statement at the White House. He'll shortly leave for a town hall meeting in Missouri, a state he narrowly lost in November to John McCain, one of many trips he's made to battleground states.

Biden will spend his day at the White House, including a conference call with regional reporters as the administration presses its 100 day talking points. But the big show is Obama's prime time press conference, his third East Room event and 11th substantive Q&A session overall.

The House is expected to vote today on the budget resolution conference report agreed to late Monday night, and the Senate will begin debate on the report. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will testify in front of the Senate Homeland Security committee today regarding the federal government's response to the swine flu.

**Arlen Specter, Democrat from Pennsylvania
*Biden spoke first at this morning's photo op, saying, "Arlen Specter has been my friend and my confidant and my partner and I his partner in scores and scores of major, major pieces of legislation. ... He's been there for me every time things have been tough for me, and I hope I have been there for him. And it gives me great pleasure to now officially be in the same caucus with Arlen Specter."

Specter repeated that he was unwilling to subject his record to the Republican primary electorate, and is "ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers" in the general election. He said Obama has projected an administration he's "comfortable with," and that he knows he can be helpful in sharing his views of "centrist government."

Obama spoke last, prefacing his remarks with talk about the swine flu (which he did not call swine flu). He called Specter one "tough hombre," and said he doesn't expect him to be a rubber stamp. "He has my full support, my full commitment to work with him on those areas where we do agree."

*Michael Steele, in an e-mail to RNC supporters: "When Benedict Arnold defected to the British, George Washington didn't fold the tent and give up either."

*Rush's reaction: "A lot of people say, 'Well, Specter, take [Sen. John] McCain with you. And his daughter [Meghan]. Take McCain and his daughter with you if you're gonna..." he told listeners, dissolving in laughter.

*VP Biden played a lead role in lobbying Specter to make the switch, pushing his friend for years. "I have been working on that in earnest for the past four years and double time for the past 100 days (as vice president)," Biden told a Democratic fundraiser in Houston on Tuesday.

*WaPo's Dan Balz: "How much more can the Republicans take? Demoralized, shrinking and seemingly lacking an agenda beyond the word "no," Republicans today saw their ranks further thinned with the stunning news" that Specter was defecting.

*VandeHarris: "Amid gloating among Democrats and recriminations among Republicans, the Specter divorce is both symptom and cause of the GOP collapse -- leaving the opposition party on the brink of irrelevance in Barack Obama's Washington and facing few obvious paths back to power."

*AP's analysis: "Specter's move ... is the latest blow to Republicans, especially in the Northeast, once a GOP stronghold. The region's Republicans now have been reduced to a scant presence in the House and a dwindling influence in the Senate. But Specter's defection has symbolic and immediate ramifications for the GOP nationwide. It makes it easier for Democrats, fairly or not, to paint the party as ideologically rigid and alien to large swaths of the country."

*Politics Daily's Carl Cannon writes that "two facts seem undeniable to me: First, the national Republican Party is indeed moving in a way that makes it harder for Northeastern moderates from "blue" states to keep winning statewide-just as the Democratic Party is moving to the left and making it hard for "red" state Dems. Secondly, when any of these dudes molt out of their old skins and into a new one, they are thinking first and foremost of Numero Uno."

*Politico's Charles Mahtesian: "The timing of Specter's switch came as something of a surprise in Pennsylvania, but the calculus behind it made perfect sense -- if the overriding goal is for Specter to remain a United States senator."

*Michael Barone: "Specter's argument -- that if a majority of Pennsylvania voters wanted him re-elected, he should be -- is obviously self-serving. But it's not self-evidently wrong. On conservative Web sites, the reaction seems to be "good riddance." I think this is wrongheaded, for reasons specific to Specter and more generally. Specter has not been a reliable Republican partisan, but when he has been, he has been mightily effective."

* looks into the recent polls that forced Specter to switch sides, including the Rasmussen poll released Friday showing him trailing Toomey by 21 points.

*Politico's Josh Kraushaar: "It will be very interesting to see the first round of polling with Specter as a Democrat - reportedly the first polls are expected out this weekend. In the last Quinnipiac poll conducted in March, Democrats were the group most supportive of Specter, with 51 percent saying that he deserves re-election, and 28 percent saying they would not support him. A substantial 60 percent majority of Democrats viewed him favorably."

*Lou Jacobson: "Specter's sudden switch opens the field for more Republicans to challenge Toomey in the primary, while likely clearing the Democratic field for the five-term incumbent."

*Bill Pascoe, for CQ: "The moderate-to-liberal David Brooks-reading Republicans who form the core of the Pennsylvania GOP establishment aren't about to hand over their U.S. Senate nomination to the conservative Toomey. There's too much at stake, and it has little to do with a seat in the U.S. Senate."

*Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) writes this NYT op-ed. "It is true that being a Republican moderate sometimes feels like being a cast member of 'Survivor' -- you are presented with multiple challenges, and you often get the distinct feeling that you're no longer welcome in the tribe. But it is truly a dangerous signal that a Republican senator of nearly three decades no longer felt able to remain in the party."

**100 Days
*Gallup's daily tracking poll finds Obama with a 65% job approval rating on his 100th day in office. "The new president's approval rating at the 100-day mark is notable in that nearly all major demographic categories of Americans are pleased with his job performance."

*AP reports that President Obama will mark the 100-day milestone "with two high-profile events, both designed to highlight the accomplishments of his fledgling administration." His trip to Missouri "is keeping in step with Obama's penchant for getting out of Washington." And the trip as well as the press conference is an attempt to control the message.

*"A gathering of good government groups ... banded together today to issue a joint statement to "praise President Obama for the unprecedented steps he has taken during the first hundred days of his Administration to strengthen ethics, lobbying and transparency rules for the Executive Branch," ABC's Tapper reports.

*John Harwood finds chief of staff Rahm Emanuel sounding pragmatic about the road ahead. "His goals are clear. He's willing to explore different roads to get to those ends," Emanuel said on health care and energy, in particular.

*Kyle's piece today: "For the first time since 1994, Republicans are the minority party in Congress while a Democrat runs the White House, and the transition has not been easy. Despite a mostly-unified party on both sides of the Capitol, Republicans' message of fiscal restraint and bipartisanship amidst a flurry of government spending over the last three months has not resonated with the general public."

*Washington Post's Balz says there has been nothing tentative about Obama's 100 days: "Some presidents start slowly. Obama began to lead even before he was sworn in, responding to a deepening recession by promoting an $800 billion stimulus package designed to prevent the economy from becoming even worse. He has set in motion so many initiatives -- domestic and international -- that his top advisers know that one of their biggest challenges will be to prevent the many pieces of his agenda from crashing into one another before they can be enacted and begin to work."

*Check out the long slideshow on the White House web site with some great behind-the-scenes photos from the 100 days.

**Other Campaign Stuff
*Specter wasn't the only former Republican making news: former-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (I-RI) made his candidacy for governor official, the Providence Journal reports.

*Former Republican Mark Parkinson became the latest Democratic governor of Kansas yesterday, after Kathleen Sebelius took office at HHS. He apparently is in no rush to name a new lieutenant governor, which could be an important pick since he's said he won't run for a full term in 2010.

*And in that now even more important Minnesota Senate recount, Gov. Tim Pawlenty made it clear that he'll sign a certificate of election if the state Supreme Court orders him to. Of course, the case won't be heard for another two months.

**Sports Alert: The Capitals defeated the N.Y. Rangers last night in an exciting 2-1 game, completing a 3-games-to-1 come-from-behind series win. Go Caps!

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Obama's "Full Support" For Specter Includes Political Backing

In 2004, some feel that Arlen Specter pulled off a primary against the more conservative Pat Toomey because of the strong support of then-President Bush (not to mention then-Sen. Rick Santorum). It appears that six years later, Specter can once again look forward to presidential backing as he seeks a sixth term, this time as a Democrat.

White House press secretary, when asked today if President Obama wouldn't rather see a stronger Democrat holding the Senate seat, simply repeated the message that Obama delivered personally to Specter, that he has his full support. Asked later whether that pledge included political backing, Gibbs confirmed that it did.

"If the president is asked to raise money for Senator Specter, he will. If the president is asked to campaign for Senator Specter, we'll do that too," Gibbs said.

Specter's path to renomination is no clearer on the Democratic side than it was on the Republican side. But given the high-profile lobbying that had gone on to push Specter to switch, it's likely that the Philadelphian can count on Democratic heavyweights like Gov. Ed Rendell and Vice President Biden sticking in his corner -- for now.

"Full support means full support," Gibbs said when asked if Obama would support him in a primary.

Specter: 'I Will Not Be An Automatic 60th Vote'

Sen. Arlen Specter, now a Democrat from Pennsylvania, said at an afternoon press conference at the Capitol that after traveling around his state and looking at public polls, he decided he could not win the Republican primary and did not want that "jury" to decide his political fate.

"I'm not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Republican primary electorate," Specter said.

The five-term lawmaker also attempted to knock down implications that he would give Democrats 60 votes in the Senate on every bill, provided Al Franken be seated after a prolonged Senate battle in Minnesota. Specter has long been known for his independence -- frustrating both parties.

"I will not be an automatic 60th vote," said Specter, who pointed to his recent opposition to the Card Check bill.

While Specter will likely have to win a Democratic primary, he said President Obama told him this morning during a phone call that he would come to Pennsylvania to campaign for him next year.

PA Sen: Torsella Will Still Seek Dem Nod

Joe Torsella, a former deputy mayor of Philadelphia and former leader of the National Constitution Center, issued a statement today indicating he will remain in the race for the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic nomination. Torsella remains the only Democrat who has announced his candidacy, except for Sen. Arlen Specter -- who announced his party switch and intentions to run as a Democrat today.

"I decided to run for the United States Senate from Pennsylvania for one simple reason: I believe we need new leadership, new ideas, and new approaches in Washington. It's become obvious that the old ways of doing business might have worked for the special interests, but they haven't worked for the rest of us," Torsella said.

"Nothing about today's news regarding Senator Specter changes that, or my intention to run for the Democratic nomination to the Senate in 2010 - an election that is still a full year away."

Cornyn: Confident GOP Will Regain National Status

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn, speaking at a rushed Senate GOP leadership press conference shortly after 2 p.m. today:

"While we were disappointed by Senator Specter's decision to switch parties, he's very candid to acknowledge that this is nothing more, nothing less than political self-preservation. As Leader McConnell indicated, his own pollster told him he could not win the Republican primary in Pennsylvania. So his only options were to leave the Senate or to switch parties, because he was convinced he could not win as an independent.

"I can tell you that in 2010 we are working very hard to make sure that we have the kind of candidates across the country on a national scale that will allow the Republican Party to regain our status as a national party, and run competitive races in blue states, and purple states and in red states. And we will be running competitive races in all the states currently held by our Democratic colleagues. We're going to be running hard to support our Republican incumbents who are running again. And in those states where there have been retirements, we'll be supporting our nominees in those states.

"I believe that we will be able to regain our status as a national party by being competitive nationally. And I do believe this decision by Senator Specter was a personal decision limited to his Republican primary prospects in Pennsylvania. Nothing more and nothing less."

Analysis: Specter's Switch All Politics

RCP's Greg Bobrinskoy provides the following analysis of Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party:

There is only one reason moderate Republican Arlen Specter is changing party affiliations to become a Democrat. An April poll showed him losing in the Pennsylvania Republican Primary to the strongly conservative Pat Toomey by 21 points. Unlike in Connecticut, Specter wouldn't be able to run as an independent after losing the GOP primary, as Joe Lieberman successfully did in 2006 after Democrats chose a different nominee. Thus, the only way Specter stands a chance for a sixth term is to become a Democrat. Every other reason is secondary.

Specter wrote in his statement today, "Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans."

These are two different, and mostly unrelated sentences. While Specter and others have and will claim that his switch is due to the party's exceeding move to the right, everyone knows Specter would have stayed a Republican if he could have won the Pennsylvania primary and thus been the heavy favorite in the general election.

Obama won Pennsylvania by 11 points in November and the state voted out conservative Republican Rick Santorum in 2006 -- Senator Bob Casey defeated him by 18 points.

Is Specter someone whose votes should always make conservatives happy? Absolutely not. Is he the only type of Republican (a moderate) who can win in this ever increasing blue state? Absolutely. Does Pat Toomey have any chance of winning in November? No.

According to National Journal's 2008 Vote Ratings, the moderate Specter still had a voting record more conservative than any Democrat, as well as Republicans Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and former Senator Gordon Smith.

When conservatives acted relieved or apathetic to Lincoln Chafee's loss to Sheldon Whitehouse in the 2006 Rhode Island Senate Election, what they were in fact witnessing was the loss of a Republican Senator who voted conservative a majority of the time and was replaced with a hard-line liberal Democrat -- whose voting record places him as the second most liberal in the entire Senate.

The inability of Republicans to recruit and vote for moderate Republicans in moderate-to-blue states and districts is proving devastating for the party. With the election of Michael Steele as Republican National Committee chairman earlier this year, it seemed Republicans were beginning to figure that -- without a single U.S. Representative in New England; decreasing support in the Mountain West and Southwest; and dwindling support among minorities -- they would need to start electing moderately conservative candidates in places that are not conservative hot beds.

Toomey's inevitable GOP primary victory over Specter would have proved that Republicans have not yet received the message. A Specter win over Toomey in the general election next November may do the trick.

Obama: Welcome To The (D) Team


The White House has released this photo of President Obama speaking with Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) earlier today.

"He said he was thrilled to welcome him to the party, and told him he has his full support," a White House spokesperson said.

Specter's party switch potentially represents a political win for Democrats as the new president prepares to mark his 100th day in office. In 2001, Sen. Jim Jeffords (VT) switched parties in late May. The White House wouldn't say yet whether the president used his conversation to seek specific commitments from Specter on upcoming legislation.

Arlen Specter Switches Parties

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, a five-term senator facing a tough Republican primary battle next year, announced today that he will officially switch parties in the Senate and run as a Democrat next year.

"Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right," Specter said in a statement. "Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans."

Specter's decision would give Democrats 60 members in the Senate, assuming Al Franken is eventually seated after a prolonged election in Minnesota. Whether Democrats can count on Specter for every vote, though, is another story. He said in his statement today that he would not be a "party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans."

Specter is described this way in the most recent edition of The Almanac of American Politics: "He is respected by colleagues and constituents, though not always well-liked. He sides with conservatives on some divisive issues, with liberals on others, building up no permanent credit with either."

Vice President Biden, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) had been lobbying Specter to switch parties, as had other Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Specter now avoids a potentially career-ending primary and fares far better against Pat Toomey in a general election, as conservative Republican primary voters would likely choose his more-conservative challenger. Toomey came within 2 points of defeating Specter in a 2004 Senate primary, and he left his day job as head of the Club for Growth to challenge Specter again. Recent polls showed Specter trailing Toomey by significant margins.

Republican prospects in the state were already unsteady, as President Obama won Pennsylvania by 11 points in November. John Cornyn (R-Texas), head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, wrote a letter earlier this month in support of Specter and said he "is our best bet to keep this Senate seat in the GOP column."

"My job as head of the NRSC is to guide the GOP back to a majority in the Senate," Cornyn wrote. "I can't do that without Arlen Specter."

UPDATE: Below are released statements from Reid and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.


"I have known Senator Specter for more than a quarter-century. He has always been a man of honor and integrity, and a fine public servant.

"Senator Specter and I have had a long dialogue about his place in an evolving Republican Party. We have not always agreed on every issue, but Senator Specter has shown a willingness to work in a bipartisan manner, put people over party, and do what is right for Pennsylvanians and all Americans.

"I welcome Senator Specter and his moderate voice to our diverse caucus, and to continuing our open and honest debate about the best way to make life better for the American people."


"Some in the Republican Party are happy about this. I am not. Let's be honest-Senator Specter didn't leave the GOP based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record. Republicans look forward to beating Sen. Specter in 2010, assuming the Democrats don't do it first."

Budget Vote Tomorrow in House

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said today that he expects the budget resolution conference report, filed last night at 11:57 p.m., to be voted on tomorrow.

"The budget conference report, I expect that up in the next day or so," Hoyer said this morning during an off-camera briefing with reporters. "I expect to see this passed in the next 30 hours."

Democrats had hoped to bring the conference report to a vote in the House today, allowing for the Senate to vote on it tomorrow -- President Obama's 100th day in office. However, Hoyer said he had previously indicated he would allow 24 hours between the report's release and a vote, and that he wanted to stick to that.

Strategy Memo: 99 Days and Counting

Good Tuesday morning. House and Senate budget resolution conferees reached an agreement last night, allowing the possibility that the budget will be approved in both chambers by tomorrow -- President Obama's 100th day in office. A vote in the House could come as early as today.

The Senate will vote today on the confirmation of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Sebelius's confirmation would complete Obama's Cabinet, and comes almost three months after Tom Daschle -- the original choice for HHS -- withdrew his name from consideration due to unpaid taxes.

On the eve of his 100th day, President Obama will make his first trip to the FBI and speak to employees. Later today at the White House, the president meets with his left flank in Congress, the Progressive Caucus, with whom there is much to discuss as they debate his next 100 day agenda and how to respond to the interrogation issues. Later, Obama honors the Teacher of the Year and ends the day with a reception for his Cabinet.

**100 Days
*A new CBS News/NYTimes poll finds Obama's approval rating at 68%. A new CNN poll finds it at 63%. Obama now has a 62.4% RCP Average Approval Rating.

*"In just 100 days, President Barack Obama has broken the American foreign policy mold," AP reports. "The scope, sweep and breadth of the new president's engagement abroad -- two major trips, significant policy directives -- are dizzying, and all the more so given he took office in the midst of the country's worst economic and financial crises in decades."

*McClatchy sounds a similar note: "President Barack Obama says that changing policy is like turning around a super-tanker, and should be done in small increments. Yet in little more than three months, he's executed an abrupt rhetorical U-turn in how the U.S. interacts with the world."

*The Tribune writes about how adamantly the administration is downplaying the significance of 100 days, even as it touts its work so far. "It's an arbitrary demarcation of time created by some conglomeration of reporters and historians," Dan Pfeiffer, Obama's deputy communications director, said Monday. "Any suggestion we could do more than make a down payment on the change the president promised in 100 days is unrealistic."

**President Obama
*AP on the WH reax to the flu crisis: "President Barack Obama responded to the first domestic emergency of his presidency by urging calm -- and then dispatching officials to the cameras to again urge Americans to be calm. ... The administration planned daily briefings to assure the public that officials are taking action. On Monday, the White House sent top health and homeland security officials out for televised briefings -- and promised they'd return Tuesday and keep at it until the situation settles. And Obama inserted his own assurances in a previously scheduled speech, knowing the TV networks were waiting for his comments."

*The New York Times writes about its new poll, focusing on the fact that two-third of Americans believe race relations are generally good. The poll also "found broad support for Mr. Obama's approach on a variety of issues, including one of the most contentious: whether Congress should investigate the harsh interrogation tactics authorized by George W. Bush. Sixty-two percent of Americans share Mr. Obama's view that hearings are unnecessary."

*Obama was reportedly "furious" over the New York Air Force jet photo op. "According to two senior administration officials, the office was trying to update its official photograph of Air Force One. The current one, shot many years ago, shows the plane flying over Mount Rushmore." A planned DC photo op has since been canceled.

*Washington Post reports that defense contractors are joining forces with labor unions and trade groups "to argue that the Obama administration is putting 100,000 or more jobs at risk by proposing deep cuts in weapons programs."

*Budget deal: "House and Senate Democrats reached final agreement Monday evening on a five-year budget plan that gives President Barack Obama a clear shot at winning health care reform next fall but scales back his spending and tax cut proposals so as to hit a $523 billion deficit target by 2014," Politico reports.

*"Budget negotiators, after hours of negotiations on Monday, put finishing touches on the resolution, which Democrats hope to approve by President Obama's 100th day in office Wednesday. ... But while Democrats found agreement on the president's top priorities, it was unclear how they resolved the final sticking point between House and Senate negotiators: the inclusion of a statutory 'pay-go' provision requiring any new spending be offset with new revenues or spending cuts in other programs," The Hill reports.

*"Budget negotiators have fast-tracked part of the budget process. Major health reform is likely to pass this year, because the special process -- known as budget reconciliation -- won't allow Republicans to filibuster the legislation, as was widely expected. Democrats, who currently control 58 seats in the Senate, will be able to pass it with a simple majority vote, instead of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster," CNN reports.

*Rep. David Obey says he was forced to strip millions from the stimulus that could have helped in the flu outbreak. "As attention to the new flu outbreak grows, so does the search for someone to blame for not being prepared," Washington Times notes.

*"Five members of Congress and three activists were arrested on civil disobedience charges in front of the Sudanese Embassy on Monday for protesting "crimes against humanity" in Darfur," L.A. Times reports.

**Campaign Stuff
*IL Sen: Chris Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy, is considering a bid for Senate in Illinois, reports Chicago Sun-Times' Sneed. He would face a primary that could include Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

*KY Sen: "Mitch McConnell's most recent campaign finance reports show him pumping money into the coffers of almost every Republican incumbent running for reelection in 2010, including some who don't exactly need the cash. But one senator who could use the help didn't get it: Jim Bunning, McConnell's home-state colleague from Kentucky," Politico reports.

*Chris Cillizza notes that Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) is heading to Michigan this weekend, but the chairman of one county canceled an event for unspecified reasons - perhaps his recent support for civil unions legislation.

*MO Sen: Former MO Treasurer Sarah Steelman has hired Gregg Keller to run her Senate campaign, Politico reports.

**Sports Alert: It's hard to believe, but an NBA team lost a playoff game by 58 points last night -- tying a playoff record from 1956. The final score was Denver 121, New Orleans 63.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Dem. Corps: Cong. Battleground at 100 Days

A new Democracy Corps/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research survey (March 25-29) tested voters in the 40 most marginal Democrat-held congressional districts and 15 most marginal Republican-held districts, and found good news for Democrats.

The 40 Democratic incumbents lead their generic Republican challengers by an average of 13 points. The Dem incumbents break the all-important 50% threshold even in the most vulnerable Democratic districts.

In the 15 most marginal Republican-held districts, the GOP incumbents lead their generic Democratic challengers by just 6 points.

What's helping Democrats in these marginal districts? "At the moment, the tide is still helping Democrats, with a good plurality saying they want to reelect their Democratic representative because they will fight for change, while in the Republican seats, a plurality says they want to vote in 2010 for a Democrat who will work with President Obama," the survey reports.

The survey looked into support for the president's budget as well, and found that 52% of voters in the marginal GOP districts support it, while 43% oppose the budget plan.

WH Official Apologizes Over Air Force's NYC Photo Op

The White House has released a statement from Louis Caldera, director of the White House Military Office, on today's Air Force One flight over New York City that caused concern in the city today.

"Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision. While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused."

Admin Says HHS Vacancy Not Hindering Swine Flu Response

Press secretary Robert Gibbs today said that the continuing vacancies at the Department of Health and Human Services have not in any way impacted the administration's response to the swine flu outbreak.

Gibbs this afternoon repeated that President Obama is getting regular briefings on the crisis, and explained that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has taken a lead role because of a presidential directive that "denotes that interagency coordination" be handled by DHS.

"Our response is in no way hindered or hampered by not having a permanent secretary at HHS," he said when asked about Kathleen Sebelius' still-pending confirmation. "There are professional staff over there as we speak helping to coordinate this. ... Having said that, we're certainly hopeful that Secretary - soon to be Secretary Sebelius will be joining them without delay tomorrow."

The SEIU is using the crisis to rally support for Sebelius' nomination, criticizing Republicans who have held up a final vote.

Earlier today, Obama himself said that the crisis is "obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert. But it's not a cause for alarm." Speaking at the National Academy of Sciences, he promised regular updates from various government agencies "so that they know what steps are being taken and what steps they may need to take."

"One thing is clear -- our capacity to deal with a public health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our scientific and medical community. And this is one more example of why we can't allow our nation to fall behind," he said, pivoting to planned remarks promoting further efforts in support of the sciences that his administration is making.

NJ Gov: Lonegan Claims Dead Heat In GOP Primary

Poll after poll has shown that Gov. Jon Corzine is vulnerable to defeat as he seeks re-election this fall. But now, observers are watching what seems to be an increasingly competitive battle for the Republican Party nomination.

Today, former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan's campaign released a poll that shows former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, the presumed favorite, with a "statistically insignificant" lead, 36.1-34.5. Among voters considered most likely to vote, Lonegan actually leads Christie head-to-head, though polling with a third candidate still has Christie narrowly ahead.

In a memo, Lonegan campaign manager Rick Shaftan says that the primary electorate is "very conservative," and that a majority of those voters identify Christie as moderate or liberal. "Those voters who see Christie as moderate or liberal are supporting Lonegan by a 49-36 margin while those who see Lonegan as a conservative back him by 54-26," Shaftan points out.

Christie has won the support of most county Republican organizations and is backed by the Republican Governors Association. But only eight years ago, conservative Jersey City Mayor Brett Schundler defeated the establishment favorite, Rep. Bob Franks, in that year's primary.

Primary Election Matchup
Christie 36.1 (-7 from March)
Lonegan 34.5 (+13)
Merkt 0.4
Undecided 29

A Quinnipiac Poll released last week showed Christie with a 9-point lead over Lonegan.

Lonegan's poll was conducted by Neighborhood Research, surveying 687 Republicans between April 19 and 24. The margin of error was +/- 3.74 percent.

Schakowsky Ramps Up

Over at the RCP Blog, Tom Bevan notes Lynn Sweet's scoop on the potential Senate bid of Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a six-term congresswoman from northern Chicago, and a poll she commissioned to test the waters:

Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times has the scoop on Jan Schakowsky ramping up a potential bid for the United States Senate. According to Sweet, Schakowsky commissioned a poll from Celinda Lake (April 19-22, 600 Dem LV, MoE +/-4%) showing her with a slight lead over her two main rivals, State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and the anemic incumbent Roland Burris:

Schakowsky 24%
Giannoulias 22%
Burris 18%
Undecided 36%

Schakowsky told Sweet she will make a final decision by June 8.

DNC Marks 100 Day Milestone

The DNC portrays President Obama's first 100 days as a time of keeping his promises in a new TV ad out today.

The 60-second spot splices together promises Obama made on the campaign trail last year with news reports of him signing legislation meeting those goals, with the Recovery Act first among them. It closes with Obama's address to Congress where he mentions energy, health care and education, certain to be among his top priorities in the next phase of his administration.

Strategy Memo: A Gift

Good Monday morning, another warm one in Washington. President Obama speaks this morning at the National Academy of Sciences meeting. After some meetings back at the White House, he'll welcome the UConn women's basketball team. Tonight he'll host a reception for economic, finance and environmental ministers. Vice President Biden is in Chicago to talk about the Recovery Act, and speak at Richard J. Daley Urban Forum.

The joint House and Senate conference on the budget meets today and is expected to agree to a budget report that could be voted on in both chambers by Wednesday. The House takes up a number of suspension bills today, while an Energy and Commerce subcommittee takes a look at trade between the U.S. and Cuba. The Senate continues consideration of the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act.

Check out all the Sunday talk shows you missed at RealClearPolitics Video, including Sens. Leahy, McCain, Bond and Levin discussing torture, and Vice President Biden on his gaffes.

**100 Days
*McClatchy's Steve Thomma offers this take on Obama at 100. "He's putting his own style on the presidency. Opportunistic. Pragmatic. Confident. Deliberate. Polite to friend and foe alike. Partisan. Polarizing. A better talker than George W. Bush . A more disciplined manager than Bill Clinton."

*AP looks at Michelle Obama at 100 days, noting how she has built immense popularity by focusing on her role as mother. One year ago, she became a lightning rod for her comment during the campaign that for the first time in her adult life, "I am really proud of my country.

*Obama's latest average approval rating from RCP: 62.8/30.8. A Washington Post poll had his approval at 69.

*WaPo's Ruth Marcus writes that "the truly hard work of the Obama presidency lies ahead. As difficult as it was to get the stimulus package passed...Herding the cats on health care will be much harder, given the competing outside interests and inside demands. Passing a cap-and-trade plan to curb greenhouse gases, given the economic stakes and regional divisions, will make health care look simple."

**President Obama
*Robert Gibbs said the administration is "doing fine" without an HHS secretary during the flu outbreak. AP reports: "White House officials say they expect Sebelius to be confirmed shortly, given the urgency of the flu outbreak that started in Mexico and spread to the United States. They also say work at the departments is being done even though the top jobs have gone unfilled."

*New York Times: "Obama administration officials, alarmed at doctor shortages, are looking for ways to increase the supply of physicians to meet the needs of an aging population and millions of uninsured people who would gain coverage under legislation championed by the president."

*For the record, Obama's health is fine even after his trip to Mexico.

*Harry Reid's new book contains this tidbit, as Reid describes praising Obama after a speech. "Without the barest hint of braggadocio or conceit, and with what I would describe as deep humility, he said quietly: 'I have a gift, Harry.'"

*The Times also reports that the administration "is quietly pushing forward with efforts to reopen channels of communication with Cuba. ... Officials said informal meetings were being planned between the State Department and Cuban diplomats in the United States to determine whether the two governments could open formal talks on a variety of issues, including migration, drug trafficking and other regional security matters."

*The Washington Times reports that the administration "is rolling back rules requiring labor unions and their leaders to report information about their finances and compensation. The Labor Department noted in a recent disclosure that 'it would not be a good use of resources' to bring enforcement actions against union officials who do not comply with conflict of interest reporting rules passed in 2007."

*Politico notes how the White House has opened the door to celebrities. "The celebrity-politician dynamic has changed since Bubba schmoozed - It's not just fun and games and snoozes in the Lincoln Bedroom anymore." Brookings' Darrell West notes that "the celebrity engagement under Clinton centered on fundraising," while "Obama seems more open to using celebrities for policy formulation and getting ideas."

*The Budget: "Lawmakers and Congressional aides spent the weekend putting on paper the details of the budget agreement worked out late last week between Congressional leaders and the administration represented by Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, and budget director Peter R. Orszag. The leadership would like the members of the formal House-Senate conference committee to officially sign off on the agreement today and be ready for votes in the House Tuesday and the Senate Wednesday," NYT reports.

*"House and Senate Republicans intend to ramp up their attack of the Democratic-sponsored clean-energy legislation this week in an effort to brand the measure a 'national energy tax,'" The Hill reports.

*Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), in Politico: "We must reengage and begin a new chapter in the history of bilateral relations with both the Cuban government and the Cuban people."

*Roll Call: "The need for new consumer protections amid the financial crisis has plenty of currency on Capitol Hill, but the House and Senate are on different tracks that suggest a final legislative answer may be a long way off."

*"Nancy Pelosi didn't cry foul when the Bush administration briefed her on "enhanced interrogation" of terror suspects in 2002, but her team was locked and loaded to counter hypocrisy charges when the "torture" memos were released last week," Politico reports.

**Campaign Stuff
*Bill Clinton is hitting the Va. gubernatorial trail with Terry McAuliffe today, and Washington Examiner reports on how Clinton is helping in other ways: "A network of donors who aided Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful presidential campaign is shoveling six-figure donations into Terry McAuliffe's gubernatorial war chest, taking advantage of no-limit giving rules to pump up his bid for Virginia's top job."

*New York Times: "In a series of phone calls and private meetings with top Democratic officials, major donors, leading business executives and union leaders, Mr. Paterson has apologized for his administration's mistakes, asked for their support and insisted that he intends to run and win in 2010, according to those who have been on the receiving end of Mr. Paterson's efforts. ... Mr. Paterson's aggressive behind-the-scenes effort -- coming 17 months before the 2010 primary -- is remarkable simply because it is necessary."

*The Dallas Morning News finds that in the Texas gubernatorial race, Rick Perry has actually raised more money from Washington than Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. "Perry has been able to raise far more than Hutchison overall, because federal campaigns have limits on individual donations. ... But the governor's financial support from the Beltway undercuts efforts to distance himself from the nation's capital by painting himself as the candidate of Texas-style government and Hutchison as the candidate of Washington, which recently landed Perry in the national spotlight amid talk of Texas secession."

*Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is getting more criticism at home, with the St. Pete Times saying he's "remained largely hands-off, and it has had an effect on his agenda. ... After seven weeks into the legislative session, nearly every initiative Crist had advanced for passage has disappeared from the calendar or is on life support."

*WSJ, on NY-20: "The fact that the race was so close shows that, had Republicans run a credible candidate, they had a chance to send a message to Blue Dog Democrats in Congress that Mr. Obama's agenda is less popular than he is. Mr. Boehner would do better to stop spinning defeat and start looking for candidates who believe in something beyond their own careers."

*Minneapolis Star Tribune poll: "Nearly two-thirds of Minnesotans surveyed think Norm Coleman should concede the U.S. Senate race to Al Franken, but just as many believe the voting system that gave the state its longest running election contest needs improvement."

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Obama: NY-20 A Win For Economic Plans

As the political world is taking stock of his administration thus far, President Obama congratulates Scott Murphy for his win in the NY-20 special election, noting that the Democrat "courageously championed the economic plans we need." Here's his full statement:

"I want to extend my heartfelt congratulations to Congressman-elect Scott Murphy for his victory in New York's 20th Congressional District. With this hard fought win, Scott has shown he is willing to fight the tough battles on behalf of the people in his district.

"As a candidate, Scott courageously championed the economic plans we need to lift our nation and put it on a better path, and he will continue to do so in Congress. With his proven record of creating high paying jobs and standing up for Upstate New York, Scott will bring to the nation's capitol the change New Yorkers need."

Tedisco Concedes; Va., N.J. on the Clock

Republican Jim Tedisco conceded the race for New York's 20th District seat, confirming Democrat Scott Murphy as the winner. Murphy held a 401-vote lead after canvassing and paper ballot counting had finished.

"I am honored and humbled to be going to Washington to represent the families of New York's 20th Congressional District," said Murphy, who thanked Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), President Obama and Vice President Biden for their help during the campaign. "I look forward to rolling up my sleeves in Washington to bring jobs, opportunity, and prosperity back to Upstate New York."

"Earlier today, I called and congratulated Scott Murphy on a hard-fought contest and wished him well as the next Congressman of the 20th Congressional district," Tedisco said in a statement, according to Politico.

From the get-go, both parties attempted to paint the Upstate district as leaning toward the opposite party -- allowing political cover for a potential loss and the perception of momentum in case of a win. The parties continued that through today.

However, the 20th District has become a quintessential swing district, best-evidenced by the less-than 100-vote margin on election night. Political prognosticators will now look to the November gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey as potential bellwethers for the mid-term elections next year.

Click through for statements from DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen and NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions on the results of the special election.

Van Hollen:

Congratulations to Congressman-elect Scott Murphy on his remarkable, come-from-behind victory. In this election, voters responded to Scott Murphy's record as a successful businessman who helped to create more than 1,000 jobs and his strong support for President Obama's economic recovery package.

"In trying to win the NY-20 special election, the RNC, NRCC, and their Republican allies went all in on the losing gamble that voters would prefer their 'just say no' approach to President Obama's bold plans to get the economy back on track.

"Scott Murphy's victory in this district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 70,000 represents a rejection of the obstructionist agenda and scare tactics that have become the hallmark of House Republicans.

"With his commitment to reaching across the aisle to help President Obama enact his agenda for change, Scott Murphy will be a tremendous asset to our Democratic Caucus."

"I am grateful to President Obama, Vice President Biden, House Democratic Leaders, Governor Paterson, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, the entire New York Congressional Delegation, and DNC Chairman Tim Kaine for their work on behalf of and support of Scott Murphy."


"After a long, hard-fought race, the final result of the New York special election reinforces what our party has known since November - we have our work cut out for us when it comes to winning in Democrat-held districts. In defeat, there will always be disappointment, but we should not ignore some of the encouraging signs that came out of this race.

"Just a few short months ago, President Obama carried this district and Kirsten Gillibrand won by an overwhelming margin against a well-funded challenger. For the first time in a long time, a Republican congressional candidate went toe-to-toe with a Democrat in a hard-fought battle over independent voters. This was hardly a common phenomenon in 2008, particularly in the Northeast. It should also be noted that our members and Party leaders stepped up to the plate and without them this race never would have been as competitive as it was.

"Jim Tedisco made this race competitive by focusing on the fundamental concerns of Main Street - middle-class job creation, the flagrant abuse of taxpayer money, and the lack of accountability in Washington and on Wall Street. Since Election Day, we continue to hear the growing chorus of frustrated and concerned citizens who demand more from their government than profligate spending and mountains of debt that will be paid for in higher taxes by our children and grandchildren. Although Jim was unsuccessful in his hope to change Washington, he has shed light on our Party's efforts to win back the majority in the House."

Tedisco Concedes NY-20

Republican Jim Tedisco has conceded the race in New York's 20th Congressional District, 24 days after voters went to the polls. Democrat Scott Murphy, whose lead only grew during the recount process, will now succeed Kirsten Gillibrand.

Here's the DCCC statement:

"Congratulations to Congressman-elect Scott Murphy on his remarkable, come-from-behind victory. In this election, voters responded to Scott Murphy's record as a successful businessman who helped to create more than 1,000 jobs and his strong support for President Obama's economic recovery package.

In trying to win the NY-20 special election, the RNC, NRCC, and their Republican allies went all in on the losing gamble that voters would prefer their 'just say no' approach to President Obama's bold plans to get the economy back on track.

Scott Murphy's victory in this district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 70,000 represents a rejection of the obstructionist agenda and scare tactics that have become the hallmark of House Republicans.

With his commitment to reaching across the aisle to help President Obama enact his agenda for change, Scott Murphy will be a tremendous asset to our Democratic Caucus."

I am grateful to President Obama, Vice President Biden, House Democratic Leaders, Governor Paterson, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, the entire New York Congressional Delegation, and DNC Chairman Tim Kaine for their work on behalf of and support of Scott Murphy."

Another First Before The 100th Day

For the first time, President Obama and Vice President Biden were "relocated" today during a lockdown at the White House, out of "an abundance of caution," press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

The security scare was spurred by an aircraft flying into restricted airspace over the nation's capital. It occurred before 1 pm, as Obama and Biden were scheduled to hold their weekly lunch.

CA Gov Poll: Brown Leads Dem primary

Former two-term governor Jerry Brown leads a potential Democratic primary field with 31% of the vote, according to a new poll by Tulchin Research. Brown currently serves as state attorney general, and also is a former secretary of state.

Tested against Brown were San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.

Brown 31
Newsom 16
Villaraigosa 12
Garamendi 11
O'Connell 6
Undecided 20

Garamendi announced this week he is instead seeking a soon-to-be vacant U.S. House seat in California's 10th District, which Rep. Ellen Tauscher is vacating to serve in the State Department.

PA Sen Poll: Specter Down 21

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter (R) finds himself down 21 points to former Rep. Pat Toomey in a potential 2010 Republican primary, according to a new Rasmussen poll. Specter now has a 42%/55% favorability rating, while Toomey enjoys a 66%/19% rating.

Toomey 51
Specter 30
Someone else 9
Und 10

Toomey lost to Specter by a slim margin in the 2004 Senate primary, but in an on-camera interview with Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Salena Zito, Toomey said things are different this time.

"It's a very different race," Toomey said. "I think the press has figured out that this time the outcome is going to be different."

"Let me assure you, I wasn't waiting around to do this. I had no intention of running again," he said. "And then all of a sudden I saw our federal government doing things that I never thought was possible."

Todd on Obama's "Old Guy Game"

Be sure to check out RealClearSports' interview with NBC Chief White House correspondent and Political Director Chuck Todd. It mostly covers the world of sports -- Todd worked early on for the Sports Business Daily. But it includes this answer about whether he'd play President Obama one-on-one.

Oh man, I don't know. He's got a secret that is very difficult. I haven't been able to play with him yet. He said he wants to. We're just trying to figure out how we can do it so it's off the record -- this feeling that you can't do anything with the president anymore.

He's got a left-handed jumper and he goes left and when you don't play against a lot of lefties on the basketball court it's tough. I'm sure a lot of people out there agree. He's got old guy game and I mean that as a compliment. Old guy game. How many people have gone out there, like some of the 20-something's that are going to read this -- they go out there and see the guy with grey hair on the court and think, Oh, I'm going to get him. Then they realize the guy passes smarter, gets someplace A to B faster, and then has that annoying set shot that can't miss. Then, throw in the fact that he's left handed... forget it.

So, I don't know. I don't know if I could risk the goatee.

Plus, are you really allowed to beat the President? Does that work? I think only Reggie Love is allowed to beat the President. Because he would get too much crap from Coach K if he lost to the President.

Strategy Memo: Who Knew What and When

Good Friday morning. Today President Obama will hold his usual morning briefings, and have lunch with Vice President Biden. Later he'll meet with a "family struggling to afford the cost of college," and use it as a chance to discuss the impact of rising tuition costs, the White House says.

The House is not in session today, but General David Petraeus will appear before an Appropriations subcommittee, and an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the comprehensive energy bill will feature testimony by Al Gore, Newt Gingrich and John Warner.

The Senate is in session, though no confirmation vote is expected on HHS nominee Kathleen Sebelius until early next week. Republicans had blocked Majority Leader Harry Reid's attempt to hold a vote yesterday, then agreed to vote next week after eight hours more of debate Tuesday.

**President Obama
*A new USA Today/Gallup poll "shows Obama has not only maintained robust approval ratings but also bolstered the sense that he is a strong and decisive leader who can manage the government effectively during a time of economic crisis." Now, 56% say he has done an "excellent" or "good" job as president vs. 20% who rate him as "poor" or "terrible." An additional 23% say he has done "just OK."

More: "Barack Obama's approval ratings are good. Michelle Obama's are better.
In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Monday and Tuesday, 79% say they approve of the way Michelle Obama is handling the job of first lady. Just 8% disapprove."

*An Allstate/National Journal poll puts Obama's approval rating at 61 percent, with 28 percent disapproving. Check out NJ's Ronald Brownstein's full story on the poll here.

*AP looks at Obama's record on bipartisanship. "Obama also has shown a willingness to push his priorities through Congress over Republican opposition, as with the $787 billion economic stimulus plan. The White House also has engaged at times in the divisive politics Obama himself has condemned, for instance mocking commentator Rush Limbaugh as the GOP's titular head. The president continues to emphasize overcoming poisonous partisanship."

*Politico reports: "At a White House meeting Thursday, President Obama told Congressional leaders that he thinks it would be a mistake to set up a commission to investigate excesses of the Bush administration's war on terror." "The president was very clear...that he believes it's important that there's not a witch hunt," a White House official said.

*Carl Cannon lists 5 reasons not to prosecute government officials for torture or detainment policies.

*The Washington Post reports the release of the torture memos was the source of one of the "sharpest policy divides of his young administration." Five CIA directors and Obama's top counterterrorism adviser were against, while Atty. Gen. Holder, DNI Blair and White House Counsel Greg Craig supported it. "Obama requested a mini-debate in which one official was chosen to argue for releasing the memos and another was assigned to argue against doing so. When it ended, Obama dictated on the spot a draft of his announcement that the documents would be released, while most of the officials watched, according to an official who was present."

*Kathleen Sebelius will face a final confirmation vote next Tuesday, after lawmakers agreed that she will need 60 votes in the Senate. WaPo: "At the urging of conservative religious groups, some Senate Republicans have opposed Sebelius because of her support for abortion rights. However, one of her strongest supporters has been fellow Kansan, Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, who is an ardent opponent of abortion. The Senate Finance Committee endorsed her selection on a vote of 15-8."

*The Washington Times reports that four of the top 10 recipients of per capita stimulus funds "have the lowest unemployment rates in the country and nearly all are below the national average. And some of the places receiving the most money per capita are U.S. territories whose residents don't pay federal income taxes."

*NY Times: "In the three months since leaving office, Mr. Cheney has upended the old Washington script for former presidents and vice presidents, using a series of interviews -- the first just two weeks after leaving office -- to kick off one last campaign, not for elective office, but on behalf of his own legacy. In the process, he has become a vocal leader of the opposition to President Obama, rallying conservatives as they search for leadership and heartening Democrats who see him as the ideal political foil."

*SF Chronicle reports that "a full-blown battle has opened between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and her GOP counterpart, Ohio's John Boehner about how much top Congressional leaders knew about water boarding in 2002. It is being fueled in part by a timeline released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by another California Democrat, Dianne Feinstein."

*WaPo: "Top lawmakers were told of the existence of legal opinions supporting the rationale for waterboarding detainees, but never told that it was actually being used, according to Pelosi."

*Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), on "Morning Joe": "I was not in the meeting where the Speaker was, but I've seen the chronology and the notes of many of these meetings -- not of all of them -- but I think a very strong case can be made that Congress knew about all aspects of this program; nothing was held back. Either the Speaker knew, or her designated representative to the Intelligence Committee was fully briefed on these programs."

Hoekstra wrote a similar op-ed in the WSJ yesterday.

*AP: "After three days of panels and testimony and more than 50 witnesses espousing on the nitty-gritty details of the 648-page draft, the grand finale on Friday will feature former Vice President Al Gore, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Virginia Sen. John Warner."

**Campaign Stuff
*Roll Call speaks with Rep. Mike Castle, who says that he's more likely to run for the Senate than re-election, but still might retire. "While Castle believes he can beat Carney -- a recent poll showed Castle winning a head-to-head contest -- the Delaware Congressman said the race would represent his toughest challenge since his first election in 1992 ... If Castle does decide to run for Senate, it would likely set up a high-profile battle against state Attorney General Beau Biden (D), who is widely expected to run for his father's old Senate seat next year."

*NY-20: "There are still about 600 absentee votes left to be counted and Republican Jim Tedisco hasn't officially conceded. But the reality is that the special election in New York's 20th District is essentially over and Democrat Scott Murphy is the victor," Politico's Kraushaar writes.

*A report out of Albany says that Republican Jim Tedisco "could concede" this afternoon. The Observer adds that it's becoming "statistically impossible" for him to overcome Scott Murphy's lead.

*In Newark, Del., home of the fighting Blue Hens, David Plouffe and Steve Schmidt spoke at their alma mater about the presidential campaign. "When Lehman Brothers collapsed in the fall, I knew pretty much straight away the campaign was finished," Schmidt said, according to Milbank.

*OH Sen: "Disappointing early fundraising numbers have put pressure, both overt and covert, on Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to step up her game or get out of the Democratic Senate primary," The Hill reports.

**Sports Alert: An unapologetic Redskins fan, Kyle hopes the Skins don't mortgage future drafts to take QB Mark Sanchez in the 1st round of the NFL Draft tomorrow. Penn State DE Aaron Maybin would be the right choice. Mike could care less who the Giants take -- it's baseball season!

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama Honors BCS Champs, Repeats Call For Playoff

This morning we speculated about whether President Obama might make mention his call for a college football playoff even as he honored the Florida Gators, winners of the BCS title game. Sure enough, he did:

Now, last point I would make. I don't want to stir up controversy. You guys are the national champions -- I'm not backing off the fact we need a playoff system. But I have every confidence that you guys could have beat anybody else. And so we'll see how that plays itself out.
He then joked about the East Room getting quiet. "But you know, I'm one of those politicians -- I don't just tell you what you want to hear, I tell you what you need to hear," he added.

Two Major Addresses On "Arbitrary" 100th Day

President Obama will hold his third prime-time presidential press conference next Wednesday, the White House announced this afternoon. That day he's also scheduled to give what administration officials had called "progress report" during a visit to the St. Louis area, all on what just happens to be his 100th day in office.

Robert Gibbs called it an "arbitrary" milestone, but acknowledged that the White House is "playing along."

"The administration and president are very proud of the accomplishments and the achievements that we've seen over the course of the 100 days. But the president isn't focused on the 100th anymore than the 99th or the 101st," Gibbs said at his daily briefing.

He rattled off what he said were significant accomplishments in the days since January 20 -- including efforts to restore the economy, help Americans effected by the housing crisis, end the war in Iraq, and "returning science to the scientists." These are ways in which Obama has attempted to "address many of the problems that, for many years, we didn't address."

"The president isn't focused on any one day. He's focused on what he has to do each and every day to give some hope and some opportunity to the American people."

In 2001, President Bush marked his 100th day in office by inviting all members of Congress to a luncheon, an attempt to highlight what his administration called bipartisan achievements. Democrats called it a stunt, and many skipped the event. His 100th day fell on a Sunday.

Gibbs: Torture Itself, Not Release Of Memos, Makes Nation Less Safe

As a debate continues over memos outlining methods of terrorist interrogations, the White House is seeking to rebut critics who say their release has made the nation less safe.

"The problem isn't the existence of a paragraph or a term in a memo that was released," Gibbs said. "It is the very existence of their use that in some ways has done that."

Gibbs was asked about Defense Secretary Robert Gates' statement today that he supported the release of the memos, but only because in his view they would become public at some point anyway. Gibbs also claimed that some of the details about harsh interrogation methods were already declassified by the Bush administration.

Pelosi: Not Briefed on Waterboarding

Speaker Nancy Pelosi denied today that she had been told that waterboarding or other illegal interrogation methods were being used on terrorist detainees.

"We were not, I repeat, we were not told that waterboarding or any of these other interrogation methods were used. What they did tell us was they had some legislative counsel opinions," Pelosi said at an afternoon press conference. "And if and when they would be used, they would brief Congress at that time."

Earlier in the day, House Minority Leader John Boehner indicated his opposition to congressional investigations into past interrogation tactics because no new information would be learned. Congressional leaders had been regularly briefed, he said.

"I don't see that we're going to learn anything that clearly members, in a bipartisan way -- the congressional leaders -- didn't already know about these techniques," Boehner said. "Yesterday I saw a partial list of a number of members in the House and Senate -- Democrats and Republicans -- who were briefed on these interrogation methods and not a word was raised at the time. Not one word."

Congress Takes Stock as 100 Days Approach

As President Obama's 100th day in office creeps closer, Members of Congress are beginning to take stock and spin what was and wasn't accomplished on Capitol Hill over the last three months -- as well as look forward to the work ahead.

House Minority Leader John Boehner held a press conference this morning to discuss the first 100 days, and at an afternoon briefing, Speaker Nancy Pelosi passed around cards that listed Congress's achievements over the last three months. In one sense, the legislative bodies now find themselves exactly where they were 94 days ago -- expressing hope, as well as doubt, that a newfound aura of bipartisanship will overcome the Capitol.

Asked how he would grade the first 100 days of the Obama administration, Boehner said "the grade would not be very good." After saying he realized "all this post-partisan talk" was a "ruse" when no Republican ideas were implemented in the economic stimulus package, Boehner said there is now a new opportunity for bipartisanship.

"We're nearing the hundred-day mark, and frankly, we continue to want to work with the administration, work with our Democrat colleagues to create bipartisan solutions for the problems that the American people face," Boehner said. "So maybe we can have a new beginning."

However, that hope was not shared by Democratic leadership on the other side of the Capitol, where Harry Reid, Richard Durbin and Charles Schumer held an off-camera briefing with reporters.

"The hole we have inherited is very deep...but during these first weeks of Congress, we've done a lot of good work," said Reid. "It's too bad we couldn't have done these things with help from the Republicans. But they've said no to everything."

Schumer looked forward and saw Republicans continuing to hold the Senate back from legislative progress. "As you can see, this is what Republicans want us to get done," Schumer said, pointing to an empty stand where a chart was supposed to have been placed. "They're just saying no, no, no. That's not a good political strategy."

Summers Sleepy At Credit Card Meeting

Per a White House pool report, Larry Summers "appeared to be nodding off" as President Obama addressed reporters during a meeting with credit card industry executives. "Then he DID nod off, doing the head on the hand and then head falling off the hand thing," Roll Call's Keith Koffler wrote, noting that the photographers were "having a field day."

"All other officials in the room appeared fully awake," Koffler added.

2012 Today!

Public Policy Polling released a very early look at the 2012 landscape, testing President Obama against some prominent Republicans who may or may not challenge him in four years.

The PPP survey (April 17-19, 686 voters, MoE +/- 3.7%) puts Obama's approval rating just above 50 percent, notably lower than most other surveys right now. There was a 58-point partisan spread.

Obama Job Approval Rating
All / Liberal / Moderate / Conservative
Approve 53 / 84 / 68 / 26
Disapprove 41 / 12 / 26 / 67
Not Sure 6 / 4 / 5 / 7

PPP tested the favorability of Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. Only Huckabee and Romney had net favorable numbers, but none of the four cracked the mid-40s. Palin evoked the strongest negative response.

Favorability Rating
Gingrich 36 / 44
Huckabee 42 / 34
Palin 42 / 49
Romney 40 / 35

After the jump, check out matchups between Obama and the four Republicans.

General Election Matchups
Obama 52
Gingrich 39

Obama 49
Huckabee 42

Obama 53
Palin 41

Obama 50
Romney 39

The party ID of those sampled was 40 percent Democrat, 33 percent Republican and 27 percent Independent/other. Only 15 percent identified themselves as liberal, compared to 41 percent who identified as conservative.

Strategy Memo: Branching Out

Today President Obama reaches out to the Legislative Branch again, starting with a visit to Capitol Hill to speak at the Holocaust Days of Remembrance ceremony. Back at the White House, he'll meet with representatives of the credit card industry to talk about the impact of higher interest rates on consumers. He and the vice president will also meet with Congressional leaders this afternoon, before hosting a reception for some lawmakers and spouses later tonight.

Also on the schedule: honoring the Florida Gators football team, who won the BCS title in January. Will this be awkward at all? When asked if they were the best team after winning the title game, the then-president-elect was non-committal. "If I'm Utah, or if I'm USC or if I'm Texas, I might still have some quibbles," he said.

The House takes up a couple of suspension bills, as well as a national water research bill, while the Senate continues consideration of the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act. Hillary Clinton returns to the Hill, appearing at a House Appropriations subcommittee to request war supplemental appropriations.

**100 Days Watch
*David Broder, on Obama's first 100 days: "As we approach the 100-day mark for the Obama administration, you will hear and see a wide variety of grades for the new president's performance. Remember this: What has happened so far is no more than the overture to the first act of this opera. The big stuff is still to come. ... What he has shown -- and it is an important accomplishment in itself -- is a mastery of the art of managing the presidency."

*VandeHarris: "The early-verdict stories are going to be written, creating both a challenge and opportunity for the new president. So senior White House aides are playing the game with relish, doling out made-to-order anecdotes and what-it-means analytical insights to help reporters write their 100 days pieces."

*An AP poll finds that "for the first time in years, more Americans than not say the country is headed in the right direction, a sign that Barack Obama has used the first 100 days of his presidency to lift the public's mood and inspire hopes for a brighter future." His approval rating is at 64 percent, down from 67 in February. Support from Republicans is at 24, down from 33.

*Kiplinger: "A hundred days is obviously a pretty arbitrary -- and short -- testing period, but it has its uses, not so much in toting up the pluses and minuses, though that can be helpful, but in figuring out what it tells us about what to expect in the months ahead."

*Mike Allen: "President Barack Obama doesn't hit his 100th day in office until Wednesday, April 29, but Democrats are starting the celebration early."

**President Obama
*The New York Times analyzes the escalating debate over interrogation methods. "For both sides, the political stakes are high, as proposals for a national commission to unravel the interrogation story appear to be gaining momentum. Mr. Obama and his allies need to discredit the techniques he has banned. Otherwise, in the event of a future terrorist attack, critics may blame his decision to rein in C.I.A. interrogators. But if a strong case emerges that the Bush administration authorized torture and got nothing but prisoners' desperate fabrications in return, that will tarnish what Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have claimed as their greatest achievement: preventing new attacks after Sept. 11, 2001."

*Dan Balz: "The mixed signals emanating from the White House over the past few days over who should and who shouldn't face possible prosecution and Obama finds himself in the middle of a storm that may not pass quickly. He may be forced to yield more ground in the weeks ahead, as Congress and outside forces join the debate. At a minimum, he will not have quickly put the issue of torture and the Bush presidency behind him. Obama apparently believed he could avoid what is now happening."

*The Times notes that Secretary Chu and EPA Administrator Jackson stopped short of endorsing a proposal authored by House Democrats on a cap and trade system, saying they were "still studying the details."

*In Iowa yesterday, the president "declared that a 'new era of energy exploration in America' would be a crucial to leading the nation out of an economic crisis," AP reports. "The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy," Obama said. "America can be that nation. America must be that nation."

*Outgoing Communications Director Ellen Moran joined the president on his trip to Iowa yesterday. "It was a chance to visit a state where she had once lived, while signaling that she harbored no hard feelings about her impending departure," WaPo says.

*Karl Rove's latest column takes aim at Obama's foreign travel, saying that in less than 100 days, "he has apologized on three continents for what he views as the sins of America and his predecessors." "Mr. Obama makes it seem as though there is moral equivalence between America and its adversaries and assumes that if he confesses America's sins, other nations will confess theirs and change. But he won no confessions (let alone change) from the leaders of Venezuela, Nicaragua or Russia. He apologized for America and our adversaries rejoiced. Fidel Castro isn't easing up on Cuban repression, but he is preparing to take advantage of Mr. Obama's policy shifts."

*"House Democrats have included a fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrat as a conferee in negotiations on a federal budget resolution," The Hill reports.

*Pelosi admitted yesterday "that she had indeed been briefed about a wiretap that recorded conversations involving Representative Jane Harman, contradicting a statement she made on Tuesday when she said she didn't remember being advised of such surveillance."

*WaPo: The CIA interrogation memo "controversy moved to Capitol Hill yesterday as lawmakers debated the wisdom of beginning a fresh investigation of the Bush-era practices."

*Energy committee hearings: "It was evident from the sharp rhetoric being traded at Wednesday's hearing that this bill faces a tough road ahead. Evidence of the wide gap that exists on even the most basic facts was seen in Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) claim that he denies that climate change is man-made," The Hill reports.

**In the States
*One of Michael Keaton's 1980s characters comes to life (no, not Batman).

*Alaska: "WASILLA -- Though no one knows what killed a yearling moose found dead outside Colony Middle School on Monday, two students stand accused of contributing to its death by taunting the animal after finding it on school grounds during a physical education class," Anchorage DN reports.

**Campaign Stuff
*Also out of Alaska, there's a complaint filed against Gov. Sarah Palin, "claiming work with her political action committee violates state ethics laws." "It's pretty obvious Gov. Palin is conflicted with her responsibilities as governor and her national political aspirations," said Sondra Tompkins, who filed the complaint.

*Lt. Gov. John Garamendi writes that he plans to run for the Congressional seat being vacated by Ellen Tauscher, instead of the governor's race. This after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom joined Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown in the Democratic field.

*The Newark Star-Ledger sees Jon Corzine pursuing a "Rose Garden" strategy. He's "yet to formally announce his re-election bid, waiting longer to do so than New Jersey's last two incumbent governors, Jim Florio and Christie Whitman. Corzine said he's keeping politics 'off the burner' so he can 'do the best job I can in an incredibly difficult financial position for the state and for our people.' ... But with Corzine suffering in the polls -- a new one released yesterday showed 54 percent disapprove of his job performance -- concern about his lack of aggressiveness is now an open topic of conversation among Democratic party leaders."

*KY Sen: "U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning says he won't need to raise as much money for the 2010 Senate race as he first thought in light of the contested Democratic primary between Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway," McClatchy reports.

*Norm Coleman is asking for a slower timetable in the state Supreme Court's hearing of his appeal, the Star Tribune reports.

*CO Sen: The PPP poll out yesterday is "significant because newly-minted Senator Michael Bennet is running about even with his largely-unknown GOP opponents. Bennet is similarly unknown, so he can't be considered in Dodd/Bunning territory, but he can't be thrilled with the numbers either," RCP's Trende writes.

*NY-20: Democrat Scott Murphy now leads by 365 votes.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Dems Introduce Bill to Break Earmarks, Donations Link

2006 freshman class members Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) introduced a bill today that would ban lawmakers from taking campaign contributions from companies during the same campaign cycle that they've requested earmarks for that company.

"I want to make an explicit prohibition so that there isn't an appearance of any exchange," Hodes said at a press conference this morning.

"This is not the end-all in terms of all the reforms this Congress needs to make, but it is a small step," said Giffords.

Included in the policy would be the president, CEO, COO or CFO of any company that a member of Congress has requested an earmark for.

Hodes and Giffords said they have both used this as a matter of personal policy since coming to Congress in January 2007, and that they believe Congress as a whole should adopt it to restore the trust of the American public.

"It isn't against the law now, but it should be," Hodes said.

Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), an original co-sponsor on the bill, said this was part of a "pro-accountability, pro-responsibility movement" in Congress. Breaking the link between campaign contributions and earmark requests is "one of those things that makes basic common sense," the freshman lawmaker said.

The bill, titled the "Clean Law for Earmark Acccountability Reform" or CLEAR Act, comes after Democrats tabled seven privileged resolutions to look into the relationship between earmarks and campaign donations, which was introduced by Giffords' fellow Arizona congressman Jeff Flake (R) following the FBI's raid of PMA Group, a defense lobbying firm.

Hodes, Giffords and Perriello were three of just a dozen or so Democrats to support Flake's resolutions.

Hodes said there has been "significant interest" from both sides of the aisle, but when asked if he discussed the plan with Democratic leadership, he said only: "We've told them what we're doing." Spokesmen in the offices of both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer were unavailable for comment when reached by RCP.

UPDATE: Hodes is running for Senate in New Hampshire, and the NRSC responds to Hodes' bill in an e-mail to RCP from spokeswoman Amber Wilkerson:

"Congressman Hodes' attempt to convey himself as a 'reformer' is laughable. If Hodes wants to bring real reform to Washington, he should begin by returning the half a million dollars in donations that he's received from the union bosses, who are eagerly lobbying the Democrats to pass the card check bill in Congress. Considering Paul Hodes co-sponsored this job-killing legislation, why doesn't he view these generous contributions from the labor unions as an equally egregious conflict of interest? As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, will he also reject contributions from the financial institutions that he oversees?"

Bill Clinton To Hit VA Gov Trail

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe announced today that Bill Clinton, for whom McAuliffe is a longtime friend and fundraiser, will hit the trail with him in Richmond and Roanoke on Monday April 27.

"We're thrilled to have President Clinton join Terry on the campaign trail," McAuliffe campaign manager Mike Henry stated in a press release. "As a former governor and close friend of Terry's, he'll talk with Virginians about why Terry is best suited to turn Virginia's economy around. And as America's last great job-creating President, he'll help make the case as to why Terry will be Virginia's next great job-creating governor."

According to campaign finance reports due last week, Clinton has donated $10,000 to McAuliffe, and he also attended a high-dollar fundraiser for McAuliffe in New York in January.

Strategy Memo: Hey, Earth Day

Good Wednesday morning and Happy Earth Day. President Obama spends Earth Day in Iowa, where he's going to tour a plant that produces towers for wind energy production. He'll promote how his comprehensive energy plan can create jobs. Vice President Biden meanwhile continues to promote the recovery act during an event at the New Carrolton, Maryland, Amtrak station.

Three Cabinet members will testify in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee this morning in favor of a comprehensive energy plan written by Chairman Henry Waxman and Edward Markey. Gen. David Petraeus and Sec. of State Hillary Clinton will also testify before House committees today.

A number of suspension bills will be considered on the House floor, while the Senate continues debate on the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act.

In light of the discussion regarding President Obama's recent meeting with Venezualan President Hugo Chavez, check out RCP's list of 8 Handshakes That Changed History.

**President Obama
*The Des Moines Register: Obama "is expected today to tout his administration's effort to accelerate the creation of renewable-energy jobs in his first trip as president to Iowa, the nation's No. 2 wind energy producer." The event in Newton, Ia., "marks a turn toward energy and domestic economic policy for Obama, who has spent the last several weeks traveling overseas and focusing on diplomatic and global economic issues."

*Chris Cillizza notes the influence former VP Al Gore holds as the energy debate gets going. "Two of the top administration officials dedicated to environmental issues -- Carol Browner and Rod O'Connor -- have long ties to Gore. ... Gore huddled with Obama in early December in Chicago (a meeting overshadowed by the arrest of the former governor of Illinois) and the former vice president also waded into the legislative fight over Obama's economic stimulus package -- offering a strong endorsement of the plan as right and necessary during highly-publicized testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the end of January. Less obvious is the broader impact Gore has had on Obama's thinking and rhetoric about the environment, according to those close observers of the two men."

*The New York Times reports that Obama's statement on a panel to investigate torture "amounted to a shift for the White House. ... His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said Sunday in a television interview that Mr. Obama believed that 'those who devised policy' should not be prosecuted. But under intense pressure from Democrats on Capitol Hill and human rights organizations to investigate, the president suggested Tuesday that he would not stand in the way of a full inquiry into what he has called 'a dark and painful chapter' in the nation's history."

*"A majority of Cuban Americans support President Barack Obama and back his moves to improve relations with Cuba, according to a new poll that suggests the community's staunch support for a tough U.S. stance against the Castro government may be eroding," Miami Herald reports.

*AP: "He is out to find just the right balance -- hold those accountable who may have broken the law but do nothing to encourage the kind of partisan, perfect-for-television investigatory hearings on Capitol Hill that could steal time and attention away from his agenda. The turn of events also underscored that even a powerful president doesn't have control of all the events."

*White House Director of Communications Ellen Moran will step down to become chief of staff to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. The Washington Post notes that Moran "was rarely in the spotlight, overshadowed by press secretary Robert Gibbs, who performs the daily news briefing, and by Dan Pfeiffer, her deputy, who worked with the president throughout the campaign." Moran was also the "only senior woman in the communications shop." Deputy Press Secretary Jen Psaki now holds that distinction.

AP, which first reported her departure, said Moran "She met with Locke twice in recent weeks, and said she decided that the role was a better fit for her professionally and personally in the long run."

*After a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah, Obama invited the leaders of Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian territories to the White House for separate talks over the next six weeks. "Obama said he wants to see Israelis, Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries take their first steps toward progress within months," the LA Times notes.

*WaPo Video: Ben Bradlee looks back at JFK.

*USA Today: "Despite congressional pledges to stop the revolving door between Capitol Hill and the lobbying industry, 16 of the 62 lawmakers who left Congress last year have landed jobs with groups that seek to influence policymakers, a USA TODAY analysis has found."

*Politico: "The GOP's scattershot messaging on climate change threatens to distract from the party's primary attack on the Democrats' global warming plan: that the cap-and-trade system will dramatically raise prices on business and consumers."

*Politico: "Environmental groups are storming the airwaves this week, taking out significant ad buys in key states to push climate change legislation and increased investment in renewable energy, even as the issues face a tough fight in the Senate."

*The Hill: "Reps. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who are in their second terms, are co-sponsoring a measure that would prevent lawmakers from taking campaign contributions from entities for which they have requested earmarks, as well as the entities lobbyists and employees."

*NY Times: "Representative Jane Harman said Tuesday that she had not contacted the White House or any other agency about an investigation of two pro-Israeli lobbyists, and she asked the Justice Department to release without deletions any transcripts of conversations in which she was secretly recorded by government surveillance systems."

Politico has more on Harman's counter-offensive, and WaPo notes the awkward timing of AIPAC's invitiation that was sent out yesterday announcing that Harman would speak at its annual policy conference in early May.

**Campaign Stuff
*The Hill: "The man in charge of electing more Republicans to the Senate said it will be difficult to stop the Democrats from winning a 60-seat majority in 2010."

*RCP Blog: "Two separate polls out this morning find New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine with a 54% disapproval rating and trailing Republican challenger Chris Christie."

*Sen. Jon Kyl said that John McCain shouldn't sweat the Senate challenge.

*The Observer notes Obama's high praise for Michael Bloomberg at yesterday's bill signing, calling him the "outstanding" mayor of New York.

*PA State Rep. Bill Kortz (D) will run for the Senate. Meanwhile, the Patriot News notes that William Parker, a founder of the Pennsylvania Club for Growth who backed Pat Toomey in '04, is urging him to quit the Senate race.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama Signals Openness To Panel On Torture

In his strongest public statement to date, President Obama Tuesday indicated his openness to a formal inquiry into his predecessor's administration in regard to harsh interrogation techniques used with terrorist suspects.

After a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah, Obama was asked about potential prosecution of those who authored the so-called torture memos released by the Justice Department last week. Obama repeated his belief that those who carried out orders should not be prosecuted, and said that the fate of those who authored the policies would be determined by the Attorney General as the chief law enforcement officer of the country.

Obama then said as a general rule, "I think that we should be looking forward and not backwards," and that he wanted to avoid over-politicizing the case. Because of that, he a "typical" Congressional hearing process would not be ideal.

"To the extent that there are independent participants who are above reproach and have credibility, that would probably be a more sensible approach to take," he said.

He quickly said that he's not calling for such an independent commission, but that given a choice between that or a process lead by current lawmakers, he'd rather see an independent process so the American people see it as "being done in order to learn some lessons so that we move forward in an effective way," rather than achieve a political end.

During his press briefing later, press secretary Robert Gibbs said that the president had in mind an independent panel in the mold of the 9-11 Commission.

"I think that the President would see a 9/11 Commission ... to be, in all honesty, a model for how any investigation or commission might be set up," he said. "I think we can all understand that the 9/11 Commission was comprised of very respected members that, despite being Democrats or Republicans, put their party identification away in order to answer some very serious questions."

Gibbs also denied that the president was reacting to pressure from liberal interest groups or others in his party's left flank, saying there was no shift in policy.

"I doubt the President has been on in the last 24 hours," he said.

McCain Slams "Cap And Tax" Energy Plan

As Congress opens hearings on new energy policies, John McCain said President Obama is pursuing a strategy that is a "revenue generator for the federal government," not a solution to the threat of climate change.

In addition, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee argued that the Obama administration is at risk of making a weak economy worse by pursuing what he called "a tax, borrow and spend policy of historic proportions," which he said the administration's plan derails undermines "bipartisan legislation" he has worked to address climate change.

"At this time of economic hardship, it is beyond irresponsible to further raise costs of operation for our country's businesses," he said at an energy forum hosted by the Reform Institute in Washington today. "I still believe that it is the time to address this critical domestic and international issue. But my vision for a cap and trade system is mechanism to lower greenhouse gases in our hemisphere, not as a revenue generator for the federal government."

He said the administration plan would create "a federal slush fund to pay for health care reform or other social programs."

"We must design a program that balances the needs of our environment with the needs of our economy, carefully balancing incentives with informed restrictions," he said. "It will take a combination of auctioning and allocating carbon credits, giving enough credits away to accommodate the transition costs and allow businesses to stay open, and prevent drastic increases in utility rates for customers."

The cap and trade before Congress now is actually authored by Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, though the White House made their legislation more urgent when the EPA issued a new finding on Friday "that greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare."

Taking a larger view of energy policy, McCain also argued as he did throughout the presidential campaign that America should include nuclear power in any long-term strategy.

"We need to start making decisions in Washington based on facts, not pure partisan politics," he said. "We need to make choices based on sound science, national security, and a clear vision of our economic future. That's why I continue to be baffled by the rhetoric coming out of this administration in relation to our nuclear power industry."

He said that "pursuing only a limited number of green technologies, while refusing to recognize the important role of nuclear power, clean coal and other forms of green energy will be to limit our own economic and environmental progress."

McCain's comments came as fellow Republicans urged the Democratic-run committee to hold off on hearings, arguing that legislation is not ready yet. In addition, it was reported that McCain will face a primary challenge in his bid for re-election next year in the person of Chris Simcox, former head of the Minuteman anti-illegal immigration group.

Dems Take Aim at Crist

Although he hasn't yet announced his intentions, Democrats are already targeting Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who would be considered a strong candidate for the state's open Senate seat.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee distributed to reporters a recent piece in the Sun-Sentinel, which reported that there have been 62 days since Crist took office in January 2007 that the governor has had an empty schedule -- in other words, he hasn't been at work.

"As Floridians struggle with job reductions, home foreclosures and dwindling bank accounts, Crist has enjoyed a jet-setting lifestyle, mixing with celebrities, attending charity balls, staying at grand hotels and relaxing in his new wife's $4 million condo on Miami's Fisher Island," the newspaper reported.

DSCC communications director Eric Schultz responds with this statement: "Given how badly Floridians have been hit by the housing crisis and the recent jump in unemployment, it's surprising -- to say the least -- that Governor Crist affords himself so much time off. At a time when Floridians expect their elected officials to work around the clock on the dire economic problems plaguing the state, Governor Crist may want to think twice about continuing such a lackadaisical schedule."

Harman Defends Herself on MSNBC

It's been a pretty interesting day-and-a-half since CQ reporter Jeff Stein's piece on Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) was published.

Stein reported that in late 2006, an NSA wiretap picked up a conversation between Harman and a "suspected Israeli agent" during which Harman said she would lobby the Justice Department to be lenient on two AIPAC officials being charged with espionage, and the agent said he'd lobby Nancy Pelosi to give Harman the Intelligence Committee chairmanship.

After uproar about the timing of his piece, Stein wrote a blog post early this morning showing the corroboration of parts of his article by other reporters and their sources. Stein also appeared on MSNBC's "Countdown" last night, on which he said he had three sources who confirmed his story.

"There are many officials that know about this: at the Justice Department, the CIA, the FBI, the Director of National Intelligence and other places, and I'm told that Nancy Pelosi became very aware of this as well," Stein said on the show. "This is somewhat of a secret, but there's a wide circle of people who have known this for some time."

Harman, however, has claimed innocence, and told Andrea Mitchell this afternoon in an in-studio interview on MSNBC that she was unaware of any of this. Harman said the first time she heard of any of this was Thursday night when Stein called her congressional office.

"I didn't contact the Justice Department or anyone in the administration ever asking for lenient sentences for anybody," Harman said. "I didn't intervene."

On a deal to help her win the Intelligence committee gavel after the 2006 election, Harman said: "No deals were cut with any groups for any reason ever."

Harman said she has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to release any tapes from NSA wiretaps "in an unredacted form" and to investigate if any other members of Congress were "subject to this treatment" of being wiretapped.

Strategy Memo: Called To Serve

Good morning, Washington. Today, President Obama will meet with Jordan's King Abdullah, one of the United States' key allies in the Middle East. He'll also hold his first Rose Garden event as president, awarding the Commander in Chief's trophy to the Naval Academy football team. He later meets with former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) before signing the Kennedy Serve America Act at a local public school.

Congress today will vote on Kathleen Sebelius' nomination for Health and Human Services secretary. The House Energy and Commerce Committee also begins hearings on a bill to regulate carbon emissions.

And as energy legislation takes a leading role, we'll be checking out Sen. John McCain's speech at a National Energy Symposium. Sen. Lisa Murkowski also addresses the event.

**President Obama
*On the same day that Obama appeared at CIA headquarters and addressed the release of the OLC memos, former VP Dick Cheney tells Fox News that he wants the administration to release additional documents showing what harsh interrogations yielded. "They didn't put out the memos that showed the success of the effort," Cheney said. The former VP "said he thinks it's perfectly appropriate for those with a different point of view to be able to express it -- and give the American people the ability to evaluate." "It's important to not personally attack the new president -- I've never done that," said Cheney.

*Obama will attend a DSCC/DCCC fundraiser in June, CNN reports. This counters what was to have been Sarah Palin's appearance at the NRCC/NRSC fundraiser now being headlined by Newt Gingrich.

*AP has highlights the $5.7 billion service bill being signed today. "The AmeriCorps program started by President Bill Clinton will triple in size over the next eight years, and tens of thousands of other Americans will soon see new opportunities to give back to their communities. ... Bolstering voluntary public service programs has been a priority of Obama, who credits his work as a community organizer in his early 20s for giving him direction in life."

*The Senate voted to invoke cloture, ending debate on the nomination of Christopher Hill as ambassador to Iraq. Enough Republicans sided with Democrats, over the objection of Sen. Sam Brownback." "It is important to get our next ambassador in place as quickly as possible,'' said Senator Richard Lugar. 'We need an ambassador in Iraq," said Senator Saxby Chambliss.

*Politico reports that Obama's call to cut $100 million from administration budgets "was met on Monday with mockery by congressional Republicans, who cast the cuts as laughably small within the multitrillion-dollar budget the president has proposed. The White House shot back that Republicans had no room to talk about fiscal prudence, pointing out that it was their party that left Obama with yawning deficits. In other words: game on."

*Murray Waas reports for The Atlantic that the U.S. Attorneys caught in the wave of firings in late 2006 have held two annual reunions, and that one -- Dan Bogden -- is being considered for reinstatement by the Obama administration. "A Justice Department official told me that the idea of hiring Bogden back is in fact a real possibility, and said that the White House counsel's office has been quietly vetting his background in anticipation of his possible reappointment."

*USA Today reports that the special inspector general for the TARP program has launched "almost 20" criminal investigations into the program.

*Not only did the Chicago White Sox visit the White House, but Tiger Woods did, too, ABC reports.

*AP: "The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday begins four days of hearings on a draft bill that will limit for the first time the gases blamed for global warming and could revolutionize the way the country produces and uses energy."

*CQ reports that the energy bill being considered by the House Energy committee "not only would try to curb global warming but also would create a federal program on adapting to climate changes that may be inevitable. ... The centerpiece of the bill would mandate an 83 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and require greater use of renewable-energy sources."

*CQ reported Sunday night on California Democrat Jane Harman "was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington."

"In return, the caller promised her that a wealthy California donor -- the media mogul Haim Saban -- would threaten to withhold campaign contributions to Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who was expected to become House speaker after the 2006 election, if she did not select Ms. Harman for the intelligence post," NY Times reports.

*The Hill surveyed Senators, asking who in the opposite party they most enjoyed working with. "The answers reveal a Senate with surprising alliances, close friendships and some personal resentments. After Kennedy, the most bipartisan Democrats are Sens. Tom Carper (Del.), Chris Dodd (Conn.), Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa). Following Collins on the GOP side are Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Richard Lugar (Ind.) and John McCain (Ariz.)."

*According to a CNN poll, 49 percent of Americans say the country is better off with the Democrats controlling Congress. "That's down 7 points from January, but it's 15 points higher than the 34 percent who say the nation would be better with the Republicans running Capitol Hill."

**Campaign Stuff
*The DSCC edged the NRSC in first quarter fundraising, the Hotline notes.

*The DNC sent an e-mail appeal to help retire Hillary Clinton's FEC debt.

*NY GOV: Rudy Giuliani, at the Lincoln-Regan Day Dinner in Albany, "told reporters social issues are not the path to success for New York Republicans." Giuliani: "The Republican Party does best when it organizes around economic issues and issues of national security. We end up getting back to being a majority party that way. And on these social issues, I really respect [Dean Skelos] for leaving that to the conscience of the people that are voting. Our party should be built around fiscal confidence, fiscal integrity." Giuliani, on a movement against the gay marriage proposal. "That will emerge because there are people who feel very strongly as a matter of conscience against this."

*Politico's Kraushaar takes a look at the Dem frontrunners for the CA-32 special election.

Obama Says He'll Vigorously Defend Work Of CIA

As he spoke at the CIA this afternoon, there was a noticeable crowd reaction when President Obama said that the employees "get credit when things go good, but you sure get some blame when you don't."

"I got an Amen corner over there," he joked after hearing the reaction.

Looming over today's visit was the release last week of so-called "torture memos," which outlined specifically the measures American forces have taken with enemy combatants. The president acknowledged that the days since the release "have been difficult" for the CIA, and repeated his reluctance to make the information public.

"I have fought to protect the integrity of classified information in the past, and I will do so in the future. And there is nothing more important than protecting the identities of CIA officers," he said. "So I need everybody to be clear - we will protect your identities and your security as you vigorously pursue your missions. I will be as vigorous in protecting you as you are vigorous in protecting the American people."

Notably, the Justice Department said it would not prosecute individuals who engaged in harsh interrogation tactics. Obama today also addressed his decision to rescind those practices, saying he believes the United States "is stronger and more secure when we deploy the full measure of both our power and the power of our values, including the rule of law."

"I know I can count on you to do exactly that," he said, even as he acknowledged how difficult it might be against an enemy that has "no scruples and would willingly and gladly kill innocents."

"I'm sure that sometimes it seems as if that means we're operating with one hand tied behind our back," he said. "I watch the cable shows once in a while. [But] what makes the United States special, and what makes you special, is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when its hard. Not just when it's easy. Even when we are afraid and under threat. Not just when it's expedient to do so."

It wasn't clear what type of reception Obama would receive today, but according to a White House pool report, the event today "felt and sounded a lot like a campaign rally." CIA Director Leon Panetta joked about the greeting: "This is a very loud welcome from a group that's supposed to be silent warriors."

Party Fundraising: Tale of the Tape

The DNC just announced its first-quarter fundraising numbers, reporting $11.9 million raised and $9.8 million cash on hand. The DNC took in another $5 million during the quarter from the Obama Victory Fund and Obama for America, and also reported more than $6.6 million in debts.

The RNC announced Friday that it had raised $25.3 million in the first quarter, including $7,351,000 transferred from the McCain-Palin campaign in January.

Here's a quick breakdown:

              Dems              GOP
Raised 3/09 $ 5,573,000 $ 6,700,000
Raised 1stQ $11,857,000 $25,300,000
CoH $ 9,766,000 $23,900,000

Coburn Retiring?

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has refused to say whether or not he will seek re-election in 2010. The first-term senator, and former three-term House Member, raised just $17,000 in the first quarter of 2009 and has just $57,000 cash on hand, far behind the pace of what's necessary for a statewide run.

By comparison, Coburn spent more than $5 million in 2004 during his first Senate campaign, and fellow Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe (R) also spent more than $5 million for his successful 2008 campaign. While Coburn likely wouldn't face a major primary challenger and certainly has the connections to raise money quickly, the fact that he hasn't announced his decision yet has led to plenty of speculation that he's calling it quits.

Coburn, who's made it his mission in the Senate to get federal spending under control, told The Oklahoman last month that he thought it "unethical to ask people to give you money for an election you're not sure you're going to run in."

The Oklahoma City paper also reported that Coburn told the Republican state convention crowd Saturday that he was not running for governor next year, but was still unsure of a second run for Senate.

Obama's First Cabinet Meeting: Trimming The Fat

President Obama used his first Cabinet meeting as an opportunity to highlight his administration's efforts to trim the fat of government spending. He acknowledged that some of the savings found by departments and agencies represent just a drop in the bucket compared to the budget gap, but said it's an important gesture because of a "confidence gap" from the American people.

"None of these savings by themselves are going to solve our long term fiscal problems, but taken together they can make a difference and they can send a signal that we are serious about changing how government operates," Obama said.

"As well as you have already done, you are going to have to do more," he told the assembled Cabinet members. In addition to certain cuts already made, Obama asked them to identify $100 million more to trim from their administrative budgets. This would augment an ongoing "line by line" review by the Office of Management and Budget that aims to eliminate 100 government programs, and "free up" money to use "for critical areas" like health care, education and energy.

"$100 million here, $100 million there, pretty soon even in Washington, it adds up to real money," the president said.

The White House released a list of examples of the steps certain agencies have taken - like saving $52 million at the Department of Homeland Security by purchasing office supplies in bulk (more after the jump). During his press briefing, though, Robert Gibbs was asked if the cuts would really have an impact.

"Only in Washington DC is $100 million not a lot of money. It is where I'm from," Gibbs said.

Today's Cabinet meeting was only one member short. Kathleen Sebelius is expected to be confirmed tomorrow as Health and Human Service Secretary. Obama, seated between Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said he was "extraordinarily proud of the talent, the diversity and the work ethic" of the team so far.

"In an unprecedented situation where we had to hit the ground running and get an enormous amount done in the first three months, everybody here has performed I think at the highest level. And I am extraordinarily proud of the quality of this Cabinet," he said.

Examples provided by the White House "of the cost cutting measures agencies have begun to implement."


Improper Payments - USDA has worked with the Treasury Department to identify potential fraud and improper payments in farm programs. Beginning with the 2009 crop year and in successive years, all farm program payment recipients will be required to sign a form which grants the Treasury Department the authority to provide income information to USDA for verification purposes. The reform proposal would render those out of compliance ineligible for USDA payments. Savings under this proposal could reach $16 million a year.

Office Leases - USDA is working to combine 1,500 USDA employees from seven leased locations into a single facility in early 2011, saving $62 million over a 15-year lease term.

Training - The Rural Development office has been utilizing Internet training in place of in-person training with projected annual savings of $1.3 million.


Computer Consolidation - The Department has reduced the ratio of computers per employee requiring that most employees use laptop computers (as opposed to keeping a desktop and also receiving a laptop). This will result in annual savings of about $2 million. Additionally, savings from increasing the ratio of people who use a given printer will save an additional $6.7 million.

International Office Closure - Since August 2003, the Department has maintained a full-time employee acting as an education policy attaché at the U.S. Mission to UNESCO in Paris. By eliminating the position and closing the office, the Department will save $713,000 a year.


Office Supplies and Computer Software - DHS spends $100 million a year on office supplies, but virtually none of the supplies are purchased through agreements that leverage the Department's collective buying power. DHS estimates that it could save up to $52 million over five years by purchasing in bulk for the Department. An additional $10 million over five years could be saved by procuring multi-purpose office equipment, such as a combined copier, printer, fax, and scanner all in a single unit, which will save space, reduce service costs, and lead to volume discounts. DHS agencies also purchase computer software independently, which increases greatly the number of software licenses that have to be acquired. Simply by buying these licenses as one entity, DHS estimates it can save $47 million a year.

Energy Efficiency - DHS will reduce its energy use by purchasing hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles. Where possible, the Department is also looking to use on-site renewable energy generation instead of grid power. It has set a target of saving $3 million a year in energy costs.

Branding - Since 2003, DHS has spent $3 million on consulting contracts to create new seals and logos for its components. The Department is putting an end to that.


Going Paperless - The U.S. Attorneys and the U.S. Marshals Offices' Asset Forfeiture program is converting publication of judicial forfeiture notices from newspapers to the Internet. This change is expected to save $6.7 million over the first 5 years.


Going Paperless - The Department of State's National Visa Center (NVC) will implement electronic correspondence for immigrant visa processing. NVC anticipates cost savings in the first year of implementation will be approximately $1 million.

Consolidation in Posts - Consolidation in over 30 posts over the last few years have enabled USAID and State to save an estimated $5 million annually. The Department plans to expand consolidation to the 30 missions in USAID and State that will not be co-located by FY 2010 for an additional $5 million of savings.

Contract Consolidation - In a number of areas - including cell phones, PDAs, office supplies, furniture and medical supplies - the Department is reducing costs by consolidating purchases under one vendor or a small number of vendors, thus taking advantage of volume discounts. With office supplies alone, the Department anticipates cost savings between 7 and 10 percent.

Excess Inventory - In the past six months, the Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM) has identified 15,000 obsolete items valued at $5 million from IRM's inventory stock and has turned them in to the Department of Agriculture Centralized Excess Property Operation. This purge of equipment has freed up much needed warehouse space at a State Annex and will save tens of thousands of dollars in storage facility fees.


Recovery Act Savings - To promote efficiency, the Department has established a team of senior officials who work to bring Recovery Act projects in under budget. Across the country, contractor's bids are coming in at 15 to 20 percent below the estimated costs. Colorado reports bids as much as 30 percent below estimates, and California indicates that some contractors are offering to do work at half the projected cost. These cost savings mean that more projects can be funded.


Travel Savings - The Department cancelled or delayed 26 conferences for a savings of almost $17.8 million. VA will be relying on less costly alternatives, such as video conferencing, as ways to complete training requirements.

Strategy Memo: Back to Work

Good Monday morning. Congress returns this week after two weeks away. The Senate reconvenes this afternoon and begins consideration of a bill that would improve the enforcement of fraud related to federal assistance and relief programs. The House returns tomorrow, with just one major bill to be considered this week.

President Obama has spent two out of the past three weeks on foreign soil. He just returned to Washington last night after an eventful trip to Mexico and Trinidad. But for the foreseeable future he'll be in the States, and he'll start his first full day back in the White House with a symbolic first Cabinet meeting today. The only missing part will be the HHS Secretary - but Kathleen Sebelius should be confirmed this week.

Obama will also make his first visit to the CIA headquarters in Langley - a noteworthy visit considering the release last week of the so-called torture memos.

Watch the best of all the Sunday talk shows you missed, including White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, at the RealClearPolitics Video page.

**President Obama
*"President Obama plans to convene his Cabinet for the first time today, and he will order its members to identify a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days, according to a senior administration official," Washington Post reports.

*AP: President Obama came home from Trinidad "claiming progress, backed by leaders from the region who took a liking to his here-to-listen style," AP reports. "Obama embraced Cuba's overture to put every issue on the table, but he wants the Castro government to free political prisoners. He had attention-snaring handshakes and smiles with Hugo Chavez, but he wants the Venezuelan leader to stop being an authoritarian figure. Obama pledged the U.S. and Mexico are united on the drug war, but violence keeps on raging. For now, Obama has what he wanted. A start."

*Obama dismissed concerns about his shaking hands with Chavez, saying the 2008 campaign proved Americans want more engagement and that such meetings aren't seen as weakness. "The American people didn't buy it. And there's a good reason the American people didn't buy it, because it doesn't make sense," he said, per the LA Times.

*The Washington Post reports that today's Cabinet meeting will be an opportunity for the president to order each agency to find savings in their budgets - "a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days, according to a senior administration official. The budget cuts, while they would account to a minuscule portion of federal spending, are intended to signal the president's determination to cut spending and reform government, the official said." He outlined his views in the weekly presidential address.

*New York Times: "In a significant shift, White House and Treasury Department officials now say they can stretch what is left of the $700 billion financial bailout fund further than they had expected a few months ago, simply by converting the government's existing loans to the nation's 19 biggest banks into common stock. Converting those loans to common shares would turn the federal aid into available capital for a bank -- and give the government a large ownership stake in return.

*Wall Street Journal reports that Obama "will soon turn his attention to high credit-card rates, giving a potential boost to congressional efforts to put limits on the industry." But the White House declined to say what specific measures the administration might take.

*USA Today reports that only $60 billion of the $787 billion in stimulus funds have been committed, "prompting concerns that the money isn't moving fast enough to halt the deepening recession."

*David Axelrod weighed in Sunday on the Tea Parties of the previous week, saying in his mind that they were unhealthy phenomenon. "Anytime that you have severe economic conditions, there is always an element of disaffection that can mutate into something that's unhealthy,'' he said on "Face the Nation." "This is a country where we value our liberties and our ability to express ourselves. ... The thing that bewilders me is this president just cut taxes for 95 percent of the people."

*The New York Times tapped into a sentiment that Obama is ducking some of the tough fights so far, or as the paper of record puts it, he "eventually chose pragmatism over fisticuffs" at key points. But "Mr. Obama's top aides dismiss suggestions that he has shied from confrontation, saying they ignore his achievements, the need to move quickly to address economic woes and the fights he has picked against some big interest groups in Washington, including components of the Democratic base, like organized labor. Pragmatism, they add, is an Obama hallmark, and among the changes he promised -- and has delivered -- is a break from his predecessor's often uncompromising style.

*Obama returns written answers to written questions posed by Fortune's Nina Easton.

*L.A. Times reports that the "glimpses into the Obama household are far from spontaneous. Instead, they are part of a careful strategy that has helped bolster the new president's popularity and political clout -- even as he promotes some economic policies, such as bailouts for banks and automakers, that lack broad appeal."

*Lynn Sweet reports that the Chicago White Sox will visit the White House today and meet their biggest fan.

**Congress returns
*"Unless Texas secedes or is invaded by pirates this week, Congress is set to finally downshift into a more reasonable gear from now until Memorial Day," The Hill reports.

*Politico reports that on healthcare, "Republicans now worry the party has waited so long to figure out where it stands that it will make it harder to block what President Barack Obama is trying to do."

*WSJ: "Shortly after Congress returns from recess Monday, lawmakers will have to choose which Obama promise to make a higher priority -- overhauling the health-care system or addressing climate change. A growing number of Democratic lawmakers prefer health care, saying that has a far greater chance of producing consensus than climate change, inside the party and across party lines.

**In the States
*Lou Cannon, in the latest State Net Capitol Journal issue: "Although Obama's ambitious agenda and rosy budget estimates have provided Republicans with valid talking points, the GOP has floundered in its attempt to develop opposition to the administration stimulus plan in the states. A handful of Republican governors ... threatened to decline federal stimulus funds on grounds ranging from the unconvincing to the perverse. ... Tim Storey, political analyst for the National Conference of State Legislators, observes that it isn't realistic for states, which are required to balance their budgets, to turn down federal funds while they are cutting basic programs to make ends meet. It's also politically foolish, since the GOP is unlikely to return to power on the backs of the unemployed."

*The Visalia Times-Delta (CA) gives a "Thumbs down to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and to the Obama administration for their cavalier snub of San Joaquin Valley water interests in announcing federal aid for water projects in California. ... The announcement drew outrage from U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia. Nunes directed his ire at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had welcomed Salazar's announcement a day earlier."

*WaPo's Ruth Marcus takes a look at Sarah Palin: "I'd like to thank Sarah Palin for her bravery in explaining the importance of a woman's right to choose. Even braver, the Alaska governor made her eloquent case for choice at a right-to-life fundraising dinner."

*New York Magzine's Gabriel Sherman writes about the voices not heard from much the last few months: "In a witch hunt, the witches have feelings, too."

**Campaign Stuff
*Roll Call's Toeplitz reports: "National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) may have called for Pennsylvania Republicans to unite behind Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) last week, but GOP members of the Keystone State delegation are choosing to sit on the sidelines in what is expected to be a blockbuster primary in 2010."

*FL SEN watch: Charlie Crist is "characteristically non-committal" in reacting to Obama's views on Cuba, the Miami Herald reports. Meanwhile, both the AP and Sun Sentinel take a close look at Crist's schedule, finding that he spent many days with few or no working events. "In good times, the governor's schedule might not draw scrutiny. But these are not good times for Florida," the Sun-Sentinel says.

St. Pete Times: The chairman of the Florida GOP, Jim Greer, warned former House Speaker Marco Rubio about challenging Crist in a primary, should Crist seek the Senate job. Greer also talks about his potential interest in a Congressional race.

*Roland Burris has an 18 percent approval rating, according to Rasmussen. But his media and political consultant tells the Chicago Sun-Times that a re-election bid is "still a possibility."

*NY-20 special election: "Everything now comes down to disputed ballots, as all 10 counties have finished their counts," the Bennington Banner reports.

**Sports Alert
*The Nationals have, by far, the worst bullpen in the Majors.

*The 113th Boston Marathon kicks off this morning, and "if the winds cooperate, it's looking like a near-perfect day for running," according to the Boston Globe.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama Meets Chavez

A photo of a smiling President Obama greeting Hugo Chavez is on the Web site of the Venezuelan president, under the headline, "Historic greeting between Presidents Obama and Chavez." The two are attending the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago this weekend.


The White House had said there were no plans for a one-on-one meeting. That appears to still be the case, but it was unlikely that the two leaders would not run into one another.

Va Gov: McAuliffe Ad, Race Analysis

Terry McAuliffe is up with a new 30-second TV ad in the Richmond and Hampton Roads media markets that will focus on alternative energy and creating new jobs.

Speaking of McAuliffe, Bob Holsworth, a Virginia political analyst and founder of the Virginia Tomorrow blog, broke down his campaign strategy and other topics in an e-mail exchange with RCP yesterday:

"The McAuliffe campaign divides the Democratic electorate into 'proven' voters -- those who always vote in Demcoratic primaries; and 'surge' voters -- those who participate when they have especially inspired and motivated," said Holsworth.

Surge voters certainly emerged in 2008 for Barack Obama, who received almost 628,000 votes in the February presidential primary. Obama bested Hillary Clinton in Richmond by a 4-to-1 margin, and a 2-to-1 margin in Virginia Beach. Statewide, Obama defeated Clinton 64%-35%.

"If the primary electorate consists only of 'proven' Democratic voters, McAuliffe will have a tough time winning," Holsworth said. "He is depending upon expanding electorate considerably beyond the 155,000 voters who participated in the Democratic senatorial primary in 2006. If he can double this number by attacting 'surge' voters, he has a good chance of winning."

McAuliffe's TV advertising ability and targeted strategy is a major piece in completing his primary puzzle. Awaiting the winner of the Democratic primary -- McAuliffe, Brian Moran or Creigh Deeds -- is now-former Atty. Gen. Bob McDonnell.

"McDonnell enters the race in the best position of any Republican since Jim Gilmore won in 1997," Holsworth said. "He does not have an opponent for the nomination; he is generally considered to have done a good job as Attorney General; and his favorability ratings in the polls are quite high."

While a Rasmussen poll yesterday showed McDonnell extending his lead to double digits over all three Democrats, he'll face the same problem in November that Republicans have faced in the last three major elections in Virginia: poor numbers in Northern Virginia, where some one-third of votes are cast.

"His challenge is to find a message that can enable him to run much stronger in Northern Virginia and other metropolitan areas in the state (the Richmond region and Hampton Roads) than Republicans have done recently," Holsworth said.

Obama Will Help Dodd Through "Rough Patch"

In an interview with the Boston Globe, President Obama voices strong support for Chris Dodd, who might now be the most vulnerable incumbent Democrat seeking re-election in 2010.

"I can't say it any clearer: I will be helping Chris Dodd because he deserves the help," Obama said. "Chris is going through a rough patch. He just has an extraordinary record of accomplishment, and I think the people in Connecticut will come to recognize that. ... He always has his constituencies at heart, and he's somebody I'm going to be relying on and working very closely with to shepherd through the types of regulatory reforms we need."

Dodd was the first presidential candidate to drop out of the race, and quickly endorsed Obama.

Strategy Memo: Island In The Sun

Today the president leaves Mexico en route to Port of Spain, Trinidad, where he will attend the Summit of the Americas. There's a target on the United States at the two-day summit, after the announcement of new policies toward Cuba. Many have also questioned whether Obama will meet with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez - something the White House has denied.

Vice President Biden is also outside of Washington, holding a meeting of the middle class task force in Missouri.

Congress will return next week from a two-week break. Upon returning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday she plans to set up a commission to probe what led to the Wall Street financial collapse. There is still no congressman in New York's 20th District, though Democrat Scott Murphy now leads by 178 votes. The winner may indeed be decided in court, just as the Senate race in Minnesota will be.

**President Obama
*Gallup reports that Obama averaged a 63% approval rating in his 1st quarter in office, the highest since Jimmy Carter in 1977.

*In Mexico, Obama said the two countries "both needed to strengthen and coordinate their drug war efforts," Reuters reports. "Obama said he had not 'backed off' from the idea of trying to reinstate an expired ban on assault rifles -- which are showing up in droves at Mexican crime scenes -- but for the time being he would focus on halting the smuggling of arms and cash over the Mexican border, which would yield faster results."

*AP: Obama said the Summit of the Americas "offers the opportunity of a new beginning" in the region. "And he expected the major focus to be on the global economic crisis, which has America's Latin American neighbors reeling as their prime export markets shut down. The summit will aim to 'jump-start job creation, promote free and fair trade, and develop a coordinated response to this economic crisis,' Obama said."

*The Washington Post reports that the newly-released interrogation memos included "previously unacknowledged strategies of slamming a prisoner into a wall and placing an insect near a detainee terrified of bugs." "The documents lay out in clinical, painstaking detail a series of practices intended to get prisoners to share intelligence about past wrongdoing and future attacks."

*Responding to Republican critiques of the release of the memos, Robert Gibbs told ABC "that when making the decision as to what he should do with the memos -- which human rights groups were seeking through the Freedom of Information Act -- President Obama 'wrestled with a number of issues related to national security, related to the rule of law, and related to national security.'" Gibbs: "I don't think and the president doesn't believe it's the existence of enhanced interrogation techniques in memos that has made us less safe,. It's the use of those techniques in the view of the world that has made us less safe. And that's precisely why the president moved swiftly."

*The Washington Post checks in with Gov. Bill Richardson, who is "at peace in the political desert." "I've been there, I've done service in the Congress, Cabinet, the U.N.," he said. "I don't miss it one bit. I really don't."

*"Wall Street's machinations will be laid bare for all to see if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has her way. In an unexpected pledge -- a response to a question during a speaking gig in San Francisco -- the California Democrat promised to create a commission to investigate what led up to the financial collapse and exactly what taxpayers are forking over to dig the economy out of its current mess," Portfolio reports.

*Sen. Dianne Feinstein, meanwhile, wants to hold hearings on wiretapping "after new reports that recent wiretapping went beyond what Congress has authorized."

*IBD editorial: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants a broad "probe" of Wall Street, much like the 1932 Pecora Commission that led to sweeping bank reforms. Good idea. Let the probing begin -- with Pelosi's Congress."

**Palin Watch
*At the Right to Life Conference, Sarah Palin said she thought about having an abortion when she found out she was pregnant during an out-of-state trip. "I knew, 'Nobody knows me here. Nobody would ever know,'" she said. "It is easy to think maybe of trying to change the circumstances." But in the end: "I clung to a faith that taught me that we could meet the challenges, that we won't be given anything that we can't handle and really, at times, that faith was all that I had."

*Meanwhile, former McCain chief Steve Schmidt will use a speech at the Log Cabin Republicans' convention to urge Republicans to drop opposition to same-sex marriage, CNN reports.

**Campaign Stuff
*The Washington Post reports that a number of donors to Del. Brian Moran's Virginia governor campaign have business before Rep. Jim Moran, a member of the Appropriations Committee. "Many of the firms are Virginia-based, and those executives who would speak about the gifts said they have long been politically active in the state and have known both brothers for years. Others have been heavy federal contributors with little involvement in state politics. Most have benefited from Jim Moran's role in crafting defense spending bills each year."

New York Times also looks into how one Moran may be helping the other.

* Wapo also reports that "Seven people who have given Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe at least $5,000 have slept in the Lincoln Bedroom during the Clinton administration, according to campaign reports released last night."

*And here are Kyle's pics and story from the Shad Planking event in southern Virginia.

*IL-Sen: Sen. Roland Burris raised $845 in the 1st quarter, Politico reports.

*NY-20: "With about two-thirds of absentee ballots now counted, things are looking very dim for Republicans," The Hill reports.

"Elections officials in the 20th Congressional District are down to the last ballots in many places, but counting has stalled because of confusion over a court order state Supreme Court Justice James Brands issued Wednesday," reports the Albany Times-Union.

Politico: "More notably, as the count begins to wind down, it seems like the GOP is prepared for a protracted court battle, at least by the sound of this internal memo sent this afternoon by a National Republican Congressional Committee staffer..."

*MN-Sen: How bad is it for Norm Coleman? Some kid egged his house Tuesday night.

**Sports Alert: Here's a raise of the glass to John Madden, who announced yesterday he's retiring from broadcasting NFL games after more than 30 years in the booth.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Palin's Rough Day

While Gov. Sarah Palin (R) makes a high-profile visit to the Lower 48 today, she suffers a few setbacks at home in Alaska.

All of these happened today, mind you. From the Anchorage Daily News:

The Alaska Legislature voted 35 to 23 today to reject the confirmation of Wayne Anthony Ross, Gov. Sarah Palin's pick for attorney general. According to Legislative Research, today's rejection of Ross is the first time in state history that a head of a state agency has failed to be confirmed by the Legislature. All the Democrats in the Legislature voted against Ross, but they were joined by nine Republicans, including the Senate president and House speaker.


One of three people Gov. Sarah Palin has recommended for a vacant state Senate seat for Juneau is withdrawing his name. The governor's office on Thursday said Joe Nelson is withdrawing as a candidate. In a letter to Palin, Nelson says it's clear that Senate Democrats will not support any candidate that is not fully supported by the Juneau Democratic Party.

And finally:

The Legislature has rejected Gov. Sarah Palin's nominee for the board that decides how the catch of Alaska's salmon, halibut and other fish should be divided between commercial, sport and personal use fishermen. Meeting in a joint session Thursday, lawmakers voted 42-16 to reject Brent Johnson of Clam Gulch for the Board of Fisheries.

The real blow is the Attorney General rejection. That story got some airtime on national cable news, and the issues at play could linger when she seeks re-election, and potentially seeks national office. The other two seem marginally important, but the idea of the legislature rebuking Palin in such a way today certainly puts a dent in her image at home and nationally.

No doubt, Palin is happy to be in Evansville tonight.

A 'Majority' Definition of Ethics

On her way to recapturing control of Congress in 2006, Nancy Pelosi introduced a measure co-sponsored by Senators Harry Reid and Barack Obama that she called a "Declaration of Independence from special interests." Ten months later, on election night, she renewed the vow, saying: "Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history."

How quickly the tune has changed. "Ethics" may have served as a populist rallying point for Democrats in the minority, but apparently "ethics" doesn't have much to do with governing in the majority. As the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported yesterday, Mrs. Pelosi has now enlisted Rep. Howard Berman "to consult with House Democrats on why they should continue to resist Republican demands for an ethics committee investigation" of senior Democrats tied to PMA Group, a defense lobbying firm embroiled in a corruption investigation.

PMA is now defunct since it was raided by the FBI last year, but top defense appropriator Rep. Jack Murtha, as well as several other Democrats, are reported to be implicated in an investigation of allegedly illegal campaign contributions in return for earmarks for PMA clients. Republicans, naturally, are relishing having the shoe on the other foot after their own disastrous involvement in the Jack Abramoff scandal. Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake has introduced seven resolutions calling for Congress to launch its own ethics probe -- and all seven have been tabled by the Democrats.

Texas Republican John Carter likewise sponsored a resolution two months ago asking that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel step down until the Ethics committee completes its probe of alleged tax-related impropriety. Democrats killed that as well, even as the ethics committee report on the Rangel investigation is more than four months overdue.

But Democrats are clearly feeling some heat. Mr. Berman's appointment is seen as an attempt to show that Mrs. Pelosi and company take the concerns seriously while at the same time stalling any move against the members involved. Explained Roll Call: "After a long silence on the unfolding federal probe of the PMA Group and its ties to senior Democrats, House Democratic leaders are cobbling together a defense to offer political cover to their rank and file."

Shad Planking Kicks Off Virginia Governor Race

Virginia's annual Shad Planking political gathering took place yesterday and RCP was there to capture all its glory. Check out my piece on the event here, and enjoy the pictures below.

Shad_Planking_fish smoking.JPG

Shad_Planking_campaign signs.JPG



VA Gov Poll: McDonnell Leads Dems

Bob McDonnell (R) leads the three potential Democratic nominees in hypothetical general election matchups in the 2009 Virginia gubernatorial race, a new Rasmussen poll finds (April 15, 500 LV, +/- 4.5%). The survey also finds President Obama and Governor Tim Kaine with 56% job approval ratings in the state.

McDonnell and Democrats Brian Moran and Terry McAuliffe appeared yesterday at the annual Shad Planking event. Creigh Deeds, the third Dem, skipped the event to campaign alongside Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.). Moran, McAuliffe and Deeds will face off in a June 9 primary.

McDonnell 45 - Deeds 30 - Und 20
McDonnell 44 - Moran 34 - Und 19
McDonnell 45 - McAuliffe 33 - Und 19

Administration Releases Torture Memos

Funny how these things seem to happen when the president leaves the country.

President Obama issued a statement on the pending release of memos outlining so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques used with terrorism suspects from 2002 to 2005. This comes as the AP is reporting that CIA employees who engaged in these techniques won't face prosecution.

The president walks a fine line, saying his opposition to torture "is a matter of public record," but that "in a dangerous world, the United States must sometimes carry out intelligence operations and protect information that is classified for purposes of national security." The administration, like its predecessor, fought legal efforts to make these memos public.

"However, after consulting with the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and others, I believe that exceptional circumstances surround these memos and require their release," he says.

Obama's full statement after the jump.

The Department of Justice will today release certain memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005 as part of an ongoing court case. These memos speak to techniques that were used in the interrogation of terrorism suspects during that period, and their release is required by the rule of law.

My judgment on the content of these memos is a matter of record. In one of my very first acts as President, I prohibited the use of these interrogation techniques by the United States because they undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer. Enlisting our values in the protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure. A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals, and that is why these methods of interrogation are already a thing of the past.

But that is not what compelled the release of these legal documents today. While I believe strongly in transparency and accountability, I also believe that in a dangerous world, the United States must sometimes carry out intelligence operations and protect information that is classified for purposes of national security. I have already fought for that principle in court and will do so again in the future. However, after consulting with the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and others, I believe that exceptional circumstances surround these memos and require their release.

First, the interrogation techniques described in these memos have already been widely reported. Second, the previous Administration publicly acknowledged portions of the program - and some of the practices - associated with these memos. Third, I have already ended the techniques described in the memos through an Executive Order. Therefore, withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States.

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.

Going forward, it is my strong belief that the United States has a solemn duty to vigorously maintain the classified nature of certain activities and information related to national security. This is an extraordinarily important responsibility of the presidency, and it is one that I will carry out assertively irrespective of any political concern. Consequently, the exceptional circumstances surrounding these memos should not be viewed as an erosion of the strong legal basis for maintaining the classified nature of secret activities. I will always do whatever is necessary to protect the national security of the United States.

This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America's ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.

The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.

GOP Governors Reading The Tea Leaves

The Republican Governors Association argued today that the Tea Party demonstrations across the country yesterday signal a growing backlash against the excessive spending policies of the Obama administration so far.

"There's something going on out there in this period of economic angst," Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), the chairman of the RGA, told reporters on a conference call this morning. "If you look at the budget issues, the size of the government budget, the projected deficits over the next 10 years, you look at health care and the cost of going to a single-payer system ... there's some huge pocket book issues that I think are going to give Republican governors in the 2010 election cycle a real leg up."

Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.), RGA vice chair, said the energy in the conservative grassroots is going to be a key factor not just in 2010, but in the gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia this year. Sanford also said there are real parallels between the environment this year and 1993, when he said Christie Todd Whitman and George Allen won races "after Clinton had overplayed his hand."

"It was sort of a bellwether of what was a gut reaction to what had happened administratively," he said.

The governors were asked if they thought Republicans should embrace the Tea Party movement.

"I think it's always in the best interest of Republicans, whether they're governors, whether they're in the House or the Senate, to talk about the themes that are important to the people they represent," Sanford said. "And what seems to be emerging is a growing consensus that says that the Obama administration is out of bounds with regard to the spending that it is proposing. ... I don't know if it's a question of embracing one individual or one group, but it's embracing themes that we all happen to agree upon."

Barbour put it more bluntly.

"If we're not the low-tax party, what are we?" he asked.

The RGA this morning also issued a statement, arguing that the debate over the Employee Free Choice Act will play out in the states as well as Congress. The statement is after the jump.

From the RGA:

In response to a renewed push by labor unions in support of card check, Republican governors reaffirmed their opposition to the legislation arguing it would damage America's economy at the worst possible time and erode federal labor laws that protect the privacy and security of American workers. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford: "Card check would take our state and nation in the exact opposite direction we need to be moving to become more competitive in the 21st Century. In today's economy, the last thing in the world Congress should be advancing is a measure to increase costs for the American consumer and business community." Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour: "Card check is an insidious infringement on the right of American workers to cast a confidential ballot in deciding whether or not they want union representation. This is particularly unfair for small businesses, the real engine of the American economy that generates nearly 80 percent of net new jobs." Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue: "Card check would abolish the most fundamental of American rights, the right to a secret ballot. It's the last thing our country and economy needs right now. If we do this, what's next? Naming the CEOs of major American companies?" Idaho Governor Butch Otter: "The Act would eliminate the confidentially of the secret ballot, exposing workers to potential intimidation and harassment, creating an outrageous abridgement of individual rights. And it would impose contract terms on employers beyond those even requested by local workers - essentially making the federal government a shill for union bosses far removed from the workplace. Such a fundamental restructuring of federal labor laws is intolerable." South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds: "It should be made very clear that this would apply to any business that has more than $50,000 in revenues per year. Those businesses would have a clear threat of unionization. They would be subject to unionization without a private ballot and subject to mandatory binding arbitration involving a federal bureaucrat. This is absolutely unacceptable." Texas Governor Rick Perry: "The secret ballot is sacred in America. Card check is just plain unfair and un-American."

Senate Nomination Crist's For Taking; Dems Unknown In Florida

As we noted this morning, 42 percent of Florida voters believe Gov. Charlie Crist (R) should run for re-election, with 26 percent supporting a potential Senate run.

The Quinnipiac survey (April 6-13, 1,332 voters, MoE +/- 2.7 percent) also shows that the Democratic field is largely unsettled. Tested were announced candidates, Rep. Kendrick Meek and state Sen. Dan Gelber, as well as potential candidates, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and Rep. Ron Klein.

Primary Election Matchup
Meek 16 (-1)
Iorio 15 (unch)
Klein 8 (-6)
Gelber 5 (unch)
Undecided 53 (+10)

On the Republican side, Qunnipiac tests a primary race with or without Crist. Other candidates include former House Speaker Marco Rubio, another former House Speaker, Allan Bense, and Rep. Vern Buchanan. A previous poll, conducted in February, included Rep. Connie Mack, who has since taken himself out of the running.

Primary Election Matchup (without Crist)
Buchanan 16 (+5)
Rubio 11 (+5)
Bense 3 (-1)
Undecided 66 (+28)

With Crist
Crist 54 (+1)
Rubio 8 (+5)
Buchanan 8 (+3)
Bense 2 (unch)
Undecided 25 (+4)

Most of the candidates, Democrats in particular, are largely unknown quantities statewide. After the jump, see fav/unfav ratings for the potential candidates

Crist 64/22

Meek 11/6
Klein 9/4
Gelber 6/2
Iorio 16/4

Rubio 10/11
Buchanan 17/9
Bense 5/2

Strategy Memo: South of the Border

Good Thursday morning. President Obama and Vice President Biden this morning will promote efforts to spur development of high-speed rail in the U.S. The two then both leave D.C., with the president making his first trip to Mexico. He'll meet with President Felipe Calderon and the two will hold a joint press conference. Biden travels to Missouri, where he'll visit Whiteman Air Force Base and later talk about the Recovery Act.

Congress's two-week hiatus is coming to a close this weekend. In the meantime, Members' fundraising reports -- due yesterday -- shed some light on what they've been up to in the first three months of the year. The reports are available on the Federal Election Commission website.

The special election in New York's 20th District has become reminiscent of the still-ongoing Senate race in Minnesota. Democrat Scott Murphy now leads Republican Jim Tedisco by 86 votes, as counting, recounting and ballot-challenging continues.

**President Obama
*AP: "During his stop in Mexico City on Thursday, Obama will emphasize cross-border cooperation and probably put a focus on clean energy, but the economic crisis and the bloody drug trade have set the tone. Among the other touchy points are disagreement over a lapsed U.S. assault weapons ban, a standoff over cross-border trucking and immigration."

*The Washington Times follows up on Homeland Security's controversial report on the threat of right-wing extremists. Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the report "as merely one among several threat assessments." In a statement, she said: "Let me be very clear: We monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States. We don't have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group."

*Biden will tout the promise of wind energy during a visit to Missouri today.

**Palin Watch
*The Alaska Governor returns to the Lower 48 today to attend "what's billed as the country's largest annual banquet for anti-abortion activists" in Indiana today, McClatchy reports. "Thursday's event doesn't carry quite the same weight for potential presidential candidates as, say, eating midway food at the Iowa State Fair or a sit-down with the Union-Leader newspaper editorial board in Manchester, N.H." But it's her first major foray outside Alaska since the RGA Meeting in November, and "sends a laser-like message to the conservative potential voters who Palin must court if her political future includes a bid for the presidency in 2012."

*NYT takes a look at Palin's tough transition back to her regular day job.

**Campaign Stuff
*A new Quinnipiac Poll asks Floridians if they'd rather see Gov. Charlie Crist (R) run for re-election as governor, or the U.S. Senate. The result: 42 percent say he should run for governor, compared to 26 percent for the Senate. We'll have more on the poll, including primary matchups on both sides in the Senate race, later.

*Also in Florida, Democrats are touting the recruiting of state Sen. Charlie Justice to challenge Rep. Bill Young (R) in the 10th CD, which Obama won last November. Young is 78. "If he decides to retire after 40 years in Washington, we'll thank him for his service, and if he decides to run again, we'll have a healthy debate,'' Justice told the St. Pete Times

*Former Lt. Gov. Jack Carney (D) will run for Delaware's at large Congressional seat, perhaps giving Rep. Mike Castle (R) a run for his money. But Castle, a former two-term governor, is also considering the Senate race, where he might face Atty. Gen. Beau Biden. "He is the strongest Democratic congressional candidate that our state has seen in many years," Sen. Tom Carper told the Wilmington News Journal of Carney. Castle said in a statement: "My record as an independent voice and voter has been proven over time, and I remain as dedicated to bringing people together as I have ever been."

*VA-Gov: "The diminished importance of the Shad Planking, noticeable even from four years ago, when every candidate for governor attended, is stark evidence of the political decline of rural Virginia," WaPo reports.

*Our take on Shad Planking: It's great for voters/junkies to rub shoulders with the candidates. Most of the people there already know who they're voting for. The down-ticket candidates, whom most people have never heard of, probably benefited the most.

**Fundraising roundup
*Arlen Specter raised $1.3 million in Q1, and has $6.7 million in the bank, Politico reports.

*In the Ohio Senate primary, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher far outraises Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. He raised $1 million, compared to just $207,000 for Brunner. Neither released cash on hand totals. Republican Rob Portman, running unopposed at the moment, raised $1.7 million and has $3 million cash on hand.

*In Florida, Miami Herald rounds up Senate numbers: Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) raised $1.5 million and has $1.6 million on hand. State Sen. Dan Gelber (D) raised $360,000 and has $296,000 on hand. Republican Marco Rubio raised $254,000 and has $211,000 on hand.

*MO-Gov: Sec. of State Robin Carnahan (D) doubled Rep. Roy Blunt's (R) 1stQ fundraising total, The Hill reports.

*PA-Sen: "In the fundraising battle of the three Pennsylvania House Democrats considering running for the Senate, we have a clear fundraising winner: Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.)," Politico reports.

*Remember Hillary Clinton? She's paid off all but $2.3 million of her debts. CNN: "The nation's top diplomat has been steadily chipping away at unpaid campaign bills since suspending her White House bid in June 2008, when her debt peaked at $25.2 million. That amount covered $12 million owed to vendors, as well as the $13.2 million she loaned her campaign from personal funds."

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

President, Vice President Release Tax Returns

The White House has just released federal and state income tax filings from President Obama and Vice President Biden. Obama's federal returns can be seen online here and here. His Illinois return is here.

Biden's federal and state returns are here and here (all PDFs).

From the White House releases:

He and the First Lady filed their income tax returns jointly and reported an adjusted gross income of $2,656,902. The vast majority of the family's 2008 income is the proceeds from the sale of the President's books. The Obamas paid $855,323 in federal income tax. The President and First Lady also reported donating $172,050 - or about 6.5% of their adjusted gross income - to 37 different charities. The largest reported gifts to charity were $25,000 contributions to Catholic Relief Services and the United Negro College Fund. The President and First Lady also released their Illinois income tax return and reported paying $77,883 in state income taxes.

On Biden:

He and Dr. Biden filed their income tax returns jointly and reported an adjusted gross income of $269,256 and an after-tax income of $183,315. The family's primary sources of income were salaries from the United States Senate, Widener University, Delaware Technical & Community College, as well as royalties from the audio rights to the Vice President's book. The Bidens paid $46,952 in federal income taxes; $11,164 in Delaware state income taxes; and donated $1,885 to charity. The charitable donations claimed by the Bidens on their tax returns are not the sum of their annual contributions to charity. They donate to their church, and they contribute to their favorite causes with their time, as well as their checkbooks.

When Biden released copies of his returns from a 10-year period during the campaign, it was noted how little he donated to charity. The release notes here that the Bidens contribute "with their time, as well as their checkbooks." He often took pride in being one of the poorest members of the U.S. Senate.

Candidates Target Money-Man McAuliffe

mcdonnel.jpg WAKEFIELD, Va. -- Republican Bob McDonnell, answering a question regarding Terry McAuliffe's potential cash advantage in a general election matchup: "He's a professional fundraiser, and I'm a professional public servant."

Moran told RealClearPolitics that, not surprisingly, he likes where he is -- up a few points in the polls, and with mayors and state legislators around Virginia helping him get the word out.

Speaking of Moran and McAuliffe's fundraising abilities, the Moran beer truck booth has the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love" looping on an iPod speaker. His beer cups say: "Money isn't everything. Running for Virginia is."

--Kyle Trygstad

Dispatch From The Shad Planking

tmac2.jpgKyle Trygstad sends this photo along from Wakefield, Virginia, where he's covering the annual Shad Planking political circus. The focus is on the three Democratic candidates for governor, who are now greeting the folks who braved a dreary, rainy day to attend. The speaking program begins at 4 pm.

More from Kyle: "McAuliffe easily won the campaign sign 'contest,' blanketing the sides of the back country road. No Brian Moran or Creigh Deeds signs spotted."

A full story to come. We'll update on any other developments during the day.

Two-Thirds of Minnesotans Say Coleman Should Concede

Public Policy Polling has another survey out today, this one on the overtime Minnesota Senate race. It finds that nearly two-thirds of Minnesotans believe it's time for former Sen. Norm Coleman to concede the race to Democrat Al Franken.

A three-judge panel declared Franken the winner on Monday. Asked if Coleman should concede or appeal the ruling, 37 percent said he should appeal, while 63 percent said he should concede. Asked if Franken should be seated immediately, a slightly smaller number -- 59 percent, said yes, while 41 percent favor leaving it vacant. An identical ratio said Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) should sign a certificate of election.

Interestingly, when asked who the voter picked last November, the breakdown was roughly identical to the final result. Franken and Coleman each got roughly 42 percent of the vote, with independent candidate Dean Barkley garnering 15 percent. In the poll, 41 percent of voters said they picked Franken and Coleman, with 13 percent for Barkley.

President Obama has a 60 percent approval rating in Minnesota, according to the poll. Forty-eight percent of voters agreed with the sentiment that Republicans are funding Coleman's challenge to slow the president's agenda.

The poll surveyed 805 Minnesota voters from APril 14-15, and had a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.

Obama Says His Tax Policy Favors Middle Class

One of today's Tea Parties is happening just north of the White House in Lafayette Park. In the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, meanwhile, President Obama acknowledged that Tax Day is one of "dread" for many Americans, but said that his policies are softening the blow.

Obama invited a group of Americans as success stories for how provisions of the Recovery Act have made a real impact for the middle class. In particular, he promoted the Making Work Pay tax cut, calling it "the most progressive tax cut in American history."

"Make no mistake: this tax cut will reach 120 million families and put $120 billion directly into their pockets, and it includes the most American workers ever to get a tax cut," he said. "The Congressional Budget Office has found that tax cuts like these for American workers are more than three times more effective in stimulating recovery than tax breaks for the very wealthiest Americans."

He also highlighted new credits for first-time homebuyers, small businesses and those paying college tuition. He compared them to tax cuts his predecessor sought for "the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans," promising to end them and other incentives that go to corporations who "stash profits or ship jobs overseas."

"For too long, we've seen taxes used as a wedge to scare people into supporting policies that increased the burden on working people instead of helping them live their dreams," he said, emphasizing his promise that those who earn less than $250,000 will not see a tax increase.

The president said ultimately he would like to see a simplification of the tax code to put "your interests over any special interest," and make it "quicker, easier, and less expensive for you to file a return."

"On this April 15, we are reminded of the enormous responsibility that comes with handling the peoples' tax dollars. And we are renewing our commitment to a simpler tax code that rewards work and the pursuit of the American dream," he said.

NC Sen: Burr Numbers Weak

A new Public Policy Polling survey shows that Sen. Richard Burr's (R-N.C.) fortunes have not improved much, and that early in the cycle, he could be vulnerable to a strong Democratic challenger.

Burr's approval rating held steady at 35 percent in the survey, with 31 percent disapproving (down 1 point from 32 percent in a March survey). This month's poll also tested two potential Democratic challengers: Attorney General Roy Cooper (D), who has a fav/unfav rating of 41/20, and Rep. Mike McIntyre (23/21).

A March survey showed Burr leading 42-38% over a generic Democratic candidate. Here's how Burr fared against these Democrats:

General Election Matchups
Cooper 41
Burr 37
Undecided 22

Burr 39
McIntyre 34
Undecided 27

Burr fails to reach the critical 50% threshold for incumbents even against McIntyre, a 7-term Congressman representing the southern part of the state. Democrats are hoping to recruit Cooper, who was elected for a third time to the statewide office last fall.

Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) showed similarly weak numbers throughout her final years in office, but high profile Democrats passed on the race. But the little-known state Sen. Kay Hagan (D) was able to mount a strong challenge, and easily defeated Dole in 2008 in a state that Barack Obama also carried.

The PPP survey was conducted April 8-11, and had a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent.

Strategy Memo: Tax Day

Good Wednesday morning. Today marks two important occasions: Not only are Americans' taxes due, but all federal candidates' first quarter FEC fundraising reports are due tonight. With campaigns gearing up for the 2010 midterm elections, the numbers provide the first glimpse of a candidates' competitiveness.

Speaking of Tax Day, conservatives around the country are holding hundreds of Boston Tea Party-styled protests against the economic policies, including the stimulus, being passed through Congress. The tea party founders got their idea from a now-infamous on-air rant by a CNBC commentator.

As we noted yesterday, President Obama will mark the day by discussing the impact that tax cuts in the Recovery Act have had on the economy. He'll also have lunch with the Vice President and meet with Trade Rep. Ron Kirk on his final full day in Washington before heading to Mexico.

**President Obama
*AP says that in his speech yesterday, Obama "aimed to juggle his recent glass-half-full takes on the economy with a determination to not be stamped as naive in the face lingering problems. He summarized actions his administration has taken to steady the limping economy and coupled that with a fresh overview of his domestic goals."

*Washington Post adds that "the economy wasn't cooperating" with messages coming from Obama and Fed Chair Ben Bernanke. "Retail sales dropped sharply in March, the government reported, and wholesale prices fell steeply. Both pieces of data underscore the hard slog the nation faces to emerge from its deep recession and the limitations of more optimistic talk from Washington. The stock market fell 2 percent, as measured by the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index."

*Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will name former Justice Department official Alan Bersin as a "border czar" today "to help deal with the drug cartel violence that has exploded along the U.S.-Mexico border," administration officials tell CNN. "The move comes on the eve of President Obama's first visit to Mexico since being sworn into office."

*The Hill's Youngman writes that Obama "will punt on hot-button issues like illegal immigration and trade agreements and will instead focus on the global economic crisis and climate change" during his trips to Mexico and Trinidad. "This administration understands you need to work through these things with Congress," an administration official said. "You can't just do it in a vacuum."

*USA Today says that more Americans are okay with "big government" right now. "Most Americans in a nationwide USA TODAY/Gallup Poll approve of President Obama and the government's latest assertiveness. However, some of the steps he has ordered have made them wary. By 3-to-1, those surveyed say government's expansion should be cut back when the economic crisis is over."

*The White House "has decided to reveal some sensitive details of the stress tests now being completed after concluding that keeping many of the findings secret could send investors fleeing from financial institutions rumored to be weakest." The New York Times says "indicating which banks are most vulnerable still runs some risk of doing what officials hope to avoid."

**Campaign Stuff
*Pat Toomey announced this morning that he will, in fact, run for the Senate against Arlen Specter. From his statement: "For thirty years Senator Specter has consistently voted for increased government spending and a liberal agenda on social, labor, immigration and national security policies. In recent months, Senator Specter voted in favor of the unprecedented Wall Street and auto company bailouts and the massive 'stimulus' spending bill. Senator Specter is on the wrong side of these critical issues and Pennsylvanians will pay the price."

*In Las Vegas, Harry Reid kicked off his re-election campaign yesterday. The Review Journal notes that in Washington, Reid is the powerful Senate Majority Leader, but "in Nevada, however, he's just another politician asking for votes, and his task now is to try to convert the partisan surge that won the state for Obama by 12 percentage points into his own political advantage." About 300 supporters attended a rally and barbecue put on by the state Democratic party.

*New York Times sits down with the players in the Minnesota Senate battle -- including Franken, Coleman and Pawlenty.

*The DNC is running an ad on news talk radio stations in the Twin Cities calling on Coleman to concede. You can listen to the .mp3 here.

*Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) writes an op-ed for the Huffington Post titled "Let my vote and every vote be counted" after it was reported yesterday that the Tedisco campaign had challenged her absentee ballot.

*Politico's politics gurus Mahtesian and Kraushaar take you through the 10 FEC fundraising reports "worth reviewing -- and the reasons why." No. 1? Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning.

*Virginia's annual political gathering, called the "Shad Planking," is being held today in a small town southeast of Richmond. Three of the four candidates for governor will speak. Newport News Daily Press: "Partisan insiders, gubernatorial hopefuls and fans of fish and beer gather in Wakefield today for the 61st annual Shad Planking, a rite of spring in Virginia that doubles as an important barometer of the state's political mood. The outdoor festival and barnstorming pileup always features political intrigue with rising political stars wooing voters and opinion makers over bony fish and free cups of brew." (RCP will be in attendance as well)

*The St. Pete Times reports that former House Speaker Marco Rubio is taking a stronger line on whether he'll stay in the Florida Senate race if Gov. Charlie Crist decided he wants to switch jobs. "My decision, which I'll announce shortly, will not be predicated on what anybody else does," Rubio said. The Times notes that in January, Rubio said any Republican would step aside if Crist runs.

*Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) says he has not decided about seeking a new term. "I'm not playing games," he told the Tulsa World. "I really haven't decided."

*Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio), target of ads tying him to Speaker Pelosi, has raised more than $400,000 in the first quarter, per the Columbus Dispatch.

** Tax Day
*Carl Cannon lists "six cool places your tax dollars go."

*Check the National Tax Day Tea Party website for more info on what's happening today. The Hill has the deets on where some Republican lawmakers will be attending one of the 750 tea parties being held around the country today.

** You can't make it up: Rod Blagojevich will appear on NBC's upcoming reality show, "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here."

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

The First Puppy Rolled Out To An Eager Press Corps

During his speech on the economy today, President Obama criticized Washington for "an attention span that has only grown shorter with the 24-hour news cycle." Four hours later, at least 50 reporters and photographers were clamoring for a view of the president and the first family parading around the South Lawn with their new dog, Bo.

The White House intentionally left Bo's rollout off the public schedule to avoid the afternoon photo op from being more chaotic than it was. At about 4 pm, the PA system in the press briefing room carried an announcement that there would be an "event" open to all press, and to meet at 4:40. Just before 4:30, another announcement abruptly declared that if you wanted to cover said "event," to get to the meeting place now.

Outside under a dreary gray sky, still photographers and camera men weren't quite sure where to position themselves, because press aides themselves weren't sure where the dog.

And then from behind the mob, this reporter heard the president's voice, and before you could say "Bo," there was the whole family walking the new Portuguese Water Dog past our ropeline.

A few ooh and awws could be heard, with an occasional question directed at the president.

Will you walk the dog? "We all have to take turns walking the dog," he said. Can Bo come to the Oval Office? "Of course!"

Asked if he had a message about owning a dog, the president said, "We want to make sure that we're responsible dog owners, and I hope everybody is too." As he was about to continue, Malia, the eldest Obama daughter, gushed to her new pet," "Www, good puppy!" "A little positive reinforcement," the proud father said.

Sasha also went off script, telling reporters that Bo already "had a sleepover with his brother" (Ted Kennedy donated the dog from his brood). She later announced, "He doesn't know how to swim." The press corps, unsure of the protocol of talking to the president's daughter, waited for his father to engage.

"Yeah, apparently they have to be taught how to swim, which is interesting," he said. "They have webbed feet. And they herd fish for the fishermen in Portugal. This is what we've heard."

Another reporter asked if Bo would sleep in the girls' room. "No! he's got his own spot. He's got a nice little spot."

The same reporter, Connie Lawn, then invited the whole first family to come spend time at her lake house. The president responded with silence.

"It's a good looking dog, though, let's face it," he said later. "We're very pleased with Bo."

Very pleased with the photo op as well, no doubt. The reporters watched the family take a long walk around the South Lawn before heading back inside.

RNC "Strongly" Supports Coleman Appeal

When the RNC did not immediately respond to yesterday's ruling by a three-judge panel on the Minnesota Senate recount, the DNC jumped on it. But now, with former Sen. Norm Coleman making clear his intention to appeal the ruling, chairman Michael Steele has issued this statement:

"I am glad that Senator Coleman is appealing the recent court order in Minnesota. More than 4,400 voters remain disenfranchised because judges ignored equal protection concerns and the facts from Election Day. The Republican Party will continue to strongly support Senator Coleman's appeals until we are confident that no voter is left behind."

At the White House, meanwhile, press secretary Robert Gibbs said the White House agrees with the panel in saying the election was conducted "fairly, impartially and accurately," and that Democrat Al Franken won the most votes.

"We look forward, hopefully soon, to adding an additional U.S. Senator representing the people of the state of Minnesota," Gibbs said.

During Tea Parties, President To Highlight Tax Cuts

Tomorrow is Tax Day, and conservatives across the country are planning "Tea Parties," intended to be grass-roots "revolts" against the Obama administration's economic policies thus far. Though organized independent of the Republican Party, a number of officeholders and candidates are planning to attend local events.

At the White House, Robert Gibbs said that he's not sure if President Obama is aware of the planned demonstrations. He will, however, mark the day with a White House event "to signal the important steps in the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment plan that cut taxes for 95 percent of working families in America," Gibbs said.

"We'll use tomorrow to highlight individual instances and families that have seen their taxes cut," he said. "Americans will see more money into their pockets as a direct result of the making work pay tax cut that the president both campaigned on and passed through Congress."

The press secretary said he did not believe the White House would be monitoring the events tomorrow.

Hoyer, Boehner React To Obama's Economic Speech

Sure, this is no surprise, but it's worth noting anyway: Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Minority Leader John Boehner had completely opposite reactions to President Obama's speech on the economy this morning at Georgetown University. Both used the word "reckless," but were clearly pointing the finger at different groups.

In a released statement, Boehner said the "economy will improve -- but it will be because of the ingenuity and hard work of American workers and small businesses, not because of the Washington Democrats' misguided policies that rely on recklessly spending taxpayer dollars."

Hoyer, however, said it was prior recklessness that has forced the government to spend all that money. "This morning, President Obama explained the recklessness that led us into this recession, as well as the essential steps it will take to get us out," Hoyer said. "Democrats' recovery efforts are cushioning the blow of this recession and preparing us for a return to prosperity."

Boehner sees the Dems' recovery efforts as accomplishing something a little different: "Instead of embracing tough decisions, Democrats have avoided them in favor of saddling our children and grandchildren with mountains of debt that we know they cannot afford."

Hoyer believes, though, that the Democrats' moves are actually making the country more fiscally responsible: "We have an opportunity to end the fiscally reckless ways of the past by reducing our deficit, taking on spiraling healthcare costs, and finding the bipartisan will to confront the problem of entitlement reform."

Coleman to Appeal Franken Decision

Republican Norm Coleman is indeed appealing yesterday's court decision that Al Franken is the winner of the Senate contest, Politico reports. The decision surely won't please Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, who released a lengthy statement last night calling on Coleman to concede the race:

"Enough is enough. It is time for Norm Coleman to concede and for Al Franken to be sworn in as the next U.S. Senator from Minnesota. The voters of Minnesota months ago elected Al Franken to the Senate - and during every step in the legal process that judgment has been confirmed. Norm Coleman's own legal challenge resulted in more votes for Al Franken and now a three judge panel has ruled Al Franken the winner. Former Senator Coleman's insistence on continuing his quixotic quest for this seat at best shows that he is putting his own political ambition ahead of the people and worst that he is complicit in an effort by national Republicans to deny Al Franken this seat for as long as possible so there is one less Democratic vote for President Obama's agenda for change. "The people of Minnesota deserve two Senators and the people of America deserve 100 in the U.S. Senate. More importantly, the voters who cast ballots on Election Day deserve to have their verdict stand. Senator Coleman may have a right to continue his legal challenges no matter how hopeless they are, but the right thing to do here is to concede defeat and allow this saga to end once and for all."

Florida GOP Polls Governor's Race Without Crist

In the surest sign yet that Gov. Charlie Crist will run for the Senate in 2010, the Republican Party of Florida has conducted private polling on how a gubernatorial race would play out without the popular incumbent, the St. Petersburg Times reports.

State Republican Party chair Jim Greer says that Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the likely Democratic candidate in an open-seat gubernatorial race "would be a formidable" candidate. But other Republican candidates -- perhaps Attorney General Bill McCollum or Agriculture Secretary Charles Bronson "would be an equal match-up if not a little bit ahead of the game."

As for Crist:

[Greer] said the Public Opinion Strategies poll showed 74 percent of likely voters approve of Crist's performance - compared to 60 percent for Obama - and 23 percent disapprove, including 40 percent approval from Democrats, 60 percent from independents and 80 percent from Republicans. Whatever office Crist runs for, he leads any primary challenger by 50 points and any general election opponent by at least 30 points, Greer said."

NY-20: Murphy's Lead Up To 56

Scott Murphy (D) now holds a 56-vote lead in the 20th District special election, according to the latest New York State Board of Elections tally.

Murphy began the day with a 25-vote lead, which increased "after two friendly counties sent in additional absentee totals Tuesday morning," The Hill reports.

Saratoga, the district's largest county, still has not reported any absentee numbers. Jim Tedisco (R) won 54% of the county's votes on election day.

Strategy Memo: State of the Economy

During a speech today at Georgetown University, President Obama will update the nation on the state of the economy. Reports indicate that it will not contain any new policy announcements, but will reset the president's view as some believe the worst is over. Also today, the president and first family are officially rolling out the new dog, Bo.

Congress remains on a two-week hiatus, and both chambers still await two elections to conclude. Two weeks since the special election, Democrat Scott Murphy now leads by 25 votes in New York's 20th District, with plenty of absentee ballots still to be counted.

And five months since the Minnesota Senate election, judges ruled Al Franken the winner yesterday, though Norm Coleman reserves the right to appeal.

**President Obama
*AP previews the president's economic speech today, which is billed as "major" but "was expected to contain no significant policy announcements." Obama advisers "are mindful that Obama must show the public that his policies are actually working -- and establish credibility -- in order for him to guarantee the public's support for his future agenda."

*Chris Cillizza adds: "Obama also wants to reaffirm -- in a highly visible way that is sure to lead every newspaper and evening news broadcast in the country -- that he is deeply engaged in bringing the economy out of its doldrums despite having spent much of the past two weeks either traveling internationally or dealing with the pirate crisis."

*Reuters looks ahead to this week's trip to Mexico and the Summit of the Americas, saying the trip south of the border "is a signal of support for President Felipe Calderon and his efforts to confront violent drug trafficking gangs." "The president admires his work as it relates to confronting violence and impunity by criminal trafficking organizations," Denis McDonough, director of strategic communications at the National Security Council, said on a conference call yesterday.

*The New York Times looks at the changes in Cuba policy, but notes that Obama, "who campaigned on improving relations with Cuba, was not willing to go that far, at least not yet. Rather, the steps he took were modest, reflecting the complicated domestic politics around Cuba and the unpredictability of the Cuban response."

*According to a CNN poll, 72 percent of Americans disagree with former VP Cheney's assertion that the U.S. is less safe because of Obama's policies. "The poll also indicates that a majority of Americans, 53 percent, favor the war in Afghanistan, with 46 percent opposed. And more than two-thirds of those questioned back the president's plan to send roughly 20,000 more U.S. troops to the war-torn country."

*A Gallup Poll shows that a similar number, 71 percent, trust Obama on the economy. LA Times: "That puts Obama ahead of some of the country's leading economic experts: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke had a 49% rating in the poll and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner drew 47%."

*Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and David Vitter (R-La.) write a piece for RCP on Congressional pay raises: "We hold different opinions as to how government should best spend taxpayer dollars, but one misuse of public funds should unite all Americans in outrage - automatic pay raises for members of Congress."

*"Pakistan warned visiting Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) Monday that Washington should not to attach conditions to the $7.5 billion in aid proposed by President Obama as part of his comprehensive Afghanistan strategy," The Hill reports.

*Pelosi, yesterday, on the adjusted Cuba policy: "President Obama's decision to end family travel and remittance restrictions for Cuban Americans will reunite long-separated families and allow them to provide basic humanitarian assistance to their loved ones. The Cuban people deserve free and fair elections, and basic human rights. I believe this can be achieved without dividing families and denying many Cuban Americans a final chance to see their loved ones before they pass on, which is why I support the President's decision today."

*From a bipartisan, bicameral press release last night: "Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Republican Leader John Boehner, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell announced today that they will join former First Lady Nancy Reagan in unveiling a statue of the late former President Ronald Reagan on Wednesday, June 3 in the Capitol Rotunda. The Reagan statue will become part of the National Statuary Hall Collection, which is comprised of statues donated by individual states to honor men and women notable in each state's history."

**Campaign Stuff
*A three-judge panel ruled Al Franken the winner of the Minnesota Senate race yesterday. Of course, Franken's not on his way to Washington just yet -- Norm Coleman still has the appeals process to fall back on. Star Trib: "'This order ignores the reality of what happened in the counties and cities on Election Day in terms of counting the votes,' Ginsberg said, asserting that Coleman must appeal to assure that valid votes are counted. Coleman's lawyers have 10 days to file an appeal with the Minnesota Supreme Court."

*Scott Murphy (D) now leads by just 25 votes, and Jim Tedisco (R) is asking for an additional 15 days for military absentee ballots to be returned.

*Bobby Jindal will not run for the Senate, with close aides mocking the reporter who floated the rumor. Curt Anderson, a Jindal consultant: "It's a complete fabrication and very odd journalism at best. People from New York tend to consume a lot of alcohol when they are visiting New Orleans."

*Republican Marco Rubio, who may still run for Florida Senate even if Charlie Crist does, raised $250,000 in 25 days, the St. Pete Times reports.

*John DiStaso reports that Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta (R) will most likely run for the U.S. House against Carol Shea Porter (D). "Guinta told the New Hampshire Union Leader yesterday that by the end of the week, he will have a 'Friends of Frank Guinta' federal campaign committee filed with the Federal Election Commission. He said he will begin to raise money immediately."

*WaPo's Bacon, on the PA Senate race: "Both men say the stimulus will be a chief issue. Specter, one of three Republicans who voted for the stimulus, is campaigning throughout the state to hold his job and appeared Monday at a police station in Darby just outside Philadelphia. Officers there praised him for backing the $787 billion stimulus bill, which will provide the department $220,000 in funding to buy equipment."

*A Chicago Sun-Times piece yesterday reported that ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was told he would receive $5 million in campaign funds from Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in exchange for a Senate appointment. Today, the New York Times looks at the investigation of Jackson, and asks this question: "Was that December meeting with Mr. Blagojevich a good-faith effort to land the Senate job or a charade to conceal behind-the-scenes maneuvers with Mr. Blagojevich to pay to play?"

**Sports Alert
*The Nationals made it seven straight yesterday -- seven losses, that is -- making the team the only one in the Majors without a win.

*Condoleezza Rice followed Tiger around the Masters last weekend, and wrote about it at The Daily Beast.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

With Projects Under Budget, Obama Ups Ante On Recovery Act

Today, President Obama touted the early success of the Recovery Act, saying that a number of transportation projects being funded with stimulus dollars are "ahead of schedule and under budget."

"And because these projects are proceeding so efficiently, we now have more recovery dollars to go around," Obama said during a speech at the Transportation Department. "That means we can fund more projects, revitalize more of our infrastructure, put more people back to work, and ensure that taxpayers get more value for their dollars."

The White House included a specific list of road projects from a number of states that were less expensive than originally budgeted for, largely because of extraordinarily competitive bidding processes. Despite the concerns many, particularly Republicans, had about the overall cost of the Recovery Act, the White House said there was no discussion of returning these funds to the Treasury, rather than being spent elsewhere.

"If a state is able to stretch their dollars further and fund additional highway projects by coming in under-budget, that also means they are able to create or save more jobs and do more to stimulate the economy - exactly the intended effect of the Recovery Act," said Elizabeth Oxhorn, Recovery Act press secretary.

The administration does not have an exact estimate of the amount transportation projects are under budget as a whole, and Oxhorn said it's too early to speculate whether the additional projects that will be made possible would significantly alter the goal of creating or saving 3 million new jobs through the project.

Today's event was intended to mark the approval of the 2000th transportation project made possible because of stimulus dollars. Vice President Biden will travel to Michigan in June when the project -- widening an interstate and rebuilding an overpass in Portage -- breaks ground.

Briefing Notes: Pirates, And The Caribbean

Today's White House press briefing started with a twist -- a briefing within the briefing on new U.S. policies regarding Cuba. Dan Restrepo, senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, joined Gibbs to announce the policies in Spanish (the briefing room today included a cluster of Spanish-language media) and also answer questions on some of the finer points.

*NBC's Chuck Todd asked an interesting question about why such a major shift in policy was being announced in this forum, and not by the president himself. Gibbs first joked about not taking offense, while deflecting somewhat the sentiment that there was a political consideration to keeping the president out of this. He later took a second swing at the question to say having a bi-lingual briefing was a high-profile way of communicating the message.

"I don't know Spanish. The president knows a few words of Spanish. But I think what's important today is we're doing this in a way that is not just going to be heard by a few people. We're doing this so that Cuban Americans can hear loud and clear the steps that the president is undertaking."

*A Bilingual First?: It was later asked if this was a first to have a White House briefing in Spanish and English. To the best of the press office's knowledge and that of some long-time White House reporters, it was. "We didn't do it on accident, we weren't trying to set a record, but it's neat that we did."

*After about a half-hour of discussion the questions turned to pirates. At least a few reporters in the room seemed to chuckle at every utterance of the term. But CBS Radio's Mark Knoller asked an important question on terminology: why call them pirates and not terrorists? "Whatever label you put on them, there was a lawlessness, pervasive lawlessness that threatened the life of an American. And the President and this administration, working with some very brave men and women in the military, acted accordingly," Gibbs said.

Though Obama did not comment publicly until the conflict was resolved, Gibbs said he "was actively engaged" throughout the process," even if he was "reticent to speak."

*Gibbs previewed Obama's economic speech tomorrow, saying it would be "an update on where we are and many of the challenges that continue to lie ahead." Referencing Obama's "glimmers of hope" line last week, Gibbs added that while there are "some promising statistics," the president will say "are likely to see many, many months of unemployment where hundreds of thousands of people are losing their jobs."

*On the sidelines: Gibbs declines to comment on Karl Rove's comments about Vice President Biden's comments about Dick Cheney. "I'm not sure that I'm going to come out as the middle-of-the-road arbiter on such a dispute." Does that indicate a lack of faith in the VP? One wonders if he would have had more to say if asked about Rove's column attacking the "partisan" Obama White House.

*Important stuff: After 55 minutes, the much-hyped First Dog was asked about. Gibbs promised a full rollout tomorrow. "I think there will be an opportunity for you all to get a chance to see the new dog," he said. Someone in the room - hopefully in jest - asked if reporters could pet the dog. Another noted that Barney, one of former President Bush's dogs, bit a reporter. "And I've been training him throughout the morning," Gibbs joked.

Obama On Privacy -- Er, Piracy

President Obama prefaced remarks on the progress of Recovery Act-funded transportation projects this morning by briefly addressing the successful resolution of the pirate hostage incident yesterday.

"I'm very proud of the efforts of the U.S. military, and many other departments and agencies that worked tirelessly to resolve this situation. I share our nation's admiration for Captain Philips courage and leadership and selfless concern for his crew," he said.

Obama, reading from the teleprompter, then said: "I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of privacy in that region." It's unclear if there was a typo on the prompter, or if he simply misspoke when he meant to say "piracy."

"To achieve that goal," he continued, "we're going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks, we have to continue to be prepared to confront them when they arise, and we have to ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes."

NRCC Launches Ad Offensive

The National Republican Congressional Committee has launched a mulit-platform ad campaign in the districts of 43 House Democrats for going on what the committee calls a "reckless spending spree" in the 111th Congress. The TV ads, radio ads and robocalls begin this week, as Congress begins its second week of a two-week hiatus.

"Democrats have failed to be honest about their willingness to support a pork-filled stimulus package and a budget that taxes, spends and borrows in excess at the expense of their constituents," NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain said in announcing the ad campaign. "We will continue to hold these Democrats accountable for rubber-stamping Nancy Pelosi's agenda that will burden middle-class families and inflict further damage on an already fragile economy for years to come."

Toomey Steps Down at Club for Growth

The anti-tax Club for Growth announced today that former Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.) is taking over as president, as Pat Toomey steps down from his post to "pursue other opportunities."

A Club for Growth press release described Chocola as "a staunch defender of the American taxpayer, fighting for the limited-government, free-market principles that are the foundation for economic growth in this country."

In 2006, Chocola was defeated for re-election to Congress by Joe Donnelly, whom Chocola had beaten in 2004. Chocola had a conservative voting record in the House, where he represented the northern-Indiana 2nd District for two terms.

Toomey is expected to challenge Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) for a second straight election. After coming up just short of knocking Specter out in the 2004 GOP primary, poor polling numbers for Specter indicate he is again vulnerable.

"I wish Pat the best of luck on his new path and am confident that he will be successful in whatever he does," Chocola said.

Strategy Memo: Egging On

The Nationals are 0-6, but none of that matters as they prepare their home opener at the ballpark this afternoon. President Obama's schedule does not include any ceremonial first pitch. But we're just saying -- he can definitely blow off that meeting with "senior advisors" if he has a change of heart shortly before 3 pm today.

Of course, the main event at the White House is the Easter Egg Roll that will be taking place all day. Obama himself and the rest of the first family (maybe new dog Bo?) will head out to the South Lawn to join the festivities at about 10 am. The president also will be joined by Vice President Biden for a speech at the Department of Transportation.

Congress continues its two-week recess this week, with proceedings continuing early next week. The lead in New York's 20th District special election stands at 35 votes for Scott Murphy. A few of the district's 10 counties still have not completed counting domestic absentee ballots, including Saratoga -- the largest county in the district.

Check out all the Sunday talk shows you missed at the RealClearPolitics Video page.

**President Obama
*AP's Jennifer Loven writes that with his "no drama" handling of the pirate/hostage situation, Obama has passed his first national security test. "For Obama, the benefits were instantly clear: an American life saved and a major victory notched against an increasingly worrisome scourge of the seas off the Horn of Africa. Obama's handling of the crisis showed a president who was comfortable in relying on the U.S. military, much as his predecessor, George W. Bush, did. But it also showed a new commander in chief who was willing to use all the tools at his disposal, bringing in federal law enforcement officials to handle the judicial elements of the crisis."

*Gallup (April 6-9) finds 71% of Americans "have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in President Obama to do or recommend the right thing for the economy," much higher than the Dem or GOP leaders in Congress, or his Treasury Secretary and Fed Chairman.

*Washington Times' Christina Bellantoni, who worked as the pool reporter yesterday, has the details on Obama's Easter services - saying he went "with the politically and geographically easy choice of St. John's Episcopal Church, nicknamed the 'church of the presidents' for its proximity to the White House and because every president since James Madison has attended." It's not likely to be his full-time house of worship, though. "White House aides and family friends have been quietly checking out area churches to help Mr. Obama make the choice."

*The Washington Post sees that Rahm Emanuel is lightening up lately. "Emanuel is overhauling his image, becoming more valet than hit man, and his formula for moving Obama's agenda through Congress is beginning to resonate. Even Republicans concede that given Obama's early victories, thornier tasks such as landmark health-care, energy and education bills may not be out of reach." Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.): "There's a consensus among Republicans who can be objective that the president did a good thing in picking Rahm. He's tough, and he's really not that partisan. He doesn't think he's morally superior to Republicans, and that alone will get you far in this environment."

*Dick Gephardt offers some cautionary words on pursuing health care reform in the New York Times. "Mr. Gephardt says universal or near-universal coverage cannot pass this year -- and he is urging the White House to defer that goal until it enacts cost-saving reforms in health care delivery. Otherwise, he argues, the new president risks the same losing argument about paying for expanded coverage that stymied President Bill Clinton 15 years ago."

*AP says Obama can hope to use some of the "deal-making skills" he honed on his trip abroad as he turns to some of the big issues on his domestic agenda.

*Obama heads to the Summit of the Americas this week, and USA Today says issues over U.S. relations with Cuba may dominate, "given the White House says it is considering softening U.S. policy toward the communist dictatorship."

*Per the Chicago Tribune: the Obama family dog's full name is actually "Amigo's New Hope."

*Backpedaling: "Stung by criticism of its decision not to award President Barack Obama an honorary degree when he makes a commencement address next month, Arizona State University announced Saturday it will rename a scholarship program for the president."

*About that first pitch today: Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten said Sunday that he still didn't know. "I heard two things recently, but they were contradictory," Kasten said, per the team web site. "And I read some things that may not be true. I'll know tomorrow. Really, I will."

*Milwaukee Journal Sentinel takes a look at the new group of moderate Democrats in the Senate, including its own Herb Kohl. "As major pieces of legislation make their way through Congress this year, a new group of senators dubbed the Moderate Dems Working Group could exercise considerable influence over the fine details in those bills."

*"The hot contest over the legislation also known as 'card check' may have cooled for the moment, but labor has rolled out a national TV ad and grass-roots campaign to coincide with the congressional recess, and there is still a chance that a stripped-down version of the bill will pass this year," Politico reports.

**2012 Watch
*Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) got to take a crack at the GOP Response to President Obama's weekly address. AP: "He said Democratic president's budget will require higher taxes and unfairly loads debt onto future generations. Pawlenty also said Obama has talked about tax relief, but his budget suggests he'll be raising taxes."

*A lesson to Team Palin from some gossip journalists: the statement on the Levi Johnson "Tyra" appearance opened the door to broader coverage of his comments. "when an elected official who was campaigning for the second highest office in the land issues a statement, we're obligated in the news media to pay attention," Deborah Norville told CNN.

*The New Orleans Times-Picayune has details on Gov. Bobby Jindal's book deal. "Although a contract has yet to be signed, Jindal said he has reached an agreement with Regnery Publishing, which has published political tomes by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, actor Chuck Norris and political commentator Ann Coulter, among others. The book is tentatively scheduled for release in 2010" and will be "a mix of biographical material, 'lessons I've learned throughout my life' and his thoughts on a range of policy issues."

**Campaign Stuff
*NY-20: The Albany Times Union reports that tensions were high as Democrats complained about Republican ballot challenges. "Almost all the challenges are based on the voter's residency, said elections Commissioner Virginia Martin, a Democrat. The Republicans have objected to voters who have homes in the county as well as outside the Congressional District. ... Of the ballots that were opened, 99 were votes for Scott Murphy and 42 were votes for Tedisco."

The Hill's Wilson notes that despite the partisan spin, "political observers and analysts have largely drawn the conclusion that such a razor-thin election can only be seen as a draw."

*The Utica Observer-Dispatch looks at New York's potential loss of House seats following the 2010 Census. NYC is still growing, but Upstate is losing population.

*The Washington Times says that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, bracing for what could be a tough re-election fight, has raised $2 million since January, and has $5 million in the bank.

*The New York Times examines Gov. Jodi Rell's status as a Republican governor in a blue state whose popularity has been consistently high. The Democrats' explanation: "Change agents don't have high approval ratings," said State Rep. David McCluskey. "Change agents are the ones who polarize people. She is not a risk taker. She is playing it safe." She hasn't yet said if she'll seek a second full term next year.

*The Newark Star-Ledger says that New Jersey's gubernatorial election may once again be a battle of multi-millionaires as it takes a close look at the personal finances of Chris Christie, expected but not ensured to be the Republican nominee. Christie argues that he's hardly in Jon Corzine territory and that most New Jerseyans would not consider him "wildly rich."

*Cleveland Plain Dealer on the dogfight already shaping up in the Ohio Senate Democratic primary. The first test of strength is fundraising, with Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher "so confident that he raised more money than Brunner, he flashed his hand early, announcing Tuesday that he had pulled in more than $1 million." Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner "would not reveal her total early for the first quarter, which ended March 31, but she is not expected to match Fisher. Her campaign, however, asserted that Brunner raised more money than Fisher through the Internet."

*On the GOP side of the Ohio Senate race, Rob Portman announced raising $1.7 million in the 1stQ, The Hill reports.

*The Raleigh News & Observer delves into Sen. Richard Burr's chances next year. "Two statewide polls show Burr's approval rating in the mid-30 percent range, regarded as a dangerously low number for an incumbent. That's why Democrats, fresh off defeating Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole last November, are now looking to bump off Burr in November 2010 and gain a filibuster-proof Senate."

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

The Wait Is Over -- Obamas Have A Puppy

Our long national nightmare is over: No more stories about when the First Puppy will arrive.

The Washington Post actually sent this story out in breaking news alert e-mail tonight:

Who let the dog out?

That's the Washington mystery du jour.

The identity of the first puppy -- the one that the Washington press corps has been yelping about for months, the one President Obama has seemed to delight in dropping hints about -- leaked out yesterday. This despite White House efforts to delay the news until the big debut planned for Tuesday afternoon.

The little guy is a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog given to the Obama girls as a gift by that Portuguese water dog-lovin' senator himself, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. The girls named it Bo -- and let it be noted that you learned that here first. Malia and Sasha chose the name, because their cousins have a cat named Bo and because first lady Michelle Obama's father was nicknamed Diddley, a source said. (Get it? Bo . . . Diddley?)

The full story is here.

Obama: "Glimmers Of Hope"

After an update on the state of the economy, President Obama told reporters that there are "glimmers of hope" that steps his administration has taken are starting to take hold.

"Now, we have always been very cautious about prognosticating and that's not going to change just because it's Easter," he added, however. "The economy is still under severe stress and obviously during these holidays we have to keep in mind that whatever we do ultimately has to translate into economic growth and jobs and rising incomes for the American people."

Obama said to expect more actions by the administration will come in the weeks ahead.

"What I just wanted to emphasize today, and I think that Ben Bernanke and Sheila Bair and our economic team as a whole would agree, we're starting to see progress," he concluded. "If we stick with it, if we don't flinch in the face of some difficulties, then I feel absolutely convinced that we are going to get this economy back on track."

As he tried to usher the press pool out, the president was asked if the recession is "abating."

"I'm saying we're seeing progress," he said.

Obama, GOP Leaders Want Strings-Free Supplemental

House and Senate Republican Leaders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell released statements today requesting that any supplemental war funding bill for Afghanistan and Pakistan be passed with no "extraneous spending" attached to it.

President Obama, as well, asked for a "focused bill" in his letter yesterday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when he officially requested $83.4 billion "to support our men and women in uniform as they help the people of Iraq to take responsibility for their own future -- and work to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan."


Our men and women in uniform deserve to have full, complete and unfettered access to the resources they need to achieve success. Republicans want to work with the President to pass a clean troop funding bill, and it's my hope that both parties can work together to pass a bill without any strings attached that would tie the hands of our commanders on the ground as well as any unnecessary or extraneous spending. We need to do the right thing, and that is to listen to our commanders on the ground and pass a clean bill that fully funds our troops.


"This Congress faces the critical task of providing our men and women in uniform the resources necessary to maintain security gains in Iraq and defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. The President's decision to continue General Petraeus' successful strategy in Iraq and implement a surge strategy in Afghanistan is a good one, but it will require a significant commitment from this Congress. In the consideration of this year's security supplemental bill, it is imperative that this Democrat-led Congress resist the temptation to use this must-pass bill to leverage additional and extraneous spending and focus instead on committing resources strictly for the defense of our nation."

Strategy Memo: Good Friday

Good Friday morning. Today's White House schedule is rather light. The president will meet this morning with his entire economic team, including Fed chair Ben Bernanke. This weekend, the Obama family will attend Easter services somewhere in Washington, DC, though the White House would not say where.

Vice President Biden is home in Wilmington already, and Congress remains on a two-week hiatus.

In New York's 20th District, Scott Murphy now holds an 8-vote lead, including a 76-vote lead in absentee ballots. Six of the district's 10 counties have recorded absentee ballot counts.

**President Obama
*Wall Street Journal says today's meeting at the White House of the entire economic team "likely sets the stage for more aggressive White House action soon on the economy, despite emerging signs of hope." AP: "Obama advisers say the broad agenda was to include discussions on efforts to stimulate the economy as well as stabilize the financial sector, plus the rising unemployment rate, mortgage refinancing and the health of banks, including 'stress tests' the administration is conducting."

*Obama officially asked for a supplemental appropriation to fund wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in a letter to Speaker Pelosi last night, AP reports.

*One Member of Congress, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) has already criticized the request for funds, Politico reports.

*NY Times on Obama's refinancing pitch. "He is not a mortgage broker. But for a time on Thursday, President Obama seemed to be playing one on television, urging Americans not to miss out on rock-bottom refinancing rates. ... Seldom has the president sounded so much like the host of a late-night infomercial, stopping just shy of imploring people to call the toll-free number at the bottom of their television screens."

*Washington Post: "Slowly but surely, the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ... is beginning to percolate nationwide, six weeks after President Obama signed the legislation. Some of the money is arriving quickly, and in big chunks. ... In most cases, though, the money is working its way into the system far more gradually as officials strive to meet not only existing guidelines for programs receiving aid but also reporting requirements that have been added to make sure that stimulus funding is spent as intended and to account for the jobs it creates. As a result, White House officials say the bulk of the money will start hitting the streets later this year and early next."

*Obama and Sec. of State Hillary Clinton held a "picnic table strategy session" next to the White House swing set yesterday. ABC News has the details and brief video.

*Immigration reform advocates "are finding they have an unexpected ally in White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel," WSJ reports.

*Karl Rove, on FOX News: "I hate to say this, but he's a serial exaggerator...If I was being unkind I would say liar. But it is a habit he ought to drop."

*Ed. Sec. Arne Duncan makes stage appearance at the 9:30 Club, a music venue in NW Washington, reports Politico.

**Campaign Stuff
*NY-20: Scott Murphy (D) now leads by 8 votes after all counties have completed canvassing and recanvassing. Muphy's lead includes a 76-vote advantage among the absentee ballots that have been counted in six of the 10 counties. Essex, Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties have not yet reported counting any paper ballots.

*VA Gov: Brian Moran leads the Dem primary field by 5 points in the latest DailyKos/Research2000 poll. Our write-up on the poll is here. Also, all three Dems have now announced their 1stQ fundraising numbers. CoH: Terry McAuliffe, $2.5 million; Creigh Deeds, $1.2 million; Moran, $825,000.

*A novel idea from Gov. Pat Quinn (D) in Illinois: anyone who wants to run for the job next year has to start fundraising from scratch. "Of course, wiping the slate clean also would benefit Quinn by erasing the wide campaign fundraising lead held by potential Democratic primary foe Lisa Madigan, the Illinois attorney general."

*Politico writes that the GOP governors who took high-profile stands on the stimulus are quietly now taking the money. Govs. Sanford, Palin and Jindal "found that praise from the conservative movement in Washington meant nothing to furious state legislators of both parties."

*Hillary Clinton supporters received a fundraising e-mail yesterday from James Carville in an effort to pay off Clinton's presidential campaign debt, the NYT reports. Prizes for contributing include spending a day with Bill Clinton, attending the season finale of "American Idol," and having lunch with Carville and Paul Begala.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Briefing Notes: When Is A Bow Not A Bow

Today's White House press briefing was the first in more than a week, owing of course to the President's overseas travel. It will also be the only one this week.

*First question: AP asks about the ongoing situation with pirates off the coast of Africa. Press secretary Robert Gibbs says that Obama "has followed the situation closely," and that his main concern "is for the safety of the captain and the rest of the crew on the ship." Mentions that the White House has an interagency task force focused on maritime safety.

*Immigration: Following up on a New York Times story, Gibbs says that any immigration proposal will closely mirror what he talked about on the campaign trail, when he promised a new immigration push in his first year. "Obviously there are a lot of things on his plate, a lot of pressing issues relating to the economy. I don't think he expects that it will be done this year," he said. He added that he would pursue a comprehensive approach that includes increased border security, and requiring immigrants "going to be back of the line, learning English, paying a fine."

*Supplemental War Funding: Gibbs explains the president's request for a supplemental appropriation to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "The efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan only have funding through half the fiscal year. So the budget and appropriations process, the honest budget and appropriations process that the president has talked about, falls somewhat victim to the fact that this is the way the wars had been funded previously," he said.

*Dodge of the day: Robert Gibbs denies that the president bowed to Saudi leaders at the G-20 conference, explaining that he simply bent down "to shake his hand." As CNN's Dan Lothian followed up, Gibbs sarcastically adds: "I can only imagine that this is a great cause and concern for many people struggling with the economy."

*Guns: Helen Thomas presses Gibbs about what the president is doing in response to last week's massacre in Binghamton, N.Y. The press secretary avoids discussing specific measures, or whether he will push for a new assault weapons ban. Later, Gibbs declines to address a gun provision in legislation to give the District of Columbia a voting representative in Congress.

*Easter Services: Gibbs says the Obama family will attend church services on Easter Sunday, but won't say where. Later he also dodges questions about whether the church he heads to Sunday will be a permanent spiritual home during his time in DC. Other Easter news: Gibbs has no update on whether a dog is coming for the Obama girls.

*Scheduling Announcements: The Philadelphia Phillies will visit the White House next Tuesday, on an off day between games against the Washington Nationals. The White House still hasn't confirmed whether the president will throw out the first pitch at the home opener Monday afternoon, but that day he will hold a transportation event in nearby suburban Maryland.

*Jet Lag Alert: Of the network White House correspondents, only NBC's Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie were present today. CBS' Chip Reid, it should be noted, is with family after the death of his father.

*Phone Home: You'd think reporters would know by now to turn off their cell phone ringers. Not so -- John Gizzi's phone loudly played salsa musing not only during a Gibbs response, but later on as Gizzi himself was asking a question. "Just turn the thing off," Gibbs said, half frustrated, half joking. "This is like the bar scene in Star Wars."

VA Gov Dem Primary Poll: Moran +5

Former Delegate Brian Moran leads his two Democratic primary opponents, according to a new Daily Kos/Research2000 poll. Moran leads with 24%, followed by Terry McAuliffe with 19% and Creigh Deeds with 16%.

McAuliffe is the only one of the three Democrats whom more voters hold an unfavorable (36%) opinion of than favorable (35%). Moran has a 36%/33% fav/unfav rating, and Deeds is at 34%/30%.

Moran also performs the best against Republican candidate Bob McDonnell, who resigned as state attorney general to run for governor.

McDonnell 37 - Moran 36 - Und 27
McDonnell 40 - McAuliffe 33 - Und 27
McDonnell 38 - Deeds 31 - Und 31

"Not only are we leading in the primary, but, more importantly, this poll confirms that Brian is the strongest Democrat to take on Bob McDonnell in November," Moran campaign manager Andrew Roos said in a released statement. "Virginia Democrats know that we need a fighter and we need a winner come November, and this poll is further evidence that we are running a campaign that will accomplish exactly that."

With two months before the primary, McAuliffe currently leads in cash-on-hand with $2.5 million, followed by Deeds with $1.2 million and Moran with $825,000.

Va. Gov: Deeds Raises $600k in 1stQ

Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) waited one day longer than his gubernatorial primary opponents to announce his 1st quarter fundraising total, and his campaign released somewhat surprising numbers.

Deeds raised $600,000 in the first three months of the year, surpassing his total from the previous six months. Deeds was working from a disadvantage, as members of the Legislature are prohibited from raising money during the legislative session, which lasted 46 days this year.

Brian Moran resigned his General Assembly seat so he could keep up with former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, a seasoned fundraiser.

"I am excited to announce that I was able to raise more money in 44 days than the previous 6 months -- and now my campaign has $1.2 million cash-on-hand," Deeds stated in an e-mail announcement.

Deeds's announcement certifies that McAuliffe raised the most money inside Virginia. Although his in-state donations accounted for just 18 percent of his 1st quarter fundraising, McAuliffe raised $760,000 from Virginia donors, while Moran raised $720,000.

Deeds said 97 percent of his 1st quarter donations came from inside Virginia.

With the primary exactly two months away, McAuliffe also leads in cash-on-hand with $2.5 million; Deeds has $1.2 million and Moran has $825,000.

KY Sen: Bunning Gets 2nd Dem Challenger

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway (D) announced today that he will seek the Democratic nomination for Senate next year. Conway's entrance, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports, indicates that state Auditor Crit Luallen and Rep. Ben Chandler will back his candidacy rather than run themselves.

Conway becomes the second major Democratic candidate to announce he will challenge Sen. Jim Bunning (R). Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, whom Bunning narrowly defeated for re-election in 2004, announced his candidacy in January.

Bunning is seen as vulnerable by both parties, and a poll released yesterday solidified that perception. The PPP poll found Bunning trailing Conway by 9 points and Mongiardo by 7 points.

In the 2007 elections, Conway won the attorney general race by 21 points. Now-Gov. Steve Beshear, with Mongiardo as his runningmate, defeated incumbent Ernie Fletcher by 17 points.

In 2008, Democrat Bruce Lunsford gave Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell a run for his money, though McConnell came out with a 6-point win.

DNC Reacts To Karl Rove

In this morning's Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove cites a Pew study and argues that the Obama administration has accelerated a growing partisanship in this country.

For a person who promised hope and civility in politics, Mr. Obama has shown a borderline obsessiveness in blaming Mr. Bush. Starting with his inaugural address and continuing through this week's overseas trip, the new president's jabs at Mr. Bush have been unceasing, unfair and unhelpful. They have also diminished Mr. Obama by showing him to be another conventional politician. Rather than ending "the blame game," he is personifying it.
The DNC reacts, citing a Pew analyst's previous argument that conclusions like the one Rove was making are "unfair." From spokesperson Hari Sevugan:
Notwithstanding the fact that the very pollsters he cites say his interpretation is false, it's comical that Karl Rove, whose political strategy was founded on pitting parts of the country against one another, would call anyone else divisive. What isn't at all surprising is that Karl Rove would manipulate and contort the meaning of data to achieve his own political ends. Ironically, it's that tendency that led to his administration being one of the most polarizing in history.

Rove's criticism is the type that has drawn strong reactions from press secretary Robert Gibbs. We'll see if he's game today.

Non-Virginia Donors Fill McAuliffe Coffers

Terry McAuliffe, the longtime fund-raiser for Bill and Hillary Clinton, reported a remarkable $4.2 million in first quarter fundraising for his Virginia gubernatorial campaign. Perhaps under-reported, however, was that just 18 percent -- $760,000 -- of his total take came from in-state donors.

The lack of emphasis on in-state donations in the campaign's report stands in stark contrast to its fundraising announcement in January, when the campaign touted the $1 million it had raised from inside Virginia in the previous two months.

As an example of the out-of-state fundraising advantage he has over rival Democrats Creigh Deeds and Brian Moran, McAuliffe took in nearly half of the amount he raised in Virginia at just one Manhattan event in January -- where Bill Clinton and Democratic bundler Hassan Nemazee helped him raise $350,000.

By comparison, Gov. Tim Kaine never took in more than $200,000 from any out-of-state locality during his entire campaign.

Whether or not McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, raised more in any other one state -- such as New York, Florida or California -- than he did in Virginia won't be known until financial reports are turned in April 15.

Moran, a former state delegate, reported raising 90 percent of his $800,000 first quarter take from in-state donors. Deeds, a state senator, has yet to announce his first quarter numbers.

NJ Gov: Christie Launches First TV Ad (Updated)

Chris Christie has launched his first TV ad of the New Jersey gubernatorial race this morning, which plays up his experience as U.S. Attorney and pledges to fix a broken state.

It's partly a biographical ad, but rather than warm and fuzzy, there's a "Law & Order" feel to the narration and music -- perhaps fitting the tough image the campaign tries to project.

"As US Attorney Chris Christie went after corrupt politicians," the narrator says. "He tracked down child pornographers across the globe, and prosecuted corrupt business executives. Today, Chris Christie runs for Governor."

Though he still has a Republican primary to get through, Christie targets Gov. Jon Corzine's tax policy in the ad. Taxes will likely be one of the top issue in the campaign. It does not mention that Christie is a Republican, saying instead that he'll fix New Jersey "just as he did as US Attorney, with leadership, independence, determination."

It's still early in the campaign, but the spot comes later than the first ad of the 2005 campaign did. Then, businessman Doug Forrester actually went on the air in November of 2004. But that year, the Republican primary was a bit more crowded and competitive.

UPDATE: The campaign says the ad will air in both the New York and Philadelphia markets -- expensive turf, which makes any campaign in the Garden State difficult. The campaign says that with strong fundraising, it is right on track with when it planned to go on TV.

Here's the ad; full script after the jump.

Christie for Governor ad, "Leadership":

ANNOUNCER:"As US Attorney Chris Christie went after corrupt politicians.

He tracked down child pornographers across the globe, and prosecuted corrupt business executives.

Today, Chris Christie runs for Governor.

Stop the Corzine tax hikes that take away your local property tax deduction.

Cut state income taxes, reduce small business taxes.

End the deals, the cronyism.

New Jersey is broken and Chris Christie will fix it.

Just as he did as US Attorney, with leadership, independence, determination."


Strategy Memo: Different From All Other Nights

Good morning, Washington, on this Holy Thursday and Passover.

After a rare weekday in seclusion to recover from his Europe trip, President Obama has a full schedule at the White House today. He'll highlight the impact of low interest rates on homeowners during a morning event in the Roosevelt Room. He'll later join Secretaries Bob Gates and Eric Shinseki for an announcement on health care for U.S. veterans. He has closed meetings this afternoon, and will end the day with a Passover Seder with friends and staff.

If you missed it, the public schedule had some interesting and not-meant-for-public comments from White House staff on the seder, among other internal discussions.

Congress is out of session for two weeks, with the Senate returning April 20 and the House on April 21 -- when Rep.-elect Mike Quigley, who won Tuesday's special election in Illinois's 5th District, will be sworn in to office. Re-canvassing and absentee ballot counting continue today in New York's 20th District.

**President Obama
*The New York Times reports that President Obama "plans to begin addressing the country's immigration system this year, including looking for a path for illegal immigrants to become legal." Plans call for the issue to go public in May. "Some White House officials said that immigration would not take precedence over the health care and energy proposals that Mr. Obama has identified as priorities. But the timetable is consistent with pledges Mr. Obama made to Hispanic groups in last year's campaign."

*The State Department said it will join group talks with Iran over its nuclear program, "another significant shift from President George W. Bush's policy toward a nation he labeled part of an axis of evil," AP reports. "We believe that pursuing very careful engagement on a range of issues that affect our interests and the interests of the world with Iran makes sense," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters. "There is nothing more important than trying to convince Iran to cease its efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon."

*The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House "is expected to seek congressional approval of $75.5 billion" for Iraq and Afghanistan, which is "is already raising tensions on Capitol Hill, especially among liberals who are sympathetic to the president's broader agenda but voice concerns about his timeline for withdrawal of troops from Iraq and his plans to beef up forces in Afghanistan."

*The Washington Times calls Obama the "apologizer in chief." "Obama's just-concluded eight-day trip abroad ... marked the debut of a more humble foreign-policy style, one that sought to use cultural concessions and admissions of past mistakes to disarm other countries before challenging their own policies and attitudes toward America. ... Obama tried to pre-empt criticism of the United States by expressing it first himself - a sharp break from the practice of President George W. Bush.

*The AP has more details on Obama's Passover Seder tonight.

*The Chicago Tribune notes that most of Obama's senior staff are Chicago millionaires. "Some of the wealth can be attributed to the fact that the top staff members surrounding Obama ... are from a big city where salaries tend to be higher. Many of the comparable senior staffers with the previous two presidents came from Austin, Texas, and Little Rock, Ark.." The Trib adds that "Obama's Cabinet tends to have fewer high-net-worth people. That group includes former senators, governors and others who have spent much of their careers working in the lower-paying public sector."

*Speaker Pelosi appeared on "The Daily Show" last night. You can watch the video here. On a collision course with Obama on earmarks: "In the House, we're pretty much in sync with what the President wants: fewer earmarks." No earmarks? "Well, I'd be for no earmarks. Fewer earmarks. More transparency."

*WaPo reports that Congress will ease "off the speedy pace of the past three months" as lawmakers "confront an arcane arena of long-term legislating, and the period could expose potentially deep fissures between Obama and some Democrats."

*"A coalition of liberal groups are waging a broad national campaign to build pressure on conservative Democrats and centrist Republicans who may not support President Obama's vision for healthcare reform," The Hill reports.

*Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Ill.) confirmed yesterday that he's subject to an investigation into his role in the alleged attempt to sell Obama's Senate seat.

**Campaign Stuff
*NY-20: "The count of absentee ballots in New York's special election starts in earnest Thursday, with one state election official predicting it could be two more weeks before any final tallies are known," CQ reports.

Politico: "This painstaking process, familiar to those who followed Bush v. Gore in 2000 and the Coleman-Franken race in Minnesota, could take weeks to play out. That doesn't mean the two parties, always cognizant of messaging and momentum, are going to sit this out and await the final outcome. Rather, they are aggressively framing the race in the best possible light for their candidates in an attempt to win in the court of public opinion."

*PA-6: Rep. Jim Gerlach (R), an annual target for Dems, has his first Dem challenger: former Philadelphia Inquirer editorial writer Doug Pike, son of former Rep. Otis Pike (N.Y.). "One party insider, who asked to remain anonymous, said Pike is willing to invest $1 million of his own money into the race," The Hill reports. Gerlach, though, has opened an exploratory committee to run for governor.

*The Tribune says Rush Limbaugh is back, telling Fox Business Channel: "If am a leader, then it's de facto, because the elected Republican leadership hasn't yet decided to speak out." He said that "too many elected Republicans right now are just in fear ... of being criticized, of opposing the Obama administration. You know, it's -- it is a very special historical time. We're not -- we're not really to go -- to be too vocal about opposing this, which I don't subscribe to at all.''

*Erin McPike reports that Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) will be in Iowa to speak at a series sponsored by the American Future Fund, "a move that will stoke speculation about his political future, given the state's reputation as a launching pad for national politicians."

*NJ GOV: Steve Forbes endorsed Republican Chris Christie. Christie also has two new radio ads on the air slamming Gov. Jon Corzine (D) on taxes. As we publish, his campaign announced its first TV ad. More later.

**Legalizing Sports Betting in Delaware: RealClearSports interviewed Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who introduced a controversial proposal to legalize sports gambling. Check out the full interview here.

White House E-Mail Gaffe Shows Internal Schedule Discussion

We've all been there -- whether it's hitting "reply" instead of "forward," or typing the wrong name in the "To:" box.

Well, tonight's edition of the White House daily schedule had a lot more information than usual, as it appears someone inadvertently forwarded Thursday's tick-tock without deleting the internal comments made by the staff.

Though no sensitive information appears to have been released, one message in the e-mail chain addresses complaints the White House has apparently received from members of the local Jewish community about a planned Passover Seder the president will hold with staff.

"Apparently Jewish here and in neighboring states are now calling wondering why they have not been invited," one staffer wrote in an e-mail that seems to have been sent to more than 20 other colleagues, mostly members of the Communications Office.

The staffer asked if they could leave the dinner off the schedule, but another noted that it had already been announced publicly.

Another version of the schedule was e-mailed to reporters two minutes later, this time without the internal comments.

UPDATE: Insult to injury, they say it's for "Wednesday, April 9, 2009." Tomorrow is Thursday.

Full e-mail chain, with names redacted, after the jump.

Office of the Press Secretary
April 8, 2009

Tomorrow morning, President Obama will host a roundtable discussion in the Roosevelt Room about the impact of historically low interest rates. Attending the meeting will be a handful of homeowners who have re-financed their homes and benefited from lower mortgage payments, as well as members of President Obama's economic team. There will be a pool spray at the end of the meeting.

Later in the morning, the President along with Secretary Gates and Secretary Shinseki, will make an announcement highlighting a plan to improve the health care system for America's veterans. The audience for tomorrow's announcement will include patients and health care providers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, National Naval Medical Center (Bethesda) and the DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center. This event is pooled press. In addition, the leaders from Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) and Military Service Organizations (MSO) will also be in attendance and the VSO and MSO leaders will meet with the President briefly before his remarks.

In the afternoon, President Obama will receive the Presidential Daily Briefing, the Economic Daily Briefing, and have lunch with the Vice President. The President will also hold separate meetings with Treasury Secretary Geithner and Secretary of State Clinton in the Oval Office. These meetings are closed press.

In the Evening, the President and his family will mark the beginning of Passover with a Seder at the White House with friends and staff. This event is closed press.

Intown Pool
Wires: AP, Reuters, Bloomberg
Wire Photos: AP, Reuters, AFP
TV Corr & Crew: Fox
Print: Financial Times
Radio: AP
Magazine Photo: TIME


9:30AM THE PRESIDENT attends Housing Refinance Roundtable
Roosevelt Room
Pool Spray at the Bottom (Gather Time 10:00AM - Briefing Room)

11:45AM THE PRESIDENT delivers remarks on improving veterans health care EEOB Room 450
Pool Press (Pre-Set 10:30AM - Final Gather 11:25AM - Stakeout Location)

12:20PM THE PRESIDENT receives Presidential Daily Briefing
Oval Office
Closed Press

Oval Office
Closed Press

2:40PM THE PRESIDENT receives Economic Daily Briefing
Oval Office
Closed Press

3:30PM THE PRESIDENT meets with Treasury Secretary Geithner
Oval Office
Closed Press

4:15PM THE PRESIDENT meets with Secretary of State Clinton
Oval Office
Closed Press

6:30PM THE PRESIDENT hosts Seder to Celebrate Passover
Old Family Dining Room
Closed Press

Briefing Schedule

3:00PM Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs




Sent: Wednesday, April 08, 2009 7:05 PM


I'd like to change the housing piece to this, if that's ok (put more emphasis on the real people aspect of this):

Tomorrow morning, the President Obama will host a roundtable discussion in the Roosevelt Room about the impact of historically low interest rates. Attending the meeting will be a handful of households who have re-financed their homes and benefited from lower mortgage payments, as well as members of President Obama's economic team. There will be a pool spray at the end of the meeting.


Sent: Wednesday, April 08, 2009 6:55 PM

Apparently Jewish here and in neighboring states are now calling wondering why they have not been invited.


Sent: Wednesday, April 08, 2009 6:53 PM

We put it on yesterday's deal - so folks already know that it's happening. They'll wonder why it's not listed if we don't include it on there.
Sent: Wednesday, April 08, 2009 6:53 PM

Can we remove the dinner at the end of the day?



Sent: Wednesday, April 08, 2009 6:49 PM


Yes, saying closed press is fine



Sent: Wednesday, April 08, 2009 6:49 PM


If we do, shouldn't we note that the meeting is closed press?



Sent: Wednesday, April 08, 2009 6:48 PM


Can we keep it and just change it to say before? Its good for us to say we are meeting with them


Sent: Wednesday, April 08, 2009 6:45 PM

The below line is no longer accurate:

"and the VSO and MSO leaders will meet with the President briefly following his remarks"

Clutch will occur before the remarks and will be closed press.

I argue that we strike this line altogether.
From: XXXXX Sent: Wednesday, April 08, 2009 6:43 PM

Office of the Press Secretary
April 8, 2009


Tomorrow morning, the President Obama will host a discussion in the Roosevelt Room with his economic team about the impact of historically low interest rates. Also attending the meeting will be a handful of households who have re-financed their homes and benefitted from lower mortgage payments. There will be a pool spray at the end of the meeting.

Later in the morning, the President along with Secretary Gates and Secretary Shinseki, will make an announcement highlighting a plan to improve the health care system for America's veterans. The audience for tomorrow's announcement will include patients and health care providers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, National Naval Medical Center (Bethesda) and the DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center. In addition, the leaders from Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) and Military Service Organizations (MSO) will also be in attendance and the VSO and MSO leaders will meet with the President briefly following his remarks. This event is pooled press.

In the afternoon, President Obama will receive the Presidential Daily Briefing, the Economic Daily Briefing, and have lunch with the Vice President. The President will also hold separate meetings with Treasury Secretary Geithner and Secretary of State Clinton in the Oval Office. These meetings are closed press.

In the Evening, the President and his family will mark the beginning of Passover with a Seder at the White House with friends and staff. This event is closed press.

Intown Pool
Wires: AP, Reuters, Bloomberg
Wire Photos: AP, Reuters, AFP
TV Corr & Crew: Fox
Print: Financial Times
Radio: AP
Magazine Photo: TIME


9:30AM THE PRESIDENT attends Housing Refinance Roundtable
Roosevelt Room
Pool Spray at the Bottom (Gather Time 10:00AM - Briefing Room)

11:45AM THE PRESIDENT delivers remarks on improving veterans health care
EEOB Room 450
Pooled Press (Pre-Set XX, Final Gather XX)

12:20AM THE PRESIDENT receives Presidential Daily Briefing
Oval Office
Closed Press

Oval Office
Closed Press

2:40AM THE PRESIDENT receives Economic Daily Briefing
Oval Office
Closed Press

3:30PM THE PRESIDENT meets with Treasury Secretary Geithner
Oval Office
Closed Press

4:15PM THE PRESIDENT meets with Secretary of State Clinton
Oval Office
Closed Press

6:30PM THE PRESIDENT hosts Seder to Celebrate Passover
Old Family Dining Room
Closed Press

Briefing Schedule

3:00PM Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs

McAuliffe Outraises Rival Moran

Terry McAuliffe's campaign announced raising $4.2 million in the first quarter this year, and he now has $2.5 million left to spend over the next two months before the June 9 Democratic primary for Virginia governor.

McAuliffe's haul trounces that of rival Democrat Brian Moran, who announced raising $800,000 in the first quarter -- more than his campaign had raised in the entire second half of 2008. State Sen. Creigh Deeds has not yet announced his fundraising numbers.

The Moran campaign touts their numbers as being plenty to win with, and continues to focus on its "grassroots campaign" and local elected official endorsements. The Moran camp also makes sure to note that Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) was easily outraised during the 2006 Democratic primary, but still came out victorious. Webb spoke about his campaign in a February interview with RealClearPolitics. Here is a sample:

"I got out in a 10-year-old Jeep, put 36-, 37,000 miles on this old Jeep with my radio operator from Vietnam as my driver. We hit three town hall meetings a night. And I don't think we spent $100,000 in the whole primary. We didn't have one ad -- radio or TV. Not one. It was all word of mouth. Harris Miller had more than a million dollars and ran ads and did a lot of other things."

Obama Signals Start Of Health Care Reform Effort

President Obama signed an executive order establishing the White House Office of Health Reform today, the administration has announced.

According to the text of the order, the office will "will provide leadership to the executive branch in establishing policies, priorities, and objectives for the Federal Government's comprehensive effort to improve access to health care, the quality of such care, and the sustainability of the health care system."

The announcement is largely a formality -- Nancy Ann DeParle was selected to lead the office last month. But it does, one day after the president returned from an extended foreign trip, signal that the administration is putting the wheels in motion on one of its top domestic priorities.

Full text of the order after the jump

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in the interest of providing all Americans access to affordable and high-quality health care, it is hereby ordered as follows: Section 1. Policy. Reforming the health care system is a key goal of my Administration. The health care system suffers from serious and pervasive problems; access to health care is constrained by high and rising costs; and the quality of care is not consistent and must be improved, in order to improve the health of our citizens and our economic security. Sec. 2. Establishment. (a) There is established a White House Office of Health Reform (Health Reform Office) within the Executive Office of the President that will provide leadership to the executive branch in establishing policies, priorities, and objectives for the Federal Government's comprehensive effort to improve access to health care, the quality of such care, and the sustainability of the health care system. (b) The Secretary of Health and Human Services, to the extent permitted by law, shall establish within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) an Office of Health Reform, which shall coordinate closely with the White House Office of Health Reform. Sec. 3. Functions. The principal functions of the Health Reform Office, to the extent permitted by law, are to: (a) provide leadership for and to coordinate the development of the Administration's policy agenda across executive departments and agencies concerning the provision of high-quality, affordable, and accessible health care and to slow the growth of health costs; this shall include coordinating policy development with the Domestic Policy Council, National Economic Council, Council of Economic Advisers, Office of Management and Budget, HHS, Office of Personnel Management, and such other executive departments and agencies as the Director of the Health Reform Office may deem appropriate; (b) work with executive departments and agencies to ensure that Federal Government policy decisions and programs are consistent with the President's stated goals with respect to health reform; (c) integrate the President's policy agenda concerning health reform across the Federal Government; (d) coordinate public outreach activities conducted by executive departments and agencies designed to gather input from the public, from demonstration and pilot projects, and from public-private partnerships on the problems and priorities for policy measures designed to meet the President's goals for improvement of the health care system; (e) bring to the President's attention concerns, ideas, and policy options for strengthening, increasing the efficiency, and improving the quality of the health care system; (f) work with State, local, and community policymakers and public officials to expand coverage, improve quality and efficiency, and slow the growth of health costs; (g) develop and implement strategic initiatives under the President's agenda to strengthen the public agencies and private organizations that can improve the performance of the health care system; (h) work with the Congress and executive departments and agencies to eliminate unnecessary legislative, regulatory, and other bureaucratic barriers that impede effective delivery of efficient and high-quality health care; (i) monitor implementation of the President's agenda on health reform; and (j) help ensure that policymakers across the executive branch work toward the President's health care agenda. Sec. 4. Administration. (a) The Health Reform Office may work with established or ad hoc committees, task forces, or interagency groups. (b) The Health Reform Office shall have a staff headed by the Director of the Health Reform Office (Director). The Health Reform Office shall have such staff and other assistance as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this order. (c) As requested by the Director, each executive department and agency shall designate a liaison to work with the Health Reform Office on improving access to health care, the quality of health care, and the sustainability of the health care system. (d) All executive departments and agencies shall cooperate with the Health Reform Office and provide such information, support, and assistance to the Health Reform Office as it may request, to the extent permitted by law. Sec. 5. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect: (i) authority granted by law to a department, agency, or the head thereof; or (ii) functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals. (b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations. (c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity, by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

KY Sen.: Bunning Unpopular, Trails All Potential Dems

A new poll finds that Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) would be vulnerable against a number of potential Democratic candidates in 2010, giving more ammunition to those Republicans who hope to field a new candidate in the Bluegrass State.

A Public Policy Polling survey also finds that the two-term incumbent has just a 28 percent approval rating, with 54 percent disapproving. Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson, mentioned as the most likely Bunning alternative for the GOP, has a fav/unfav rating of 46/19, with 36 percent unsure. The survey was conducted on April 2 and 3, surveying 610 voters. The margin of error is +/- 4 percent.

Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, who narrowly lost to Bunning in 2004 when he was a little-known state senator, is the only Democrat officially running. But the poll also tests Bunning against state Aud. Crit Luallen, Atty. Gen. Jack Conway, and U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler.

General Election Matchups
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Chandler 47 / 71 / 22 / 28
Bunning 33 / 14 / 54 / 41

Conway 42 / 64 / 16 / 28
Bunning 33 / 14 / 54 / 43

Luallen 42 / 64 / 18 / 22
Bunning 34 / 13 / 56 / 48

Mongiardo 43 / 66 / 17 / 30
Bunning 36 / 14 / 61 / 43

Bunning 28 / 54
Grayson 46 / 19
Williams 28 / 41

Chandler 38 / 28
Conway 40 / 21
Luallen 43 / 21
Mongiardo 41 / 34

After the jump, see matchups that include Greyson or State Senate President David Williams (R) as Republican candidates.

General Election Matchups
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Chandler 40 / 63 / 15 / 22
Grayson 34 / 14 / 56 / 43

Chandler 45 / 72 / 16 / 24
Williams 30 / 9 / 57 / 33

Conway 37 / 60 / 13 / 22
Grayson 33 / 11 / 59 / 38

Conway 43 / 67 / 17 / 31
Williams 29 / 9 / 54 / 27

Grayson 36 / 14 / 63 / 41
Luallen 34 / 55 / 9 / 24

Luallen 41 / 64 / 15 / 28
Williams 31 / 10 / 57 / 28

Grayson 40 / 18 / 67 / 48
Mongiardo 36 / 57 / 12 / 24

Mongiardo 43 / 69 / 12 / 33
Williams 32 / 11 / 60 / 35

NY-20: NRCC Sees Victory

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said today that he is confident Republican Jim Tedisco will emerge victorious when all absentee ballots have been counted in the New York 20th District special election. Tedisco currently leads by 17 votes, with absentee ballot counting beginning today in some counties.

"Following the final tally of votes from Election Day, we are confident that Jim Tedisco's current lead will increase given the Republican advantage among absentee ballots," Sessions stated in a press release.

Sessions is basing this on the number of absentee ballots returned from members of both parties -- 3,111 Republican and 2,394 Democrat. Sessions leaves out, however, the 1,221 ballots returned by those who are not registered with either party.

Members of the Conservative Party, which endorsed Tedisco, returned 77 ballots. The Independence and Working Families parties, which endorsed Democrat Scott Murphy, had members return a total of 168 ballots.

The biggest question may be who wins the majority of the 976 absentee ballots from voters not registered with any of those five parties.

Democrats predicted a 210-vote win for themselves -- based on their vote percentage in each county compared to the percentage of absentee ballots from each county -- in a memo that was leaked last week.

Strategy Memo: Rahm Replaced

Good Wednesday morning. Back on U.S. soil, President Obama (and the aides who traveled with him) has a quiet day. He landed back at the White House at 3 a.m., much later than originally planned because of the surprise Iraq visit. Vice President Biden, meanwhile, will travel to Fort Bragg with his wife to welcome home the XVIII Airborne Corps back from Iraq.

Congress remains on a two-week recess -- the Senate returns April 20, and the House a day later. The House will welcome a new member, Democrat Mike Quigley, who won the Illinois 5th District special election yesterday with 69 percent of the vote.

The results of the special election in New York's 20th District, which took place over a week ago now, could begin to crystalize today. Some of the 10 counties in the district will begin counting absentee ballots today, with Republican Jim Tedisco now clinging to a 17-vote lead.

**President Obama
*AP: "The president returned to Washington in the early hours of Wednesday morning, bringing his lengthy debut on the world stage -- including his first stop in a war zone as commander in chief -- to a close. Aides said he brought home achievements both large and small, evidence, they said, of the benefits of the extended travel that turned attention away from all the pressing matters at home for the first time in his less-than-three-month-old presidency." That "pile of problems on Obama's desk was high before he left, and remains so now that he's home."

*The Hill says Obama has "more political capital than when he left" for Europe, and now "has the opportunity to face down Democrats on Capitol Hill as major bills on energy, healthcare and education work their way through Congress. Some believe Obama will seize the moment and become more of a legislative force, instead of deferring to seasoned congressional Democrats."

*The New York Times on Obama's Iraq visit. "In Baghdad, reiterating his pledge to end a war he opposed from the start, he told a cheering crowd of American troops that it was time for Iraqis 'to take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty.' Later, with a hint of impatience in his words, he urged Iraq's leaders to unite the country's deeply divided ethnic and sectarian factions and to incorporate them all into government and security forces."

*In Baghdad, Obama met with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and said he "strongly encouraged" the Iraqi leader to calm sectarian tensions. WSJ notes that "Obama's visit comes at an important time for Mr. Maliki. Little more than a year ago, he was being criticized by Iraqis and some U.S. officials as a weak, sectarian leader. But Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, won over many Iraqis by ordering troops to battle Shiite militias as well as Sunni ones, giving him a new reputation as a strong nationalist."

*Former VP Cheney continues to draw fire from the Obama administration. VP Biden said on CNN his statement that the U.S. was less safe is "dead wrong." "This administration -- the last administration left us in a weaker posture than we've been any time since World War II: less regarded in the world, stretched more thinly than we ever have been in the past, two wars under way, virtually no respect in entire parts of the world. ... I guarantee you we are safer today, our interests are more secure today than they were any time during the eight years" of the Bush administration.

*Biden will also take a lead role in the administration's efforts to pass a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, the Washington Post reports. "In 1999, as ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden led the Clinton administration's unsuccessful attempt at ratification. At that time, the treaty fell 19 votes short of the 67 needed for approval by the Republican-controlled Senate."

*The Obama administration plans to spend $45 million on an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign.
A study finds that the Bush administration's efforts saved 1.1 million lives in 15 targeted countries, the Washington Times notes.

*Politico writes about Obama's TV habits - heavy on "Entourage" and ESPN.

*AP headline: Lawmakers meet Castros, urge end to embargo.

*Earmarks: "Scores of House members are hiding their earmark requests in obscure corners of their official websites -- sticking to the letter of their new rule while shunning its spirit," The Hill reports.

**Campaign Stuff
*Democrat Mike Quigley wins the IL-5 special election with 69% of the vote, 4 points lower than Obama's take in the district in November. "Quigley told supporters at a North Side tavern that he knows he will initially be recognized in Washington as 'the guy taking Rahm Emanuel's seat,' but he promised to establish his own credentials, push for change and help tackle the nation's problems," Chicago Tribune reports.

"No one expected otherwise in the heavily Democratic 5th District, which has sent characters ranging from Dan Rostenkowski to Rod Blagojevich to Emanuel to Congress," Politico's Mahtesian writes. He also notes that with the primary and general combined, "Quigley ended up capturing a congressional seat by winning less than 50,000 votes in total. The average population of a congressional district is roughly 647,000 people."

*NY-20: Republican Jim Tedisco's lead over Democrat Scott Murphy decreased to 17 votes yesterday, while some counties will begin counting absentee ballots today, the Oneonta Daily Star reports.

*Fairleigh Dickinson Poll: New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine "continues to trail former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie by nine points, 33%-42%. Just 58% of Democrats line up behind Corzine while 78% of Republicans prefer Christie. ... Corzine runs even with former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan 37%-36%."

*The Star Tribune updates the Franken-Coleman recount, where a tally of absentees put the Democrat ahead 312 votes. "Not long after a decisive majority of once-rejected absentee ballots were counted and broke for Franken on Tuesday, attorneys on both sides were already jawing over the merits of an appeal in the 10-week-old U.S. Senate recount trial." Coleman says they'll appeal to the state Supreme Court.

*Gov. Sarah Palin (R) will raise money for Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R) re-election campaign - not challenge her for the seat, as some speculated. Spokesperson Meg Stapleton told the Anchorage Daily News that talk that Palin might challenge Murkowski in next year's Republican primary is "just something that's been drummed up by the media."

*Rudy Giuliani, asked on "Morning Joe" whether he would run for governor: "I have no idea. I'm not gonna say yes; I'm not gonna say no."

**Sports Alert: The Frozen Four -- college hockey's national semi-finals -- has descended upon Washington this week, with the two faceoffs set for tomorrow night. Who isn't rooting for Bemidji State, the small school from the tiny town in northern Minnesota (Rep. Collin Peterson's 7th District for you junkies)?

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

IL-5: Quigley Wins Special Election

Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley (D) was declared the winner tonight of the special election to replace Rahm Emanuel as representative of Illinois's 5th Congressional District. With two-thirds of precincts reporting by 9 p.m. ET, 70 percent had chosen Quigley, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Quigley's place in Congress was all but confirmed when he won the Democratic primary last month. President Obama won the district with 73 percent of the vote.

DNC Chairman Tim Kaine released a statement shortly after the Associated Press had called the race for Quigley:

"I'm honored to congratulate Mike Quigley on his election to the United States House of Representatives where he will be another ally of President Obama's in the effort to rebuild our economy and bring change to Washington. Mike's record of service as Cook County Commissioner and his dedication to fiscal responsibility and government reform have more than prepared him to take on the challenges we face today. Mike will be a tireless advocate for the people of Illinois' fifth congressional district, and I look forward to working alongside him to help secure legislation that supports President Obama's vision for our country."

Rep. Towns Questions Geithner's Reported Maneuver

Following reports that the White House was seeking to circumvent Congressional restrictions on bailout funds -- including with regard to executive pay -- House Oversight Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner requesting more information.

In the letter, Towns expressed his "deep concern" and said he hoped "these allegations are not true."

Congress included restrictions on executive pay at companies that received federal bail-out funds in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act passed last year, as well as the economic stimulus package passed earlier this year. The House also passed last week legislation that would further restrict executive compensation from such firms.

"We now know that extraordinary compensation was paid to bank executives even as they led their companies to the brink of collapse and later sought and received billions of dollars in federal funding," Towns wrote. "It would be unconscionable and irresponsible for the Treasury Department to permit excessive pay practices to continue at companies that have been rescued by the taxpayers."

The report Towns references in his letter was a Washington Post article published Saturday. The lede from that story: "The Obama administration is engineering its new bailout initiatives in a way that it believes will allow firms benefiting from the programs to avoid restrictions imposed by Congress, including limits on lavish executive pay, according to government officials."

The restrictions would be circumvented by setting up "special entities that act as middlemen, channeling the bailout funds to the firms and, via this two-step process, stripping away the requirement that the restrictions be imposed," the Post reported.

Towns has asked Geithner to deliver more information on this and other questions to the Oversight committee by April 16, as it continues to investigate the collapses in the financial services and banking industries, as well as the ensuing federal rescue.

One sample question Towns requested an answer to: "Is it your position that the executive compensation limits and federal ownership requirements imposed by Congress on bailout funding do not apply to the ultimate recipients of that funding if it is passed through special entities or special-purpose vehicles? "

Obama In Iraq

Even before this trip, some had surmised that Turkey may not be President Obama's final stop. And indeed, he is now in Baghdad for a "surprise visit," one that will apparently be brief. Reports indicate that plans to helicopter from the Baghdad airport to center city to meet with Iraqi leaders was scrapped because of weather. Obama will, however, meet with General Ray Odierno, the commanding general of multi-national forces in Iraq, and present 10 medals of valor to U.S. troops.

Obama last visited Iraq, along with Afghanistan, during the 2008 campaign, before he visited Israel and moved on to Europe.

Specter Running On Electability

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), already running ads for a primary that's more than a year away, appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" today and shed some light on what his main argument will be against Club for Growth president Pat Toomey: electability.

"If Mr. Toomey is the nominee, you can be sure he'll lose," Specter said. "He's to the right of Rick Santorum. Santorum lost by 18 points, spent $31 million and was a two-term incumbent. And if Toomey is the nominee, there will be 60 Democrats. ... If there's a Democrat in my place, they'll be able to do anything they want."

In 2006, Santorum outspent now-Sen. Bob Casey (D) by millions of dollars and still lost by 18 points. Democrats have also picked up five House seats from Pennsylvania since the 2006 election, and President Obama won what was supposed to be a battleground state by 11 points.

Asked whether he is paying for crossing party lines on bills such as the economic stimulus package, Specter said: "I know I am. Mr. Toomey was going to run for governor. When I voted for the stimulus, he saw an opening and has come into the Senate race.

"Had a very tough race with him last time, but it's a different year. It's a different year for him because of his background -- a Wall Street trader; was in the House of Representatives for six years, fought against deregulation... When you take a look at his record, he's been contributive to the problem. And now he wants a promotion; he wants a bonus like those AIG guys."

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) appeared on "Morning Joe" shortly after Specter and noted the importance of the seat. "Hopefully he and Mr. Toomey don't cut each other up because we're going to need to hold on to Pennsylvania," said Cornyn.

Strategy Memo: Flying High

Good morning, Washington. President Obama is now on his way back to Washington, having concluded his European trip with events in Istanbul this morning. He'll return to the White House as polls indicate most Americans think his trip was a success. His popularity also remains high, with a CBS/New York Times poll finding that two-thirds approve of his job performance.

Congress is on recess, so we turn even more toward politics. Today is election day in Chicago, where Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley (D) is heavily favored to come out victorious in today's special election in Illinois's 5th Congressional District. Facing Quigley in White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's former northern Chicago district is Republican Rosanna Pulido and Green Party candidate Matt Reichel.

And don't miss Arlen Specter's comments on "Morning Joe" as he starts to get engaged in his primary battle against Pat Toomey.

**President Obama
*A CBS/New York Times poll puts President Obama's approval rating at 66 percent, while 24 disapprove. It's his highest approval rating since taking office. Now 39 percent say the nation is on the right track, compared to 53 percent who say it's on the wrong track. That's up from 15/79 in early January. From the NYT story: "Americans have grown more optimistic about the economy and the direction of the country in the 11 weeks since President Obama was inaugurated, suggesting that he is enjoying some success in his critical task of rebuilding the nation's confidence."

*A CNN poll finds that 79 percent of Americans think Obama's trip helped the U.S. image broad, with 80 percent thinking the first lady did the same with her presence.

*In his final event of the Europe trip, Obama asked the world to look past America's stereotypes and flaws, AP reports. "You will find a partner and a supporter and a friend in the United States of America," he said at a town hall with Muslim youth. He also promised a "new chapter of American engagement" with the rest of the world, and said the United States needs to be more patient in its dealings. The rest of the world, he adds, needs a better sense "that change is possible so we don't have to always be stuck with the same arguments."

*David Axelrod, not surprisingly, calls Obama's trip "enormously productive," while joking that expectations were so high. From ABC: "'Why didn't the waters part, the sun shine, and all the ills of the world disappear because President Obama came to Europe this week?' That wasn't our expectation. That will take at least a few weeks."

*The New York Times discusses the increasingly different views in Turkey over the role of Islam in government, then says that Obama "spoke elegantly to both camps" yesterday by "discussing his personal ties to Islam and Turkey's 'strong and secular' democracy, which seemed to satisfy both."

*Jonathan Martin adds, "as he embarks on a new campaign to win over the Muslim world, Obama is calling attention to the non-traditional aspects of his upbringing like never before - hoping to turn his biggest political liability at home into a powerful asset abroad."

*AP writes about the arrest of a man Friday who threatened to assassinate the president in Turkey. Obama did not arrive in Turkey until Sunday, two days after the man's arrest. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs declined to comment on the incident.

**President Obama II
*Chris Cillizza asks what's next for President Obama. "Now that so much has been set in motion -- from broad economic reforms to an increased focus on the war in Afghanistan -- there is some sense that the only thing to do is sit back and wait to see whether the early actions have the desired effect. But, the American public tends to equate movement with progress so don't expect the Obama administration to do anything that projects an image of luxuriating in their own accomplishments over the next few months."

*Los Angeles Times on Pentagon changes: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Monday outlined the most sweeping changes in military spending priorities in decades, proposing the elimination of a long list of big-ticket programs to save billions of dollars and swing the Pentagon's emphasis from conventional conflicts to irregular warfare." Washington Post adds that the "recent surge in the Washington area's defense-contracting workforce would begin to ebb" under the plan as Gates "moves to replace legions of private workers with full-time civil servants."

*Congress reaction: "But it took just minutes before the first group of U.S. senators dashed off a letter to President Barack Obama opposing the proposed $1.4 billion cut in missile defense spending, showing the challenges Gates faces in pushing through reforms," Reuters reports.

*Sarah Palin weighed in on the North Korea missile launch. "I am deeply concerned with North Korea's development and testing program which has clear potential of impacting Alaska, a sovereign state of the United States, with a potentially nuclear armed warhead," she said in the statement. "I can't emphasize enough how important it is that we continue to develop and perfect the global missile defense network."

*Orioles catcher Chad Moeller reviews VP Biden's first pitch: "I had talked to him before the game about not wanting to bounce the ball, and how he was going to get it that far," Moeller told the NY Times. "He said, 'I'll just aim high.' It was perfect. That was his biggest concern: he didn't want to bounce the ball and take heat for it."

**Campaign Stuff
*According to one attendee at the Florida Legislature's black caucus dinner Friday, Charlie Crist "said something not-so-cryptic" about his future plans. Congressional candidate Al Lawson said the Florida Gov. told him, "See you in Washington." "I can't think of what that means other than that he's going to run for Senate," Lawson told the St. Pete Times. "We're not supposed to be in Washington together in the next few months. But if we both get elected, we'll be there. I don't see how I could have taken this any other way."

*NY-20 Update: Jim Tedisco (R) now has a 97-vote lead as they continue re-tabulating last week's vote. Yesterday, a judge agreed with Scott Murphy's (D) request that they begin counting absentee ballots tomorrow, the Times Union reports.

*KY Sen: "Hoping to end speculation that he can't raise the money needed to win next year's U.S. Senate race, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo (D) announced yesterday that he took in more than $420,000 during the first quarter of this year," the Louisville Courier-Journal reports. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) hasn't announced his 1stQ take yet.

*WaPo's Eugene Robinson, on Steele and the GOP: "I can't believe I'm saying this, but if the Republican Party wants to get back into the game, it should start by paying more attention to its new chairman, the all-too-quotable Michael Steele."

*Sen. Arlen Specter took a shot at Pat Toomey on "Morning Joe," saying he was a Wall Street trader who fought against regulation during his time in Congress. "When you take a look at his record, he contributed to the problem and now he wants a promotion. Well, it's a bonus, like those AIG guys."

*NRSC Chair John Cornyn (R-Texas), on the GOP's 2010 outlook on "Morning Joe": "19 Republicans, 17 Democrats. But I think it's going to be a better year. ... Already we've been seeing we're going to have opportunities in blue states, purple states; states like Connecticut, maybe even Illinois, maybe Delaware, maybe New York, that we wouldn't have anticipated." On Nevada: "Well we're working on that. I think certainly Senator Reid's numbers are not good. And it's an opportunity if we get the right recruit."

*Former Sen. Lincoln Chafee is well on his way to running for governor in Rhode Island, the Providence Journal reports. "While stopping short of a full-blown announcement," Chafee described himself as "the only potential gubernatorial contender that possesses governmental experience on the local, national and international level." He plans to "spend the next several months meeting with advisers and supporters putting together a plan that will lay the groundwork for an independent campaign for governor in 2010."

*New York Daily News headline: "Bill Clinton and Rep. Charles Rangel praise Mayor Bloomberg - but stop short of endorsing him." The former president said, "In my opinion, Mike Bloomberg's been a great mayor for New York because he's relentlessly focused on how to do things for the environment, on how to turn good intentions into powerful changes."

**Sports Alert: Congrats to the NCAA champion North Carolina Tar Heels, which both Mike and the president had picked in their brackets.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Now Pitching, Number Two ...

bidenpitch3.jpgBALTIMORE -- With the president overseas on this Opening Day in Major League Baseball, Vice President Joe Biden took on the role of baseball fan-in-chief as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Camden Yards this afternoon.

Biden was met with a mix of cheers and jeers as he took the field before the Orioles home opener. Maybe they were Republicans, or were upset not to see the top dog. Or maybe the Bronx cheers were the result of so many New York fans invading Baltimore to see the Yankees play. Heck, they might have just been cheering, "Jooooooe."

Either way, the reception was by many accounts warmer than the one his predecessor, Dick Cheney, received at RFK Stadium in 2006, or the boos that greeted Mark Teixeira when he was introduced today in his home state wearing Yankee pinstripes.

The vice president did get more kudos as he threw a respectable looper from the mound, received smoothly by catcher Chad Moeller. He was joined on the field by his grandchildren as well as representatives from Major League Baseball's RBI program.

During the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Biden was a vocal supporter of the Philadephia Phillies; his wife, Jill, was on hand for the Series clinching Game 5. His final event of the campaign was an Election-eve rally in Philadelphia, which featured Jimmy Rollins as the city was still basking in a World Series title.

"If Barack Obama's the Jimmy Rollins of the ticket I feel like Jamie Moyer," he said that night.

biden-pitch2.jpgDuring his own campaign for president, Biden occasionally came on stage to John Fogarty's "Center Field." And just after being tapped as Barack Obama's running mate, he took the stage at a joint rally at a minor league ballpark in Michigan and announced: "Folks, my name is Joe Biden. I used to play center field. Not as well as I wanted to."

Though he did play baseball as a child, he was a better football player, and suited up as a freshman at the University of Delaware.

The vice president will take in at least a few innings of the Yankees-Orioles game, splitting time between some seats and the owner's box (Peter Angelos is a long-time Democratic donor).

"He wants to stay for the entire game, but may leave a bit before the end so he doesn't tie up traffic," Biden spokesperson Jay Carney said.

The VP is also spending some time in the broadcast booth, telling the announcers on the local Mid Atlantic Sports Network that the Obama administration "got out of the box pretty quick."

Baseball Mitt On Opening Day

Mitt Romney has just sent a baseball-themed pitch to his supporters on this Opening Day in Major League Baseball. The former Massachusetts governor says he still has Red Sox season tickets and "I'll be rooting for the Red Sox all season long. But whether you're rooting for the BoSox or for your own favorite team, there's one thing on which we can all agree -- the need to keep promoting our conservative agenda and take back Congress in 2010."

He asks for contributions for his Free and Strong America PAC, and offers up some perks. For $25, you get the "official PAC baseball card"(!) For $75, you get a red baseball cap. But hold the phone -- for $250 you get your own Romney-autographed baseball.

The full e-mail script is after the jump.

It's Opening Day, and time to have some fun. For me, the first pitch of the Major League Baseball season means that winter is finally over and spring is here. I remember all the fun I had as a parent taking my boys to Fenway Park. We still have season tickets, and I'll be rooting for the Red Sox all season long. But whether you're rooting for the BoSox or for your own favorite team, there's one thing on which we can all agree - the need to keep promoting our conservative agenda and take back Congress in 2010.

Michael, I'm troubled by some of the decisions of the Democrat-controlled Congress and the Obama administration. America voted for change, but not this kind of change. We did not vote for a boat-load of new government spending programs that would ensure higher taxes and high deficits as far as the eye can see and that will threaten our currency, our economy, and our future.

At my PAC, we are fighting for policies that will keep America the world's economic and military superpower. Today, as much as ever, conservative principles are absolutely essential to keeping America strong, prosperous, and free.

That's why I am writing you - as one of our key team members - to ask if you'd consider making a contribution of $25, $50, $75, $100, $250, or more, to my PAC. Your generous contribution will enable me to have the resources to help Republican candidates and promote conservative principles so that we can reclaim our majorities in 2010.

And as a special thank you to those of you willing to step up to the plate, we're happy to offer the following gifts to members of the Free and Strong America team:

* For a contribution of at least $25, we'll send you my official PAC baseball card.

* For a contribution of at least $75, we'll send you both the card and our official red baseball cap - so you can display your team color with pride.

* And, for a contribution of $250 or more, we'll not only send you the card and hat, but I will also send you a hand-signed baseball.

It may seem like early in the season, but what we do now will help ensure we have the resources we need to win. Thank you for being a part of our team, and I hope to hear from you soon.


Mitt Romney
Honorary Chairman

NY Gov, Sen Poll: Paterson's In Deep Trouble

NY Gov: If the election were today, New York Gov. David Paterson would get crushed in a Democratic primary with Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo, according to a Quinnipiac poll released today (April 1-5, 1528 RV, MoE +/- 2.5%).

Cuomo's lead over Paterson has grown from 32 points in February to 43 points in the latest survey. Paterson's approval rating has tanked, dropping to a dismal 28% -- Cuomo's has now hit 75%. In potential general election matchups, Rudy Giuliani (R) defeats Paterson by 21 points (they were tied in February), while Cuomo beats Giuliani by 17 points.

Dem Primary
Cuomo 61 (+6 vs. last poll, Feb. 17)
Paterson 18 (-5)
Und 17 (-3)

General Election
Giuliani 53 (+10 vs. last poll, Feb. 17)
Paterson 32 (-11)
Und 9 (-1)

Cuomo 53 (+2 vs. last poll, Feb. 17)
Giuliani 36 (-1)
Und 9 (nc)

NY Sen: In a potential 2010 Senate primary, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D) continues to lead appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), though her 10-point lead in February has shrunk to just 4 points. In a potential general election matchup with Rep. Peter King (R), Gillibrand's lead slips to 12 points.

After being in the Senate for just a few months, almost two-thirds of voters still haven't heard enough about Gillibrand to form an opinion of her. The same goes for King and McCarthy. A side note: Gillibrand announced this morning that her Senate campaign raised a healthy $2.3 million in the first quarter.

Dem Primary
McCarthy 33 (-1 vs. last poll, Feb. 17)
Gillibrand 29 (+5)
Und 33 (-6)

General Election
Gillibrand 40 (-2 vs. last poll Feb. 17)
King 28 (+2)
Und 28 (nc)

Toomey Responds To Specter Moves

Potential Pennsylvania Senate challenger Pat Toomey, president of Club for Growth and a former Republican congressman, responded today to Sen. Arlen Specter's (R-Pa.) TV ad and request for Toomey to disclose any contributors to his conservative group that had received TARP funds. analyzed Specter's ad last week and noted that it "misfires a few times." As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, Specter was forced to change the wording of the ad -- it accused Toomey of selling credit default swaps, though such swaps had not yet been invented when Toomey worked on Wall Street during the 1980s.

Specter also sent a letter requesting the Club for Growth "disclose any contributors that had received federal funds under the controversial financial bailout legislation enacted in October," the Post-Gazette reported. A Toomey press release responds to the request, claiming "Specter has taken more money from AIG, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and J.P. Morgan Chase and other financial services companies than any other Pennsylvania member of congress in the last twenty years (Center for Responsive Politics)."

Toomey spokesman Mark Harris responds in a press release:

"Arlen Specter's bad poll numbers must be causing him hallucinations. Everything he attacks Pat Toomey with is either proven false by neutral analysts, or is something Specter himself has done. There isn't enough mud left in Pennsylvania for Specter to cover up the fact that he voted to spend billions of tax dollars to bail out Wall Street. He has pocketed millions from Wall Street firms, while Pat Toomey strongly opposes these bailouts."

Obama: U.S. "Will Never Be At War With Islam"

President Obama used his personal story as a means of reaching out to the Muslim world today, saying during a speech at the Turkish Parliament that the United States "is not and will never be at war with Islam."

Speaking in a country that bridges East and West, Obama sought to bridge a divide that had grown between the United States and the Muslim world, a relationship he hopes to expand to one of "broad engagement based on mutual interests and respect."

"We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground," he said. "We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over so many centuries to shape the world."

It was here that he noted that many Americans have Muslims in their families or lived in Muslim-majority nations. "I know, because I am one of them."

Earlier, he praised Turkey's unique status as a majority-Muslim nation with a secular government, and praised the progressive steps it has taken recently as it aspires to membership in the European Union. Among them, greater protection for the rights of minorities - a subject that again brought a reference to his history-making election.

"Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens. I say this as the President of a country that not very long ago made it hard for somebody who looks like me to vote, much less be president of the United States," he said. "It is precisely that capacity to change that enriches our countries."

Curiously, he compared the steps Turkey has taken to ones he has taken in his own brief time as president - ordering the closing of Guantanamo Bay and an explicit prohibition of torture.

"All of us have to change. And sometimes, change is hard," he said.

Obama did conclude with an acknowledgment that rhetoric alone will not ease tensions, and reinforcing a message from his inaugural address, he noted that some will only answer to a clenched fist.

"There are some who must be met by force. But force alone cannot solve our problems, and it is no alternative to extremism," he said. "The future must belong to those who create, not those who destroy. That is the future we must work for, and we must work for it together."

Obama will conclude his European trip tomorrow in Istanbul, where he was scheduled to hold a virtual town hall meeting with young people throughout the world.

Strategy Memo: Opening Day

Good Monday morning. Obama's day is nearly over in Turkey, where he has already met with that nation's president. He will shortly speak at the Turkish Parliament, and then meet with the prime minister. He ends the day in Istanbul, where he will his week-long European tour comes to a close.

The House and Senate are at the beginning of a two-week recess. A new member will be elected tomorrow, as three candidates vie for White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's former Chicago-area seat. Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley (D) expects to win the heavily Democratic seat with ease.

Today marks both the end of the college basketball season and the official start of the baseball season. Yes, there was a game last night, but today is truly Opening Day in Major League Baseball. Vice President Joe Biden will throw out the ceremonial first pitch in Baltimore today, where the Orioles face the 2009 World Champion New York Yankees. Reports out of Boston indicate that Sen. Ted Kennedy will throw out the first pitch there before the hated Red Sox take the field.

In the NCAA championship game tonight in Detroit, North Carolina -- President Obama's pick to win it all -- goes head-to-head against Michigan State, in a rematch of a 2005 Final Four game.

**Miss any of the Sunday talk shows? You can find all the highlights at the RealClearPolitics Video page.

**North Korea
*"North Korea failed in its highly vaunted effort to fire a satellite into orbit, military and private experts said Sunday after reviewing detailed tracking data that showed the missile and payload fell into the sea," NY Times reports, and "space experts said the failure represented a blow that in all likelihood would seriously delay the missile's debut."

*"Although a crucial third stage of a North Korean rocket apparently failed in a launch Sunday, U.S. military and intelligence officials and weapons experts said the test raises new concerns about advancements in Pyongyang's mastery of missile technology," L.A. Times reports.

*"North Korea's neighbors on Monday began forming penalties against the country for its long-range missile test over the weekend, with South Korea saying it may start to develop bigger missiles and Japan considering an extension of economic sanctions," WSJ reports.

*Sen. Charles Schumer, on "Morning Joe": "There's only one answer to North Korea: that is an economic squeeze, and it has to be led by China."

*Politico reports that the "provocative timing" of the launch "is jolting to life a decades-old debate between the political parties ... whether Democrats are sufficiently tough on national security, and if the GOP's aversion to diplomacy with U.S. enemies for the past eight years has made America more vulnerable."

*"Was Joe Biden right?" Newsweek asks, referring to his comments during the campaign about world leaders testing Obama early in his administration. "The North Koreans have disregarded their responsibilities and international resolutions for many, many years now, going back at least to the two last presidencies. So I don't think this has anything to do with President Obama," press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

*Obama learned of North Korea's missile launch at 4:30 am local time, not quite 3 am. "Gibbs knocked on the door of President Obama's suite at the Prague Hilton, soon after 4:30 a.m. local time, almost immediately after the North Korean missile launch had been confirmed," ABC reports.

President Obama
*Obama's visit to Turkey today "is being closely watched by an Islamic world that harbored deep distrust of his predecessor, George W. Bush." AP reports that in talks with the country's leaders, Obama "hoped to sell his strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He should find welcoming ears, given the new U.S. focus on melding troop increases with civilian efforts to better the lives of people in both countries."

*During a major speech in Prague, Obama "laid out his vision for the 21st century," talking of a time without nuclear weapons. Reuters: "While Kennedy memorably declared 'Ich bin ein Berliner,' Obama confined his venture into the local language to a mention of 'Sametova revoluce,' the Czechoslovak 'Velvet Revolution' of 1989 that brought down communist rule. That event, he said, 'proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon.'

*Obama "echoed President John F. Kennedy's famous line about his wife during their iconic European trip in 1961," saying in Prague this weekend: "Today, I am proud to stand here with you in the middle of this great city, in the center of Europe. And to paraphrase one of my predecessors I am also proud to be the man who brought Michelle Obama to Prague."

*A Pew Research Poll: "For all of his hopes about bipartisanship, Barack Obama has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades. The 61-point partisan gap in opinions about Obama's job performance is the result of a combination of high Democratic ratings for the president -- 88% job approval among Democrats -- and relatively low approval ratings among Republicans (27%)."

*The Washington Post finds that "in its first big test, the group dubbed Organizing for America (OFA) had little obvious impact on the debate over President Obama's budget, which passed Congress on Thursday with no Republican support and a splintering of votes among conservative Democrats. The capstone of the campaign was the delivery of 214,000 signatures to Capitol Hill, which swayed few, if any, members of Congress, according to legislative aides from both parties." DNC spokesperson Natalie Wyeth: "We've been around 60-some-odd days. This is still a very new project, a new effort, and we're learning as we go."

*The Obama vs. Cheney admin feud goes on. CNN has David Axelrod's latest salvo, talking about the transition: "[President Bush] has behaved like a statesman. And as I've said before, here and elsewhere, I just don't think the memo got passed down to the vice president."

*WaPo's David Broder took a look yesterday at the differing attitudes on the Hill regarding the budget fight last week and the GIVE Act. "But eight days earlier, when the Senate approved a slightly modified version of the House-passed national service act by an overwhelming 79 to 19, the atmosphere was completely different. Democrats were congratulating Republicans and Republicans were praising Democrats."

*"John McCain sounds angry and frustrated that, despite the risks he took in pushing immigration reform, Hispanic voters flocked to Democrat Barack Obama in last year's presidential contest. McCain's raw emotions burst forth recently as he heatedly told Hispanic business leaders that they should now look to Obama, not him, to take the lead on immigration," National Journal reports.

*GOP Cohesion: "The questions the GOP confronts as it awaits the heart of Obama's agenda -- on health care, climate change, financial regulatory reform and other big-ticket items -- are whether it can offer a cohesive alternative to a popular president, and whether two leaders with very different styles and ambitions can work together to shepherd the party back to power," WaPo reports.

*Chicago Tribune profiles Illinois freshman Rep. Aaron Schock (R), the youngest member of Congress.

*Keeping NY-20 in the news for all the wrong reasons, former Rep. John Sweeney (R) -- whom Kirsten Gillibrand knocked out of Congress in 2006 -- was arrested for his second DWI in the last 18 months.

Campaign Stuff
*The Virginia GOP ousted its controversial chairman, Jeff Frederick, "at a tense meeting that left the party bitterly divided as it heads into a crucial campaign season," the Washington Post reports. "At the heart of the dispute is a struggle that is tormenting Republicans both in the state and nationally: whether to rigidly pursue an agenda dominated by conservative social issues or reach out to more moderate voters with a pledge to focus chiefly on economic concerns."

*The Chicago Tribune reports that Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan's eventual decision about what office to seek in 2010 looms large in Illinois politics. "If she runs for governor, the attorney general's office would open up for the first time in eight years. That, in turn, could open up at least one other lower statewide office for a Democrat looking to move up the political ladder. And the prospect of open statewide offices could prompt a rush by some Republicans looking to end total Democratic control."

*An Iowa poll puts Gov. Chet Culver's approval rating at 55 percent, down slightly from 60 percent three months ago. Thirty-five percent say they'd definitely vote for him in 2010, while 46 percent said they would consider or definitely vote for an alternative. President Obama's approval rating in the state is at 64 percent.

**Sports Alert
*Author Charles Fountain offered a fitting end to Spring Training in a Washington Post Outlook piece yesterday: "But let us give spring training one final kind thought as that one-way door closes behind us. It has again done its job -- for the players, we hope, and for the fans, we know. For it has seen us through the last cruel weeks of winter and brought us to this moment: spring, and Opening Day. And pitchers and catchers report in just 315 days."

*Mike thinks the Yanks are going to win it all this year; Kyle is still holding out hope for the extremely young Nationals. That's what Opening Day is all about.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama Gets SNL Treatment

FL Poll: Half Would Consider Crist For Senate

A new Mason Dixon poll conducted for the SayfieReview shows that Gov. Charlie Crist (R) would be a formidable candidate if he were to seek Florida's open U.S. Senate seat in 2010.

Half of Florida voters said they would consider voting for the first-term incumbent, should he seek the seat, with another 17 percent saying he would definitely have their vote. But 26 percent said they definitely would not vote for Crist, while 7 percent were undecided. Notably, 12 percent of Democrats said they would definitely vote for Crist, though the poll did not provide any matchups with potential candidates.

If Crist decides to run to replace Mel Martinez in the U.S. Senate, the poll finds Florida voters evenly split on who they'd like to see replace Crist as governor. The poll tested Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum and Democrat Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink as candidates.

General Election Matchup
McCollum 36
Sink 35
Undecided 29

McCollum had slightly stronger support among fellow Republicans than Sink showed among Democrats, though she does have a modest lead among independent voters, 40-34 percent.

Crist has not yet indicated whether he'll seek re-election or run for Senate. Rep. Connie Mack (R), thought to have been a likely Senate candidate before speculation grew about Crist, took himself out of the race just yesterday. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) is among the Democrats already running for Senate; he announced raising $1.5 million in the first quarter.

The poll tested 625 Florida registered voters between March 30 and April 1, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

Obama Signals New Attitude Toward Europe

President Obama struck a new tone in relations between the United States and Europe, one based both on a change of administration in Washington but also what he characterized as a generational change.

Obama told a youthful crowd in Strasbourg at a campaign-style town hall meeting that this generation is at a crossroads and "cannot stand still."

"We must renew our institutions, our alliances. We must seek the solutions to the challenges to this young century," he said. "This is our generation. This is our time. And I am confident that we can meet any challenge as long as we're together."

He acknowledged differences between Europeans and Americans, saying that "honest disagreements" are partially to blame, but that each bore a greater fault.

"Instead of celebrating your dynamic union, and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America's shown arrogance, and been dismissive, even derisive," he said in a clear rebuke of the Bush administration, members of which once derided "Old Europe."

"But in Europe," he continued, "there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what's bad."

He said these two attitudes "are not wise," and leave both more isolated. "They fail to acknowledge the fundamental truth, that America cannot confront the challenges of this century alone. But that Europe cannot confront them without America," he said.

Obama said his visit is meant to "renew our partnership, one in which America listens to and learns from" Europe.

"Let me say this as clearly as I can: America is changing. But it cannot be America alone that changes," he added.

He spoke specifically of shared challenges on the economy, which he said were addressed in a successful G-20 Summit, and in fighting terrorism, which he said "is a mission that tests whether nations can come together in common purpose on behalf of our common security."

Obama's effort to seek broader support for his new mission in Afghanistan faces a test as NATO members convene today. Already, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has signaled he will send additional troops for elections there. And France today announced support on another front, with the willingness to take one detainee from Guantanamo Bay.

House Leaders Respond to Jobs Report

The House majority and minority leaders released the following statements in response to today's jobs report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reported 663,000 job losses last month and a rise in unemployment from 8.1 to 8.5 percent.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer:

"Today's unemployment report for March delivers more bad news to millions of Americans struggling in this severe economic crisis. Last month, the U.S. economy lost 663,000 more jobs, bringing the unemployment rate to 8.5%, the highest since November 1983.

"However, yesterday, the House passed the Democratic budget that is a part of our comprehensive plan to create jobs and address the immediate and long-term challenges facing our nation. To expand upon the job-creating investments in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the House Democratic budget makes targeted investments in health care, energy, and education. These investments are critical to the long-term economic prosperity of our nation and provide the job-creating initiatives that will help put Americans back to work.

"The Obama Administration and Democratic Congress are committed to providing a better future for millions of American families. While today's news is grim, it does not dim the bright future and long-lasting prosperity that our hard work today will ensure."

Minority Leader John Boehner:

"Middle-class families and small businesses are hurting, and too many Americans have lost their jobs. The American people are looking for real solutions that will help create jobs, rebuild savings, and create more investment in our economy, yet the policies Democrats are pursuing in Washington will actually destroy more jobs and exacerbate the problem. Yesterday we saw yet another example with passage of the massive Democratic budget that spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much from our children and grandchildren.

"Republicans know we can't spend our way back to prosperity, and we certainly can't achieve prosperity by saddling our children and grandchildren with mountains of debt. That's why Republicans offered an economic plan focused on encouraging investment and allowing families and small businesses to keep more of what they earn that would have created twice the jobs - 6.2 million - at half the cost of the Democrats' pork-laden 'stimulus' bill. We also proposed a fiscally-responsible budget blueprint that curbs spending, create jobs, and controls debt. Republicans want to work with the President and our Democratic colleagues in Congress on better solutions to help put Americans back to work, rebuild their savings, and gain confidence in our economy once again, and we hope they do so."

Strategy Memo: Budget Accomplished

Happy Friday. After approving their budget resolutions last night, the House and Senate have completed votes for the week. After two committee hearings this morning, including on the latest jobs report, Congress will commence a two-week recess. A vote on HHS nominee Kathleen Sebelius will take place following the recess.

Meanwhile, President Obama has moved to the Continent as he tours Europe, and is now delivering a speech in Strasbourg. He has already met with President Sarkozy, and later will make the short trip to meet with German Chancellor Merkel. He'll end his day meeting with fellow NATO leaders.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly employment situation summary this morning, reporting a loss of 663,000 jobs last month and a rise in unemployment from 8.1 to 8.5 percent. In the last five months, 3.3 million jobs have been lost -- 5.1 million have been lost since the recession began in December 2007.

*Bloomberg: "President Barack Obama got a pair of wins on Capitol Hill as the House and Senate approved drafts of his 2010 budget plan that largely adhere to the administration's priorities."

*Thrush: "About twice as many Republicans (38 or 20 percent of their conference) voted against the GOP alternative budget -- than Democrats (20 or 8 percent) who nixed their party's spending plan."

*WaPo's Pershing reports that "it sounds like there will be little rest for lawmakers when they return to the Capitol later this month," as Speaker Pelosi "laid out an ambitious agenda for the House to tackle when it comes back into session the week of April 20."

*National Journal's Stuart Taylor, writing on CIA torture, writes that the Senate Select Intelligence Committee should "beef up the review of the CIA's detention and interrogation program," and the man to run this review is John McCain.

*AP: "Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius stepped around potential land mines on abortion and her own tax errors Thursday as she testified at a hearing en route to her expected confirmation as health and human services secretary." A vote on Sebelius's nomination won't happen until after the two-week recess, well more than two months since Tom Daschle withdrew his name from consideration (Feb. 3).

*National Journal's Congressional Insiders Poll finds 89% of Democrats and 6% of Republicans supporting Obama's handling of GM and Chrysler. It also finds two-thirds of Democrats and half of Republicans believe "incremental change" on the energy and climate change debate is the likeliest outcome of in this Congress.

**President Obama in Europe
*"This is our generation, this is our time. And I am confident we can meet any challenge as long as we are together," Obama just told a crowd in France. He also spoke of America's resistance to work with the new European Union, but noted an anti-American sentiment in Europe that can be "insidious." "America is changing, but it cannot be America alone that changes," he said.

*Politico suggests the G-20 should have been the "O-20." "Just over two months into his presidency, Barack Obama commanded center stage at this high-wattage gathering of the world's industrialized nations, vacuuming up attention both inside the summit and throughout a sophisticated city not easily star-struck. ... His profile was so immense that it threatened to diminish both the global summit itself and the protests taking place on the streets of London."

*The New York Times says the president "did not get much of what American officials had been hoping for, notably failing to persuade other countries to commit to more fiscal stimulus spending. But he, along with the other world leaders present, did get a more forceful and detailed blueprint for a global recovery than a similar gathering 86 years ago, when an earlier generation failed to take collective action to counter the Great Depression."

*The Los Angeles Times says Obama played the role of mediator in London, citing an "illustrative moment" when me mediated a dispute between China's and France's leaders. "It reminded me of what you do when you're a legislator," said one senior Obama administration official who saw the scene unfold. "You pull two people into the cloakroom and you all work it out together."

*Bloomberg: Obama "used personal diplomacy to help push through an agreement on regulations and emergency aid," and "said he and his counterparts at the Group of 20 summit are taking 'unprecedented steps" to prevent another financial crisis.' ... The summit ended amid signs the world economy is stabilizing after months of sliding. Confidence among U.S. consumers climbed in March after reaching the lowest level on record a month earlier, according to the Conference Board."

*Outrage alert: "Despite President Obama's call for federal employees to 'do their part' and accept smaller-than-usual pay raises, Congress is considering a budget that could spend an additional $1.3 billion or more on pay for civilian federal workers."

**Campaign Stuff
*NY-20: Scott Murphy's lead, after losing it to Jim Tedisco yesterday afternoon, now stands at 6 votes.

*Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and the chair of the Alaska GOP want new Sen. Mark Begich to resign, and hold a new special election now that Ted Stevens' conviction has been lifted. The Anchorage Daily News reports that "Begich fired back Thursday, saying that although he believed it was clear there was misconduct during the senator's trial, he stepped into the race 'long before Senator Stevens' legal troubles began, because Alaskans were looking for a change and a senator as independent as Alaska.'"

*The State: Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) "today will comply with a crucial stimulus deadline and become the last governor in the nation to seek millions of dollars in federal economic-recovery funds for his state, aides said late Thursday. But Sanford will continue contesting $700 million in education and law enforcement money for South Carolina that he wants to spend on debt."

*Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) announced he won't run for Senate, and said it has nothing to do with Gov. Charlie Crist, per the Miami Herald. "I've decided regardless of his decision that I'm not going to run,'' he said. "I'm 41. I've got plenty of time...I'm very happy with where I am."

*Arlen Specter's campaign is already targeting Pat Toomey for remarks he made years back about regulation of Wall Street. "The trend in deregulation, beginning in the early 1980s, is one of the biggest reasons for the sustained economic expansion," Toomey was quoted as saying in the May 1999 issue of the now-defunct Derivatives magazine, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

*CT-Sen.: Ex-GOP State Sen. Kevin Rennie writes this morning that a Greenwich, Conn., Dem is forming a Senate campaign exploratory committee for a potential primary challenge to Sen. Chris Dodd.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Senate Passes Budget Resolution

The Senate agreed to its budget resolution late last night on a 55-43 roll call vote. As in the House, no Republicans voted for the measure, while two Democrats voted against it.

Here is what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to say after the vote:

"This responsible budget will start cleaning up the mistakes of the past and make critical investments in our future.

"The Senate's budget reflects the fundamental priorities proposed by President Obama and recognizes that we cannot recover unless we make health care and education better and more affordable and reduce our reliance on oil. Nor can we recover unless we cut taxes for hardworking middle-class families and make the hard choices necessary to cut the Republican Deficit.

"It's going to take a lot of work to clean up the mess we inherited, and passing this budget is a critical step in the right direction. Staying true to these priorities will help turn around the economy for the many Americans who are underwater right now. But we won't settle for simply getting back to sea level -- we will to prosper once again."


"Over bipartisan opposition, Democrats in Congress passed a budget that clears the way for massive amounts of spending, for the biggest tax hike in history and a doubling of our already crippling national debt. It is a budget that puts the economy on an unsustainable course.

"Although Democrats rejected several efforts to control spending, create jobs and cut the debt, Senate Republicans were able to slam the door on using the fast track process to jam through a new national energy tax. The strong bipartisan vote on this issue should serve as a clear warning to those involved in crafting the final budget: Americans vehemently oppose a new national energy tax that would hit them every time they flip on a light switch, watch TV, or drive the family car."

House Passes Dem Budget Resolution

As expected, the House of Representatives passed the Democrat-written budget resolution, on a 233-196 roll call vote. No House Republicans, who introduced two separate alternative budget resolutions, voted for the bill.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine chalked up Republican opposition as simply politics as usual.

"Unfortunately, the unanimous vote by the House Republicans against the budget does not represent the principle of loyal opposition upon which this country was founded, but opposition purely for political gain," Kaine said. "Today's vote affirms that the Party of No is more interested in playing politics than working with the Democrats and the President to solve our nation's problems on a bipartisan basis."

Twenty Democrats voted against the bill -- mostly Members from moderate districts, with one exception being Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who opposes including military funding with the operational funding of the government.

"This budget is a plan that authorizes the expansion of the war. I simply cannot endorse a budget or a plan that" does that, Kucinich said.

The National Republican Congressional Committee quickly jumped on targeted Democrats that voted for the resolution. "Larry Kissell and his fellow Democrats have thrown their promise of accountability and transparency out the window with this reckless budget," said NRCC spokesman Ken Spain.

The White House applauded the bill's passage, and President Obama, who is currently overseas, released a statement in approval of the bill's priorities.

"Tonight, the House of Representatives took another step toward rebuilding our struggling economy," Obama said. "This budget resolution embraces our most fundamental priorities: an energy plan that will end our dependence on foreign oil and spur a new clean energy economy; an education system that will ensure our children will be able to compete in the economy of the 21st century; and health care reform that finally confronts the back-breaking costs plaguing families, businesses and government alike."

Biden Praises 'Badass' Firefighters

What else can you say - the Vice President is plainspoken.

IMG_4346.jpgNot a few weeks after he was overheard using the F-word near a live microphone, Joe Biden nearly uttered another colorful word while describing the grit of the firefighters he was addressing.

"I want to thank you for your unyielding humanity. ... As gruff as you all act, as bad--" he said, stopping just short of adding a three-letter word that could also be the icon of the Democratic Party. "I gotta watch myself," he quickly added. "I keep forgetting, I'm not back in my firehall."

Instead of "badass," he shifted to a more polite term of art, "rugged," saying that firefighters put up a tough front, but are really "suckers" with big hearts, who risk their lives just to help others.

The whole episode was met with roaring laughter and applause at the Hilton ballroom in Washington where the Congressional Fire Services Institute held its annual dinner. And Biden was not exaggerating as he talked again tonight of his long-standing affection for firefighters.

"Friends are those who you can count on when you need them most, and by that definition, every one of you in this room is my friend," he said. "Everybody seemed surprise backstage - 'You came this year.' Why wouldn't I come?"

Biden citied studies that showed that understaffing at fire departments is a key cause of deaths.

"I promise you this: this is about to change," he said, adding that $210 million in the Recovery Act will help staff and equip fire departments. "I get blamed for that, but I tell you what: I'm happy to take credit for that."

He said President Obama was as committed to supporting firefighters, and challenged the group to judge them by their actions in four years.

"We recognize your valor in those moments where its so obvious like 9/11. But it's amazing how quickly memory fades," he said. "This is your new government taking bolder action that the community of firefighters needs."

After G-20, Obama Says America's Fate Tied To Global Economy

President Obama chided those who "confused honest and open debate with irreconcilable differences," saying that the G-20 Summit had produced an "unprecedented set of comprehensive and coordinated actions" to restore the global economy.

Brushing aside rifts that hovered around the summit, Obama spoke of significant, albeit general commitments to help struggling nations and provide greater transparency to the global economy, while acknowledging that more may still need to be done.

"In life, there are no guarantees. And in economics, there are no guarantees. The people who thought they could provide guarantees, many of them worked at AIG," he said at a late afternoon press conference. But he said that the "right medicine" has been applied to the "sick patient" of the economy. "I think the patient is stabilized. There's still wounds that have to heal. And there's still emergencies that could arise. But I think you've got some pretty good care being applied."

The president spoke for 40 minutes at the conclusion of the London summit, taking questions from American and international press at his first major international forum. He said one of his main goals as president is convincing his own constituents that their fortunes are increasingly tied to those of others around the world, likely pleasing his foreign counterparts by warning against overly protectionist sentiments. He cited the example of Caterpillar, a company in his own state that had been profitable, but fell victim to an international downturn.

"If I'm effective as America's president right now, part of that effectiveness involves holding - providing Americans inside into how their self-interest is tied up with yours. And that's an ongoing project, because that's not always obvious. And there are going to be times where short-term interests are going to differ."

TX-10: DCCC Targeting McCaul

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will begin running radio ads next week in the districts of six Republicans, all of whom voted against the economic recovery package. One of the six targeted districts, though, sticks out from the rest.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), whose 10th District runs from the Houston suburbs west to include parts of Austin, is the only one of the six targeted members to represent a district won by John McCain in 2008. Both McCaul and McCain won the district by 11 points in November, which begs the question: Is the DCCC really targeting this seat?

Apparently they are, and in no small part because of an already well-funded candidate named Jack McDonald, whose exploratory committee announced yesterday that it had raised more than $300,000 in just five weeks. Should McDonald, a self-described "centrist Democrat" and "successful businessman," officially jump in the race, he'll face a Republican whose winning percentage has dropped significantly as his opponents have spent more money, but who held off a well-funded opponent last year.

McCaul was elected comfortably to Congress with 79 percent in 2004, when no Democrat ran in the general election and two third-party candidates spent no more than $50,000 combined. McCaul's Dem opponent in 2006 spent a paltry $64,000, yet still garnered 40 percent of the vote. And McCaul's percentage dropped to 55 percent.

In 2008, a DailyKos/Research2000 poll released late in the campaign found Democrat Larry Joe Doherty trailing McCaul by just 4 points. Doherty spent $1.2 million, about a half-million less than McCaul, and the Republican's winning percentage dropped to 54 percent, below the threshold of what should be considered a solid victory.

The other five Republican congressmen the DCCC is targeting in radio ads next week include: Mike Castle (Delaware), Ken Calvert (CA-44), Charlie Dent (PA-15), Thaddeus McCotter (MI-11) and Bill Young (FL-10).

"Heading into Tax Day, we are again going district by district to hold 'just say no' House Republicans accountable for voting against middle class tax cuts that would immediately help ease the economic crisis for families struggling to make ends meet," said DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen.

The committee is calling this the fourth phase of its "Putting Families First" campaign, with the ads set to begin airing Monday morning and run for a week. The ad can be heard here:

Spinning a District

In Tuesday's special election in New York's 20th District, the margin is now less than 50 votes, and thousands of absentee ballots remain to be counted. Meanwhile, as they position themselves for the fight ahead, both parties are distributing memos playing up the opposing party's strength in the district in order to make their own performance seem more impressive.

Democrats and Republicans, naturally, both want to appear to have over-performed, even if they lose. The result is a virtual orgy of cherry-picking of statistics to try to make the opposition look stronger.

A memo released by the Democratic National Committee yesterday described the district as "overwhelmingly Republican," "Republican-friendly," and "known for a generally rural conservative constituency." It also noted the district's Republican voter registration advantage and low percentage of minorities.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, in contrast, distributed memos claiming that it amounts to a "faulty argument" for Democrats to refer to NY-20 as a "Republican district." On the contrary, the district "has come to exemplify Democratic dominance in the Northeast in recent elections." The memo notes Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand won a lopsided victory there in 2008 despite her Republican opponent spending $6 million, an unusual amount for a House candidate to spend in a losing cause.

While the spin cycle was in full effect yesterday, the facts tell their own story. The area that is now the 20th District has historically been difficult for Democrats to win and Republicans currently hold a 70,000 voter registration advantage. But also true is that a Democrat has won the last two congressional elections in the district, including in 2008 by a 24-point margin. President Obama won the district by three points last year; President Bush won it by seven and eight points in his two national races.

Bottom line: Perhaps the only reliable conclusion is that, whatever factors were in play this week in this battleground district, one of them wasn't an overwhelming Obama honeymoon mood.

Strategy Memo: Budget Votes Today

In London, the G-20 Summit is underway as President Obama and his counterparts abroad seek to reach some compromises on a global stimulus and greater international regulation of the financial industry. The president also continues his face-to-face meetings; he's already met with the president of South Korea this morning and will later sit down with leaders of Saudi Arabia and India. He'll end the day with a solo press conference.

Vice President Biden is heading up the shop in D.C. while Obama is overseas. He'll hold some meetings on the stimulus implementation and later address the National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner.

A slew of budget votes are expected in the House and Senate, while the House also completes consideration of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Reports yesterday afternoon found that the margin in NY-20 was down to 25 votes, and thousands of absentee ballots still are left to be counted.

**President Obama
*Obama met with South Korea's president this morning, with North Korea's missile launch looming. Both agreed on the need for a "stern, united" international response if a launch happens, AP reports.

*As the leaders sit down together today for the formal G-20 sessions, the New York Times says that "a rift intensified over Anglo-American calls for greater fiscal stimulus spending and French and German demands for more intrusive global regulation of financial institutions." President Sarkozy of France "did not repeat an earlier threat to walk out of the conference," but he " made it clear he would reject an agreement that puts off stringent new regulations on banks, tax havens, and hedge funds."

*As he still pushes for some increased spending elsewhere, Obama warned that the "voracious" U.S. economy can no longer be the sole engine of global growth, the Washington Post reports. "The statement signaled a recognition of a new economic era with a less dominant U.S. role. Although Obama said the United States should not miss 'an opportunity to lead' the way out of the crisis, he suggested he would not be the globe's financial decider. 'I came here to listen,' he said, 'not to lecture.'"

*USA Today looks at the U.S.-Russia meeting, saying that Presidents Obama and Medvedev "marked the beginning of a new chapter" in relations. "Their predecessors, George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, met about 30 times and established a close relationship, but their terms ended with deep policy differences. The differences weren't papered over in Wednesday's meeting. Obama and Medvedev agreed to disagree on missile defense and last August's Russian-Georgian war." But they did suggest progress on Iran and weapons proliferation.

*How about the iPod?! Politico says Obama's gift to the Queen "brought a cringe from one top etiquette expert, who said it confirmed that Obama hasn't figured out presidential gift-giving. Or that they shouldn't all come from Best Buy -- Obama already took some grief for giving British Prime Minister Gordon Brown a boxed set of DVDs when he visited the White House."

*Chris Cillizza looks at the "rise, fall and rise" of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. "Geithner's emergence as an effective -- and high profile spokesman (he was on NBC's "Meet the Press" last weekend) -- comes just weeks after many observers including some Democrats believed he might need to step aside in the wake of his poor performance in selling the bank bailout bill and his failure to move quickly to stymie the furor over bonuses being given to AIG executives. Obama never wavered in his commitment to Geithner and the treasury secretary appears to be repaying that faith with his strong performance in the lead up to the G-20 meetings."

*Geithner sat down with CBS News's Katie Couric. Check out the video here.

*Milbank: "'This is a bill which reflects the consensus of our conference,' Ryan announced. Oh? Within minutes of Ryan's news conference, word spread that the conservative Republican Study Committee, a group representing 111 of the 178 House Republicans, would be issuing a budget plan of its own today."

*After previously voting for a retroactive tax on bailed out company executives, Minority Whip Eric Cantor voted "present" yesterday on a new bill that would limit bonuses, The Hill reports.

*HHS nominee Kathleen Sebelius will be infront of the Senate Finance Committee today, with questions more likely to center on her policy positions than her $7,000 in unpaid taxes, AP reports.

*Rep. Carol Shea-Porter's (D-N.H.) Manchester office was evacuated yesterday afternoon after a constituent-sent envelope was discovered to contain a tea bag.

**Campaign Stuff
*NY-20 margin down to 25 votes. Or is it 13?

*Dems in '10: "Although he seemed to be bracing for possible double-digit losses by citing an average of a 30-seat drop for a president's party in the first term, [DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen] said he did not believe Republicans would relive the 1994 rout that tossed Democrats out of the majority," the NYT reports.

The WSJ's Davis has more on the Van Hollen briefing.

*CT Sen: Sen. Chris Dodd trails three potential Republican challengers in a new Quinnipiac poll, including ex-Rep. Rob Simmons, who leads Dodd by 16 points.

*CNN's Peter Hamby reports that Mitt Romney actually "praised President Obama at a GOP fundraising dinner Wednesday in front of a crowd that might have been expecting a heavy dose of rally-the-troops conservatism." "I also think it's important for us to nod to the president when he's right," Romney said. "He will not always be wrong, and he's done some things I agree with." Hamby notes that John McCain was not on hand for the NRSC event, even though he's one of the senators up in 2010.

*More Romney: He "said Wednesday that his party needs to take a fresh approach to government regulations in the wake of the economic crisis that has rattled the U.S. and world economies," The Hill reports.

*The Hotline has some details on a DGA Conference call yesterday, where political director Raymond Glendening expressed confidence in N.J. Gov. Jon Corzine's chances but "sought to downplay expectations" about the race in Virginia. He noted history, that "Although Virginia has been trending Democratic over the last two cycles, it is important to note that the party losing the White House has won Virginia the following year in every election since 1976."

**(Sort of) Sports Alert: One of us watched a group of lawmakers take on some of the faculty of Georgetown Law in a basketball game at Gonzaga High School last night. It wasn't pretty, though some of the Congressmen did show some skills as they blew a late lead, then rallied in the final minutes to win. Sens. John Thune and Bob Casey represented the upper chamber, with another dozen or so members of the House chipping in. Mervin Jones, son of the late Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, was the star of the game with a dunk and a lion's share of the points. "If I'm limping around tomorrow, you'll know why," a tired Casey said after the game.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

A Tale Of Two Presidents For Democrats In The Midterms

Democratic strategists said that President Obama has committed to strongly help the party maintain and build its majorities in Congress in 2010. But he's not the only president they expect will play a supporting role.

"President Bush is going to be very much part of the discussion in November 2010," DSCC executive director J.B. Poersch said this afternoon at a panel hosted by The Hotline. "The voters already know full well that the new president was taking on large and, I'll call them ugly, challenges. They had to come from somewhere."

But how can a former president still be used to sway voters? Poersch said it's because the GOP, not the Democrats, who are blaming their woes on Bush.

"There doesn't seem to be from the Republican Party an 'A ha!' moment of accountability, where Republicans themselves say, you know, 'We did this wrong. We screwed up.' Instead, it's the Republicans you hear most often that say, 'Boy, President Bush really made big mistakes," he said.

NRSC executive director Rob Jesmer conceded that tying candidates to Bush was successful in past elections, but won't in the future.

"Nobody's going to Congress to work for or against President Bush now," he said. "In a time we're engaged in two major wars, we're going through a historic economic downturn, we're spending money at an incredible rate, I just don't think anybody cares about that."

He did concede that with a Democrat in the White House, they have a considerable advantage in terms of fundraising ability and a campaigner-in-chief. Both the DCCC and the DSCC say they've gotten strong commitments from the White House to support candidates, and that President Obama will start that with an upcoming appearance on behalf of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"The best thing politically, though, that the president could do for Democratic candidates is succeed," Poersch added. "So far so good."

"The most important thing for all us as Democrats is the president's success, of really turning around what happened over the past eight years in this country," DCCC executive director Jon Vogel said. "We can get into tactics much further down the road. But this election is a lot more about our record of progress, what we started to do and what we're going to be able to accomplish over the next two years."

Campaign Committees Weigh In On NY-20

The two Congressional campaign committees stuck to their talking points during a joint event this afternoon, holding different theories about whether the overtime vote-counting will change last night's result in the New York 20th district special election.

Jon Vogel and Guy Harrison, the executive directors for the DCCC and NRCC, respectively, weighed in during a panel discussion on the 2010 races hosted by The Hotline this afternoon. Vogel said the Democrats' voting model based on an "aggressive" field program gives them confidence that Scott Murphy's narrow victory will stand when absentee votes are added.

"I'll go to facts rather than a model," countered Harrison. He said that nearly 2,900 of the outstanding ballots were requested by registered republicans, compared to just 2,100 from Democrats. Add that to another 904 third-party and independent ballots, Harrison said, and "we feel pretty good about where we are."

Speaking more broadly about what the race says about the state of play nationally, Harrison played up Jim Tedisco's strong performance in a district that President Obama carried last November.

"We're proud of both our candidate and the committee," he said. "We made a competitive stand in a Northeastern race, something we haven't done in a while. And we feel like we're going to be coming out on the winning side."

Vogel argued that the District remains a Republican stronghold, despite Obama's showing there last fall, and said Democrats only picked up the seat in 2006 because of ethics issues for then-Rep. Sweeney, not "a momentum change" that swung other Republican seats to the Democrats that year.

"Look at what happened in the race. We started off 21 points down based on internal polling that was released on the Republican side, against an experienced career politician," he said. "We turned this race from a 21 point race into a dead-even race ... [by talking about progress."

Strategists for the Senate committees were on hand as well. Speaking generally about their strategies in 2010, Democrats pointed to the growing popularity of Congress combined with a president who is fulfilling his promises as laying the groundwork for continued success. Republicans made clear that they'll highlight what they see as excessive spending and massive piling on of debts.

Shuler Steps Up for Dem Budget

"Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, isn't a Republican, though these recent votes and endorsements might cause one to assume otherwise. In his second term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Swain County native Heath Shuler has earned the accolade of fourth least likely to vote in line with his party, according to the Washington Post."

That's what a local newspaper, The Smoky Mountain News, in Shuler's Western North Carolina congressional district wrote last week about the second-term congressman. Shuler's found himself in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's doghouse recently, as he's both voted against and voiced opposition to Democratic leadership.

At a press conference today, however, Shuler stood alongside Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and voiced his support of the President's budget. Shuler was amongst a diverse group of Democrats speaking at a press conference in support of the party's budget resolution, which hits the House floor today.

"We now have a budget that's an honest assessment of where we are," Shuler said. "Yeah, it's ugly, but it's an honest assessment."

Shuler is a member of the fiscally-conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who have faced criticism of late from Republicans. Minority Leader John Boehner said last week that the group should be called "Lap Dogs" instead; and today, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) -- speaking in support of the GOP's alternative budget -- questioned whether Blue Dogs still exist.

"No rational, conservative Democrat should vote for the Obama-Pelosi budget," McHenry said. "No Blue Dog -- if there are such things as Blue Dog Democrats anymore -- should vote for a budget that raises taxes to the magnitude that the President's budget does, spends to to the magnitude that the President's budget does, and taxes, again, for generations to come to pay off the debt."

After voting against the economic stimulus package earlier this year, Shuler's non-defection from the party this time is likely a sign that very few Democrats -- even the fiscally-conservative ones -- will join House Republicans in opposing the budget.

Strategy Memo: Too Close To Call

Good Wednesday morning. Today President Obama gets to work in London at the G-20. He's already held a joint press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and the White House has since issued a joint statement with Russia on negotiations Later, Obama meets with the UK Conservative Party leader, the Chinese president, and the Queen of England, before joining the rest of the G-20 leaders for dinner.

The House budget resolution hits the floor today, with the goal of approving it by Friday. House Republicans will introduce their alternative budget proposal today, as well. The Senate continues its budget debates, with Budget Committee heads Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) leading the spirited Senate floor discussions.

Just 65 votes separate the Democratic and Republican candidates in yesterday's special election in the 20th Congressional District of New York. Scott Murphy, the Dem, holds the lead, but with as many as 10,000 absentee ballots left to be counted, both parties remain hopeful.

Meanwhile, the latest 2012 speaking role is tonight, as Mitt Romney headlines an NRSC dinner. This comes on the heels of an announcement yesterday that Newt Gingrich will replace Sarah Palin as the headliner for a major joint Republican fundraiser this summer.

**President Obama
*Now overseas, "Obama sought to rally the world's powers to fix a lifeless global economy," AP reports. "The flurry of diplomacy came as Obama stepped on the world stage for the first time as president, aiming to shore up both America's economy and its reputation across the globe." Trying to put aside talk of a rift among G-20 nations, Obama said this morning: "I am absolutely confident that this meeting will reflect enormous consensus about the need to work in concert to deal with these problems."

*Speaking with Gordon Brown, the two leaders "frequently cited the same statistics, in a possible signal of how world leaders will attempt to project the summit as a success once it is over. The 20 countries attending the meeting, both said, account for some 85 percent of the stimulus spending since the global recession started." Obama "also tried to strike a conciliatory note on regulation."

*ABC reported on the U.S.-Russia joint statement that has now been issued. An administration official said earlier: "Nobody's going to be looking into anybody's soul tomorrow. We'll deal with concrete issues where we can cooperate, and we will also recognize our disagreements."

*The final graph of the statement seems to lay out the "reset" that the Obama administration sought: "We, the leaders of Russia and the United States, are ready to move beyond Cold War mentalities and chart a fresh start in relations between our two countries. In just a few months we have worked hard to establish a new tone in our relations. Now it is time to get down to business and translate our warm words into actual achievements of benefit to Russia, the United States, and all those around the world interested in peace and prosperity."

*Gov. Kathleen Sebelius paid $7,000 in back taxes for what were said to be "unintentional errors" found during a review of her tax returns. Washington Times reports that the mistakes "were related to business expenses, the sale of a home and charitable contributions." She had her first hearing in the Senate yesterday.

*Arguing that some of Obama's Justice nominees are "liberal ideologues," Republicans are considering filibusters for some, the New York Times reports. The main target appears to be the nominee for Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, Dawn Johnsen. "They will first gauge whether they can attract some support from conservative Democrats, they said, in order to help defeat any motion that would cut off debate."

*VP Biden will announce $1.2 billion in stimulus funds to help 10,000 rural families buy homes during his visit to North Carolina today, the Charlotte Observer reports.

*The Wilmington News Journal reports on rumors about Ashley Biden, noting conflicting reports about what was on a videotape being shopped around. Local police say there is not enough evidence to pursue a case.

*Quinnipiac poll released this morning: "American voters say 51 - 45 percent that President Barack Obama's new budget, which doubles the national debt in 10 years, is needed to fix the economy and address issues such as education and health care."

*AP: "President Barack Obama's Democratic allies in Congress are taking only baby steps with his budget, putting off crucial decisions on his ambitious plans to expand health care, curb global warming and raise taxes on the wealthy."

*Reuters points out that the Senate floor debate has become a "show-and-tell" affair: "Republican and Democratic senators paraded to the floor to supplement their debate over Obama's $3.55 trillion budget with stacks of posters blasting exploding deficit figures as well as highlighting lists of tax cut benefits."

*Boston Globe: "In an unusual move, House and Senate Republicans will join together to unveil an alternative to Obama's $3.6 trillion blueprint, which they say will drive the economy further into the ditch and possibly bankrupt the country."

*Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) writes in the Wall Street Journal about House Republicans' alternative budget. "Instead of doubling the debt in five years, and tripling it in 10, the Republican budget curbs the explosion in spending called for by the president and his party. Our plan halts the borrow-and-spend philosophy that brought about today's economic problems, and puts a stop to heaping ever-growing debt on future generations -- and it does so by controlling spending, not by raising taxes."

*The Hill reports that while a bicameral Republican meeting and press conference this morning is meant to show unity against the Dems' budget, "when it comes to its own budget, the GOP is splintered. In fact, several House Republicans have suggested they may oppose their party's alternative that will be formally proposed on Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.) may buck his party and vote for the Democrats' budget resolution."

*Outrage watch: The WSJ also reports that bonuses for Congressional aides last year were "among the highest in years" ... "Payments ranged from a few hundred dollars to $14,000. Lawmakers, at their own discretion, gave the money to chiefs of staff, assistants, computer technicians, and more than 100 aides who earned salaries of more than $100,000 a year."

**Campaign Stuff
--NYT reports that with more than 10,000 absentee ballots issued and almost 6,000 received so far, "the election cannot be decided until the paper ballots are counted. Moreover, it is likely that the count may not begin until at least April 6, said Bob Brehm, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections."

--The county-by-county results can be found here.

--"Don't Let 'Em Pull a Franken": That's the topic line of a fundraising e-mail sent out late last night by the NRCC, asking for money so the Democrats can't "steal this election."

*Former top McCain surrogate and Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina says she is "seriously considering" a run for California Senate against Barbara Boxer. She tells the Mercury News: "I've had the opportunity to be involved in the political community, policy community and business, and that's a great advantage. I understand all those realms."

*Surprise news this morning from the Justice Department, which will "seek to drop all charges" against former-Sen. Ted Stevens. The decision was reportedly prompted by concerns that the conviction could not be defended "because of problems with the government's prosecution."

**Pop Culture Alert: We know the Postal Service is broke, but really? The Simpsons will be on postage stamps.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

NY-20: A Photo Finish

Tuesday's special election in New York's 20th District is not over, as Democrat Scott Murphy currently holds just a 65-vote lead over Republican Jim Tedisco. One-third of district voters turned out to vote yesterday, with as many as 10,000 more absentee ballots left to be counted.

Murphy and Tedisco are attempting to replace Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who was appointed to the Senate in January. The close result was expected, as the playing field seemed to be evened by the Republicans' 70,000 voter registration advantage and recent election history on the side of Democrats.

En route to a 24-point victory in November, Gillibrand won every county in the district, including Saratoga, where she doubled her opponent's vote total. Saratoga is the district's largest county, and contains twice as many registered Republicans.

This time, Tedisco took Saratoga by 5,000 votes, Greene by 1,000, and two others by less than 100 votes.

The two-month drag race packed action into a short amount of time, and both parties dropped plenty of resources into the district. It was defined early by the partisan divide on the economic stimulus bill, as Murphy continued to hammer Tedisco for refusing to take a side. At the same time on Capitol Hill, House Republicans voted unanimously against the Democrat-written package.

This left Tedisco to decide between sticking with his party and opening up an attack line for Murphy, or saying he disagreed with every single Republican in the House. Tedisco finally came out against the package, but Murphy had other ammunition -- Tedisco's 26-year record in the state Legislature.

Murphy is a political novice, but the Tedisco campaign hit him for his out-of-state roots and Wall Street ties, especially when news of AIG executives receiving tens of millions of dollars in bonuses hit the front pages. While the Murphy campaign consistently referred to Tedisco as a "career politician," the Tedisco camp called Murphy the "former Missouri lobbyist and Wall Street venture capitalist."

President Obama, Vice President Biden and New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand publicly backed Murphy with ads, e-mails and stump appearances. Tedisco got a visit from freshman Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), as well as assistance from national GOP leaders like Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Tedisco, however, felt obligated to turn down national party help after a mid-March Siena Research Institute poll found him leading by just 4 points -- something he blamed on the negative advertising coming from Washington.

"I'm taking over and we're going to run a campaign that relates to the people of the 20th Congressional District," he said at the time.

The unknown Murphy started at the bottom in polling and gradually increased his standing as more voters began to hear about him.

Murphy was unanimously nominated Feb. 1 by the 10 Democratic county chairmen in the district. Less than a week later, the Tedisco campaign released a poll that found the Republican leading by 21 points, with just 17 percent of respondents holding any opinion of Murphy.

Two weeks later, a Siena poll found Murphy down 12 points, with 40 percent of voters now holding a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. By March 12, Tedisco's lead was down to 4 points -- just outside the margin of error -- and Murphy took a 4-point lead in the Siena poll released Friday, four days before the election.

Both parties released statements immediately after it became clear the race would go on. The chairmen of the Republican and Democratic House campaign arms both expressed confidence in their candidate and sought to make them appear as the underdogs.

"As it stands now, there is a Republican advantage in the number of absentee and military ballots that have been returned," said Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "With that being said, Jim Tedisco has closed the gap in a district that has come to exemplify Democratic dominance in the Northeast in recent elections."

"As votes continue to be counted, we're confident that Scott Murphy will expand his lead," said Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Scott Murphy's strong showing in this district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 70,000 represents a rejection of the obstructionist agenda and scare tactics that have become the hallmark of House Republicans."

The candidates and their parties must now play the waiting game, with absentee ballots still to be counted and -- as the ongoing Minnesota Senate race has shown -- who knows what else.