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First thoughts: Torture story rages on

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Torture story rages on: Here are the latest developments in the raging political firestorm over torture and controversial interrogation tactics… U.S. officials tell NBC's Jim Miklaszewski that the Pentagon and military are preparing to release as many as 2,000 photos -- including several dozen that apparently show alleged prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay and other military detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. The photos, which have not been seen publicly, would be the first visual evidence of possible prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay, and they are being released in response to a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU. (Per Mik, one U.S. official said the photos are "not as bad as those from Abu Ghraib," but "they're not good.")… Also, we can report that at yesterday's White House meeting with congressional leaders, President Obama signaled he's not inclined toward establishing an independent commission to investigation the torture allegations. What's more, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs added that Obama wasn't in favor of a special prosecutor, either.

Video: The Pentagon is preparing to release new photos that show alleged prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay and other military detention facilities. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.

*** Plenty of questions: Still, despite what Obama said, Speaker Nancy Pelosi apparently didn't back down from supporting a "truth commission" on the matter at the private White House meeting. Can the Obama administration calm the forces of investigation in Congress by promising that his attorney general will investigate? Or is this a case where he can't really stop Congress from investigating something? And what will the prison abuse photos, set for release next month, do to this argument? Will the public outcry increase to the point where a commission is inevitable?

*** Irreconcilable differences over reconciliation: There was another headline out of Obama's meeting yesterday with congressional leaders: We're told the president made it clear -- to the chagrin of Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell -- that he was pretty much determined to roll health care into the budget reconciliation process. According to sources, Obama said he didn't want to see his health-care plan go down simply because he had only 59 votes in the Senate. McConnell apparently thanked the president for his candor, but warned him that he won't get much bipartisan support if he goes down that path. However, Rep. Paul Ryan (R) said that Democrats have the right to push health-care reform via reconciliation because they "won the election." See below for more on that…

*** Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, climate change -- oh my: Today's big political event is Al Gore's testimony on energy and climate-change legislation that the House Energy and Commerce Committee is currently considering. But get this: According to The Hill, Newt Gingrich, an ardent opponent of cap-and-trade, will testify after Gore. You might want to heat up some popcorn… This could be entertaining. Also today, President Obama will deliver remarks on higher education at 1:30 pm ET.

*** Tedisco to concede? Late yesterday, there was some chatter that Republican Jim Tedisco might soon concede to Democrat Scott Murphy in the extremely close NY-20 special election. In fact, local Capital News 9 has a piece with this headline: "Sources say Tedisco concession likely," although the actual story doesn't advance that claim. Just asking, but if Tedisco does concede, does that put any extra pressure on Norm Coleman in Minnesota? The latest count has Murphy leading Tedisco by 401 votes.

*** Poll watch: A second-straight national poll shows a plurality of Americans believing the country is on the right track. Per the National Journal/AllState survey, 47% think the country is headed in the right direction, versus 42% who think it's on the wrong track. The poll also shows that 61% approve of Obama's job, and that plenty of people are uncertain about the state of the economy. Ron Brownstein writes in National Journal's cover story that "fully 64 percent of adults said they think that today's economy presents them with more financial risks that could endanger their standard of living than their parents confronted."

*** Putting the "Lone" in the Lone Star State: As one of your Texas-born authors knows quite well, Texas is not only a state; it's a state of mind. But we never thought we'd see this: A healthy minority of Texans -- as well as a majority of Texas Republicans -- say they want to secede from the union. According to a new DailyKos/Research 2000 poll, 37% of Texans and 51% of Lone Star Republicans agree with Gov. Rick Perry's recent suggestion that Texas may need to leave the United States. Wow, just wow. Imagine the outcries of patriotism (or lack thereof) if Massachusetts or New York hinted at secession during the Bush years. Realize that Perry is the GOP's most senior governor, and he leads the country's second largest state. Perry, of course, is expected to face off against against the more moderate Kay Bailey Hutchison in a GOP primary next year, and maybe his statement about secession was a brilliant move…

*** Off-message alert: Rep. Paul Ryan (R) saying yesterday that Democrats have the right to push health care via reconciliation because they "won the election" was the latest in what was a day of two parties off message. Speaker Pelosi held a press conference on bringing sons and daughters to work, and it turned into a press assault on torture -- what she knew and when she knew it. (That's all still unclear, by the way.) She reiterated her call for an independent commission, but her counterpart in the Senate says he's against it. Of course, Reid's and Pelosi's comments are a reflection of local politics: Reid is up for re-election in 2010 in a purple state, and Pelosi is from, well, San Francisco.

*** Obama and the BCS, Part II: Yesterday, we gave President Obama a little grief for seeming to backtrack on his stance for a playoff in college football when he invited the Florida Gators to the White House to celebrate their national championship -- despite earlier stating that USC, Utah, and Texas had legitimate claims to the title, too. Well, in his remarks to the Gators, Obama did hold true to his position that college football needs reform. "I don't want to stir up controversy. You guys are the national champions," he said yesterday, per the White House. But he added, "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." 
 
Countdown to Obama's 100th day: 5 days 
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 39 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 46 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 193 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 557 days

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