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ThinkFast: November 19, 2010

President Obama has decided to confront Senate Republicans, daring them to block the New START treaty “at the risk of disrupting relations with Russia and the international coalition that opposes Iran’s nuclear program.” Flanked by Henry Kissinger, James Baker and Brent Scowcroft, Obama said yesterday that “it is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New Start treaty this year.”

House Republicans successfully blocked the extension of unemployment benefits for millions of Americans yesterday. Because the vote was brought up under fast-track authority, it needed two-thirds in favor to succeed; but the measure failed 258–154. Financial services industry lobbyists have descended on Capitol Hill to press lawmakers to protect its ability to package mortgages as securities and resell them around the globe. The Washington Post reports that companies “are flying top executives to Washington for one-on-one meetings with lawmakers…and they are blanketing Congress with white papers, memos and other documents that lay out their arguments.”

Yesterday, the House failed to pass a Republican proposal to defund NPR. Seeking to take action against NPR after it dismissed news analyst Juan Williams, Republicans put the item on the floor through their YouCut program but the House voted 239–171 to move forward on a teleworking bill without taking up the provision.

Grover Norquist, the head of the influential conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, is encouraging the new House Republican majority to prepare to shutdown the government if they don’t get their way on spending cuts. Norquist, who played a key role in the 1995 government shutdowns, said President Obama “will be less popular if — in the service of overspending and wasting people’s money — he closes the government down.” The Senate confirmed Jacob Lew as the new director of the Office of Management and Budget yesterday, a post he previously held from 1998 to 2001. After blocking Lew’s nomination for months to protest the administration’s ban on offshore drilling, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) lifted the hold on the nomination yesterday, saying, “I figured it would get their attention, and I think it has.”

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The House Ethics Committee recommended censure for Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) yesterday, the most serious punishment it can hand out short of expulsion. Rangel was found guilty of 11 ethics violations, including failing to pay taxes on rental property, failure to report personal income, and improper fund-raising.

“Tea Party-backed Joe Miller is asking a federal judge to prevent state elections officials in Alaska from certifying” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) the winner of the state’s U.S. Senate election. “Murkowski leads by more than 10,000 votes and even if all of the ballots challenged by Miller’s legal team were thrown out,” she would still win. And finally: Despite conservative rhetoric that this month’s election represented the will of the American people uniting together to refute President Obama, a new poll shows that fewer than half of Americans even know that Republicans won a majority in the House. “Three times as many young people, aged under 30, could properly identify Google’s new phone software, Android, as could identify” presumptive House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).