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The Morning Line: Unfinished Business

House members head home Friday for the August recess and to begin the campaign season in earnest.

morningline.jpgBut there is much unfinished business that prevents Democrats from wrapping a bow around their desired tidy messaging.

One of the most senior and, at one time, powerful members of the House of Representatives faces 13 counts of violating House rules. With no settlement deal yet reached, Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., may prove a distraction for Democrats who are trying to convince voters that they have delivered on their promise to change the ways of Washington.

It is unlikely that Mr. Rangel’s ethics woes will dominate the fall election season even if a public trial does take place in September. The economy and jobs will continue to be the overwhelming issue on voters’ minds.

However, Republicans have successfully shamed Democrats into returning more than $600,000 in campaign contributions from Rangel and four vulnerable House Democrats have already called for his resignation.

Be sure to check out our reporting and analysis of the unfolding Rangel saga here.

As the Senate Democrats introduced a significantly scaled back energy bill this week, it became crystal clear to House Democrats that their June 2009 vote in favor of comprehensive energy reform with a cap and trade pricing system on carbon will remain unfinished business.

And with Senate Republicans blocking any movement on the small business bill, Democrats are left without a final economic/jobs victory to take back home to their districts.

SELLING THE AUTO BAILOUT

President Obama travels to Michigan Friday to tout the revival of Chrysler and General Motors a little more than a year since the two automakers received billions in federal assistance and government-led bankruptcies.

Previewing the visit on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this morning, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs talked it up as “a good news story.” Gibbs added, “We’re making real progress.”

The president’s first stop will be the Jefferson North Chrysler plant in Detroit, which just added a second shift of production, bringing with it some 1,100 jobs.

He will also tour the Hamtramck GM plant, one of nine the company will keep open during a scheduled two-week summer shutdown, and the likely site where the new Chevrolet Volt electric car will be assembled.

With the nation’s unemployment rate at 9.5 percent and above 13 percent in Michigan, the Obama administration is hoping the turnaround in the auto industry does in fact provide a dose of good news.

According to a report released by the White House yesterday, auto industry employment has increased by 55,000 jobs in the year since GM and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy, recovering some of the 334,000 lost the previous year.

Not all the news this week regarding the auto industry has been positive for the White House. A report released Sunday by the inspector general for the government’s bailout program said the Treasury Department failed to consider the economic impact from quickly shuttering thousands of dealerships as part of the bankruptcy process.

The audit said Treasury didn’t prove why the cuts were “either necessary for the sake of the companies’ economic survival or prudent for the sake of the nation’s economic recovery.”

DEMOCRATS KEEP CRIST AFLOAT

The latest Quinnipiac University poll numbers out of the Sunshine State show Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as independent for the Senate, is still leading the pack more than two months after his decision to bolt the Republican Party.

It was unclear to many observers how Crist would maintain enough support to keep his frontrunner status without the backing of a major political party. Today’s poll helps clarify.

Charlie Crist is currently receiving half the independent vote. But it is his support among Democrats that is critical. He is currently winning roughly 40 percent of the Democrats. That’s due to a weak and largely unknown Democratic field. Rep. Kendrick Meek and billionaire Jeff Greene are battling for the Democratic nomination.

Gov. Crist is receiving roughly 20 percent of the Republican vote as Marco Rubio has consolidated much of the party’s support behind his candidacy.

In this latest poll, Gov. Crist gets 37 percent compared to Rubio’s 32 percent and Jeff Greene’s 17 percent. If after the Aug. 24 primary, the Democratic nominee is able to rally his party to come back home, that could jeopardize Crist’s strong position. But that is a big if in a year when moderates and Democratic leaning voters might be more easily persuaded to abandon their party.

If Gov. Crist does win in November with significant Democratic support, it might make it a bit easier for Democrats in Washington to convince him to caucus with them in the United States Senate.

Follow Terence Burlij and David Chalian on Twitter.

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