Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – hello goodbye

She says goodbye and he says hello.

The House Speaker’s (HUGE) gavel changed hands today, symbolizing the transfer of power to Republicans. Outgoing speaker Nancy Pelosi, attacked by Republicans as a symbol of Democratic excesses, took the high road as she repeatedly congratulated new House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican majority.

Boehner started off with some levity and humility — “It’s still just me.” And he didn’t disappoint those watching for his now trademark show of emotion when he dabbed his eyes with a white handkerchief while standing behind Pelosi before the handover. Reuters photojournalist Kevin Lamarque captured the moment, you can see it on our politics blog at http://blogs.reuters.com/frontrow/ OBAMA/STAFF-GIBBS

There were goodbyes emanating from the White House too. President Barack Obama’s spokesman Robert Gibbs is stepping down from the White House press room podium. “What I’m going to do next is step back a little bit, recharge some … I will have an opportunity I hope to give some speeches. I will continue to provide advice and counsel to this building and to this president.”

And another unannounced goodbye to come from Paul Volcker. In an exclusive, White House correspondent Caren Bohan reports that Volcker plans to leave as head of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

Now we just have to watch for who will be saying hello at the White House.

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

Republicans take over U.S. House, soften cuts

Republicans took power in the House of Representatives with promises of a leaner, more accountable government but softened a pledge of deep and immediate spending cuts that helped them win November’s election. The Republican takeover sets up potentially fierce battles in the coming months with President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats on spending, debt and healthcare.

Ambassador Sean Penn? Dream on, President Chavez

VENEZUELA/

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez regularly vents his fury against the United States, but there are a few Americans he’d like to talk to — such as Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, Noam Chomsky and even former President Bill Clinton.

Chavez named his U.S. dream team on Tuesday as possibilities to fill  the role of U.S. ambassador to Caracas after his government turned down the Obama administration’s nominee, Larry Palmer.

The State Department was not nearly as starry eyed.

“We appreciate President Chavez’ suggestions but the fact is we are not looking for another candidate to be the U.S. ambassador to Caracas,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, adding that the administration still believed Palmer was the best man for one of the most difficult diplomatic jobs going.

Pelosi says Congress must create jobs, while giving up hers

As she handed over the House Speaker’s gavel to the other party, Nancy Pelosi pointed out that the shoe was now on the other foot and the new Republican-led Congress would be judged by whether it creates jobs.

USA-CONGRESS/The California Democrat, now House minority leader, probably would  like her old job back, and setting such a high performance bar for the Republicans now in charge of the House of Representatives might be one way to get it.

Lessons from the November elections are still burning — it was public anger and anxiety about the economy and job losses that partly led to Democrats losing control of the House of Representatives.