Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – hello goodbye

January 5, 2011

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.

For more of this story by Thomas Ferraro and Andy Sullivan, read here.

For a factbox on committee chairs in the Republican-led House, click here.

From heartland to House speaker, Boehner eyes cuts

John Boehner, the product of a tough upbringing in America’s heartland, will bring a natural mistrust of big government when he takes over as speaker of the House of Representatives. The conservative Republican — a former small businessman who worked his way through college as a janitor — will be in a position to slam the brakes on President Barack Obama’s largely liberal agenda, push spending cuts and shake up Washington.

For more of this story by Thomas Ferraro, read here.

Volcker to step down as head of White House panel

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker plans to leave his role as head of panel of experts advising President Obama on the economy, sources familiar with the decision said.

For more of this exclusive story by Caren Bohan, read here.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs to resign

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, one of President Obama’s closest aides, will resign and become an outside adviser for the re-election campaign as part of a major staff shake-up. A successor is expected to be named within the next couple of weeks. The short list includes Vice President Joe Biden’s top spokesman, Jay Carney, and two of Gibbs’ deputies, Bill Burton and Josh Earnest.

For more of this story by Steve Holland, read here.

New Congress to hone in on Afghan aid

The new Congress will examine cutting civilian assistance to Afghanistan as budget-minded lawmakers seek to curb costs without undercutting military operations at a key moment in a long, unpopular war. But reducing funds for a broad reconstruction program, which has cost taxpayers $56 billion since 2002, could pose a new challenge to President Obama as he rushes to demonstrate progress against the Taliban and other militants before he starts bringing home troops home in July.

For more of this analysis by Missy Ryan, read here.

US downplays Chinese stealth fighter status

China is still years away from being able to field a stealth aircraft, despite the disclosure of images indicating that it appears to have a working prototype. The images have been posted on a number of websites and were published Wednesday on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, which said they appeared to show a Chinese J-20 stealth fighter prototype making a high-speed taxi test.

For more of this story by Phil Stewart, read here.

Goldman’s Facebook fund tests SEC resolve

Efforts by Facebook to raise as much as $1.5 billion are the latest in a growing trend blurring public regulated markets and hands-off private markets. Goldman Sachs has approached its best private wealth clients with a tantalizing offer: a special fund that will own shares in the fast-growing social networking giant.

For more of this analysis by Joseph Giannone and Sarah Lynch, read here.

2011 could be big year for Obama on trade

After years of trade policy stalemate, there could be big strides in 2011 with approval of trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, Russia‘s entry into the WTO and perhaps even the end of the longest-ever round of global trade talks. The Republican takeover of the House of Representatives, a sluggish economic recovery and President Obama’s goal of doubling exports could spur action on several fronts, analysts say.

For more of this analysis by Doug Palmer, read here.

Newer tobacco products to face FDA review

Cigarette makers will have to provide regulators with detailed information about the ingredients and design of products they have introduced or changed since early 2007. The changes will “assure that any new or changed tobacco products are not worse to the public health than those that were on the market February 15, 2007,” said Lawrence Deyton, head of the FDA’s new Center for Tobacco Products.

For more of this story by Susan Heavey, read here.

Fed paper backs Wall St reform under GOP attack

Federal Reserve economists endorsed one of the crown jewels of 2010′s Wall Street reform laws — orderly liquidation of troubled financial firms — which a top Republican has targeted for repeal. The Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank researchers, in a report that could foreshadow congressional testimony, said the orderly liquidation provision of the Dodd-Frank laws “is an important step toward addressing the too-big-to-fail problem.”

For more of this story by Kevin Drawbaugh, read here.

What we are blogging…

Pelosi says Congress must create jobs, while giving up hers

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointed out that the new Republican-led Congress would be judged by whether it creates jobs. The California Democrat, now House minority leader, probably would like her old job back, and setting such a high performance bar for Republicans might be one way to get it.

For Susan Cornwell’s full post, read here.

From elsewhere…

Chavez floats Stone, Penn, Clinton for U.S. envoy

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sought to end a diplomatic stand-off with the U.S. by suggesting it name Bill Clinton, actor Sean Penn or director Oliver Stone as its envoy to Caracas.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Gibbs at his desk after announcing plans to leave White House)

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