Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Long day

June 21, 2011

The longest day of the year probably seemed even longer for some.

Jon Huntsman started the day in New Jersey to formally throw his hat into the ring against the picturesque backdrop of the Statue of Liberty. Here’s the thing about backdrops and TV… Huntsman made it into every shot, but not Lady Liberty. And then he was off to New Hampshire for a rally.

At the Capitol, it was scheduled as a two-hour meeting, but the issues seem never-ending as Vice President Joe Biden and lawmakers negotiate on the deficit and debt limit. Some speculation swirling that perhaps a short-term increase in the debt limit may be an option if agreement is out of reach.

Not exactly a sunny day for the economy. Data out today point to a housing market still struggling to regain footing.

And tomorrow promises to be an extra long day for Afghanistan watchers waiting for President Barack Obama to lay out details of a U.S. troop drawdown in a White House address at 8 p.m.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Obama finalizes plan for Afghan troop cuts

President Obama made his final decision on the scale and pace of a troop drawdown in Afghanistan and will announce his plan in a prime-time speech to Americans on Wednesday. Obama is expected to present a blueprint for bringing home thousands of troops in the initial phase starting in July and also unveil a broader withdrawal strategy for the remainder of the 30,000 extra “surge” troops he ordered deployed in late 2009, a U.S. official said.

For more of this story by Matt Spetalnick, read here.

Biden, Congress tee up crucial week on US debt limit

Faced with a looming self-imposed deadline, lawmakers launched a crucial week of talks seeking to break through differences on taxes and healthcare. Vice President Biden met six Democratic and Republican lawmakers looking for trillions of dollars in savings. “It’s crunch time in those meetings. We have hit the point at which we are at some really tough stuff,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. “Big numbers, big changes to popular programs.”

For more of this story by Andy Sullivan and Deborah Charles, read here.

U.S. releases graphic tobacco warning labels

Dead bodies, diseased lungs and a man on a ventilator were among the graphic images for revamped tobacco labels, unveiled by officials who hope the warnings will help smokers quit. The new labels must be on cigarette packages and in advertisements no later than September 2012. They represent the first change in cigarette warnings in 25 years.

For more of this story by Deborah Zabarenko, read here.

U.S. tightens Libya sanctions; Key senators back Obama

The United States tightened financial sanctions on the Libyan government and two influential senators pushed back against calls to halt funding for involvement in NATO operations. Senators John Kerry and John McCain introduced a measure to formally authorize the intervention for up to one year. A Senate vote would send a message that Washington was committed to the conflict and would not abandon allies, Kerry said. Pulling the plug would “doom the Libyan operation” and “undermine the very core of NATO.”

For more of this story by Rachelle Younglai and Susan Cornwell, read here.

Republican hopeful Bachmann gets fundraising bump

Presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann saw a jump in political donations in May, aided in large part by small contributions as she revs up her fundraising machine for the Republican nomination. Bachmann saw one of her two political committees — MichelePAC — bring in about $214,000, compared with $173,000 for April, according to filings.

For more of this story by Kim Dixon, read here.

For a factbox on Republicans running for president, click here.

U.S. home sales hit 6-month low, supply rises

Sales of previously owned homes hit a six-month low in May and supply rose, pointing to a housing market still struggling to regain its footing. The drop was smaller than economists had expected, but the April sales figure was revised lower, leaving a report that was largely in line with expectations in financial markets. While the fall in sales was partly due to tornadoes and flooding, it underscored fundamental weakness.

For more of this story by Lucia Mutikani, read here.

Clinton backs ‘brave’ Saudi women fighting drive ban

Secretary of State Clinton praised “brave” Saudi women demanding the right to drive, but she tried to avoid an open breach with a close ally by saying the Saudis themselves should determine the way forward. The Saudi driving ban has been publicly challenged in recent weeks by women who have risked arrest to get behind the wheel. Clinton has come under mounting pressure to take a stand.

For more of this story by Andrew Quinn, read here.

Michelle Obama meets Nelson Mandela in S.Africa

First lady Michelle Obama paid a visit to former South African President Nelson Mandela, kicking off her symbolic trip to Africa by meeting one of the continent’s most revered leaders. Obama, her mother and two daughters, visited the 92-year-old anti-apartheid icon at his home in Johannesburg.

For more of this story by Jeff Mason, read here.

From elsewhere…

Huntsman enters 2012 race against ex-boss Obama

Republican Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China, entered his party’s presidential race pledging to make “hard decisions” to prevent America sinking into a debt disaster. Huntsman upset the White House in April by quitting his job in Beijing to take on his former boss.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton (podium for Huntsman announcement in New Jersey)

 

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