Washington Extra – Kids, cover your ears

April 27, 2012
It’s true, you learn much more out in the real world than you do in school. Just look at the kids who today attended the State Department press briefing for Take Your Child to Work Day. Instead of lessons in nation-building or food aid, they were treated to a discussion of prostitutes and strip clubs. 

With Washington gripped by a widening Secret Service scandal, reporters just couldn’t steer clear of the salacious story. Soon after spokeswoman Victoria Nuland saluted the handful of underage observers, the questions moved to charges that Secret Service agents and other government workers cavorted with strippers and prostitutes while on overseas assignments. Nuland lamented the topic du jour and one Department employee jokingly moved to cover his daughter’s ears.

The roughly half-dozen kids were models of decorum. There they sat, on the sidelines of the briefing room, staring down at the floor. None asked a question. But they might have been thinking “Mom, Dad, when we get home tonight, you’ll have some explaining to do.”

Here are our top stories from Washington…

US on guard for attacks ahead of bin Laden anniversary – President Obama has reviewed potential threats to the United States ahead of the anniversary next week of the killing of Osama bin Laden, but there is no concrete evidence that al Qaeda is plotting any revenge attacks, the White House said. Bin Laden’s killing last year by U.S. commandos is touted by the Obama administration as one of his top accomplishments and it may help inoculate the president from Republican election-year claims that he is weak on national security.  For more of this story by Alister Bull, read here.

Biden knocks Romney for “back to the future” foreign policy – Vice President Joe Biden blasted Mitt Romney’s foreign policy vision as backward-looking and tied to George W. Bush, hammering the presumptive Republican nominee for thinking like a CEO and not like a commander in chief. The remarks were Biden’s latest attempt to define Romney as out of touch with Americans, and his foreign policy critique marked a shift from the Obama campaign’s focus on economic and domestic differences with the president’s Republican rival.  For more of this story by Jeff Mason, read here.

Republican Ryan cites pope to defend budget cuts – Invoking Pope Benedict, Republican Representative Paul Ryan defended his budget plan on Thursday at Georgetown University, where a group of the Jesuit institution’s faculty has accused him of misusing Catholic teachings to push cuts to programs that serve the poor. “The overarching threat to our whole society today is the exploding federal debt,” Ryan said, speaking in a Gothic, oak-paneled auditorium on the Georgetown campus.  For more of this story by David Lawder, read here.

Lawmaker: Secret Service expands misconduct probe to El Salvador – The Secret Service is examining a new report of alleged misconduct by agents at an El Salvador strip club ahead of a trip there last year by President Obama, a senior lawmaker said. Representative Peter King, a Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement that the review is part of an extensive investigation the Secret Service is conducting in the aftermath of an incident involving prostitutes in Columbia. For more of this story by Susan Cornwell and Tabassum Zakaria, read here. For a related story from Brazil, read here.

At US State Department, kids get sex scandal primer – Children participating in the State Department’s “Take Your Child to Work” day event on Thursday were treated to a discussion of prostitutes and strip clubs as reporters pressed for answers on a widening Secret Service scandal. For more of this story, read here.

As Supreme Court mulls healthcare, rumors fly – This week the U.S. Supreme Court wrapped up the last oral arguments of its current term. Now comes the nationwide angst of waiting – as long as two months – for decisions, particularly the one that will resolve the most high-stakes and closely watched case of the year: the challenge to the Obama-sponsored healthcare law. For of this story by Joan Biskupic, read here.

Sierra Club to fight Dominion hub using 1972 deal – The Sierra Club will try to use a 40-year-old legal settlement to scuttle plans by Dominion to convert a liquefied natural gas terminal in Maryland into a major export hub. The Sierra Club says that under that settlement, it has a say over whether Dominion can convert an import terminal at Cove Point, near a state park, into an export plant. Dominion’s CEO disagreed with that view during a conference call with analysts on Thursday. For more of this story by Ayesha Rascoe, read here.

Republican urges Obama push on Russia trade bill – A top Republican lawmaker pressed President Obama to intensify efforts to win approval of a controversial trade bill with Russia and said separate human rights legislation might be needed to help round up votes. “It is time for the White House to get out front on this issue,” Dave Camp, chairman of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. For more of this story by Doug Palmer, read here.

Volcker backers to regulators: Stiffen your spines – Leading congressional advocates of the Volcker rule crackdown on Wall Street trading urged regulators to finish a strong, final rule by this summer despite fierce industry opposition. A final rule is due by July 21 but several regulators, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, have said that deadline is unlikely to be met as they sift through the hundreds of letters they received in response to an October proposal. For more of this story by Dave Clarke, read here.

Study: US health insurers to pay $1.3 bln in rebates – Health insurers will pay $1.3 billion in rebates to consumers and employers this year under a provision of President Obama’s healthcare reform law that penalizes plans that devote too little of their premium revenues to health services, an independent study showed. For more of this story by David Morgan, read here.

From elsewhere…

Falling U.S. home prices drag new buyers under water – More than 1 million Americans who have taken out mortgages in the past two years now owe more on their loans than their homes are worth, and Federal Housing Administration loans that require only a tiny down payment are partly to blame. That figure, provided to Reuters by tracking firm CoreLogic, represents about one out of 10 home loans made during that period. It is a sobering indication the U.S. housing market remains deeply troubled, with home values still falling in many parts of the country, and raises the question of whether low-down payment loans backed by the FHA are putting another generation of buyers at risk. For more of this story, read here.

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