Tales from the Trail

First lady likes Obama’s voice; rates Romney singing ‘beautiful’

Michelle Obama might have been one of the few people in the United States who knew President Barack Obama could actually carry a tune before he surprised an Apollo Theater audience this month.

In her debut appearance on NBC “The Tonight Show” as first lady, Mrs. Obama told host Jay Leno that her husband sings to her all the time.  She said she even knew what song it would be when she heard about his singing a line from Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Mrs. Obama gave a very tiny demonstration before conceding that the president was the better singer. Obama said her husband has a beautiful voice.

Asked about the performance turned in by Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney singing “America the Beautiful” on the campaign trail in Florida, Mrs. Obama said “its beautiful.”

Here’s a clip from NBC

(Video clip courtesy: NBC/ Photo credit: NBC “The Tonight Show”/Stacie McChesney)

Washington Extra – Driver’s seat

The day the Congressional Budget Office forecast that the United States is headed for its fourth straight year with a $1 trillion-plus budget deficit, President Obama touted the benefits of big government spending.

His venue? The Washington auto show. His tools? Shiny new American cars, preferably those from General Motors and Chrysler. Those were the two companies that received billions in a 2009 taxpayer funded bailout that has obviously paid off, both for the automakers and the Obama administration.

The president got behind the wheels of muscle cars, SUVs, trucks, and fuel efficient and electric models and proclaimed “The U.S. auto industry is back.” But he couldn’t just leave it at that, for there were more political points to score. He did so by taking a veiled swipe at his most likely opponent in the November election – Mitt Romney – for having opposed the bailout that helped bring Detroit back from the brink.

Obama tells high-tech worker: Send me your resume

By Samson Reiny

President Barack Obama, whose chances for re-election may rest on his ability to show U.S. voters he is doing all he can to reduce unemployment, offered on Monday to personally pass along the resume of an unemployed engineer to potential employers.

Fielding a question from a woman on a Google+ online chat session who asked why the government continues to grant H1 visas even as her semi conductor engineer husband cannot find a job after three years of searching, Obama said the difficulty was surprising to him because he often hears business leaders in that field talk of a scarcity of skilled workers.

“If you send me your husband’s resume I’d be interested in finding out exactly what’s happening there,” he said, offering to forward the resume “to some of these companies that are telling me they can’t find enough engineers in this field.”

Hard to believe there’s room for TV programs in Florida

For those voters in Florida who have felt overwhelmed by political advertisements this primary season — you have been.

By January 25, Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney and his supporters had aired almost 13,000 advertisements on broadcast television in the state, compared with only about 200 spots from Romney’s main rival, Newt Gingrich, and outside groups supporting his presidential aspirations, according to data from Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan University media project.

And that was six days before Florida holds its primary on Tuesday.

With the blizzard of ads, Romney has seen his place in the polls leap upward in Florida. He went from trailing Gingrich by 5-9 percent in polls of the state taken a week ago, to leading by an average of 12.5 percent. A week ago, Gingrich was fresh off his upset victory in on Jan. 21 in South Carolina, where he defeated Romney by 12 percentage points.

Gingrich cites Soros in attempt to paint Romney as “liberal”

When renowned investor George Soros referred to Newt Gingrich as an “extremist conservative” last week, he didn’t mean it as a compliment. But that hasn’t stopped Gingrich from wearing it as a mark of honor.

In an interview from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Soros told Reuters Digital Editor Chrystia Freeland that in his view there wouldn’t be “all that much difference” between President Obama and a President Romney. But an “extremist conservative” like Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum, he said, “would make a big difference.”

Gingrich, fighting to close the gap with frontrunner Mitt Romney a day ahead of the Florida primary, seized on his words, starting with an appearance on Good Morning America. Gingrich told host George Stephanopoulos that Soros “said publicly, in a Reuters interview on video, that he’s perfectly happy with either Obama or Romney, that they’re the same people. Minor differences. He said, ‘Gingrich, now, that would be real change.’”

Washington Extra – Coy in California

California prides itself on setting trends for the nation. This week, it may be the state that bucks the trend if it decides to abstain from a multi-state and federal settlement with the big banks on mortgage abuses.

States must say by the end of this week whether they are in or out of the deal and California is very much in doubt. Attorney General Kamala Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party, is concerned the banks may get off too easily. Just last week, her people were calling the settlement “inadequate.”

But can she afford to walk away from more than $10 billion that homeowners could collect in her state, where the housing crisis has ravaged communities from Stockton to San Diego? And would she be able to get more for them if she went it alone?

Florida Republicans speak out on immigration

Following another night of Republican primary candidates battling it out over the topic of immigration, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, speaking at a Hispanic Leadership conference in Miami on Friday, struck a conciliatory tone.

“We must admit that there are those among us that have used rhetoric that is harsh and intolerable and inexcusable,” he told the audience. “And we must admit — myself included — that sometimes we’ve been too slow to condemn that language for what it is.”

Rubio’s 20-minute speech, dedicated almost exclusively to the theme of immigration, reached far beyond the narrow Latino confines of Cuban Miami and was, at its heart, a challenge to his Republican colleagues. “I have challenged the Republican nominees and all Republicans to not just be the anti-illegal immigration party,” he said. “That’s not who we are, that’s not who we should be. We should be the pro-legal immigration party.”

Ad connecting Romney to company in Medicare fraud case “mostly true”

Last week a public workers union launched a television ad that raised an old question about presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s connection to Damon Corp, a company that defrauded Medicare by the millions while under the watch of Romney’s private equity firm Bain Capital. Thursday, the Super PAC Winning Our Future, which supports Romney’s Republican rival Newt Gingrich released the trailer for a campaign video titled “Blood Money” that echoes the same criticism.

The ad created by AFSCME equates Romney with Florida Governor Rick Scott whose approval rating is one of the lowest in the country. Scott is the former CEO of the hospital chain Columbia/HCA that became embroiled in a Medicare fraud case in the late 1990s.

A narrator speaking over black and white photos of Romney says he was director of Damon Corp, which was later fined $100 million for medicare fraud. Romney’s image morphs into that of Rick Scott as the narrator asks, “Corporate greed … Medicare fraud. Sound familiar?”

Reuters Washington Extra – Panetta’s pain

Leon Panetta, famous here in Washington for being a “budget guy”, has a budget challenge at the Pentagon that few would relish. He probably doesn’t relish it either, but it could be the crowning achievement in a remarkable career if he pulls it off.

Today he fired the opening salvo in what is expected to be a long budget fight in Congress for the American military of the future – a much leaner one at that. He’s trying to wear both hats, that of the budget guy (and historic deficit hawk) and that of a custodian of a strong military.

He will be hit with accusations of not cutting enough from a Defense Department that accounts for 20 percent of federal spending. But many on Capitol Hill are already blasting him for going too far, leading America toward irreparable decline.

Ron Paul is all action

Republican some-time folk hero Ron Paul has been mostly missing in action in Florida, a winner-take-all primary state that votes next Tuesday. Currently pulling down only about 10 percent support in the Sunshine State, the Texas Congressman has opted to seek out more fruitful pastures in his quest to assemble delegates for the 2012 convention. Paul’s yard sign elves remain busy, though, and Paulite insurgents have shown up at a number of other events, sometimes jostling with supporters of, for example, Rick Santorum.

But fear not, fans in Florida or elsewhere. A new, virtual version is only a few clicks away, thanks to the pro-Paul RevolutionPAC.

Two talking action figures — the “Commander in Chief” Paul and the “Super Hero” Paul — are now available at ronpaulactionfigures.com. They don’t come cheap, at $94.95 plus shipping and handling. The “Super Hero” version, in standard super-hero bodysuit ensemble with white cape (or is it really an obstetrician’s coat?), is 12 inches tall, speaks a message when a button is pushed, has moveable limbs, and comes equipped with a mini U.S. Constitution. All proceeds go to support efforts to elect Ron Paul, although the figurines are not endorsed by the candidate.