Tales from the Trail

New Obama ads highlight auto bailout, claim moderate recovery

President Obama’s re-election campaign on Thursday released three television ads — two focusing on the auto bailout and a third noting moderate economic improvements since Obama took office — all part of the campaign’s $25 million May marketing blitz.

The ads were a follow-up to what the campaign’s senior adviser David Axelrod called a “foundational” ad called “Go,” airing across nine battleground states and painting a portrait of an America on the economic mend, safer without Osama bin Laden, and relieved that its troops are finally home from Iraq. A nation whose Democratic incumbent simply needs more time.

“Different communities have different interests, or come at some of these issues in different ways, and we want to make sure that we’re getting to them information that is most germane and most relevant,” Axelrod, a former White House aide, said on a recent call with reporters.

A new, 30-second spot that aired in Ohio features an interview with a young autoworker heading back to work after losing his job. “Obama stuck his neck out for us, the auto industry, he wasn’t going to let it just die. And I am driving in this morning because of that, because of him,” the man, Brian Slagle, says.

A second ad airing in Ohio and elsewhere — titled “Succeed” — shows the Democratic incumbent speaking about the “more than one million jobs” the auto bailout saved.

The First Draft: Executive pay crackdown

For a quiet day, there was surprising consensus among editors about the top news — big-time bankers who got government bailout money are going to get their paychecks slashed.

The coverage was fairly straight, but there was a certain glee about the way the story made its way to the top spot in most newspapers.

“Pay slashed at bailout firms,” the Wall Street Journal headlined its story.

The First Draft, Friday, Dec. 19

President George W. Bush threw a lifeline to the U.S. auto industry Friday.
 
USA-BUSH/The president announced a $17.4 billion government loan program for two ailing U.S. carmakers and gave them until March 31 to prove they can become viable.
 
“There’s too great a risk that bankruptcy now would lead to a disorderly liquidation of American auto companies,” Bush said in an address from the White House.
 
“My economic advisers believe that such a collapse would deal an unacceptably painful blow to hardworking Americans far beyond the auto industry.”
 
The U.S. stock markets opened higher on the news. Some of Bush’s fellow Republicans in Congress, who helped kill a recent bailout effort there, expressed frustration.
 
Rep. Tom Price of Georgia said it was “deeply disappointing that the administration has chosen to use taxpayer dollars to delay the inevitable need to fundamentally restructure these companies.”
 
The Bush announcement came as President-elect Barack Obama was getting ready for his fifth news conference in as many days.
 
The Democratic president-elect is expected to announce his picks for labor secretary, transportion secretary and U.S. trade representative at the 2:15 p.m. EST conference.
 
Retiring Illinois Rep. Ray LaHood, a Republican, is being tapped as the transportation secretary. Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, a partner at a Houston law firm, is the trade representative, and California Rep. Hilda Solis is the labor secretary choice.
 
Morning television focused on the severe weather across parts of the country and the death of Mark Felt, the former FBI official who was the mysterious “Deep Throat” source for Washington Post reporters during the Watergate investigation.
 LIFE DEEPTHROAT
Felt, the No. 2 official at the FBI at the time, provided guidance to reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they pieced together the scandal that ultimatedly prompted the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
 
Felt, who was 95, kept his role in the story a secret for 30 years, finally making his part known in a 2005 Vanity Fair article written by his family lawyer. The New York Times called him “the most famous anonymous source in American history.”

Meanwhile, Bush attended the unveiling of his portrait at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

“I suspected there would be a good-size crowd,” he said, “once the word got out about my hanging.”

The First Draft: Wednesday, Dec 17

USA-POLITICS/DEMOCRATS

President-elect Barack Obama is almost done with his first chore.

Obama, who takes office on Jan. 20, holds a news conference in Chicago on Wednesday to announce he has picked former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack to head the agriculture department and Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar as interior secretary.USA-POLITICS/

With those selections, Obama moves closer to filling the last of the Cabinet posts in his administration, with nominees for transportation, labor and U.S. Trade Representative still to be named. 

It is a rapid pace for the next president, who has moved faster than his recent predecessors in making Cabinet selections. He hoped to have most of them out of the way before he heads to Hawaii on vacation at the end of the week. 

The First Draft: Tuesday, Dec 16

USA-ECONOMY/

The futures of Detroit’s reeling Big Three automakers and Illinois’ disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich hovered in a sort of suspended animation on Tuesday, with both awaiting final word of their fates. 

The carmakers have hope. Blagojevich’s hopes may be running out.
 
Illinois lawmakers approved an inquiry on Monday into whether Blagojevich should be impeached on charges he tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. The state’s attorney general has gone to court to have him removed.

But Blagojevich has denied doing anything wrong and shown no willingness to resign his $177,000-a-year post. 
AIRLINES UNITED

The First Draft: Friday, Dec 12

BUSH/Gulp.
    
Senate brinksmanship kills a proposed $14 billion bailout for Detroit’s struggling “Big Three” automakers, so eyes turn back to the White House. 
    
The Senate is due back in session at 10 a.m. Eastern for what could be a quick round of final recriminations.
    
Analysts say the most immediate hope for help for GMC, Chrysler and Ford is now the Bush administration, which could possibly decide to use financial bailout funding to help the massive car manufacturers — if there’s any money left.
    
Bush, who had resisted this idea in the past, is headed to Texas A&M University where he is due to deliver a commencement address. The White House said this morning it was willing to consider steps to avoid an auto apocalypse.
    
There’s finger pointing in every direction — the UAW union, recalcitrant Republicans, overreaching Democrats, and the lame-duck White House — but nobody seems sure what happens next for companies which say they are responsible for one out of 10 U.S. jobs.
    
Stock futures were down, indicating that benchmark U.S. indexes could open down about 3 percent or more amid a worldwide sell-off. 
    
Meanwhile, whatever attention is left is fixed firmly on Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is still in office three days after being charged with corruption in connection with allegations that he sought to “sell” the vacant U.S. Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama.
    
Lots of people seem to want the man out — Obama described himself as “appalled” — but there’s no word on whether Blagojevich  intends to resign. Obama, who has sought to distance himself from the Democratic governor, has no public events scheduled today.

Click here for more Reuters political news. 

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (Bush on South Lawn)

The First Draft, Thursday, Dec. 11

USA-OBAMA/BUSH/
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It’s a tale of two cities, Washington D.C. versus Chicago.
 
With President-elect Barack Obama holding frequent news conferences in Chicago to appoint members of his cabinet and lay out his plans for the future and President George W. Bush keeping a low profile in Washington, Americans could be forgiven for thinking they have a new executive capital.

Today the focus will be on both Washington, where a $14 billion bill to bail out the United States’ struggling automakers will be debated in the Senate, and Chicago, where Obama will announce former Senate leader Tom Daschle as the country’s next health secretary.
 
Obama is due to hold a news conference at 11 a.m. EST (600 GMT) to name Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, and give more specifics about his plan to provide affordable healthcare to all Americans. Daschle faces the Herculean task of revamping America’s ailing healthcare system.
 
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC news conference  poll found that 73 percent of adult Americans approve of the way Obama has handled his preparations for becoming president on Jan. 20, while 38 percent say they have a more favorable impression of him since the Nov. 4 election.
 
Obama is likely to face more questions at the news conference on the scandal involving Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested on Tuesday and charged with attempting to sell Obama’s Senate seat. Obama has called on the governor to resign.

Illinois’s Lieutenant-Governor Pat Quinn told NBC’s Today breakfast television show that Blagojevich would be impeached if he did not resign. Quinn, who is next in line to replace Blagojevich, said he had not spoken to the governor since the summer of 2007.
 
In Washington, the Senate is due to debate a proposal giving $14 bln in emergency loans to struggling auto-makers after it was passed in the House of Representatives by 237-170 votes on Wednesday night. But it is expected to face stiff opposition from skeptical Republicans who want greater accountability from the carmakers in exchange for the loans.
 
Democrats in Congress and the White House want the measure passed urgently, fearing that the collapse of the auto industry would fuel unemployment and deepen the recession.
 
The U.S. Labor Department reported on Thursday that the number of workers filing claims for jobless benefits jumped to a 26-year high last week. Data last week showed employers cut half a million jobs in November, the largest number in 34 years.
 
But it was not all doom and gloom on the morning TV shows, which perhaps not surprisingly, found time to show pictures of the January 2009 cover of men’s magazine GQ. The cover shows a naked Jennifer Aniston wearing just a necktie.

The First Draft, Wednesday, Dec. 10

There’s nothing like a sexy political sleaze story, especially one ridden with “f—ing” expletives, to distract from the plight of the United States’ ailing auto industry.
 
A $15 billion rescue package for the industry may be voted on in the House of Representatives today after the White House and congressional Democrats reached an agreement in principle late on Tuesday night.
 
But morning TV shows paid the bailout scant attention as they replayed U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s news conference announcing that he was charging Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich with corruption over, among other things, an alleged plan to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
 
Not surprisingly Blagojevich’s use of expletives in conversations taped by the FBI featured prominently, “Bleep ‘em,” Fitzgerald quoted the governor as saying in one conversation. “And the word ‘bleep’ was not the word he used,” he added helpfully, just in case there was any doubt.
 
Back in Washington, the House of Representatives Financial Service Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. EST on how the Treasury Department has handled the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP.
 
The Wall Street Journal reported that a congressionally appointed panel that oversees TARP is expected to release a report highly critical of how it has been handled.
 
Acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro of the Government Accountability Office and Neel Kashkari, the Treasury Department point man on the financial rescue package, will testify.
 
Wall Street is seen opening higher, with shares of automakers expected to remain in focus. But there was more grim econmic news. A new survey said the economy was likely to shrink 1.1 percent next year as job losses mount.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

The First Draft, Tuesday, Dec. 9

HONGKONG/

 

Tis the season to be, er, generous with taxpayers’ money.

The White House and Democrats in Congress are busy putting the finishing touches to a whopping $15 billion Christmas present for the U.S. auto industry. The two sides have been haggling for several days over the terms of the bailout to rescue the “Big Three” Detroit car manufacturers but are now reported to be close to agreement.

 House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told NBC’s “Today” breakfast television show that if Congress approved the agreement a “car czar” charged with restructuring the industry could be appointed as soon as this week. She said she favored former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker for the post although he may already have his hands full — President-elect Barack Obama has named him as his senior adviser on jolting the economy out of recession.

 Obama has been critical of the Bush administration’s efforts to tackle the mortgage foreclosure crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of Americans lose their homes. The issue will be under the spotlight at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT), when the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds a hearing on the role of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the financial crisis.

The First Draft, Dec. 8

Washington is focused on one issue this morning — how to stop the U.S. auto industry from driving off a cliff.
 
The Senate reconvenes on Monday, and congressional aides say it may consider as early as Tuesday legislation on a $15 billion deal to rescue America’s “Big Three” automakers from oblivion.
 
Democratic negotiators in Congress modified their draft proposal on Sunday, a congressional aide said, and planned to get it to the White House for consideration.
 
The New York Times and Washington Post reported that Democrats were considering creating an oversight board made up of five cabinet secretaries and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency and led by an independent chairman or “car czar”.
 
The board would oversee the restructuring that the car giants have agreed to in exchange for the short-term loans. The Post said the board would develop broad restructuring goals for the companies but could not compel them to act.
 
Investors appeared confident on Monday that the automakers will be thrown a financial lifeline. Shares of General Motors shot up 22.5 percent to $5 before the bell, and Ford shares climbed 19.5 percent to $3.25.
 
U.S. stock index futures also rose on hopes that President-elect Barack Obama’s plan for major infrastructure investment will help get the economy back on its feet.  

Elsewhere in Washington, President George W. Bush will attend a Christmas reception for children at the White House before visiting the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Virginia.