Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Fighting words

When President Barack Obama announced the 30,000 U.S. troop surge for Afghanistan in December 2009, he said: “It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.”

Obama, president for less than a year, said those words at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was still trying to prove that he had what it took to be commander-in-chief.

A year-and-a-half later, it is now a different setting. Obama will announce his plan to start bringing troops home from Afghanistan at the White House, having proven his mettle when he gave the go-ahead for the daring and risky operation that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

He is also a declared candidate for re-election facing a public most concerned about the economy and quite tired of war.

Watch to see whether tonight’s speech will take on a campaign tone or frame the decision as a result of victory. It may be neither. We’ll see at 8 p.m.

Washington Extra – Long day

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.

Washington Extra – Tee party

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner get to flex their golfing skills tomorrow and we’re guessing there’s plenty of pre-game strategizing going on.

Is Obama telling Vice President Joe Biden, arguably the best golfer of the four, to hold back on the hole-in-ones? They do after all want Boehner amenable to their views on the debt limit stand-off.

Is Ohio Governor John Kasich giving Boehner advice on how to keep the Veep off-guard so they can ruin his handicap and have bragging rights on the Republican versus Democrat scoreboard?

Washington Extra – Seven up

Ready… Set… Go… And they’re off to the races for 2012. The Republicans went north. The Democrat went south.

Seven Republicans go head-to-head in New Hampshire tonight in the first major debate in the battle for their party’s presidential nomination.

The One they hope to unseat next year, President Barack Obama, sought a head start by talking jobs (he said the word 21 times) in the battleground state of North Carolina, before attending three back-to-back Miami fundraisers in fickle Florida.

George Mitchell returns to law firm after 2 years as Mideast envoy

George Mitchell says he doesn’t believe in retirement.

After two years focusing on Middle East peace for President Barack Obama, he returned Monday to the law firm DLA Piper as chairman emeritus.

In an interview with Leigh Jones of Reuters, Mitchell said Israelis and Palestinians have mutual interests. Palestinians won’t get statehood unless Israel gets security, and vice versa.

“If you can make sure the agreement has the central demand of each side, you can get an agreement,” he said.

Mitt Romney launches 2012 presidential campaign

It was supposed to be Mitt Romney’s day in New Hampshire, but the presidential hopeful ended up sharing the spotlight with a potential rival.

Sarah Palin’s “One Nation” family bus tour just happened to roll into the Granite State on Thursday — the same day  as Romney’s  big announcement.  The former Alaska governor  says the timing of her arrival was just a coincidence.

Romney  formally tossed his hat into the ring to compete for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination under clear blues skies at a New Hampshire farm. The main event was an informal cook-out where the candidate  served up chili and charges that “Barack Obama has failed America.” The former Massachusetts governor blamed the Democratic president for high unemployment,  home  foreclosures and other economic woes, highlighting Obama’s main weakness.

Obama draws query by signing Patriot Act extension with auto-pen

What’s a president to do when Congress passes a bill just hours before key anti-terrorism surveillance measures are about to expire and he’s 4,000 miles away?  Auto-pen of course.

For the uninitiated, lawmakers and yes, even the president of the United States, have a  machine that has a real pen which goes over a copy of the person’s actual signature. It is typically used for signing proforma letters or souvenir pictures to send constituents or fans.

Well, President Barack Obama has been in Europe for the annual G-8 summit and Congress was racing to pass legislation extending the authorization of key surveillance methods used to try to thwart attacks on the United States, which were due to expire Thursday night at midnight. Congress came through just hours before midnight but Obama was in France.

Who’s afraid of Mitt and T-Paw…

It turns out that Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty are the scariest pair of presidential prospects in the GOP field today, judging from a new Democratic ad and remarks by some Democratic Party hierophants.

Priorities USA Action, a political group founded by two former aides to President Barack Obama, targets Romney as a flip-flopper in a South Carolina TV ad that wields Republican Paul Ryan’s Medicare reforms like a political cudgel.

The 30-second black-and-white spot begins with Newt Gingrich’s “Meet the Press” remarks opposing what he called radical right-wing social engineering on Medicare. The ad then recounts Republican South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s defense of Ryan before turning finally to Romney: “Mitt Romney says he’s ‘on the same page’ as Paul Ryan … but with Mitt Romney, you have to wonder: which page is he on today?”

Washington Extra – The choice

President Barack Obama wants the “Arab spring” to bloom.

And that means having choice. The United States supports “the right to choose your own leaders — whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran,” he said in a much awaited Middle East speech.

For Syria: “President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.”

In Libya, Obama didn’t think leader Muammar Gaddafi would be left with much choice. “When Gaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed.”

And the GOP favorite is…

Top establishment Republicans are getting more desperate about the GOP’s current presidential line-up all the time.  Care to guess why?

Newt Gingrich, once among the most prominent voices in the GOP, appears to be on the ropes only a week after declaring his candidacy – and even before his first official campaign trip to the early voting state of Iowa.

He has apologized to House Budget chief Paul Ryan for calling his Medicare plan “right wing social engineering” in a national interview and admitted making “a mistake.”