Tales from the Trail

Obama’s big speech may draw bipartisan seating arrangement

A top Republican on Friday embraced a Democratic proposal to project a sense of national unity by having members of their respective parties sit together at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address to Congress on Jan. 25 

“I like the idea,” House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy told reporters at the second day of a three-day retreat in Baltimore by the new House Republican majority. “I think the American public would find it as a positive,” he said.OBAMA/

Democrats and Republicans traditionally sit divided by party at the annual State of the Union Address. Partisanship is on display with members of one party — and then the other — standing to clap when they like what the president says, and sitting quietly when they don’t.

Democratic Senator Mark Udall suggested on Thursday that lawmakers intermingle at this year’s event. The idea was first offered by the moderate think tank Third Way.

The suggestion came on the heels of the attempted assassination in Arizona on Saturday of Representative Gabrielle Giffords that left six dead and 14 others wounded, including the Democratic lawmaker. The shooting spree stunned the nation and raised questions on whether U.S. political rhetoric had become too heated, too partisan.

Washington Extra – Star power

It was a bit of a shock to learn on the Internet that a wobbly Earth has put the old Zodiac out of whack, and even added a 13th astrological sign – Ophiuchus (I’m changing my birthday if I end up landing in that one).

USA-SHOOTING/Speaking of star power… President Barack Obama showed his last night at the memorial service for the Arizona shooting victims. He connected. The more somber and emotional his speech, the more the audience reacted with approval.

“It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds,” Obama said.

Washington Extra – Word test

Presidents are tested almost every day, in big ways and small.

Tonight is one of the bigger ones. Will Obama’s words at the memorial service for the Arizona shooting victims have the impact of uniting a politically divided country? USA-SHOOTING/

Will Obama’s words resonate with a public that is divided over whether he is taking the country in the right direction? There will be plenty of analysis and punditry afterward on whether the president’s famed oratorical skills stood up to the test.

His predecessors faced similar challenges. President George W. Bush was credited with helping pull the country together in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and President Bill Clinton’s popularity was boosted after his speech on the Oklahoma City bombing.

Washington Extra – Circle that date

Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States accepts your invitation.

The pomp and circumstance that surrounds the president’s annual State of the Union address to Congress has begun with the delivery of the invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to President Barack Obama at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. (It’s still on paper, not an Evite). OBAMA/

“A new Congress provides us a renewed opportunity to find common ground and address the priorities of the American people,” Boehner said in the invitation for Obama to address a Joint Session of Congress on January 25.

“Recent events have reminded us of the imperfect nature of our representative democracy, but also how much we cherish the ideal that our government exists to serve the people,” he wrote.

Washington Extra – Sound of silence

The sound of silence is quite rare in Washington where talk is currency.

So it was perhaps the highest honor that the city can pay to the victims of the Arizona shooting by standing still for a moment of silence. USA/

President Barack Obama and the first lady stood heads bowed, joined by about 300 White House staffers on the South Lawn. A bell tolled three times.

Lawmakers and congressional staff gathered on the steps of the Capitol to remember the victims that included two of their own — congressional aide Gabe Zimmerman who was killed, and congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is fighting to recover.

Washington Extra – It’s my party

It’s Friday, when some people start thinking PARTY! Even in Washington.

The first employment report of the year, which was for December, gave the administration something to party about. The unemployment rate fell to 9.4 percent from 9.8 percent. That is the number that resonates with the public, so a four-tenths of a percentage point drop can be politically useful. OBAMA/SPERLING

“Now, we know these numbers can bounce around from month to month. But the trend is clear,” President Barack Obama said. “We saw 12 straight months of private sector job growth.  That’s the first time that’s been true since 2006.”

Gene Sperling has something to party about, he’s just got his old job back. Obama announced additions to his White House economic team and named Sperling as director of the National Economic Council (a post he held in President Bill Clinton’s administration).

Washington Extra – It’s genetic

Forget about the branch. President Barack Obama offered the whole olive tree to the business community today with the appointment of JP Morgan Chase executive William Daley as White House Chief of Staff.

OBAMA/STAFF-DALEYDaley also knows something about politics. He comes from Chicago where politics has a history of being played bare-knuckled style. Oh, and his brother is the Daley who is stepping down as Chicago mayor, which opened the way for Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former White House chief of staff (whom Daley is replacing), to run for that office.

Plenty more dots to connect — Daley was also former President Bill Clinton’s commerce secretary, and Clinton has come to Obama’s aid on more than one occasion (even before the press).

Bachmann for president? Tea Party darling blames media

RTXQELN_Comp-150x150Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, champion-in-chief of the House Tea Party caucus, blames the media for all the recent chatter about her status as a potential presidential candidate.

“I’m not concerned about my own personal ambition,” she tells NBC News. “Right now, too many people in the media are concerned about who will be the nominee in 2012.”

That’s a wee bit odd given that the speculation began after her office announced a trip to the presidential field of frolic known as Iowa, with guidance that a White House run is not off the table.

Washington Extra – New Year state of mind

New Year often means out with the old and in with the new.

On Capitol Hill, the new 112th Congress will start its 2-year run that will end after the 2012 presidential election. (For numerologists — that’s an awful lot of 2s).

Today was Nancy Pelosi’s last day as the first Madam Speaker. The most powerful woman in American politics and second in line to the presidency turns into House minority leader next. Her exit line: “No regrets.” USA/

Tomorrow will be John Boehner’s first day as speaker when Republicans take control of the House and the new Tea Partiers get seated. We’ll be watching for tears of joy.

Regrets? Madam Speaker has none

Nancy Pelosi spent her final full day as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives saying she had “no regrets.”

“I don’t really look back. I look forward,” said Pelosi, who as speaker became the most powerful woman ever in American politics.

USA-CONGRESS/HEALTHCAREAt noon on Wednesday, the new 112th Congress will convene with Republicans in control of the House, ending Pelosi’s four-year reign as the first woman speaker, a position that is second in the line of succession to the U.S. presidency, behind only the vice president.