Tales from the Trail

Romney goes after Obama on healthcare, contraception

Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney on Monday joined a battle over a part of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law that has outraged Catholic bishops.

Under new provisions outlined by Obama’s administration, Catholic hospitals, schools and charities will be required to provide health insurance for their employees covering contraception even if though it violates the church’s teachings.

Catholic bishops’ complaints about the law have filtered onto the Republican campaign trail to find a challenger to Obama in the presidential election next Nov. 6.

Newt Gingrich has declared the policy a war on America’s religious freedom and Rick Santorum has spoken out against it as well.

Romney told a large crowd in Centennial, Colorado:

“Think what that does to people who are in faiths that do no share those views. This is a violation of conscience. We must have a president who is willing to protect America’s first right, our right to worship God.”

Obama – “I deserve a second term”

President Barack Obama said on Sunday he deserves to be re-elected despite having said three years ago that he’d be a one-term president if he didn’t turn the economy around.

“I deserve a second term, but we’re not done,” Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer in an interview broadcast before the Super Bowl game. Obama listed his administration’s economic achievements but said they weren’t finished.

“We’ve made progress, and the key right now is just, make sure that we don’t start turning in a new direction, that could throw that progress off,” Obama said.

Washington Extra – Combat ready?

The Obama administration is known to be methodical when it comes to its messaging. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s declaration that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan might end next year seems to have caught people here and overseas by surprise.

Today, everyone from Panetta to White House spokesman Jay Carney to NATO allies tried to tamp down notions that a major policy shift was underway. But many were still scratching their head about whether there is now a new U.S. timetable for winding down a war that is over a decade old.

One senior NATO official summed up the potential for confusion with a mind-bending quote: “He (Panetta) said the combat role will come to an end but he also said combat will continue. And that’s exactly what I’m saying.”

Is Romney too rich and out of touch?

Mitt Romney ran into a wall of criticism during what should have been his Florida victory lap when he said live on CNN this morning that he is “not concerned about the very poor” and the country has a safety net to protect them.

Democrats leaped onto the remark as yet another sign that the wealthy Republican frontrunner is out of touch with average Americans. Whether or not that is true, it was another gaffe by a candidate who is becoming increasingly known for misspeaking on the campaign trail, especially on issues related to wealth and poverty, even as he blasts Democratic President Barack Obama for waging “class warfare.”

Last month, Romney said he had made “not very much” in speaking fees — and the total turned out to be $375,000. In December, he blundered in a debate by offering Texas Governor Rick Perry a $10,000 bet on healthcare policy. Earlier in the campaign, Romney came under fire for saying he liked to fire people, telling jobless workers in Florida that he, too, was unemployed. And he famously told a questioner at the Iowa State Fair that “corporations are people.”

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.”

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.”

Obama’s State of the Union in a word cloud

Obama uttered the words “tax” or “taxes” 34 times as he called for higher taxes on the rich, echoing a recent partisan theme of Democrats accusing Republicans in Congress of favoring tax breaks that favor the wealthy.

The Democratic president, who faces reelection in November, emphasized a fair tax code just a day after Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, his potential rival, released tax returns that showed he pays a lower effective tax rate than many top wage-earners.

“We need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of Members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes,” Obama said.

Americans’ expectations low ahead of Obama’s State of the Union

U.S. voters are looking to President Barack Obama to talk about jobs and the economy in his State of the Union address tonight, but doubt his ability to follow through on his proposals, two recent polls showed.

A survey done for the group Public Notice found that 62 percent of 805 likely voters said they were extremely or very interested in Obama’s speech tonight. The group describes itself as an independent non-profit focused on the economy and the role of government. Obama faces reelection in November amid a slowly improving U.S. economy.

Twenty-three percent said that jobs were the most important topic the president could talk about in his speech, while another 20 percent said the economy was the most important. Fourteen percent of respondents said government spending should be addressed, according to the poll.

Presidential candidates take on Castro in Florida

Republican White House contenders took the race to win their party’s nomination to Florida this week, where they tried to outdo each other on topics important to Floridians–including what to do about Cuba, the small, Communist, Spanish-speaking island that has long frustrated U.S. foreign policy.

In a debate on Monday in Tampa, the candidates took turns lambasting Castro and current U.S policy toward Cuba, striving to curry favor with conservative Cuban Americans who make up the majority of Florida’s 400,000-some Hispanic Republican voters.

Florida votes next in a primary race that has already had three different winners and is home to the country’s largest Cuban-American community–many of them former refugees who escaped the communist dictatorship under Fidel Castro. A 2011 poll by the University of Florida showed that 80 percent of Cuban Americans believe a decades-long U.S. trade embargo on the country has been ineffective.

Washington Extra – Home alone

When it comes to fixing the housing market in this election year, it’s a battle between the “ineffective” and the “do-nothing.”

President Obama’s relief measures for homeowners facing foreclosure have fallen far short of objectives. Republican candidates, meanwhile, prefer to let the marketplace work its magic. Prices will then hit bottom and begin to recover.

The hands-off approach might not cause too much damage to Republicans in South Carolina. But when the race moves to foreclosure-heavy states such as Florida and Nevada, Republican candidates could find themselves having to explain why they don’t want to help any homeowners.