Tales from the Trail

Obama and Romney wrangle over welfare policy

The Obama administration’s July change to a 1996 bipartisan welfare-to-work law has devolved into a mudslinging contest on the campaign trail.

In a 30-second television advertisement released on Monday, Mitt Romney’s campaign asserted that President Obama “has a long history of opposing work for welfare.” Romney initially launched the welfare attack in Obama’s home state of Illinois last week in a coordinated stump speech and television ad accusing the president of loosening work requirements built into the law, which proponents say moved millions off of welfare.

The plan, put forth by the Health and Human Services Department, allows states to seek waivers from the work requirements baked into the law. The states need to prove the success of their models by moving at least 20 percent more people off of welfare to work or they lose their waivers.

The Obama campaign responded last week with a 30-second television spot – “Blatant” – denying Romney’s claim that the waivers end the welfare law’s work requirements. That ad was set to air in seven hotly contested states, the campaign said, including Iowa, where Obama kicked-off a three-day bus tour on Monday, and was timed to run in states where Romney and Ryan are campaigning — Florida and Iowa, respectively.

Deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, in a conference call with reporters, harshly condemned the Romney campaign’s attack, the latest in a campaign season marked by out-of-context attack lines.

Washington Extra – Obama’s China cloud

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign event in Chantilly, Virginia earlier this week on May 2, 2012. REUTERS/Benjamin Myers

A bright spot of Barack Obama’s presidency – foreign policy – all of a sudden was taking some hits as the White House struggled to deal with a crisis involving a Chinese dissident. 

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney blasted away at Obama, talking of a “day of shame for the Obama administration.” Charges – vigorously denied by the White House – swirled that Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng may have been persuaded to leave his protective shelter at the U.S. embassy in Beijing so that high-level U.S.-China talks could go more smoothly. Another scenario being floated was that Obama’s team naively accepted Chinese assurances that Chen would not face government harassment if he rejoined his family at home.

New Obama ad suggests Romney wouldn’t have gone after bin Laden

In advance of the May Day anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s assassination, the Obama reelection campaign is out with a new web ad, this one narrated by Bill Clinton who, echoing the words of another former president, praises Obama as “decider in chief.” The bin Laden operation was risky for Obama, Clinton says — if the intelligence was wrong or if the Navy Seals were captured or killed, “the downside would have been horrible” — but “that’s what you hire a president to do. You hire a president to make the calls when no one else can do it.”

The ad contrasts Obama’s action with speculation about whether Romney would have done the same, citing comments he made during the ’08 campaign suggesting it wouldn’t be worth it to spend “billions of dollars, just trying to catch one person.”

Watch the ad, via barackobama.com:

Photo credit: Screenshot/barackobama.com

Obama to middle class: Who loves you?

The middle class is back.

Amid the din of Republican cries of class warfare, the Occupy Wall Street movement and a fresh economic report that America’s rich are getting much, much richer, one phrase punctuated weekend remarks from President Barack Obama and his campaign strategists: the middle class.

As the Democratic president struggles to reconnect with his base — liberals, black Americans and younger voters — he is taking up the middle class mantra to target the crucial voting bloc.

This weekend there was no escaping who the Obama team’s message was aimed at.

Obama defends Libya policy during hectic New York day

President Barack Obama followed up his speech to the nation defending his Libya policy on Monday night with a whirlwind visit to New York City. He explained the policy in three network news  interviews  (ABC, NBC, CBS)  — at the city’s famed Museum of Natural History.

Then he made a quick visit to a kids’ science fair, joking to the high school students that they are smarter than he is, before dedicating the new Ronald H. Brown U.S. Mission to the United Nations building.bill_barack

There his Libya strategy was applauded by a roomful of diplomats and endorsed by a Democratic predecessor, ex-President Bill Clinton, the husband of his secretary of state.

Former presidents Bush, Clinton team up for civility

presidentsFormer presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush are joining forces again — this time for civil discourse.

Democrat Clinton and Republican Bush have agreed to serve as honorary chairmen of The National Institute for Civil Discourse which opens Monday in Tucson, The Washington Post reports.

The privately-funded, nonpartisan facility at the University of Arizona will be a center for debate, research, education and policy about civility in public discourse, the Post says.

White House podium turns time machine for Bill Clinton redux

USA-TAXES/OBAMA-CLINTON

Bill Clinton took the White House press corps on an unexpected journey back in time on Friday afternoon with an impromptu trip to the briefing room podium, where he held forth for half an hour, obviously loving every minute.

The former president didn’t rise to the bait when he was asked whether he enjoyed coming in and offering advice more than running the country. Clinton, like his fellow Democratic President Barack Obama, grappled with crushing losses to Republicans in mid-term congressional elections two years into his presidency.

The two Democratic presidents called the surprise news conference after an Oval Office meeting to discuss Obama’s deal with Republicans, which extends tax cuts for middle-income earners and the wealthiest Americans and includes an extension of unemployment benefits and a cut in payroll taxes. Obama has been lambasted by some congressional Democrats for reaching an agreement that they say concedes far too much to the rival party.

Washington Extra – Natural allies, but not always comfortable ones

The United States and India are, to borrow the phrase of a recent paper by the Center for a New American Security, “natural allies.” The world’s two biggest democracies, with proud traditions of free speech, separation of religion and state, and racial and ethnic diversity, have much in common, and Indians tend to have more favorable views of the United States than most Europeans.

indiaTies had deepened first under President Bill Clinton and then improved significantly under President George W. Bush, but progress seemed to have stalled in the first two years of the Obama administration. So it was heartening for Indiaphiles to see President Barack Obama finally putting some weight behind the relationship on his trip there, with an array of business deals and an endorsement of India’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Obama is right in seeing relations between the two countries as one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century, and there will be real power in their alliance where they can find common ground. But the relationship will not always be an easy one. Not only do they see countries like Iran, Myanmar and Pakistan in very different ways, they have often found themselves in opposite corners on trade and climate change. India also has a long tradition of non-interference, a byproduct of its anathema to internationalizing its own conflict in Kashmir. The CNAS paper also noted that in the past year, Indian and U.S. votes matched in the U.N. General Assembly just 30 percent of the time.

Washington Extra – T minus 4

There’s something about the number four.

It’s FOUR days to the midterm elections which still leaves plenty of room for last-minute commotion.

For example, in the Florida (yes, Florida) three-way Senate race, former President Bill Clinton ended up having to issue this statement today: “I didn’t ask Kendrick to leave the race, nor did Kendrick say that he would.”

BASEBALL/Comedian Jon Stewart caps off his weeklong visit to Washington, which included the interview with President Barack Obama on “The Daily Show,” with his Rally4Sanity (there’s that FOUR) on Saturday.

Meek stays in Florida Senate race despite Clinton overtures

This much is clear. Democrat Kendrick Meek is not dropping out of Florida’s three-way Senate race.

What’s not so clear is what happened before Meek summoned reporters to his campaign headquarters for a late evening news conference Thursday to deny reports former President Bill Clinton had asked him to quit the race.

Singling out a report by Politico.com, the Florida congressman said, “Any rumor or any statement by anyone that says that I made a decision to get out of the race is inaccurate, at best.”