Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – A moratorium on moratoriums

It’s official. Moratoriums are out (as are moratoria if you prefer the Latin plural). On the day the White House rejected calls for a nationwide moratorium on home foreclosures, it also lifted its own moratorium on deepwater drilling for oil and gas. Some Democrats, especially those like Harry Reid facing tough election races in November, had been calling for a foreclosure ban. But President Barack Obama, who doesn’t face voters directly for a couple more years, has accepted the longer-term argument that a broad halt to evictions would slow a recovery in the housing market and the economy.

Nevertheless, the scandal over how banks and other companies processed foreclosure documents and the uncertainty surrounding it is going to hang over the market, especially with 40 state attorneys general (many of whom are up for re-election) expected to announce their own investigation into the issue.

Obama, of course, rejected a similar economic argument when he imposed the deepwater drilling ban back in May, this time for the greater environmental good. Now, the White House says it can lift the ban on drilling because stricter rules are in place to prevent a repeat of BP’s massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Again, even without the ban, the drilling business will be slow to bounce back as companies adapt to the new safeguards.

As usual, some will blame Obama for hobbling business with excessive regulation. Others will say that unfettered business was exactly what led to the financial crisis and the oil spill.  The choice is yours on November 2.

Talking of choices, the voters of Wisconsin seem almost ready to make theirs. According to our latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, veteran Democratic Senator Russ Feingold is trailing his Republican challenger Ron Johnson by seven points. Interestingly, it is not so much Feingold’s vote for healthcare legislation that has hurt him (as some have suggested) but his failure to create enough jobs, the poll found.

Will Gulf getaway be much of a vacation for Obama?

A two-day trip to the Gulf Coast for President Barack Obama and his family will feature some beach time but maybe not a great deal of rest and relaxation.

OIL-SPILL/ANALYSTSPreviewing the first family’s vacation to Panama City, Florida, this weekend, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said it would include briefings on the oil spill cleanup, an update on how weather would affect the completion of the relief well and discussions about the spill’s impact on businesses.

Obama will also serve as chief pitchman for the effort to attract tourists back to the region.

Obama plays hoops with NBA stars

President Barack Obama wrapped up his 49th birthday bash with perhaps the ultimate gift for a basketball fan.obama_basketball

Someone arranged for Obama to play  hoops with a “dream team” of NBA stars — past and present – (and UConn Huskies superstar Maya Moore) at Fort McNair, a short distance from the White House.

It was a private game, meaning the White House press pool was not allowed into the gym to capture images. But we’re told Carmelo Anthony, Derek Fisher, Dwyane Wade, Grant Hill, LeBron James, “Magic” Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Russell, and David West were among those in the lineup. Kobe Bryant was there too, but didn’t play.

Is time off allowed during a mammoth oil spill crisis? Depends…

BP CEO Tony Hayward takes time off to watch his yacht race in British waters, President Barack Obama goes golfing over the Father’s Day weekend. OIL-SPILL/

Is that acceptable when the BP oil spill, the worst in U.S. history and a huge environmental disaster, is entering a third month in the Gulf of Mexico?

Well, depends on who you talk to.

The White House on Monday made a cutting remark about Hayward’s yacht trip: “Look, if Tony Hayward wants to put a skimmer on that yacht and bring it down to the Gulf, we’d be happy to have his help,” White House spokesman Bill Burton said at the daily media briefing. 

BP chief apologizes… again

carlOne day in Washington — two apologies from BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg.

The second apology came for referring to Gulf coast residents  devastated by his company’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as “small people.”

“I spoke clumsily this afternoon and for that I am very sorry,” Svanberg said in a statement after his “small people” comment earlier on Wednesday drew widespread ridicule and condemnation.

Does Gulf spill controversy stretch all the way to Canada?

OIL-SPILL/Oil and gas spewing from that broken wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico has spread at least as far as the Florida coast, and could go further. Controversy and questions about the relative safety of different kinds of fuel pipelines may have spread over an even wider area — taking in Washington DC, Alberta, Canada, and a big slice of the U.S. heartland.

Have the ripples from that BP spill reached the U.S. State Department? At least one environmental group thinks that could be the case. The State Department, which approves energy pipelines that cross international borders into U.S. territory, is considering the environmental impact of a massive pipeline that would have stretched from Canada’s oil sands fields all the way to Texas. But on Wednesday, the department extended the public comment period for the Keystone XL Pipeline Project a few weeks, from June 15 to July 2, with additional public meetings on the project on June 18 in Houston and on June 29 in Washington DC.

Fuel made from oil sands, also known as tar sands, appeals to those who favor fuel made by U.S. allies — like Canada — instead of countries that use oil revenues to oppose the United States and U.S. citizens abroad. And given the mess in the Gulf of Mexico, supporters of Canadian oil sands say that getting oil on land is less of a risk than deepwater drilling. But environmental groups argue this method is destructive to terrain and requires lots of climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions to produce.

Is Louisiana trip Obama’s ticket Down Under?

OIL-RIG/

President Barack Obama is due to take off this month for a trip to Australia and Indonesia that he has already rescheduled once because of pressing matters here in the United States. In March, the imminent passage of healthcare reform prompted him to put off the journey until June.

Now the talk in Washington is that the BP oil spill soiling the Gulf of Mexico could force him to put off the trip again — or even cancel it for good. 

Oil has been gushing into the Gulf since April 20, when the Transocean Ltd drilling rig Deepwater Horizon licensed to BP exploded, killing 11 workers.  The oil has devastated the ecology and economies of Gulf Coast states and put intense pressure on Obama to not just do something to stop it — a task that so far has proved impossible for BP — but to prove to Americans that he cares, and cares deeply,  about the crisis.

Washington spinmeisters start BP’s damage control

OIL-RIG/LEAKThe new public relations gurus hired by BP couldn’t have started at a better time. The team, headed by Anne Womack-Kolton — a former spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney and the White House — had just started work when they had to deal with an unfortunate statement by BP chief executive Tony Hayward.

On Sunday Hayward infuriated many of those struggling to deal with the impact the massive oil spill has had on their lives and livelihood when he said he wanted his “life back” and wanted the oil spill mess to be over. So today his office issued the following email:

I made a hurtful and thoughtless comment on Sunday when I said that ‘I wanted my life back.’ When I read that recently, I was appalled. I apologize, especially to the families of the 11 men who lost their lives in this tragic accident. Those words don’t represent how I feel about this tragedy, and certainly don’t represent the hearts of the people of BP – many of whom live and work in the Gulf – who are doing everything they can to make things right. My first priority is doing all we can to restore the lives of the people of the Gulf region and their families – to restore their lives, not mine.

Rand Paul blames trash-talking Democrats who throw out red herrings

USA/“When does my honeymoon period start?” Rand Paul asked.

That was Paul’s opening line in an ABC “Good Morning America” interview Friday when asked about the controversy this week over comments that suggested he opposed part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlawed racial segregation.

Paul blamed the controversy on political trash-talk by Democrats worried that he will win the Kentucky Senate seat in November’s election after his Tea Party supported victory in the Republican primary earlier this week.

“I’ve been trashed up and down one network that tends to side with the Democrats. For an entire 24 hours I’ve suffered from them saying ‘oh he wants to repeal the Civil Rights Act,’ but that’s never been my position,” he said.

“Everything but the kitchen sink” poll

The oil spill, immigration, racial profiling, President Obama’s policies, the Tea Party — you name it, Americans were asked about it in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal public opinion poll.

The pollsters surveyed 1,000 people from Thursday through Monday (when there was a lot of news happening) and came away with what NBC says were “striking results.”

Despite the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico threatening environmental doilspillisaster, 60 percent of Americans said they support more offshore drilling, according to the poll.