Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: Monday, Dec 15

For Detroit’s struggling automakers, the wait continues.

There will be no word on the fate of the struggling industry’s financial bailout at least until President George W. Bush is safely home later on Monday after ducking shoes in Iraq and visiting U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the White House says.
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Most analysts and observers are expecting White House action soon to help the carmakers after the Senate’s failure last week to approve a $14 billion bailout that could avert catastrophic failures and millions of job losses in a recession-wracked economy.

But White House spokesman Dana Perino said there was no timetable for a decision.

The future of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich also hangs in the balance. He remains in office but largely out of sight nearly a week after being charged with putting President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat up for sale.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Sunday she heard there was a possibility he would step aside on Monday, but Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero said there would be no resignation.

The First Draft: Friday, Nov. 5

Detroit CEOs drive their hybrid cars over to the House of Representatives for another serving of humble pie this morning. But it’s still not clear if they’ll get the $34 billion bailout they’re looking for, as several senators remained skeptical after yesterday’s testimony on that side of the Capitol. 
     
Testimony before the House Financial Services Committee begins at 9:30 a.m. 

     
The last outstanding Senate race may finally reach a resolution today, as Minnesota could complete its recount in the contest between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken. 

But any resolution will be preliminary: there are still about 6,000 ballots that have been challenged and will need further review.

The First Draft: Wednesday, Dec. 3

President-elect Barack Obama will continue to fill out his Team of Rivals when he names New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as Commerce Secretary at a press conference scheduled for 11:40 a.m. EST For those of you keeping score at home, that means at least three members of his administration will be former Democratic presidential candidates – Richardson, Vice President-elect Joe Biden, and Secretary of State pick Hillary Clinton. 
     
We can’t wait to see what he has in mind for Dennis Kucinich. 
     
On the Hill, lawmakers will continue to weigh U.S. automakers’ restructuring proposals ahead of hearings later this week. The heads of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, chastened from their skeptical reception last month, are driving from Detroit this time — and they’re confident they’ll get here in good shape. 
     
“Our cars don’t have car trouble,” GM president Fritz Henderson said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” 

Chrysler officials hold a rally at a dealership in suburban New Carollton, Maryland, to build support for the bailout at 11:30 a.m. 
     
Bigwigs from Honda and Toyota are in town, too. But they’re not here to beg for cash — they’re talking about electric cars and other sustainable technologies at the Convention Center. 
      
Just how bad is this recession? We’ll know more at 2 p.m., when the Fed Releases its “Beige Book,” an antecdotal survey of economic conditions nationwide. 
    
Wall Street doesn’t need more gloomy evidence. Stocks are expected to open lower after Research in Motion, the folks who make the Blackberry, slashed their outlook and mining giant Freeport-McMoRan suspended its divident payments and slashed copper output.

REUTERS/Richard Clement (Richardson and Obama at campaign rally)

REUTERS/Fred Prouser (GM logo at LA auto show)

A tough act to follow in the U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON – Sen. Robert Menendez has a tough if not impossible act to follow as successor to Sen. Charles Schumer as chairman of the Senate Democratic campaign committee.

Using such words as “aggressive,” “focused,” “committed” and “widely respected,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday named Menendez as committee chair.

Menendez of New Jersey will need all of those qualities — and probably more — to achieve anywhere near the success that Schumer of New York has enjoyed the past two elections.

The First Draft: Thursday, Nov. 20

Major indexes dropped  to their lowest level since 2003 yesterday and U.S. stock futures are pointing to another plunge today as investors worry about the fate of U.S. carmakers and the spectre of a prolonged economic downturn.
    
Just how bad is it? Well, here’s another sign of the impending apocalypse: the Labor Department reported at 8:30 a.m. EST that jobless claims are at their highest level in 16 years.   

After two days of petitioning Congress, Detroit automakers headed home without the $25 billion check they were angling for. Congressional leaders say a deal is doubtful until next January as they prepare to adjourn for the year.
    
President-elect Barack Obama remains in Chicago, piecing together a new administration that could include Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. His peeps are a little miffed by the leaks out of the Clinton camp, which they tell the New York Times are designed to force them to give her the post. Is this a sign that Obama’s formal rival might “go rogue” if she ends up working for him?
    
Happy Joe Biden’s birthday, everyone! The vice president-elect turns 66 today. 
    
And it’s not even Thanksgiving, but the Christmas Wars are starting up already. Two conservative Christian groups plan to set up a Christmas scene on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court as they talk about their plans to promote the display of nativity scenes across the country on private and public property.

Photo: REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke (costumed angels in Berlin)

Shocker: Fat cat CEOs fly on private jets!

Congress is taking a hard look at Detroit’s autos these days. But what about Detroit’s jets?

When the chief executives of Ford and General Motors flew in to Washington yesterday to ask Congress for a $25 billion lifeline, they didn’t fly coach.

General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner arrived on his company’s cushy Gulfstream IV, ABC News reported. Ford CEO Alan Mulally flew in on a private company jet as well.

The First Draft: Wednesday, Nov. 19

Please sir, can I have some more? CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler make their case for a $25 billion bailout to the House of Representatives, one day after enduring a skeptical reception in the Senate. A vote could come as early as today, but Senate backers say they might not have the support they need.
 
Testimony to the House Financial Services Committee gets underway at 10 a.m.
    
In Chicago, President-elect Barack Obama continues to assemble his administration. Eric Holder, a former Justice Department official under President Bill Clinton, emerged yesterday as a possible pick for attorney general, while the Wall Street Journal reports that Clinton himself offered to submit his future charitable and business activities for ethics review if wife Hillary is tapped for Secretary of State.

Formal announcements could come on Friday, a source tells Reuters.   
   
In the Senate, Democrats have edged closer to a critical 60-seat majority after Anchorage, Alaska mayor Mark Begich declared victory over incumbent Republican Ted Stevens, a convicted felon. That gives Democrats control of at least 58 seats, with races in Georgia and Minnesota still hanging in the balance.
 
A recount in the Minnesota race between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken, a former comedian, begins today. Franken himself si making the rounds in Washington to raise money and huddle with his fellow Democrats.

For a change, the stock market is not expected to get off to a dismal start today. Hewlett-Packard’s reassuring quarterly results and profit outlook are expected to offset worries about the deeping global economic slump.
   
And finally, Happy World Toilet Day! The advocacy group Water Advocates says 2.5 billion people don’t have access to a toilet, leading to millions of preventable deaths each year from exposure to human waste. The group holds an event in front of the Capitol at 12:30 p.m. to draw attention to the problem.

The First Draft: Monday, Nov. 17

The Senate returns to debate a bailout for struggling automakers and consider additional stimulus money to prop up the struggling economy.
    
Democrats hope to pass both measures in their brief “lame duck” session, but they face opposition from Republicans in the chamber as well as President George W. Bush, who reiterated on Monday morning that any Detroit aid should come from the $700 billion already appropriated to prop up the economy.
    
In Chicago, President-elect Barack Obama will meet at noon EST with John McCain, his recent rival for the White House.  “It’s well known that they share an important belief that Americans want and deserve a more effective and efficient government, and will discuss ways to work together to make that a reality,” Obama’s transition team said on Monday. 
    
Obama and McCain will be joined by their two favorite wingmen — future White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, respectively.
    
McCain might put in a good word for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is reported to be on Obama’s short list for Secretary of State. McCain and Clinton downed vodka shots together on a trip to Estonia a few years back.
    
 Back in the Senate, the Finance Committee will cross-examine the man who has been nominated to oversee the $700 billion bailout program. Neil Barofsky, the assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York who has been nominated to be Special Inspector General of the Treasury Department’s Troubled Assets Relief Program, testifies at 2 p.m.
    
The House is not in session, but new members elected two weeks ago are in town for an orientation session and a class photo. House Democratic leaders say they will quickly pass any bailout packages that clear the Senate.
    
U.S. stocks are expected to open lower as investors continue to fear a deep and lengthy global recession. According to one group of economists, we’re already there: real GDP is expected to fall 2.6 percent in the final quarter of this year and 1.3 percent in the first three months of 2009, according to a survey of 50 professional forecasters conducted by the National Association of Business Economists.

Welcome to Front Row Washington: Tracking U.S. politics

WASHINGTON – With the election over, it is time to say happy trails to Reuters “Tales from the Trail” election blog and give a warm welcome to “Front Row Washington” which will provide readers a view from Reuters correspondents working the political beat around town and the country.

Reuters has a front row seat to all the action in Washington, whether in the White House, Pentagon, State Department briefing rooms or in halls of Congress. From here we will offer readers insight, analysis and behind-the-scenes stories as Democrats move into the White House and Republicans try to influence policy decisions.

We heartily thank all our readers over the last year or so who have made this blog a success and invite you to stay tuned because it will be a fun ride over the coming years.

McCain warns of too many Democrats in Washington

Is John McCain running against Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi?

At two rallies in Virginia on Saturday, the Republican candidate slammed the House Speaker and other congressional Democrats almost as much as his rival for the White House. A President Obama would be unlikely to curb the excesses of a Congress likely to remain in Democratic hands, he warned.

“The answer to a slowing economy is not higher taxes, but that’s what’s going to happen when Democrats have total control of Washington,” McCain told several thousand supporters in Springfield. “We can’t let it happen, my friends.”

McCain hopes voters will opt for partisan gridlock over one-party rule.

Supporters at both Virginia rallies, in Springfield and Newport News, booed lustily at the mention of Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, the acerbic chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. McCain invoked the trio several times as he raised the specter of higher taxes.