Tales from the Trail

Sen. Burris won’t run in 2010

BURRIS-SENATE/ILLINOISAfter just a few months in office and having fiercely resisted calls for his resignation, Illinois Senator Roland Burris has decided Congress is not his calling after all.The Chicago Democrat appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama plans to announce on Friday he won’t seek election to a full six-year term in 2010. Word leaked out a day early, with sources in Chicago and Washington confirming Burris’ plans to forgo the midterm election.The Chicago Sun-Times broke the news, reporting that Burris had raised only about $20,000 toward what undoubtedly would have been a very expensive campaign. The newspaper also quoted a source as saying that Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, was concerned about his legacy.He entered office under a big cloud that never cleared. Burris was appointed on Dec. 30 by former Governor Rod Blagojevich, who later was impeached and indicted on corruption charges — including trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat.Burris escaped a perjury charge last month when prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence aganist him. Burris declared his appointment “perfectly legal” and said he had never offered the ousted governor anything.For more Reuters political news, click here.Photo credit: Reuters/Frank Polich (Burris reacts to audience applause after speaking at a Chicago, church in  March)

You never want to see sausages made – or laws

USA-STIMULUS/The war of words that broke out in the U.S.  House of Representatives late Tuesday and spilled into Wednesday over one of the government’s annual spending bills shows the widening gulf between Democrats who control the chamber and minority Republicans.

Republicans accused Democrats of trying to shut down their efforts to save money on the $64.4 billion spending bill for the Commerce and Justice Departments and science agencies. They argued that in a time of mounting deficits it was unacceptable to spend 12 percent more for these programs than last year.  Democrats accused Republican of trying to stall the bill by offering 100 or so amendments.
 
Republican Representative Mike Pence said it was “an outrageous abuse of the legislative process” for Democrats to cut off debate after 30 minutes during the first amendment. He insisted that it was not about the process but about “runaway federal spending.”
 
Democrats shot back that Republicans were making it harder to finish the annual spending bills and also complete healthcare and climate change legislation quickly. Republican demands for a recorded vote on even amendments they supported — taking additional time — also angered Democrats.
 
“We have to pass 12 major appropriations bills in six weeks and still leave enough time on the calendar to deal with healthcare, to deal with climate change, to deal with the military authorization bill and several other crucial issues,” said Democratic Representative David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
 
He said Republicans rebuffed Democratic attempts to reach a deal on handling amendments quickly. “We have tried every way we can to involve the minority,” he said. “We recognize a filibuster by amendment when we see it.”
 
When Pence was asked why seeking a recorded vote on an amendment that both sides supported wasn’t a stall tactic, he grinned and walked away from reporters.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

- Photo credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts (Obey at a meeting earlier this year)

Specter still finding his way as a Democrat

Old habits are hard to give up, and that seems especially true for newly-minted Democratic Senator Arlen Specter.OBAMA/

As he entered the chamber through the Republican side for a vote on an amendment to a war funding bill, he stopped at the Republican desk where aides put information about the pending measure.

Democratic Senator John Kerry, standing by the Democratic desk, called out across the chamber to Specter: “Arlen, Arlen, we’re over here!”

Bill and Hillary take to joint stage on Haiti

USA/USA/Haiti is a family concern for Washington power couple, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and husband former President Bill Clinton. 

The Clintons — albeit separately — addressed a donors conference on Haiti on Tuesday — Hillary as the new top diplomat and Bill as the head of his charity.  

In her morning address, Hillary Clinton shared her love for the impoverished nation, revealing she went to Haiti for the first time with her husband soon after they were married. 

Poll shows Americans trust Obama, Democrats

WASHINGTON – OBAMA/U.S. President Barack Obama has yet to turn around the troubled U.S. economy, but American voters have confidence in his efforts and see him headed in the right direction.

Those are among the findings of a survey released on Tuesday that also showed Americans have greater confidence in Obama’s fellow Democrats than they do in rival Republicans.
 
The survey, however, had some troublesome numbers for the Democrats’ third-highest ranking elected official — House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
 
Just 26 percent of respondents said they had a “great deal” or “some” trust in the California Democrat, who stands second in the line of succession to Obama, behind only Vice President Joe Biden.
 
The poll found that more respondents, 38 percent and 28 percent, respectively, had such a level of trust in Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the failed 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, and conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, respectively.
 
The Public Strategies Inc./POLITICO nationwide survey of 1,000 registered voters was conducted March 27-31 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.
 
The poll found that 66 percent of respondents said they have a “great deal” or “some” trust in Obama, who has battled Republicans as well as some Democrats in the U.S. Congress, largely over fiscal policy, since taking office on January 20.
 
The survey found that 52 percent of respondents have a “great deal” or “some” trust in Democrats, while just 40 percent have such a level of confidence in Republicans, who vigorously opposed Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package and $3.5 trillion budget plan.
 
The survey found with Obama at the helm, 54 percent of respondents said they believe that the U.S. government is headed in the right direction, up from 35 percent in December before the new president took office.
 
Obama, in a speech on Tuesday in Washington, said there were signs of economic recovery but cautioned “by no means are we out of the woods just yet.”

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing – U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the economy at Gaston Hall at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 2009.

Disappointed Americans see increased bickering in Congress

Following the election of Barack Obama as president last year, many Americans figured Democrats and Republicans in Congress would start working together more to solve the nation’s problems.
 
Yet less than three months into Obama’s presidency, they have concluded that lawmakers are actually bickering more than usual.
          
That’s the findings of a new poll released on Wednesday by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
    
The survey, conducted March 31 to April 6 of 1,506 adults, also found that the public has more confidence in Obama’s handling of the economy than they do in either Democratic or Republican congressional leaders.
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Seventy percent of respondents said they have a “great deal/fair amount” of confidence that Obama will do the “right thing” on the economy.
    
By contrast, 55 percent said they have such confidence in Democratic congressional leaders and just 38 percent said they have that level of confidence in Republicans leaders.
    
Republicans opposed Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan and his $3.5 trillion budget plan, both of which won passage thanks to the president’s fellow Democrats who control Congress.
 
In January, shortly before Obama took office, 50 percent of respondents in a Pew poll said they expected Democrats and Republicans to work together more while just 39 percent said they expected them to bicker more.
    
But the new poll found just 25 percent said they believe lawmakers are working together more. Fifty-three percent said Democrats and Republicans seem to be bickering and opposing each other more than usual.

Photo credit: Reuters/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool (Obama addresses joint session of Congress on February 24, 2009)

Obama wins bipartisan support in often divided U.S. House

WASHINGTON – Democratic President Barack Obama finally won broad bipartisan support on Wednesday in the often bitterly divided U.S. House of Representatives. All it took was a call for Americans to help each other — and the memory of Sept. 11.
 
On a 321-105 vote, the House passed and sent on to the Senate an Obama-backed bill that seeks to expand volunteerism.
 
The proposed GIVE Act — Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education — would also urge Americans to recognize Sept. 11 as a national day of service as well as remembrance.obama-speech
 
“Establishing 9/11 as a national day of service would ensure that the lives of those lost are forever remembered,” said David Paine of MyGoodDeed.org, a nonprofit created by family members of 9/11 victims.
 
House Republicans have opposed a number of the president’s initiatives including his $787 billion stimulus package, but many rallied in support of this one.
 
The measure comes in response to Obama’s call to Congress last month to pass a bill that will provide Americans with more chances to serve their communities.
 
The House-passed bill would create volunteer opportunities for Americans ranging from school children and retirees to military veterans.
 
“President Obama has renewed the spirit of a practice in our country that is as old as the union itself — the call to public service,” said Democratic Representative Carolyn McCarthy, sponsor of the bill.

Click here for more Reuters political coverage.

- Photo credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Obama gives his primetime address to a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives in February)

Who speaks for the Republican Party?

USAWASHINGTON – For Americans United for Change, the left-leaning political action group that worked to defeat President George W. Bush’s Social Security private accounts proposal, it’s conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh.

Americans United joined forces with the public employees union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to finance a hard-hitting “No” ad linking the Republican party with Limbaugh, who said on his radio show that he wanted President Barack Obama to fail.

It’s part of a strategy by top Democratic strategists to associate Republicans, who opposed Obama’s economic stimulus plan, with those comments by Limbaugh.

Impatient Obama sharpens tone on ‘failed’ Republican tax ideas

Bipartisanship may be about to take a back seat to political reality in Washington.
 
President Barack Obama sharpened his rhetoric Thursday as he pushed the U.S. Senate to pass his nearly $900 billion economic stimulus bill, hammering Republican complaints that the measure doesn’t have enough tax cuts.
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The Republican push is “rooted in the idea that tax cuts alone can solve all our problems, that government doesn’t have a role to play, that half-measures and tinkering are somehow enough, that we can afford to ignore our most fundamental economic challenges,” Obama told an audience of Energy Department staffers.
 
“So let me be clear: Those ideas have been tested, and they have failed. They’ve taken us from surpluses to an annual deficit of over $1 trillion. And they’ve brought our economy to a halt,” he said.
 
“Time for talk is over,” Obama said. “The time for action is now.”
 
The president’s shift in rhetorical tone came amid press criticism that the White House has let Republicans win the communications battle over his stimulus plan by characterizing it as wasteful and excessive.
 
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs rejected the notion that Obama was backing away from his pledge of bipartisanship, noting the president hosted moderate Republicans Wednesday at the White House.
 
But asked if it was unfair to characterize Obama’s remarks as showing signs of impatience, Gibbs said: “I mean, I think when he said the time to talk is over, I think it’s fair to read impatience into that.”
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama speaks at Energy Department Thursday)

Vice President Biden a lot like voluble Sen. Biden

biden1WASHINGTON – As a veteran Democratic senator, Joe Biden was an opinionated guy. As vice president, he is still an opinionated guy.
 
Which leads us to our latest installment of “Biden watch,” in which the vice president says he likes the idea of including a “Buy American” provision in the economic stimulus plan. Some lawmakers see the provision as steering U.S. trade policy into protectionist territory.
 
Not Biden.
 
“I don’t view that as some of the pure free traders view it, as a harbinger of protectionism. I don’t buy that at all. So I think it’s legitimate to have some portions of ‘Buy American’ in it,” Biden told CNBC on Thursday.
 
The House of Representatives approved the measure this week as part of an $825 billion bill to revive the U.S. economy. In the House version of the bill, the “Buy American” measure would require all public works projects funded by the stimulus package to use only U.S.-made iron and steel.
 
At the White House on Friday, spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked about the buy American provision and had a wait-and-see answer. Senate debate on the stimulus bill starts next week.
 
Gibbs said the Obama administration was examining the measure to see whether it violates U.S. trade obligations.
 
 ”The administration will review that particular provision and will make a determination of it … . It understands all of the concerns,” Gibbs said.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Biden and Obama in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 30)