Tales from the Trail

Obama’s big speech may draw bipartisan seating arrangement

A top Republican on Friday embraced a Democratic proposal to project a sense of national unity by having members of their respective parties sit together at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address to Congress on Jan. 25 

“I like the idea,” House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy told reporters at the second day of a three-day retreat in Baltimore by the new House Republican majority. “I think the American public would find it as a positive,” he said.OBAMA/

Democrats and Republicans traditionally sit divided by party at the annual State of the Union Address. Partisanship is on display with members of one party — and then the other — standing to clap when they like what the president says, and sitting quietly when they don’t.

Democratic Senator Mark Udall suggested on Thursday that lawmakers intermingle at this year’s event. The idea was first offered by the moderate think tank Third Way.

The suggestion came on the heels of the attempted assassination in Arizona on Saturday of Representative Gabrielle Giffords that left six dead and 14 others wounded, including the Democratic lawmaker. The shooting spree stunned the nation and raised questions on whether U.S. political rhetoric had become too heated, too partisan.

U.S. public says Giffords shooting, rhetoric unrelated

RTXWDK6_Comp-150x150Most Americans see no relation between the attempted assassination of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the political tactic of lacing vitriolic rhetoric with firearms analogies.

That’s the conclusion of a CBS News poll that found most Republicans (69 pct), most independents (56 pct) and even a plurality of Democrats (49 pct) believe the two phenomena unrelated.

Those numbers add up to 57 percent of Americans overall — a true majority though not quite big enough to break a Senate filibuster.

And on the second day, they read…

Day Two of Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives was highlighted with a reading of the 223-year-old Constitution — the document that formed the American government and guides it to this day.

USA-CONGRESS/It’s often a raucous scene on the House floor. Today, it was raucous in the visitors’ gallery, when a woman calling herself “Theresa” disrupted the recitation of the Constitution at the exact point in which a lawmaker read that the president must be a “natural born citizen.”

“Except Obama,” Theresa inserted as her own 28th Amendment to the Constitution and invoking Jesus. It may have been the most prominent performance so far by “birthers,” who claim Barack Obama has no right to be in office because they believe he was born in Africa and not Hawaii.

Pelosi says Congress must create jobs, while giving up hers

As she handed over the House Speaker’s gavel to the other party, Nancy Pelosi pointed out that the shoe was now on the other foot and the new Republican-led Congress would be judged by whether it creates jobs.

USA-CONGRESS/The California Democrat, now House minority leader, probably would  like her old job back, and setting such a high performance bar for the Republicans now in charge of the House of Representatives might be one way to get it.

Lessons from the November elections are still burning — it was public anger and anxiety about the economy and job losses that partly led to Democrats losing control of the House of Representatives.

Regrets? Madam Speaker has none

Nancy Pelosi spent her final full day as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives saying she had “no regrets.”

“I don’t really look back. I look forward,” said Pelosi, who as speaker became the most powerful woman ever in American politics.

USA-CONGRESS/HEALTHCAREAt noon on Wednesday, the new 112th Congress will convene with Republicans in control of the House, ending Pelosi’s four-year reign as the first woman speaker, a position that is second in the line of succession to the U.S. presidency, behind only the vice president.

Obama up, Palin down in 2012 poll

President Barack Obama’s reelection prospects seem to be rosier, while former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s chances of being the Republican nominee were souring for 2012, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. But it’s early yet.

USA-ELECTION/Obama is expected to run again in 2012, and CNN said the poll suggests that his tax-cut deal with Republicans, pushed through at year-end, did not hurt him with Democrats.

Among Democrats, 78 percent said Obama should be renominated as the party’s presidential candidate, while 19 percent said they wanted a different candidate. Those readings were the highest and lowest respectively since March 2010, when the poll first asked the question.

Washington Extra – Obama has left the building

obama1A very non-lame Lame Duck is just about done and President Barack Obama is off to his Christmas vacation in Hawaii. Aloha, Mr. President, and congratulations on December. Let’s take a moment to recap.

The Senate approved START today. It’s a big deal for U.S.-Russian relations and sends a clear message to Moscow: Work with us, not against us. The president killed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. It was a priority for Obama who promised on the campaign trail to end the ban on gays openly serving in the military. Democrats caved on taxes and approved Obama’s compromise with Republicans — giving the president a chance to take credit, whether it was an optical win or something more substantial notwithstanding.

Now, some of my colleagues in the media biz think all of this adds up to a Comeback Kid moment for Obama. They see this as a great showing for a man who had the cards stacked against him after Democrats’ November drubbing. It’s not a completely off-base analysis, but it is a bit too dramatic for Extra.

Washington Extra – You win some, you lose some

capitol_domeDemocrats scored some noteworthy wins today. They pushed the nuclear arms treaty with Russia past a Republican hurdle. They adopted Internet rules that Republicans and some big media companies called unwarranted, excessive and maybe even illegal.

But it’s hard for Extra to call this a good day for Dems. Republicans have promised to unravel everything from Tuesday’s net neutrality decision at the FCC to Dodd-Frank and Obamacare. They’ve pushed the fight over government spending into 2011, when they’ll run the House and have more leverage in the Senate. That means regulators won’t get the extra funds they’ve requested to tighten oversight of Wall Street, as Mary Schapiro lamented to Reuters today.

Lest you think Extra’s too short-sighted, too focused on 2011, consider what could be the most politically significant news of the day — new Census data. Democrats cannot be anything but bummed by the Census showing a population shift from blue states to red ones. It means a redrawing of congressional districts that will likely add Republicans to the House. We won’t bog you down with the details, but just remember it’s the number of House seats that determines a state’s representation in the Electoral College

This lame duck sure can fly

Congress seems to work better under deadline pressure (like journalists).

Democrats are racing to cram as much through the post-election lame duck session as possible, before their majority turns into a pumpkin when Republicans take control of the House of Representatives in January.

HUNGARYRepublicans are grumbling about all the rush, but President Barack Obama went to their pond with some bread — tax cut extensions for the wealthy — so they aren’t quacking too loudly.

The lame duck session of Congress has produced — tax cut extensions have been signed into law, the repeal of “Don’t Ask , Don’t Tell” to allow gays to serve openly in the military will be signed into law tomorrow, and the START treaty is moving toward ratification.

Washington Extra – START not yet finished

So far, the U.S. Senate has spent six days debating New START — the strategic nuclear arms limitation treaty with Russia. Not so long, you say? Democrats are rushing it through? Well consider this, Congress has already spent longer on this agreement than it did on START I almost two decades ago — and the original is a much more complex treaty.

It is not just President Barack Obama and the Democrats who support this treaty. Former President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, supports it. So does Republican Condoleezza Rice and every other former secretary of state who is still alive. And the military? Well those folks really support it, just ask the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the uniformed officers in charge of nuclear security.mcconnell2

So what’s the problem?

“The American people don’t want us to squeeze our most important work into the final days of a session,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell argued. Republicans, it seems, think Obama and the Democrats just want to notch one last victory before Republicans take the House in January.