Tales from the Trail

First draft: New wax likeness of Michelle awaits Obama

If a bleary-eyed President Barack Obama, tired after a whirlwind 8-day tour of Europe with a stop in Iraq, accidentally wandered a few blocks away from the White House he might be surprised to see his wife Michelle all dressed up in a red and black outfit complete with pearls.

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It’s not his real wife, but just a wax likeness unveiled this week at Madame Tussauds museum.  The wax Michelle Obama and a figure of the president are popular photo opportunities for tourists who take their photos making silly poses with the wax first couple.

Obama might have time for a quick trip to the Wax Museum today, because he has nothing on his public schedule after returning to the White House from his first international tour at around 3 a.m. this morning. Even Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has been given a reprieve from the daily public grilling.

Obama had a busy trip to Europe where he got a rapturous welcome in cities from London to Prague to Istanbul to Baghdad. His goal was to signal to the world a new U.S. approach that breaks with the “go it alone” style of President George W. Bush.

Since his last scheduled stop was in Turkey, he took a side trip and flew a couple hours to Baghdad where he met with U.S. troops and Iraqi leaders — urging Iraqis to take responsibility for their country so U.S. troops could leave.

First draft: Obama slips into Iraq

OBAMA-TURKEY/After calling for Middle East peace and saying he believed in a dialogue with Islam, President Barack Obama ended his first international tour with a surprise trip to Iraq.

Obama took off from Istanbul and, instead of heading home to Washington, traveled to Iraq for a quick visit. He was due to meet U.S. commanders and troops and will speak to Iraqi leaders by telephone. Poor weather in the area caused him to scratch plans to take a helicopter to meet Iraqi leaders in person.

The White House said Obama — who won strong support during the presidential campaign for vowing to wind down the unpopular war in Iraq — would tell Iraqi leaders that there are political solutions to their challenges.

First Draft: French kiss

Can this be France? What happened to the days when cross-Atlantic gauntlets were thrown down and French fries turned into Freedom fries?

President Barack Obama was welcomed like a rock star in a land notorious for its air-sniffing disdain of almost everything American. NATO/

Although first lady Michelle Obama is almost overshadowing her husband in media coverage about their European jaunt, with many comparisons to Jackie Kennedy who wowed them all overseas.

First Draft: royal iPod

President Barack Obama gave the Queen an iPod filled with show tunes and pictures from her visit to America. Now watch for those tell-tale ear buds under Her Majesty’s crown.

“I think it was a fun gift for the Queen,”  White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told ABC’s “Good Morning America” from London where Obama is attending the G20 summit. ”I think it was a real treat to call back and tell his kids that he’d met the Queen.” G20/

Obama apparently came away with warm feelings for the British royals after his private meeting at Buckingham Palace. “The president remarked to me this morning that her sensibilities sort of reminded him a bit of his grandmother, only with a much bigger house,” Gibbs told NBC’s “Today.”

First Draft: Obama online

President Barack Obama gets a bit of a reprieve from the Secret Service shield on the presidential use of Internet technologies and will answer questions submitted online from the public at 11:30 a.m. today.

The White House Web site has been taking questions in categories that include education, home ownership and jobs.

Activists for legalizing marijuana managed to flood the financial stability category with queries such as: “Has the administration given any thought to legalizing marijuana, as a cash crop to fuel the economy?” Let’s see if that one gets picked for a presidential response.MEXICO/

First Draft: Q and A

The economy is expected to dominate President Barack Obama’s news conference at 8 p.m. But perhaps the power of his prime time presence can be judged by his ability to change the TV line-up –  the popular “American Idol” has been moved to Wednesday.

NBC’s “Today” show asked White House spokesman Robert Gibbs whether Obama wanted to risk angering the show’s 31 million viewers and, more scary, judge Simon Cowell.

“No I think taking on Simon along with the economy might be one too many things to take on,” Gibbs said with a laugh. 

First draft: Michael Phelps takes cue from politicians

Take note politicians. Michael Phelps might have some pointers for you.

PHELPS/He won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, but swimmer Phelps sounded more like a politician than an athlete in a morning TV interview today — repeatedly admitting he had made mistakes but sidestepping any direct admission that he had smoked marijuana.

In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show Phelps, who was banned from swimming for three months after a picture was published of of him smoking a “bong” pipe at a party last November, said he had made a “bad mistake”, a “stupid mistake” and showed “bad judgement.”

Asked directly if he had been smoking pot Phelps just said: “It was a bad mistake. I mean, we all know what, you know, what you and I are talking about. It’s a stupid mistake. You know, bad judgment. And it’s something that, you know, I have to, and I want to teach other people not to make that mistake.”

The First Draft: Down to business

The White House puts its focus back on the economy today, with a day-long conference to talk about how the money from the economic stimulus package is being spent.

President Barack Obama is due to speak at the “Recovery Act Implementation Conference” at 11:00 EDT (1500 GMT). He is expected to talk about the need to make sure all the money spent as part of the stimulus is transparent and used efficiently. Later in the day he will speak and take questios at a business roundtable.

The timing is perfect: a Reuters survey showed U.S. unemployment will approach 10 percent as the country endures its worst recession since World War Two.

The First Draft: From education to Bernanke to borders

Topic of the day for the White House: education. OBAMA/

President Barack Obama is unveiling his plans to reform the U.S. education system, which has one of the worst high school dropout rates in the industrialized world.

USA/But while Obama’s education reform plans drew applause on the campaign trail, he might face tough competition for airtime as he is talking at 0945 EDT — roughly the same time as U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks about financial reform.

In his speech to the Council of Foreign Relations, Bernanke said governments needed to take forceful and sometimes coordinated action to heal markets and said sustainable economic recovery was out of reach until the financial system is stabilized.

The First Draft: urgent care

President Obama takes on healthcare reform at a 1:00 p.m. White House forum today, hoping to design an overhaul of a costly and inefficient system he believes is threatening the economy. About 120 participants from industry and government will gather to discuss potential fixes to the $2.5 trillion system. JAPAN

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Brussels, said it was time for NATO to make a new start with Russia after formal ties were suspended when Moscow sent troops into Georgia last summer.

The House is expected to approve a bill that would allow bankruptcy judges to slash mortgage payments for homeowners as a last resort.