Tales from the Trail

McConnell: New Obama term offers divided Washington new start

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who drew fire in 2010 when he declared that his top goal was to deny President Barack Obama re-election, quickly congratulated the president on Monday as Obama began four more years in office.

Within minutes of Obama’s second inaugural address, McConnell issued a written statement expressing a willingness to take a new shot at working together.

Only time will tell if they can put past differences behind them, which included McConnell blocking Obama-backed legislation and rooting for the president to be defeated in last year’s election.

But McConnell, in his Inauguration Day statement, made the case for bipartisanship in a sharply divided Washington where Democrats hold the White House and Senate and Republicans control the House.

“The president’s second term represents a fresh start when it comes to dealing with the great challenges of our day; particularly, the transcendent challenge of unsustainable federal spending and debt,” McConnell said.

Washington Extra – Tea Party poopers

A man holds a sign during a March 24 Tea Party Patriots rally in Washington calling for the repeal of the 2010 healthare law. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

All that Tea Party support in 2010 for the 87 House Republican freshmen seems to have come with a price — and now it’s time to collect.

Representative Michael Grimm found his office filled with activists wanting to know why he hadn’t done more to slash government spending and why he had voted to raise the U.S. debt limit. He too is frustrated, the former Marine told them, but you just can’t shut down government and stop paying the soldiers.

Gingrich attacks Romney, a week after promising a positive campaign

A week ago, Newt Gingrich vowed to follow Ronald Reagan’s famed “11th Commandment” and withhold attacks on fellow Republican candidates for president.

But last night his campaign e-mail blasted reporters a lengthy opposition sheet on former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, ripping Romney’s latest television ad, “Conservative Agenda.”

In the oppo sheet, the Gingrich campaign calls Romney “Mitt the Massachusetts Moderate” and highlights a number of his past, more moderate positions that may be at odds with his current stances. These include Romney’s health care reforms in Massachusetts, his support for universal health insurance and abortion rights, his vote for Democrat Paul Tsongas in his 1992 bid for president and his renunciation of the Reagan/Bush era.

Obama fundraising watch: debt, progressives, and women on the Court

President Barack Obama stayed close to the White House for another round of fundraising on Monday, attending events in Washington where tickets went for $44 to $35,800.

Here are a few highlights from his remarks:

1.    Progressives should care about the debt and deficit. “It’s… as critical for progressives as it is for anybody, because if we want to have a strong foundation for us to provide opportunity in the future, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got our deficit and our debt under control.”

2.   The president is pleased about having more “strong” women on the Supreme Court. “You can never have enough women on the Supreme Court.”

Just the right tavern to celebrate 200 years of U.S.-French military ties

Not every U.S. ally who visits the Pentagon needs to be treated to a dinner that evokes more than 200 years of peaceful military relations.

France is the rare exception.

So when Defense Minister Alain Juppe traveled to Washington this week for talks with Robert Gates, the U.S. defense secretary found just the right venue: Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia, one of the few establishments in the United States that can boast of “fine dining since 1770.”

Its historical guest list includes the likes of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and James Monroe.

The First Draft: White House “gate-crashers” say they’re suffering

They passed through layers of White House security to attend a lavish state dinner, got themselves photographed with the president and vice president and posted pix on Facebook. 
 OBAMA-DINNER/SECURITY   
It was supposed to be an experience to last a lifetime. But now, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the couple at the center of one of the most embarrassing White House security breaches of all time, say their lives have been destroyed by falsehood and gossip.
    
“Devastated. Shocked,” is how beautiful, blond, former NFL cheerleader Michaele recalls her reaction to the morning-after headlines in an interview with NBC’s Today show. And Tareq? “Very saddened,” he says.
    
According to the White House, the Salahis were not on the invitation list. But they insist they were invited and predict that e-mails now in the hands of the Secret Service will exonerate them in the end. 
     OBAMA-DINNER/SECURITY
In the meantime, their lives are a one-syllable word for perdition.
    
Tareq: “Our lives have really been destroyed.” 
    
Michaele: “Everything we’ve worked for — for me, 44 years — destroyed.”
    
The U.S. media have made the Salahis out to be self-promoting social climbers who crashed the White House dinner while Michaele was auditioning for a new reality TV show called “The Real Housewives of Washington.” There have even been reports they tried to cash in on their exploits by demanding big bucks in exchange for media interviews.
    
A camera crew from the cable-TV channel, Bravo, did follow them to the edge of the White House grounds on the night of the dinner. But the bit about paid interviews is dead wrong, says Michaele: “At no time … have we ever even talked about doing that with anyone.”
    
Whether the Salahis are charged depends on a Secret Service probe to figure out just what happened. The Salahis tell NBC they hope to clear their name by sharing those e-mails as soon as the Secret Service says they can. When might that be? “We hope within the next several days,” Tareq says. 

Photo Credits: Reuters/Ho New (the Salahis and Obama); Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (the Salahis)

The First Draft: no rest for the weary?

The Obamas may be on vacation this week, but the news hasn’t taken a break. OBAMA/

The Justice Department is expected to release a report Monday disclosing details of prisoner abuse that were gathered in 2004 by the CIA’s inspector general but never before made public. According to published reports, the department has recommended re-opening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases.

A review of the cases threatens to weigh down the Obama administration, which is already involved in deeply partisan battles over healthcare and climate change legislation.

Governor Sanford’s walk in the woods

When Governor Mark Sanford walks out of the woods tomorrow, he’s sure for a big surprise.

The governor of South Carolina went hiking on the Appalachian Trail last Thursday to clear his head after a tough legislative session, according to his aides. Nothing odd in that – politicians need time off as much as anyone. Trouble is, when Sanford left he didn’t tell his aides where he was going. He didn’t tell the state’s lieutenant governor either. Or his wife.

rtxbyi6

His disappearance sparked speculation about his whereabouts, although Fox News reported he did call to check in two days into the trip. Tomorrow he is due to emerge from the trail and return to work and he will doubtless face many questions. For a possible presidential candidate in 2012, the distraction could prove awkward.

from Photographers' Blog:

Tim Geithner : What’s In Your Wallet?

What's in U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's wallet? Not much.

While testifying in front of a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill Thursday Geithner was shown a $50 Billion Zimbabwean bank note (rendered worthless by Zimbabwe's hyperinflation) by U.S. Representative John Culberson (R- TX) and asked if he had ever seen one himself. Geithner immediately pulled a piece of Zimbabwean currency out of his own pocket and showed it off to the committee. At the next break in the hearing I approached Geithner and asked how he happened to have a piece of foreign currency in his pocket. His response was "I often have some foreign currency in my wallet. Want to see?" He pulled a very thin and mostly empty wallet from his pocket.

Amongst many empty slots in the thin weathered leather wallet there could be seen three credit or debit cards with Visa and Mastercard logos (all inserted into the wallet upside down so that the card issuers could not be seen) and an old and yellowed looking identification card of indeterminate origin.

From inside the wallet Geithner extracted a small pile of receipts and paper including a New York City MTA farecard, pointing out that there were European Euros tucked amongst the paper.

Partying times 10 on Inauguration Night

USA-ELECTION/

Barack Obama will be the host with the most on Inauguration Night. After his expected swearing-in ceremony earlier in the day on January 20, he’ll host seven inaugural balls and attend three more for a grand total of 10.

Moving among the various official parties won’t necessarily require a motorcade, though: six of them are being held in the vast Walter E. Washington Convention Center. These include Obama’s home states ball, hosted by the president-elect for invited guests from Hawaii and Illinois; Vice President-elect Joe Biden’s home states ball for guests from Delaware and Pennsylvania; the Mid-Atlantic regional ball, the Midwest regional ball, the Western regional ball and the neighborhood ball, which is for Washington DC residents and other guests.

The bargain event of the night may be the youth ball, hosted by Obama for guests aged 18-35 at the Washington Hilton, with tickets available at $75. Most of the other balls cost $150.