Al Franken, a big-time comic turned Washington politician, received plenty of applause but no laughs on Tuesday when he finally took his seat as a member of the U.S. Senate.
Tales from the Trail
Even with enormously difficult to pass legislation on healthcare and climate change topping the Obama administration’s agenda, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid believes he can still muscle through a bill to overhaul U.S. immigration policies later this year.
But this time he’s not trying to win himself a job …he is trying to win over support for his Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor.
Declaring “it’s good to be back in Vegas,” President Barack Obama used his political star power on Tuesday to help Senate majority leader Harry Reid fill his campaign war chest against Republican efforts to unseat the veteran lawmaker next year.
“Make sure that Harry Reid continues to be our majority leader. As long as I’m president I want him to be my majority leader,” Obama told a Las Vegas crowd who paid $2,400 per person to attend a reception at Caesars Palace with the president and Reid.
Although Reid’s control over the Senate makes him one of the most powerful men in Washington, a recent poll shows he is not that popular in his home state.
Forty-five percent of Nevada voters said in a survey last week they’d vote to kick Reid out of office and another 17 percent said they could support another candidate.
Hours after nominating Sonia Sotomayor to be the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court, Obama said he needed Reid’s help with an ambitious agenda that includes reforming the health care system and approving energy legislation to wean the United States off foreign oil.
Obama also spoke at a second event for Reid, where singers Sheryl Crow and Bette Midler entertained for ticket-holders who paid between $50 and $250 a seat.
Reid aides said they expected the evening to bring in close to $2 million, which the senator and the Nevada Democratic Party will split. Reid hopes to raise $25 million for his race, an amount which could keep many Republican challengers at bay.
Obama annoyed local leaders earlier this year when he criticized financial companies for holding lavish retreats in Las Vegas after accepting taxpayer bailout funds. But he glossed over that controversy on Tuesday night.
“It’s good to be back in Vegas. I thought I had good room, but now that I’m president they upgraded me,” he said to laughter. “They’ve been stashing away a really nice room. It’s like one of those high roller rooms. And now I have it because I’m president.”
Sure it’s a long way before the November 2010 U.S. congressional election — and a lot can happen between now and then. But at this point, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada seems to be in jeopardy of becoming the second Senate leader in a half century to be voted out of office.
U.S. Senate Democrats had less than 70 minutes to spare when they finally filed the paperwork on Saturday for the compromise they reached with a handful of Republicans for the $827 billion economic stimulus package, setting up a vote for early next week.
First lady Michelle Obama took a turn in the spotlight Thursday, hosting a reception for a woman whose treatment at Goodyear prompted Congress to change the law on pay discrimination.
It was one of the highest-profile public events for the first lady since the inauguration last week. And it was on behalf of a woman — Lilly Ledbetter — who got to know the first couple well during the presidential campaign.
President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act into law in the East Room of the White House flanked by a small crowd of lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“This is what change looks like,” Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland joked to the audience as the lawmakers crowded around the document Obama was to sign.
The first lady later spoke about Ledbetter at a reception in the State Dining Room as guests sipped orange juice and cranberry juice and munched cherry orange scones, apple muffins and other pastries.
“She is one of my favorite people in the whole wide world,” Michelle Obama said.
“She knew unfairness when she saw it and was willing to do something about it because it was the right thing to do, plain and simple.”
Ledbetter discovered after 19 years on the job at Goodyear Tire & Rubber that she was the lowest-paid supervisor at her plant despite having more experience than some male co-workers.
A jury found she was the victim of discrimination. But the Supreme Court reversed the decision two years ago, saying discrimination claims must be filed within 180 days of the first offense.
“I will never see a cent from my case,” Ledbetter said. “But with the passage (of the bill) and president’s signature today, I have an even richer reward. I know that my daughters and granddaughters and your daughters and your granddaughters will have a better deal.”
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WASHINGTON – Thirty-seven years ago, dressed in old battle fatigues, John Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a young hero and a critic of an unpopular war that divided Americans and radicalized a generation.
“We are angry because we feel we have been used in the worst fashion by the administration” of President Richard Nixon, Kerry testified on behalf of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
Now 65 and a senator from Massaschusetts, Kerry will take over next month as chairman of that committee, which raised questions about the war that ultimately helped lead to the end of the decade-old conflict.
“I am honored to serve as chairman of a committee which I know from my own experience as a young man can impact the course of our security and help advance our values and interests in the world,” he said in a statement.
Kerry’s remarks on Monday came after Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid named him to head the panel.
Kerry had been on the short list of potential nominees to be President-elect Barack Obama’s secretary of state.
But with Obama deciding instead to go with Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York as his top diplomat, Reid, as anticipated, recommended to a Democratic steering committee that Kerry lead the Foreign Relations panel. Kerry is virtually certain to get the job.
He would replace Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, who is stepping down to be sworn in next month as Obama’s vice president.
Kerry will be one of only a few new Senate Committee chairs as recommended by Reid.
The others include Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who is stepping down as chairman of the Commerce Committee to take over as head of the Appropriation Committee.
He will replace Robert Byrd, 91, the longest serving senator, who agreed to move aside as head of Appropriations because of concerns about his health and age. Inouye is 84.
Reid recommended that Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia take over as chairman of the Commerce Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California replace Rockefeller as chair of the Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York replace Feinstein as chair of the Rules Committee.
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.