Tales from the Trail

Clinton goes on charm offensive with French

clinton-kouchnerWASHINGTON – Hillary Clinton went on a charm offensive with France’s foreign minister on Thursday, fondly recalling many trips to Paris and heaping praise on the country’s education system as a model for America.
Clinton has played up the Transatlantic relationship this week, choosing to meet first with the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France in her second week as new U.S. secretary of state.
“I have been to France many times and I always have a good impression. I enjoy visiting in France,” the former first lady and New York senator said at a joint news conference with France’s Bernard Kouchner at the State Department.
She recalled meeting Kouchner’s wife “longer ago than Christine or I care to admit” and said she was impressed by the country’s preschool facilities, prompting her to return home to try and get the United States to follow France’s example.
“I not only have enjoyed my time in France but I have learned a lot from my visits. I look forward to returning,” she added. “As soon as possible,” gushed Kouchner, beaming at her side.
The Bush administration had a prickly relationship with France at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, to the extent that in congressional cafeteria the words “French fries” were changed to “Freedom fries” on menus.
 For more Reuters political news, click here

Photo Credit: Reuters/Hyungwon Kang (Clinton, Kouchner speak at the State Department)

Lawmaker seeks to end gubernatorial appointment of U.S. senators

capitolWASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold intends to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to end the practice of governors filling vacant Senate seats.

With the Illinois governor charged with having tried to sell President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat — and New York’s governor accused by critics of having held a circus-like review to fill the one formerly held by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Feingold says voters — not governors — should make the call in special elections. 

“The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end,” Feingold said.

Rice leaves Clinton welcome note, bids staff goodbye

condyWASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice bid a tearful goodbye to her staff on Friday and left behind a welcome note for Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is set to take over the top diplomatic job on Tuesday.

Hundreds of staff turned out at the State Department’s entrance in a farewell ceremony for Rice, who was teary-eyed as she thanked employees for their service and then posed for photographs before leaving the building.

Rice, who plans to write a book about diplomacy from her home in California as well as one about her parents, told reporters she had left a note for Clinton on her desk but declined to say what was in it.

The First Draft: Nomination hearings today

It’s a busy old day on Capitol Hill.

President-elect Barack Obama’s picks to head the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Homeland Security and his nominees for attorney general and ambassador to the United Nations will be on Capitol Hill for their Senate nomination hearings.

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Mary Schapiro as SEC head at 10 a.m. EST. At the same time, Obama’s nominee for Homeland Security, Gov. Janet Napolitano, will be quizzed at a separate hearing on her suitability for the job.

Eric Holder, Obama’s nominee for attorney-general, is expected to be questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee about his role in pardons granted by former President Bill Clinton, in particular the case of billionaire financier and fugitive Marc Rich.

The First Draft: tax torture

The second round of Barack Obama‘s cabinet picks undergo their Capitol Hill hazing today. Who else screwed up on their taxes? Our elected representatives are sure to find out.

USA-OBAMA/ANNOUNCMENTConfirmation hearings today: Tom Vilsack for Agriculture Secretary; Lisa Jackson for the Environmental Protection Agency; Peter Orszag at the Office of Management and Budget; and Erik Shinseki at Veterans Affairs.

Keep an eye on Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. He’s the one who revealed that Timothy Geithner, who as Treasury Secretary would oversee the IRS, made a hash of his tax returns. Will Grassley make the issue more than simply an embarrassment for the Obama administration’s top money man?

The First Draft: Hillary on the hot seat

Obama’s dream team faces its first test on Tuesday as the Senate holds confirmation hearings for Hillary Clinton and several other Cabinet picks.

The hearings will provide a sneak peak at relations between the Obama administration and Congress. Obama’s fellow Democrats control both chambers, but that’s no guarantee of smooth sailing.

USA/Clinton, nominated for Secretary of State, will have to answer some pointed questions about hubby Bill’s globe-trotting activities, but observers expect her to win confirmation easily. The fun begins at 9:30 EST.

The First Draft, Tuesday, Dec. 23

Tuesday’s political news is all about pecs, abs and and a painful shoulder.
A photographer caught President-elect Barack Obama sunning in his swimsuit on a Hawaii beach. 
The images drew an admiring “Fit for Office” headline from the New York Post as well as approving nods from the morning TV talk shows. 
The painful shoulder belonged to President George W. Bush. It got an MRI scan and a cortisone shot at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Monday as Bush paid a visit to wounded soldiers.
Obama’s transition team is due to release a report detailing the contacts between his staff and the office of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The governor has been charged with trying to benefit personally by selling off the Senate seat that Obama vacated in November after winning the presidential election. Blagojevich has the power to appoint a replacement to finish Obama’s term.
ABC News said the report found that Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, discussed the seat with the governor’s office but did not do or say anything wrong.
Obama’s staff finished the report last week but its release was held up at the request of the U.S. attorney investigating Blagojevich.
The president-elect also will attend a private memorial service Tuesday for his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who died just before the election. Obama lived with his grandmother and grandfather in Hawaii throughout his teenage years.
Hillary Clinton has written off $13.1 million in loans to her failed campaign for president, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
The New York Times also reported that the former first lady and New York senator, who was selected by Obama to serve as secretary of state, is moving to widen the role of the State Department.
She is seeking to build a more powerful State Department with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and a larger role in dealing with global economic issues, the Times reported.
The U.S. economy shrank at an annual pace of 0.5 percent, new government figures showed Tuesday. Consumer spending shrank by 3.8 percent, the sharpest drop since 1980.
Stock futures were little changed, suggesting a relatively flat open on Wall Street.
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Hugh Gentry (Obama meets with Marines at a base in Hawaii Monday); Reuters/Ho New (Bush shakes hands with Staff Sgt Kyle Stipp after presenting him with Purple Heart medals during visit to Walter Reed Monday)

Women US senators ready to break another glass ceiling



WASHINGTON – Women are set to make history next month in the 220-year-old U.S. Senate.

For the first time since the Senate opened its doors in 1789, a pair of female lawmakers are in line to lead one of the chamber’s full committees.

Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is set to chair the Small Business Committee and Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine is positioned to serve as the panel’s top Republican.

Hillary’s mom offers gift ideas to help her daughter

Looking for that perfect gift for the holidays?

Hillary Clinton’s mom, Dorothy Rodham, has a suggestion for you — a children’s book about her daughter.  For a slightly-higher-than-retail price you can even get the book autographed by Clinton and help her pay down her campaign debt.clintonbook

The unique gift suggestion and campaign donation idea was sent around in an email from Dorothy Rodham entitled “A Perfect Gift.”

Here’s a copy of the email:

“I’m so proud of everything my daughter has accomplished and excited about what her future holds.

Bill Clinton hails Obama’s selection of secretary of state


U.S. Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton won the swift and hearty support of one former globe-trotting U.S. president: her husband, Bill Clinton. 

Just minutes after President-elect Barack Obama nominated Hillary Clinton as his top diplomat on Monday, Bill Clinton issued a statement of praise.

“As an American, I am thankful,” Bill Clinton said. “As her husband, I am deeply proud.”