Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: Deja vu for Obama, Congress, healthcare?


President Barack Obama heads for Capitol Hill tomorrow to address a joint session of Congress on one of the most pressing issues of the day, healthcare reform. For those with middling-to-long memories of Washington, this may have a familiar ring. Another Democratic president argued for healthcare reform on another September day some 16 years ago, and somehow healthcare remains unreformed.

rtr1oqi_compBack then, it was President Bill Clinton, who spoke to Congress on September 22, 1993. That speech was full of sounding phrases like “healthcare that can never be taken away” and “security, simplicity and savings.” It also paid tribute to contributions from then-first lady and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose efforts to change U.S. healthcare went down to defeat.

Obama tried out some sounding phrases of his own on Labor Day in Cincinnati, calling on Congress to pass healthcare legislation this year.

Those who question Obama’s plans to reform the American health insurance system have noted the earlier Clinton efforts to do the same thing — and the earlier failure. Fox News warned about “echoes” of the Clinton plan. Politico.com said “history does not seem to be on (Obama’s) side”, citing the Clinton speech and noting that the Clinton healthcare reform plan was dead a year later.

It’s a different time, a different economy, a different president. But will it be deja vu all over again when Obama gives his prime-time health care speech tomorrow? Let us know what you think.

Zelaya struggles to convince U.S. his ouster was military coup

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is having a hard time convincing the Obama administration he was deposed by a military coup.
Zelaya argues that being awakened at 5 a.m. by soldiers in your presidential palace, flown to another country by hooded and armed military guards and deposited on the tarmac in your pajamas pretty much fits the description of a military coup.
The Obama administration agrees the scenario is a coup but maybe not a military coup since the legislative and judicial branches were involved as well.
The Honduran president met Thursday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to prod her on the issue.
He was rewarded with a pledge to cancel $30 million in aid to the de facto government, but did not get a formal military coup declaration. Zelaya said the U.S. decision was nonetheless a sign the region is unified against the coup government.
While he awaits his restoration, Zelaya speaks out frequently on the situation in his country. He’s done the speech so often it has become a routine, delivered with a dry sense of humor.
“In Honduras, on the 28th of June, barely two months ago, a cruel coup d’etat took place,” he told a George Washington University audience Wednesday.
It was a poorly managed affair, Zelaya said, citing a Spanish constitutional law expert who labeled it “anti-aesthetic.”
“I can say that it was obscene and not aesthetic to pull out a president at 5 a.m., raiding his residence, shooting guns,” Zelaya said, adding that soldiers pumped 150 bullets into a metal door at the house.
He had his cell phone as he left his room, and made an effort to call his wife to let her know.
“When they saw my cellular, they didn’t want me to make a call to let the people know perhaps,” he said. “They surrounded me, 10 military men with their rifles.

“They were saying, “This is a military order. If you do not let go of your cellular, we will shoot you.
“I was dragged in my pajamas, as we say. I was put in a plane by force,” Zelaya said.
Three armed military men in fatigues with hoods on their heads accompanied him on the plane.
“Perhaps they were thinking they would throw me out of the plane. I mean, why so much force in a small plane?
“I asked the one that was closer to me, I asked, ‘Officer, where are we overflying?’” Zelaya said. “And he said, ‘I don’t have any orders to advise you of anything.’”
“Forty minutes later we were landing at San Jose, Costa Rica. I thought it was strange that they didn’t deplane, but they were careful to open the door. They pulled out the steps — it’s a small plane — and they told me, ‘Get off.’
“So they just left me on the street, in my pajamas. And what do I do now, in my pajamas?  I’ve never experienced something so bad. They just turn around, put the steps up and left.”
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias came to the airport to greet him, and a news conference was called.
“They offered me if I wanted to change, that they could give me some clothes — a suit,” Zelaya said. “But I said I wouldn’t fit in President Arias’ clothes. They would be short for me.”
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Zelaya gestures at letter outside State Department after meeting with Clinton); Reuters/Jason Reed (Zelaya discusses his ouster on Wednesday in a speech at George Washington University)

Group accuses U.S. Kabul embassy guards of misconduct

Nearly naked, drunken guys dancing around a bonfire and engaging in lewd conduct. And there are pictures and videos. No it’s not a frat party gone wild.  It’s downtime for some private security contractors hired to protect the U.S. embassy in Kabul,  according to the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight.

The watchdog group says the alleged misbehavior by the guards working for ArmorGroup North America — along with serious under-staffing — has jeopardized security at the embassy amid rising violence in the Afghan capital.

The Project sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a lengthy letter documenting complaints about the guards. The group also sent pictures and videos backing its allegations.

The First Draft: searching for peace

President Barack Obama meets with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the White House around 11 a.m. in the long-running quest for Middle East peace that has bedeviled American presidents for decades.

Mubarak is already out with his talking points, saying in media interviews that Arab states would recognize and normalize ties with Israel only after an overall Middle East peace deal is achieved, and not before. USA/

Obama then turns to Clinton vs. Clinton. He meets Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at 1:30 p.m. about her Africa trip, and then moves on to a meeting with Bill Clinton, the former president and current husband to the secretary of state, about his trip to North Korea.

The First Draft: Washington haiku

USA-CANYON/Sometimes prose doesn’t quite capture the goings-on in Washington. These haikus might not either, but at least they’re short, which is an appropriate length for many of the capital events these days and easily Twitterable. Poetry is supposed to reduce things to their essence. Just in case these go too far in that direction, there are highlighted links to take you to a fuller explanation, if not a deeper meaning.POTUS hits the roadTo parry health care criticsIn Bozeman. Yeehaw!Hitting a plateau?Feds say economy isLeveling. Really?African sojournEnds for Hillary ClintonA tough trip, completeGrand Canyon freebie,For Obamas and others,aims to lure touristsFor Mrs. Shriver,They gather in Hyannis.Eunice, rest in peaceAnyone can do this. You probably know the rules: three lines, with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, five in the third. Show us what you’ve got!Photo credit: REUTERS/Rickey Rogers (Grand Canyon, January 2, 2008)

In Bill-Hillary popularity contest, Bill wins

Hillary Clinton may be Secretary of State, but her husband Bill still wins the popularity contest.

The former president grabbed the headlines recently on what could be considered her diplomatic turf by going to North Korea and securing the release of two American reporters.

And then he was off to Las Vegas to celebrate his upcoming 63rd birthday with pals at a steak house where an 8 ounce goes for $240 — and that’s without a baked potato or veggies — according to the New York Times.

The First Draft: Hillary Clinton’s bad day

CONGO-DEMOCRATIC/CLINTON-OUTBURSTSome days, you really have to feel for Hillary Clinton. And this could be one of those days.

Secretary of State Clinton’s bad day started Monday in Kinshasa, in the middle of a grueling African trip, when a translator goofed and made it sound as if a questioner wanted to know what Clinton’s husband Bill thought of a particular issue. While on this tour, she’d already had to comment on the former president’s humanitarian mission to free to U.S. journalists from North Korea, and basically, she’d had about enough.

Read a just-the-facts Reuters story on what happened here and watch the video below.

Bill grabs spotlight from Hillary

KOREA-NORTH/For months, Bill Clinton has stayed out of the diplomatic spotlight in deference to his wife.

But the former U.S. president has dominated the news since he turned up in North Korea seeking the release of two American journalists, while Hillary Clinton headed to Africa for her first major trip there as the top U.S. diplomat.

Secretary of State Clinton stayed out of sight from reporters traveling with her on the 15-hour flight to Kenya. Her staff said she would not comment on her husband’s mission to Pyongyang, which the White House billed as private.

The First Draft: China and healthcare

Topics of the day today: more healthcare and U.S.-Chinese relations

President Barack Obama speaks at the beginning of a two-day U.S.-Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington, then top Chinese and U.S. officials will work on developing a new framework for U.S.-Chinese relations.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner are among the high-level officials taking part in the meeting. The duo wrote an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal talking about the need for working with China.

HEALTHCARE/GRASSROOTSCongress is still working on healthcare reform, although Obama has eased up on his August deadline for working out a deal. Democratic lawmakers will be working on ironing out differences within their own party. Obama has learned that although both the House and the Senate have big Democratic majorities, that’s not always enough to get legislation passed.

What rift? White House says Obama and Clinton close

The White House is tired of seeing stories that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are not getting along.

“The notion that there’s some rift or disagreement is nothing more than silly Washington games,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Wednesday when asked about the relationship between the president and his secretary of state. OBAMA/EGYPT

Clinton, who joined Obama’s team despite their bitter rivalry for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, has weathered several reports that her influence as chief diplomat is hampered by other foreign policy heavyweights in the administration and her own history with Obama.