Tales from the Trail

Then came social issues and ‘morality’…

RTR2CNMS_Comp-150x150The Tea Party’s November victories and the ensuing Republican drive for spending cuts are in large part the result of a political strategy that focuses tightly on fiscal and economic matters, while minimizing rhetoric on moral questions and social topics. But for how much longer can Republicans keep a lid on the culture war?

The 2012 presidential race, though lacking in declared GOP candidates, may be about to pry open a Pandora’s box bearing the name of social issues that have long divided Republican and independent ranks. And such an occurrence could work against the interests of fiscal conservatives, just as the GOP girds itself for a showdown with Democrats over spending cuts and the debt ceiling later this spring.RTXXP42_Comp-150x150

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, one of those Republicans who are running for president without actually running for president, tells NBC’s Today show that social conservatism is what built America and made it strong.

And if a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows 65 percent of GOP primary voters preferring candidates who focus more on the economy and the deficit, and less on social issues?   ”I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he replies.

Even the battle of the budget shows signs of becoming a Republican morality fight.

U.S. illegal immigrant tally drops by 1 million on poor economy

The number of illegal immigrants living and working in the shadows in the United States dropped to 10.8 million in January last year, from a high of 11.8 million two years earlier, as the U.S. economy faltered, according to a U.S. government report.

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The study by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which was released earlier this month, found that the “number of unauthorized residents declined by 1.0 million between 2007 and 2009, coincident with the U.S. economic downturn.”

The report, which drew on DHS and Census Bureau figures, found that unauthorized immigrants from Mexico accounted for 6.7 million of the total, followed by 530,000 migrants from El Salvador, 480,000 from Guatemala and 320,000 from Honduras.

The complicated question of Haiti’s orphans

HAITIThe devastation caused by Haiti’s earthquake has extended to some of its youngest and most powerless victims: orphans awaiting clearance to join adoptive families in the United States.

The U.S. government has already said it will allow orphaned children from Haiti to come to the United States temporarily for needed medical treatment, and on Wednesday expanded its effort.

Now three departments — State, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services — say they’ll join together to deal with what is a complicated question, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Obama admits security “screw up,” but some wonder who’ll pay

President Barack Obama may have hoped to limit the political fallout from last month’s attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner by admitting there was a “screw up.” Will firings follow? Some think Obama’s unusually sharp rhetoric raises the odds that heads will roll.

One such observer is U.S. Rep. Peter King, an influential New York Republican.
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“If the situation is as bad as the president says it was, as far as so many dots not being connected, so many obvious mistakes being made … I would think once the president set that stage, that to show that he’s serious, someone will have to go now,” King told ABC’s Good Morning America.

But the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee says he can’t tell which official should pay because the Obama administration hasn’t let Congress know who did (or didn’t) do what, when.

The First Draft: Will U.S. Ban Air Passengers with Swine Flu?

The answer is a resolute ‘no.’

Instead, the Obama administration hopes to combat infection aboard U.S. flights by encouraging hand-washing in the air. Dealing with sick passengers will be left to individual airlines, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show. USA/

“They have that question with other people who show up and look like they’re sick and had it even before the swine flu was spoken about,” Napolitano said.

“What we’ve been meeting with the airlines about is making sure that hand-washing is easily accessible and that those kinds of things are available on planes for travelers.”

The First Draft: mixing politics and national security?

HOMELAND SECURITYMixing politics with national security? Maybe under Obama, but not under Bush. Well, not exactly.

That summarizes Tom Ridge in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Former President George W. Bush’s first homeland security secretary took on the Obama administration’s controversial review of Bush-era interrogations and his own published worries about politics and the threat of terrorism.

Ridge was asked what he made of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s public assault against the decision by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to name a special prosecutor to look deeper into harsh Bush-era interrogations of captured terrorism suspects including accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times.

Ridge says he was pushed to raise terror alert before election

The nation’s first Homeland Security secretary is airing some dirty laundry from the Bush administration: He says he was pushed to raise the terror alert level on the eve of the 2004 presidential election.

The level was never raised but Tom Ridge reveals how threats of terrorism were used to influence voters in his upcoming book ”The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege … and How We Can Be Safe Again”.

According to the promotion material released by the book’s publisher, Ridge said the DHS was pressured to connect homeland security to the international “war on terror”. He also said he effectively thwarted a plan to raise the alert level before the 2004 election, which Bush won.

The First Draft: Green shoots and budget talk

USA-OBAMA/After the Obama team’s big announcement on health care and an even bigger deficit, now comes the hard part — actually sitting down and figuring out how much it’s going to cost, and how to make it cost less. President Barack Obama’s first public appearance today is a round-table discussion with business leaders on cutting employer health care costs.

Later, behind closed doors at the White House, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with Commanding General Raymond Odierno, the head of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill. Then the president meets with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, one day after Gates replaced the top U.S. Afghanistan commander.

In congressional action, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano faces questions about her department’s 2010 budget from both sides of Capitol Hill. Lisa Jackson, who heads the Environmental Protection Agency, also faces budget questioning from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Red team, blue team? Bush, Obama officials hold security drill

Officials from the Bush and Obama administrations crossed paths at the White House Tuesday to participate in a homeland security exercise.

BUSHThe scary hypothetical scenario was how the federal government should respond to a terrorist attack using improvised explosive devices on the transportation infrastructure and other economic targets in major U.S. cities.

They also looked at responses to other disasters like pandemic flu and hurricanes during briefings, including time spent in the White House basement “Situation Room” where  national security crises are handled.