Tales from the Trail

House Democrats block Republican call for probe of Pelosi

                        

                                      There was polBRITAIN/itical theater, drama, but no surprise ending on Thursday on a topic involving spies, torture and truth in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives.

Republicans again ripped into Speaker Nancy Pelosi for accusing the CIA of misleading Congress — and her fellow Democrats quickly blocked their bid for a bipartisan probe into her truthfulness. The vote was 252-172.

“The Republicans … have been focused on the politics of personal destruction,” House Democratic leader House Steny Hoyer said afterward.

Hoyer also accused Republicans of trying to divert attention from the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners as well as Democratic efforts this year to revamp healthcare and move the nation toward energy independence.

Democrats rushed to Pelosi’s defense earlier this week, saying they believe her statement that the CIA did not inform her at a September 2002 briefing that it had used waterboarding, simulated drowning widely denounced as torture, during interrogations of suspected enemy combatants.

White House pulls trigger early on budget praise

G20/As the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate drew closer to wrapping up votes on their version of the fiscal 2010 budget, President Barack Obama’s staff appeared to pull the trigger a bit hastily on his congratulatory statements praising the Senate vote.

At 7:50 p.m. EDT, about 40 minutes after the House of Representatives approved its budget plan that trims Obama’s $3.55 trillion budget proposal, the White House issued a statement from Obama praising the vote as “another step toward rebuilding our struggling economy.”

But appended to the bottom was another statement from Obama — who probably was asleep since he’s in London — that looked like the statement the White House planned to issue after the Senate votes on its own budget plan:

Democrats, Republicans claim gains in “Obama referendum”

pointDemocrats and Republicans each claim bragging rights in a U.S. congressional race billed as a referendum on President Barack Obama.
 
But political analysts said the special election to fill a vacant seat from New York in the House of Representatives was so close — and yet to be decided — no one has much cause to celebrate.
 
“It’s basically a tie. It’s like kissing your sister,” said Charlie Cook of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which tracks congressional and presidential races.
 
As of Wednesday, a day after the election, Democrat Scott Murphy, a venture capitalist, held a lead of fewer than 70 votes over Republican New York Assemblyman Jim Tedisco.
 
The race likely will be decided by absentee ballots.
 
“Regardless the final outcome, the fact that we closed a 21-point margin (in the polls) in eight weeks is a testament to the fact that the economic message that Scott Murphy carried resonated with voters and his message was support the president’s economic recovery plan,” said Congressman Chris Van Hollen, head of the House Democratic campaign committee.
 
Republicans said the congressional district, though long Republican, went Democrat in recent years, including last November when Obama won it by 3 percentage points.
 
“Jim Tedisco has closed the gap in a district that has come to exemplify Democratic dominance,” said Pete Sessions, chairman of the House Republican campaign committee.
 
“That is a testament to the strength of Jim’s campaign and the effectiveness of the Republican message of fiscal responsibility and accountability,” Sessions said.
 
Nathan Gonzales of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, said, “Both sides have reasons to be happy, but also reason to be a little disappointed.”
 
The seat has been open since January, when New York Governor David Paterson appointed Kirsten Gillibrand to the U.S. Senate.

Click here for more Reuters coverage.

Photo credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts (Obama points after signing the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 in the East Room of the White House in Washington, March 30 )

Tell us what you really think Senator Grassley

WASHINGTON – How outraged can they be?

U.S. lawmakers are clearly outraged by the $165 million in bonuses being paid to executives at bailed-out insurer American International Group. For the last two days, they’ve been talking about it in press releases,  at news conference and in speeches on the floor of the Senate and House.

But no one says it more colorfully and more bluntly than Republican Senator Chuck Grassley — so far.

grassley“From my standpoint, it’s irresponsible for corporations to give bonuses, at this time, when they are so sucking the tit of the taxpayer,” Grassley said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Another Senate Republican calling it quits

WASHINGTON – Kit Bond has become the third U.S. Senate Republican in three months to announce plans to retire, creating another challenge in his party’s effort to gain seats in the Democratic-led chamber. 
The 69-year-old, four-term senator from Missouri disclosed his intentions with a touch of levity in a speech in his state capital of Jefferson City. 
“In 1972, I became Missouri’s youngest governor,” Bond said, according to a transcript. “Ladies and gentlemen, I do not aspire to become Missouri’s oldest senator. 
Bond’s decision to leave the Senate at the end of his current term in 2010 followed earlier such announcements by Mel Martinez of Florida and Sam Brownback of Kansas. 
Each is a blow to Republican efforts to rebound from the poundings they took in the past two elections that saw Democrats gain seats in the Senate and House of Representatives. 
“These retirements put Republicans in the defensive mode at the start of the new (election) cycle,” said Nathan Gonzales of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. “The more open seats there are the more difficult it is to make gains.” 
Incumbents traditionally have a number of advantages against challengers, including name recognition and the ability to raise money. 
While three Senate Republicans plan to retire, four Democrats from last year’s Senate have or intend to step down to join the new administration — beginning with Barack Obama. He recently gave up his seat from Illinois to prepare to move into the White House. 
Joe Biden of Delaware will soon resign from his Senate seat to be sworn in on Jan. 20 as Obama’s vice president. 
Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Ken Salazar of Colorado intend to resign once they win anticipated Senate confirmation as Obama’s secretary of state and interior secretary, respectively. 
The governors of New York, Delaware and Colorado are expected to replace Biden, Clinton and Salazar with fellow Democrats. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has named a Democrat to replace Obama. But there’s been a battle over the appointment since Blagojevich has been engulfed by a corruption scandal.

The First Draft, Thursday, Jan 8

President-elect Barack Obama will use a speech on the economy Thursday to try to build support for a massive stimulus bill aimed at lifting the United States out of a deep recession. 
 
BUSH/Obama is warning Congress that unless it acts quickly and boldly to pass his stimulus plan, with its estimated $775 billion price tag, the country could be mired for years in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
 
The president-elect delivers his remarks at 11 a.m. at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, with less than two weeks to go before his inauguration.
 
The speech comes as some lawmakers and financial experts are beginning to raise doubts about elements of the stimulus plan.
 
The Washington Post quoted lawmakers, tax experts and economists as saying some of the tax cuts in the Obama plan are likely to be too expensive and ineffective.
 
Obama’s choice to lead the administration’s charge on health care reform goes before a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday.
 
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is expected to receive a cordial welcome from his ex-colleagues and Democratic leaders on the panel predict a smooth confirmation.
 
President George W. Bush travels to Philadelphia Thursday for an event touting the success of his No Child Left Behind education reform program.
 
The House of Representatives and the Senate hold a joint session to formally count the electoral votes from the November election, in which Obama defeated Republican rival John McCain.
 
The action will formally declare Obama as winner of the U.S. presidential vote.
 
The morning television news shows reported on Obama’s economic speech and new violence in the Middle East, where rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel.
 
The attacks raised concerns about a possible second front in Israel’s two-week war against Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.
 
U.S. stock futures dropped early Thursday on disappionting December sales by Wal-Mart, pointing to a lower open on Wall Street.
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama listens as Bush speaks during an Oval Office meeting Wednesday with all the living former presidents)

Election blowout may cost House Republican leaders

WASHINGTON – Who will be blamed if Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives get crushed in Tuesday’s election?

That’s a question being asked amid Republican fears that they may lose as many as 30 seats. That would be on top of the 30 they dropped in the 2006 election that saw Democrats win control of the House, which they now hold, 235-199.

If House Republicans have another bad night, their leaders could be in jeopardy of being replaced — just like the manager of the baseball team who’s bounced after a bad season or two.

Democrats see post-election pressure to produce

rtr20gfs.jpgWASHINGTON – Democrats seem well positioned to increase their control of the U.S. Congress and win the White House in the November elections. But with such success will come pressure.  

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York says his victorious party would have to quickly resolve concerns of the American people — ranging from bringing down record gas prices and expanding health care to resolving the housing crisis and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

“If we get in 2009 and we don’t solve people’s problems, they will kick us out as quickly as they put us in,” Schumer, head of the Senate Democratic campaign committee, told reporters on Wednesday.

House Republicans won’t change ‘Change’ slogan

WASHINGTON – House of Representatives Republican Leader John Boehner says he has no plans to alter a new campaign slogan — “Change you deserve” — that has been widely mocked since the phrase is used to market the anti-depressant drug Effexor.

rtr1xlet.jpg“I think it’s working out just fine,” a smiling Boehner told reporters when asked about the slogan that has become the butt of jokes on Capitol Hill.

The slogan is part of a new effort by House Republicans “to fix Washington,” outline plans to help Americans and raise their floundering election-year prospects of retaking control of the legislative body from Democrats.

Democrats capture another House seat, Republicans worry

rtr1yqkf.jpgWASHINGTON – Democrats captured another Republican seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday night during a special election in Mississippi, the third such victory this election cycle.

Yet another loss will likely strike fear in the hearts of many Republicans who are worried that it could have even bigger ramifications this November as they try to claw their way back to a majority.

In the race to represent northern Mississippi, Republican Greg Davis lost to Travis Childers despite a last-minute effort by Vice President Dick Cheney to woo voters at a campaign fundraiser for Davis on Monday. Childers will have to run again in November, this time for a full two-year term.