Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: Drawdown in Iraq

President Obama makes no small plans. One day after announcing the biggest budget deficit since World War Two, Obama flies to a Marine base in North Carolina to announce a withdrawal timetable for troops in Iraq. IRAQ/

Obama envisions an end to combat operations by August 2010, though a force of around 50,000 will remain. That’s too many for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Democrat, but former Republican presidential rival John McCain thinks it’s about right.

The Iraq news should provide a welcome change of focus from the economy, which continues to be terrible. Government data showed the U.S. economy contracted more sharply than estimated in the fourth quarter, with gross domestic product falling at an annual rate of 6.2 percent. The Treasury Department has said it will convert its $25 billion stake in Citigroup to regular shares, giving it 36 percent ownership of the troubled banking giant. Citi’s shares are down 19 percent in premarket trading.

What about the other troubled banking giant? Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis flew to New York yesterday so state attorney general Andrew Cuomo could press him to release a list of employees who got bonuses in 2008. Lewis said he cooperated, but the AG’s office said otherwise.

How did Lewis get to the meeting? He flew in a $50 million private jet, according to ABC News.

The First Draft: Monday, Dec 15

For Detroit’s struggling automakers, the wait continues.

There will be no word on the fate of the struggling industry’s financial bailout at least until President George W. Bush is safely home later on Monday after ducking shoes in Iraq and visiting U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the White House says.

Most analysts and observers are expecting White House action soon to help the carmakers after the Senate’s failure last week to approve a $14 billion bailout that could avert catastrophic failures and millions of job losses in a recession-wracked economy.

But White House spokesman Dana Perino said there was no timetable for a decision.

The double life of Robert Gates

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is leading a double life these days.
Maybe that’s not so tough for a former spymaster but it does make for some awkward moments.
As the only member of President George W. Bush’s Cabinet asked to stay on under Barack Obama, Gates has to juggle working for the current White House and preparing for the next administration with the president-elect’s transition team.
“There’s only one commander-in-chief at a time and so I’m not forgetting at all, for a second, who is the president until noon on Jan. 20,” the former CIA director stressed to reporters on board his plane as he flew to Afghanistan this week.
But Gates admitted his dual role did “create some occasional awkwardnesses.”
Sometimes, he recounted, he has to say: “I would love to come to this meeting at the White House but I actually have a meeting with the transition.”
Gates made clear he had never missed a meeting with Bush.
But he added: “Let’s just say that if I’m faced with a choice between attending a principals’ meeting on an issue that I think is not particularly hot and meeting with the transition folks, I’ll opt for the latter.”

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Pool (Gates shakes hands with U.S. Air Force officials at a base in Kyrgyzstan on Dec. 11)

Bush aircraft carrier landing redux

NEW YORK – President George W. Bush in 2003 landed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on a Navy jet where he delivered a speech saying major combat operations in Iraq had ended with a “Mission Accomplished” banner behind him, which later caused his administration headaches as the war dragged on.

On Tuesday, Bush landed on another aircraft carrier but this time was on much safer political ground. He landed on the Intrepid, a carrier that has been transformed into a museum which Bush helped re-dedicate as part of his last Veteran’s Day speech as commander-in-chief.

“Not only do we honor those who have worn the uniform, those who are wearing the uniform, we honor their families, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts,” Bush said. ”We have a moral obligation to support our families, and we have a moral obligation to support our veterans. It has been my privilege to work with members of the United States Congress to nearly double the funding for those who have worn the uniform.”

McCain, Obama fight over soldiers’ bracelets

WASHINGTON – Republican White House hopeful John McCain tried to use a bracelet of a fallen U.S. soldier given on the campaign trail to drive home his point that he would not withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq based on an arbitrary timeline.

rtx8yrl.jpgThe mother of a soldier gave him a bracelet and asked him to promise “that you will do everything in your power to make sure my son’s death was not in vain,” McCain said in the first presidential debate, contrasting his views with Democratic rival Barack Obama, who has said he would withdraw forces within 16 months.

Obama shot back that he too had a bracelet from the mother of a soldier who asked that no other mother endure the loss she was experiencing.

Palin offers to play “stump the candidate,” but game doesn’t happen

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said on Wednesday she would be ready to deal with foreign policy if she and John McCain win the White House and offered to play “stump the candidate” to test herself on specific policy issues.

In their first joint “town hall meeting” with Palin taking questions from voters, an audience member asked Palin to dispel concerns that she lacked foreign policy experience. She responded by saying she expected critics to look for things to attack. “I think because I’m a Washington outsider that opponents are going to be looking for a whole lot of things that they can criticize,” she said.

palin.jpg“As for foreign policy, you know, I think that I am prepared and I know that on Jan. 20, if we are so blessed as to be sworn into office as your president and vice president, certainly we’ll be ready,” Palin said.

Obama cancels plan to visit troops in Germany

 BERLIN – U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama dropped a plan to visit wounded U.S. troops in Germany to avoid perceptions that the stop was political.

obama-wave.jpg“Senator Obama had hoped to and had every intention of visiting our troops to express his appreciation and gratitude for their service to our country,” said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, an adviser to Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Gration said the Pentagon had informed Obama’s staff that a visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center would be viewed as a a campaign event and Obama opted against going forward with it.

TV anchors hunt for Obama exclusives on foreign trip

WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama drags with him a gaggle of reporters (wire services, newspaper, radio and television) wherever he goes, but when he heads overseas soon, he will have some television news stars accompanying him.

rtx5hvb.jpgAll three broadcast television network anchors, ABC’s Charlie Gibson, CBS’s Katie Couric and NBC’s Brian Williams, are negotiating to tag along, and according to the Washington Post they could each have an exclusive interview in different countries.

Obama is expected to travel through Europe (there has already been a kerfuffle about where he speaks in Berlin) and the Middle East, and he is also expected to make stops in Iraq and Afghanistan to see firsthand the status of the wars. He has been an outspoken critic of the conflicts, arguing the Bush administration took its eye off al Qaeda in Afghanistan to go to war with Iraq.

McCain, liberal groups roll out new TV ads

WASHINGTON — Republican candidate John McCain touts his independence from President George W. Bush and his plan to fight global warming in a new TV ad.

Two liberal groups, meanwhile, are slamming McCain’s support for the Iraq war in an ad of their own.

McCain’s ad, highlighting an issue important to many independent voters, will run on local TV in 11 battleground states, as well as national cable channels like Fox News and CNN. An aide said the ad buy would be “substantial,” but declined to provide a figure.

Powell not necessarily in McCain’s corner

Colin Powell was President George W. Bush’s first secretary of state, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s supporting the presidential bid of fellow Republican John McCain.

“I’m looking at all three candidates, I know them all very, very well, I consider myself a friend of each and every one of them, and I have not decided who I will vote for yet,” Powell said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Powell, like McCain, is a military veteran who publicly supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and he served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Gulf War in 1991.powell.jpg