Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Lying game

Allies lie.

Those words of wisdom came from outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a congressional hearing. “I would say based on 27 years in CIA and 4 1/2 years in this job — most governments lie to each other. That’s the way business gets done,” Gates said.

“And sometimes they send people to spy on us and they’re our close allies,” he said.

Gates was responding to questions about how the United States can trust and support governments like Pakistan and Afghanistan where the relationship is laced with duplicity.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney was asked whether Pakistan was an ally. His response: “Pakistan is a partner of the United States.” Is that different from ally? “I think there are diplomatic nuances between these words.”

Sounds like a demotion from friend to business associate.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Debt talks test Biden political skills

Joe Biden’s legendary charm might not work this time. The clock is ticking in talks between the vice president and six members of Congress to prevent a U.S. debt crisis, with the threat of world financial chaos looming if they cannot make a deal this summer. Progress has been slow as Biden leads negotiations on how Congress can allow the Treasury Department to borrow more than its current limit of $14.3 trillion.

The White House and the silver bullet defense

Verbal silver bullets were flying all over the White House press briefing today.

“There is no silver bullet” has become the White House phrase for telling the public it has no magical solution for combating rising gasoline prices. With gas prices at the pump over $4 a gallon, the translation for the 2012 presidential campaign is: don’t blame us.

“The truth is, there’s no silver bullet that can bring down gas prices right away,” President Barack Obama said in his weekend address.

White House spokesman Jay Carney latched onto the phrase during the daily media briefing, and reporters ran with it too.

Obama and spokesman have equal “vision” on deficit reduction

President Barack Obama and his spokesman obviously see eye-to-eye.

But it was a bit surprising to what degree. White House spokesman Jay Carney during his daily press briefing yesterday used the word “vision” 15 times. Guess how many times President Barack Obama said “vision” during his speech today? 15.

(Is that Twilight Zone music we hear in the background or perhaps Synchronicity?)

Vice President Joe Biden looked like he may have needed some loud music during Obama’s speech. Intense speculation about whether he nodded off or was simply listening intently with his eyes closed.

Washington Extra – Mistakes were made

Anyone in public office for more than a nanosecond is likely to have words and deeds come back to haunt them. New political realities sometimes demand a new world view 180 degrees from the old one. And then comes the explanation.

President Barack Obama, who is urging Congress to raise the debt ceiling, is finding his 2006 Senate vote against raising the debt limit when George W. Bush was president has come back to bite him. OBAMA/

The White House has decided to confront the discrepancy head-on.

Asked about the five-year-old vote, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president “now believes it was a mistake.”

Washington Extra – Playing ball

The White House was clearly relieved to announce that at 6 a.m. GMT NATO took over the ball for running the military operation on Libya. BASEBALL/

Not a minute too soon for members of Congress concerned that the United States could get bogged down in another war. “I sincerely hope that this is not the start of a third elongated conflict,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon said.

Republicans and Democrats say they want to play ball to prevent a government shutdown, but so far have not reached agreement on spending cuts.

Washington Extra – Sticky situations

It is a natural instinct to review one’s own situation when a friend or neighbor is hit by a crisis.

NUCLEAR-USA/So the risk of a nuclear disaster in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami prompted the United States to look inward. The upshot is that President Barack Obama is committed to nuclear power, and “it remains a part of the president’s overall energy plan,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The administration is not going to switch gears on nuclear policy while a crisis unfolds, so that type of statement is to be expected while it assesses the situation.

Washington Extra – Say it ain’t so

The White House says it knows that just telling Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to go, doesn’t make it so.

LIBYA-GADDAFI/SONGaddafi “has clearly shown that he doesn’t intend to leave just because we said so,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The head of intelligence told it like it is, Carney said. “Director (James) Clapper stated what is true, that Colonel Gaddafi is hunkering down, we all know that.”

Washington Extra – Podium pieces

We learned a thing or two from briefings around town.

– White House spokesman Jay Carney has a sister, and today is her birthday. He announced it from the podium. “I spoke with her this morning, and we are very close.” LIBYA-USA/

– State Department spokesman Mark Toner is interested in the Georgetown basketball game. “Anybody got the latest score on Georgetown?” he asked, to break up some of the back-and-forth with reporters on questions about Libya.

– Republicans have noticed that Vice President Joe Biden hasn’t been around. House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy complained that Biden is supposed to be lead negotiator in government funding talks and no one will say who is filling in for him. “The vice president is out of the country. We’ll have to prepare for another two weeks but that’s not where we want to go.”

Washington Extra – Will it fly?

It wasn’t quite spilling the beans, but White House spokesman Jay Carney did in one sentence clearly list the top three options being considered on Libya: humanitarian aid, enforcing the U.N. arms embargo, and contingency planning for a potential no-fly zone.

Then it got a bit murky. LIBYA-PORTS/

“I just want to stress that the military options that we talk about are not limited to a no-fly zone, but include a no-fly zone as an option,” Carney said.

“It’s a serious option … and it’s not a simple one that you can simply say, ‘Oh, let’s have a no-fly zone, snap your fingers and it happens’.”

Washington Extra – Action or inaction

Pizza as a predictor?

CONGRESS GUNFIRECongress returns next week and will decide by action or inaction whether the federal government shuts down.

The White House sounded a note of optimism (which at this point is the only way to go — best to save the podium pounding for when it gets down to the wire).

“All of us agree that a government shutdown would be bad for the economy,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “We believe that a compromise can be reached. But I’m not going to speculate on a position, what position we may or may not hold down the road.”