Tales from the Trail

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.”

Apparently no fill-in needed when a telephone call will do. Biden spoke with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell from Moscow. The vice president “will continue to stay in close contact with congressional leaders on the budget negotiations throughout the week,” an aide said, according to the pool report from his trip.

For a look at what the public thinks about spending cuts, see Donna Smith’s story on the Reuters/Ipsos poll finding that a majority of Americans prefer cutting defense spending to reduce the federal deficit rather than taking money from public retirement and health programs.

Valentine’s Day with the GOP

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than by sending your special someone a pink e-card, covered in hearts, with a message from the president: “Hope you like this Valentine’s card, your grandchildren are paying for it.”

In the GOP version of My Funny Valentine and a way to raise some sweet cash, the Republican National Committee is poking some fun at the White House and its Democratic cohorts with GOPvalentine.com, and more than 30,000 of the snarky messages had been sent as of Friday morning.

The site boasts 18 card options, including “This card entitles you to one free hug  full-body pat-down” with a photo of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and “Don’t censure this Valentine” with a photo of Rep. Charles Rangel, who was censured by the House of Representatives for ethics violations.

Washington Extra – Braving the weather

President Barack Obama quipped that Chinese President Hu Jintao was brave for going to his hometown at this time of year. But what about the visit to Capitol Hill today?

Between the warm reception at the White House and the chilly weather in Chicago, Hu met lawmakers who were quite cool in their welcome. They brought up China’s currency, human rights, the Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner who wasn’t allowed to attend the ceremony, Tibet, the economy and trade. USA-CHINA/

“The U.S. and China do not share values and principles as some have claimed in recent days,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said.

Training may be the U.S. way out of Afghanistan, but hurdles high

One of the strongest messages that U.S. officials tried to convey during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Afghanistan this week was that the American mission in the war-torn country is changing from combat to training, so that Afghan forces are ready to provide security for their own country after decades of upheaval, invasion and foreign occupation. AFGHANISTAN

Biden made a stop at the Kabul military training center, an expansive site about six miles northeast of the city center, where U.S. forces are teaching members of the Afghan National Army how to be part of a modern military. On 22,000 acres of  bare terrain surrounded by mountains and dotted with cement walls and the ruins of Soviet-era military equipment, Afghan soldiers are learning everything from marksmanship to logistics. The facility has even had two all-women officer training classes, the first in the deeply traditional Muslim country, not for combat but for functions such as finance and logistics.

Biden spoke to trainers, toured the grounds and watched a group of the Afghan trainees storm a building. He spoke to each of the men, who greeted him, in turn, by standing to attention, shouting their names and giving their battalion numbers.

Washington Extra – A late start

obama_gmIt must be more than a little frustrating to win the Nobel Peace Prize for your best intentions — ridding the world of nuclear weapons – and then struggle to even get the START Treaty ratified this year. Not surprising, then, that President Barack Obama told his deputy to work “day and night” to get this thing through.

But whatever the temptation to throw a little egg on the president’s face, many security analysts still find it amazing to see Republicans blocking a treaty that the U.S. military so strongly backs. Welcome to bipartisan Washington, again, I guess.

Despite the uneven start to the week, Wednesday was not a bad day for Obama by any means.

For Biden, it’s START “day and night”

Instead of counting sheep to fall asleep at night, we imagine Vice President Joe Biden may be counting votes.

OBAMA/That’s because President Barack Obama just announced that he has told Biden to focus “day and night” on getting the START treaty ratified by Congress. (That’s what happens when you let the boss “drop by” one of your meetings.)

Obama said ratifying the nuclear arms treaty with Russia was the single most important national security issue for the lame duck Congress. “It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year.”

I’m not forcing Bill to eat tofu and I don’t want to be VP- Hillary

Is  she forcing her husband to eat tofu? No.

Did Bill cry at the wedding? Not really.

Does she want to be vice president? Absolutely not.

On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton graciously handled softball questions about her husband’s diet and her daughter’s wedding at Fortune magazine’s  “Most Powerful Women” conference — before moving on to quash persistent rumors that she  might be interested in the vice presidential slot in a second-term Obama administration.

Ann Moore, the chairman of Time Inc., launched a Q+A session at the summit of 400 leading women in politics, business and the arts with an assessment of Bill Clinton’s successful drive to slim down ahead of his daughter Chelsea’s wedding in July.

“He looked so trim, and he said that’s because you and Chelsea were forcing him to eat tofu!”  Moore said.

White House Intrigue: Could Hillary Replace Joe?

OBAMA/Could Hillary replace Joe as Barack’s main squeeze in 2012? That’s the juicy bit of palace intrigue enlivening today’s U.S. political melodrama.

It started when author Bob Woodward told CNN that the idea of a Clinton-Biden switch was “on the table” — at least among some Clinton advisers. A switch would mean Hillary becoming President Obama’s vice presidential running mate and Joe taking up her State Department chores.

“President Obama needs some of the women, Latinos, retirees that she did so well with during the 2008 primaries. And so they switch jobs,” explained the veteran journalist whose new book, “Obama’s Wars,”  offers an inside look at the administration. 

Advice from Biden: Don’t underestimate O’Donnell and Palin

The only Democrat who has run against, and defeated, both Republicans Christine O’Donnell and Sarah Palin says don’t sell either of them short.

biden4“Take them both very seriously,” Vice President Joe Biden said Monday in an MSNBC interview.

Biden, a former senator from Delaware, defeated the state’s Republican Senate nominee in his last senate race. He also went head-to-head with Palin in 2008 when the former Alaska governor was Republican John McCain’s vice presidential running mate.

Iraqi political haggling a big headache for American spies

What keeps U.S. spies awake at night? Iran. Al Qaeda. The bickering of Iraqi politicians.

With the United States officially ending its combat role in Iraq, one senior American spy said he was more worried about the lack of political reconciliation in Baghdad than whether Iran gets more meddlesome in Iraq or al Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate makes a new, violent push there.

“I’m more concerned about the internal (Iraqi) situation than Iranian influence or the long arm of al Qaeda, which really doesn’t exist,” the senior intelligence official told reporters. He asked not to be named (as spies do). IRAQ/