Tales from the Trail

Healthcare and the holidays

It’s Christmas Eve and there is a lot more stirring than just a mouse.  In Washington, D.C., the U.S. Senate just voted to approve a wide-ranging healthcare overhaul bill with Democrats and Republicans divided as they have ever been.

All 60 DemocrUSA/ats voted for the legislation while 39 Republicans opposed it (Republican Senator Jim Bunning was absent), ending a month-long marathon debate in the Senate with the first Christmas Eve vote in more than a century (1895).

In what some could interpret as a sign of just how important this legislation is to President Barack Obama’s agenda, his vice president, Joe Biden, presided over the session serving in his dual role of president of the Senate.

Now lawmakers will have the task early next year of trying to meld the two different versions of  healthcare legislation that passed the Senate and House of Representatives, with Republicans vowing a tough fight.

“This fight is long from over. My colleagues and I will work to stop this bill from becoming law,” said Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The First Draft: Afghanistan inspires Freudian slips about that other battlefield – Iraq

President Barack Obama may have invoked Vietnam to banish that ugly specter of defeat from his shiny new Afghan strategy. But a day later, Iraq seems to be the wartime nightmare dogging two congressional veterans of the Bush wars.

Vice President Joe Biden, who was a Democratic senator from Delaware during Rummy’s “Shock and Awe” bombardment of Baghdad, let the musings of his unconscious psyche slip out Freudian style in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America.

While refuting worries among critics that the Afghan strategy’s 18-month timeline might embolden the Taliban, Biden said: “How are they emboldened knowing that by the time we train up the Afghanis, we’re going to be gradually handing off beginning in 2003?”

The First Draft: White House “gate crashers” to tell their own story

She’s blond and beautiful. He’s debonair. Together, with irresistible charm and a voracious appetite for self-promotion, they penetrated White House security to attend this week’s state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and got close enough to kiss Vice President Joe Biden.

That’s the current media image of Michaele and Tareq Salahi, who could be the world’s most celebrated gate crashers since the British comedian who attended Prince William’s 21st birthday party at Windsor Castle in 2003 while dressed as Osama bin Laden in drag. OBAMA-DINNER/SECURITY
    
But is there more to the story?
    
The Salahis’ lawyer, Paul Gardner, suggests there is. “My clients were cleared, by the White House, to be there. More information is forthcoming,” he says in a statement published by the Washington Post.
    
The now-famous couple also plans to appear Monday on CNN’s Larry King Live.
    
Paul Wharton, a friend of the Salahis, tells ABC’s Good Morning America that the couple has had lots of contact lately with Indian officials and has spent a fair amount of time in India. Could that explain why they were at a dinner honoring the Indian PM? 
         
News accounts cast the Salahis as determined publicity seekers who posted their wedding on YouTube and boast an online photo gallery of themselves with loads of celebrities including Britain’s Prince Charles.
    
Michaele, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader, is being considered for cable TV channel Bravo‘s upcoming reality series, The Real Housewives of Washington. In fact, the Post reports that she spent seven hours at a posh salon, TV production crew in tow, getting ready for the big night.
    
The camera crew followed Michaele and Tareq to the White House but couldn’t get in. The Salahis did and wound up being snapped for photos with Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. USA-GERMANY/
    
The Secret Service, which is charged with protecting President Barack Obama and other high-level officials, says the Salahis were not invited to the dinner. The agency is conducting a comprehensive review to get to the bottom of one of the most embarrassing security breaches in the history of White House dinners.
    
It’s not clear what could happen to the Salahis if they really did crash the party. But another friend of the couple, Casey Margenau, doesn’t sound too worried. “Whatever they do, they’ll land on their feet,” he tells ABC. “Promotion and parties are part of their life.”

Photo credits: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Michaele and Tareq Salahi); Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Biden)

Civil air surrounds Afghan war strategy debate at White House

To hear spokesman Robert Gibbs describe it, President Barack Obama’s White House is a mighty civil place to work.

Even when formulating Afghan war strategy, for instance, the president, his generals and his advisers do not argue. Or apparently even forcefully state their views.

This despite their known differences in position, with Afghan war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal seeking up to 40,000 more troops and Vice President Joe Biden wanting to maintain current troop levels while intensifying attacks on al Qaeda.

Republican Mike Castle seeks Biden’s old Senate seat; Will Biden’s son run too?

Republican Mike Castle ended months of speculation on Tuesday by saying he will run to fill U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s unexpired Senate term from Delaware. USA-POLITICS/

The announcement raised again the questions: Will Biden’s son, Beau, run for it, too? And if so, when will Beau announce?

Beau Biden recently returned from a nearly year-long deployment in Iraq as a member of the Delaware National Guard. He is back at his job as Delaware’s elected attorney general.

In his own words, former Bush speechwriter blabs

Matt Latimer, who used to make a living writing speeches for former President George W. Bush, has decided to let loose in a book under his own name that describes the White House as more like the TV show “The Office” and less like “The West Wing.”

In excerpts of his book “Speech-Less” appearing in the October issue of GQ magazine, out on newsstands Sept. 22, Latimer says Bush had something unflattering to say about the leaders of the pack running to win the White House in last year’s election. OBAMA/

(We obtained, and more importantly, read all the excerpts to be published in GQ. There is some discussion about the plan to boost the economy which we leave you to read in the magazine or book).

The First Draft: Obama courts autoworkers, Biden visits Iraq

President Barack Obama courts autoworkers in Ohio and union leaders in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.

Obama meets workers at a General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio, and later addresses a convention of the AFL-CIO labor federation in Pittsburgh.
USA-POLITICS/OBAMA
Vice President Joe Biden is in Iraq for visits with U.S. troops and Iraqi leaders.

Back in Washington, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs lawmakers on the war in Afghanistan.

Biden follows dollars to Yellowstone toilets

Vice President Joe Biden is offering some encouraging words for those who would like to know how much it costs the government to build, for instance, a toilet at Yellowstone National Park, home of the “Old Faithful” geyser and lots of critters such as grizzly bears.

(Remember those stories back when about $800 hammers…) GERMANY-MARKETS/

Biden gave a really long speech about the economic stimulus bill at the Brookings Institution and then, yay, took some questions from the audience.

During the Q and A, Biden said he has asked for a handbook to be developed to determine the efficiency of every government program that is administered from Washington in order to increase accountability and transparency.

Lionizing the Lion: tributes to Kennedy

KENNEDY/Tributes to Senator Edward Kennedy are pouring in after the 77-year-old pillar of the Democratic Party lost his battle with brain cancer. A schedule of events to remember the “Lion” of the Senate will be posted on www.tedkennedy.org as arrangements are finalized.

Here are some of the tributes and lessons learned from Kennedy’s statesmanship.

Crossing party lines: “The Kennedy name is synonymous with the Democratic Party.  And at times, Ted was the target of partisan campaign attacks.  But in the United States Senate, I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle,” President Barack Obama said. “He could passionately battle others and do so peerlessly on the Senate floor for the cause that he held dear, and yet still maintain warm friendships across party lines.”

Joltin’ Joe Biden defends economic stimulus program

If you thought the Obama administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus program was meant to provide one big jolt to the economy, you’ve got it all wrong, Vice President Joe Biden says.

“The act was intended to provide steady support for our economy over an extended period — not a jolt that would last only a few months,” he wrote in an op-ed piece in Sunday’s New York Times.

More than a third of it is tax cuts for 95 percent of working Americans, he says. Another chunk of it goes for extended unemployment insurance and healthcare for those hardest hit by the recession.