Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: postmortem

Did President Barack Obama step on his own healthcare message last night?

Morning TV shows led with his comments about  black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates who was arrested after trying to get into his own home.

OBAMA/Obama said police acted “stupidly,” a comment likely to lose him some friends in law enforcement, and that the incident was a reminder the race issue “still haunts us.”

It was a brand new comment from the president on a hot-button issue: race relations in America.

So how could the healthcare comments, which dominated the nearly hour-long news conference, compete? They ended up playing second fiddle because it was the same pitch heard over and over recently.

Next week will be crunchtime to see if Congress will give the new president a feather for his cap by voting on healthcare legislation before the August recess.

The First Draft: While Obama is away…

With President Barack Obama off in Italy during a weeklong diplomatic foray, Vice President Joseph Biden has the stage on Wednesday for an announcement of the administration’s agreement with the hospital industry for $155 billion in savings over a decade to help pay for a planned healthcare overhaul.

For Biden, it is a rare chance to gain the administration spotlight by design, rather than because of his famously loose lips and periodic departures from the Team Obama script.

He strayed again over the weekend when he told ABC News the administration misread the economy upon entering office. Obama, in a round of interviews with U.S. television networks on Tuesday, was forced to backtrack and explain those comments.

Biden on Palin: respect her decision

USA-POLITICS/DEBATEVice President Joe Biden says he won’t second guess the decision by his former political rival Sarah Palin to resign as Alaska governor, because in politics sometimes it is just about the personal.

Palin, who famously greeted Biden with “Nice to meet you. Can I call you Joe?” at last year’s vice presidential showdown debate, has seen her political fortunes rollercoaster after John McCain plucked her from relative obscurity to be his Republican running mate.

 She once again surprised everyone on Friday at a news conference in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, by announcing she would resign this month. The unexpected move raised speculation that perhaps she has her eye on running for higher office.

The First Draft: the Supreme Court and the Spelling Bee

SPELLING BEE/KIDSWith Congress gone this week and President Barack Obama out of town for most of today, Washington turns to its two traditional inside-the-Beltway sporting events: handicapping a Supreme Court nominee’s chances of confirmation, and watching the nerve-wracking finals of the National Spelling Bee.

Sonia Sotomayor, picked by Obama on Tuesday, is already being praised in an ad by liberal groups and vilified as a racist by conservatives, including radio talk jock Rush Limbaugh, whom the White House has tried to style as the de facto head of the Republican Party. Obama himself stumped for his choice on a Western swing yesterday to Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

The president returns to Washington for a late afternoon meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The First Draft: Green shoots and budget talk

USA-OBAMA/After the Obama team’s big announcement on health care and an even bigger deficit, now comes the hard part — actually sitting down and figuring out how much it’s going to cost, and how to make it cost less. President Barack Obama’s first public appearance today is a round-table discussion with business leaders on cutting employer health care costs.

Later, behind closed doors at the White House, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with Commanding General Raymond Odierno, the head of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill. Then the president meets with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, one day after Gates replaced the top U.S. Afghanistan commander.

In congressional action, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano faces questions about her department’s 2010 budget from both sides of Capitol Hill. Lisa Jackson, who heads the Environmental Protection Agency, also faces budget questioning from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Must be nice to have Air Force Two for trips amid flu outbreak

SPORT MOTOR RACING DAYTONAVice President Joe Biden, in the doghouse for saying he would advise his family against flying or taking the subway because of the new flu strain, will be taking a trip to Europe in a couple weeks — but then again he probably doesn’t have to worry too much since he has his own plane.

Biden drew widespread scorn from the travel industry and pretty much everyone else for saying on NBC’s “Today Show” that he would “tell members of my family — and I have — I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now,” he said, adding that the problem was that “when one person sneezes it goes all the way through the aircraft.”

The White House had to clarify his comments, advising Americans that they really only needed to avoid unnecessary travel to and from Mexico and that they should stay home if they were not feeling well. 

Biden to local officials: Don’t use stimulus money on stupid ideas

Vice President Joe Biden had some pointed advice Wednesday for state, county and city officials seeking guidance on spending the $787 billion in economic stimulus money approved by the U.S. Congress — don’t use it on stupid ideas.
“What is legal, what is authorized, may not be aUSA/ good thing to do,” the vice president told dozens of local officials gathered for a White House conference.
“So guys, no swimming pools, no tennis courts, no golf courses, no Frisbee parks,” Biden said, even if officials can document that the project will create jobs quickly, generate revenue and keep people working over the longer term.
“The answer is: No. No. No,” he said. “It’s got to pass the smell test folks.”
Then he gave the warning some teeth.
“Because of the rules, the president and I can’t stop you from doing some things. But I’ll show up in your city and say, ‘This is a stupid idea,’” Biden warned, drawing laughs.
“I’m serious. I’m absolutely serious,” he said. “Every single dollar of this money has to be used … in a way that is actually producing or keeping jobs from being lost and perceptually makes sense.”
Biden has reason for concern. The administration has been promising to be open and transparent about how the money is spent, with projects being posted on a website where they can be tracked by anyone with an interest, from journalists and bloggers to folks who live down the street from the work.
“We have to get this right,” Biden said. “We have got to demonstrate to the American public that we can husband their money and their investments in a way that in fact makes sense to them. This can’t be govenment as usual.”
Local officials attending the event said they appreciated being consulted by the White House so early in the process and liked the high level of coordination among government departments.
Brian Reilly, the economic development commissioner for Buffalo, New York, said it was unusual to have the departments of Energy, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development all talking together with local communities.
“This is fantastic at the city level because we are the place where all of those agencies come together. In the past they haven’t always been coordinated,” he said.
“By this type of early collaboration,” Reilly added, “we’re going to see a different kind of service delivery and different kinds of outcomes at the local level.”
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Biden speaking to local officials about economic recovery money)

The First Draft: “Nobody messes with Joe”

One decent laugh line in President Barack Obama’s address to Congress had to do with Vice President Joe Biden and his new assignment in the financial crisis. Obama gave Biden the task of overseeing the recovery process. The Capitol Hill audience broke up when the president announced Biden’s new task:

“With a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right and that’s why I’ve asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort, ’cause nobody messes with Joe.”

That was last night. This morning, Biden made the rounds of the morning talk shows. On NBC’s “Today” program, he said his wife Jill — shown in the gallery during Tuesday’s nationally televised speech — was skeptical about the “nobody messes with Joe” line. But then he got down to business, telling the “Early Show” on CBS television that his first move is to meet with Cabinet members “to make sure I know specifically … what resources they have available, how they’re going to distribute those resources, how we’re going to follow the money.”

Obama walks the blue carpet

Hollywood had its red carpet Oscar night for stars on Sunday. Washington followed two days later with President Barack Obama’s walk down the peacock blue and gold carpet of the House chamber for a speech to a joint session of Congress.

OBAMA/Candycane was the power fashion statement. Obama wore an eye-catching red tie with diagonal white stripes, Gov. Bobby Jindal giving the Republican response wore a red and white tie but his stripes were bigger. (The designers could not be determined by the untrained eye).

But the standing ovations preceded Obama’s entrance into the congressional chamber. First for US Airways Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger who has become a national hero for safely landing a plane in New York’s Hudson River with no fatalities. The simple jewelry of his pilot wings adorned his uniformed breast.

If it’s Wednesday, this must be infrastructure day

In case you weren’t paying attention, Wednesday was infrastructure day at the White House.

President Barack Obama went to the Virginia suburbs to look at a road, Vice President Joe Biden went to Pennsylvania to look at a bridge and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stayed in Washington and met dozens of state transportation officials.

USA-OBAMA/“Look around us. Look at this construction site, right where we’re standing,” Obama said during a visit to the unfinished Fairfax County Parkway in Springfield, Virginia. “We’re surrounded by unmet needs and unfinished business.”