Tales from the Trail

Tsk tsk tsk, say it ain’t so Joe

President Barack Obama on Monday all but shook his head at comments attributed to his vice president.

Joe Biden had made a vague comment last week about placing a 30 percent chance of failure on some undisclosed issue in a conversation with Obama in the Oval Office.

Asked at his first full-blown presidential news conference to explain that comment by his second-in-command and what issue he was talking about, the president said with a smile, OBAMA/“you know, I don’t remember exactly what Joe was referring to … not surprisingly.”

It was not the irritation that Obama barely concealed when Biden made a public crack about the chief justice of the Supreme Court flubbing the inauguration oath. It was more like an adult dealing with the foibles of an uncontrollable child.

“I think what Joe may have been suggesting — although I wouldn’t put numerical — I wouldn’t ascribe any numerical percentage to any of this — is that, given the magnitude of the challenges that we have, any single thing that we do is going to be part of the solution, not all of the solution,” Obama said. (Well, that explanation was certainly as clear as the sky over a smokestack).

The First Draft: roller coasters

JAPAN/All eyes will be on Capitol Hill today as the Senate moves closer to a vote on the massive $900 billion stimulus bill. Lawmakers added expanded help for home buyers late last night in a bid to attract much-needed Republican support, but it’s still unclear whether Democrats have enough votes to pass the measure.

In a Washington Post opinion piece, President Barack Obama urged Congress not to strip out ambitious efforts to upgrade schools, boost energy effiency and upgrade crumbling bridges and highways.

Voters “have no patience for the same old partisan gridlock that stands in the way of action while our economy continues to slide,” Obama wrote.

Nothing lost in translation on Biden dig

WASHINGTON – Vice President Joe Biden promised a “fully transparent” task force to help the middle class. So why is the audience laughing?

Biden is leading a task force to look at how to improve economic realities for working families. And it will have its own Web site astrongmiddleclass.gov as the Obama administration presses on with its goal to use the Internet to communicate with the public.

“This task force, I might add — which, coming out of the vice president’s office, will be a bit unique — will be fully transparent, totally transparent,” Biden said.

First draft: Now back to the economy

After a day of foreign policy, attention returns to the economy on Friday.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will meet with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to talk about the economy. They will also hold a budget meeting and Obama will meet with Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Giethner who won backing from the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.

One of Obama’s concerns has been to make sure CEO pay stays in check. A big item in the news today is that former chief executive of Merrill Lynch John Thain — once a darling of Wall Street for selling Merrill to Bank of America — was ousted from the bank, which has been promised a $20 billion captial injection from the government.
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Many of the morning television shows focused on Thain’s rampant spending decorating his office. News organizations are calling “corporate pig out” for spending more than one million dollars on redecorating. One example: an $87,000 rug. He also speeded up the payment of bonuses to Merrill executives just before the merger closed with Bank of America.

For more Reuters political news, click here

- Photo credit: Reuters/Punit Paranjpe (Thain at news conference in Mumbai in May)

Biden pokes fun at chief justice’s verbal gaffe

Everybody is waiting for Joe Biden, U.S. President Barack Obama’s genial but gaffe-prone vice president, to trip up and put his foot in his mouth. But in the end, the gaffe that everybody was talking about on Wednesday was not his, but the verbal fumble by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts accidentally switched the word order when he administered the presidential oath of office to Obama on the steps of the Capitol on Tuesday. Obama had appeared to jump the gun in cutting off Roberts as he administered the first part of the oath. Perhaps, momentarily confused by that, Roberts then asked Obama to recite, “I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully,” instead of, “I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.” obama-robertsWhile Obama later sought to play it down, Biden appeared to delight in the gaffe.”My memory is not as good as Justice Roberts’,” he joked during a swearing-in ceremony of senior White House staff on Wednesday, drawing laughter and mock boos from the audience. Obama was more charitable, telling ABC television in an interview that both he and Roberts had had a lot on their mind during the swearing-in. ”He actually helped me out on a couple of stanzas there. So over all, I think it went relatively smoothly and I’m very grateful to him.”Click here for more Reuters political coverage.   - Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Obama sworn in as president by Roberts on Jan. 20)     

Obama visits Arlington Cemetery, then heads to church

Barack Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery Sunday before heading off to church with his family. 
 
USA-OBAMA/The Obamas attended services at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, which in the mysterious ways of Washington is located on 16th Street about 4 miles north of the White House.
 
Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden started their day with a visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns. Streets near Blair House, where the Obamas are staying, and near the cemetery were lined with waving people.
 
In a blustery chill under gray skies, Obama and Biden, dressed in long black coats, placed the wreath in front of the tomb and then listened in silence, hands over hearts, as “Taps” was played.
 
Obama, his wife Michelle, two daughters and mother-in-law attended services at the Nineteenth Street church.
 
Parishioners seemed to be aware the president-elect would be attending. The sanctuary, which members said is usually only a third full, was packed.
 
The church was singing an opening song when the Obama family walked in. The congregation stood and applauded as they proceeded down the aisle behind the Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins, shaking hands and waving to people as they went.
 
The Obama family sat in the second row near the altar. Daughter Sasha produced a camera and apparently got off a snap of sister Malia before their grandmother, Marian Robinson, confiscated the device.

Speaking from the podium, Harkins told Obama, “Perhaps, just perhaps, you are where you are for just such a time.”

“It’s fair to say that it was the votes of the people who placed you” in office, Harkins said, “but it will be God who sustains you. ”

Biden’s son, Beau, expected back from Iraq for Inauguration Day

Vice President-elect Joe Biden expects that his oldest son Beau, who has been on a tour of Iraq with his Army National Guard unit, will be in Washington for Inauguration Day next Tuesday.

USA-POLITICS/“God wiling and the creek not rise, as my grandfather would say, yes, I hope he’s here on inauguration. He has leave on Inauguration Day,” Biden said Friday outside the Senate, where he had just attended the swearing-in of his successor as senator from Delaware.

“I expect him (Beau) to be with me from early in the morning till late that night. I know he goes back shortly thereafter to Iraq,” Biden told reporters, adding that he was “looking forward” to seeing his son.

The First Draft: Nomination hearings today

It’s a busy old day on Capitol Hill.

President-elect Barack Obama’s picks to head the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Homeland Security and his nominees for attorney general and ambassador to the United Nations will be on Capitol Hill for their Senate nomination hearings.

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Mary Schapiro as SEC head at 10 a.m. EST. At the same time, Obama’s nominee for Homeland Security, Gov. Janet Napolitano, will be quizzed at a separate hearing on her suitability for the job.

Eric Holder, Obama’s nominee for attorney-general, is expected to be questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee about his role in pardons granted by former President Bill Clinton, in particular the case of billionaire financier and fugitive Marc Rich.

Lindsey Graham joins photo op with Obama, Biden

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During the presidential campaign last year, Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was a frequent tormentor of Democrat Barack Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden.

Graham, a close friend of Republican candidate John McCain, would ridicule Biden as “Joe the Biden” and lampooned his loquacious ways — “He’s the sound-bite machine that keeps on giving,” Graham would say. “Keep it up, Joe!”

And Graham frequently had this to say about Obama himself: “You’ve seen his book, ‘The Audacity of Hope?’ He’s got a sequel coming out: ‘The Times I Stood Up To The Left.’ It’s a short read.”

A fourth Senate Republican won’t seek reelection

WASHINGTON – Democrats came up just short of a winning a filibuster-proof majority of 60 in the 100-member Senate in last November’s election.  But they may do it in next year’s contest — thanks largely to a rising number of Senate Republicans calling it quits.

George Voinovich – a highly respected, two-term moderate — on Monday became the fourth Senate Republican to announce he won’t seek reelection in 2010.CAMPAIGN BUSH

Voinovich’s decision followed earlier such announcements by Republican Sens. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Mel Martinez of Florida and Kit Bond of Missouri.