Tales from the Trail

First draft: Michael Phelps takes cue from politicians

Take note politicians. Michael Phelps might have some pointers for you.

PHELPS/He won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, but swimmer Phelps sounded more like a politician than an athlete in a morning TV interview today — repeatedly admitting he had made mistakes but sidestepping any direct admission that he had smoked marijuana.

In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show Phelps, who was banned from swimming for three months after a picture was published of of him smoking a “bong” pipe at a party last November, said he had made a “bad mistake”, a “stupid mistake” and showed “bad judgement.”

Asked directly if he had been smoking pot Phelps just said: “It was a bad mistake. I mean, we all know what, you know, what you and I are talking about. It’s a stupid mistake. You know, bad judgment. And it’s something that, you know, I have to, and I want to teach other people not to make that mistake.”

Michelle Obama also headlined one of the morning talk shows, giving her first network television interview as first lady to ABC’s “Good Morning America” from Ft. Bragg, N.C. USA/

She said it hurt to see so many military families have to rely on food stamps to get by and said she hoped to gather information and bring it back to the administration in order to draw attention to the problem and try to find a way to make things better.

Girl Power hits the White House

President Barack Obama, who is surrounded by women at home – wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia – on Wednesday declared Girl Power a priority for the federal government.

In creating the White House Council on Women and Girls, which will include members of his Cabinet, Obama said he wanted to make sure that women and girls were treated fairly in all matters of public policy.

“We have many of those Cabinet members here. Some of the men showed up — we put them in the second row,” Obama said to laughter at an event to sign the executive order creating the council.

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.

Mrs. Obama’s Neighborhood

michellehugFirst Lady Michelle Obama’s “new neighborhood tour” landed at a community health center a short distance from the White House on Tuesday.

 She has stopped by a few federal agencies in the three weeks since Barack Obama became president. The nearly hour-long visit to Mary’s Center was Mrs. Obama’s first solo venture into a Washington neighborhood.

“Why did you want to come out and meet us?” asked one of the teens who sat with her. 

First Lady — drum roll please

Some places put out the red carpet. The Interior Department got creative and put the drums out for first lady Michelle Obama’s visit. She was treated to a traditional drumming tribal honor song played by a 7-member Black Bear Tribal Group band on Monday.

 ”I am completely humbled and moved by all of you,” said the first First Lady to visit the department probably since Eleanor Roosevelt. She also announced that her husband would appoint a White House policy adviser on tribal issues.

Michelle Obama has been making the rounds of government agencies to listen and learn and show an interest in what they do. She previously visited the Education Department and the Housing and Urban Development office.

Obama tries to turn page on nominee woes

If you’re the United States president and two of your nominees for key government posts embarrassingly withdraw on the same day because of tax problems, what do you do?
Well, if you’re President Barack “No Drama” Obama the answer is simple — you go to a local school to read a book to a 2nd Grade school class with your wife. 


Obama found himself on the defensive on Tuesday, first after his nominee to oversee and budget reform, Nancy Killefer, and then Tom Daschle,  his pick for health secretary, withdrew their names over tax questions.
Just minutes after it was announced that Daschle was withdrawing his nomination, White House aides told journalists the president was hurriedly heading out of the White House to an undisclosed location for a previously arranged event.
That turned out to be Capital City Public Charter School, where 25 school children were sitting on the floor of the library waiting for the president and the First Lady to read to them.
“We were tired of being in the White House. We decided to break loose,” Obama said, before he and Michelle took turns reading from “The Moon Over Star”, an illustrated book about Neil Armstrong’s first landing on the moon. They both held up the book so the class, quietly fidgeting, could see the illustrations.
After letting the children ask him a few questions — his favourite superheroes are Spiderman and Batman — it was back in the armored limousine to the White House, where he was due to face much tougher questions in a round of TV network interviews.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

First lady Michelle Obama in spotlight at reception

First lady Michelle Obama took a turn in the spotlight Thursday, hosting a reception for a woman whose treatment at Goodyear prompted Congress to change the law on pay discrimination. 
It was one of the highest-profile public events for the first lady since the inauguration last week. And it was on behalf of a woman — Lilly Ledbetter — who got to know the first couple well during the presidential campaign.
President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act into law in the East Room of the White House flanked by a small crowd of lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“This is what change looks like,” Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland joked to the audience as the lawmakers crowded around the document Obama was to sign.
The first lady later spoke about Ledbetter at a reception in the State Dining Room as guests sipped orange juice and cranberry juice and munched cherry orange scones, apple muffins and other pastries.
“She is one of my favorite people in the whole wide world,” Michelle Obama said. 
“She knew unfairness when she saw it and was willing to do something about it because it was the right thing to do, plain and simple.”
Ledbetter discovered after 19 years on the job at Goodyear Tire & Rubber that she was the lowest-paid supervisor at her plant despite having more experience than some male co-workers.
A jury found she was the victim of discrimination. But the Supreme Court reversed the decision two years ago, saying discrimination claims must be filed within 180 days of the first offense.
“I will never see a cent from my case,” Ledbetter said. “But with the passage (of the bill) and president’s signature today, I have an even richer reward. I know that my daughters and granddaughters and your daughters and your granddaughters will have a better deal.” 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Michelle Obama greets guest); Reuters/Jim Bourg (Obama hands pen to Ledbetter after signing bill)

The First Draft: The first day

The inauguration celebrations are over and the clean up begins as Barack Obama prepares for his first full day of work. OBAMA/

It’s a big job. The recession shows no signs of easing and Wall Street ushered in the new presidency with a record Inauguration Day slide. Obama’s choice for treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, will likely be asked at his Senate nomination hearing about the state of the economy and the new administration’s plans to shore up banks sagging under the burden of bad investment decisions.

Obama’s first day in the Oval Office is expected to be busy. He begins with the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral and plans an open house for the public at the White House in the afternoon. He will also meet with economic advisers to discuss his proposed economic stimulus plan and proposals for dealing with bad bank assets.

Obama saluted by marching bands, dancers, mower drivers

More than 10,000 people from across America — an Eskimo dance group from Alaska, a high school band from Hawaii and enactors of a black Civil War regiment from Massachusetts among them — OBAMA/were in the inaugural parade Tuesday for President Barack Obama. 
There were cultural groups, members of the U.S. military, drill teams, Indians, floats, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Alabama teenagers dressed in vibrant organza hoop skirts and a band of Illinoisans pushing whimsically decorated lawn mowers and carrying brooms among the 103 units from all 50 states in the parade.
It took three hours for them all to travel the 1.5 mile route, mostly on broad Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the White House.
Some of the groups could claim a relationship to the new president.
The first band in the parade was from Punahou School in Honolulu, where Obama was a student from fifth through 12th grades.
Also in the parade were members of the Naval Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Whitney Young High School in Chicago, where Michelle Obama, the president’s wife, was a student from 1977-81.
Some of the links were more light-hearted. Obama marched with the “World Famous Lawn Rangers,” the lawn mower team from Arcola, in east-central Illinois, during the 2003 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Chicago.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama and family watch inaugural parade in front of White House Tuesday evening)