Tales from the Trail

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.

The next power celebrity to get a rise out of fans was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who appeared frail after her recent surgery for pancreatic cancer, wearing a delicate white collar around the neck of her black judicial robe. She got a warm hug from the president.

First lady Michelle Obama was a vision in a royal purple sleeveless dress (again the designer could not be determined by the untrained eye) but it was pretty. She blew a kiss at her husband.

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. 
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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. 
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“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, Friday Jan. 2

The new year begins on a quiet note in Washington, but lawmakers are preparing to hit the ground running next week when the 111th Congress will be seated.

obamaPresident-elect Barack Obama is scheduled to return to Washington this weekend and plans to meet House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday to discuss the legislative agenda and plans for a nearly $1 trillion economic stimulus package.

Obama also plans to meet Republican leaders Rep. John Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Pelosi to colleagues: Happy New Year. Now get ready to work

WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a “Happy New Year” message to colleagues: be ready for action when the new U.S. Congress convenes next week.
 
“The 111th Congress will hit the ground running … with an ambitious schedule that corresponds with USA/the opportunities and challenges that we face as a country,” Pelosi wrote Wednesday in an open letter to her “Democratic colleagues.”
 
“The opening days of the Congress will be intense,” Pelosi added. “I know that we will be ready.”
 
The House and Senate will convene on Tuesday, Jan. 6 — 14 days before Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th U.S. president. It will mark the first time in 14 years that Democrats have controlled both Congress and the White House.
 
In the November elections, Democrats expanded their majorities in the House and Senate with a stack of campaign promises.
 
They included ones to: withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and redeploy many of them to Afghanistan; expand health care coverage; move the U.S. toward energy independence; curb global warming and bolster regulation of the troubled financial industry.
 
Among the first measures to be considered will likely be one that could total $775 billion or more in spending and tax cuts to stimulate the economy and stem a deepening recession.
 
In her letter, Pelosi wrote that the Democratic Steering Committee, which helps set party policy, will hold a hearing Wednesday on the need for an economic recovery plan.
 
Pelosi added that by the time Obama takes office in two weeks, she expects the House to consider a number of bills, including one to pump new life into the economy.
 
She ended her “Happy New Year!” letter with a holiday note: “Best wishes to you and your family.”

For more Reuters political coverage, please click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas (Pelosi at a news conference Dec. 2)

The First Draft, Tuesday, Dec. 9

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Tis the season to be, er, generous with taxpayers’ money.

The White House and Democrats in Congress are busy putting the finishing touches to a whopping $15 billion Christmas present for the U.S. auto industry. The two sides have been haggling for several days over the terms of the bailout to rescue the “Big Three” Detroit car manufacturers but are now reported to be close to agreement.

 House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told NBC’s “Today” breakfast television show that if Congress approved the agreement a “car czar” charged with restructuring the industry could be appointed as soon as this week. She said she favored former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker for the post although he may already have his hands full — President-elect Barack Obama has named him as his senior adviser on jolting the economy out of recession.

 Obama has been critical of the Bush administration’s efforts to tackle the mortgage foreclosure crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of Americans lose their homes. The issue will be under the spotlight at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT), when the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds a hearing on the role of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the financial crisis.

McCain warns of too many Democrats in Washington

Is John McCain running against Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi?

At two rallies in Virginia on Saturday, the Republican candidate slammed the House Speaker and other congressional Democrats almost as much as his rival for the White House. A President Obama would be unlikely to curb the excesses of a Congress likely to remain in Democratic hands, he warned.

“The answer to a slowing economy is not higher taxes, but that’s what’s going to happen when Democrats have total control of Washington,” McCain told several thousand supporters in Springfield. “We can’t let it happen, my friends.”

McCain hopes voters will opt for partisan gridlock over one-party rule.

Supporters at both Virginia rallies, in Springfield and Newport News, booed lustily at the mention of Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, the acerbic chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. McCain invoked the trio several times as he raised the specter of higher taxes.

Could “Obama-Edwards” be the Democrats’ winning combination after all?

WASHINGTON – Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems to think so. But she is touting Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas, not former presidential candidate John Edwards who twice ran for president and was the Democrats vice presidential candidate in 2004.rtx5yq3.jpg

For the past few weeks, Pelosi, who will chair the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late August, has been talking up the nine-term congressman from central Texas as a possible running-mate for Barack Obama.

She floated the idea to Obama’s vice presidential search team a few weeks ago and again on Tuesday more publicly, at a breakfast with a group of reporters.

Democrats capture another House seat, Republicans worry

rtr1yqkf.jpgWASHINGTON – Democrats captured another Republican seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday night during a special election in Mississippi, the third such victory this election cycle.

Yet another loss will likely strike fear in the hearts of many Republicans who are worried that it could have even bigger ramifications this November as they try to claw their way back to a majority.

In the race to represent northern Mississippi, Republican Greg Davis lost to Travis Childers despite a last-minute effort by Vice President Dick Cheney to woo voters at a campaign fundraiser for Davis on Monday. Childers will have to run again in November, this time for a full two-year term.