Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – No Regrets

President Barack Obama’s a pretty smart guy.

OBAMA/Coatless, the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up, microphone in hand, bottled water at the ready, he fielded questions for an hour from ordinary folk perched on picnic tables and settled into Adirondack chairs in the leafy backyard of Ohio natives Rhonda and Joe Weithman in Columbus.

Nine asked about pocketbook issues — pension plans, jobs, Social Security, the cost of healthcare and childcare. Obama sprinkled his predictable answers with personal touches like how his and wife Michelle’s student loans took 10 years to pay off and were mostly higher than their mortgage, and how the fine print in credit card statements could flummox any of us, including “a pretty smart guy” like him.

The 10th question was shouted from left field. As Obama made his way out of the Weithmans’ garden, a reporter wanted to know if he regretted inserting himself into the emotionally charged debate over whether a Muslim cultural center and mosque is built near Ground Zero in New York City.

Obama, a former constitutional law professor, spoke at length on Friday night about religious freedoms and the legal right of Muslims to build it, setting off a political firestorm and requiring a “refinement” by lunchtime on Saturday when he said he was not commenting on the wisdom of such a move.

“The answer is, no regrets,” he said today and quickly moved on.

 Five words. Pretty smart.

 Here are our top stories from today…

Obama: U.S. must tackle deficit without denting recovery

President Barack Obama said the United States must work out how to control its long-term deficit without hurting an economic recovery, which remains hobbled by a battered housing market. Obama acknowledged the deficit is worrying Americans and said cutting it would raise the public’s confidence.

Democrats try turning mosque debate against GOP

Democrats were stunned and somewhat speechless last August when Republicans accused them of proposing “death panels” as part of  their healthcare reform initiative.

This August,  it’s the proposed construction of a Muslim cultural center and mosque near lower Manhattan’s “Ground Zero” that is dominating the end-of-summer doldrums.  Once again,  Democrats are struggling to gain the upper hand in the debate. AFGHANISTAN/

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed in on Wednesday, saying, “Where a place of worship is located is a local decision.” The Democrat may have been tweaking Republicans from across the U.S. who are railing about the New York City mosque all the while complaining about the long, intrusive arm of the federal government.

Democrats disagree on NY mosque, White House says no problem

Barack Obama and Harry Reid agree on most things.

They both favored stimulus measures to boost the economy. They both want climate change and comprehensive immigration reform to pass the Senate — at least someday.

OBAMABut the U.S. president and the top Democrat in the Senate disagree about an issue that could become a flashpoint in the November elections: whether or not a Muslim cultural center in New York should be built near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Obama has come out forcefully in favor of the rights of the builders to put the center, which would include a prayer room and an auditorium, near the site known as “Ground Zero.”