Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Fed speak

Has hell frozen over? Are pigs flying? Is the sun rising in the West?

Don’t rub your eyes, it’s real. The Federal Reserve chairman, that oracle of monetary policy, will hold FOUR news conferences a year. AUSTRALIA

The first will be on April 27 after a two-day FOMC meeting. It marks the first time in the nearly 100-year history of the central bank that a Fed chief will deign to hold a regular media briefing. It’s almost too tantalizing to contemplate.

After years of reading the tea leaves following these monetary policy setting meetings, reporters will actually get to ask questions of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke immediately after THE DECISION is made.

We’re guessing it would be a bit too much to expect that he would give a thumbs up or down to indicate which way rates are going, but we can now ask him THE QUESTION (and then parse the answer).

Bernanke-speak tends to be a bit clearer than Greenspan-speak, but all Fed chairmen are adept at obfuscation when required.

Washington Extra – Back pat

President Barack Obama wasn’t shy about praising his handling of the revolution in Egypt.

USA-BUDGET/“I think history will end up recording that at every juncture in the situation in Egypt that we were on the right side of history,” Obama said at a news conference.

“What we didn’t do was pretend that we could dictate the outcome in Egypt, because we can’t,” he said. So if the United States didn’t dictate the outcome, what did it do?

Washington Extra – Game on

Think legacy. That’s what President Barack Obama advised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Obama tried to appeal to Mubarak’s ego and sense of place in history as he pressed for movement on a political transition. “I believe that President Mubarak cares about his country. He is proud, but he is also a patriot,” Obama said. USA-CANADA/

He didn’t call for the Egyptian leader to immediately step down, but brought up Mubarak’s promise not to run again. “The key question he should be asking himself is how do I leave a legacy behind in which Egypt is able to get through this transformative period?”

Washington Extra – Chastened, humbled… and shellacked

It was a subdued and chastened president who took the podium for his post-election news conference today. His tone flat, his eyes often downcast, his smile largely absent, Obama admitted the election results were “humbling.” At first, he tried to pin the blame on the tepid economic recovery, but as the questions ground on, he took more and more responsibility for the defeat on himself. For setting a bad tone with business, for not making enough progress on the economy, for failing to change the way Washington works.

Yet there was no contrition about the policies he pursued.  Perhaps this was not the right venue for that, perhaps history will prove him right, but one had the feeling the president believed just as firmly as ever in the policies he had so painstakingly worked out in his long Oval Office deliberations. The Democrats who lost on Tuesday, he said, had already contacted him to say they had no regrets, because they felt “we were doing the right thing.”

OBAMA/Finally, Obama paused for reflection when Reuters correspondent Matt Spetalnick asked how he responded to the charge he was “out of touch” with voters’ economic pain, if he was now going to change his leadership style. His answer seemed to give a window into the human side of a president often described as aloof.

Contrite Obama shows personal side

It wasn’t quite a Bill Clinton-style “I feel your pain” moment, but for President Barack Obama it was about as emotional as he ever gets in public.

Often criticized as aloof and cerebral, Obama showed his personal side at Wednesday’s news conference. OBAMA/

His tone throughout was one of a chastened leader, aware that voters had dealt him and his party a rebuke over the failure to fix the economy.

Obama ready for battle with Republicans but wants no war with Islam

President Barack Obama may be ready for battle with Republicans over the economy, but he made clear Friday there was one conflict he didn’t want — a war with Islam.

Obama told a White House news conference Republicans were “holding middle class tax relief hostage” while insisting on tax breaks for the rich that would cost $700 billion over 10 years.

OBAMA/“The policies that the Republicans are offering right now are the exact policies that got us into this mess,” the president said.

Question raised by Obama-Calderon presser: Was that it?

It was definitely not a press conference and it was barely a Q-and-A.

For a White House that is more agile than any predecessor in new media –Twitter, blogs, video — it seems to be getting a bit out of practice with the traditional question-answer format with real, live reporters.

President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon faced the media in the White House Rose Garden. USA-MEXICO/

They took a total of two questions, both were on border issues. Obama answered lengthily about his concerns with the current U.S. immigration system, the fight against drugs, and the positive coordination with Mexico. All ground covered by the administration many times. Not exactly headline-making.

Obama, a news junkie?

Lots of American presidents liked to pretend they didn’t dwell on the news — too busy attacking big problems for such a trifling. But then they would reveal themselves as news junkies (See 1992 presidential campaign and George H.W. Bush’s slogan: Annoy the Media — Re-Elect Bush).

President Barack Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, publicly boasted about ignoring most of what the press wrote and said about him. In reality, he had read the major newspapers by 6:45 a.m., while not paying much attention to television news.

OBAMA/Which brings us to Obama. He is making no bones about being a real news hound — even while holding the craven media mavens at arm’s length, as shown by his having avoided holding solo news conferences for seven months until a surprise appearance on Monday.