Tales from the Trail

Another Senate Republican calling it quits

WASHINGTON – Kit Bond has become the third U.S. Senate Republican in three months to announce plans to retire, creating another challenge in his party’s effort to gain seats in the Democratic-led chamber. 
The 69-year-old, four-term senator from Missouri disclosed his intentions with a touch of levity in a speech in his state capital of Jefferson City. 
“In 1972, I became Missouri’s youngest governor,” Bond said, according to a transcript. “Ladies and gentlemen, I do not aspire to become Missouri’s oldest senator. 
Bond’s decision to leave the Senate at the end of his current term in 2010 followed earlier such announcements by Mel Martinez of Florida and Sam Brownback of Kansas. 
Each is a blow to Republican efforts to rebound from the poundings they took in the past two elections that saw Democrats gain seats in the Senate and House of Representatives. 
“These retirements put Republicans in the defensive mode at the start of the new (election) cycle,” said Nathan Gonzales of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. “The more open seats there are the more difficult it is to make gains.” 
Incumbents traditionally have a number of advantages against challengers, including name recognition and the ability to raise money. 
While three Senate Republicans plan to retire, four Democrats from last year’s Senate have or intend to step down to join the new administration — beginning with Barack Obama. He recently gave up his seat from Illinois to prepare to move into the White House. 
Joe Biden of Delaware will soon resign from his Senate seat to be sworn in on Jan. 20 as Obama’s vice president. 
Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Ken Salazar of Colorado intend to resign once they win anticipated Senate confirmation as Obama’s secretary of state and interior secretary, respectively. 
The governors of New York, Delaware and Colorado are expected to replace Biden, Clinton and Salazar with fellow Democrats. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has named a Democrat to replace Obama. But there’s been a battle over the appointment since Blagojevich has been engulfed by a corruption scandal.

Partying times 10 on Inauguration Night

USA-ELECTION/

Barack Obama will be the host with the most on Inauguration Night. After his expected swearing-in ceremony earlier in the day on January 20, he’ll host seven inaugural balls and attend three more for a grand total of 10.

Moving among the various official parties won’t necessarily require a motorcade, though: six of them are being held in the vast Walter E. Washington Convention Center. These include Obama’s home states ball, hosted by the president-elect for invited guests from Hawaii and Illinois; Vice President-elect Joe Biden’s home states ball for guests from Delaware and Pennsylvania; the Mid-Atlantic regional ball, the Midwest regional ball, the Western regional ball and the neighborhood ball, which is for Washington DC residents and other guests.

The bargain event of the night may be the youth ball, hosted by Obama for guests aged 18-35 at the Washington Hilton, with tickets available at $75. Most of the other balls cost $150.

The First Draft, Monday, Jan. 5

USA-OBAMA

President-elect Barack Obama woke up today in the tony Hay-Adams Hotel, across Lafayette Park from the White House.

Soon after sunrise, a black SUV was spotted carrying Obama’s younger daughter Sasha to her first day at Sidwell Friends School elementary campus in suburban Bethesda, Maryland. Older daughter Malia will go to Sidwell Friends’ middle school campus in Washington DC.
The Obamas arrived in Washington late Sunday, an extra-early move so the girls could start school at the beginning of the semester. Most presidents-elect arrive on January 15. That’s when the Obama family will move into Blair House, directly across the street from the White House. The new first family moves into the executive mansion on Inauguration Day, JBOXING/anuary 20.

Top news on morning TV shows was New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s withdrawal as Obama’s chosen commerce secretary in the face of a legal inquiry. Richardson, a former Democratic  presidential candidate, has denied wrongdoing in connection with the investigation of a California-based financial company that had done business with the New Mexico state government.

Early move to Washington for Obama’s wife, daughters

1CHICAGO – Barack Obama moves to Washington on Sunday — 16 days before he is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.

But his wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia will beat him to their new home city.

The three are traveling on Saturday to settle in at the luxury Hay Adams Hotel until moving into Blair House, the guest residence across Pennsylvania from the White House, on Jan. 15. They take up residence in the White House on Jan. 20, the day Obama is sworn is as president.

Obama settles into military role

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is not yet commander in chief of the armed forces, but he appears to be warming up to the role as he prepares to take office on Jan. 20 and begin withdrawing troops from Iraq and sending more to Afghanistan.
 
First, he used his Christmas message to pay tribute to the “selfless sacrifice” of the men and women in uniform, and then on Christmas Day, in his only public outing, he visited a Marine Corps base in Hawaii, where he is holidaying, to thank the Marines and sailors stationed there for their service.
 
He spent 75 minutes shaking hands, chatting with the servicemen and posing for photographs at their cafeteria, where they had been enjoying a traditional Christmas dinner before his surprise arrival.
 
Obama is no stranger to the base. He has been visiting it every day since his arrival to work out at the gym there. He broke that routine on Christmas Day, resetting the clock on the seven-day-a-week workout regimen that he religiously follows when at home in Chicago.
 
Some of the servicemen appeared bemused to see him, while others whipped out their camera phones to snap pictures after he walked into the cafeteria with a bellowed “Hi everybody, Merry Christmas.”
 
Local media reported that a Marine stationed at the base, Lance Corporal Thomas Reilly Jr, 19, had been killed in an attack in Iraq’s western Anbar province on Sunday.

Obama inauguration pastor choice: war or peace?

NEWYORK-SUMMIT/CLINTONPresident-elect Barack Obama is seeking peace at his inauguration, but gay and lesbians see his choice of pastor as a nakedly political continuation of war.

“It is important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues,” the prez-elect said, defending his choice of Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren — a same-sex marriage opponent. Obama said he personally would continue be a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans.

Equality California chief Geoff Kors said the decision amounted to choosing someone who ‘declared war on one minority community’.

Not to be a kill-joy, but …

USA-OBAMA/A decision by the city council to extend the hours Washington bars and restaurants can serve alcohol for the week around Inauguration Day on Jan. 20 has stumbled into a wall of opposition from church leaders, police and top U.S. lawmakers.

In a letter to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Council Chairman Vincent Gray, U.S. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin asked them to reconsider a decision to allow bars and restaurants to stay open all night and serve alcohol until 5 a.m. during the period Jan. 17-21.

Durbin, who served as co-chairman of President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign, said he shared the concerns of police and church groups worried that the extended drinking hours will invite alcohol-induced misbehavior and encourage drunk driving on clogged D.C. streets.

The First Draft: Thursday, Nov. 4

They’re back, and this time they didn’t take the corporate jet. CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler will try again to wrangle billions of dollars in bailout money from Congress. This time, they drove from Detroit and they can explain they would do with the money. But they’ve also upped their request from $25 billion to $34 billion.
    
Testimony in front of the Senate Banking Committee begins at 10 a.m.
    
The Labor Department will issue its weekly jobless claims report, and it’s not expected to be pretty. The numbers come out at 8:30 a.m. Futures markets point to a lower opening for U.S. stocks after drugmaker Merck offered a disappointing 2009 profit outlook.
    
Some of the government’s top financial officials speak today. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke talks about housing at 11:15, while Federal Insurance Deposit Corporation Chairman Sheila Bair speaks at a consumer conference at 8:30 a.m.

President-elect Barack Obama has no public events today.
 

Remember George W. Bush? Yes, he’s still president. He lights the National Christmas Tree in front of the White House at 5 p.m.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (Auto company CEOs testify in Congress)
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (National Christmas tree arrives at the White House)

Will Obama lead by example and hit the malls?

It is the season to spend, spend, spend. But with new figures out on Wednesday showing U.S. consumers cutting spending in October at the steepest rate in more than seven years, retailers are worried.
 
The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, is the traditional kickoff to the U.S. holiday shopping season and one of the biggest buying days of the year for consumers, whose spending sprees in past years have fueled the economy.
 
At his third news conference in three days on the economy, President-Elect Barack Obama, who has been seeking to present himself as a man with a plan to fix the economy, was asked by a reporter whether he planned to lead by example and hit the malls himself.
 
“Well, we are going to do some Christmas shopping. And Malia and Sasha have already put their list together,” he said, referring to his two young daughters. “It’s mostly for Santa. They send their letter every year.  But — but we may do some extra shopping as well.”
 
Noting that Thursday was the Thanksgiving holiday, he also joked that the latest appointments to his economic team, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and Austan Goolsbee, one of his policy advisers, could cook a mean turkey dinner.
 
“I want you to know that both Paul and Austan have special turkey-cooking recipes, if anybody out here needs some advice on how to make the ideal turkey,” he said to laughter as Goolsbee and Volcker looked on.
 
Obama will spend Thanksgiving at home in Chicago, where he said he and his wife Michelle were hosting a “whole bunch of people”. The guests will likely first have to go through strict physical checks by the Secret Service agents now protecting Obama before being allowed to enter the family home.
 
The agents kept their distance though on Wednesday when the president-elect and his family went to St Columbanus, a Roman Catholic church in Chicago’s South Side, to help hand out chickens to hungry families.
 
Bundled up against the cold in in a brown suede jacket and scarf, Obama smiled broadly and shouted “Happy Thanksgiving” as he handed out dozens of frozen chickens piled on a table to those waiting in line in the church’s carpark.
 
Many people were delighted to see him — several women even hugged him, while others were so overcome by emotion that they forgot to take their chicken — but some were clearly more concerned about getting their food.
 
The church’s pastor, Reverend Matt Eyerman, said people had been lining up since 5 a.m. in the bitter cold to make sure they got their weekly food rations, which include bread, oranges, canned goods and 10 lbs (5 kg) of potatoes.
 
“Every Wednesday we hand out food. We are feeding 350 to 400 households. A year ago we were serving 270 households,” he said, adding that it was one very visible sign of the deteriorating economy.
 
Obama, who has helped distribute food to the needy on Thanksgiving eve for the past three years, later acknowledged this, saying: “These folks were often times having a tough time. They are having a tougher time now.”

REUTERS/John Gess (Obama and family at Chicago food bank)

The First Draft: Monday, Nov. 24

Another day, another bailout. Stock futures point to a higher opening today after the U.S. government agreed to guarantee most of Citigroup Inc.’s potential $306 billion losses on high-risk assets.

President-elect Barack Obama today will formally unveil the economic team that will inherit this mess. The names of the top candidates, like Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers, have already been leaked, but the press conference could give more insight into their plans. It takes place at 11 a.m. Chicago time, noon EST.

One thing they’ll probably do is spend lots of money. Obama and congressional Democrats are preparing a stimulus package that could total as much as $700 billion over the next two years. The money would go to tax cuts for the middle class and spending on projects like roads and bridges.