Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: Bill Clinton on race and the healthcare debate

Bill Clinton has tons of respect for Jimmy Carter. But he doesn’t agree that racism is a driving factor behind angry opposition to President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform agenda. OBAMA/

Like Carter, Clinton is a former Democratic governor of a Southern state who has spent years battling entrenched racism against blacks.

“I sympathize with where President Carter’s coming from. If you’re a white southerner and you’ve fought these battles a long time, you’re super-sensitive to any kind of discrimination based on race,” Clinton, a former Arkansas governor, said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Carter, a former Georgia governor, raised the issue of race after U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted “You lie” at Obama during the president’s healthcare speech to Congress this month. Thousands of conservatives also rallied in opposition to the president at demonstrations in Washington.

“I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man,” Carter told NBC News.

Obama brings the Olympics to the White House

OBAMA/OLYMPICSPresident Obama deeply disappointed his hometown Chicago when he announced that he would not go to Copenhagen next month to personally make the city’s case for hosting the 2016 Olympics, so he and first lady Michelle Obama, who is going in his stead, on Wednesday brought the Olympics to the White House instead.

Former Olympic and paralympic athletes, Chicago officials and local schoolchildren attended the event on the White House lawn, where the president and first lady both spoke and watched judo and gymnastic demonstrations. The president even joined in with some of the athletes, earning a gentle jibe from his wife.

“You should have seen the president in there fencing,” she said. “It was pathetic, but he passed the baton really well.”

Is Justice Stevens sending early warning signal?

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has hired only one clerk for the term starting in October 2010, instead of the usual four, fueling speculation that he may be planning to step down next summer, the New York Times reports.

Stevens, 89, is the current court’s longest-serving member. Nominated by Republican President Gerald Ford, Stestevensvens joined the high court in December 1975 and went on to become the leader of its liberal wing.

If  the Chicago-born Stevens steps down, President Barack Obama would have his second opportunity to nominate a justice to the court.

Obama’s summer holiday reading list: 2,300 pages

OBAMA/President Barack Obama is squeezing some reading into his week-long Martha’s Vineyard vacation. OK, a lot more than “some.”

The brainy president has brought along a stack of five books– three novels and two works of non-fiction — to amuse himself in between rounds of golf, visits with friends, activities with his family and the inescapable business of running the country while he is on the Massachusetts island.

Two of the novels are thrillers, but his reading list is hardly light, literally or figuratively, with a total for the five books of more than 2,300 pages.

Obama reaches out to NASCAR nation

OBAMA/One group of Americans who failed to support Barack Obama in his race for the presidency last year were “NASCAR Dads,” white, working-class Southern men presumed to be fans of the U.S. racing circuit. The president reached out to them in a big way on Wednesday by hosting a ceremony in honor of Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR’s 2008 Sprint Cup Champion, with Johnson and an array of current drivers and former NASCAR champions.

“You know, it is not every day that we have a championship stock car parked out on the South Lawn,” joked Obama, known more as a fan of Chicago’s basketball and baseball teams than as a racing aficionado.

“Fortunately, we got Jimmie to agree not to do any burnouts or tear up my back yard. ”I also suggested to Jimmie that, in exchange for free parking, he should let me take “the 48″ out for a few laps, referring to Johnson’s car. He said that was fine — but Secret Service didn’t think it was fine.”OBAMA/

“Happy Birthday to Us” for Obama and pressroom doyenne

President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to the White House briefing room on Tuesday to carry a plateful of six cupcakes topped by a birthday candle to Helen ThomasOBAMA/, the veteran journalist with whom he shares an August 4 birthday.

The president, who turned 48, led aides in singing a chorus of “Happy Birthday to You,” to Thomas, who turned 89, and then urged her to make a wish. “You’ve got to blow it out to make it come true,” Obama said. Thomas then blew out the candle.

Thomas, known as a tough questioner of authority while covering 10 U.S. presidents during half a century as a White House correspondent, did not say what she wished for.

Three strikes for Obama — at the bowling alley

President Barack Obama may be struggling to boost a weak economy and push through healthcare reform, but he is making undisputed progress in one area — he’s raised his bowling score from an embarrassing 37 — out of a possible 300 — to a 144.

The athletic U.S. 47-year-old, known as an enthusiastic basketball player , scored one of his presidential race’s few missteps last year during a campaign stop in Pennsylvania when he tried bowling and posted the 37, a result far below the respectable range. 

So it seemed surprising when his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said Obama, who turns 48 on OBAMA/Tuesday, had included some bowling in his birthday celebrations with friends during the weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat.

McCain opposes former rival’s first Supreme Court nominee

OBAMA/Nine months after losing the U.S. presidential election to Democrat Barack Obama, Republican John McCain is still taking center stage to voice disagreement with his former U.S. Senate colleague.

On Monday, McCain announced in a Senate speech that he would vote against Obama’s first U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, a federal judge for the past 17 years.

“She is an immensely qualified candidate,” McCain conceded.

But he added: “I do not believe that she shares my belief in judicial restraint.”

Powell weighs in on Harvard case

Colin Powell says some “adult supervision” could have kept an altercation between Henry Louis Gates, a black Harvard University professor, and Sgt. James Crowley, a white policeman, from blowing up into a “federal case” about race in America.

The former U.S secretary of state, who says he has been racially profiled “many times,”  weighed in on the arrest of his friend “Skip” Gates on Tuesday evening, telling CNN’s Larry King that it was a fascinating story that unfolded in several acts.

Gates was arrested at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and charged with disorderly conduct. Crowley had responded to the call when a neighbor reported a possible break-in at Gates’ home. Gates had just returned home from a trip to China and found his door jammed. This is how the two men came face-to-face.

Sen. Burris won’t run in 2010

BURRIS-SENATE/ILLINOISAfter just a few months in office and having fiercely resisted calls for his resignation, Illinois Senator Roland Burris has decided Congress is not his calling after all.The Chicago Democrat appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama plans to announce on Friday he won’t seek election to a full six-year term in 2010. Word leaked out a day early, with sources in Chicago and Washington confirming Burris’ plans to forgo the midterm election.The Chicago Sun-Times broke the news, reporting that Burris had raised only about $20,000 toward what undoubtedly would have been a very expensive campaign. The newspaper also quoted a source as saying that Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, was concerned about his legacy.He entered office under a big cloud that never cleared. Burris was appointed on Dec. 30 by former Governor Rod Blagojevich, who later was impeached and indicted on corruption charges — including trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat.Burris escaped a perjury charge last month when prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence aganist him. Burris declared his appointment “perfectly legal” and said he had never offered the ousted governor anything.For more Reuters political news, click here.Photo credit: Reuters/Frank Polich (Burris reacts to audience applause after speaking at a Chicago, church in  March)