Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: The president keeps campaigning

Back from his overseas trip, President Barack Obama has spent this week as campaigner-in-chief.

OBAMA/Every day Obama has pushed lawmakers to approve an overhaul of the healthcare industry — the president’s top legislative priority.

And last night he made a quick trip up to New Jersey to do some political campaigning and inject some presidential charisma into Governor Jon Corzine’s struggling re-election campaign.

While Obama was stumping for Corzine, his vice president Joe Biden was on a similar mission — campaigning for the Democratic nominee for governor in Virginia,  Creigh Deeds.

The Virginia and New Jersey governor elections in November are among the first major contests since Obama took office in January and could be seen as barometers of his success in achieving his agenda.

The First Draft: Power of persuasion?

President Barack Obama has targetted healthcare reform as his top legislative priority. Now he just has to convince Congress to make it work.

OBAMA/Over the past week, Obama has stepped up pressure on lawmakers, speaking out each day about the need for an overhaul of the unwieldy system. He also has invited key lawmakers to the White House for a little personal persuasion.

Four Republican senators made the trip down Pennsylvania Avenue to see the president on Wednesday and today he’ll meet with Republican Senator Olympia Snowe and Democrat Ben Nelson. Yesterday Obama also took the opportunity of congratulating the newest congresswoman — Judy Chu of California — on her victory to make a special mention of healthcare and the need to reform the system and lower costs for Americans.

The First Draft: It’s healthcare and Supreme Court – again

Today seems a bit like a repeat of yesterday, just with a bit of a twist.

On the healthcare front, action moves to the Senate side with the Health, Education, Labor and CONGRESS-HEALTHCARE/Pensions Committee due to finish work on and present its version of the healthcare bill . The Senate Finance Committee is still hammering out details on how to pay for a massive healthcare overhaul and holds a closed door meeting before it presents its version of the bill next week.

President Barack Obama will increase his pressure on lawmakers to reach agreement with a Rose Garden address at 1:05 pm EDT/1705 GMT on the need for health care reform. Obama, who has made the healthcare overhaul his top legislative priority, on Tuesday voiced support for a House of Representatives proposal that would pay for the reform by levying a new tax on the wealthy.

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor heads back to face the Senate Judiciary Committee at 9:30 EDT/1330 GMT for the second day of questioning in her nomination hearing.

A serious Franken vows to work hard in U.S. Senate

Former comedian Al Franken on Monday made it clear in his first appearance in the U.S. Capitol as senator-elect that he had not come to entertain.

Franken did not crack a single joke, nor did he take a single question as he spoke briefly to reporters outside the Senate chamber. Instead he vowed to work hard and tried to downplay expectations now that his election has clinched a super-majority of 60 for President Obama’s Democrats in the Senate.

“A lot has been made of this number 60.  The number I’m focused on is the number two.  I — I see myself as the second senator from the state of Minnesota,” Franken said. (The other Minnesota senator is Amy Klobuchar).

The First Draft: As Congress returns, Obama leaves

After a week of holiday barbecue, hometown parades and constituent fence-mending, members of theUSA/ U.S. Congress begin to drift back to Washington on Monday for what promises to be its most severe test of the year — finding common ground on a mammoth overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system.

The Senate is back in session on Monday afternoon and the House of Representatives returns on Tuesday to begin work on melding two different Senate bills and three House versions into legislation that can earn initial approval from each chamber before lawmakers adjourn for the month of August.

There are plenty of obstacles for the proposals, President Barack Obama’s top legislative priority this year, from trimming the potential $1 trillion cost to determining how to pay and whether to include a government-run public insurance option for approximately 46 million uninsured Americans.

U.S. Senate leader pushes immigration reform bid

Even with enormously difficult to pass legislation on healthcare and climate change topping the Obama administration’s agenda, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid believes he can still muscle through a bill to overhaul U.S. immigration policies later this year.

OBAMA/President Barack Obama has said he wanted immigration reform done this year, although his own spokesman acknowledged on Monday that they may only be able to begin the debate on the issue.  “I can see the president’s desire for it to happen, but understanding that … currently where we sit, the math makes that more difficult than the discussion,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

But that hasn’t stopped Reid, who caught a lot of people off guard a few weeks ago when he predicted the Senate would act this year.

Who decided which Chrysler dealers to close?

Washington is always full of conspiracy theories –  one of the latest surrounds the decision to close hundreds of Chrysler dealerships following the automaker’s slide into bankruptcy.

Conservatives want to know whether dealerships with Republican ties were targeted by the Obama administration.

CHRYSLER/BANKRUPTCYSome are seizing on a Reuters article. In it, a lawyer who represents some of the terminated dealers said after a deposition with Chrysler President Jim Press that the automaker did not make the decision.

First draft: Storms trump flu

Flu mania seems to be winding down a bit. At least on the morning U.S. television talk shows CANADA/and the front pages of the major newspapers.

Is it complacency? A feeling that it can’t hit you? Or just plain flu fatigue? Whatever the case, the slowdown of interest in the deadly new strain of flu comes just as global health officials gear up to declare a full-stage pandemic.FLU/

The morning news shows focused first on the severe weather pummeling the United States, and only after went on to talk about flu. The acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Richard Besser, said the spread of the deadly influenza is not much worse than the average seasonal flu.

Watch out for children, it’s Easter at the White House

Get ready for them. They’re coming. On Monday the White House lawn will be over-run with children for the annual Easter Egg Roll. This year’s theme is ”Let’s go play.”

Of course this year will have its differences as President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle continue to put their personal stamp on traditional White House events.

BUSH-EASTER/In an effort to diversify the crowd, the tickets were distributed online so families from far away had a better chance to attend.

White House pulls trigger early on budget praise

G20/As the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate drew closer to wrapping up votes on their version of the fiscal 2010 budget, President Barack Obama’s staff appeared to pull the trigger a bit hastily on his congratulatory statements praising the Senate vote.

At 7:50 p.m. EDT, about 40 minutes after the House of Representatives approved its budget plan that trims Obama’s $3.55 trillion budget proposal, the White House issued a statement from Obama praising the vote as “another step toward rebuilding our struggling economy.”

But appended to the bottom was another statement from Obama — who probably was asleep since he’s in London — that looked like the statement the White House planned to issue after the Senate votes on its own budget plan: