Tales from the Trail

White House hits back at Cheney “dithering” comment

AFGHANISTAN-CHENEY/The White House is firing back at former Vice President Dick Cheney who accused President Barack Obama of “dithering” and being “afraid to make a decision” on whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

“I think it’s a curious comment,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters at his midday briefing.

“I think it’s pretty safe to say that the Vice President was for seven years not focused on Afghanistan,” Gibbs added.

“Even more curious, given the fact that (an) increase in troops sat on desks in this White House, including the vice president’s, for more than eight months, a resource request filled by President Obama in March,” he said.

Speaking to the Center for Security Policy, a Washington think-tank, Cheney said the White House needed to “stop dithering while America’s armed forces are in danger.”

The First Draft: No Decisions

Beau Biden, son of the vice president, says he is considering running for his dad’s Senate seat but hasn’t made a decision yet.

IRAQ/BIDEN“I’ve been away from my family for a year, first things first,” Biden said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” after returning from Iraq with the Army National Guard. “There’s time to make that decision.”

“Look, am I considering it? Absolutely. Absolutely,” Biden, who is Delaware’s attorney general, said. “But I’ll be making the decision in due course.”

Has stimulus become a dirty word at the White House?

If it walks like a stimulus and quacks like a stimulus, is it a stimulus?

NUCEAR-IRAN/MISSILES-USAThat’s the question being thrown at White House spokesman Robert Gibbs this week. And he has so far refused to bite.

In yesterday’s White House media briefing, “stimulus” came up five times, but never once uttered by Gibbs.

His responses were “recovery plan” and “safety-net policies.”

Grayson sweet-talks Republicans on healthcare reform

In the never-ending Democratic struggle to win bipartisan support for healthcare reform, Representative Alan Grayson is probably not the guy to send to the House floor to woo Republicans.

Democrats, he said in a floor speech a couple days ago, want to fix the U.S. healthcare system by expanding insurance coverage to the 47 million people who do not have it.

“The Republican plan,” he said, is basically: “Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.”
 
He brought along big posterboard signs to underscore the idea in the event somebody found his point too subtle.
 
Republicans were not happy with this characterization of their ideas for healthcare and suggested an apology was in order.
 
A much-chastened Grayson returned to the House floor Wednesday to make amends.

White House waffles on Guantanamo Bay closing deadline

President Barack Obama is finding out what his predecessor experienced — closing Guantanamo Bay is easier said than done.

As early as May 2006, former President George W. Bush said he wanted to close the prison for terrorism suspects in Cuba that was constructed during his administration after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. GUANTANAMO/ACTIVITIES

But the Bush administration found it was not easy getting other countries to accept some of the prisoners and faced a dilemma of what to do with other prisoners who could not be released.

Cheney touches a nerve at the White House

Well there he goes again. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has got ‘em all riled up again at the Obama White House over his Fox News Sunday interview. GUANTANAMO-CHENEY/

Cheney feels strongly that the tough interrogation techniques employed against terrorism suspects by the Bush administration worked, in spite of the complaints about human rights.

He went on Fox to sharply criticize Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to launch an investigation into the alleged abuse of prisoners held by the CIA during the Bush administration.

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.

Who’s in the tank at Obama’s White House luau?

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs barely got a foot through the door of the White House briefing room Thursday before being hit by the full force of a press corps demanding information on the big news of the day.
 
Not Iran or healthcare, of course, or even the energy bill that President Barack Obama had discussed earlier in the White House Rose Garden.
 
Nope, the big news Thursday OBAMA/was who on the White House staff would take a turn in the dunk tank at the Hawaiian luau being thrown by Obama for members of Congress and their families on the White House south lawn. 
 
“I went out there to see it. It’s out there,” Gibbs said in response to questions about the tank — one of those amusement park devices where someone sits suspended over a huge tub of water while others hurl balls at a trigger in an effort to dunk him.
 
“Rahm is going to be in it. Phil Schiliro’s going to be in it,” Gibbs said, referring to Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, and Schiliro, the president’s assistant for legislative affairs.
 
“Robert Gibbs is going to be in it,” he added, referring to himself.
 
News that Emanuel and Schiliro would be targets in the dunk tank set off speculation on Capitol Hill that Obama was deviously trying to round up more support for an expected vote in the House Friday on the energy bill.
 
News that Gibbs had volunteered set off a round of journalistic pleading for news coverage, or perhaps an opportunity to try it out on White House spokesman.
 
Offers of fundraising for charity were made — $5 or $10 per reporter in exchange for a throw and a video of the results.
 
“I’m happy to. You guys collect the pot of money, you guys pick your best arm, and we can — you can have a shot at it. You can throw it (at) me and I’ll get you the video,” Gibbs said. 
 OBAMA/
He did express one reservation. 
 
“My only concern at this point is that the water gets a little warmer maybe before we start throwing.”
 
And so at the appointed hour a little past 5 p.m., the press corps filed out for the dunking shortly before the start of the luau, cheered on by Obama, who poked his head out a West Wing door and shouted: “Go get him! Go get him! You can do it!”
 
Gibbs went into the water twice in five minutes — once at the hands of AP’s Ben Feller and a second time on the pitching of CBS’s Bill Plante, who’s been covering the White House for nearly 30 years.
 
Gibbs was still drying off as the luau got underway.
 
“Bill Plante,” he said. “Who’d have thought?” 
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Gibbs before, and after, being dunked)

Elections in Iran, Illinois? Obama very busy not picking sides

If you ever wondered what Illinois and Iran might have in common, here’s one answer: President Obama is most definitely not picking sides in their elections.
 
So insists the White House.
 
OBAMA/“Our response … on this has been, from the very beginning, consistent,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told a briefing Thursday when asked about the post-election turmoil in Iran.
 
“The American people and this government are not going to pick the next leader of Iran,” he said. “That’s something that the Iranians have to do.”
 
That doesn’t mean they won’t tsk-tsk loudly from the sidelines as the opportunity permits.
 
The administration has voiced concern about how the election was conducted, but shied away from suggesting any fraud was involved in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s defeat of challenger Mirhossein Mousavi.
 
They say they don’t favor either candidate, but insist the challenger’s supporters have a right to continue their protests a week after the vote.
 
“We have to ensure that we express our views, as I’ve said, about ensuring that people can demonstrate, have their causes and concerns heard,” the White House spokesman said.
 
Obama’s also steering clear of the U.S. Senate race in Illinois, Gibbs said, even though he met last Friday with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
 
Chicago papers say the Obama administration is pushing her to run for the president’s former U.S. Senate seat in 2010, but the White House begs to differ.
 
“Let me be explicit,” Gibbs said. “The president is not going to pick a candidate in the Illinois Senate race.”
 
And the meeting at the White House with Obama, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior adviser Valerie Jarret? Why, Madigan and Obama are just old friends and Obama has “enormous respect for what she accomplished,” Gibbs said.
 
And oh, by the way …
 
“I think she’d be a terrific candidate. But we’re not going to get involved in picking that candidate in Illinois.”
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama speaks at a fundraiser Thursday night)

What if a Gitmo detainee is acquitted? It’s hypothetical …

The Obama administration doesn’t want to talk about what might happen if a New York court acquits a Guantanamo Bay terrorism suspect.
OBAMA/
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian, Tuesday became the first Guantanamo prisoner sent to the United States for trial. He pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan court.

Ghailani is accused of conspiring to bomb the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, killing 224 people. He had been held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba since 2006.

His transfer to New York was seen as a test case for President Barack Obama’s effort to close the controversial prison for foreign terrorism suspects.