Tales from the Trail

Obama’s security tweaks unlikely to quiet political opponents

President Barack Obama will tighten airline security today in a bid to thwart any future attack like last month’s plot to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner. But will that silence his political opponents? Not likely. With congressional elections looming in November, the stakes may be too high.

Take Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra, for example. He’s running for governor of Michigan and criticizing Obama’s handling of the bomb plot in hopes of making Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, look soft on security.

“If you agree that we need a governor who will stand up the Obama/Pelosi efforts to weaken our security, please make a most generous contribution of $25, $50, $100 or even $250 to my campaign,” he said in a widely quoted letter to prospective supporters.
The letter caused an uproar among critics who accused Hoekstra of playing politics with national security. But the security issue seems destined to become a leading theme for Republicans in this year’s election battle for control of Congress, which they hope to turn into a referendum on Obama’s policies.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says national security is among the top issues on which his party needs to engage voters.

“There are a lot of questions out there,” he told NBC’s Today show. “The inconsistency in the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy, particularly with respect to terrorism, is a concern.”

Bomb plot thrusts Obama into political storm

President Barack Obama is weathering a political storm over last month’s suspected al Qaeda plot to bomb a Detroit-bound plane, particularly from Republicans who say he dropped the ball on security while pursuing healthcare and climate reforms. But how much substance there is behind the allegations may depend on who’s talking.

Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina told NBC’s Today show that he believes Obama just woke up to the gravity of the al Qaeda threat. SECURITY-AIRLINE/OBAMA

“A lot of us have been concerned over the last year that the president did seem to downplay the threat of terror. He doesn’t use the word anymore. He hesitates to say that there is a war on terror,” DeMint said.

Want to be Obama’s neighbor? House in Chicago for sale

obama-familyCHICAGO – Be President Barack Obama’s neighbor for a cool $1.85 million. 

The 17-room, 6,000 square foot (557 sq metres) brick house for sale adjacent to Obama’s Chicago home needs work to update the kitchen and bathrooms, but there is no need to worry about break-ins, the seller says. 

“It’s definitely got phenomenal security. A whole team of Secret Service agents is posted 20 feet (6 metres) away” night and day, real estate agent Matt Garrison said.

Group accuses U.S. Kabul embassy guards of misconduct

Nearly naked, drunken guys dancing around a bonfire and engaging in lewd conduct. And there are pictures and videos. No it’s not a frat party gone wild.  It’s downtime for some private security contractors hired to protect the U.S. embassy in Kabul,  according to the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight.

The watchdog group says the alleged misbehavior by the guards working for ArmorGroup North America — along with serious under-staffing — has jeopardized security at the embassy amid rising violence in the Afghan capital.

The Project sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a lengthy letter documenting complaints about the guards. The group also sent pictures and videos backing its allegations.

Eric Holder seems headed toward confirmation

WASHINGTON — What a difference a few days can make in the rough and tumble world of American politics, particularly in the U.S. Capitol. Just ask Eric Holder, President-elect Barack Obama’s pick to be U.S. attorney general. 
Last week, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell named Holder as the only one of Obama’s Cabinet nominees in possible trouble. 
There was Republican concern about Holder, particularly his decision, while President Bill Clinton’s deputy attorney general, to back a pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. 
But after receiving rave reviews at his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday, Holder seems certain to be confirmed. USA-OBAMA/HOLDER
Under questioning, Holder admitted he erred in the Rich matter, broke with the Bush administration to call waterboarding “torture” and vowed to run a Justice Department free of political meddling. He also promised to make fighting financial crimes a top priority. 
At least two Republicans said afterward that they intend to support him, which should provide enough votes in the Democratic-led Senate to clear any procedural roadblock. 
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, reiterated his support for Holder, predicting he would be a strong attorney general. 
And on Friday, Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida came out for Holder after what he described as “a very productive meeting with him.” 
“I adhere to the principle that, assuming qualifications, a president gets to choose the members of his Cabinet,” Martinez said. 
“Mr. Holder answered a number of questions to my satisfaction,” Martinez said. “I intend to support Mr. Holder’s confirmation and urge my colleagues to do the same.”

Click here for more Reuters political coverage

Photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (Holder stands to be sworn in for his Jan. 15 confirmation hearing)

Inauguaral clampdown on cars

2WASHINGTON – The million or more people expected in Washington for Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration might want to wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for a whole lot of walking.

Private vehicles will not be able to get anywhere near the action on Jan. 20, when Obama is sworn in as president, under a plan to help with crowd management detailed by the U.S. Secret Service on Wednesday. 

Cars will be banned on major bridges connecting Virginia to Washington.
Streets will be closed
across a broad section in the middle of the city.  Visitors’ best bets for getting around will be public transportation, bicycles or walking. 

The First Draft: Monday, Dec 1

With the images of death and destruction in Mumbai last week fresh in everyone’s minds, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is set on Monday to name his national security team
At a 10:40 EST (1540 GMT) news conference in Chicago, Obama is expected to name former rival Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state and nominate Defense Secretary Robert Gates to stay on in that role. In addition he is expected to name Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as homeland security secretary, Eric Holder as attorney general and adviser Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations.
After a series of three straight news conferences last week focused on the ailing U.S. economy, Obama will switch gears today as he will likely face questions about India and Pakistan and his proposed policies toward the two nuclear-armed nations.     
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to India on Wednesday. She has been in contact with the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan in recent days to ease tensions between the states.

Indian investigators said the militants who attacked Mumbai underwent months of commando training in Pakistan, raising tensions between the neighboring nations as recriminations mounted in India. 

In an interview with the Financial Times , Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has appealed to India not to punish his country for the Mumbai attacks, saying militants have the power to precipitate a war in the region.
In economic news back home, stocks appeared set to fall after poor manufacturing figures from China and a raft of economic data expected in the U.S. this week.

Inside the Tent: Twin Cities residents on protests and security

The Twin Cities have been the scene of sometimes violent protests and a heavy security presence during the Republican National Convention. Kelly Nuxoll of Huffington Post’s Off the Bus talked to two residents about what they think and how they’ve been affected.

Jonathan Hunter, St. Paul

“This is not the world I live in.”

Rick Engman, Minneapolis

“I don’t mind a non-violent protest,  but when people start threatening other people’s freedom of speech like the Republican National Convention’s meeting … then there’s a problem.”

Inside the Tent has more than 40 delegates and other attendees in Denver and St. Paul, equipped with video cameras to capture the conventions from the ground up. Nuxoll is not a Reuters employee and any opinions expressed are her own.

Inside the Tent: Pedicab confessions

Pedicab driver Laura Caldwell shares her stories from the Democratic National Convention: Military helicopters, armored golf carts, and teenage anarchists with the utmost respect for traffic laws. This video was shot by fellow pedicab operator Teri Robnett, a contributor to Reuters Inside the Tent.

Inside the Tent has more than 40 delegates and other attendees in Denver and St. Paul, equipped with video cameras to capture the conventions from the ground up. Robnett is not a Reuters employee and any opinions expressed are her own.

Click here for a full list of contributors at the Democratic National Convention. We’ll be moving to St. Paul for the Republican National Convention next week.