Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Gift of the gas

 

Gasoline drips off a nozzle during refueling at a gas station in Altadena, California in this March 24, 2012 file photo. Picture taken March 24, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

After negotiating a tricky stretch of road, the Obama campaign may be easing into the straightaway in the gas-driven presidential race.

News on Monday of a delay in the planned closure of the largest refinery on the East Coast could mean an end to skyrocketing gas prices. And that would effectively take the wind out of a forceful Republican line of attack — that the president is to be blamed for $4 a gallon gas, arguably the most visible price in the American economy today.

The narrative was working against the president, who currently gets some of his lowest poll marks for his handling of energy prices, even though the causes of higher prices are largely beyond his control. Even so, we shouldn’t expect the Republicans to simply drop the rhetoric.

“Until we are at the point where people don’t feel like they’re squeezing their entire paychecks into the gas tank, it’s an issue that Republicans are going to keep talking about,” said a Senate Republican aide.

Demonized in Damascus? Kucinich protests

One of the Obama administration’s sharpest critics on the left is coming in for some sharp criticism himself after what appeared to be a friendly visit to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich — an Ohio Democrat who has proposed ordering Obama to halt U.S. participation in NATO airstrikes in the Libya conflict — sat down with Assad in Damascus over the weekend and emerged to face accusations that he was getting too cozy with an autocrat whose security forces have killed some 1,300 people as they attempt to crush a revolt against his rule.

Kucinich said he made the trip, which also included a stop in   Lebanon, on his own accord after being requested to go by his constituents.

Washington Extra – Not enough

The word is not enough. That was the message from the United States to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who pledged reforms in a speech at Damascus University.

“What’s important now is action, not words,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

White House spokesman Jay Carney concurred: “President Assad needs to either lead that transition or get out of the way … I’m not saying the words are meaningless, but he needs to act on them … But first, he needs to stop the violence.”

Washington Extra – The choice

President Barack Obama wants the “Arab spring” to bloom.

And that means having choice. The United States supports “the right to choose your own leaders — whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran,” he said in a much awaited Middle East speech.

For Syria: “President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.”

In Libya, Obama didn’t think leader Muammar Gaddafi would be left with much choice. “When Gaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed.”

Washington Extra – Au contraire

Who knew what when about where?

That is the persistent question about Pakistan after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found practically in the backyard of the country’s military and its capital.

Top U.S. defense officials tried to calm the fury today by saying they had no evidence that anyone in the senior Pakistani leadership had knowledge of bin Laden’s location.

“I have seen no evidence at all that the senior leadership knew. In fact, I’ve seen some evidence to the contrary,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

Washington Extra – Syria slap

Reuters correspondent Mark Hosenball got early word that the White House was going to slap additional sanctions on Syria including on the brother and cousin of President Bashar al-Assad.

U.S. officials then told White House correspondent Matt Spetalnick that President Barack Obama had signed an executive order for sanctions today, showing that no Syrian official was “immune” from repercussions if the violence against protesters didn’t stop.

A not-so-veiled message was that while President Assad was not on the list, that shoe could drop too if the crackdown did not end. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 48 civilians were killed in pro-democracy demonstrations today.