Tales from the Trail

First Draft: rough patch

The first presidential apology — “I screwed up”  — making the rounds today.

Apparently President Barack Obama does not subscribe to the rules of Gibbs in the TV drama NCIS (not to be confused with the White House spokesman also named Gibbs) who drills into his minions that saying you’re sorry is a sign of weakness.

The Daschle drama is over and there appears to be a certain sense of relief that the former health secretary nominee’s tax tribulations are not going to dominate the news for much longer.

Now Washington’s usual parlor game begins — who is Obama going to pick next?OBAMA/

Washington’s new favorite pastime, bashing executive compensation and perks, will get plenty of attention today.

from Ask...:

Withdraw or stand their ground?

Tom Daschle doesn’t want to be a distraction. Nancy Killefer doesn’t want to be a distraction. Timothy Geithner has already been a distraction.

What these three high-profile nominees to President Obama’s White House have in common, besides not wanting to be distractions, is that they apparently don’t know how to do their taxes. Daschle, the former senator and Obama’s choice for health secretary, and Killefer, a former assistant Treasury secretary and nominee to oversee the government’s budget, have withdrawn their nominations because of tax indiscretions. Geithner has been confirmed but his path to the top of Treasury was also marred by tax troubles that some fear may come back to haunt him.

Besides begging the question why do smart people not know how to do their taxes, it also throws a shadow over Obama’s quest to have a fast, smooth transition to power.

Obama tries to turn page on nominee woes

If you’re the United States president and two of your nominees for key government posts embarrassingly withdraw on the same day because of tax problems, what do you do?
 
Well, if you’re President Barack “No Drama” Obama the answer is simple — you go to a local school to read a book to a 2nd Grade school class with your wife. 
 

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Obama found himself on the defensive on Tuesday, first after his nominee to oversee and budget reform, Nancy Killefer, and then Tom Daschle,  his pick for health secretary, withdrew their names over tax questions.
 
Just minutes after it was announced that Daschle was withdrawing his nomination, White House aides told journalists the president was hurriedly heading out of the White House to an undisclosed location for a previously arranged event.
 
That turned out to be Capital City Public Charter School, where 25 school children were sitting on the floor of the library waiting for the president and the First Lady to read to them.
 
“We were tired of being in the White House. We decided to break loose,” Obama said, before he and Michelle took turns reading from “The Moon Over Star”, an illustrated book about Neil Armstrong’s first landing on the moon. They both held up the book so the class, quietly fidgeting, could see the illustrations.
 
After letting the children ask him a few questions — his favourite superheroes are Spiderman and Batman — it was back in the armored limousine to the White House, where he was due to face much tougher questions in a round of TV network interviews.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

Tax issues a symbol of America’s divide

It is said that death and taxes are the two things in life that one cannot avoid.

So when not one, not two, but three of President Barack Obama’s picks for his new administration turned up with tax problems, it raised questions about how people in the higher echelon of government managed to make such a mess of their annual obligations.

Some non-profit citizens groups say it’s the classic case of different standards for the “haves” and the “have nots”. OBAMA/DASCHLE

First Draft: cooling off

Let it snow. Why should London have all the fun? Washington weather calls for a few inches, just enough for a snowball fight for hearty Midwesterners like President Barack Obama.

But guard that snow gear. The New York Times says reports of stolen snowplows are up in cold-weather states as the economy declines.

USA-OBAMA/Speaking of the declining economy, Obama doing separate interviews this afternoon with just about every TV channel in the vicinity of the White House — ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and FOX.

First Draft: black and gold

WASHINGTON – The Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl so it’s a black-and-gold kind of day.

NBC aired more of its Sunday interview with President Barack Obama who says “nobody’s cooler than my two girls.”

He wouldn’t say outright whether the government was going to announce creation of a “bad bank” to scoop up sour assets from bank balance sheets, but the message was stay tuned.

Group of doctors, workers and insurers back Obama health reform

President-elect Barack Obama’s healthcare reform bid got an endorsement Thursday from six groups representing a range of interests from doctors, insurers and drug makers to workers, patients and consumers. 
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The group unveiled an ad backing healthcare reform and announced a multimillion dollar purchase of national television air time. 
 
The announcement came as Obama’s choice for health secretary, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, was making his pitch for confirmation before a Senate committee.
 
Daschle promised to work with Congress, industry groups and ordinary citizens to build support for reform.
 
His approach promised to differ sharply from the one taken by former first lady Hillary Clinton in 1994, which she led the Clinton administration’s failed healthcare reform effort.
 
President Bill Clinton’s reform plan fell apart in part because of resistance from the health insurance industry.
 
But the ad blitz announced Thursday was backed by health insurance plans as well as other organziations.
 
The ad promotes healthcare reform as a way way of improving the quality and saving money.


 
“Fixing the economy requires that we fix the broken healthcare system,” John Seffrin, head of the American Cancer Society, said in unveiling the ad.
 
“Healing our healthcare system is a key component to jumpstarting our national economy,” added Nancy Nielsen, president of the American Medical Association.
 
The other groups sponsoring the ad were Families USA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Regence BlueCross BlueShield and the Service Employees International Union.
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Daschle at Senate confirmation hearing Thursday)

The First Draft, Thursday, Jan 8

President-elect Barack Obama will use a speech on the economy Thursday to try to build support for a massive stimulus bill aimed at lifting the United States out of a deep recession. 
 
BUSH/Obama is warning Congress that unless it acts quickly and boldly to pass his stimulus plan, with its estimated $775 billion price tag, the country could be mired for years in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
 
The president-elect delivers his remarks at 11 a.m. at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, with less than two weeks to go before his inauguration.
 
The speech comes as some lawmakers and financial experts are beginning to raise doubts about elements of the stimulus plan.
 
The Washington Post quoted lawmakers, tax experts and economists as saying some of the tax cuts in the Obama plan are likely to be too expensive and ineffective.
 
Obama’s choice to lead the administration’s charge on health care reform goes before a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday.
 
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is expected to receive a cordial welcome from his ex-colleagues and Democratic leaders on the panel predict a smooth confirmation.
 
President George W. Bush travels to Philadelphia Thursday for an event touting the success of his No Child Left Behind education reform program.
 
The House of Representatives and the Senate hold a joint session to formally count the electoral votes from the November election, in which Obama defeated Republican rival John McCain.
 
The action will formally declare Obama as winner of the U.S. presidential vote.
 
The morning television news shows reported on Obama’s economic speech and new violence in the Middle East, where rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel.
 
The attacks raised concerns about a possible second front in Israel’s two-week war against Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.
 
U.S. stock futures dropped early Thursday on disappionting December sales by Wal-Mart, pointing to a lower open on Wall Street.
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama listens as Bush speaks during an Oval Office meeting Wednesday with all the living former presidents)

The First Draft, Thursday, Dec. 11

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It’s a tale of two cities, Washington D.C. versus Chicago.
 
With President-elect Barack Obama holding frequent news conferences in Chicago to appoint members of his cabinet and lay out his plans for the future and President George W. Bush keeping a low profile in Washington, Americans could be forgiven for thinking they have a new executive capital.

Today the focus will be on both Washington, where a $14 billion bill to bail out the United States’ struggling automakers will be debated in the Senate, and Chicago, where Obama will announce former Senate leader Tom Daschle as the country’s next health secretary.
 
Obama is due to hold a news conference at 11 a.m. EST (600 GMT) to name Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, and give more specifics about his plan to provide affordable healthcare to all Americans. Daschle faces the Herculean task of revamping America’s ailing healthcare system.
 
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC news conference  poll found that 73 percent of adult Americans approve of the way Obama has handled his preparations for becoming president on Jan. 20, while 38 percent say they have a more favorable impression of him since the Nov. 4 election.
 
Obama is likely to face more questions at the news conference on the scandal involving Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested on Tuesday and charged with attempting to sell Obama’s Senate seat. Obama has called on the governor to resign.

Illinois’s Lieutenant-Governor Pat Quinn told NBC’s Today breakfast television show that Blagojevich would be impeached if he did not resign. Quinn, who is next in line to replace Blagojevich, said he had not spoken to the governor since the summer of 2007.
 
In Washington, the Senate is due to debate a proposal giving $14 bln in emergency loans to struggling auto-makers after it was passed in the House of Representatives by 237-170 votes on Wednesday night. But it is expected to face stiff opposition from skeptical Republicans who want greater accountability from the carmakers in exchange for the loans.
 
Democrats in Congress and the White House want the measure passed urgently, fearing that the collapse of the auto industry would fuel unemployment and deepen the recession.
 
The U.S. Labor Department reported on Thursday that the number of workers filing claims for jobless benefits jumped to a 26-year high last week. Data last week showed employers cut half a million jobs in November, the largest number in 34 years.
 
But it was not all doom and gloom on the morning TV shows, which perhaps not surprisingly, found time to show pictures of the January 2009 cover of men’s magazine GQ. The cover shows a naked Jennifer Aniston wearing just a necktie.

Republican Senate leader hangs on after close call

WASHINGTON - Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell appears to have eked out a narrow victory for re-election in Kentucky as several of his colleagues fell to Democratic challengers.

Television networks projected that McConnell would win another term despite a fierce challenge by Democratic businessman Bruce Lunsford.

McConnell became a top target in 2008 after Republicans knocked off the Democratic leader Tom Daschle in 2004. President George W. Bush called McConnell this evening to congratulate him on his victory.