Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Theater of the absurd

No one said extending the payroll tax cut in Congress by December 31 would be a walk in the park. But did we really expect it to turn into another marathon with multiple detours?

After a rare display of bipartisanship on Monday on a spending bill to keep the government running through 2012, Tuesday gave way to another day of bitter back and forth, in which Democrats and Republicans aimed to out-maneuver and out-smart each other.

The Republicans managed to pass their payroll tax cut bill in the House with the controversial measure to speed up the decision on green-lighting the Keystone oil pipeline. It almost certainly won’t make it through the Senate and the White House made clear today that President Obama will veto it if it does. He’s decided the Keystone pipeline has to wait until after the elections and won’t be dragged into this debacle.

In theory, the House-approved bill clears the way for the two sides to compromise and get the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits extended by year end. It’s pretty clear that most Republicans and Democrats want to give the boost to voters and the fragile American economy. And the White House says it still expects an “eleventh hour” deal. But after watching the elaborate political theater that played out on Tuesday, it’s anyone’s guess when cooler heads might prevail.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

U.S. lawmakers in showdown over payroll tax cuts
U.S. Republican and Democratic lawmakers are locked in an end-of-year fight that threatens a government shutdown, an effective tax hike for 160 million Americans and the loss of benefits for millions of unemployed. With just days left to resolve the crisis, both parties traded recriminations on Tuesday even as they tried to out-maneuver each other for political advantage in a high-stakes battle that will likely carry over into the 2012 elections.

Washington Extra – End in sight

President Obama didn’t bite when asked by a White House reporter today if he still thought the U.S. war in Iraq was “a dumb war.” Back in 2002, he could get away with such a blunt statement. As president, and with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at his side, he needed to be more subtle.

Up the two men went to Arlington Cemetery, their motorcade driving past the white grave stones of wars past and present, canon shots firing in the background, until they arrived at the Tomb of the Unknowns. A military band played both countries’ anthems, Obama stood with his hand over his heart for both songs while Maliki stood erect with his hands by his sides.

Obama said it was Maliki who wanted to go to Arlington, but it turned out to be a fitting, if somber way for Obama to close this chapter. By going to a place where the costs of war are so much in evidence, he was able to answer the “dumb war” question in a serene, statesman-like way.

Biden welcomes Navy ship home for the holidays

MAYPORT, Fla. – Vice President Joe Biden made an unscheduled stop during a visit to Florida on Thursday to greet 350 sailors from the USS Gettysburg as they came home after seven months at sea.

A brass band played and happy families waved flags and held up signs as a grinning Biden helped them welcome home loved ones just in time for the holidays. Seven of the sailors who had babies born while they were at sea were allowed to get off the ship first.


Sophia Perfida, 11 months, waits to see her father.

One sailor dressed up as Santa Claus in honor of the ship’s arrival, drawing thrilled shouts from some of the children waiting for their mothers and fathers.

Romney takes a swing at Obama golf habit

Most presidents have their hobbies. George W. Bush loved to clear brush on his Texas ranch, and to take long mountain bike rides. Bill Clinton played the saxophone. John Quincy Adams reportedly liked to skinny-dip in the Potomac River.

Barack Obama likes to play golf. And Republican challenger Mitt Romney doesn’t approve.

The Romney campaign on Wednesday launched a website, fortyfore.com, that takes a swing at Obama’s golf habit. The site says that Obama has played “1,584 holes since 2009″ — the equivalent of 88 rounds of golf as he nears the end of his third year in office. That would put Obama far short of House Speaker John Boehner, who reportedly works much harder on the links to maintain a single-digit handicap.

New Romney ad counters ‘flip-flopper’ label

In case you missed it, Mitt Romney grew a bit testy when Fox News’ Bret Baier pressed him with questions about his about-faces on issues like abortion, climate change and immigration in an interview last week.

Now a new ad out from his campaign looks to counter the ‘flip-flopper’ label Romney has grown so tired of talking about. The ad, released online today and due to air in Iowa and New Hampshire this week, features images of Romney as a young man with his family while Romney gives a voice-over:

 I think people understand that I’m a man of steadiness and constancy. I don’t think you’re going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do.

Press release hoaxer targets SEIU, Obama

 

Someone is unhappy with President Barack Obama, but it isn’t the Service Employees International Union.

Targeting an influential union that is an important source of support for the Democratic president as he seeks re-election, a hoaxer put out a fake press release on Tuesday night saying the labor group had voted to withdraw its Nov. 16 endorsement.

The reason? According to the fake release, the 2.1-million-member union felt it was too early to endorse anyone.

Conservatives bash Obama for gay rights stand

Conservative groups and Republican White House hopeful Rick Perry wasted no time in panning the Obama administration for its move on Tuesday to stand up for gay rights abroad – the first-ever U.S. government strategy to tackle LGBT human rights abuses worldwide.

In an seven-point executive order on Tuesday, Obama told U.S. diplomats and foreign aid workers to do more to advance rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered persons abroad – a move that promotes U.S. human rights policies and speaks to a key Democratic constituency at home.

“I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world…No country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere,” Obama said in the memo, which will be published in the Federal Register. “I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.”

Republicans, again, look to older White House candidates

If presidential candidates, like fine wine, improve with age, the 2012 Republican field is in luck.  The top three contenders — Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul — would each be one of the oldest U.S. presidents ever if he were to defeat Barack Obama and win the White House in 2012.

Gingrich, who currently leads the Republican pack, would be 69 years and 7 months old on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2013. That would make him the second-oldest first-term U.S. president, just behind Ronald Reagan, who was 69 years and 11 months old when he first took the oath of office in January 1981.

Romney is a bit younger than Gingrich, who was Speaker of the House in the 1990s. But, at 65 years and 10 months old on Jan. 20, 2013, Romney would be tied for third place in the presidential age stakes, after Reagan and William Henry Harrison. James Buchanan, the 15th U.S. president, was 65 years, 10 months and 9 days old when he was sworn in on March 4, 1857, the same age that Romney would be.

Just what is a “Lincoln-Douglas” debate?

Republican frontrunner Newt Gingrich and long-shot Jon Huntsman say they’ll hold a “Lincoln-Douglas” debate in New Hampshire on Monday. So how will it be different from the usual debates?

During the 1858 race for U.S. Senate in Illinois, incumbent Democrat Stephen Douglas and upstart Republican lawyer Abraham Lincoln held a series of seven three-hour debates in towns throughout the state on the day’s hottest topic: slavery.

The debates had no moderator, and the candidates spoke in paragraphs rather than today’s rehearsed 45-second sound bites. In each of the debates, the first candidate was given 60 minutes to make opening remarks. His opponent was given 90 minutes to respond, and the first candidate was allowed a final 30-minute rebuttal.

Shaq throws in support for Obama in 2012

NBA star Shaquille O’Neal said on Monday he believes President Barack Obama is doing a ”fabulous job” and will win the 2012 presidential election.

O’Neal, who retired from pro basketball this year, joined a handful of celebrities endorsing the Democratic president, ranging from singer Lady Gaga and actor Tom Hanks to Basketball hall-of-famer Magic Johnson.

“It’s a hard job … You can’t please everybody but I think he’s doing a fabulous job,” O’Neal told CNN host Piers Morgan. ”The world is in a little bit of turmoil right now — the economy’s down — but … he’s going to pick it back up and I think he’s going to win this next election.”