Tales from the Trail

Rare agreement on Capitol Hill over confirmation process

Stop the presses!

A man-bite-dog moment at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

The normally grid-locked U.S. Senate — Democrats, Republicans, independents — came together and overwhelmingly passed a bill to reduce its workload, curb its power and perhaps even decrease partisan fighting.

Drafted by the chamber’s party leaders, the measure, which now goes to the House of Representatives for anticipated final congressional approval, would slash the number of presidential appointees who need Senate confirmation.

More specifically, it would eliminate the confirmation requirement for about 200 of the 1,200 posts in the executive branch as well as for more than 2,800 members of the U.S. Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Officer Corps.

Judicial nominees, along with senior department personnel, so-called policy makers, would still need Senate confirmation.

But it would no longer be required for those on part-time boards or commissions or for lower-level adminstrators.

Washington Extra – Breaking glass

The new IMF chief is an accomplished negotiator, an international relations expert and a European finance minister.

The newly elected managing director also made history, and it had nothing to do with credentials. Christine Lagarde in 2011 becomes the first woman to head the IMF.

This is also the year when two women might start vying for the 2012 Republican nomination for president — Michele Bachmann is running, Sarah Palin has yet to reveal her intentions.

Washington Extra – Her Waterloo

It takes some political derring-do to launch a presidential campaign from a town named Waterloo.

After all, in another time, on another continent, that was the locale of Napoleon’s final defeat, from which sprang the term “met his Waterloo.”

Tea Party conservative Michele Bachmann chose Waterloo, Iowa, her birthplace, to announce a run for the Republican presidential nomination. And she wasted no time in going on the offensive.

Washington Extra – In abeyance

Some say impasse, some say abeyance.

But whatever they call it, debt negotiations between Vice President Joe Biden and lawmakers hit a brick wall.

After two days of meetings this week, Republicans decided it wasn’t worth going to the third session today and walked away.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor took the harsher line, saying the talks were at an “impasse.” Dictionary definition: a situation from which there is no escape or a deadlock.

Washington Extra – Fighting words

When President Barack Obama announced the 30,000 U.S. troop surge for Afghanistan in December 2009, he said: “It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.”

Obama, president for less than a year, said those words at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was still trying to prove that he had what it took to be commander-in-chief.

A year-and-a-half later, it is now a different setting. Obama will announce his plan to start bringing troops home from Afghanistan at the White House, having proven his mettle when he gave the go-ahead for the daring and risky operation that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Washington Extra – Long day

The longest day of the year probably seemed even longer for some.

Jon Huntsman started the day in New Jersey to formally throw his hat into the ring against the picturesque backdrop of the Statue of Liberty. Here’s the thing about backdrops and TV… Huntsman made it into every shot, but not Lady Liberty. And then he was off to New Hampshire for a rally.

At the Capitol, it was scheduled as a two-hour meeting, but the issues seem never-ending as Vice President Joe Biden and lawmakers negotiate on the deficit and debt limit. Some speculation swirling that perhaps a short-term increase in the debt limit may be an option if agreement is out of reach.

Not exactly a sunny day for the economy. Data out today point to a housing market still struggling to regain footing.

Huntsman’s big day out

Jon Huntsman knew coming into Tuesday that low name recognition was a problem.

But the former Utah governor might not have expected it in the heart of his campaign on the day he announced a run for the White House.

Media traveling with the just-hatched candidate in New Jersey were handed press passes which touted the “John Huntsman for President Announcement Tour” (that’s an extra H in the first name). Staff quickly scrambled to retrieve and replace the errant IDs.

By Huntsman’s second stop of the day, a rally in Exeter, New Hampshire, aides had opted instead for the generic tag of  “Governor Huntsman.” Less chance of a blunder.

Mark Kelly says he’ll leave NASA and the Navy to be by Gabrielle Giffords’ side

Three weeks after he landed space shuttle Endeavour at the end of its final voyage, Captain Mark Kelly said he’ll be retiring from NASA and the U.S. Navy to be with his wife, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, as she recovers from gunshot wounds suffered in January.

“As life takes unexpected turns we frequently come to a crossroads,” Kelly wrote in a post on Facebook. “I am at this point today. Gabrielle is working hard every day on her mission of recovery. I want to be by her side. Stepping aside from my work in the Navy and at NASA will allow me to be with her and with my two daughters.”

Giffords returned to her Tucson home last week for the first time since the shooting that severely injured her and killed six others on January 8.

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 – Tee party

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner get to flex their golfing skills tomorrow and we’re guessing there’s plenty of pre-game strategizing going on.

Is Obama telling Vice President Joe Biden, arguably the best golfer of the four, to hold back on the hole-in-ones? They do after all want Boehner amenable to their views on the debt limit stand-off.

Is Ohio Governor John Kasich giving Boehner advice on how to keep the Veep off-guard so they can ruin his handicap and have bragging rights on the Republican versus Democrat scoreboard?