Tales from the Trail

Obama doesn’t drive, but he feels your pain at the pump

President Barack Obama says he sympathizes with the frustration over high gas prices — even though it’s been a while since he’s had to fill a tank.

“I’ll admit to you, it’s been a while since I … filled up at the pump,” Obama joked during a townhall-style event. “Secret Service doesn’t let me get out, and they don’t let me drive anymore.” USA

The event at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale was part of Obama’s ongoing effort to sell the deficit-reduction plan he introduced last week and gear up for a 2012 re-election campaign.

Gas prices, which hit a 2.5-year-high last week at $3.84 a gallon, have weighed on public opinion in recent months. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll in March found that gas prices were playing into Americans’ low confidence in the U.S. economy, and a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week found rising energy costs hurt Obama’s approval rating.

Obama — who assured his audience that “it wasn’t that long ago that I did have to fill up my gas tank” – blamed speculators and oil companies for price increases and said his administration would investigate unfair practices and monitor gas stations for price-gauging.

Washington Extra – Cattle prod

.dowAs market maven Mohamed El-Erian told us today “The medium term has a way of creeping up on you.” That’s why everyone needs a cattle prod from time to time and today it was Washington’s turn to get a goading.

It came in the form of Standard & Poor’s decision to slap a negative outlook on America’s top-notch credit rating because of Washington’s plodding pace on deficit reduction. The White House and Congress need to get in gear and start making meaningful plans to cut the deficit or else be responsible for a dreaded downgrade in debt. The chances? One-in-three over two years.

S&P took most everyone by surprise, although the White House knew on Friday. In three days, it prepared the defenses: 1) S&P is making a “political judgment”; 2) “we shouldn’t overreact”; 3) actually we are closer than you think in agreeing with Republicans about the way forward.

4 Republican hopefuls in New Hampshire find tepid Tea Party turnout

Four potential Republican presidential hopefuls showed up, but the turnout for the New Hampshire Tea Party tax day rally was rather tepid.

USA-CAMPAIGN/TEAPARTYOn a brilliant spring day in Concord, perfect for a rally, only about 300 came to protest taxes and the Obama Administration, a far cry from the robust rallies held ahead of the 2010 elections.

Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum — who have declared they are exploring a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 — and Herman Cain and Buddy Roemer — who are considered potential hopefuls — joined state politicians in an attempt to get the crowd fired up.

White House shrugs off Obama comments caught on open microphone

The White House is shrugging off candid comments by President Barack Obama about private budget talks with Republicans. The next day’s message is — no big deal.

OBAMA/Obama was speaking to supporters at a political fund-raiser in Chicago after reporters left the room. But a microphone was accidentally left on and the comments were piped back to the White House press room and recorded by CBS News and ABC News.

Obama said he told House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell that they should not try to “sneak” through a provision on Planned Parenthood. “‘You guys want to have this debate? We’re happy to have that debate. We will have the debate on the floor of the Senate or the floor of the House. Put it in a separate bill. We’ll call it up. And if you think you can overturn my veto, try it,’” he said.

Obama on conspiracy theories, birth certificates

obama_lightsPresident Barack Obama says most Americans are confident that he is American-born and bred and says the “birther” issue could be a problem for Republican challengers in the 2012 presidential campaign.

Obama addressed the persistent questions about his place of birth when he was invited, during an ABC News interview, to size up his potential opponents.

He was also asked his thoughts on Donald Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican field on “fantasies” about the president’s background.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Breyer on Twitter

The U.S. Supreme Court does not have an official Twitter account, but this just in — Justice Stephen Breyer¬†is on Twitter and Facebook. But he is not revealing details of arguments or rulings.

USA-COURT/He told a congressional hearing on the Supreme Court’s budget that he has a Twitter account because of his interest in the protests in Iran after the 2009 presidential election. Twitter represented one of the best ways of learning what was happening in that country.

Since then, Breyer said he has received requests to follow him on Twitter, but has turned them down. The same applies to Facebook.

Obama and spokesman have equal “vision” on deficit reduction

President Barack Obama and his spokesman obviously see eye-to-eye.

But it was a bit surprising to what degree. White House spokesman Jay Carney during his daily press briefing yesterday used the word “vision” 15 times. Guess how many times President Barack Obama said “vision” during his speech today? 15.

(Is that Twilight Zone music we hear in the background or perhaps Synchronicity?)

Vice President Joe Biden looked like he may have needed some loud music during Obama’s speech. Intense speculation about whether he nodded off or was simply listening intently with his eyes closed.

Washington Extra – A vision

One thing clear about President Barack Obama’s much-anticipated speech on reducing the long-term deficit is that the White House believes it will be a vision to behold. USA/

“The president will lay out a vision and that vision will be clear,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. But he refused to provide details and said to stay tuned.

Will there be numbers? Is it a plan? White House correspondents asked seeking clarity.

And then there were two… Republicans exploring presidential bid

Two Republicans have now stepped up to the plate! Well, technically they have stepped up to the plate to consider stepping up to the plate. USA-POLITCS/REPUBLICANS

Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty are the first to declare their intentions to explore a possible run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Opinion polls show they have their work cut out for them.

The two Republicans who topped the list of potential candidates that Republicans would likely support for the party nomination were not Romney or Pawlenty in a new  CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

Washington Extra – Mistakes were made

Anyone in public office for more than a nanosecond is likely to have words and deeds come back to haunt them. New political realities sometimes demand a new world view 180 degrees from the old one. And then comes the explanation.

President Barack Obama, who is urging Congress to raise the debt ceiling, is finding his 2006 Senate vote against raising the debt limit when George W. Bush was president has come back to bite him. OBAMA/

The White House has decided to confront the discrepancy head-on.

Asked about the five-year-old vote, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president “now believes it was a mistake.”