Tales from the Trail

Santorum: backer’s contraceptives comment was bad joke

“It was a stupid joke,” Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum says about a wealthy backer’s “aspirins for contraceptives” comment.

Whatever it was, Santorum — a staunch social conservative – said he’s not going to be responsible for what his supporters say.

“I’m not going to play that game,” the former Pennsylvania senator told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren Thursday night when asked about what Foster Friess said earlier in the day.

Friess, the chief donor to the pro-Santorum SuperPAC, was asked whether he had any concerns about the candidate’s views on social issues. Part of his response raised eyebrows.

“Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly,” he told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

Washington Extra – Peace by piece

Not since Vietnam has the United States sat down with an enemy it was fighting on the battlefield and negotiated an exit from war. That long-standing policy might end this year if a carefully choreographed diplomatic dance takes U.S. and Afghan officials to a negotiating table with the Taliban.

As Reuters Washington correspondent Missy Ryan explains, President Obama’s peace gambit has the potential to be a significant development for U.S. foreign policy. But it turns out it is a policy borne out of necessity: two years ago, the Pentagon thought the Taliban could be defeated militarily, and today, it’s all too clear they aren’t going away.

There are many hurdles and not insignificant push back here at home to overcome. And Obama may want to don a helmet for the incoming fire… from Capitol Hill. As soon as he notifies Congress of plans to move Taliban detainees from Guantanamo to get the ball rolling, he is sure to face a torrent of attacks.

Gingrich offers “dream team” to supporters

For a $100 donation, this free poster of Newt Gingrich and his conservative “Dream Team” can be yours.

The poster — featuring the Republican presidential candidate flanked by endorsers of his White House bid  — was offered to supporters Tuesday in a new fundraising appeal.

The Dream Team photo was unveiled at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington last week. The Gingrich campaign said it was hit, and now conservatives across the  country are clamoring for a copy of their own.

Washington Extra – Post script

You’ve heard about the income divide and the digital divide. Now, get ready for the postal divide.

Nearly 80 percent of the 3,830 U.S. post offices slated for closure later this year are in sparsely populated areas where poverty rates are higher than the national average, according to our findings in the special report “Towns go dark with post office closings.”

One-third of them fall in areas with limited or no wired broadband Internet, leaving 1.7 million people in the lurch. One of them is Carlos Sandoval, a rancher in Trinchera, Colorado, who relies on his post office for everything except groceries.

Tending to China-US relations

Valentine’s Day is as good a day as any for China and the United States to work on the kinks in their relationship.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping signaled beforehand that tending to the state of the  “dynamic and promising” U.S.-China connection would be the at the heart of his White House visit on Tuesday.

The economic and trade relationship between the two countries is far too important to be frayed by “frictions and differences,” Xi wrote in a Q&A submitted to the Washington Post and published on the eve of his White House meeting with President Barack Obama.

Washington Extra – A Deng Xiaoping Moment?

By Warren Strobel

Maybe it’s the careful, consensus-oriented system that produces them, but China’s leaders in recent years have not exactly exuded personality. President Hu Jintao is famous for his stiff manner and scripted speaking style. Jiang Zemin was slightly more relaxed, and enjoyed showing off his English language skills and knowledge of U.S. history.

Washington on Tuesday will get its first close look at China’s next president, current Vice President Xi Jinping, who has a reputation for being more open and refreshingly direct than some of his predecessors. It may be too much to hope for a “Deng Xiaoping moment,” a 1979 turning point in Sino-American cultural relations when the diminutive Deng, China’s great modernizer, attended a rodeo in Simonton, Texas, donned a giant cowboy hat and wowed the crowd. Deng was then China’s vice premier.

Xi has conflicting needs on this visit. He wants to show peers and the public back home that he can handle the American account, China’s most important relationship. He visited Iowa in 1985 and, by all accounts, the experience affected him. He also wants to strike a good working relationship with the White House and Capitol Hill, which could help both sides handle a daunting array of disagreements: human rights, the South China Sea, China’s currency, and Obama’s more aggressive posture in Asia, to name a few.

Santorum calls Romney “desperate,” downplays wins

Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum on Sunday called recent attacks by his rival Mitt Romney “desperate,” as the two face off in an increasingly contentious battle to become the party’s White House nominee.

Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania and social conservative known for his staunch positions on abortion and gay marriage, is competing to be the conservative alternative to Romney, who faces resistance from Republicans skeptical of moderate stances he took when he was governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts.

Asked about Romney’s recent efforts to highlight times when Santorum sided with Democrats while in Congress, including votes to raise the federal debt ceiling, Santorum appeared amused.

Rick Santorum: birth control ruling has nothing to do with women’s rights

Forcing religious organizations to provide contraceptives has nothing to do with women’s rights, Republican presidential contender and vocal Catholic Rick Santorum said on Thursday.

The comment aligned Santorum with a lineup of conservative critics bashing Democratic President Barack Obama’s rule requiring religious institutions — but not churches — to provide health insurance plans that cover birth control.

The rule, announced in January, covers religious-affiliated groups like charities, hospitals and universities. The Catholic Church opposes most methods of birth control and conservatives have painted the rule as an attack on religious freedom from a secular president.

Washington Extra – Just “okay”

It was a long slog to the government’s mortgage abuse settlement with top banks, one in which officials slept in their offices and worked round the clock. And yet, a consumer advocate looking out for those who lost homes to foreclosure can only muster an “it’s okay.”

You don’t need an expert to tell you how little of a dent the $25 billion deal makes in a mortgage morass that President Obama reminded us is one of the biggest drags on the economy. It took 16 months to get to a settlement that helps roughly 1 million borrowers, while 11 million Americans owe more money that what their homes are worth. People who lost their homes to foreclosures will get payments of $2,000. Home prices, meanwhile, are still 33 percent lower than 2006.

It’s a lot of work for a little relief. But if there is one constituent that walks away satisfied it has to be the state of California. Attorney General Kamala Harris held out for a better deal right to the end. What she won was 45 percent of the settlement spoils, and she only came to the table with a third of the nation’s foreclosures in her portfolio. It pays to play hard to get.

Santorum courts Texas conservatives

By Judy Wiley

Roughly  1,000 supporters filled the Fairview Farms Corral Barn in Plano, Texas and spilled out the door  of the party hall where they’d come to see the man in the day’s political spotlight — Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum.

Those who stood outside in the cold could only hear bits and pieces of Santorum’s talk, but that didn’t stop them from cheering after he raised his voice to declare, “Now is the time for America to rise up and say, “Enough!”

They took up a chant of “We pick Rick,” after he asked, “Are you going to give me the opportunity?”