Tales from the Trail

Obama tells high-tech worker: Send me your resume

By Samson Reiny

President Barack Obama, whose chances for re-election may rest on his ability to show U.S. voters he is doing all he can to reduce unemployment, offered on Monday to personally pass along the resume of an unemployed engineer to potential employers.

Fielding a question from a woman on a Google+ online chat session who asked why the government continues to grant H1 visas even as her semi conductor engineer husband cannot find a job after three years of searching, Obama said the difficulty was surprising to him because he often hears business leaders in that field talk of a scarcity of skilled workers.

“If you send me your husband’s resume I’d be interested in finding out exactly what’s happening there,” he said, offering to forward the resume “to some of these companies that are telling me they can’t find enough engineers in this field.”

At the end of the nearly hour-long session that had him defending U.S. drone activity in Iraq and explaining how he is helping small businesses, the president also engaged in a little light banter.

When asked to perform a little jig in front of his computer monitor, he demurred. “No dancing,” he said. “Michelle always makes fun of my dancing, and she teases me relentlessly because she’s sure she’s the superior dancer.”

Hard to believe there’s room for TV programs in Florida

For those voters in Florida who have felt overwhelmed by political advertisements this primary season — you have been.

By January 25, Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney and his supporters had aired almost 13,000 advertisements on broadcast television in the state, compared with only about 200 spots from Romney’s main rival, Newt Gingrich, and outside groups supporting his presidential aspirations, according to data from Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan University media project.

And that was six days before Florida holds its primary on Tuesday.

With the blizzard of ads, Romney has seen his place in the polls leap upward in Florida. He went from trailing Gingrich by 5-9 percent in polls of the state taken a week ago, to leading by an average of 12.5 percent. A week ago, Gingrich was fresh off his upset victory in on Jan. 21 in South Carolina, where he defeated Romney by 12 percentage points.

Washington Extra – Coy in California

California prides itself on setting trends for the nation. This week, it may be the state that bucks the trend if it decides to abstain from a multi-state and federal settlement with the big banks on mortgage abuses.

States must say by the end of this week whether they are in or out of the deal and California is very much in doubt. Attorney General Kamala Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party, is concerned the banks may get off too easily. Just last week, her people were calling the settlement “inadequate.”

But can she afford to walk away from more than $10 billion that homeowners could collect in her state, where the housing crisis has ravaged communities from Stockton to San Diego? And would she be able to get more for them if she went it alone?

Ad connecting Romney to company in Medicare fraud case “mostly true”

Last week a public workers union launched a television ad that raised an old question about presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s connection to Damon Corp, a company that defrauded Medicare by the millions while under the watch of Romney’s private equity firm Bain Capital. Thursday, the Super PAC Winning Our Future, which supports Romney’s Republican rival Newt Gingrich released the trailer for a campaign video titled “Blood Money” that echoes the same criticism.

The ad created by AFSCME equates Romney with Florida Governor Rick Scott whose approval rating is one of the lowest in the country. Scott is the former CEO of the hospital chain Columbia/HCA that became embroiled in a Medicare fraud case in the late 1990s.

A narrator speaking over black and white photos of Romney says he was director of Damon Corp, which was later fined $100 million for medicare fraud. Romney’s image morphs into that of Rick Scott as the narrator asks, “Corporate greed … Medicare fraud. Sound familiar?”

Reuters Washington Extra – Panetta’s pain

Leon Panetta, famous here in Washington for being a “budget guy”, has a budget challenge at the Pentagon that few would relish. He probably doesn’t relish it either, but it could be the crowning achievement in a remarkable career if he pulls it off.

Today he fired the opening salvo in what is expected to be a long budget fight in Congress for the American military of the future – a much leaner one at that. He’s trying to wear both hats, that of the budget guy (and historic deficit hawk) and that of a custodian of a strong military.

He will be hit with accusations of not cutting enough from a Defense Department that accounts for 20 percent of federal spending. But many on Capitol Hill are already blasting him for going too far, leading America toward irreparable decline.

Bush recipe for wooing Hispanic voters

Republicans need to think of immigration as an economic issue — not just a border security issue, former Florida governor Jeb Bush wrote in a Washington Post opinion article on Wednesday, laying out a strategy for wooing Hispanic voters.

Bush, whose op-ed comes ahead of next Tuesday’s Florida primary, calls Hispanics “the most powerful swing voters,” predicting they’ll represent the margin of victory in the fifteen states likely to decide the 2012 presidential race.

“Although Democrats hold the edge, Republicans have an opportunity” to regain the momentum, Bush says.

Washington Extra – Easy money

Some great news for all you borrowers today from the Fed. Interest rates are likely to remain around zero until at least late 2014. That’s later than previously expected, and to put things in perspective, it’s nearly two years into the term of the president who will be elected in November.

What it tells us is that the economy is still very vulnerable. Ben Bernanke said as much today: “I don’t think we’re ready to declare that we’ve entered a new, stronger phase at this point.” He left the door wide open to further Fed stimulus via bond purchases.

And Bernanke was almost apologetic about what this interest rate outlook means for another large swathe of the population: the savers. Take Maggie Smith, not the actress but a 74-year-old from New Jersey who watches her interest income on savings stagnate while home and car costs go up. After more than five years of rock-bottom rates, it’s no wonder she feels like she’s “being punished” for being prudent.

Washington Extra – Timed release

Right before Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich tangle in tonight’s debate, we are supposed to get details of Gingrich’s work for troubled mortgage giant Freddie Mac from his former consulting firm.

The disclosure could shed light on what work Gingrich did in exchange for $ 1.6 million in consulting fees. What it for his historical acumen, as he has claimed, or his influence in Washington, as rivals for the Republican presidential nomination charge?

It could be interesting fodder for the debate if it comes out by 9 pm EST. Or it might just disappear in the heavy news flowing from the debate, which suggests the former consulting firm is doing Gingrich a favor by coming out at this strategic time.

Romney presses Gingrich on Freddie Mac fees

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is turning the tables on Newt Gingrich, putting the squeeze on the former House Speaker to disclose details of his financial relationship with Freddie Mac.

The Romney camp scheduled a conference call Monday morning to talk to reporters about Gingrich’s work as a “historian” (quote marks supplied by the campaign) for the government-owned mortgage finance giant.

Romney campaign surrogates former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Will Weatherford, Speaker Designate of the Florida House of Representatives, will be on the conference call — with the call code name “Definitely Not a Lobbyist.”

Gingrich rejects “open marriage” question, blames media

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich got the Republican candidates debate in Charleston off to a lively start Thursday night with an angry denial of charges a former wife made in an interview that came two days before the South Carolina primary.

Here’s an excerpt from the debate on CNN:



Ex-wife Marianne Gingrich accused the former House Speaker of week of asking her
for an “open marriage” when he was having an affair.

Here’s an excerpt from her interview with ABC’s “Nightline.”