Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Circle that date

Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States accepts your invitation.

The pomp and circumstance that surrounds the president’s annual State of the Union address to Congress has begun with the delivery of the invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to President Barack Obama at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. (It’s still on paper, not an Evite). OBAMA/

“A new Congress provides us a renewed opportunity to find common ground and address the priorities of the American people,” Boehner said in the invitation for Obama to address a Joint Session of Congress on January 25.

“Recent events have reminded us of the imperfect nature of our representative democracy, but also how much we cherish the ideal that our government exists to serve the people,” he wrote.

At the State of the Union, the president gives Congress a heads-up on his priorities for the year. We imagine boosting  the economy will top Obama’s list. Who can argue with that? Well, everyone. Especially when it comes to the ways and means of accomplishing that goal.

Here’s some trivia about the history of the State of the Union address. The longest was 27,651 words by President William Taft in 1919, and the shortest was 1,089 words by President George Washington in 1790.

Washington Extra – Sound of silence

The sound of silence is quite rare in Washington where talk is currency.

So it was perhaps the highest honor that the city can pay to the victims of the Arizona shooting by standing still for a moment of silence. USA/

President Barack Obama and the first lady stood heads bowed, joined by about 300 White House staffers on the South Lawn. A bell tolled three times.

Lawmakers and congressional staff gathered on the steps of the Capitol to remember the victims that included two of their own — congressional aide Gabe Zimmerman who was killed, and congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is fighting to recover.

Washington Extra – It’s my party

It’s Friday, when some people start thinking PARTY! Even in Washington.

The first employment report of the year, which was for December, gave the administration something to party about. The unemployment rate fell to 9.4 percent from 9.8 percent. That is the number that resonates with the public, so a four-tenths of a percentage point drop can be politically useful. OBAMA/SPERLING

“Now, we know these numbers can bounce around from month to month. But the trend is clear,” President Barack Obama said. “We saw 12 straight months of private sector job growth.  That’s the first time that’s been true since 2006.”

Gene Sperling has something to party about, he’s just got his old job back. Obama announced additions to his White House economic team and named Sperling as director of the National Economic Council (a post he held in President Bill Clinton’s administration).

Washington Extra – It’s genetic

Forget about the branch. President Barack Obama offered the whole olive tree to the business community today with the appointment of JP Morgan Chase executive William Daley as White House Chief of Staff.

OBAMA/STAFF-DALEYDaley also knows something about politics. He comes from Chicago where politics has a history of being played bare-knuckled style. Oh, and his brother is the Daley who is stepping down as Chicago mayor, which opened the way for Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former White House chief of staff (whom Daley is replacing), to run for that office.

Plenty more dots to connect — Daley was also former President Bill Clinton’s commerce secretary, and Clinton has come to Obama’s aid on more than one occasion (even before the press).

Washington Extra – hello goodbye

She says goodbye and he says hello.

The House Speaker’s (HUGE) gavel changed hands today, symbolizing the transfer of power to Republicans. Outgoing speaker Nancy Pelosi, attacked by Republicans as a symbol of Democratic excesses, took the high road as she repeatedly congratulated new House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican majority.

Boehner started off with some levity and humility — “It’s still just me.” And he didn’t disappoint those watching for his now trademark show of emotion when he dabbed his eyes with a white handkerchief while standing behind Pelosi before the handover. Reuters photojournalist Kevin Lamarque captured the moment, you can see it on our politics blog at http://blogs.reuters.com/frontrow/ OBAMA/STAFF-GIBBS

There were goodbyes emanating from the White House too. President Barack Obama’s spokesman Robert Gibbs is stepping down from the White House press room podium. “What I’m going to do next is step back a little bit, recharge some … I will have an opportunity I hope to give some speeches. I will continue to provide advice and counsel to this building and to this president.”

Washington Extra – New Year state of mind

New Year often means out with the old and in with the new.

On Capitol Hill, the new 112th Congress will start its 2-year run that will end after the 2012 presidential election. (For numerologists — that’s an awful lot of 2s).

Today was Nancy Pelosi’s last day as the first Madam Speaker. The most powerful woman in American politics and second in line to the presidency turns into House minority leader next. Her exit line: “No regrets.” USA/

Tomorrow will be John Boehner’s first day as speaker when Republicans take control of the House and the new Tea Partiers get seated. We’ll be watching for tears of joy.

Washington Extra – Obama has left the building

obama1A very non-lame Lame Duck is just about done and President Barack Obama is off to his Christmas vacation in Hawaii. Aloha, Mr. President, and congratulations on December. Let’s take a moment to recap.

The Senate approved START today. It’s a big deal for U.S.-Russian relations and sends a clear message to Moscow: Work with us, not against us. The president killed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. It was a priority for Obama who promised on the campaign trail to end the ban on gays openly serving in the military. Democrats caved on taxes and approved Obama’s compromise with Republicans — giving the president a chance to take credit, whether it was an optical win or something more substantial notwithstanding.

Now, some of my colleagues in the media biz think all of this adds up to a Comeback Kid moment for Obama. They see this as a great showing for a man who had the cards stacked against him after Democrats’ November drubbing. It’s not a completely off-base analysis, but it is a bit too dramatic for Extra.

Washington Extra – You win some, you lose some

capitol_domeDemocrats scored some noteworthy wins today. They pushed the nuclear arms treaty with Russia past a Republican hurdle. They adopted Internet rules that Republicans and some big media companies called unwarranted, excessive and maybe even illegal.

But it’s hard for Extra to call this a good day for Dems. Republicans have promised to unravel everything from Tuesday’s net neutrality decision at the FCC to Dodd-Frank and Obamacare. They’ve pushed the fight over government spending into 2011, when they’ll run the House and have more leverage in the Senate. That means regulators won’t get the extra funds they’ve requested to tighten oversight of Wall Street, as Mary Schapiro lamented to Reuters today.

Lest you think Extra’s too short-sighted, too focused on 2011, consider what could be the most politically significant news of the day — new Census data. Democrats cannot be anything but bummed by the Census showing a population shift from blue states to red ones. It means a redrawing of congressional districts that will likely add Republicans to the House. We won’t bog you down with the details, but just remember it’s the number of House seats that determines a state’s representation in the Electoral College

Washington Extra – START not yet finished

So far, the U.S. Senate has spent six days debating New START — the strategic nuclear arms limitation treaty with Russia. Not so long, you say? Democrats are rushing it through? Well consider this, Congress has already spent longer on this agreement than it did on START I almost two decades ago — and the original is a much more complex treaty.

It is not just President Barack Obama and the Democrats who support this treaty. Former President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, supports it. So does Republican Condoleezza Rice and every other former secretary of state who is still alive. And the military? Well those folks really support it, just ask the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the uniformed officers in charge of nuclear security.mcconnell2

So what’s the problem?

“The American people don’t want us to squeeze our most important work into the final days of a session,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell argued. Republicans, it seems, think Obama and the Democrats just want to notch one last victory before Republicans take the House in January.

Washington Extra – Whose bipartisanship?

The feeling appeared mutual when President Barack Obama shook hands with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell after signing the tax cut bill. It looked like the picture of what Obama called a “bipartisan effort.”  OBAMA/TAXES-SIGNS

McConnell tried not to grin too much over the Republicans winning the war in their efforts to extend tax cuts to the wealthy.

But when it came to Capitol Hill Democrats, there wasn’t much display of unity with even Obama, let alone bipartisanship with the Republicans. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were no-shows at the bill signing.