Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – People’s choice

The United States has decided — it is up to Egyptians to decide.

CANADA/Anyone looking for a clear sign that the United States does or doesn’t back its ally of 30 years, President Hosni Mubarak, won’t find it in the official words out of Washington today.

Instead, Washington took the firm stance to perch on the tightrope — call for Democratic reforms, stay away from public opinions about Mubarak.

“We’re not picking between those on the street and those in the government,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

What about the perception among Egyptian protesters that the U.S. government still appears to be backing Mubarak? “I do not think that those protesters would be assuaged by the notion that somebody in a series of buildings several thousand miles away have determined the extent to what that means for them. That is for the people of Egypt to decide and determine.”

What does the United States mean by an “orderly transition” then?

“I do believe orderly transition means change, and what we’ve advocated from the very beginning is that the way Egypt looks and operates must change,” Gibbs said.

Washington Extra – Job prospects

The U.S. economy grew 2.9 percent in 2010, the biggest GDP gain since 2005, but still too weak to make a big dent in the unemployment rate which ended the year at 9.4 percent.

EGYPT/USAEgyptian protesters again took to the streets seeking to oust President Hosni Mubarak from the job he’s held for 30 years.

Rather than risk a fissure in messages, the White House held its press briefing, while the State Department canceled. In the strongest public message so far, the United States warned Egypt it would review some $1.3 billion in aid based on the government’s response to the massive protests.

Washington Extra – Red light, green light

The White House seems to be in go-slow amber mode over the protests in Egypt – declaring President Hosni Mubarak an ally, but supporting free speech as the American way.

It’s much easier to take a stance when the government is not an ally, as happened with Iran’s crackdown on street protests in 2009 when President Barack Obama said firmly: “I strongly condemn these unjust actions.” USA/

Today, Obama was asked in a YouTube interview that took questions from the public about the protests in Egypt. His response: “Egypt’s been an ally of ours on a lot of critical issues, they made peace with Israel, President Mubarak has been very helpful on a range of tough issues in the Middle East, but I’ve always said to him that making sure that they are moving forward on reform — political reform, economic reform — is absolutely critical for the long-term well-being of Egypt. And you can see these pent-up frustrations that are being displayed on the street.”

Washington Extra – Say cheese

Civility isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and last night it meant watching lawmakers smile with their teeth but not their eyes.

The day after the State of the Union it has become clear that the forced Kumbaya moment is being shrugged off for a return to the comfort of political sniping. But no one expected that rearranging the deck chairs would lead to a lasting group hug. OBAMA/

Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — the state President Barack Obama chose for his day-after trip to the heartland — said when Obama mentions investment he means “government spending and government control. And that is the definite wrong direction.”

Washington Extra – Laundry list

The White House is promising that tomorrow’s State of the Union address will be something different.

And by that, they apparently mean it will not be a dry recitation of all the things that need to be done. “I don’t think you’ll see a laundry list of issues,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs declared. OBAMA/

Well then, how will President Barack Obama get his points across about all that’s on the plate for this year and all the help he’s going to need from a politically divided Congress?

Washington Extra – Light bulb

There is something oddly poetic about choosing a light bulb maker to head a team searching for economic ideas.

President Barack Obama named General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt to lead a new presidential advisory group called the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. OBAMA/

Obama said Immelt knows a thing or two about innovation given that he heads the company founded by Thomas Edison.

Washington Extra – Braving the weather

President Barack Obama quipped that Chinese President Hu Jintao was brave for going to his hometown at this time of year. But what about the visit to Capitol Hill today?

Between the warm reception at the White House and the chilly weather in Chicago, Hu met lawmakers who were quite cool in their welcome. They brought up China’s currency, human rights, the Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner who wasn’t allowed to attend the ceremony, Tibet, the economy and trade. USA-CHINA/

“The U.S. and China do not share values and principles as some have claimed in recent days,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said.

Washington Extra – Modern pursuits

Former Vice President Dick Cheney says he’s using modern technology like a BlackBerry and Kindle, when he didn’t even have a cellphone at the White House.

“I’m not totally modern. I still write long-hand and don’t use a computer for that kind of thing,” Cheney said in an NBC interview. “My grandchildren still laugh at me,” he said, and his 3-year-old grandson showed him how to play the Angry Birds game on an iPad. USA-CHINA/

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, while sticking to their well-trod positions on healthcare, did refrain from aiming big slingshots at opponents. (Angry Birds fans, that’s for you).

Washington Extra – Star power

It was a bit of a shock to learn on the Internet that a wobbly Earth has put the old Zodiac out of whack, and even added a 13th astrological sign – Ophiuchus (I’m changing my birthday if I end up landing in that one).

USA-SHOOTING/Speaking of star power… President Barack Obama showed his last night at the memorial service for the Arizona shooting victims. He connected. The more somber and emotional his speech, the more the audience reacted with approval.

“It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds,” Obama said.

Washington Extra – Word test

Presidents are tested almost every day, in big ways and small.

Tonight is one of the bigger ones. Will Obama’s words at the memorial service for the Arizona shooting victims have the impact of uniting a politically divided country? USA-SHOOTING/

Will Obama’s words resonate with a public that is divided over whether he is taking the country in the right direction? There will be plenty of analysis and punditry afterward on whether the president’s famed oratorical skills stood up to the test.

His predecessors faced similar challenges. President George W. Bush was credited with helping pull the country together in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and President Bill Clinton’s popularity was boosted after his speech on the Oklahoma City bombing.