Tales from the Trail

It’s never too early to think elections…

It’s more than a year away, but the White House is already making clear that President Barack Obama will not be on the sidelines of the 2010 elections. OBAMA/

Just about everything that happens in political Washington next year will have an eye toward November 2010 when all the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, one-third of the Senate and some state governorships will be up for grabs.

Republicans will be hoping to break the Democratic triple crown in Washington — control of the House, Senate and White House (of course the White House is taken until 2012).

The White House today let it be known that Obama will be very involved in the elections next year in rallying support for Democrats. The 2010 elections will also be seen as a referendum on Obama’s policies.

“I think the president will be an active participant in the elections in 2010,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”

Obama’s man on “green jobs” in a bit of a pickle

It’s never a good sign when you’re an adviser to the president and have to put out a statement of apology for yourself.

It’s even worse when your not-exactly household name starts bubbling up in the blogosphere and it has nothing to do with getting out White House talking points. KASHMIR

That’s the pickle that Obama’s “green jobs” adviser, Van Jones, has landed in. The White House promoter of clean energy finds his past not-so-clean language calling Republicans “a–holes” unearthed. (in all fairness he also calls himself by that word, and he made the remark a month before being appointed to the White House Council.)

Obama gets personal on Palin’s “death panels”

OBAMABarack Obama seems to have taken personally Sarah Palin’s accusations that his administration wants to set up “death panels” for the elderly.

At a town hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colorado on Saturday the president got personal — citing his own grandmother, who died shortly before he was elected last year — when refuting charges by the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee about his healthcare reform plans.

“I just lost my grandmother last year.  I know what it’s like to watch somebody you love, who’s aging, deteriorate, and have to struggle with that,” Obama told the crowd.

Obama awards Medal of Freedom to distinguished, diverse group

Talk about being in good company.

President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, considered the highest U.S. civilian honor, to 16 people on Wednesday including a celebrated scientist, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, a gay rights pioneer, and a top leader against apartheid in South Africa.

“There are many honors and privileges bestowed on the occupant of this house, but few mean as much to me as the chance to award America’s highest civilian medal to the recipients that are here today,” Obama said during a ceremony at the White House. OBAMA/

“This is a chance for me — and for the United States of America — to say thank you to some of the finest citizens of this country, and of all countries,” he said.

“Country Roads” lead to the White House

There was “hope” and “heartbreak” at the White House on Tuesday evening. But it had nothing to do with the race toward healthcare legislation that has Washington all worked up.

 It  was all about the “Country,” as President Obama hosted the latest in a series of White House concerts showcasing uniquely American music.country11

Country music stars Alison Krauss and Union Station, Brad Paisley and Charley Pride provided the music and Obama provided the humor with a hint of drawl in his introduction.

What rift? White House says Obama and Clinton close

The White House is tired of seeing stories that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are not getting along.

“The notion that there’s some rift or disagreement is nothing more than silly Washington games,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Wednesday when asked about the relationship between the president and his secretary of state. OBAMA/EGYPT

Clinton, who joined Obama’s team despite their bitter rivalry for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, has weathered several reports that her influence as chief diplomat is hampered by other foreign policy heavyweights in the administration and her own history with Obama.

Obama woos frustrated gay activists at White House party

If Barack Obama and the gay community have strained relations, an elegant reception in the White House East Room to celebrate LGBT Pride Month was a good way to start mending fences — at least for now.Pride Reception

“Welcome to your White House,” Obama told an enthusiastic crowd of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people on Monday before launching into a summary of his administration’s accomplishments on their causes.

Notable exception: Obama’s pledge to repeal the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has not been met.

The First Draft: Recess!

USA/There’s a real school’s-out feeling around Washington today. Congress left town last week after the House voted for bill to curb climate change, and most lawmakers won’t be back until after the July 4 holiday weekend. The Supreme Court issues its last rulings of the term, with a full sheaf of decisions expected — but then the justices will be gone for the summer.

President Barack Obama’s hosting Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at the White House, with a joint appearance in the afternoon. In addition to a full plate of U.S.-Colombian issues, the two leaders could address last weekend’s military coup in Honduras. Obama has already called for peaceful resolution of “tensions and disputes” but he may have more to say.

Later in the day, Obama celebrates the accomplishments of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans at a White House reception. This community has criticized the president for what they see as foot-dragging on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act — which defines marriage as between one man and one woman and says states need not recognize gay marriages performed in another state — and the U.S. military’s Don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.

Who’s in the tank at Obama’s White House luau?

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs barely got a foot through the door of the White House briefing room Thursday before being hit by the full force of a press corps demanding information on the big news of the day.
 
Not Iran or healthcare, of course, or even the energy bill that President Barack Obama had discussed earlier in the White House Rose Garden.
 
Nope, the big news Thursday OBAMA/was who on the White House staff would take a turn in the dunk tank at the Hawaiian luau being thrown by Obama for members of Congress and their families on the White House south lawn. 
 
“I went out there to see it. It’s out there,” Gibbs said in response to questions about the tank — one of those amusement park devices where someone sits suspended over a huge tub of water while others hurl balls at a trigger in an effort to dunk him.
 
“Rahm is going to be in it. Phil Schiliro’s going to be in it,” Gibbs said, referring to Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, and Schiliro, the president’s assistant for legislative affairs.
 
“Robert Gibbs is going to be in it,” he added, referring to himself.
 
News that Emanuel and Schiliro would be targets in the dunk tank set off speculation on Capitol Hill that Obama was deviously trying to round up more support for an expected vote in the House Friday on the energy bill.
 
News that Gibbs had volunteered set off a round of journalistic pleading for news coverage, or perhaps an opportunity to try it out on White House spokesman.
 
Offers of fundraising for charity were made — $5 or $10 per reporter in exchange for a throw and a video of the results.
 
“I’m happy to. You guys collect the pot of money, you guys pick your best arm, and we can — you can have a shot at it. You can throw it (at) me and I’ll get you the video,” Gibbs said. 
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He did express one reservation. 
 
“My only concern at this point is that the water gets a little warmer maybe before we start throwing.”
 
And so at the appointed hour a little past 5 p.m., the press corps filed out for the dunking shortly before the start of the luau, cheered on by Obama, who poked his head out a West Wing door and shouted: “Go get him! Go get him! You can do it!”
 
Gibbs went into the water twice in five minutes — once at the hands of AP’s Ben Feller and a second time on the pitching of CBS’s Bill Plante, who’s been covering the White House for nearly 30 years.
 
Gibbs was still drying off as the luau got underway.
 
“Bill Plante,” he said. “Who’d have thought?” 
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Gibbs before, and after, being dunked)

White House takes heat over news conference question

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs took heat on Wednesday over the use of what one reporter called a “designated hitter” to ask President Barack Obama about protests in Iran.
 
“What kind of a message do you think that sends to the American people and to the world about the kind of free flow and pure questioning that’s been expected at presidential news conferences?” CBS OBAMA/White House correspondent Peter Maer asked.
 
Iran’s disputed election and the violent crackdown on the huge protests that followed dominated Obama’s fourth news conference on Tuesday.
 
But Maer and other reporters objected to Obama taking an arranged question from the Huffington Post website.
 
“What led to your decision to plant a designated hitter right here to ask the president a question,” Maer asked.
 
White House aides had arranged for Nico Pitney from the Huffington Post to attend the press conference and Obama called on him second, after answering an earlier question on Iran.
 
“I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. Do you have a question?” Obama asked.
 
Pitney then relayed a question from an Iranian who wanted to know under what conditions Obama would accept the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the disputed poll.
 
Obama dodged that but said “a sizable percentage of the Iranian people themselves, spanning Iranian society, consider this election illegitimate. It’s not an isolated instance, a little grumbling here or there. There is significant questions about the legitimacy of the election.”
 
Gibbs defended the White House’s decision to invite Pitney to the press conference to ask a question. He insisted the White House had no idea “what the exact question would be.”
 
He called the exchange a “very powerful message” of press freedoms Iranians do not currently enjoy in their own county, rather than an example of contrived newsmaking.
 
The Huffington Post and other liberal outlets often accused former President George W. Bush of planting questioners in news conferences to ask softball questions.
 
Gibbs left open the possibility that Obama could use the same tactic again, saying the president thought it was important to try to take a question indirectly from someone in Iran.
 
“I won’t make any apologies for that,” Gibbs said.
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama, Gibbs (left) at June 23 news conference)