Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Let’s talk

Members of Congress have been complaining all week (while out of town on a weeklong break) that they weren’t given enough information when President Barack Obama moved ahead with military action on Libya.

OBAMA-LATINAMERICA/What is the goal in Libya? How will the goal be achieved? Explain, explain, explain! they demanded (while Obama was on a Latin America trip).

So today, Obama held a conference call with leaders of Congress from both parties to consult on Libya, and he plans to address the public in the “very near future” (although not today), White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “We take the need to consult very seriously,” he said.

Congress returns next week and so there will be plenty more calls for more consultation.

No matter which party controls Congress or the White House, when the president makes a big decision, sometimes feelings get hurt on the Hill with lawmakers believing they did not have enough of a say (which can actually offer good cover for unpopular decisions).

Washington Extra – Changing palette

Not so very long ago a no-fly zone over Libya seemed like an option on the outskirts of what the United States was considering in trying to pressure Muammar Gaddafi.

OBAMA/Since last night, apparently a no-fly zone might not be enough, and the United States is now pressing for air strikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery. What changed?

“It is not our feeling … that a no-fly zone is a snap-your-fingers, one-size-fits-all solution to a problem. And what we want is action on a variety of items that can improve the situation in Libya,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said, without agreeing with the premise that policy had shifted.

Boehner confident on getting budget deal, but admits it won’t be easy

House Speaker John Boehner, facing somewhat of a revolt in Republican ranks, says “it is not going to be easy” to craft and win passage of a bipartisan deal to cut spending and fund the government for the rest of this fiscal year.

USA-POLITICS/REPUBLICANSBut the top U.S. Republican said he remains confident that it will be done — somehow, some way.

“We never thought it was going to be easy,” Boehner said a day after the House passed a short-term funding bill that 54 of his 240 House Republican colleagues opposed.

How bad was Intelligence Czar’s Libya “gaffe”?

USA-INTELLIGENCE/The columnist Michael Kinsley once quipped that in Washington a “gaffe” is when a political notable accidentally tells the truth. Intelligence and national security officials are describing the latest controversial statements about Libya by National Intelligence Director James Clapper as that kind of “gaffe.”

At a Congressional hearing on Thursday, Clapper said that rebels trying to oust Muammar Gaddafi from power had lost momentum and that the Libyan leader could well survive for some time to come. “We believe that Gaddafi is in this for the long haul…He appears to be hunkering down for the duration.”

“This is kind of a stalemate back and forth,” Clapper said, but added that, “I think over the long term that the (Gaddafi) regime will prevail.”

Washington Extra – Say it ain’t so

The White House says it knows that just telling Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to go, doesn’t make it so.

LIBYA-GADDAFI/SONGaddafi “has clearly shown that he doesn’t intend to leave just because we said so,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The head of intelligence told it like it is, Carney said. “Director (James) Clapper stated what is true, that Colonel Gaddafi is hunkering down, we all know that.”

Washington Extra – Podium pieces

We learned a thing or two from briefings around town.

– White House spokesman Jay Carney has a sister, and today is her birthday. He announced it from the podium. “I spoke with her this morning, and we are very close.” LIBYA-USA/

– State Department spokesman Mark Toner is interested in the Georgetown basketball game. “Anybody got the latest score on Georgetown?” he asked, to break up some of the back-and-forth with reporters on questions about Libya.

– Republicans have noticed that Vice President Joe Biden hasn’t been around. House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy complained that Biden is supposed to be lead negotiator in government funding talks and no one will say who is filling in for him. “The vice president is out of the country. We’ll have to prepare for another two weeks but that’s not where we want to go.”

Washington Extra – Will it fly?

It wasn’t quite spilling the beans, but White House spokesman Jay Carney did in one sentence clearly list the top three options being considered on Libya: humanitarian aid, enforcing the U.N. arms embargo, and contingency planning for a potential no-fly zone.

Then it got a bit murky. LIBYA-PORTS/

“I just want to stress that the military options that we talk about are not limited to a no-fly zone, but include a no-fly zone as an option,” Carney said.

“It’s a serious option … and it’s not a simple one that you can simply say, ‘Oh, let’s have a no-fly zone, snap your fingers and it happens’.”

Obama tweaks Republicans at governors lunch

President Obama leaped into political frays on a whole bunch of different levels when he addressed state governors at a White House luncheon.

Of singular interest was his mention of Republican Mitt Romney, a potential 2012 presidential candidate who is OBAMA/spending time these days defending the healthcare overhaul he executed as governor of Massachusetts.

The plan has been criticized by Romney’s potential 2012 rivals as little different from the Obama plan that Republicans want to repeal.

Washington Extra – Action or inaction

Pizza as a predictor?

CONGRESS GUNFIRECongress returns next week and will decide by action or inaction whether the federal government shuts down.

The White House sounded a note of optimism (which at this point is the only way to go — best to save the podium pounding for when it gets down to the wire).

“All of us agree that a government shutdown would be bad for the economy,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “We believe that a compromise can be reached. But I’m not going to speculate on a position, what position we may or may not hold down the road.”

White House has a new social secretary – and it’s a man

USA-CHINA/

President Barack Obama’s White House has named its third social secretary in just over two years and made history. It’s the first man  ever to fill the position in the 110 years it has existed.

Jeremy Bernard, who is now based in Paris as a senior advisor to the U.S. ambassador in France,  was named to replace Julianna Smoot as social secretary, the person responsible for organizing social events at the White House as small as a tea with first lady Michelle Obama or as large and elaborate as a state dinner for the president of China.

Smoot, who left to join Obama’s re-election operation, had replaced the administration’s first social secretary, Desiree Rogers, who held the post when a couple participating in a reality television show crashed a state dinner in November 2009.  Rogers’ appointment had also made history — she was the first African-American to fill that position.