April 27, 2009: President Obama’s First Cabinet Meeting & Towards 100 Days


The President Films the Weekly Address


In Focus: Stats

  • Democrat wins House race in New York: A Democrat has won a close U.S. congressional election in New York that had been seen by some as an early gauge of support for President Barack Obama. Republican Jim Tedisco conceded defeat on Friday to his Democratic rival Scott Murphy in a district of northeast New York state that has traditionally been Republican but has voted Democratic in recent years. “As a candidate, Scott courageously championed the economic plans we need to lift our nation and put it on a better path, and he will continue to do so in Congress,” Obama said in a statement…. – Reuters, 4-24-09
  • Poll: Public thinks highly of Obama: His opening months in the Oval Office have fortified Barack Obama’s standing with the American public, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, giving him political capital for battles ahead. As his 100th day as president approaches next Wednesday, the survey shows Obama has not only maintained robust approval ratings but also bolstered the sense that he is a strong and decisive leader who can manage the government effectively during a time of economic crisis.
    Since October, the percentage who see Obama as a “strong and decisive leader” has jumped 12 percentage points, and his image as an effective manager has gone up 11 points.
    Now, 56% say he has done an “excellent” or “good” job as president vs. 20% who rate him as “poor” or “terrible.” An additional 23% say he has done “just OK.”
    His excellent/good rating on national security is 53%. On the economy, it is 48%. – USA Today, 4-23-09
  • RCP Poll:
    President Obama Job Approval: RCP Average: +30.3% Approve 60.8% Disapprove 30.5%
    Congressional Job Approval: RCP Average: -25.5% Approve 33.8% Disapprove 59.3%
    Direction of Country: RCP Average: -24.1% Right Direction 34.7% Wrong Track 58.8%


The President meets with President Clinton and Senator Kennedy
(President Barack Obama meets with Senator Kennedy and former President Clinton to discuss national service.  April 21, 2009.  White House Photo/ Chuck Kennedy.)

The Headlines…

  • U.S. Plans Informal Meetings With Cuba: Seizing the momentum from recent meetings with Latin American leaders, the Obama administration is quietly pushing forward with efforts to reopen channels of communication with Cuba, according to White House and State Department officials. The officials said informal meetings were being planned between the State Department and Cuban diplomats in the United States to determine whether the two governments could open formal talks on a variety of issues, including migration, drug trafficking and other regional security matters…. – NYT, 4-26-09
  • GOP Seeks New Mexico Comeback Republicans Play Up Danger of One-Party Control, Hitting on National Theme: Republicans in New Mexico are maneuvering for a political comeback in a campaign that previews the themes the national GOP is likely to hit hard in 2010. The mantra: checks and balances Democrats control both houses of the New Mexico legislature, the governorship, all statewide offices and all the state’s congressional seats. But the party has been roiled by scandal in recent years, with a steady drumbeat of corruption investigations, indictments and convictions…. – WSJ, 4-26-09
  • Dick Cheney: The Visible Man: Dick Cheney became a one-of-a-kind vice president for two reasons: he cared deeply about governance, and not a bit about his future political standing. Those same factors, for better or worse, have turned him into a one-of-a-kind former vice president. In a sharp break with long-standing practice, Mr. Cheney has emerged as the highest-profile critic of the new administration…. – NYT, 4-26-09
  • Obama, Democrats Eye Tactic to Shield Health Care Plan From GOP Opposition: Republicans, who have been complaining furiously about the prospect of health care reform passing under fast-track rules, are not planning to go down without a fight. – Fox News, 4-25-09
  • Clinton: Bush’s Iran policy was a failure: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is criticizing the Bush administration for what she called a failed eight-year effort to isolate Iran. In congressional testimony Thursday, she said the approach of President Barack Obama’s predecessor did not deter Iran “one bit” in its ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons and support terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. She said Iran’s nuclear program has continued unabated…. – AP, 4-22-09
  • Democrats may maneuver around GOP filibuster on healthcare legislation: Senior Democrats in Congress are said to have agreed on a plan to prevent Republicans from blocking Barack Obama’s healthcare bill. The legislation might not need a single GOP vote in either house… – LAT, 4-24-09
  • Senate to sink mortgage relief plan: The centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s plan to keep thousands of people from losing their homes amid the worst economic crisis in decades is headed for defeat next week in the Senate. Allowing people to seek mortgage relief in bankruptcy court is opposed by Republicans and enough Democrats to block it. They remain worried that the legislation would unleash a torrent of loan defaults, ultimately driving up mortgage rates and introducing fresh uncertainty to an already ailing economy. The rejection would deal a blow to the popular president pushing an ambitious agenda to stabilize the economy. AP, 4-24-09
  • Meghan McCain is moderately impressive on “the View”: Meghan McCain came off as slightly nervous, serious and likable Thursday while walking the fine line between guest and guest host on “The View. “We should become an umbrella party,” she said. “Stop telling me I don’t have a place.”…. “You’ve had your eight years,” she said. “Now go away.” – NY Daily News, 4-24-09
  • F-16 fighter jets take down lost plane (gently) – Obama relocated: It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again. A small plane went into restricted airspace in Washington, DC, today. This time though it got a little too close for comfort. So President Obama and Vice President Biden had to be briefly relocated to ensure their safety. And for a while the US Capitol was evacuated. Within minutes of the single-engine plane entering the restricted zone, it was over. Peacefully…. – LAT, 4-24-09
  • Cheney Requests Release of 2 CIA Reports on Interrogations: Former vice president Richard B. Cheney is asking for the release of two CIA reports in his bid to marshal evidence that coercive interrogation tactics such as waterboarding helped thwart terrorist plots, according to documents released yesterday by the National Archives and Records Administration. Cheney’s request was submitted March 31, more than two weeks before President Obama decided to release four “top secret” memos in which Bush administration lawyers sanctioned harsh tactics for questioning prisoners…. – WaPo, 4-24-09
  • President Obama Requests May Sweeps Timeslot: President Barack Obama has asked to make a prime-time appearance during May sweeps. White House officials have requested up to an hour of airtime for Wednesday, April 29, according to TV Week. The press conference, which falls on the 100th day of Obama’s presidency, will probably air in the 8 o’clock hour and address questions of the president’s performance. Broadcast networks have not yet announced their response, but a source said that they will most likely agree to the administration’s request. Will you tune in to President Obama’s “100 Days” press conference? Or have there been too many already? – TV Guide, 4-23-09
  • Analysis: Obama walks thin line on interrogations: Barack Obama, facing perhaps the trickiest political issue of his young presidency, is trying to appease his liberal base without losing control of a potentially volatile inquiry into George W. Bush administration’s use of harsh interrogation tactics against terrorism suspects. One step to the left or right could land him in political trouble. – AP, 4-23-09
  • Biden: States to use recovery money to manage aid: States responsible for more than a third of President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus program will be able to tap some of the recovery money to cover costs of managing the new spending, Vice President Joe Biden told Congress Thursday. Biden sent a letter to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee summarizing new rules that will, among other things, offer states flexibility to use stimulus money to cover the costs of handling their share of Obama’s spending program. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the committee chairman, welcomed the change, saying state and local governments have struggled to find ways to pay for the increased scrutiny and reporting required for the recovery money. “In this balance that we’re trying to strike, it seems to me that this makes a lot of sense,” the Connecticut independent said during a committee hearing Thursday. – AP, 4-23-09
  • Fidel Castro: Obama ‘misinterpreted’ Raul’s words: Fidel Castro says President Barack Obama “misinterpreted” his brother Raul’s remarks regarding the United States and bristled at the suggestion that Cuba should free political prisoners or cut taxes on dollars people send to the island. Raul Castro touched off a whirlwind of speculation last week that the U.S. and Cuba could be headed toward a thaw after nearly a half-century of chilly relations. The speculation began when the Cuban president said leaders would be willing to sit down with their U.S. counterparts and discuss “everything, everything, everything,” including human rights, freedom of the press and expression, and political prisoners…. – AP, 4-22-09
  • Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae sink into managerial turmoil: The death of Freddie Mac’s acting chief financial officer heightens the turmoil at Freddie (FRE) and Fannie Mae (FNM) at a critical time when the two housing-finance giants are assuming larger roles in the Obama administration’s housing rescue program…. – USA Today, 4-22-09
  • Taliban extend hold, advance near Pakistan capital: Taliban militants have extended their grip in northwestern Pakistan, pushing out from a valley where the government has agreed to impose Islamic law and patrolling villages as close as 60 miles from the capital. Police and officials appear to have fled as armed militants also broadcast radio sermons and spread fear in Buner district, just 60 miles from Islamabad, officials and witnesses said Wednesday…. – AP, 4-22-09
  • Obama calls for new era of energy exploration: President Barack Obama, standing Wednesday in the shell of a once-giant Maytag appliance factory that now houses a wind energy company, declared that a “new era of energy exploration in America” would be a crucial to leading the nation out of an economic crisis….
    “The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy,” Obama said in a state that launched him on the road to the White House with a surprise upset over one-time rival Hillary Rodham Clinton. “America can be that nation. America must be that nation. And while we seek new forms of fuel to power our homes and cars and businesses, we will rely on the same ingenuity — the same American spirit — that has always been a part of our American story.” – AP, 4-22-09
  • Torture Cases Would Face Legal Hurdles: Legal barriers to prosecuting Bush-era officials over alleged torture would be substantial, legal experts said Wednesday. But Democrats were seizing on the issue to score political points anyway, while some Republicans warned against opening a Pandora’s box of recrimination that could hit members of Congress, too. – WSJ, 4-22-09
  • As Bush adviser, Rice delivered OK to waterboard: Then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice verbally OK’d the CIA’s request to subject alleged al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah to waterboarding in July 2002, a decision memorialized a few days later in a secret memo that the Obama administration declassified last week. Rice’s role was detailed in a narrative released Wednesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It provides the most detailed timeline yet for how the CIA’s harsh interrogation program was conceived and approved at the highest levels in the Bush White House. – AP, 4-22-09
  • Ellen Moran, White House Communications Director, Leaving For Commerce Post: White House communications director Ellen Moran is stepping down to be chief of staff to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, becoming the first senior adviser to President Barack Obama to leave the West Wing. The move, just three months into the new presidency, will take place over the next few weeks. “It has been a real honor to serve in this White House at the start of this historic administration. I am looking forward to working on critical economic issues with Secretary Locke,” Moran said Tuesday. – AP, 4-22-09
  • Obama Signs Volunteer Bill With Nod to Kennedy Era: President Obama on Tuesday became the latest Democratic president to emulate John F. Kennedy’s call for national service as he signed legislation to triple the size of the Americorps program and called on Americans to volunteer time to improve their communities. The latest on President Obama, the new administration and other news from Washington and around the nation. Join the discussion. Joined by Kennedy’s brother and daughter, Mr. Obama took his turn at the Peace Corps legacy by enacting a new law expanding the government’s role in promoting and paying for Americans to restore parks, tutor children and help communities struck by natural disasters…. – NYT, 4-22-09
  • Senator McConnell blasts plan to close Guantanamo: “The administration needs to tell the American people what it plans to do with these men if they close Guantanamo,” U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday. He pointed out that two years ago the Senate voted 94-3 against sending detainees to the U.S. McConnell opposes closing Guantanamo. “Foreign countries have thus far been unwilling to take them in any significant numbers. And even if countries were willing to take them, there’s an increasing probability that some of these murderers would return to the battlefield,” he said. AP, 4-21-09
  • Obama nudges Israel on Palestinian statehood: President Barack Obama nudged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday to accept the goal of a Palestinian state, as he pressed Israel and the Palestinians to “step back from the abyss.” Deepening his direct role in reviving stalled peace efforts, Obama met Jordan’s King Abdullah and invited Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for separate talks by early June…. – AP, 4-21-09
  • Obama open to torture memos probe, prosecution: Widening an explosive debate on torture, President Barack Obama on Tuesday opened the possibility of prosecution for Bush-era lawyers who authorized brutal interrogation of terror suspects and suggested Congress might order a full investigation. Less than a week after declaring it was time for the nation to move on rather than “laying blame for the past,” Obama found himself describing what might be done next to investigate what he called the loss of “our moral bearings.”… – AP, 4-20-09
  • San Fran Mayor Gavin Newsom running for governor: Mayor Gavin Newsom formally announced his candidacy for California governor Tuesday, offering himself as an heir to the same groundswell for generational change that helped send President Barack Obama to the White House. Entering a race that could see him competing against men 15 and 30 years his senior, the 41-year-old Democrat pointedly used YouTube and the social networking sites Twitter and Facebook to disclose that he would seek his party’s nomination to succeed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger…. – AP, 4-21-09
  • Minuteman founder to run for Senate against McCain: The founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps is expected to announce his intentions to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona next year. Chris Simcox is expected to make the announcement Wednesday. He already has a Web site promoting his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2010. – AP, 4-21-09
  • Obama holds first Cabinet meeting as cameras whirl: A president’s first Cabinet meeting, like the White House Easter Egg Roll, is a spring rite that’s more photo op than substantive event. Barack Obama gathered his Cabinet members around a White House table Monday and asked them collectively to find $100 million in cost cuts over the next three months. That’s a fraction of a fraction of the federal deficit, and it quickly drew ridicule from pundits and Republicans…. – AP, 4-20-09
  • Obama and CIA chief patch up rift: U.S. President Barack Obama and his CIA chief buried differences on Monday over the release of classified documents on waterboarding, even as former Vice President Dick Cheney kept the debate alive. Obama visited CIA headquarters and told agency employees that a fight against al Qaeda and other challenges, and foreign policy changes he is pursuing, make their expertise vital. He pledged his full support. “We live in dangerous times. I am going to need you more than ever,” Obama said. He counselled the employees not to be discouraged by public discussion of “mistakes.”… – Reuters, 4-20-09


The President speaks with credit card representatives

Political Quotes

  • Weekly Address: Calling for Fiscal Discipline: This week the President reiterates a theme that has been a hallmark of his career, namely that “old habits and stale thinking” will simply not help us solve the new and immense problems our country faces. Listing off several specific changes he intends to bring, he describes his guiding principle: “To help build a new foundation for the 21st century, we need to reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative. That will demand new thinking and a new sense of responsibility for every dollar that is spent.”… – WH Blog, 4-25-09Transcript: WEEKLY ADDRESS: President Obama Announces Steps to Reform Government and Promote Fiscal Discipline
  • Clinton Says Moderation Is Lebanon’s Best Hope: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton touched down in Lebanon on Sunday for a lightning visit to express support for this fragile country, six weeks before crucial parliamentary elections in which the Islamic militant group Hezbollah is expected to make significant gains. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed a condolence book at the grave of slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, pictured in the background, in Beirut on Sunday.
    “It won’t surprise you to hear that I think moderation is important in the affairs of states,” Mrs. Clinton said after meeting the president, Michel Suleiman, a former chief of the armed forces who stays above the political fray. “We want to see a strong, independent, free and sovereign Lebanon,” she said, noting that President Obama had sent Mr. Suleiman a letter expressing those sentiments. “This election will be, obviously, an important milestone.”… Still, the United States “will never make any deal with Syria that sells out Lebanon and the Lebanese people,” Mrs. Clinton pledged. “You’ve been through too much.” – NYT, 4-26-09
  • Virginia’s gubernatorial race gets heated Funding accusations lead candidates to defend themselves: One of the three Democratic contenders for governor is accusing Republican candidate Bob McDonnell of using tax dollars to run his campaign. But the Republican’s campaign says the charge from former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe is just hyperbole from a candidate with his own fundraising ethics issues. The accusation, which came coupled with a swipe at Virginia Republican’s reluctance to accept $125 million in additional unemployment funds, was sent in an e-mail to McAuliffe supporters.
    “When the news broke about the millions of taxpayer-funded bonuses going to AIG executives, Bob McDonnell’s own campaign said they ‘should offend every taxpayer,'” McAuliffe wrote. “I agree.” “But it is every bit as offensive for companies like Citigroup — which participated in some of the worst excess that triggered this financial crisis — to use the money they’re getting from the federal government to make contributions to political candidates. And Bob McDonnell’s taken the cash with open arms,” he continued. – NV Daily, 4-26-09
  • Clinton says Iraq on right track: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says this week’s deadly suicide bombings in Iraq are a sign that extremists are afraid the Iraqi government is succeeding. Making her first trip to Iraq as America’s top diplomat, Clinton said the country has made great strides despite the recent violence that killed at least 148 people in Baghdad and outside on Thursday and Friday.
    “I think that these suicide bombings … are unfortunately, in a tragic way, a signal that the rejectionists fear that Iraq is going in the right direction,” Clinton told reporters traveling aboard her plane ahead of her unannounced Saturday visit to Baghdad. “I think in Iraq there will always be political conflicts, there will always be, as in any society, sides drawn between different factions, but I really believe Iraq as a whole is on the right track,” she said, citing “overwhelming evidence” of “really impressive” progress. “Are there going to be bad days? Yes, there are,” Clinton said. “But I don’t know of any difficult international situation anywhere in the world or history where there haven’t been bad days.” – AP, 4-24-09
  • Steve Schmidt McCain campaign chief gets candid: “When Lehman Brothers collapsed in the fall, I knew pretty much straight away the campaign was finished.” Schmidt also said that when polls showed that only 5 percent of the public believed the country was on the right track and the economy had soured, “I knew that was not going to be survivable for us.” He called Sarah Palin’s halting and damaging interview with Katie Couric, “one of the two most consequential interviews that a candidate for national office has given, in a negative way, the other being Roger Mudd’s interview of Ted Kennedy….when he couldn’t answer the question of why he wanted to be president.” Schmidt was equally candid about the Republican Party: “It is near-extinct in many ways in the Northeast, it is extinct in many ways on the West Coast, and it is endangered in the Mountain West, increasingly endangered in the Southwest…and if you look at the state of the party, it is a shrinking entity…..” “….the Republican Party as a matter of reality in (Obama’s) first 100 days has not done anything to improve its political condition.” – Kansas City Star, 4-24-09
  • Student Loans: Cutting Out the Middle Man: Now, some of you have probably seen how this proposal was greeted by the special interests. The banks and the lenders who have reaped a windfall from these subsidies have mobilized an army of lobbyists to try to keep things the way they are. They are gearing up for battle. So am I. They will fight for their special interests. I will fight for Stephanie, and other American students and their families. And for those who care about America’s future, this is a battle we can’t afford to lose.
    In the end, this is not about growing the size of government or relying on the free market — because it’s not a free market when we have a student loan system that’s rigged to reward private lenders without any risk. It’s about whether we want to give tens of billions of tax dollars to special interests or whether we want to make college more affordable for eight and a half million more students. I think most of us would agree on what the right answer is. – WH Blog, 4-24-09
  • Cracking Down on Credit Cards: There are going to be some core principles, though, that I want to adhere to, and I mentioned these to all the credit card issuers involved.
    First of all, I think that there has to be strong and reliable protections for consumers — protections that ban unfair rate increases and forbid abusive fees and penalties. The days of any time, any reason rate hikes and late fee traps have to end.
    Number two, all the forms and statements that credit card companies send out have to be written in plain language and be in plain sight. No more fine print, no more confusing terms and conditions. We want clarity and transparency from here on out.
    Number three, we have to make sure that people can comparison shop when it comes to credit cards without being afraid that they’re going to be taken advantage of. So we believe that it’s important to require firms to make all their contract terms easily accessible online in a fashion that allows people to shop for the best deal for their needs.
    Not every consumer is going to have the same needs. And some may want to take on a higher interest rate because it provides them more convenience or it provides them with a higher credit line. But we want to make sure that they can make those comparisons themselves easily. And we think that one of the things that needs to be explored is the possibility that every credit card issuer has to issue a plain vanilla, easy to understand, simplest terms possible credit card as a default credit card that the average user can feel comfortable with.
    Finally, we think we need more accountability in the system. And that means more effective oversight and more effective enforcement so that people who are issuing credit cards but violate law, they will feel the full weight of the law…. – WH Blog, 4-23-09Transcript: REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AFTER MEETING WITH REPRESENTATIVES OF THE CREDIT CARD INDUSTRY
  • The President Speaks at the Holocaust Days of Remembrance Ceremony: While the uniqueness of the Holocaust in scope and in method is truly astounding, the Holocaust was driven by many of the same forces that have fueled atrocities throughout history: the scapegoating that leads to hatred and blinds us to our common humanity; the justifications that replace conscience and allow cruelty to spread; the willingness of those who are neither perpetrators nor victims to accept the assigned role of bystander, believing the lie that good people are ever powerless or alone, the fiction that we do not have a choice.
    But while we are here today to bear witness to the human capacity to destroy, we are also here to pay tribute to the human impulse to save. In the moral accounting of the Holocaust, as we reckon with numbers like 6 million, as we recall the horror of numbers etched into arms, we also factor in numbers like these: 7,200 — the number of Danish Jews ferried to safety, many of whom later returned home to find the neighbors who rescued them had also faithfully tended their homes and businesses and belongings while they were gone.
    We remember the number five — the five righteous men and women who join us today from Poland. We are awed by your acts of courage and conscience. And your presence today compels each of us to ask ourselves whether we would have done what you did. We can only hope that the answer is yes.
    We also remember the number 5,000 — the number of Jews rescued by the villagers of Le Chambon, France — one life saved for each of its 5,000 residents. Not a single Jew who came there was turned away, or turned in. But it was not until decades later that the villagers spoke of what they had done — and even then, only reluctantly. The author of a book on the rescue found that those he interviewed were baffled by his interest. “How could you call us ‘good’?” they said. “We were doing what had to be done.”
    That is the question of the righteous — those who would do extraordinary good at extraordinary risk not for affirmation or acclaim or to advance their own interests, but because it is what must be done. They remind us that no one is born a savior or a murderer — these are choices we each have the power to make. They teach us that no one can make us into bystanders without our consent, and that we are never truly alone — that if we have the courage to heed that “still, small voice” within us, we can form a minyan for righteousness that can span a village, even a nation.
    Their legacy is our inheritance. And the question is, how do we honor and preserve it? How do we ensure that “never again” isn’t an empty slogan, or merely an aspiration, but also a call to action?
    I believe we start by doing what we are doing today — by bearing witness, by fighting the silence that is evil’s greatest co-conspirator…. – WH Blog, 4-23-09Trabscript: REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT THE HOLOCAUST DAYS OF REMEMBRANCE CEREMONY
  • Remarks by President Obama at Clean Energy at Trinity Structural Towers, Newton, Iowa, April 22, 2009 Thank you all so much for that welcome. It’s a pleasure to be back in Newton and a privilege to be here at Trinity Structural Towers. I just had a terrific tour of this facility led by several of the workers who operate this plant.
    It wasn’t too long ago that Maytag closed its operations in Newton. Hundreds of jobs were lost. To have walked these floors then would have been to walk along empty corridors. The only signs of a once-thriving enterprise would have been the markings on cement in the shape of equipment that was boxed up and carted away.
    Today, this facility is alive again with new industry. This community continues to struggle, and not everyone has been so fortunate as to be rehired, but more than 100 people will now be….
    …employed at this plant, many the same folks who had lost their jobs when Maytag shut its doors.
    Now you’re using the materials behind me to build towers to support some of the most advanced wind turbines in the world. When completed, these structures will hold aloft blades that can generate as much as 2.5 megawatts of electricity – enough energy to power hundreds of homes.
    At Trinity, you are helping to lead the next energy revolution. And you are heirs to the last energy revolution…. – LAT, 4-22-09
  • Clinton says Cheney not a “reliable source”: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took aim on Wednesday at former Vice President Dick Cheney, telling lawmakers she did not view him as a “particularly reliable source” on issues of torture. Asked about Cheney’s request this week to declassify documents showing the “success” of some widely condemned, harsh interrogation techniques launched by ex-President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks, Clinton had a caustic reply. “It won’t surprise you that I don’t consider him (Cheney) a particularly reliable source,” Clinton told the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee. – Reuters, 4-22-09
  • Obama urges citizens to undertake national service: Calling on Americans to volunteer, President Barack Obama signed a $5.7 billion national service bill Tuesday that triples the size of the AmeriCorps service program over the next eight years and expands ways for students to earn money for college. “What this legislation does, then, is to help harness this patriotism and connect deeds to needs,” said Obama, a former community organizer in Chicago. “It creates opportunities to serve for students, seniors and everyone in between,” he said. “And it is just the beginning of a sustained, collaborative and focused effort to involve our greatest resource — our citizens — in the work of remaking this nation.” “I’m asking you to help change history’s course, put your shoulder up against the wheel,” Obama said. “And if you do, I promise you your life will be richer, our country will be stronger, and someday, years from now, you may remember it as the moment when your own story and the American story converged, when they came together, and we met the challenges of our new century.” “All that’s required on your part is a willingness to make a difference,” Obama said. “And that is, after all, the beauty of service: Anybody can do it.”
    Kennedy told the audience that included former President Bill Clinton, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former first lady Rosalyn Carter that Obama’s efforts echoed those of his late brother, President John F. Kennedy. “Today, another young president has challenged another generation to give back to their nation,” Kennedy said, citing his brother’s advocacy for the Peace Corps… – AP, 4-21-09
  • “What Makes the United States Special”: Now, I have put an end to the interrogation techniques described in those OLC memos, and I want to be very clear and very blunt. I’ve done so for a simple reason: because I believe that our nation is stronger and more secure when we deploy the full measure of both our power and the power of our values –- including the rule of law. I know I can count on you to do exactly that.
    There have been some conversations that I’ve had with senior folks here at Langley in which I think people have expressed understandable anxiety and concern. So I want to make a point that I just made in the smaller group. I understand that it’s hard when you are asked to protect the American people against people who have no scruples and would willingly and gladly kill innocents. Al Qaeda is not constrained by a constitution. Many of our adversaries are not constrained by a belief in freedom of speech, or representation in court, or rule of law. I’m sure that sometimes it seems as if that means we’re operating with one hand tied behind our back, or that those who would argue for a higher standard are naïve. I understand that. You know, I watch the cable shows once in a while. (Laughter.)
    What makes the United States special, and what makes you special, is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when it’s hard, not just when it’s easy; even when we are afraid and under threat, not just when it’s expedient to do so. That’s what makes us different.
    So, yes, you’ve got a harder job. And so do I. And that’s okay, because that’s why we can take such extraordinary pride in being Americans. And over the long term, that is why I believe we will defeat our enemies, because we’re on the better side of history. – WH Blog, 4-20-09Transcript: REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO CIA EMPLOYEES
  • President Obama’s First Cabinet Meeting: $100 million there, $100 million here: Many of the agencies have already taken some extraordinary steps to consolidate, streamline, and improve their practices. Just a couple of examples: Veterans Affairs has cancelled or delayed 26 conferences, saving nearly $17.8 million, and they’re using less expensive alternatives like videoconferencing. The USDA, under Secretary Vilsack, is working to combine 1,500 employees from seven office locations into a single facility in 2011, which we estimate will save $62 million over a 15-year lease term. Janet Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security estimates that they can save up to $52 million over five years just by purchasing office supplies in bulk.
    So there are a host of efficiencies that can be gained without increasing our personnel or our budget, but rather decreasing the amount of money that’s spent on unnecessary things in order to fund some of the critical initiatives that we’ve all talked about. Obviously, Bob Gates just came out with a historic budget proposal with respect to the Pentagon, and we expect to follow up with significant procurement reform that’s going to make an enormous difference.
    So one of the things that — messages that I delivered today to all members of the Cabinet was: As well as you’ve already done, you’re going to have to do more. I’m asking for all of them to identify at least $100 million in additional cuts to their administrative budgets, separate and apart from the work that Peter Orszag and the rest of our team are doing to go line by line with the budget and identify programmatic cuts that need to be made.
    And in the next few weeks we expect to cut at least 100 current programs in the federal budget so that we can free up those dollars in order to put them to use for critical areas like health care, education, energy, our foreign policy apparatus, which is so important… – WH Blog, 4-20-09Transcript: REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AFTER MEETING WITH THE CABINET


Earth Day

Historians’ Comments

  • Doris Kearns Goodwin “Dick Cheney: The Visible Man”: But Mr. Cheney is an altogether different case. No one expects another campaign from him, freeing him to speak his mind. “If he were running for office he’d be tempered more by how it would appear,” the presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said. “His main constituency right now is history.” – NYT, 4-26-09
  • Rich Lowry: Obama’s serial apologies embolden our adversaries: The calendar says President Barack Obama took office in 2009, although that’s only a technicality. In his own mind, Obama ascended in Year Zero, a time of ritualistic cleansing in preparation for the relaunching of an America free from its past sins. Has an American president ever appeared less vested in his nation’s history than Barack Obama? He shrugged off a rancid attack on the United States by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega at the Summit of the Americas, including a rant on the Bay of Pigs operation in 1961, by saying he’d only been 3 months old at the time. Nothing to do with me. It’s Obama’s own personal new order of the ages. Or as an Obama official put it, “His expectation is that these debates of the past can remain that, debates of the past.” Obama’s theory is that “if we are practicing what we preach and if we occasionally confess to having strayed from our values and our ideals, that strengthens our hand.” This is an old strand in America foreign policy, associated with what the historian Walter Russell Mead calls “the Jeffersonian tradition.” It is characterized, Mead writes, by the belief that the U.S. can best serve “the cause of universal democracy by setting an example rather than imposing a model,” and by a diplomacy of “speak softly, and carry the smallest possible stick.”….
    Obama seems to take active pleasure in saying that there are no senior or junior partners on the international stage. The danger is that foreign governments will actually believe him. Obama may think he’s being magnanimous and admirably humble about his own country, but adversaries could be forgiven for detecting weakness. The nightmare scenario is that, while soaking up all the applause, Obama has had a Kennedy-Khrushchev moment. The young, well-intentioned American president got pushed around by the Soviet premier in summit meetings in Vienna. After taking Kennedy’s measure and finding him lacking, Khrushchev embarked on a campaign of international assertion that eventually led to the Cuban missile crisis. This is the risk in Obama’s showy pliability and detachment from his country circa 1776-2008. No president can be an island unto himself. It’s not Year Zero. History is still in full flower, for better or worse. – Salt Lake Tribune, 4-24-09
  • Julian Zelizer “Commentary: Will Obama, GOP make a deal?”: President Obama could be opening up an important debate with the Republican Party on Monday by meeting with his Cabinet and instructing them to outline specific plans for cutting their budgets. “There will be no sacred cows, and no pet projects. All across America, families are making hard choices, and it’s time their government did the same,” Obama told Americans in his weekly radio address on Saturday….
    Though Monday’s meeting at the White House will draw most of the attention for the debates that will certainly unfold among Democrats about how far to go with these reductions, what is most important to look for is whether any Republicans step forward and start to offer the outline of viable compromise. Will they suggest measures the president could take if he wants to realistically expect more than three Republican votes on the bigger issues that he has put on the table? – CNN, 4-20-09
  • Paul Light “Obama holds first Cabinet meeting as cameras whirl”: “There is no Cabinet government here, and there’s not going to be,” said Paul Light, an authority on White House organizations at New York University. “We haven’t had real Cabinet government since, oh, I don’t know when.” – AP, 4-20-09

The First Lady and Queen Rania

The First Lady and Queen Rania of Jordan

(First Lady Michelle Obama hosts Jordan’s Queen Rania in the Yellow Oval Room in the  White House Residence, April 23, 2009.  White House Photo/ Samantha Appleton)

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