Full Text: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan Military Withdrawal

Remarks by the President on the Way Forward in Afghanistan

East Room

8:01 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening.  Nearly 10 years ago, America suffered the worst attack on our shores since Pearl Harbor.  This mass murder was planned by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, and signaled a new threat to our security –- one in which the targets were no longer soldiers on a battlefield, but innocent men, women and children going about their daily lives.

In the days that followed, our nation was united as we struck at al Qaeda and routed the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Then, our focus shifted.  A second war was launched in Iraq, and we spent enormous blood and treasure to support a new government there.  By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year.  But al Qaeda’s leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive.  Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned that we could face a resurgent al Qaeda and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan.

For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as President, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan.  When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives:  to refocus on al Qaeda, to reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country.  I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to draw down our forces this July.

Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment.  Thanks to our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals.  As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point.  After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead.  Our mission will change from combat to support.  By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.

We’re starting this drawdown from a position of strength.  Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11.  Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda’s leadership.  And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al Qaeda had ever known.  This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11.  One soldier summed it up well.  “The message,” he said, “is we don’t forget.  You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes.”

The information that we recovered from bin Laden’s compound shows al Qaeda under enormous strain.  Bin Laden expressed concern that al Qaeda had been unable to effectively replace senior terrorists that had been killed, and that al Qaeda has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at war with Islam -– thereby draining more widespread support.  Al Qaeda remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks.  But we have put al Qaeda on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done.

In Afghanistan, we’ve inflicted serious losses on the Taliban and taken a number of its strongholds.  Along with our surge, our allies also increased their commitments, which helped stabilize more of the country.  Afghan security forces have grown by over 100,000 troops, and in some provinces and municipalities we’ve already begun to transition responsibility for security to the Afghan people.  In the face of violence and intimidation, Afghans are fighting and dying for their country, establishing local police forces, opening markets and schools, creating new opportunities for women and girls, and trying to turn the page on decades of war.

Of course, huge challenges remain.  This is the beginning — but not the end –- of our effort to wind down this war.  We’ll have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we’ve made, while we draw down our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government.  And next May, in Chicago, we will host a summit with our NATO allies and partners to shape the next phase of this transition.

We do know that peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war without a political settlement.  So as we strengthen the Afghan government and security forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.  Our position on these talks is clear:  They must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution.  But, in part because of our military effort, we have reason to believe that progress can be made.

The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply:  No safe haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland or our allies.  We won’t try to make Afghanistan a perfect place.  We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely.  That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people, and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace.  What we can do, and will do, is build a partnership with the Afghan people that endures –- one that ensures that we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government.

Of course, our efforts must also address terrorist safe havens in Pakistan.  No country is more endangered by the presence of violent extremists, which is why we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region.  We’ll work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keeps its commitments.  For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe haven for those who aim to kill us.  They cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve.

My fellow Americans, this has been a difficult decade for our country.  We’ve learned anew the profound cost of war — a cost that’s been paid by the nearly 4,500 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq, and the over 1,500 who have done so in Afghanistan -– men and women who will not live to enjoy the freedom that they defended.  Thousands more have been wounded. Some have lost limbs on the battlefield, and others still battle the demons that have followed them home.

Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.  Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way.  We’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country.  And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.  These long wars will come to a responsible end.

As they do, we must learn their lessons.  Already this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America’s engagement around the world.  Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face.  Others would have America over-extended, confronting every evil that can be found abroad.

We must chart a more centered course.  Like generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.  But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute.  When threatened, we must respond with force –- but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas.  When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own.  Instead, we must rally international action, which we’re doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their own destiny.

In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power -– it is the principles upon which our union was founded.  We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens.  We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others.  We stand not for empire, but for self-determination.  That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab world.  We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.

Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens here at home.  Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times.  Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource –- our people.  We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries, while living within our means.  We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy.  And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war.  For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach.

America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.

In this effort, we draw inspiration from our fellow Americans who have sacrificed so much on our behalf.  To our troops, our veterans and their families, I speak for all Americans when I say that we will keep our sacred trust with you, and provide you with the care and benefits and opportunity that you deserve.

I met some of these patriotic Americans at Fort Campbell.  A while back, I spoke to the 101st Airborne that has fought to turn the tide in Afghanistan, and to the team that took out Osama bin Laden.  Standing in front of a model of bin Laden’s compound, the Navy SEAL who led that effort paid tribute to those who had been lost –- brothers and sisters in arms whose names are now written on bases where our troops stand guard overseas, and on headstones in quiet corners of our country where their memory will never be forgotten.  This officer — like so many others I’ve met on bases, in Baghdad and Bagram, and at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital -– spoke with humility about how his unit worked together as one, depending on each other, and trusting one another, as a family might do in a time of peril.

That’s a lesson worth remembering -– that we are all a part of one American family.  Though we have known disagreement and division, we are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish.  Now, let us finish the work at hand.  Let us responsibly end these wars, and reclaim the American Dream that is at the center of our story.  With confidence in our cause, with faith in our fellow citizens, and with hope in our hearts, let us go about the work of extending the promise of America -– for this generation, and the next.

May God bless our troops.  And may God bless the United States of America.

END           8:16 P.M. EDT

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Political Buzz June 22, 2011: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan Military Withdrawal

Political Highlights December 20, 2010: Lame Duck Congress Passes Bipartisan Tax Cuts Package & Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, President Obama Updates Afghanistan Progress — Christmas at the White House

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN, and Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 111TH & 112TH CONGRESS:

The President records the Weekly Address

STATS & POLLS

  • White House Holidays: Simple Gifts
  • Fox News Poll: Majority Approves Tax Cut Agreement: A majority of American voters approve of the proposed deal to preserve Bush-era tax cuts agreed on between President Obama and Republican leaders in Congress, and voters are more likely to think the compromises made by both sides represent how things “should” work in Washington.
    A Fox News poll released Thursday found that by 68 to 26 percent, most voters approve of the compromise deal.
    Moreover, approval is across the board: 69 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of independents endorsed the deal.
    When asked what they would do if forced to choose between either continuing the tax cuts for all Americans or letting taxes increase for all Americans, 73 percent of voters said they would continue the tax cuts for all. That includes 83 percent of Republicans, 73 percent independents and 64 percent of Democrats…. – Fox News, 12-16-10
  • Gallup Poll: Obama loses the backing of some liberals: President Obama’s support among liberals falls to 79% in a Gallup tracking poll.
    Liberals, part of President Obama’s core backers, continue to be unhappy with the president, according to the Gallup tracking poll released Thursday.
    The poll shows that support among liberals has dipped to 79%, the first time it has fallen below 80%, according to Gallup. A week before the midterm elections, Obama stood at 88% with those who called themselves liberals…. – LAT, 12-16-10
  • Congress gets 83% disapproval rating in Gallup Poll, worst in over 30 years: People who identified themselves as Democrats registered the biggest decline in approval, from 38% to 16%. But the institution should bounce back in approval ratings in the next few months, if a pattern of past changes in partisan power hold true, Gallup noted.
    Just 13% of Americans say they approve of the way Congress is doing its job while 83% disapprove, the worst disapproval rating for lawmakers in more than 30 years, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.
    The previous record low approval rating was 14% in July 2008, a time of high prices for gasoline and a poor economy. For the year, Congress averaged about a 19% approval rating, tied with the averages in 2008 and 1979, another tough year for the economy.
    Politically, independents and Republicans were down slightly in their view of Congress, while those saying they were Democrats had the biggest drop. From October to December, Democratic support fell from 38% to 16%. Republicans fell from 9% to 7% and independents from 16% to 13% during the same period…. – LAT, 12-15-10
  • Post-ABC poll: public not yet sold on GOP: Republicans made major gains in the November elections but they have yet to win the hearts and minds of the American people, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The midterm elections – where Republicans gained 63 seats to take control of the House of Representatives and added six seats to their Senate minority – were widely seen as a rebuke to President Obama. Still, the public now trusts Obama marginally more than congressional Republicans to deal with the country’s main problems in the coming years, 43 to 38 percent. And when it comes to who has taken the stronger leadership role in Washington, it’s an even divide: 43 percent say Obama, 42 percent the GOP.
  • Facebook’s Zuckerberg is Time’s Person of the Year: The social networking magnate beats out WikiLeaks’ Assange and the Tea Party
    The man behind the world’s largest social network has been named Time’s Person of the Year. Time magazine announced today that its editors picked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for the annual honor, beating out runners-up Julian Assange, the man behind the internationally controversial WikiLeaks, and the Tea Party.
    Time credited Zuckerberg with connecting more than half a billion people with through Facebook and mapping the social relations among them. And because Facebook’s 26-year-old CEO also is credited with creating a new system of exchanging information that is changing how people live their lives, he was named Person of the Year.
    “The way we connect with one another and with the institutions in our lives is evolving,” wrote Time managing editor Richard Stengel in an essay posted online today. “Our sense of identity is more variable, while our sense of privacy is expanding. What was once considered intimate is now shared among millions with a keystroke.” Zuckerberg, according to Stengel, is at the epicenter of these cultural and social changes.
    “The social-networking platform he invented is closing in on 600 million users,” he added. “In a single day, about a billion new pieces of content are posted on Facebook. It is the connective tissue for nearly a tenth of the planet. Facebook is now the third-largest country on Earth and surely has more information about its citizens than any government does. Zuckerberg, a Harvard dropout, is its T-shirt-wearing head of state.”
    Hadley Reynolds, an analyst with IDC, noted that 2010 was the year when the media hype about Zuckerberg went through the roof.
    “Hopefully, Time is giving him the recognition because he is the youngest tech baron to pledge to give away billions — in his case, before they’ve even been monetized. Bill Gates had practically retire before he got the Time kudo in 2005. More likely, they know Zuckerberg’s face will sell magazines, and they can only dream of being in touch with an audience like the one Facebook touches every minute.”…. – Computerworld, 12-15-10
  • The Man Who Took On Obama Health Care — and Won One Round: Virginia’s attorney general, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a Republican who filed the Richmond lawsuit against the U.S. government, challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care act.Jay Paul for The New York Times Virginia’s attorney general, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a Republican who filed the Richmond lawsuit against the U.S. government, challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care act.
    Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Virginia’s attorney general, is quick to cite the legal basis for challenging President Obama’s signature legislative achievement: Congress has no power to punish people who choose not to buy private health insurance, he says.
    A federal judge on Monday agreed with him, ruling that parts of the health care reforms Mr. Obama championed violate the Constitution. Mr. Cuccinelli sued the federal government on behalf of Virginia.
    “On the issues the Tea Party cares about, I land right in their bulls eye.” — Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia attorney general
    “I wouldn’t have brought a case like this if it didn’t have legal merit,” he said in an interview with The Caucus. He added that he had turned away plenty of activists urging him to sue the federal government in other areas. “My answer is usually, ‘no.’ I don’t get to sue just because I don’t like something.”
    But it doesn’t take long for Mr. Cuccinelli to acknowledge that his motivations are not purely legal. The onetime state senator is a conservative Republican who has long sought to shrink government, limit federal powers and trumpet state rights…. – 12-14-10

THE HEADLINES….

President Barack Obama makes Congressional calls on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010

President Barack Obama makes Congressional calls from the Oval Office before Senate’s final vote on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010. December 18, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • Biden defends White House compromise on tax cuts: Vice President Joe Biden defended the Obama administration for its willingness to extend tax cuts for top earners, despite earlier promises that he and the president would fight against the Bush-era policy.
    “We got to the end, we couldn’t get it done, and we had to make a decision,” Biden said about President Barack Obama’s compromise with Republicans to allow tax cuts across the income scale to continue. The vice president told NBC’s “Meet The Press” in an interview broadcast Sunday that he and Obama still believe tax cuts for the wealthiest are “morally troubling” and that they would fight to avoid renewing the cuts when they expire in 2012.
    “The one target for us in two years is no longer extending the upper income tax credit for millionaires and billionaires,” Biden said…. – AP, 12-19-10
  • Republicans fail in second bid to amend START: A second Republican bid to amend President Barack Obama’s strategic nuclear arms treaty with Russia failed during debate in Senate on Sunday and top Democrats expressed confidence they would have the votes to approve the accord. Republican Senators concerned about the large disparity in tactical, short-range nuclear weapons between Russia and the United States rallied behind a treaty-killing amendment that would have inserted a reference to the issue in the preamble of the accord. The amendment was defeated 60-32. Democratic Senator Bob Casey said members of both parties were concerned about Russian tactical nuclear weapons but there was a simple reason the New START nuclear treaty did not address them — because it is an agreement dealing with strategic, or long-range, atomic arms…. – Reuters, 12-19-10
  • Senate Rejects Republican Effort to Amend Treaty: The Senate rejected another Republican attempt to rewrite the new arms control treaty with Russia on Sunday as the signature foreign policy agreement of President Obama’s tenure moved closer to a decisive vote expected later this week. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he would vote against the arms control treaty with Russia. Senators voted 60 to 32 to defeat an amendment proposed by Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho, to add language to the treaty preamble recognizing the importance of tactical nuclear weapons. The treaty, known as New Start, focuses only on reducing strategic nuclear weapons, meaning those that can be delivered at great distances. The vote on the amendment came after three prominent Republican senators announced they would vote against the treaty. Senators Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Jon Kyl of Arizona, the top two Republican leaders, said on Sunday talk shows that they would oppose it because of concerns about its possible impact on missile defense and other issues…. – NYT, 12-19-10
  • Backers of 9/11 health bill optimistic: Backers of a bill in Congress to help people who became sick after working in the World Trade Center dust created by the Sept. 11 attacks said Sunday they’re optimistic the Senate will approve the measure before the lame-duck session ends.
    “We are on the verge of a Christmas miracle,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Gillibrand and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., are offering a less-costly alternative to the original bill to aid 9/11 responders and survivors, saying that they believe it will gain needed support from the GOP. They said the Senate was expected to consider the new bill once they finish dealing with the U.S.-Russia treaty on nuclear weapons. “Barring a setback, we believe we are on the path to victory by the end of the week,” Schumer said.
    Supporters were three votes short of the 60 votes they needed for the original bill on a recent Senate test vote. The House has passed the original bill but would have to consider any new version as the final days of the lame-duck session wear down. New York lawmakers are pressing House Democratic leaders to stay in session long enough to vote after the Senate acts on the new bill…. – AP, 12-19-10
  • In historic vote, Senate moves to end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’: Eight Republicans joined Democrats to vote for an end to the 1993 ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law banning gay troops from serving openly. Proponents compare it to ending racial segregation in the military.
    The Senate Saturday voted to end a longstanding ban on gay troops serving openly in the US armed services – a move Democrats compare to President Truman’s ending the ban on racial segregation in the military in 1948.
    “It is time to close this chapter in our history,” said President Obama in a statement. “It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly.” Six Republicans – Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and George Voinovich of Ohio – broke with their party to give Democrats the votes needed to break a GOP filibuster. The measure subsequently passed, 65 to 31. Sens. John Ensign (R) of Nevada and Richard Burr (R) of North Carolina also joined Democrats on the final vote.
    The House passed an identical repeal on Wednesday, 250-175, sending the bill to the White House. At least 60 days before the law takes effect, both the President and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have to certify that ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy won’t adversely affect military readiness or morale.
    That issue was a major theme in today’s Senate debate. The Senate Armed Services Committee held two days of hearings on the final report of a Pentagon working group that reviewed the issue. Its conclusion was that a repeal of the ban “would present a low risk to the military’s effectiveness even during a time of war,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, who chairs the panel. “Seventy percent of the surveyed members believe that the impact on their units would be positive, mixed or of no consequence,” he added, during Saturday’s floor debate. “While combat units expressed more concerns about the consequences of repeal, those concerns disappeared for troops who have worked with a gay or lesbian coworker.”… – CS Monitor, 12-18-10
  • John McCain’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Last Stand: In the end, eight Republican senators cast their votes to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces, repealing the 17-year-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.\ But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did not join them and used his time on the Senate floor Saturday to stand athwart history yelling stop.
    “Today is a very sad day,” McCain announced, detailing his continuing opposition to allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to be open about their sexuality. “There will be high-fives over all the liberal bastions of America,” he predicted, from “the elite schools that bar military recruiters from campus” to “the salons of Georgetown” and the “talk shows” where people — “most of whom have never have served in the military” — will crow over the law’s repeal.
    Allowing gays to serve openly in the Marines would prove a potentially deadly distraction McCain said, quoting from a Marine Corps Commandant warning, “and I don’t want to permit that opportunity to happen.”…. – The Atlantic, 12-18-10
  • White House unveils science integrity policy: The White House released a long-awaited federal scientific integrity policy on Friday, which says, “political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings.” President Barack Obama talks with Erika DeBenedictis, 18, a student at Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico, during an unscheduled tour of auxiliary exhibits in the East Garden Room of the White House following the White House Science Fair, Oct. 18, 2010. DeBenedictis won the top award in the Intel Science Talent Search for developing a software navigation system to improve spacecraft travel through the solar system.
    Released by Office of Science and Technology Policy chief John Holdren, the four-page guidance to federal agencies and departments gives them 120 days to report on their implementation of policies. President Obama called for the science integrity rules in March of 2009, following years of disputes over political interference with scientists at NASA, FDA, the Fish and Wildlife Service and elsewhere in the executive branch during the Bush Administration.
    “The new memorandum describes the minimum standards expected as departments and agencies craft scientific integrity rules appropriate for their particular missions and cultures, including a clear prohibition on political interference in scientific processes and expanded assurances of transparency,” Holdren writes on a White House blog. The guidance lists principles for scientific integrity standards, public communication, federal advisory committee membership, scholarly development and implementation of the guidance. “Scientific progress depends upon honest investigation, open discussion, refined understanding, and a firm commitment to evidence,” Holdren says…. – USA Today, 12-18-10
  • Senate Blocks Bill for Young Illegal Immigrants: The Senate on Saturday blocked a bill that would have created a path to citizenship for certain young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, completed two years of college or military service and met other requirements, including passing a criminal background check. The vote by 55-41 in favor of the bill, which is known as the Dream Act, effectively kills it for this year, and its fate is uncertain. The measure needed the support of 60 senators to cut off a filibuster and bring it to the floor. Supporters said they were heartened that the measure won the backing of a majority of the Senate. They said they would continue to press for it, either on its own or as part of a wide immigration overhaul that some Democrats hope to undertake next year and believe could be an area of cooperation with Republicans, who will control a majority in the House…. – NYT, 12-18-10
  • Republicans Prepare for Looming Budget Battle: The collapse of a government-wide spending package in the final days of this Congressional session sets up a politically charged fiscal showdown early next year, testing the determination of Republicans about to take over the House with promises to slash an array of domestic programs. Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio vowed Friday that Republicans would continue to focus on cutting spending. President Obama signing the $858 billion tax and unemployment insurance bill into law. As Congress struggled to assemble a stopgap measure to finance the government at least into the first months of 2011, House and Senate Republicans on Friday hailed their ability to derail a $1.2 trillion spending measure put forward by Senate Democrats, and promised to use their new Congressional muscle to respond to public demands to shrink government.
    “Beginning in January, the House is going to become the outpost in Washington for the American people and their desire for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government,” said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the incoming House speaker. “I will tell you,” he added, “we are going to cut spending.” With the lame-duck session entering its final days, there was an air of partisan chaos on Capitol Hill as both parties scored important legislative victories and events changed on an almost hour-to-hour basis as the end of Democratic control of the House approached….. – NYT, 12-18-10
  • Napolitano confirms gang killed border agent in battle: An elite Border Patrol squad was pursuing a gang that preyed on drug smugglers when agent Brian Terry was shot and killed Tuesday night, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday. “They were seeking to apprehend what’s called a ‘rip crew,’ which is a name given to a crew that it is organized to seek to rip off people who are drug mules or traversing the border illegally,” she said during a meeting with The Arizona Republic’s editorial board. “That’s why they were in that area.” Her comments were the first official confirmation that Terry and other members of the Border Patrol’s specially trained tactical unit known as BORTAC were pursuing bandits the night the 40-year-old agent was killed in a gunbattle, which occurred in a remote canyon near Rio Rico…. – USA Today, 12-18-10
  • Could Lame Duck Be a Big Win for Obama Agenda?: Is President Obama on the verge of one of his most productive months in office? Far from being the legislative wasteland that some had predicted, this year’s Congressional lame-duck session has developed into an intense, make-or-break series of cliffhanger events for the president and his soon-to-expire Democratic majority in the House. “There’s a clean slate coming starting Jan. 1, when Republicans are back in control. They are going to start judging then.” — Kevin Madden, Republican strategist
    Mr. Obama is now on the knife’s edge; the hours and days ahead could go either way for him. But the president is concluding 2010 by directly confronting issues that have come to define the sweep of his presidency – the economy, foreign engagement and questions of social justice.
    In the early hours of Friday morning, the president won passage of the $858 billion tax deal he reached with Republicans and he appeared close to achieving approval of the landmark nuclear treaty he negotiated with the Russians. Both political parties have grudgingly agreed to do whatever is necessary to keep the federal government operating by approving an extension of the current budget authority into early next year.
    And in something of a surprise, it appears there may be enough Republican support to provide Mr. Obama with a victory on a major promise: to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bars gay people from serving openly in the armed forces.
    “This might turn out to be a very good month for the president,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for Human Rights Campaign, which backs repeal. “Getting rid of D.A.D.T. is important not just to the gay community but to progressives as a whole. If he’s able to get this done, I think it will send an important message that he’s still got his progressive creds.’”…. – NYT, 12-17-10
  • Obama signs tax-cut legislation: ‘This is real money that is going to make a real difference in peoples’ lives,’ Obama says as he signs the measure, which extends the Bush-era tax cuts.
    President Obama on Friday signed the bill that extends the George W. Bush-era tax cuts, while Congress moved to wind up its lame-duck deliberations in a session marked by the changing nature of politics and power.
    Speaking at the signing ceremony, Obama again defended his compromise, worked out with Republicans. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was prominent at the ceremony, as was Vice President Joe Biden, who bargained with the Republican leader
    “This is real money that is going to make a real difference in peoples’ lives,” Obama said. Without the bill, the tax cuts would have expired at the end of the year.
    The measure won final approval in the House late Thursday night. In addition to extending the tax cuts for two years, the bill adds 13 months of jobless benefits and cuts the payroll tax by 2 percentage points for a year….. – LAT, 12-17-10
  • Obama Signs Tax Deal, Hails Bipartisan Effort to Grow Jobs President: ‘It’s A Good Deal for the American People’: President Obama today signed into law an agreement to extend Bush-era tax cuts into 2011, ending with the stroke of his pen a bitter schism in his own party and heading off what could have been a major standoff with Republicans. The president hailed the bipartisan effort, acknowledging that both parties compromised on the deal by extending both tax cuts for the wealthy and benefits for the unemployed.
    “It’s a good deal for the American people. This is progress and that’s what they sent us here to achieve,” Obama said before an assembled group of lawmakers from both parties. The bill, he said, “would protect our middle class, grow our economy and create jobs.” Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle “did what was right for the country,” despite what he called “occasional political discomfort” from partisans who thought the deal made too many concessions to one party or the other….
    “By a wide bipartisan margin, both houses of Congress have now passed a package of tax relief that will protect the middle class, that will grow our economy, and will create jobs for the American people,” the president said…. – ABC News, 12-16-10
  • When out walking Bo, Obama says he scoops the poop: He may be leader of the free world, but when he takes his dog for a walk, President Obama says he bends down to do the nasty work of cleaning up like anyone else. Answering questions Friday from youngsters at an elementary school, Obama described going for nighttime walks with first dog Bo on the White House South Lawn. He says that’s fun. But, Obama says, “Sometimes I have to scoop up his poop, because I don’t want to just leave it in the lawn!”
    The response from the kids: “Eeew!” Obama admonished them: “If you guys have a dog, you’ve got to walk your dog, too — and clean up after him.”…. –
  • House puts Obama tax deal on ice — for now: The bill to temporarily extend tax cuts and jobless benefits is on ice — for now — in the House. House Democratic leaders have pulled the rules for debate, which first have to get approved before lawmakers can take up the tax legislation. A party caucus meeting is set for this afternoon. Many liberals in the Democratic caucus are upset at the bill’s provision on estate taxes and want to amend the measure and send it back to the Senate. The problem is that Democrats would have to vote on the Senate-passed bill if they want to change the estate tax provision. The deal worked out by President Obama and congressional Republicans would extend for two years tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 for all income levels. Liberals such as Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., are upset that the extension includes families earing more than $250,000…. – USA Today, 12-16-10
  • What the Tax Deal Means to Your Wallet: The pressure is off — at least for now. With the Bush-era tax cuts extended for all Americans for at least the next two years under the law signed today by President Obama, government leaders have managed to postpone some tough decisions to be made surrounding the U.S. tax code until 2012.
    The law has been labeled “compromise” legislation, and for good reason. In exchange for the tax-cuts extension, Republicans agreed to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. They also agreed to give a one-year tax break to workers, giving those who make approximately $40,000 annually an additional $800 in their pockets throughout the course of 2011.
    So what can the average taxpayer expect in the year to come? According to experts, more of the same. Here are some of the key things you should know regarding the new law, and what it means for your tax preparation in the year ahead and beyond…
    The law affects more than just 2011….
    The most immediate benefit will be a 2% payroll tax cut…. Payroll taxes will drop, and it is on your employer to act ASAP….
    Tax preparation sites are up to speed….
    Wealth transfer provisions are on target….. – Fox Business, 12-17-10
  • House urges Obama to block unilateral Palestinian statehood: The U.S. House of Representatives called on President Obama to veto any United Nations Security Council resolution recognizing a Palestinian state.
    The non-binding resolution passed unanimously Wednesday evening calls on the Obama administration to “affirm that the United States would deny recognition to any unilaterally declared Palestinian state and veto any resolution by the United Nations Security Council to establish or recognize a Palestinian state outside of an agreement negotiated by the two parties.” The resolution also affirms “strong support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in two states, a democratic, Jewish state of Israel and a viable, democratic Palestinian state, living side-by- side in peace, security, and mutual recognition.”
    White House officials have said that they are working to push back a Palestinian Authority effort to garner international recognition of statehood, but have stopped short of pledging to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution…. – JTA, 12-16-10
  • Obama: US will back UN on rights of native peoples: President Barack Obama said Thursday that the United States will reverse course and support a United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous people.
    Obama told Native American leaders that the declaration affirms the importance and rich cultures of Native peoples throughout the world. The U.S. voted against the declaration when the General Assembly adopted it in 2007, arguing that it was incompatible with existing laws. Three other countries, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, also opposed the declaration, but have since announced their support.
    The declaration protects the rights of more than 370 million native peoples worldwide, affirming their equality and ability to maintain their own institutions, cultures and spiritual traditions. It also establishes standards to combat discrimination and marginalization and eliminate human rights violations against them.
    “We’re making progress. We’re moving forward. And what I hope is that we are seeing a turning point in the relationship between our nations,” Obama told a conference of tribal nations attended by more than 500 people representing more than 320 tribes…. – AP, 12-16-10
  • Senate Passes Compromise Tax Plan by Wide Margin: The Senate on Wednesday approved the $858 billion tax plan negotiated by the White House and Republican leaders — the first concrete product of a new era of divided government and acid compromise. The vote was 81 to 19, as Democrats yielded in their long push to end the Bush-era lowered tax rates for high-income taxpayers, and Republicans agreed to back a huge economic stimulus package, including an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and a one-year payroll-tax cut for most workers, with the entire cost added to the federal deficit.
    The bill goes next to the House, where Democratic leaders said they expected to bring the bill to the floor on Thursday. They predicted that it would be approved this week, despite lingering opposition among rank-and-file Democrats who are still intent on making changes to a provision that grants a generous tax exemption to wealthy estates. Republicans have said they will not accept any change.
    “A tremendous accomplishment,” the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, declared shortly before the vote on Wednesday. “Whether you agree with all the contents of the bill or not, everyone should understand this is one of the major accomplishments of any Congress where two parties, ideologically divided, have agreed on a major issue for the American people.”
    The two-year tax measure will touch virtually every American — poor and rich, old and young, married or single, with children or living alone, and even those who die. And, with a reprise of this year’s contentious debate now slated for the height of the 2012 presidential campaign, the bill is likely to be a precursor to a broader effort by President Obama to overhaul the nation’s labyrinthine tax code and begin tackling the long-term deficit…. – NYT, 12-15-10
  • Dems fight over 3 percent of the tax deal: Congressional Democrats are making noise over the estate tax cuts, though they’re only 3 percent of the total cuts. These cuts are deep and deficit-funded, but so is the rest of the agreement. The Senate is about to pass the full tax cut “compromise,” but House Democrats are trying to hold out for a more fiscally responsible option. The strong Senate vote also appeared to have weakened resolve among House Democrats to block the measure when it comes to the floor this week. After meeting for two hours with rank-and-file lawmakers late Tuesday, senior Democrats said the House is likely to stage votes to change the terms of a revived estate tax that many Democrats view as overly generous to the wealthy. Outraged by the agreement to exempt individual estates worth as much as $5 million from taxation, senior Democrats said they would press to lower the threshold to $3.5 million. They also want to impose a stiffer tax on larger estates, by setting the rate at 45 percent rather than the 35 percent demanded by Republicans and agreed to by Obama….. – CS Monitor, 12-15-10
  • Executives Look for Place on the Obama Team: Terry McGraw, the chairman and chief executive officer of the McGraw-Hill Companies, said he had been “very pleasantly surprised” by President Obama’s recent efforts to promote the interests of American business. But Mr. Obama could do better, he added, if he had a high-powered adviser with more of a business bent in the White House.
    “You’ve got to strengthen the team,” Mr. McGraw said in an interview on Tuesday. “You’ve got to get some gravitas.” Nearly halfway through Mr. Obama’s term, the dearth of business and Wall Street types in his administration rankles many executives, if only as a proxy for their unhappiness with his policies and occasional antibusiness political speech. And the White House has struggled to find such a person to fill the one spot about to open in Mr. Obama’s inner circle, the director of the National Economic Council, the job being vacated this month by Lawrence H. Summers.
    The president’s uneasy and somewhat distant relationship with the worlds of business and finance will hang over his meeting on Wednesday with the chiefs of about 20 corporations, among them Google, American Express, UPS and Intel. While Mr. Obama has held such roundtables in the past, this one is part of a new effort by the administration to build closer ties over the next two years, officials say. Relations have improved since the big Republican gains in the midterm elections: Mr. Obama has concluded a free-trade agreement with South Korea, negotiated a tax-cut package with Congressional Republicans and delayed antipollution emissions regulations, all steps applauded by business constituencies…. – NYT, 12-15-10
  • Govt sues BP, 8 other companies in Gulf oil spill: The Justice Department on Wednesday sued BP and eight other companies in the Gulf oil spill disaster in an effort to recover billions of dollars from the largest offshore spill in U.S. history. The Obama administration’s lawsuit asks that the companies be held liable without limitation under the Oil Pollution Act for all removal costs and damages caused by the oil spill, including damages to natural resources. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties under the Clean Water Act.
    “We intend to prove these violations caused or contributed to the massive oil spill,” Attorney General Eric Holder told a news conference. The amount of damages and the extent of injuries sustained by the United States as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Spill are not yet fully known, the lawsuit states…. – AP, 12-15-10
  • Don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal goes to Senate again. Has anything changed?: Last week, Senate Republicans blocked a repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Now the House has passed the repeal in a different form. But the result in the Senate could be the same.
    The House today passed a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gays from serving openly in the military, but it’s not clear that the Senate can muster the time or political will to move it to the floor before the end of the 111th Congress.
    Only last week, Senate Republicans blocked a bid to repeal of the Clinton-era ban as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill. Democrats fell three votes short of the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster. The House has now decoupled the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal from the defense authorization bill in the hopes that the repeal might pass on its own in the Senate. House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland called the 250-to-175 vote for repeal “a very strong statement that it is time to move forward.”…. – CS Monitor, 12-15-10
  • US House votes to lift military gay ban: The US House of Representatives voted to end the US military ban on gays serving openly, leaving it to the Senate to seize what backers of repeal say may be their last chance for years. US President Barack Obama, in a statement shortly after the vote, called ending the prohibition “the right thing to do” and said all those who risk their lives for their country must be “treated fairly and equally.”
    By a 250-175 margin, the House approved a stand-alone bill to scrap the 1993 policy, popularly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” that requires gays to keep quiet about their sexual orientation or face dismissal.
    “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ doesn’t contribute to our national security and it contravenes our American values,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, charging the policy had led to the ouster of 13,000 US troops. “Fighter pilots, infantry officers, Arabic translators and other specialists have been discharged at a time when our nation is fighting two wars,” in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said on the floor of the House…. – AFP, 12-15-10
  • Obama review cements troop withdrawal, challenges: President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan war review will conclude the United States has made enough security gains to begin withdrawing troops in July, but the findings will also emphasize lasting troubles, from Afghanistan’s ability to serve its people to Pakistani havens for extremists.
    In a detailed preview of statements Obama will make Thursday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the yearlong review of Obama’s war plan will, essentially, offer no surprise. The president plans to stick with his pledge to start drawing home troops next summer after ordering one year ago that 30,000 more troops be sent to Afghanistan to blunt the Taliban’s momentum. The goal of coalition forces is to shift control to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.
    A summary of the classified war report is expected to be released Thursday, when Obama will speak about the effort from the White House…. – AP, 12-14-10
  • Lifting gay ban could endanger US Marines: general: The chief of the US Marine Corps said Tuesday that ending a ban on openly gay troops in the military could jeopardize the lives of Marines in combat by undermining closely knit units. General James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps and an opponent of lifting the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prohibition, cited a Pentagon study saying Marines fighting in Afghanistan were worried that permitting gays to serve openly could disrupt “unit cohesion.”
    “When your life hangs on a line, on the intuitive behavior of the young man … who sits to your right and your left, you don’t want anything distracting you,” Amos told reporters at the Pentagon. “I don’t want to lose any Marines to distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda (hospital) with no legs,” he said.
    He added that “mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines’ lives. That’s the currency of this fight.” His comments were the toughest yet on the issue, after he testified at a congressional hearing that he opposed lifting the ban in a time of war. Amos said Marines in combat in Afghanistan sent a “very strong message” in the Pentagon’s study released earlier this month, expressing opposition to repealing the ban in a survey. “I have to listen to that,” he said…. – AP, 12-14-10
  • Veteran U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke dies in Washington hospital, according to the Associated Press: Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, died in Washington Monday after undergoing surgery to repair a tear in his aorta, according to the Associated Press. He was 69.
  • Diplomat Richard Holbrooke dies at 69: President Obama’s emissary to Afghanistan and Pakistan began his career as a junior Foreign Service officer during the Vietnam War.
    Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s emissary to Afghanistan and Pakistan and one of the most celebrated American diplomats of the last half-century, died Monday. He was 69.
    Holbrooke died at George Washington University Hospital, where he had undergone surgery after doctors discovered a tear in his aorta on Friday.
    Holbrooke, who began his career as a junior Foreign Service officer in the Vietnam War and ended it helping lead the battle to overcome militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, shaped the narrative of U.S. diplomacy as an advisor to presidents, secretaries of State and Democratic presidential candidates.
    A 6-foot-2, barrel-chested man, he was renowned for his ruthless negotiating style, which earned him such nicknames as “The Bulldozer” and “Raging Bull.” His most important achievement came in 1995 when he intimidated Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic and brokered the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian War.
    Holbrooke served every Democratic president since John F. Kennedy, and was a contender to be secretary of State for two decades, though he never accomplished the goal. But he was the only person to be assistant secretary of State for two regions — East Asia and Europe — and was also U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as well as ambassador to Germany.
    In adding him to his administration two days after his inauguration, President Obama praised Holbrooke as “one of the most talented diplomats of his generation.”…. – LAT, 12-13-10
  • In region he oversaw, a mixed review for Holbrooke: In Kabul, he was seen as out of touch and too combative to forge a partnership with Afghan leaders. But in Islamabad, he is called a seasoned envoy who tried to strengthen U.S. ties with Pakistan.
    Richard C. Holbrooke is being praised in the United States after his death as a giant of diplomacy, but in South Asia, the turbulent region that constituted his last assignment, his legacy received mixed reviews. In Kabul, he was regarded as out of touch with the society and too combative to forge a meaningful partnership with Afghanistan’s leadership. But in Islamabad, Pakistan, he was lauded as a seasoned envoy who earnestly tried to strengthen Washington’s fragile alliance with the country…. – LAT, 12-14-10
  • Tax-Cut Package Passes Crucial Test in Senate: With robust bipartisan support, the Senate on Monday advanced the tax-cut package negotiated by President Obama and Congressional Republicans, increasing pressure on House Democrats to set aside their opposition.
    The vote, to cut off debate and end any filibuster, assured that the Senate would approve the $858 billion package on Tuesday and send it to the House, where Democrats are still demanding changes to a provision granting a generous tax exemption to wealthy estates.
    The Senate vote was 83 to 15, with 45 Democrats and 37 Republicans in favor. Opposed were nine Democrats, five Republicans and Senator Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont…. – NYT, 12-13-10
  • Has Obama won the tax cut staredown of 2010?: Both the left and right are mad about the tax-cut bill. Does that mean President Obama will benefit from appearing to stand at the center of American politics?
    The tax-cut bill agreed to by President Obama and congressional Republicans should start to move through Congress this week. Many D.C. vote-counters think it’s likely the legislation will eventually pass, but liberals still don’t like it. Many Democrats remain unhappy over its continuation of tax breaks for the wealthy.
    There has been “much consternation” among Democratic House members about parts of the bill, said House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland on Monday at the National Press Club.
    That said, there is grumbling about the effort on the right as well. Some in the GOP think Republican leaders gave away too much to get an across-the-board Bush tax cut extension.
    Both the left and right are mad. Does that mean Mr. Obama will benefit from appearing to stand at the center of American politics?… – CS Monitor, 12-13-10
  • Obama signs anti-hunger, anti-obesity school lunch bill: US President Barack Obama on Monday signed into law a bill that will fight childhood hunger and bolster his wife’s project to roll back obesity in kids by making school meals healthier.
    “Right now, across the country, too many children don’t have access to school meals and often the food that’s being offered isn’t as healthy as it should be,” Obama said at a signing ceremony for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act at an elementary school in Washington.
    The new law would help reverse the worrying trend of doctors diagnosing what used to be considered adult conditions — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes — in increasingly fatter American children, and would do so “without adding a dime to the deficit,” Obama said.
    The new law, which pledges 4.5 billion dollars over 10 years to child nutrition programs, will give thousands more US children access to school meals and allow the Department of Agriculture to set nutrition guidelines for food sold in schools, including in vending machines. It comes at a time when 17 million US children live in households that have to sometimes skip meals to make ends meet, and one in three US kids is obese or overweight.
    Childhood hunger and obesity were “two sides of the same coin,” Michelle Obama said at the signing ceremony. AP, 12-13-10

111TH & 112TH CONGRESS

The President signs the tax cut compromise

  • With era ending, Patrick Kennedy embraces new opportunities: Representative Patrick Kennedy stepped carefully around a clutter of half-packed cardboard boxes, overstuffed luggage, and several open bags of potato chips at his Capitol Hill apartment. It seemed more like a scene of a college student heading home than the end of a 64-year political legacy. But Kennedy’s upcoming retirement will break a bond between the nation’s capital and Camelot. When the new House is seated in January, it will mark the first time since 1947 — the year a 29-year-old John F. Kennedy was sworn in as a Massachusetts congressman — that no member of the Kennedy family will be serving in the House, Senate, or White House.
    The House is scheduled to end its session today, but late bills may delay the wrapup. Patrick Kennedy, 43, an eight-term Democrat from Rhode Island and the son of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, is bracing for entry into a world he has never known, away from the public spotlight.
    “I feel liberated to try to live a life as foreign to me as anything — a life outside of politics,” Kennedy said in an interview. “I’m actually for the first time in my life venturing out on my own. This is unfamiliar territory.”… – Boston Globe, 12-17-10
  • Key senator: ‘We’ve got the votes’ to repeal ‘don’t ask’: A leading Senate force behind repeal of the ban on gay people serving openly in the military says there are the votes to pass the measure. The Senate will vote Saturday on a procedural move to break a logjam on a bill to overturn the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that has been in place since 1993. The Pentagon was taking steps Friday to implement repeal. “We’ve got the votes. It’s time to get it done,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. Lieberman’s comments came in an interview with CNN’s John King, which will air Friday night.
    The senator said there are more than 60 votes for the procedural move, which would signal the bill would easily pass when it comes up for a separate vote. Final passage could occur as early as Saturday, if senators agree to move ahead with debate.
    Lieberman told CNN that repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” would be remembered as a historic civil rights achievement. “This will allow gay and lesbian Americans to be called … what they want to be called, which is Americans — not gays or lesbians — who want to serve our country,” Lieberman said…. – USA Today, 12-17-10
  • Senate plans showdown votes Saturday on 2 big issues: The Senate plans crucial votes Saturday on two of the year’s most incendiary political issues: repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays and lesbians and revamping immigration laws to help put children of illegal aliens on a path to citizenship.
    Opponents have blocked both measures for months. The Senate will try to cut off debate on each bill, a maneuver that requires the votes of 60 of the 100 senators. Should either bill fail to get 60, it’s dead, probably for years to come, since Republicans will control the House of Representatives for two years starting next month. Both measures were campaign promises of President Barack Obama, and neither is expected to get many GOP votes.
    Many Republicans were outraged that the votes were even being taken. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., protested that the action is “clearly in keeping with the other side’s political agenda.”
    The “don’t ask, don’t tell” bill is the better bet to move ahead. The House of Representatives passed the measure Wednesday by a largely partisan 250-175 vote. The bill’s Senate co-sponsor, Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said he was confident he had the votes to end debate and move to a final vote, since at least three Republicans are expected to join virtually all the Senate’s 56 Democrats and two independents who support it. A previous Senate effort to end debate on the question failed, but this is a new version of the legislation and three Republicans say they’re ready to back it now.
    The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, aimed at changing immigration law, faces more opposition. The bill would allow illegal immigrants younger than 30 who entered the U.S. before age 16, lived here for five years without committing serious crimes, graduated from high school and attended college or joined the military to be eligible for legal residency after meeting other criteria. A study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the act would help 300,000 to 500,000 undocumented immigrants….. – McClatchy Newspapers, 12-17-10
  • Rep. Dennis Kucinich drops Oversight Committee bid: Cleveland Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich is dropping his bid to be top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and will support the candidacy of Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings. The committee’s current chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York, announced today that he won’t seek the committee’s top Democratic job when Republicans take over Congress next year. Cummings and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York are now vying for the spot. Kucinich says Cummings would provide a strong Democratic counterpoint to the next GOP chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa. Although Issa represents California in Congress, he happens to be a native Clevelander. Kucinich said Issa will likely make “unsubstantiated charges” against the Obama administration that will need to be challenged.
    “My bid has never been about my own personal advancement,” Kucinich said in a press statement. “It has been about protecting the oversight process from abuse. Mr. Cummings is well prepared for the challenge. Tomorrow, I will recommend to the Steering and Policy Committee and to the Democratic Caucus that they choose Mr. Cummings as Ranking Member.” – The Plain Dealer, 12-14-10
  • Dreaming of a Post-Christmas Congress: The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said on Tuesday that Democrats were not prepared to give up any of their priorities and would work as long as it takes – right up until the end of the 111th Congress on Jan. 4 – to deal with their punch list of major items: the tax package; the New START arms control treaty with Russia; a huge spending bill; a bill to authorize repeal of the military’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy; and an immigration measure that would create a path to citizenship for certain illegal immigrants brought to the United States as young children.
    “I hate to report all this to you,” Mr. Reid told reporters at a news conference at the Capitol, “but you know, there’s still Congress after Christmas. So if the Republicans think that they can stall and stall and stall that we take a break, we’re through, we’re not through. Congress ends on January 4th. So we’re going to continue working on this stuff until we get it done, or we have up-and-down votes and find that it can’t happen that way.”… – NYT, 12-14-10
  • House Democrats to Make Final Push on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’: House Democratic leaders have decided to make one last push to repeal the military’s ban on gays serving openly before the end of the lame-duck Congress.
    Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the House majority leader, said he and Representative Patrick Murphy, Democrat of Pennsylvania, would bring a standalone repeal of the ban to the floor as early as Wednesday. The House move comes in response to the Senate’s failure last week to break a Republican filibuster against a broader Pentagon measure that would have lifted the ban.
    Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Independent of Connecticut, urged Senate leaders to try to pass a separate measure ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule, untangling the issue from the broader military policy measure.
    “I look forward to bringing this bill to the House floor soon, and I hope the Senate will swiftly take action as well so that the bill can be signed into law as soon as possible,” Mr. Hoyer said Tuesday. “This discriminatory and harmful policy has weakened America’s security by depriving us of the work of tens of thousands of gay and lesbian troops who have served their country honorably. And it has severely compromised our armed forces’ core value of integrity…. – NYT, 12-14-10

ELECTIONS 2010, 2012….

  • Getting a Head Start on the 2012 Presidential-Debate Drinking Games: With the notable exception of Barack Obama, not a single politician has publicly confirmed his or her intentions to run for president in 2012. As the home page of Politico will insist day after day after day, this does not mean that the 2012 presidential race is not already well underway. To wit: so far there are five scheduled debates: ABC News and WMUR-TV’s Republican-primary debate in New Hampshire, the CNN–WMUR-TV–New Hampshire Union Leader primary debate, NBC News and Politico’s Republican-primary debate at the Reagan Presidential Library, Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party’s debate, and, as of today, the widely necessary CNN/Tea Party Express debate. “The Tea Party movement is a fascinating, diverse, grassroots force,” deadpanned Sam Feist, CNN’s political director. He added, “Undecided voters turn to CNN to educate themselves during election cycles, so it is a natural fit for CNN to provide a platform for the diverse perspectives within the Republican Party, including those of the Tea Party.” Tampa, Florida, the global cradle of the hard-core death-metal persuasion, will host the debate, as well as the cycle’s Republican National Convention…. – Vanity Fair, 12-17-10
  • CNN and Tea Party team up for debate: CNN and the Tea Party Express (a political action committee) are teaming up to co-host a presidential primary debate for the 2012 Republican contenders. The showdown will take in Tampa, Fla. around Labor Day in 2011.
    “If you’re producing a debate that is for Republican candidates that is intended to try and raise issues important to Republican primary voters – you would be remiss in not thinking about the Tea Party,” CNN Political Director Sam Feist told MediaBiz today.
    Feist said news organizations “regularly partner” with groups that are part of a political party’s coalition and he pointed out that CNN partnered with the Congressional Black Caucus in 2008 for a debate.
    “We have all sponsored debates with Republican state party organizations. Primary debates are for primary voters. Primary voters are Republican voters, and the Tea Party is a big part of the Republican coalition,” Feist said. Feist added that it’s “not at all unusual” for debates to be sponsored with groups that have political agendas.
    “In this case, they have an agenda that is of particular interest to Republican voters and because this is a Republican primary, we thought it would be the right group to partner with,” Feist said…. – Boston Herald, 12-17-10
  • As Republicans’ Power Grows, So Do Rifts: What do Republicans stand for? As the first half of President Obama?s term comes to a close, three political realities are forcing Republicans to confront that question more directly, and producing interesting conflicts along the way. The first reality is the assumption of power by Republicans in the House next year. After two years of being a political minority in Congress, the party’s lawmakers are showing signs of the disagreement that comes with the responsibility to lead. The second reality is the presidential campaign that begins in earnest for Republicans as soon as Washington returns from the holidays next month. The search for a challenger to Mr. Obama is designed to highlight the differences among Republicans, and it’s already beginning to do so…. – NYT, 12-15-10
  • Fox News, CNN Announce Dates Of First Presidential Debates: On Monday, CNN announced that it will host a Republican debate in New Hampshire on June 7, in collaboration with the Manchester Union-Leader and television station WMUR. It will be the first debate of the 2012 cycle to take place in the pivotal state.
    On Wednesday, Fox News announced that it will host two Republican debates in South Carolina. The first will take place on May 5, 2011, and the second will take place sometime in 2012.
    ABC and NBC News also announced debates this week. ABC said this Wednesday that it will host a debate in early 2012, between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
    NBC News will host the first debate of the overall cycle. It will take place in the spring of 2011 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. – Huff Post, 12-15-10
  • Tax Deal Is Shaping 2012 GOP Campaign: The tax deal now before Congress has kicked off the first real debate of the 2012 Republican presidential campaign, with several prospective candidates heralding the package as a victory for taxpayers and others criticizing it as a costly stimulus bill in disguise.
    Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have both come out sharply against the measure, which President Barack Obama hammered out last week with Senate Republican leaders. Both cite the deal’s price tag, with Mr. Romney saying it will heap billions more onto the nation’s debt load. Supporting the package are former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, all of whom praise the deal as good for the economy and the only way to spare Americans the jolt of a sudden tax increase that otherwise would take effect on Jan. 1.
    The debate suggests an early line of cleavage among the potential 2012 Republican aspirants on the key issues of taxes and government spending.
    The tax package was expected to win final passage in the Senate Tuesday night or Wednesday and advance to the House, which could take it up as early as Wednesday afternoon.
    In opposing the deal, Ms. Palin and Mr. Romney are aligning themselves with several large tea-party groups that see the tax deal as a betrayal of the Republican Party’s pledge during the last election to slash spending and attack the deficit. By opposing their party’s own leaders in Congress, who negotiated the package with Mr. Obama, the two also appear intent on shoring up their outsider, anti-Washington credentials…. – WSJ, 12-14-10
  • Bloomberg for president? Nolabels.org could be just the vehicle: New York’s mayor is says he is not – ‘no way, no how’ – running for president. But his role in the nonpartisan political movement Nolabels.org raises speculation…. – CS Monitor, 12-13-10
  • GOP National Chairman Michael Steele to run again: Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says he will run for a second term. The news was posted on the Twitter account of Saul Anuzis, a former Michigan GOP party chairman who is among several candidates seeking to oust Steele. The RNC will pick its chairman next month.
    Steele outlined his record during a conference call tonight with the 168-member committee. “I’m asking tonight for your support, I’m asking for another term,” Steele said, according to an ABC News blog post…. – USA Today, 12-13-10

QUOTES

President Obama speaks on the Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review

  • The President on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010: “An Historic Step”: Today, the Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend. By ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.
    As Commander-in-Chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known. And I join the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the overwhelming majority of service members asked by the Pentagon, in knowing that we can responsibly transition to a new policy while ensuring our military strength and readiness.
    I want to thank Majority Leader Reid, Senators Lieberman and Collins and the countless others who have worked so hard to get this done. It is time to close this chapter in our history. It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly. I urge the Senate to send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law. – WH, 12-18-10
  • Weekly Address: START is About the Safety and Security of America; Not Scoring Political Points
    Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery Weekly Address The White House December 18, 2010:

    This week, Congress passed – and I signed into law – an essential economic package that will help grow our economy, spur businesses, and jumpstart job creation.
    Instead of a New Years Day tax hike on the vast majority of Americans, two million Americans who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own will now know with certainty that they won’t lose their emergency unemployment insurance at the end of the month. Eight million college students who’d otherwise face a tuition hike next semester will continue having access to the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Twelve million families with twenty-four million children will benefit from extensions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. And millions of entrepreneurs who’ve been waiting to invest in their businesses will receive new tax incentives to help them expand, buy new equipment, or make upgrades, freeing up money to hire new workers.
    This package, which is so important for our economy at this pivotal time, was the product of hard negotiations. Like any negotiations, there was give and take on both sides. But I’m heartened by our ability to come together to do what’s best for middle class families across this country, and our economy as a whole.
    Before going away for the holiday break, I’m hopeful we can also come together on another urgent national priority – and that is, the new START treaty that will reduce the world’s nuclear arsenals and make America more secure. Twenty- five years ago, the Soviet Union and United States each had about 25,000 nuclear weapons. In the decades since, that number has been reduced by over 70 percent, and we have had on-site inspections of Russian nuclear facilities. That progress would not have been possible without strategic arms control treaties….
    We have taken the time to get this right. The START treaty has now been under review by the Senate for over seven months. It’s gone through 18 hearings. Nearly 1,000 questions have been asked – and answered. Several Republican Senators have come out in support of ratification. Meanwhile, further delay comes at a cost. Every minute we drag our feet is a minute that we have no inspectors on the ground at those Russian nuclear sites.
    It’s time to get this done. It’s time to show the same spirit of common purpose on our security that we showed this week on our economy. It’s time to remember the old saying that politics stops at the water’s edge. That saying was coined by a Republican Senator, Arthur Vandenberg, who partnered with a Democratic President, Harry Truman, to pass landmark national security measures at the dawn of the Cold War. Today, over sixty years later, when we’re threatened not only by nuclear weapons, but an array of other dangers, that’s a principle we must continue to uphold. Thank you, and have a nice weekend…. – WH, 12-18-10Mp4Mp3
  • Biden Says Tax-Cut Deal Reflects Bipartisan Aims: Vice President Joseph Biden said the administration’s effort to work with Republicans on issues such as extending tax cuts shows a conscious effort by the White House to respond to the voter discontent displayed in November’s mid- term elections.
    “We understand that the message is the American public wants us to cooperate, wants us to work together,” Mr. Biden said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Americans “want us to reasonably compromise to move the business of the nation forward,” he said.
    “We got to the end, we couldn’t get it done and we had to make a decision,” Mr. Biden said. He said the tax-cut extensions were important to middle-income Americans and businesses, and so the administration wanted to preserve them. But the administration was still committed to eventually ending the tax cuts for top earners, he said.
    “The one target for us in two years is no longer extending the upper-income tax credit for millionaires and billionaires,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re coming back and going at it again.”… – WSJ, 12-19-10
  • The President Signs the Tax Cut & Unemployment Insurance Compromise: “Some Good News for the American People this Holiday Season”: First and foremost, the legislation I’m about to sign is a substantial victory for middle-class families across the country. They’re the ones hit hardest by the recession we’ve endured. They’re the ones who need relief right now. And that’s what is at the heart of this bill.
    This bipartisan effort was prompted by the fact that tax rates for every American were poised to automatically increase on January 1st. If that had come to pass, the average middle-class family would have had to pay an extra $3,000 in taxes next year. That wouldn’t have just been a blow to them — it would have been a blow to our economy just as we’re climbing out of a devastating recession.
    I refused to let that happen. And because we acted, it’s not going to. In fact, not only will middle-class Americans avoid a tax increase, but tens of millions of Americans will start the New Year off right by opening their first paycheck to see that it’s actually larger than the one they get right now. Over the course of 2011, 155 million workers will receive tax relief from the new payroll tax cut included in this bill -– about $1,000 for the average family.
    This is real money that’s going to make a real difference in people’s lives. And I would not have signed this bill if it didn’t include other extensions of relief that were also set to expire -– relief that’s going to help families cover the bills, parents raise their children, students pay for college, and business owners to take the reins of the recovery and propel this economy forward.
    As soon as I sign this legislation, 2 million Americans looking for work who lost their jobs through no fault of their own can know with certainty that they won’t lose their emergency unemployment insurance at the end of this month. Over the past few weeks, 600,000 Americans have been cut off from that lifeline. But with my signature, states can move quickly to reinstate their benefits –- and we expect that in almost all states, they’ll get them in time for Christmas.
    Eight million college students who otherwise would have faced a tuition hike as soon as next semester will instead continue to have access to a $2,500 tax credit to afford their studies.
    Twelve million families with 24 million children will benefit from extensions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. And when combined with the payroll tax cut, 2 million American families who otherwise would have lived in poverty next year will instead be lifted out of it. (Applause.)
    And millions of entrepreneurs who have been waiting to invest in their businesses will receive new tax incentives to help them expand, buy new equipment, or make upgrades — freeing up other money to hire new workers.
    Putting more money in the pockets of families most likely to spend it, helping businesses invest and grow — that’s how we’re going to spark demand, spur hiring, and strengthen our economy in the New Year. WH, 12-17-10Mp4Mp3
  • President Obama on the Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review: “A Very Difficult Endeavor” but “Significant Progress”: I want to be clear. This continues to be a very difficult endeavor. But I can report that thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.
    It’s important to remember why we remain in Afghanistan. It was Afghanistan where al Qaeda plotted the 9/11 attacks that murdered 3,000 innocent people. It is the tribal regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border from which terrorists have launched more attacks against our homeland and our allies. And if an even wider insurgency were to engulf Afghanistan, that would give al Qaeda even more space to plan these attacks.
    And that’s why, from the start, I’ve been very clear about our core goal. It’s not to defeat every last threat to the security of Afghanistan, because, ultimately, it is Afghans who must secure their country. And it’s not nation-building, because it is Afghans who must build their nation. Rather, we are focused on disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and preventing its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.
    In pursuit of our core goal we are seeing significant progress. Today, al Qaeda’s senior leadership in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is under more pressure than at any point since they fled Afghanistan nine years ago. Senior leaders have been killed. It’s harder for them to recruit; it’s harder for them to travel; it’s harder for them to train; it’s harder for them to plot and launch attacks. In short, al Qaeda is hunkered down. It will take time to ultimately defeat al Qaeda, and it remains a ruthless and resilient enemy bent on attacking our country. But make no mistake — we are going to remain relentless in disrupting and dismantling that terrorist organization.
    In Afghanistan, we remain focused on the three areas of our strategy: our military effort to break the Taliban’s momentum and train Afghan forces so they can take the lead; our civilian effort to promote effective governance and development; and regional cooperation, especially with Pakistan, because our strategy has to succeed on both sides of the border.
    Indeed, for the first time in years, we’ve put in place the strategy and the resources that our efforts in Afghanistan demand. And because we’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq, and brought home nearly 100,000 of our troops from Iraq, we’re in a better position to give our forces in Afghanistan the support and equipment they need to achieve their missions. And our drawdown in Iraq also means that today there are tens of thousands fewer Americans deployed in harm’s way than when I took office. With those additional forces in Afghanistan, we are making considerable gains toward our military objectives. The additional military and civilian personnel that I ordered in Afghanistan are now in place, along with additional forces from our coalition, which has grown to 49 nations. Along with our Afghan partners, we’ve gone on the offensive, targeting the Taliban and its leaders and pushing them out of their strongholds….
    We’re going to have to continue to stand up. We’ll continue to give our brave troops and civilians the strategy and resources they need to succeed. We will never waver from our goal of disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately defeating al Qaeda. We will forge enduring partnerships with people who are committed to progress and to peace. And we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure the security and the safety of the American people. – WH, 12-16-10Mp4Mp3
  • Obama: Significant Progress In Fighting al-Qaida, Taliban: President Barack Obama says the U.S.-led coalition is making progress in fighting al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The president talked with reporters Thursday about his administration’s annual review of its policy in the region.
    “This continues to be a very difficult endeavor,” said President Obama. “But I can report that, thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.”
    “Senior leaders have been killed,” said Obama. “It is harder for them to recruit. It is harder for them to travel. It is harder for them to train. It is harder for them to plot and launch attacks. In short, al-Qaida is hunkered down.”
    “In many places, the gains we have made are still fragile and reversible,” he said. “But there is no question we are clearing more areas from Taliban control, and more Afghans are reclaiming their communities.”
    “Now, our review confirms, however, that for these security gains to be sustained over time, there is an urgent need for political and economic progress in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Obama.
    “Nevertheless, progress has not come fast enough,” he said. “So we will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with. At the same time, we need to support the economic and political development that is critical to Pakistan’s future.”… VOA, 12-16-10
  • Meet The Next House Speaker, Rep. John Boehner Lesley Stahl Profiles The Ohio Republican Who Will Be Third In Line For The Presidency: John Boehner is about to replace Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House, and become the most powerful Republican in the country – and third in line to the presidency. He was swept in with the biggest Republican landslide in the house since 1938.
    As “60 Minutes” and correspondent Lesley Stahl set off to meet him, we had two questions: Which John Boehner will show up as speaker? The compromiser that he’s been in the past, or the more hard-line conservative of late, who’s aligned himself with the Tea Party that helped bring him and his party back into power…. – CBS News, 12-13-10
  • Huckabee: Obama self-destructed defending tax cuts: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) harshly criticized President Obama in an interview, saying the president “has shown no appetite for compromise with Republicans, zero.” Huckabee, who is a possible 2012 presidential candidate, said Obama to “some degree, he still has his head in the sand.” He added: “He is a very ideologically left-of-center person who wants to take the country in a very dramatic direction, and I don’t think that’s what people wanted.”
    In the interview with National Journal, Huckabee said the tax-cut extension Obama worked out with congressional Republicans was “the best anyone can hope for” but said he was shocked that it was only two years. “Politically, I was shocked it was going to be two not three, because it puts this whole thing in the very center, the bullseye of the 2012 presidential election,” the former governor said. “The most bizarre part of the whole process was watching President Obama self-destruct at the podium [Dec. 7th]. I was just stunned — I really couldn’t believe that a man that was elected president was as amateurish as he was and essentially launched from the podium at some of his own, taking aim and mowing down everybody in D.C. and walking away having not understood that he just lost a lot of people.”… – The Hill, 12-13-10

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Julian E. Zelizer: Obama tax deal: why estate tax is the new sticking point: House Democratic leaders set very tight rules for debate of the Obama tax deal Thursday, and rank-and-file Democrats revolted. Their main frustration now: the estate tax.
    “That’s how you prevent a deal from being undone in Congress,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. “Speaker Pelosi is obviously deeply disappointed with this bill, which gives up on one of the Democrats’ major promises in 2008 to oppose tax breaks for the wealthy, but there’s almost no wiggle room in this deal between Republicans and the president,” he adds. “By limiting amendments, the Speaker is bowing to the president.”… – CS Monitor, 12-19-10
  • With era ending, Patrick Kennedy embraces new opportunities: Boston Globe, 12-17-10
  • CNN and Tea Party team up for debate: Boston University political professor Tom Whalen said it hasn’t taken long for the Tea Party to go “big time.” “Maybe they’re going to loose their moorings, at least what they profess to be their moorings, of being close with the people and not to be bought by anyone,” Whalen said. “They’re supposed to be common people – now they’re aligning themselves with this mega-media company,” Whalen added. “It just seems like old style, power politics.” Boston Herald, 12-17-10
  • Julian E. Zelizer: Why George W. Bush must be smiling: Somewhere in Texas, former President George W. Bush must be smiling. When President Obama and the Republican leadership reached a deal on extending all of the Bush tax cuts, including a generous exemption for estate taxes, the current president ratified a key policy from the former administration.
    While Obama ran as the candidate who would fight to overturn Bush’s record, a huge number of his policies remain in place. This says a lot about President Bush. One of the key measures that we have to evaluate the success of a president is not simply how many of his proposals pass through Congress but also how many of his policies outlast his time in office. Many of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s programs, including Social Security and the Wagner Act, survive into our time…. – CNN, 12-13-10
  • Opposition to Health Law Is Steeped in Tradition: “We are against forcing all citizens, regardless of need, into a compulsory government program,” said one prominent critic of the new health care law. It is socialized medicine, he argued. If it stands, he said, “one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”
    The health care law in question was Medicare, and the critic was Ronald Reagan. He made the leap from actor to political activist, almost 50 years ago, in part by opposing government-run health insurance for the elderly. Today, the supposed threat to free enterprise is a law that’s broader, if less radical, than Medicare: the bill Congress passed this year to create a system of privately run health insurance for everyone. On Monday, a federal judge ruled part of the law to be unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court will probably need to settle the matter in the end.
    We’ve lived through a version of this story before, and not just with Medicare. Nearly every time this country has expanded its social safety net or tried to guarantee civil rights, passionate opposition has followed. The opposition stems from the tension between two competing traditions in the American economy. One is the laissez- faire tradition that celebrates individuality and risk-taking. The other is the progressive tradition that says people have a right to a minimum standard of living — time off from work, education and the like…. – NYT, 12-14-10

Political Highlights December 6, 2010: Obama Attempts Bipartisanship with New Congressional Leaders & Tax Cuts Negotiations — Obama’s Surprise Visit to Afghanistan

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 111TH & 112TH CONGRESS:

Pete Souza, 12/2/10

Speaking to newly-elected governors from around the country, the President discusses how not extending unemployment benefits will be a crushing blow not only to those hit hardest by the economy, but to the economy itself.

STATS & POLLS

  • Palin gives over $500k to candidates, causes: Sarah Palin gave at least $507,000 to candidates and political causes in 2010 as she earned a reputation as kingmaker and raised her profile ahead of a possible presidential run. The biggest chunk of that money, about $306,500, was doled out in the month leading to the Nov. 2 general election by her political action committee, SarahPAC, filings with the Federal Election Commission show. Her latest filing Tuesday showed contributions of nearly $465,000 between Oct. 14 and Nov. 22. During that period, Palin gave $244,000 to conservative candidates, state Republican parties and ballot fights…. – AP, 11-30-10
  • WikiLeaks, Guardian UK
  • A Selection From the Cache of Diplomatic Dispatches: Below are a selection of the documents from a cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks intends to make public starting on Nov. 28. A small number of names and passages in some of the cables have been removed by The New York Times to protect diplomats’ confidential sources, to keep from compromising American intelligence efforts or to protect the privacy of ordinary citizens…. – NYT
  • WikiLeaks embassy cables: the key points at a glance: There are no fewer than 251,287 cables from more than 250 US embassies around the world, obtained by WikiLeaks. We present a day-by-day guide to the revelations from the US embassy cables both from the Guardian and its international media partners in the story…. – Guardian UK
  • The WikiLeaks War Logs: On Oct. 22, Internet-based watchdog organization WikiLeaks posted 391,832 classified U.S. military documents on the war in Iraq, the largest such leak in history. As he did with the July release of 77,000 secret documents related to the war in Afghanistan, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange shared the documents with several newspapers — including the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel — in advance of making them public. Among the major revelations were many instances of the U.S. military deliberately ignoring detainee abuse by Iraqi allies and an increase of the civilian-casualty count by 15,000. The July Afghanistan papers consisted primarily of secret reports from troops in the field covering local intelligence and recounting clashes — including a number of missives that detailed civilian casualties at the hands of coalition forces. Another important (though not altogether surprising) revelation was that members of the U.S. military suspect what others have long assumed: that Pakistan’s military intelligence agency has secretly assisted the Afghan Taliban insurgency…. – Time

THE HEADLINES….

Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama greeted troops at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan with Gen. David H. Petraeus, right, on Friday.

  • Let’s Make a Deal: Obama Poised to Break Campaign Promise and Extend Tax Cuts In Exchange, Obama May Get Extension of Unemployment Benefits: The payback for the president: he will get an extension of unemployment benefits. “I think it’s pretty clear now taxes are not going up on anybody in the middle of this recession. We’re discussing how long we should maintain current tax rates,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said this morning on NBC’s Meet the Press. In exchange, McConnell said he could agree to an extension of jobless benefits as part of a tax cut package.
    “I think we will extend unemployment compensation,” he said. “We’ve had some very vigorous debates in the Senate. Not about whether to do it but whether to pay for it as opposed to adding it to the deficit. All of those discussions are still under way.” For Democrats, giving in on taxes to get unemployment benefits extended is a tough pill to swallow…. – ABC News, 12-5-10
  • Tax deal ‘recipe’ could mix in help for all Americans: Members of Congress said Sunday they are on track for a deal that would include a temporary extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans. An extension of unemployment insurance — a demand of President Obama and many Democrats — would also be part of a potential agreement, lawmakers from both parties said on various talk shows.
    “Most folks believe that the recipe would include at least an extension of unemployment benefits … and an extension of all of the tax rates for all Americans for some period of time,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who is involved in negotiations with the White House.
    Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who appeared with Kyl on CBS’ Face the Nation, said, “We’re moving in that direction,” though he opposes extending tax cuts for the wealthy because it would add $700 billion to the federal budget deficit over 10 years.
    Obama, meanwhile, said this weekend that he would be “rolling up my sleeves” to work with both parties on an agreement. “It will require some compromise, but I’m confident that we can get it done,” he said.
    Both sides are up against a tight deadline: The Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year. Without an extension, Americans will be looking at a tax hike…. – USA Today, 12-5-10
  • Lawmakers upbeat on extension of tax cuts, unemployment benefits: Leaders from both parties see a compromise in the offing on renewing Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels and extending jobless aid.
    Top lawmakers predicted Sunday that a deal would be reached soon to renew the Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels and to extend unemployment benefits.
    “I’m optimistic we’ll be able to come together,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
    Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, one of his party’s negotiators with the White House, said he was open to discussing making jobless aid, a Democratic priority, part of a bipartisan compromise that would extend the 2001 and 2003 tax rates for all Americans for some period of time, a GOP goal.
    “I think that most folks believe that the recipe would include at least an extension of unemployment benefits for those who are unemployed and an extension of all of the tax rates for all Americans for some period of time,” Kyl said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”…. – LAT, 12-5-10
  • Winfrey, McCartney in DC for Kennedy Center Honors: When The Beatles were storming America, Oprah Winfrey had the band’s poster on her bedroom wall, Merle Haggard was free from prison, Jerry Herman was making Broadway sing and Bill T. Jones was not yet a dancer but growing up in a migrant labor camp.
    On Sunday, these leading artists who followed divergent paths since the 1960s will join Paul McCartney to receive the Kennedy Center Honors. They’ll hear accolades from President Barack Obama and stars who will perform as part of the nation’s top prize for those who define U.S. culture through the arts.
    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted a dinner Saturday for the honorees, along with visiting celebrities, including Julia Roberts, Claire Danes, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, and Gwen Stefani and her band, No Doubt. The guests also included veteran entertainers Carol Channing, Angela Lansbury and Sidney Poitier…. – AP, 12-5-10
  • Prop 8. gay marriage ban to be argued in federal appeals court: The long-running fight over gay marriage in California heads to a federal appeals court Monday. A panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals must decide whether a federal judge was correct in ruling that the US Constitution protects the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry…. – CS Monitor, 12-5-10
  • Senate blocks extension of Bush-era tax cuts: The Senate on Saturday rejected two Democratic proposals to let tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire, a symbolic but bitter defeat that now forces the Democratic majority to compromise with Republicans or risk allowing tax breaks to lapse for virtually everyone at year’s end.
    Efforts quickly shifted to negotiations that would temporarily extend the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans, an outcome that seemed increasingly likely. The pair of nearly party-line votes – one to preserve the tax cuts for only the first $250,000 of family income, and the other for the first $1 million of income – also represented a final stand for Democrats as the session winds down and political posturing gives way to pragmatic dealmaking.
    Congress has much to do before its self-imposed deadline of concluding the session by Dec. 17, including passing a funding resolution to keep the federal government operating into next year, renewing jobless benefits for millions of Americans and ratifying an arms treaty with Russia, a top priority for President Obama…. – WaPo, 12-4-10
  • Senate Rejects Obama’s Tax Plan, Setting Stage for Deal: The Senate on Saturday rejected President Obama’s proposal to extend the Bush-era tax breaks for all but the wealthiest taxpayers, a triumph for Republicans who have long called for continuing the income tax cuts for everyone. The Senate’s verdict set the stage for a possible deal in the coming days to extend the reduced tax rates even on high incomes temporarily, perhaps for up to two years. But with Senate Democrats and the White House badly splintered, and some lawmakers increasingly angry at the idea of sustaining President George W. Bush’s economic policies, the prospects of a compromise remain uncertain.
    If Congress does not act, the tax rates expire for everyone on Dec. 31, meaning an increase across the board. The rate in the lowest bracket would rise to 15 percent from 10 percent and in the highest bracket to 39.6 percent from 35 percent. The administration and Congressional leaders have been discussing a plan that would temporarily extend the income tax rates, and also include a one-year extension of jobless aid for the long-term unemployed, which has started to run out…. – NYT, 12-4-10
  • Biden turns up heat in U.S. tax debate: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden urged lawmakers on Saturday to extend middle-class tax cuts and aid for the jobless, fanning a political debate between Democrats and Republicans that is set to intensify next week. Biden, delivering the weekly White House radio and Internet address because President Barack Obama was flying home from Afghanistan, framed the issue as Democrats sticking up for the middle class while Republicans protected richer Americans.
    “I just don’t agree with the folks who’ve said we can’t afford a lifeline for Americans who lost their jobs during the worst recession in generations, but we can afford to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent,” he said…. – Reuters, 12-4-10
  • Military’s ‘Don’t Ask’ Testimony Won’t Be Final Word: It’s been an important week — but not a decisive one — in the debate over gays in the military. First, a Pentagon survey of troops found that more than two-thirds of them had little problem serving with gays and lesbians. Then, the secretary of Defense and the nation’s top military officer testified in favor of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the law barring homosexuals from serving openly. But Friday, the top generals in the Marine Corps and Army told a Senate committee that they are not ready for change just yet…. – NPR, 12-4-10
  • Obama in Unannounced Afghan Visit: President Obama made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Friday as he sought to smooth over a troubled relationship with President Hamid Karzai and take stock of a nine-year-old American-led war that he hopes to begin winding down next summer. Mr. Obama arrived at Bagram Air Base after a secret overnight flight. Bad weather and high winds forced the White House to drop plans for Mr. Obama to fly by helicopter into Kabul to meet with Mr. Karzai, who has complained vocally about American military tactics in recent weeks. Technical difficulties then kept the two leaders from speaking by videoconference, officials said, but they later spoke by phone. Mr. Obama also consulted with his commanding general and visited American troops who are heading into another holiday season far from home. “As we begin this holiday season, there is no place I’d rather be than here with you,” Mr. Obama said, speaking to thousands of troops in a hangar at Bagram after awarding Purple Hearts to five injured service members. Many of those in the audience at the hangar were from the 101st Airborne Division — now on its fourth combat deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. “Thanks to your service, we are making important progress,” he said…. – NYT, 12-3-10
  • Bush tax cuts: why Democrats are planning two votes they know will fail: Senate Democrats are planning for two votes on the Bush tax cuts Saturday. But neither would extend all the Bush tax cuts, and Republicans have vowed to defeat any such proposals…. – CS Monitor, 12-3-10
  • US Stocks Edge Higher; Traders Hope Jobs Report Spurs Action: U.S. stocks closed higher Friday after a late rally erased the session’s wallowing over a disappointing jobs report. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 19.68 points, or 0.17%, to 11382.09 on Friday, extending its December rally to a third day. The measure climbed 2.6% this week, boosted by a dose of better-than-expected economic reports. The Nasdaq Composite gained 12.11, or 0.47%, to 2591.46, its highest close in nearly three years. The Standard ∓ Poor’s 500-stock index rose 3.18, or 0.26% to 1224.71. The market had lagged for much of the day Friday after the November jobs report … – Dow Jones, 12-3-10
  • Biden: Senate should extend middle class tax cuts: Vice President Joe Biden on Friday urged the Senate to extend tax cuts for middle-class Americans, following the example of a politically charged vote by the House of Representatives earlier this week. Biden addressed reporters at the White House during a meeting with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and budget director Jack Lew, who are leading talks with congressional leaders on a deal to extend Bush-era tax cuts that expire at the end of the year. He did not comment on the status of those talks…. – Reuters, 12-3-10
  • Biden: November Jobs Report ‘Disappointing’ Biden says jobs report is ‘disappointing,’ urges lawmakers to extend unemployment insurance: Vice President Joe Biden says a weak November jobs report is “disappointing” and a sign that the economic recovery is fragile. Biden says the uptick in the jobless rate to 9.8 percent means it is critical that Congress extend unemployment benefits before the end of the year. He also urged the Senate to follow the House in voting to continue tax cuts for the middle class. Biden spoke before being briefed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and budget director Jacob Lew on the negotiations surrounding those tax cuts. A deal to extend the tax cuts for all taxpayers is starting to take shape, although it is not clear how quickly it might come together…. – ABC News, 12-3-10
  • Not so fast on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal, say top Pentagon brass: Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chair Adm. Mike Mullen have been strong backers of a repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ But the heads of the Army, Marines, and Air Force said Friday the repeal could cause problems and should be delayed…. – CS Monitor, 12-3-10
  • Obama visits Afghanistan to thank troops, rally support back home: President Obama’s visit to Afghanistan comes just as WikiLeaks cables are bringing fresh attention to grave problems on the war front. President Obama addressed US troops Friday on a surprise visit to Afghanistan to thank servicemen and women serving over the holidays and rally support for the war back home.
    “On behalf of more than 300 million Americans, we are here to say thank you for everything that you do,” Mr. Obama told a large gathering of uniformed troops at Bagram Airbase outside Kabul. He made note that nearly one year ago he ordered a surge of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan: “We said we were going to break the Taliban’s momentum and that’s what you’re doing. You’re going on the offensive; [we are] tired of playing defense.” Obama emphasized that despite political divisions at home, the nation was united in support of the troops…. – CS Monitor, 12-3-10
  • GOP resolve dominates the agenda in Congress: Republicans’ confidence levels are so high that they are barreling over what might be considered standard political traps, assuming long-term risks along with their added clout now. LAT, 12-2-10
  • GOP resolve dominates the agenda in Congress: Republicans’ confidence levels are so high that they are barreling over what might be considered standard political traps, assuming long-term risks along with their added clout now…. – LAT, 12-2-10
  • U.S. House Passes Middle-Income Tax Cut Extension: The U.S. House passed a Democratic plan to extend Bush-era tax cuts for middle-income families over the objections of Republicans who say it would harm the economy by letting taxes go up on Jan. 1 for those with higher incomes. The vote was 234-188 for the measure, which would permanently extend lower rates and expanded tax credits on the first $200,000 of individuals’ income and the first $250,000 for married couples. Taxpayers with higher annual income would face increased taxes on wages, capital gains and dividends. Republicans say they plan to block the measure in the Senate.
    Republicans “are determined to take care of the rich,” said Representative Jim McDermott of Washington. “That political maneuvering by the Republicans brings uncertainty to the middle class when they really need certainty.” Republicans derided the vote as political theater, and House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said it was “chicken crap.”… – Bloomberg, 12-2-10
  • House Votes Rare Censure of Rangel in Ethics Case: With his gaze steady and his hands clasped in front of him, Representative Charles B. Rangel stood silently on the floor of House of Representatives on Thursday afternoon as the House speaker read a formal resolution of censure rebuking him for an assortment of ethics violations said to have brought discredit to Congress. Representative Charles B. Rangel outside his office in the Rayburn House office building on Thursday. Despite impassioned last-minute pleas for mercy from Mr. Rangel and a half-dozen of his colleagues, the House voted 333-79 for censure, the sternest punishment it can administer short of expulsion. Moments after the vote, Mr. Rangel rose from his seat, walked to the well of the House, between the members and the speaker’s podium, where he stood alone as the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, seeming at times uncomfortable, read the one-paragraph resolution censuring him for 11 violations of Congressional ethics rules.
    Mr. Rangel asked for a minute to address his colleagues after the censure was read. “I know in my heart I am not going to be judged by this Congress,” he said. “I’ll be judged by my life in its entirety.” NYT, 12-2-10
  • With censure, Charles Rangel joins infamous list in history of Congress: Rep. Charles Rangel becomes the 23rd member of the House to be censured, Congress’s harshest punishment short of expulsion. The vote in favor of censure was 333 to 79….
    In a rare move, the House on Thursday voted, 333 to 79, to censure 15-term Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York for 11 ethics violations ranging from failure to disclose income to violating House gift bans. In a solemn moment, Mr. Rangel stood silently, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, looking anguished, read out the 11-line censure resolution, the first delivered in this chamber in 27 years. Rangel became the 23rd congressman in the history of the House to be censured. The vote requires Rangel, former chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, to pay restitution for any unpaid estimated taxes on income from properties in the Dominican Republic and to provide proof of payment to the ethics panel…. – CS Monitor, 12-2-10
  • Reid “confident” Senate to consider START soon: Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed confidence on Thursday the U.S. Senate would debate the New START nuclear treaty with Russia this year, as he gave no sign of yielding to Republican pressure to scale back his agenda for the coming weeks. The treaty is one of President Barack Obama’s top priorities for the current Congress. Some leading Republicans have indicated a willingness to debate the treaty if Reid allowed ample time for discussion and first resolved outstanding tax and spending legislation. Reid is pushing Congress to do considerably more before it breaks for the holidays, including an immigration bill, legislation lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military and ratifying New START. He also wants measures to fund the government and extend tax breaks due to expire soon.
    “I’m confident and hopeful that we can work our way through all these things. All those things are on my agenda,” Reid told reporters on Capitol Hill. “I think if we set our mind to it (START), we can get it done.”… – Reuters, 12-2-10
  • Geithner and lawmakers seek deal on Bush-era tax cuts: President Barack Obama’s top economic advisers sought to break a deadlock over taxes with congressional leaders on Wednesday, haggling over how to extend Bush-era rates while the country struggles with sky-high debt. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who is leading talks for the White House along with budget director Jack Lew, said congressional Republicans and Democrats held a “civil, constructive discussion,” but declined to give specifics. Obama expressed confidence a deal could be reached. “There are going to be ups and downs in this process but I’m confident that we’re going to be able to get it done,” he told reporters at the White House. Negotiators met again later in the day but emerged without a resolution. They were set to meet again on Thursday…. – Reuters, 12-1-10
  • Unemployment benefits: not until Bush tax cuts pass, Senate GOP says: Senate Republicans pledge not to take up any issues, including extending unemployment benefits, until the Bush tax cuts and federal spending bills are sorted out. The lame-duck Congress, mired in a partisan clash over taxes and spending and preoccupied with a battle over extending the Bush tax cuts, refused Wednesday to restore federal financing of extended unemployment benefits, which had lapsed overnight. The inaction means the imminent loss of unemployment compensation for some 800,000 out-of-work Americans, with nearly 2 million long-term unemployed expected to be affected by Jan. 1, according to the Labor Department. US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, speaking Wednesday at a press conference organized by Democratic congressional leaders, said that by next spring, another 6 million unemployed workers will lose benefits if Congress does not act. “Millions of families are going to struggle to put food on the table or put gas in the gas tank,” she said…. – CS Monitor, 12-1-10
  • The secret life of Julian Assange: Julian Assange can be charming yet cagey about his private life and is rarely shaken by discussions of even the most controversial revelations on WikiLeaks. He grew up constantly on the move, the son of parents who were in the theater business in Australia. Now, Julian Assange, 39, finds himself on the move again, wanted in Sweden for alleged sex crimes and wanted by officials around the world for his website WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of documents containing confidential information. If he has succeeded in creating a public firewall of sorts around himself, it is perhaps because he learned as a child to cope with solitude and exposed his mind to the machinery that would overtake his life. Assange has been described by his mother, Christine, as “highly intelligent.”… – CNN, 12-1-10
  • US embassy cables: US and Pakistan deny revelations of mutual mistrust: But security experts say leaks expose threat of terrorism that western governments have deliberately played down
    Pakistani and US officials presented a united front today against revelations in the WikiLeaks cables that portray a fragile relationship dogged by subterfuge, suspicion and worries over the safety of Pakistan’s expanding nuclear arsenal. The American ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, visited the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, at his hilltop residence in Islamabad where the men played down the significance of the leaked dispatches. Gilani said Pakistan’s national interests “would not be compromised by such mischief in any manner”, while Munter said: “Working together, we will get past the WikiLeaks problems.” But outside Pakistan experts in nuclear counterproliferation said the leaked cables exposed a serious threat of nuclear terrorism that western governments have deliberately played down – until now…. – Guardian UK, 12-1-10
  • WikiLeaks disclosures highlight Russia as U.S. scrambles: The United States scrambled to contain the fallout from the slow-motion leak of cables from its embassies worldwide Wednesday as new documents showed American diplomats casting a jaundiced eye toward corruption’s grip on Russia. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally made “several dozen” calls to counterparts in other countries in an effort to mitigate the damage from WikiLeaks, a website that facilitates the anonymous leaking of secret information, a senior State Department official said. In a CNN interview Wednesday night, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange an “anarchist.” “He’s trying to undermine the collaboration, the cooperation, the system by which we engage with other governments, cooperate with other governments and solve regional challenges,” Crowley told CNN’s “John King USA.” But while Clinton is facing other world leaders, “trying to solve the world’s challenges,” Assange is in hiding, he said…. – m CNN, 12-1-10
  • Obama bans offshore oil drilling in Atlantic waters: In a policy reversal, President Obama’s administration announced Wednesday that it will not allow offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic coast for at least seven more years. “The changes we’re making are based on the lessons we have learned,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters, citing the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and caused the release of an estimated 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf. He said drilling possibilities in the Arctic will proceed “with utmost caution.”… – USA Today, 12-1-10
  • No tax cut deal, as bipartisan meeting shows ‘sincere effort’: President Obama and congressional Republicans cast aside the sharp-tongued rhetoric of the fall campaign in their first post-election meeting on Tuesday, but they failed to breach an impasse over whether to extend tax cuts for top earners. The sides remained in opposition as a deadline looms: The George W. Bush-era cuts for all taxpayers will expire at the end of the year unless Congress and the White House act. Republicans want to extend the tax cuts for those at all income levels, arguing that’s the best way to boost the economy. Obama opposes extending the cuts to include taxable income for couples exceeding $250,000, saying the government can’t afford the $700 billion it would add to the nation’s debt over the next decade.
    OBAMA TO GOP: I haven’t reached out enough “Here we disagree,” Obama said at the end of the two-hour session. “I continue to believe that it would be unwise and unfair” to extend the tax cuts for those with higher incomes. Republicans sounded just as determined. “If President Obama and the Democratic leaders come up with a plan … to cut spending and stop all the tax hikes, they can expect a positive response from Republicans,” incoming House speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said after the meeting…. – USA Today, 11-30-10
  • Who will get Bush tax cuts? Congress can’t decide: Unable to agree on who should be eligible to continue to receive the Bush tax cuts, which expire Jan. 1, President Obama and congressional leaders decided to convene a panel Tuesday. President Obama and congressional leaders on Tuesday tasked a six-man panel with finding a compromise on extension of the Bush tax cuts. The president met with congressional leaders of both parties in a gathering Mr. Obama called “productive,” and Republican leaders called “frank.” There was no deal on the Bush-era tax cuts – which Republicans want to extend for all families and Obama wants to extend only for families making less than 250,000. But both sides committed to extending at least some of the Bush-era tax cuts before the 111th Congress winds down in December. Two Democrats and two Republicans – one each from the House and Senate – will join Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Jacob Lew, who directs the White House Office of Management and Budget, to “break the logjam,” Obama said…. – CS Monitor, 11-30-10
  • For Obama and GOP leaders, just meeting is a bipartisan accomplishment: President Obama met with GOP leaders at the White House Tuesday. The gathering appeared long enough for little else but pleasantries – though, in the current climate, that’s no small thing. The much anticipated White House meeting between President Obama and bipartisan congressional leaders has finally taken place. The president called it “productive.” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called it “a useful and frank discussion.” Both Mr. Obama and likely new House speaker John Boehner (R) spoke of finding common ground. Over the hour, there seemed to be enough time just to air the various topics of concern, starting with the soon-to- expire Bush-era tax cuts and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia that Obama wants ratified before Congress adjourns…. – CS Monitor, 11-30-10
  • ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ report: Little risk to allowing gays to serve openly: The Pentagon’s long-awaited report on gays in the military concludes that repealing the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” law would present only a low risk to the armed forces’ ability to carry out their mission and that 70 percent of service members believe it would have little or no effect on their units, according to sources briefed on the report’s findings. An extensive Pentagon report about the armed forces’ attitudes toward gays in the military gives a boost to the stalled push by President Obama to repeal the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, undercutting arguments by Republicans and others that such a change would unduly strain the armed forces…. – WaPo, 11-30-10
  • Before Business Leaders, Bernanke Discusses Unemployment’s Toll on Americans: The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, found some respite on Tuesday from the second-guessing the central bank has faced since it announced a $600 billion effort to stimulate the slow recovery. During a 75-minute discussion here with five business leaders, including the chief executives of I.B.M. and Ford Motor, inflation and monetary policy were not even mentioned, much less debated. Mr. Bernanke did, however, emphasize the toll high unemployment was taking on families and on the share of the unemployed — more than 40 percent — who have been jobless for at least six months. “At the pace of growth that we’re seeing now, we’re not growing fast enough to materially reduce the unemployment rate,” he said. The economy needs to grow at an annualized rate of 2 to 2.5 percent just to accommodate new workers coming into the labor force, he said. Mr. Bernanke has made this point repeatedly this year…. – NYT, 11-30-10
  • WikiLeaks ‘attack’: How damaging to US foreign relations?: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemns the WikiLeaks ‘attack on the international community’ as harmful to US policy goals. But major geopolitical shifts are unlikely, analysts say. The US intensified its efforts at damage control on Monday following the publication by WikiLeaks of more than a quarter-million diplomatic cables, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calling the massive release not just a problem for American foreign policy but “an attack on the international community.” In a statement to journalists in the State Department’s Treaty Room before she was to leave on a four-country trip through Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, Secretary Clinton said that both the furthering of US national interests and the operation of the world’s international political system depend on thousands of confidential exchanges, assessments, and conversations every day…. – CS Monitor, 11-29-10
  • Federal Pay Freeze Planned Obama Proposes Two-Year Raise Pause in Bid to Seize Agenda in Deficit Talks: President Barack Obama on Monday proposed a two-year salary freeze for all federal civilian employees, signaling an apparent willingness to reach toward Republicans ahead of negotiations on deficit-cutting that are likely to dominate Washington next year. The freeze, which would require congressional approval, would affect about two million workers in 2011 and 2012 and save just $5 billion, a tiny fraction of the current $1.3 trillion annual budget deficit. The GOP has called for much bigger reductions in federal spending and has specifically targeted the federal work force. But the gesture could have broader political ramifications. It was seen by members of both parties as a sign that Mr. Obama, in the wake of what he called his electoral “shellacking,” might be willing to tack away from his liberal base in search of compromise with Republicans. “Going forward, we’re going to have to make some additional very tough decisions that this town has put off for a very long time,” Mr. Obama said. “And that’s what this upcoming week is really about. My hope is that, starting today, we can begin a bipartisan conversation about our future.”… – WSJ, 11-29-10

111TH & 112TH CONGRESS

  • Incoming GOP freshmen rapidly embracing big-money fundraisers The Republicans have taken the House. Now, meet the new lawmakers: After winning election with an anti-Washington battle cry, Canseco and other incoming Republican freshmen have rapidly embraced the capital’s culture of big-money fundraisers, according to new campaign-finance reports and other records.
    Dozens of freshmen lawmakers have held receptions at Capitol Hill bistros and corporate townhouses in recent weeks, taking money from K Street lobbyists and other powerbrokers within days of their victories. Newly elected House members have raised at least $2 million since the election, according to preliminary Federal Election Commission records filed last week, and many more contributions have yet to be tallied.
    The aggressive fundraising efforts underscore the financial pressures facing new members of Congress even before they take their seats. The contributions also represent a symbolic challenge for the Republican class of 2010, many of whom gained office by running against the ways of official Washington and monied interests…. – WaPo, 12-5-10
  • State Lawmakers Bolt Democratic Party After Election Day: Adding insult to injury for their party, at least 13 Democratic state lawmakers have joined the Republican ranks since Election Day — deepening GOP gains and in one case handing the party the state House majority. Democrats in five states have switched parties since Nov. 2, citing concerns about the economy and the political leanings of their constituents. The defections are a troubling sign for state Democratic operations clinging to life following their election drubbing. Though Republicans’ congressional gains drew more attention, the party picked up more than 675 seats at the state level last month and in some cases took over entire state capitals…. – Fox News, 12-3-10
  • Republican Kirk formally takes over Obama seat: President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat formally came under control of his Republican adversaries on Monday, as former Representative Mark Kirk was sworn in as junior senator from Illinois. Kirk replaced Democratic Senator Roland Burris, who had been serving out the remainder of Obama’s term, and brought the number of Republicans in the Senate to 42, strengthening their ability to block the president’s agenda. Kirk, 51, is an intelligence officer in the US Naval Reserve and has been a voice in the US Congress for confronting Iran over its suspect nuclear program and for robust engagement with China…. – AFP, 11-29-10
  • Democrats to Test Republican Mettle With Tax-Cut Vote This Week: Congressional Democrats are ready to test Republican resolve on taxes this week by hastening votes on their proposal to extend middle-class tax cuts. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will schedule a vote this week on legislation that would retain lower tax rates and increased credits that apply to the first $250,000 of a married couple’s gross income or $200,000 for a single person, said her assistant, Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen. The Senate will vote “by next week” on Democrats’ proposal to extend middle-income tax cuts, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus told reporters yesterday. “There should be an early vote on middle-income tax cuts” before the Senate considers alternatives on Bush-era tax cuts set to expire on Dec. 31, said Baucus, a Montana Democrat. The vote’s timing will depend on the rest of the Senate’s agenda, he said…. – Business Week, 11-29-10

ELECTIONS 2010, 2012….

  • Sen. Murray agrees to lead Democratic fundraising for 2012 election: Sen. Patty Murray will once again spearhead the tough job of raising millions of dollars for Democrats for the 2012 general election. Girding for a tough fight to preserve their shrunken majority, U.S. Senate Democrats finally persuaded Sen. Patty Murray to once again spearhead the grunt work of raising millions of dollars for the 2012 general elections. In naming Murray as the chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada tapped an experienced — albeit reluctant — fundraiser who helped rake in $158 million for Democratic candidates a decade ago…. –
  • Pence says he hasn’t decided on White House bid: The third-ranking Republican in the U.S. House says he’ll decide after Jan. 1 whether to run for president. Indiana Rep. Mike Pence said Monday he and his family are “determined to take the next few months and pray about” a possible White House run. Pence won a sixth congressional term this month and then announced he would step down from his position as the House Republican conference chairman. The decision sparked talk that Pence might run for higher office…. – AP, 11-29-10

QUOTES

The President holds a bipartisan meeting

White House Photo, Pete Souza, 11/30/10

The President expresses optimism on working across the aisle after a meeting with bipartisan Congressional leaders on issues ranging from tax cuts to unemployment benefits to the New START treaty with Russia.

  • Weekly Address: Vice President Biden Calls on Congress to Preserve the Middle Class Tax Cuts and to Extend Unemployment Insurance This Year
    Remarks of Vice President Joe Biden As Prepared for Delivery Weekly Address December 4, 2010:

    Hi, this is Joe Biden. I’m filling in for President Obama this weekend because he’s on his way back from Afghanistan, where he was spending some time with the brave men and women of our Armed Forces.
    …One: we’ve got to extend the tax cuts for the middle class that are set to expire at the end of the month. If we don’t, millions of middle-class families will see a big bite out of their paychecks starting January 1. And that’s the last thing we should let happen. After a decade in which they lost ground, middle class families can ill-afford a tax hike – and our economy can’t afford the hit it will take if middle class families have less money to spend.
    And the second thing we’ve got to do is extend unemployment insurance for Americans who have lost their jobs in a tough economy. Without unemployment benefits, families can’t spend on basic necessities that are grown, made, and sold by other Americans.
    Together, the economic hit caused by raising taxes on the middle class, and denying two million Americans unemployment insurance, will wind up costing us hundreds of thousands of more jobs. It just isn’t smart.
    And, cutting unemployment insurance is not only not smart, it’s not right either. It would mean telling millions of our neighbors who are out of work today through no fault of their own, that they’re on their own.
    That’s no message to send in the season of hope. We all know someone who’s hit a rough patch. When that happens in America, we help him get back up on his feet. That’s who we are. That’s the American way.
    So I just don’t agree with the folks who’ve said we can’t afford a lifeline for Americans who lost their jobs during the worst recession in generations, but we can afford to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. That’s bad economic policy, and it’s also just simply wrong.
    Congress must extend these needed unemployment benefits before it goes home for the year. And it must bolster economic growth by preserving tax cuts for our middle class. I’m glad that the House of Representatives voted to do that this week, and I call on the United States Senate to do the same.
    Look, there’s no doubt these are tough times. But we are slowly but surely fighting our way back, moving forward. And we’re going to keep fighting – to grow this economy, to strengthen our middle class, and to restore the American Dream. That’s my pledge to you.
    And hey, one last thing – since the President will be back to record this message next week, let me take this chance to say from my family to yours: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, have a great Holiday season and an even better New Year. –
    WH, 12-4-10
  • Harry Reid rips John McCain over ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’: The majority leader likened McCain and other Republicans to the Peanuts cartoon character Lucy, who continues to pull the football away at the last second as Charlie Brown runs to kick it.
    “First, Sen. McCain said he would seriously consider repealing it if the military leadership thought we should, and [when] the military leadership said it should be repealed, he pulled away the football. Then Sen. McCain said he would need to see a study from the Pentagon. When the Pentagon produced the study saying repeal would have no negative effect at all, he pulled away the football again,” Reid said.
    “And his latest trick, he said yesterday that he opposed repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ a proposal that would be a great stride forward for both equality and military readiness … because of the economy,” Reid added. “I repeat, the senior senator from Arizona said he couldn’t support repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ because of the economy. “I have no idea what he’s talking about and no one else does either,” Reid said.
    McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan responded in an e-mail: “Perhaps someone should inform the majority leader the election is over.”… – Politico, 12-4-10
  • A Surprise Visit to the Troops in Afghanistan: Remarks by the President to the Troops at Bagram Air Base:
    So on behalf of me, on behalf of Michelle, on behalf of Malia and Sasha, on behalf of more than 300 million Americans, we are here to say thank you. (Hooah!) We are here to say thank you for everything that you do.
    Now, I also want to say thank you to your families back home so that when you talk to them you know that they know. (Applause.) They’re serving here with you — in mind and spirit, if not in body.
    Millions of Americans give thanks this holiday season just as generations have before when they think about our armed services. You’re part of an unbroken line of Americans who have given up your comfort, your ease, your convenience for America’s security. — WH, 12-3-10Remarks
  • Text: Obama’s Remarks at Bagram Air Force Base: Following is the transcript of President Obama’s remarks to troops at Bagram Air Force Base on Friday, as released by the White House…. – NYT, 12-3-10
  • ‘Don’t ask’ repeal could hurt war effort, generals warn: “I cannot reconcile, nor turn my back, on the negative perceptions held by our Marines who are most engaged in the hard work of day-to-day operations in Afghanistan,” Marine commandant Gen. James Amos said, citing a Pentagon survey that found 58 percent of Marines and 48 percent of Army respondents think lifting the ban would have negative consequences. “Successfully integrating gays and lesbians into small Marine combat units has strong potential for disruption and will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus of preparing units for combat,” Amos said.
    Gen. George W. Casey, the chief of staff of the Army, and Gen. Norman Schwarz, Air Force chief of staff, agreed. “Implementation of the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ would be a major cultural and policy change in the middle of a war,” Casey said. “It would be implemented by a force and leaders that are already stretched by the cumulative impacts of almost a decade at war.”
    Said Schwartz, “It is difficult for me, as a member of the Joint Chiefs, to recommend placing any additional discretionary demands on our leadership cadres in Afghanistan at this particularly challenging time.” He recommended that any change not take effect until 2012.
    “I will not agree to have this bill go forward, and neither will, I believe, 41 of my colleagues, either, because our economy is in the tank,” said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee and the leading opponent of an immediate repeal. “Our economy is in the tank, and the American people want that issue addressed. … So to somehow believe that this is some kind of compelling issue at a time we’re in two wars … is obviously not something that we shouldn’t be exercising a rush to judgment.”
    Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said he wonders if service members will ever be ready to accept openly gay colleagues. “I can’t imagine that that situation is going to be that different in 2012 for that Marine lieutenant or in 2013,” Wicker said. “I wonder if 2012 or 2013 is going to make that lieutenant or that type of lieutenant feel better about it.”
    Of special concern, said Adm. Gary Roughhead, the chief of naval operations, were the 24 percent of sailors who told Pentagon surveyors they were worried about sleeping and showering facilities aboard ships and submarines. “I believe these concerns can be effectively mitigated through leadership, effective communications, training and education, and clear and concise standards of conduct,” he said….. – Miami Herald, 12-3-10
  • Palin Accuses Media of Double Standard in Playing Up Korean Gaffe: Even on Thanksgiving Day, Sarah Palin found time to lash out at her political foes — in this case the media for blowing out of proportion her gaffe on the Korean crisis. In a Facebook posting, the combative Palin addressed a Thanksgiving message to “57 states” — mocking a mistake President Obama made in his 2008 campaign as a way of arguing that the news uses a double standard. “If you can’t remember hearing about them [Obama slip-ups), that’s because for the most part the media didn’t consider them newsworthy,” she wrote, according to ABC News. “I have no complaint about that. Everybody makes the occasional verbal gaffe — even news anchors.” Palin drew ridicule earlier this week when she said in a radio interview with Glenn Beck, “We gotta stand with our North Korean allies” during a discussion about the deadly attack by the North on a South Korean island. Beck quickly corrected her and she replied, “We’re bound by prudence to stand with our South Korean allies, yes.” Roughly 24 hours after reports of the incident, Palin was criticizing the Obama team’s response to the attack. “We’re not having a lot of faith that the White House is going to come out with a strong enough policy to sanction what it is that North Korea is going to do.” Of the media reports that followed her little mix-up, she said, “Obviously, I would have been even more impressed if the media showed some consistency on this issue. Unfortunately, it seems they couldn’t resist the temptation to turn a simple one word slip-of-the-tongue of mine into a major political headline.” And for her part, Palin couldn’t resist firing back…. – Politics Daily, 11-30-10
  • CNN Regrets Not Asking John McCain A Follow-Up Question: So, over the weekend, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) went on CNN’s “State Of The Union”, where he talked about the need for “regime change” in North Korea. John McCain is always doing things like this! During the 2008 campaign, he wanted to bomb Iran, liberate the teensy region of South Ossetia from the Russians, and was even angry at Spain for some reason. And one often wonders, “Where, exactly, are we going to get the troops and/or money to do these things? Or is the hope that somehow, the Green Lantern Corps will kit out McCain with a power ring?”
    In the case of North Korea, if you dial back the interview, you’ll see that in this instance, McCain puts the onus for changing the regime in Pyongyang on China. “They could bring the North Korean economy to its knees if they wanted to,” said McCain, who went on to muse, “And I cannot believe that the Chinese should, in a mature fashion, not find it in their interest to restrain North Korea. So far, they are not.”
    But if not China, where does this leave this dream of regime change in North Korea? As you might expect, CNN had to “leave it there.” And that sets up my favorite read out of the CNN-McCain tete-a-tete, courtesy of Evan McMorris- Santoro:
    Though [State Of The Union host Candy] Crowley moved the interview ahead to Afghanistan shortly after McCain’s “regime change” comments, in a CNN post-mortem webcast after the show she and State Of The Union producer Tom Bettag seemed to scratch their heads over just what it was McCain meant when he said “regime change” during the show.
    “That’s why you always want an hour and half with these guys,” Crowley said. “‘Cuz you want to say, ‘And, so, how would we go about doing that?'”…. – Huff Post, 11-29-10

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

President Obama and General Colin Powell

White House Photo, Pete Souza, 12/1/10
  • Melissa Harris-Perry: The Misunderestimation of Sarah Palin: ….Whatever her failings, Palin has successfully harnessed new media forms to engage and direct emotional reactions in ways that are surprisingly effective. Using Twitter, Facebook, corporate-news punditry, readable memoirs and reality television, Palin has managed to subvert traditional media. Rather than pay for advertising, she is getting paid to advertise her politics. Rather than wait for kingmakers to declare her a contender, she smirks while predicting her victories. Her reality show is a pinnacle of this new media-saturation strategy. The show’s producer, Mark Burnett of Survivor and The Apprentice, pioneered the infiltration of reality shows into network lineups. His ingenious use of product integration exploded the profitability and desirability of reality television. While highbrow critics mocked the lame, melodramatic obviousness of reality TV, the genre revolutionized American entertainment. Sarah Palin’s Alaska is the ultimate test of this form. Will product placement of a candidate prove to be the flattest, fastest, newest route to the American presidency?… – The Nation, 12-13-10
  • Ed Rollins: Palin, I knew Reagan. You’re no Reagan: And speaking of Obama and the election two years from now, Sarah Palin now says she thinks she can beat him.
    Maybe she can, but 2012 is a long way off, and there is a nominating process that is intense — and it takes more than selling a few hundred books in Iowa to win it. Several other serious political players think they can beat her and will wage full-scale political war against her if she tries. On November 4, I wrote a column under the headline: “Don’t underestimate Palin for 2012 run” (I write the columns, not the headlines). It was not a pro- or anti-Palin article but an analysis of the potential candidates for the Republican nomination in 2012. If I were to title this one, it would be “Sarah, don’t overestimate your chances!” And quit comparing yourself to Ronald Reagan. To paraphrase the late Sen. Lloyd Bentsen’s comments to Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice presidential debate: I knew Ronald Reagan, and you’re no Ronald Reagan…. – CNN, 12-1-10

August 23 2010: Last American Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Americans see Obama as a Muslim

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 111TH CONGRESS:

IN FOCUS: STATS

  • Poll: Nearly 6 in 10 oppose war in Afghanistan: A majority of Americans see no end in sight in Afghanistan, and nearly six in 10 oppose the nine-year-old war as President Barack Obama sends tens of thousands more troops to the fight, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
    With just over 10 weeks before nationwide elections that could define the remainder of Obama’s first term, only 38 percent say they support his expanded war effort in Afghanistan — a drop from 46 percent in March. Just 19 percent expect the situation to improve during the next year, while 29 percent think it will get worse. Some 49 percent think it will remain the same…. – AP, 8-20-10
  • Faith and Reason: A conversation about religion, spirituality and ethics The “M-word’: Is “Muslim” political code for ‘I don’t like you!’ Evangelist leads ‘disinformation campaign’ on Obama: Religion professor: Who, exactly, is “Christian”? Or Christian enough? Or the right variation of Christian — i.e. probably the one you are or you like.
    With all the hoohah over the 18% of folks who told a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey that President Obama is Muslim and 34% who said Obama is Christian, the 43% who are unsure what he believes have gotten less attention…. – USA Today, 8-20-10

THE HEADLINES….

  • Obama, daughters go book shopping in Martha’s Vineyard: President Barack Obama and his two daughters went book shopping Friday on the first outing of their 10-day vacation in Massachusetts’ upscale Martha’s Vineyard, witnesses said. Obama, wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and sandals, arrived at the “Bunch of Grapes” bookstore in central Vineyard Haven aboard an SUV along with daughters Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9…. – AFP, 8-20-10
  • Clinton announces direct talks to resume on Sept. 2: Washington to invite Israel and Palestinians to peace negotiations; Netanyahu welcomes decision saying reaching an agreement is ‘difficult challenge but possible.’… – JPost, 8-20-10
  • Obama Faces Middle East ‘Train Wreck’ as Iran Builds Nuclear Program: This is the last article of a three-part series on Iran’s entry into the world’s “nuclear club” as it begins fueling its nuclear reactor in Bushehr.
    Oil prices spike. Shipping routes come under attack. Mideast peace talks collapse. Progress in Afghanistan is shattered. President Obama finds himself caught in a shouting match between Israel’s supporters in America and critics abroad. And so much for restoring ties with the Muslim world.
    That’s just a sampling of what could happen if Israel or the United States launches an attack on Iran to halt what some see as its otherwise inexorable march toward developing a nuclear weapon. It sounds bad … but Israel has vowed to forbid a nuclear-armed Iran, and the consequences of its bold words could be severe.
    Anyone who thinks the president of the United States has it easy needs only to consider his predicament…. – Fox News, 8-20-10Part 1Part 2
  • Obama to GOP: Stop blocking small business bill: President Barack Obama is urging Republican congressional leaders to stop blocking a bill aimed at helping small businesses hire more people. Speaking at the White House, Obama said there would be plenty of time for politics but that the bill should not fall victim to partisanship…. – AP, 8-19-10
  • Blagojevich is campaign distraction for Ill. Dems: Alexi Giannoulias had planned to talk jobs. The Democrat in a tight race for President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat wanted to take the opportunity to say his Republican opponent had helped wreck the nation’s economy. Reporters, though, only wanted to talk about the ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, a newly convicted felon who prosecutors plan to retry on some counts.
    The unfinished business of the Blagojevich trial poses a major new hurdle for Illinois Democrats, who are already facing a difficult election season. After hoping Blagojevich’s trial would wrap up well before the November vote, a retrial could begin as soon as this fall, in the final weeks of campaigning.
    Blagojevich’s saga will keep diverting attention away from the pocketbook issues Democrats want to talk about as they try to keep Obama’s old seat, hold on to the governor’s mansion and maintain their lock on the state Legislature… – AP, 8-19-10
  • From shock and awe to a quiet exit – US troops pull out of Iraq: It began with shock and awe and ended with a silent trickle across the border in the dead of night. As the 4th Stryker Brigade, Second Infantry division, arrived at their staging post in the sands of Kuwait, Sergeant Donald Wilms got out of his battle truck and high-fived friends in his platoon. A few hours earlier they had rumbled across the dusty border, becoming the last US combat unit to leave Iraq.
    “We knew we were going to make history,” he said. “The whole platoon is extremely proud of the difference they were able to make.”
    Two trucks in front of him, Staff Sergeant Wiley Baker also had a sense of the moment. “Any time in a war, whether it be world war two or Vietnam, the first and the last in are setting the agenda,” he said. “We were glad to be a part of it.”
    For the men and women of the division, seven years and five months of war in Iraq is now over. As soon as they had crossed the border after a three-day drive along the spine of central Iraq, US commanders announced that the overall American combat mission in the country was also complete – 12 days earlier than the official end of operations and with doubts about the continuing US role in Iraq lingering…. – Guardian UK, 8-19-10
  • Obama Is Questioned on Economy: President Barack Obama gestures during a backyard gathering to talk about the economy at the home of Rhonda and Joe Weithman in Clintonville, Ohio. President Barack Obama, at a summit of sorts in an Ohio family’s backyard, sought to reassure citizens Wednesday that the economy is on track and that his administration’s legislative victories will benefit voters.
    “Slowly, but surely, we are moving in the right direction. We’re on the right track. The economy is getting stronger,” Mr. Obama said at the beginning of a question-and-answer session with Columbus, Ohio, residents at the home of Rhonda and Joe Weithman.
    The summit comes as a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows American citizens have their dimmest view yet of how Obama is handling the economy. It also comes a few months ahead of midterm elections, in which the economy is expected to play a vital role in whether Democrats hold onto their majority in Congress…. – AP, 8-18-10
  • Obama on mosque: ‘The answer is no regrets’: President Obama has made his first public comment on the mosque controversy since Saturday — a very short comment. It came when a television reporter in Ohio asked Obama if he had any regrets about weighing in. “The answer is no regrets,” Obama said…. – USA Today, 8-18-10
  • Some Muslims question mosque near ground zero: American Muslims who support the proposed mosque and Islamic center near ground zero are facing skeptics within their own faith — those who argue that the project is insensitive to Sept. 11 victims and needlessly provocative at a time when Muslims are pressing for wider acceptance in the U.S. “For most Americans, 9/11 remains as an open wound, and anything associated with Islam, even for Americans who want to understand Islam — to have an Islamic center with so much publicity is like rubbing salt in open wounds,” said Akbar Ahmed, professor of Islamic studies at American University, a former Pakistani ambassador to Britain and author of “Journey Into America, The Challenge of Islam.” He said the space should include a synagogue and a church so it will truly be interfaith…. – AP, 8-18-10
  • Blagojevich jurors ask for advice on verdict form: A two-part note on Tuesday from deliberating jurors in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich suggests they may be in the process of filling out verdict forms in the case — or are thinking about doing so soon. The jurors asked Judge James B. Zagel how they should mark the verdict form if they can’t reach a decision on a count. In the first part of the note, they also asked for a copy of the oath they took before deliberating. Zagel said in his response that they shouldn’t mark the form if they haven’t been able to reach an agreement on a count but should write a statement saying they couldn’t agree. He also said he would provide a copy of the oath, in which jurors pledge to do their best to reach a verdict…. – AP, 8-17-10
  • California gay marriage case hangs on technicality: The next stage of California’s gay marriage court battle rests on a procedural issue that could halt the case, leaving same-sex unions legal in California without a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to guide the country…. – Reuters, 8-17-10
  • Mama Grizzlies Beware: Liberal PAC Launches Campaign Against Sarah Palin’s Candidates: ABC News’ Huma Khan reports: Sarah Palin is firing up conservative women with her “mama grizzlies” campaign, but liberal women are showing they have a roar in them too. Emily’s List, one of the largest political action committees dedicated to electing pro-choice female Democrats, today unveiled its “Sarah Doesn’t Speak For Me” campaign, designed to counter Sarah Palin’s influence in the mid-term elections. The highlight of the campaign is a video ad mocking Palin’s “mama grizzlies.” “We call upon women and men to let their voices be heard and to reject Palin’s reactionary candidates and backwards- looking agenda. We created this campaign because Sarah Palin and her endorsed candidates are extreme and bad for America, because women voters are key to this election and our country,” Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock said at a news conference today. “We created this campaign because we didn’t want women across the country to think that there’s only one voice for women and we didn’t want Sarah Palin’s voice to go unchallenged.”…. – ABC News, 8-17-10
  • Obama says GOP hindering efforts to help business: President Barack Obama is accusing Republicans of thwarting efforts to help small business owners by blocking legislation containing tax breaks and other incentives. He made the charges, a familiar theme for him, in the midst of a three-day fundraising outing on behalf of besieged Democratic candidates. He was in Seattle to help Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, whose re-election bid is closely watched by Democrats across the nation. Obama spoke on the day of Washington’s primary. Murray is on the ballot and was expected to advance. The president met with a group of small business owners and told reporters afterward that Congress needs to act on the small business legislation. He said Republicans “won’t even let it go to a vote.”…. – AP, 8-17-10
  • Obama launches 3 days of fundraising travel: President Barack Obama, embarking on a three-day tour to raise money for Democrats, said Monday that a rising homegrown clean energy industry can help reverse years of manufacturing job losses overseas and help heal a still- ailing economy. “We can’t turn back, we’ve got keep going forward,” Obama told a group of workers at the ZBB Energy Corp, underscoring what he said was his lasting commitment to a clean energy future. Later, Obama portrayed Republicans as a party of naysayers, opposing nearly all of his domestic initiatives from clean-energy incentives to his landmark health care and financial overhaul legislation. In a play on his 2008 campaign slogan of “Yes we can,” Obama told a Democratic fundraiser in Milwaukee, “These guys’ slogan is ‘no we can’t.'”… – AP, 8-16-10
  • Obama Asks Hollywood For Campaign Cash At LA Fundraiser: Streisand, Spielberg Listed As Hosts, Pelosi Will Also Attend Party At ER Producer’s Mansion… – ABC News, 8-16-10
  • Gates plans to retire next year: Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to leave his job next year. A Republican and holdover from the Bush administration, Gates had agreed to stay on at the request of President Barack Obama. The move was intended to maintain stability at a time of two wars, although Gates has been open about his desire to return to civilian life in his home state of Washington. In an interview published Monday, Gates told Foreign Policy magazine that leaving in 2011 makes sense. It would give him time to oversee the major offensive under way in Afghanistan but bow out before the 2012 presidential elections. Gates has been defense secretary since December 2006. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell confirmed Monday that Gates has set his sights on leaving next year…. – AP, 8-16-10
  • Tom DeLay cleared in federal probe, but Texas charges loom: Former House majority leader Tom DeLay was not charged in a federal investigation into ties with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But he faces a Texas indictment for violating campaign-finance laws…. – CS Monitor, 8-16-10
  • Analysis: Mosque talk another hurdle for Dems: Add another election-year hurdle for Democrats: President Barack Obama’s forceful defense of the right of Muslims to build a mosque near the World Trade Center site. His comments are giving Republicans a campaign-year cudgel and forcing Democrats to address a divisive issue within weeks of midterm contests that will decide the balance of power in Washington. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a competitive re-election fight, was the highest profile Democrat to move away from Obama on the matter. “The First Amendment protects freedom of religion,” Reid’s spokesman Jim Manley said in a statement Monday. “Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built some place else.”… – AP, 8-16-10

ELECTIONS 2010, 2012….

  • Kendrick Meek: The White House Has My Back: On a campaign stop in Florida Wednesday, President Obama said Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Kendrick Meek is the “kind of fighter” that “we need” in the Senate. The “campaigner-in-chief” made the comment on his first trip down to Florida, only a week before the August 24th primary. The president’s previous absence in the race, where Meek is the underdog, had left many wondering whether the Democratic candidate was essentially on his own.
    Meek, however, insisted on “Washington Unplugged” Thursday that “The White House has answered the question constantly,” arguing to CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer that he has the full backing of the administration…. – CBS News, 8-19-10
  • Primaries being decided in 3 states: Democratic Sen. Patty Murray looked to move a step closer toward a fourth term Tuesday in a race that Republicans believe they can win in an election year when antiestablishment sentiment is running high. Murray and Republican challenger Dino Rossi are heavily favored to win Washington’s primary and face off in November, in what could be a crucial election in the battle for control of the Senate. They already have been campaigning against each other in anticipation of a fall matchup, and President Barack Obama came to the state Tuesday to raise money for Murray. Washington is one of three states holding primaries Tuesday. Wyoming was deciding a gubernatorial primary in the race to replace popular Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal, and Democrats in a legislative district along the California coast were hoping to lock up a state Senate seat in a closely watched special election that has attracted the interest of the president…. – AP, 8-17-10

POLITICAL QUOTES

  • Weekly Address: President Obama Challenges Politicians Benefiting from Citizens United Ruling to Defend Corporate Influence in Our Elections: Remarks of President Barack Obama Weekly Address August 21, 2010: …You would think that making these reforms would be a matter of common sense. You’d think that reducing corporate and even foreign influence over our elections wouldn’t be a partisan issue.
    But the Republican leaders in Congress said no. In fact, they used their power to block the issue from even coming up for a vote.
    This can only mean that the leaders of the other party want to keep the public in the dark. They don’t want you to know which interests are paying for the ads. The only people who don’t want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide.
    Well, we cannot allow the corporate takeover of our democracy. So we’re going to continue to fight for reform and transparency. And I urge all of you to take up the same fight. Let’s challenge every elected official who benefits from these ads to defend this practice or join us in stopping it.
    At a time of such challenge for America, we can’t afford these political games. Millions of Americans are struggling to get by, and their voices shouldn’t be drowned out by millions of dollars in secret, special interest advertising. Their voices should be heard…. – WH, 8-21-10
  • Obama challenges GOP on campaign finance ruling: President Barack Obama says Republicans should join him in opposing a Supreme Court ruling that vastly increased how much corporations and unions can spend on campaign ads. Instead, the GOP wants to “keep the public in the dark” about who’s behind the expenditures, Obama charged in his weekly radio and Internet address, released Saturday as he vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard.
    “You’d think that reducing corporate and even foreign influence over our elections wouldn’t be a partisan issue,” said Obama. “But the Republican leaders in Congress said no. In fact,they used their power to block the issue from even coming up for a vote.
    “This can only mean that the leaders of the other party want to keep the public in the dark,” said the president. “They don’t want you to know which interests are paying for the ads. The only people who don’t want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide.”… – AP, 8-21-10
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., scoffed at the president’s message: “Americans want us to focus on jobs, but by focusing on an election bill, Democrats are sending a clear message to the American people that their jobs aren’t as important as the jobs of embattled Democrat politicians,” McConnell said. “The president says this bill is about transparency. It’s transparent all right. It’s a transparent effort to rig the fall elections.”… – AP, 8-21-10
  • The Rev. Franklin Graham Says President Obama was ‘Born a Muslim’ Comments Come As Poll Shows One in Five Americans Wrongly Believes Obama Is Muslim: On the heels of a new poll suggesting that nearly one in five Americans incorrectly believes that President Obama is a Muslim, one of the nation’s most prominent evangelical leaders has weighed in with a seemingly lukewarm endorsement of the president’s Christian faith. Why do 18 percent of Americans believe the president is a Muslim?
    The Rev. Franklin Graham waded into the discussion with his own controversial explanation of why people wrongly believe the president is a Muslim. Graham, who prayed with Obama in a session with his father, Billy Graham, earlier this year, was asked whether he has any doubts about Obama’s self-avowed Christian faith.
    “I think the president’s problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim, his father gave him an Islamic name,” Graham told CNN’s John King in a televised interview that aired Thursday night…. – ABC News, 8-20-10
  • Bush comments on end of combat: Seven years after declaring the end of “major combat operations in Iraq,” former President George W. Bush Thursday commented on the departure of the last U.S. combat troops from the country by expressing his gratitude to members of the U.S. military.
    “President Bush is always proud of our troops,” Bush spokesman David Sherzer said in a statement to POLITICO. “Like all Americans, he is deeply grateful for all they do to defend our country and help make the world a freer and more peaceful place.”…
    Bush has rarely spoken about the war since leaving office, even as violence in the country has decreased and the United States prepares for a full withdrawal next summer. But in a tweet late Wednesday night as the last U.S. combat troops crossed the Iraqi border into Kuwait, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) noted the former president’s role: “Last American combat troops leave Iraq. I think President George W. Bush deserves some credit for victory.” – Politico, 8-19-10
  • Ending the War in Iraq:
    Good afternoon,
    Shortly after taking office, I put forward a plan to end the war in Iraq responsibly. Today, I’m pleased to report that — thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians in Iraq — our combat mission will end this month, and we will complete a substantial drawdown of our troops.
    Over the last 18 months, over 90,000 U.S. troops have left Iraq. By the end of this month, 50,000 troops will be serving in Iraq. As Iraqi Security Forces take responsibility for securing their country, our troops will move to an advise-and-assist role. And, consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all of our troops will be out of Iraq by the end of next year. Meanwhile, we will continue to build a strong partnership with the Iraqi people with an increased civilian commitment and diplomatic effort.
    A few weeks ago, men and women from one of the most deployed brigades in the U.S. Army, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, returned home from Iraq. The Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden were at Fort Drum to welcome the veterans home and spoke about their personal experiences as a military family:
    Our commitment to our troops doesn’t end once they come home — it’s only the beginning. Part of ending a war responsibly is meeting our responsibility to the men and women who have fought it. Our troops and their families have made tremendous sacrifices to keep our nation safe and secure, and as a nation we have a moral obligation to serve our veterans as well as they have served us.
    That’s why we’re building a 21st century Department of Veterans Affairs. We’ve made one of the largest percentage increase in the VA’s budget in 30 years, and we’re dramatically increasing funding for veterans’ health across the board. In particular, we’re delivering unprecedented resources to treat signature wounds of today’s wars—Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
    Our sacred trust to take care of our veterans goes beyond simply healing the wounds incurred in battle. We must ensure that when our veterans leave the Armed Forces, they have the opportunities they need to further their education and support their families. Through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, some 300,000 veterans and families members have pursued a college degree. Others are taking advantage of job training and placement programs.
    My Administration will continue to do our part to support the brave men and women in uniform that have sacrificed so much. But supporting our troops and their families is not just the job of the Federal Government; it’s the responsibility of all Americans.
    As we mark this milestone in the Iraq war and our troops continue to move out of Iraq, I hope you’ll join me in thanking them, and all of our troops and military families, for their service.
    Sincerely,
    President Barack Obama
    WH, 8-19-10

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Andrew Bacevich: OBAMA AND THE MISSION: “If we can’t have a victory parade, we at least ought to be able to make some definitive conclusions,” said Andrew Bacevich, a military specialist at Boston University who lost a son in Iraq and has written a new book, “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.” “And it just doesn’t seem that we are going to do so. We want to just move on, sadly.”… – NYT, 8-21-10
  • Judy Chu: pposing view on Iraq endgame: U.S. deadline improved Iraq: Last Thursday, the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, crossed the border out of Iraq. With this exit, two weeks ahead of schedule, our military met the timeline to withdraw combat troops that President Obama first proposed 16 months ago. For that, every American should feel reassured.
    The president’s withdrawal timeline produced a more orderly transition and reduced violence.
    According to the Iraq Body Count project, civilian deaths caused by coalition troops, paramilitary forces, or criminal attacks averaged 1,390 each month from the beginning of the war in March 2003 through February of last year. But after the president officially announced a timetable, that average fell to 364 monthly casualties.
    During the past year and a half, our troops curbed Iraq’s civil war, restrained the insurgency and transitioned into a peacekeeping, advisory force…. – USA Today, 8-23-10
  • Why doesn’t Obama wear his religion on his sleeve?: What will it take for Obama to convince the world that he’s a Christian, or at least not a Muslim? Teaching Baptist Sunday School like Jimmy Carter? Putting a ‘My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter’ bumper sticker on Air Force One?… – CS Monitor, 8-21-10
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