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Obama on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos"

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from ABC News...

MAY 13, 2007

Today on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) in his first Sunday morning interview since announcing his 2008 presidential run.

A rush transcript of the interview, which aired this morning, Sunday, May 13, 2007 on ABC News’ “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” is below.

This week on our roundtable, ABC News’ Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, and George Will join Mr. Stephanopoulos to debate the week’s politics. And, actress Brooke Shields talks about her personal battle with postpartum depression and her support for the MOTHERS Act--legislation that would initiate new federal investment in postpartum depression education and treatment programs for new mothers.

All excerpts must be attributed to ABC News “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

Katherine O’Hearn is the executive producer of “This Week” and George Stephanopoulos is the anchor. The program airs Sundays on the ABC Television Network (check local listings).

Visit the This Week website to read more about the show at

STEPHANOPOULOS: This week, Barack Obama.

OBAMA: There is not a black America and a white America. My
candidacy for president of the United States of America.


STEPHANOPOULOS: In a "This Week" exclusive, we're on the trail.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You've never served in the military.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You've never been an executive.


STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the most difficult crisis you've had to
manage in your public life?


STEPHANOPOULOS: Is the freshman senator ready for the White


OBAMA: I'm not naive enough to think that if we all hold hands
and sing "Kumbaya" that somehow health care gets solved.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And is the country ready for him?


OBAMA: If I don't win, it's not going to be because of my race.
It's going to be because I didn't project a vision of leadership that
gave people confidence.


STEPHANOPOULOS: George Will, Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson
debate the week's politics on our roundtable.

Plus, Brooke Shields.


SHIELDS: My story was so common that I thought maybe this will
help one other mother who thinks that they should be ashamed.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And as always, the Sunday Funnies.


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": And Vice President Cheney
made a surprise visit to Iraq today. Great. The one place we need
him firing off his gun, he doesn't bring it. He just goes over



STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone, and happy Mother's Day.
We begin today back on the trail with our exclusive headliner, Barack


UNKNOWN: You da man. You da man.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Three months into a presidential campaign, after
less than three years in the Senate, Obama is raising big money and
drawing huge crowds. Unlike his top rivals for the Democratic
nomination, Obama was against the war in Iraq from the start.


OBAMA: I don't oppose war in all circumstances. What I do
oppose is a dumb war.


STEPHANOPOULOS: But here in Iowa this week...


OBAMA: Good to see you. Hi, guys!


STEPHANOPOULOS: ... most of the questions from relatively small
crowds hit closer to home.


UNKNOWN: How do we get rid of our dependence on a single
automobile and have mass transportation that works?


STEPHANOPOULOS: And at every stop...


OBAMA: Nice to see you.


STEPHANOPOULOS: ... the 45-year-old who would be America's first
African-American president addressed the key question of his campaign:
Is he ready for the job?


OBAMA: I'm confident about my ability to lead this country.


STEPHANOPOULOS: When we sat down in Des Moines, I asked Obama
where he got that confidence.


OBAMA: Well, you know, I think it comes from the set of
experiences that I brought with me to this race.

As somebody who worked as a community organizer in Chicago, not
knowing anybody when I arrived and being able to pull people together
around the issues that folks were facing after they'd gotten laid off
of work; the work that I've done as a civil rights lawyer and a
constitutional law professor.

And then in the state senate, being able to get Democrats and
Republicans together around tough issues like reforming the death
penalty or expanding health insurance for kids -- those skills seem to
have translated in Washington.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you've never served in the military.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You've never been an executive.


STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the most difficult crisis you've had to
manage in your public life?

OBAMA: Well, you know, the truth is, in my public life as a
legislator, most of the difficult tasks have been to build consensus
around hard problems.

And what I think the country needs more than anything right now
is somebody who has the capacity to identify areas of common interest,
common good, build a consensus around it and get things done.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is part of the job. There's no question
about it.


STEPHANOPOULOS: But you know a big part of the job of a
president is what you do in a crisis...

OBAMA: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... the crisis you didn't expect.

OBAMA: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you never really ever had to deal with
something like that, right?

OBAMA: Well, what I think is absolutely legitimate is that my
political career has been on the legislative side and not in the
executive branch.

Now, that's true for a lot of my colleagues, you know, who aren't

And one of the things that I hope over the course of this
campaign I show, is the capacity to manage this pretty unwieldy
process of a political race. And one of the great things about the
press is that they're going to be watching very carefully...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Every move you make.

OBAMA: ... every move you make, and to make sure that people
have a sense of how I deal with adversity, how I deal with mistakes,
who do I have around me to make sure that we're executing on the
things that need to get done.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One moment that got a lot of scrutiny was at the
debate. You were asked what you would do if al Qaida attacked two
American cities.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: How would you change the U.S. military
stance overseas as a result?

OBAMA: Well, the first thing we'd have to do is make sure that
we've got an effective emergency response, something that this
administration failed to do when we had a hurricane in New Orleans.


STEPHANOPOULOS: What you didn't say in your first answer is that
you would strike back.

OBAMA: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And a lot of your rivals said, boy, it shows
that his instincts are soft.

OBAMA: Well, look. I will repeat what I said, which is that the
first thing I would do is make sure that the emergency response was
appropriate and the people were safe.

The second thing I'd do is make sure that we weren't going to
have another attack, and that we had adequate intelligence to make
sure that that was prevented.

The third thing I would do is to find out who had perpetrated the
crime, and then I would attack.

Now, that, I think, is how every American should want their
president to operate. And that is something that I think is the kind
of judgment that we're going to need out of a chief executive --
somebody who can respond in a crisis to make sure that the American
people are safe, that the international community has confidence about
the intelligence that we are operating under.

But I don't think there can be any doubt that I would strike
swiftly, promptly and vigorously, if there was an attack.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of your heroes is Abe Lincoln. He was
ruthless when he had to be. Can you be ruthless?

OBAMA: You know, I think that somebody who has arrived where I
am out of Chicago politics has to have a little bit of steel in him.

I have the capacity, I think, to make strong decisions, even if
they're unpopular, even if they're uncomfortable, even if sometimes I
lose some friends. And I've shown that.

When I opposed the war in Iraq, back in 2002, as I was running
for the U.S. Senate, Bush's poll ratings were sky high. And the
conventional wisdom -- not just in Washington, but all across the
country -- was that it was political suicide to get out front and
oppose this thing.

And I did, knowing the potential consequences, because I thought
that was the right thing to do. And that kind of willingness to stand
up in difficult situations, I think, has characterized my career.
And that, I think, is what people are looking for. It's not just
talking tough, because the truth is, nobody has talked tougher than
George Bush over the last six years. Being tough means, first of all,
not having to talk about it all the time. And the second is being
able to apply to apply judgment and understanding where can you get
things done by cooperation, and where do you have to make tough

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about Iraq. President Clinton says,
it's ludicrous to characterize Hillary and Obama's positions on the
war as polar opposites. Is he right?

OBAMA: Well, I don't think they're polar opposites. I would
agree with that.

I think that my position, though, has been clear from the start
and has been consistent, which is that I thought this was a bad idea.
I said so from the start.

I also said, even as I said it was a bad idea, that once we were
in, it was going to be tough to get out, and that we were going to
have some responsibilities to be as careful getting out as we were
careless getting in.

And I've been consistent in that...


OBAMA: ... position.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But back in 2003, you were against supplemental
funding for the war. You gave a speech where you said, I would vote
against the $87 billion.

OBAMA: That is true.


OBAMA: And I say so unequivocally, because at a certain point,
we have to say no to George Bush. If we keep on getting steamrolled,
we're not going to save the ship.


OBAMA: And the reason was because I was trying to establish a
principle at that time -- and I said this at the time -- that for us
to be giving $20 billion in reconstruction dollars, in a no-bid
process where money could potentially be wasted, was a problem.

But what I also said at that time was that the $67 billion that
was needed for the troops was something that I would gladly vote for.
And I've been consistent in saying that, as much as I think this has
been, if not the biggest, then one of the biggest foreign policy
blunders in history, I want to make sure that our troops who are on
the ground, who have performed magnificently, aren't caught in the
political crossfire in Washington.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you said then that you have to say no to
George Bush, because we can't get steamrolled.

Yet you go in the Senate, your critics say, and vote for the
funding every single time.

OBAMA: Because at that point, you've got hundreds of thousands
of young men and women who have to carry out the mission on behalf of
the American people. It's not their fault that our civilian
leadership made bad decisions.

And what I wanted to make sure of was that they had the night
vision goggles they needed, the humvees that they needed.

And I also felt, and I continue to feel this way, that if we
could create some semblance of stability and success in Iraq, that
would be a good thing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, your position now is, we should get 16
senators -- you're giving the speech everywhere -- to come forward and
vote for the Democratic bill.


OBAMA: That's how much it takes for a veto-proof majority to
tell the president that it's time to bring our troops home.


STEPHANOPOULOS: That is not going to happen.

OBAMA: Well, see, that I'd disagree with. There was a reason
why there were 11 Republican House members, all of whom had been loyal
soldiers to the president, who went to the White House this week and
told him, we need a change of policy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet they all said they would vote for the
funding right now.

OBAMA: Well, of course they all said that right now. But the
point is, is that we have to ratchet up pressure. We have to get
those members to recognize that the time for us to bring this war to a
close is now, and that we can do it in a responsible way. We can do
it in a way that doesn't play games with our troops on the ground.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, does that mean, next week or the week after,
when the war funding bill comes forward -- it doesn't have the
timeline for withdrawal, but it does have benchmarks -- you vote for

OBAMA: It's going to depend on what the bill looks like.

I don't believe in giving George Bush a blank check.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, it would have to be some kind of
restriction, some...

OBAMA: There's got to be something that signals the president is
changing course, and that there are consequences to the Iraqi
government failing to meet some of the benchmarks that we're talking

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you want troops to come out -- combat troops
-- to come out by the end of March...

OBAMA: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... of next year.

What's your assumption of what Iraq looks like on April 1st,

OBAMA: Well, I think that if we've done it responsibly, if the
commanders on the ground have been able to do it in an orderly
process, and if we've got the diplomatic efforts that are needed to
ensure that parties are talking to each other, then my assumption is
there might be some spikes in violence some places in Iraq, but that
we will have triggered a conversation, a changed dynamic in Iraq and
in the region, where people start recognizing, you know what? We're
going to have to carry some weight here.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is certainly the hope. But what if you're

OBAMA: Well...

STEPHANOPOULOS: What if al Qaeda continues to build? What if
the Shiites unleash a genocide on the Sunnis? Does President Obama go
back in?

OBAMA: There are no good options in Iraq right now. We have bad
options and worse options. That's why I didn't think we should go in
in the first place.

It is my judgment that the only thing that can change the
political dynamic is the phased redeployment.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But do you believe that the United States has a
responsibility to go back in, if we don't get the results you hope

OBAMA: I think that we have a national security interest in the
region. That means we can't abandon the field entirely. It means
that we're going to have to ensure that you don't have spillover of
violence throughout the region.

I think we have some moral and humanitarian responsibilities to
the Iraqi people, and that has to be factored in.

I can't anticipate what Iraq will look like a year from now,
because so much depends on how we carry out this phased redeployment
and how effective we are when it comes to diplomacy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of your big issues is ethics reform.

OBAMA: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you faced a lot of criticism back home in
Chicago about a land deal you entered into with a longtime friend and
contributor of yours named Rezko.

You bought a house. He bought an adjacent plot, this exact same
day. Several months later, you bought part of the plot back from him.
All at that time, it was known that he was being investigated for
corruption and kickbacks.

What were you thinking?

OBAMA: Well, obviously, I wasn't thinking enough.

I'm very proud of my ethics record. I mean, I was famous in
Springfield for not allowing lobbyists to even buy me lunch.

And so, you know, this is one time where I didn't see the
appearance of impropriety, because I paid full price for the land.
There has been no allegations of anything other than that.

But it raised the possibility that here was somebody who was a
friend of mine who was doing me a favor. And I've said it was a bone-
headed mistake.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you explain the blind spot?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that -- you know, we had bought a
house for the first time. And we were trying to figure out how to set
the whole thing up. And you know, this is somebody that I had known
for some time. It was an above-board, legal transaction. I paid more
than the price of the property that I had purchased.

And so, the assumption was that this was all above board.

And the important thing, though, is to note that, in all my
conduct, there has never been any implications, including in this
situation, that I in any way used my office to do favors for people,
to help folks betray the public trust in any sort of way.

And that is something that I am very proud of, and that's part of
the reason why, in this campaign, it's so important for me to talk
about the need, not just to win elections, but to change how our
politics work.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about taxes.

In a town meeting, you said you were willing to roll back
President Bush's tax cuts to help pay for your health care plan when
you announce it.


OBAMA: Rolling back the Bush tax cuts on the top 1 percent
people who don't need it would be a good way of helping to pay for the
additional services that were needed.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Edwards has said he would consider going
farther, raising taxes beyond that on the wealthy. Are you?

OBAMA: Well, I think the starting point has to be, "Are we
spending out current money wisely?" That has to be the starting
point, and I think that's true on health care, that we can save about
$75 billion a year by increasing prevention, managing the chronically
ill, applying medical technology.

Once we have seen what savings can be obtained, then my absolute
commitment is to make sure that we've got universal health care in
this country, and I will find the money to make up the difference.

QUESTION: So if it take new taxes, so be it?

OBAMA: If it takes a rollback of those tax cuts, I think that
will be sufficient to pay for the health care fund.

Now, there are other areas where we've got to make some

I have not made a promise -- and I won't make a promise -- that
I'm going to be able to perfectly balance the budget immediately.

What I can say is that we're going to pay as you go; that if I
start a new program, I'll find a way to pay for it; if I want tax
cuts, then I'm going to find a way to pay for them; and that, over the
long term, we get a stable budget that is not simply running up the
credit card on our children.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've also said that with Social Security,
everything should be on the table.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Raising the retirement age?

OBAMA: Everything should be on the table.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Raising payroll taxes?

OBAMA: Everything should be on the table. I think we should
approach it the same way Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan did back in
1983. They came together. I don't want to lay out my preferences
beforehand, but what I know is that Social Security is solvable. It
is not as difficult a problem as we're going to have with Medicaid and

STEPHANOPOULOS: Partial privatization?

OBAMA: Privatization is not something that I would consider, and
the reason is this: Social Security, I think, is -- that's the floor.
That's the baseline. Social Security is that safety net that can't be
frayed, and we shouldn't put at risk.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your candidacy brings the issue of race right to
the top...

OBAMA: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... of the national conversation. You've been a
strong supporter of affirmative action...


STEPHANOPOULOS: ... and you're a constitutional law professor,
so let's go back in the classroom. I'm your student, I say,
"Professor, you and your wife went to Harvard Law School. You've got
plenty of money. You're running for president. Why should your
daughters, when they go to college, get affirmative action?"

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think that my daughters should
probably be treated by any admissions officer as folks who are pretty
advantaged, and I think that there's nothing wrong with us taking that
into account as we consider admissions policies at universities.

I think that we should take into account white kids who have been
disadvantaged and have grown up in poverty and shown themselves to
have what it takes to succeed.

So I don't think those concepts are mutually exclusive. I think
what we can say is that in our society, race and class still
intersect, that there are a lot of African-American kids who are still
struggling, that even those who are in the middle class may be first
generation as opposed to fifth or sixth generation college attendees,
and that we all have an interest in bringing as many people together
to help build this country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that in 25 years,
affirmative action may no longer be necessary. Is she right?

OBAMA: I would like to think that if we make good decisions and
we invest in early childhood education, improve K-12, if we have done
what needs to be done to ensure that kids who are qualified to go to
college can afford it, that affirmative action becomes a diminishing
tool for us to achieve racial equality in this society.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You have a very cool style when you're doing
those town meetings, when you're out on the campaign trail. And I
wonder, how much of that is tied to your race?

OBAMA: That's interesting.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of your friends told the New Yorker Magazine
that "the mainstream is just not ready for a fire-breathing black
man." Did you turn down the temperature on purpose?

OBAMA: You know, I don't think it has to do with race. I think
it has to do with when I'm campaigning, I'm in a conversation. And
what I don't do when I'm campaigning is to try to press a lot of hot
buttons and use a lot of cheap applause lines, because I want people
to get a sense of how I think about this process.

OBAMA: I want them to have some ability to walk through with me
the difficult choices that we face.


OBAMA: We're spending $275 million a day, a day, in Iraq.


OBAMA: And I think that one of the problems with political
speeches is that we all know what folks want to hear. We know who the
conventional, stereotypical enemies are on any given issue, and we
have a tendency, I think, to play up to that. And I actually think
that we're in this moment in history right now where honesty,
admitting complexity is a good thing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about passion? How about anger? I mean,
you've written about how you dealt with issues of anger. Don't you
think sometimes voters need to see that too?

OBAMA: Oh, absolutely, and I think they do see it. Listen, the
one thing that I don't think people are going to be able to accuse me
of is not being able to give a fiery speech. I came onto the national
scene after getting folks fired up pretty good.


OBAMA: There is not a black America and a white America and
Latino America and Asian America. There's the United States of


OBAMA: But keep in mind, I'm not interested in bringing people
together just for the sake of bringing people together. I'm not naive
enough to think that if we all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" that
somehow health care gets solved or, you know, education gets solved.
Right now, what we need to make significant progress on these problems
is to be able to build enough bridges to get things done.

So, I'm furious about the young men that I see standing on
corners on the South Side of Chicago without hope, without
opportunity, without prospects for the future. I am furious about the
mothers I meet here in Iowa who are giving me hugs and telling me
about their son who died in a war and asking, did their son die for a
It breaks my heart. But what I know is that the only way we're
going to solve the problem is not to assign blame. It's to say,
"Here's a vision for the future that we can do something about."

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've had to ask for Secret Service protection
awful early in this campaign. Were you reluctant?



OBAMA: I'm not an entourage guy. You know, up until recently, I
was still, you know, taking my wife Michelle's grocery list and going
to the grocery store once in awhile. And so obviously it's
constrained, but I'm obviously appreciate of their efforts. They're
extraordinarily professional.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Durbin, your friend, who talked to the
review board, said a lot of the threats that were coming in are
racially motivated. How serious are they? How much are you told?
How much do you worry about it?

OBAMA: You know, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it
or considering the details of this. But just to broaden the issue,
are there people who would be troubled with an African-American
president? Yes. Are there folks who might not vote for me because
I'm African-American? No doubt.

What I'm confident about, though, as I travel around the country,
is that people are decent at their core in America. The vast majority
of folks want to do the right thing.

If I don't win, it's not going to be because of my race. It's
going to be because I didn't project a vision of leadership that gave
people confidence. It's going to be because of something I didn't do
as opposed to because I'm African-American.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've been thinking about running for president
a long time. Your brother-in-law says he talked to you about it in
the early '90s.

OBAMA: He might have brought it up. I'm not sure.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you dispute that?


OBAMA: You know, what's wonderful about this whole process is
that everybody has -- everybody looks at me now through the lens of
where I am now. You know, I had my high school teacher saying what a
wonderful, studious guy he was. And I was goofing off the whole time,
and they were calling up the principal. I think there's a lot of
self-correction that takes place (inaudible).

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, but there's one more. Valerie Jarrett, a
good friend of the family says, you told her in your Senate race, "I
just think I have some special qualities, and wouldn't it be a shame
to waste them."

OBAMA: That, I think I probably did say.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What are they?

OBAMA: I think that I have the capacity to get people to
recognize themselves in each other. I think that I have the ability
to make people get beyond some of the divisions that plague our
society and to focus on common sense and reason.

OBAMA: And that's been in short supply over the last several

You know, I'm not an ideologue. Never have been. Even during my
younger days when I was tempted by sort of more radical or left-wing
politics, there was a part of me that always was a little bit
conservative in that sense, that believes that you make progress by
sitting down, listening to people, recognizing everybody's concerns,
seeing other people's points of views, and them making decisions.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One final question. Everyone is going to be
watching this on Mother's Day, and a lot of America is going to get to
know a lot about you over the next year, but they're never going to
know your mom. She passed away a little more than 10 years ago.
What's the most important lesson she taught you?

OBAMA: She was the sweetest soul I've ever known, and I think
that quality that I just talked about, the capacity to see the world
through somebody else's eyes or to stand in their shoes, is what she
gave to me in great abundance. And I think that capacity is what's
needed right now in this moment.

There have been other moments in history where maybe some other
skills were needed, but I think bringing the country together -- and,
by the way, bringing the world together -- so that there's that sense
of mutual recognition is something that I get directly from my mother.
And I think her spirit acts powerfully on me throughout the course of
this campaign.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, thanks very much.

OBAMA: Thank you so much, George. I appreciate it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The roundtable is next with George Will, Cokie
Roberts and Sam Donaldson. And later, Brooke Shields.


SHIELDS: My husband in desperation just begged me to just go
back to the same doctor who said, oh, don't worry about it, it will
pass. It's the baby blues.





STEPHANOPOULOS: Our Mother's Day Voice, Brooke Shields.


SHIELDS: And here I am.


STEPHANOPOULOS: She took her star power to Capitol Hill this
week, pushing Congress to pass legislation for new mothers fighting


SHIELDS: We are taught that being a mother and becoming a mother
is the most glorious thing you could ever do. It's the most natural
thing. If you don't do this beautifully, then you are wrong, you
know, you are not a good mother. You're not a good woman.

After the birth of my first daughter, I experienced acute
postpartum depression, but I was not really aware that I had it. It
was devastating to my whole family. I had gone through numerous
attempts to have a baby, and then I finally did have this perfect,
beautiful, healthy baby, and it all but destroyed me.


SHIELDS: The knowledge of postpartum is a tool that I believe
all women deserve. And this bill represents that tool. And it's an
easy gift to give to women everywhere.


SHIELDS: There is an entire population of women suffering. And
it's so much more prevalent than anyone ever really, really wants to
admit. And it's time, I believe, for Congress to step in and prevent
that, and actually save lives and save potential tragedy.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You can hear more from Brooke Shields and learn
more about the Mothers Act on our website at

And now, the Sunday Funnies.


STEPHANOPOULOS: That's our show for today. Coming up next week,
another "This Week" exclusive, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Thanks for sharing part of your Mother's Day with us. We'll see
you next week.


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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on May 13, 2007 9:49 PM.

Sweet blog special: Michelle Obama cutting back U. of Chicago job even more. Hits Florida this week for fund-raisers. Obama's half-sister debuts in campaign was the previous entry in this blog.

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