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June 2009 Archives



Senior White House Adviser David Axelrod, left, accompanied by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, reads the book, "First Dog," to children, Tuesday, June 30, 2009, in front of the Education Department in Washington. Axelrod read as part of the Obama administration's summer reading. (AP photos)

Sarah Palin and her wobbly performance as John McCain's vice presidential candidate is dissected by Todd Purdum in the new issue of Vanity Fair.

Purdom says it's hard to see her as a 2012 presidential candidate.

It's now Sen.-elect Al Franken. After the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, now former Sen. Norm Coleman said he will give up pursuing more legal challenges.

"It's over," Coleman just said at a press conference in Minnesota.

This means the Senate Democrats now have 60 votes, a supermajority.

President Obama headlined a dinner Monday night for his best donors and bundlers at an event where top Democratic National Committee contributors also attended. Obama gave a shout out to his campaign national finance chair, Penny Pritzker.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan is in Chicago on Tuesday to deliver remarks at the Solutions for Working Families: 2009 Learning Conference on State and Local Housing Policy sponsored by the National Housing Conference and at the Rainbow/PUSH annual conference.

Click below for Donovan's housing policy speech.

WASHINGTON--President Obama and First Lady Michelle welcomed gay activists to the White House on Monday, with a contingent from Chicago flying in to mark LGBT pride month.

Invited guests from Chicago (not spouses or partners who came with) from Chicago included Debra Shore, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago; Michael Bauer; Fred Eychaner; Vernita Gray; Mary Morten: Miriam Redleaf; Catherine Renna; Laura Ricketts and Jane Saks.

The Obama administration's lack of progress on key gay issues has been a source of disappointment within the gay community.

"Many in our community feel he is not doing enough," Shore told me after the event. "I feel it's just not up to him. It has to be up to all of us. The slogan was not "Yes, he can." It was "Yes we can." So we have work to do."

With the first lady seated by his side, Obama in his remarks tacitly acknowledged the critics.

"I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration," the president said.

Obama announce at the reception that he was lifting a ban that kept some who tested positive for HIV from entering the U.S.

One one of the most sensitive issues, getting Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, Obama said he was trying. "Now, I want to add we have a duty to uphold existing law, but I believe we must do so in a way that does not exacerbate old divides."

As for the controversial military "don't ask, don't tell" policy--which can only be repealed by Congress--Obama pleaded for patience.

"I believe "don't ask, don't tell" doesn't contribute to our national security.

"..Someday, I'm confident, we'll look back at this transition and ask why it generated such angst, but as Commander-in-Chief, in a time of war, I do have a responsibility to see that this change is administered in a practical way and a way that takes over the long term," he said.

WASHINGTON--Contrary to the impression that may have been left from a Time Magazine report, the White House said Monday that President Obama has not stopped his search for a new church. The Obama family quit Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ during the presidential campaign because of the controversies surrounding the former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Gibbs was asked at the briefing, "Is the Time magazine report correct, that the president has told his staff that he intends to not search for a church in Washington but he will worship at Camp David instead?

Gibbs' answer used the word formal many times--a wiggle word, perhaps.

He replied, "No. He's -- there have been no formal decisions about joining a church. I think I've mentioned in here, in the past couple of weeks, that when he goes to Camp David, he has attended services at the chapel there. He enjoys the pastor there.

"They're not formally joining that church. And there have been no formal decisions on joining a church in this area. I will say, I think, one aspect of the article that is true, as I mentioned here in that same discussion, was the concern that the president continues to have, about the disruptive nature of his presence on any particular Sunday, in some churches around the area.

WASHINGTON--President Obama, with First Lady Michelle Obama at his side, is hosting right now a reception at the White House for gay leaders, pegged to the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

There are "unjust laws to overturn," Obama said, "unjust practices" to stop.

WASHINGTON--Another Chicagoan, Ertharin Cousin, a veteran of local and national politics, non-profit and corporate work, is joining the Obama administration. Cousin has been tapped to be the next U.S. ambassador to the Rome-based U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is jumping in Monday to defend President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor in the wake of the Supreme Court reversing her in the New Haven firefighters case.

Meanwhile, the White House tells me Sotomayor is in Washington today.

below, from a release....

WASHINGTON (Monday, June 29, 2009) - Senate Judiciary Committee Member Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will speak to reporters via conference call Monday afternoon to discuss Associate Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor's judicial record. Schumer will be joined on the call by Austin Schlick, Chief of Litigation in the Maryland Attorney General's office, and Richard Primus, a legal scholar and law professor at Michigan Law School, and Andy Pincus, a Supreme Court advocate and former Assistant to the Solicitor General

Con man Bernard Madoff, 71, who bilked billions of dollars from his victims, was sentenced to 150 years in prison on Monday morning.

UPDATED MONDAY AT 2:42 p.m. eastern

Click below for Justice Department statement

WASHINGTON--The Supreme Court reversed Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's Supreme Court nominee on Monday, in the New Haven firefighters case.

Sotomayor, who sits on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled that white firefighters in New Haven had not been denied promotions in a case where the city had thrown out the results of a test where white firefighters did better than minorities.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision ruled that New Haven should not have discarded the results of the test.

Political bottom line: Senate opponents of Sotomayor's nomination will use the reversal as fodder that she is an activist judge. Supporters will stay supporters. This reversal is gut kick to Sotomayor, but one she will survive.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg offered a spirited dissent:

This case presents an unfortunate situation, one New
Haven might well have avoided had it utilized a better
selection process in the first place. But what this case
does not present is race-based discrimination in violation
of Title VII. I dissent from the Court's judgment, which
rests on the false premise that respondents showed "a
significant statistical disparity," but "nothing more."

(Click to read the entire Supreme Court opinion or look at it here.)

Obama urges HIV testing

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IMG_0727.JPGBarack and Michelle Obama taking HIV tests in Kenya, 2006
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--President Obama marking HIV Testing Day, urges people to take the test. While visiting Kenya on Aug. 6, 2006, while an Illinois senator, Obama and wife Michelle made a public display of taking HIV tests in order to encourage more men to do the same.

Watch the video from the Kenya event

So long, Michael Jackson



Roger Ebert, Richard Roeper and more at

WASHINGTON -- As Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan nears a decision on whether to run for governor or senator or to stay put, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on Thursday called her "the most popular political figure in Illinois."

I asked Emanuel about Madigan's June 12 visit to the White House during a breakfast Thursday with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

(Emanuel's wide ranging session transcript courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor)

Sweet pitching at Dunk Booth with Robert Gibbs on the South Lawn of the White House on luau night, June 25, 2009 (Photos by David Corn)
IMG_0314.jpgGibbs dunked, not by Sweet

WASHINGTON--As reporters were escorted to the South Lawn to take some shots at White House press secretary Robert Gibbs in a dunk tank (it's luau night), President Obama suddenly opened a door near his Oval Office.

David Corn, author and Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief hollered out to Obama, come out for a pitch. Obama looked ready, but he said, "they won't let me take a shot."

The South Lawn was decorated with thatched huts serving food and drink and lots of palms; tonight is the congressional picnic and the luau theme is inspired by Obama's native Hawaii.

When I was being escorted to the South Lawn, the smell of whatever was cooking was overwhelming and delicious, perhaps barbeque.

The Gibbs in the dunk tank idea came from FOX News Wendell Goler, who suggested reporters take shots at Gibbs for charity.

Gibbs, in a mock long sleeve turtle neck and shorts--was sitting in the dunking booth when the reporters arrived. There would be four pitchers, each getting three tries. Gibbs said the White House counsel advised that no money could change hands. Gibbs suggested a voluntary donation to a local food bank.

Mike Emanuel from FOX News took three shots and missed.

The AP's Ben Feller hit the dunking paddle on his third ball and Gibbs went down. High fives.

I tried next, not having used my southpaw overhand pitch for years. I threw hard. I came close on my first two tries. I think some folks were surprised that I had a pitching arm. I always wanted to throw like the boys.

WASHINGTON--The idea came up during the White House briefing on Thursday, conducted by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in advance of a luau for members of Congress hosted by President Obama and First Lady Michelle.

Gibbs, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and leg affairs chief Phil Schiliro had agreed to be in the dunk tank, Gibbs briefed.

That line of conversation morphed to Gibbs agreeing to go in the dunk tank early if reporters kicked in a charitable donation.

"I'm happy to -- you guys collect a pot of money. You guys pick your best arm. And we can -- you can have a shot at it. You can throw it at me and I'll get you the video," Gibbs said.

WASHINGTON--Another Chicagoan, Bryan Samuels, joins the Obama White House, tapped Wednesday to be Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Health and Human Services.

Samuels, who grew up in a "residential school for disadvantaged children," is Chief of Staff for the Chicago Public Schools. The former CPS chief, Arne Duncan, is Obama's Secretary of Education.

Before that, from 2003 to 2007, Samuels was the Director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Samuels holds a Master's Degree from the University of Chicago, Harris School of Public Policy Studies and a Bachelor's of Arts Degree from the University of Notre Dame.

He also taught at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration.

WASHINGTON--Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) is among the small group of members of Congress meeting with President Obama Thursday afternoon to discuss immigration reform. Don't get your hopes up if you are tracking the issue. The meeting is happening, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said Thursday morning at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, because "the votes aren't there."

Rahm's management rule: When you have the votes, you don't need a meeting.

WASHINGTON--White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel set the Obama administration's "test of bipartisanship" on Thursday morning, arguing the final vote tally alone on a bill is not the only factor.

"The test of bipartisanship is not just how many Republican votes you have," Emanuel said at the breakfast, sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "If I can get one thing across to this esteemed group of Washington journalists," Emanuel said, it would be there are a "number of ways of grading bipartisanship."

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama and President Obama host a luau Thursday night for members of Congress on the South Lawn of the White House. In order to add more substance to the event, the First Couple as part of their push to get more people involved in volunteering traveled to nearby Ft. McNair with daughters Sasha and Malia to help assemble backpacks for the kids of military personnel.

During the event, Mrs. Obama gave a preview of the Hawaii-themed picnic tonight while introducing her husband, she said "We've got a great picnic planned -- a luau -- some great hula dancers" -- and then demonstrated the dance.

"Try that again," said the president, born in Hawaii, laughing

WASHINGTON--President Obama and First Lady Michelle will meet Pope Benedict XVI on July 10 at the Vatican, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday. The purpose of the visit is "to discuss a range of issues, including their shared belief in the dignity of all people. That's on the upcoming trip."

From The State newspaper in South Carolina

Gov. Mark Sanford admits affair


After disappearing, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford surfaced on Wednesday to admit he ran off to Argentina--leaving the country without telling anyone-- to have an affair. He had a press conference on this today.

And what do you think?

WASHINGTON-- When President Obama strongly condemned the violence in Iran on Tuesday- cranking up his rhetoric, perhaps enough to satisfy critics who said earlier comments were too tentative- he also sent the message to Iran that the U.S. had nothing to do with the Internet-fueled uprisings in Tehran and the fate of the nation was in Iranians¹ hands.

WASHINGTON--President Obama at first tried to deflect some specific questions about his smoking habits on Tuesday, protesting the focus should be more on Obama's signing of anti-smoking legislation.

Then he relented, saying he realized his struggle was a "human interest" story. He's only "95 percent" quit and, comparing himself to alcoholics who attend life long AA meetings, said there was no permanent cure. "Once you've gone down this path, then you know, it's something you continually struggle with," Obama said.

Obama, at his fourth press conference gave his most detailed answer since his election on his struggle to quit smoking. In order to win her support for his presidential bid, Obama agreed to Michelle Obama's demand that he quit smoking if he got in the race.

A smoker since a teen Obama was asked, 'How many cigarettes a day do you now smoke? Do you smoke alone or in the presence of other people? And do you believe the new law would help you to quite? If so, why?"

Replied Obama to McClatchy reporter Margaret Talev, "Well, the -- first of all, the new law that was put in place is not about me. It's about the next generation of kids coming up. So I think it's fair, Margaret, to just say that you just think it's neat to ask me about my smoking, as opposed to it being relevant to my new law. But that's fine. I understand. It's a interesting human -- it's a interesting human-interest story.

"Look, I've said before that as a former smoker, I constantly struggle with it. Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes? Yes. The -- am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No. I don't do it in front of my kids. I don't do it in front of my family. And you know, I would say that I am 95 percent cured. But there are times where -- there are times where I mess up. And I mean, I've said this before.

obamalynnblog062309.jpg President Obama gestures while answering a question during a press conference. (AP)

WASHINGTON--President Obama talked directly to Iran on Tuesday, calling on an editor from Huffington Post after the web outlet solicited questions online from Iranians. The president also said the iconic picture of the murdered Iranian woman named Neda was "heartbreaking" and that the CIA had nothing to do with the uprising.

Nico Pitney, the national editor for the site, was escorted to a prime spot into the jammed White House briefing room by a White House spokesman, Josh Earnest. Ready to take his second question, Obama looked around for the pre-positioned Pitney.

" I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian, Pitney said.

"We solicited questions last night from people who are still courageous enough to be communicating online, and one of them wanted to ask you this: Under which
conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad? And if you do accept it without any significant changes in the conditions there, isn't that a betrayal of what the demonstrators there are working towards?

Obama--who made it clear during the press conference the U.S. had nothing to do with the Iranian uprising, replied, "Well, look, we didn't have international observers on the ground.

"We can't say definitively what exactly happened at polling places throughout the country. What we know is that a sizable percentage of the Iranian people themselves, spanning Iranian society, consider this election illegitimate. It's not an
isolated instance, a little grumbling here or there. There is significant questions about the legitimacy of the election.

President Obama talks about how golfing makes him feel normal and out of the bubble in an interview with Harry Smith on CBS' "The Early Show."

WASHINGTON--President Obama throws his first Rose Garden press conference on Tuesday, 12:30 p.m. EDT. The White House is adding something new to its applications menu, saying, "members of the public will be able to react to the conference and connect with one another at an official online chat room:"

(Video courtesy of C-SPAN)

Susan Sher, the chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama and Desiree Rogers, the White House Social Secretary--Chicago buddies of Mrs. Obama who followed her to the White House--talk about their jobs in a National Journal video.

(Video courtesy of C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON--President Obama on Monday signs a landmark anti-smoking bill, intended to reduce the use of tobacco products and discuss a deal to lower senior drug costs.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama and California First Lady Maria Shriver--both Chicago born--team up Monday in San Francisco to promote volunteerism and public service.

My photos of Mrs. Obama, Shriver, Oprah Winfrey and Caroline Kennedy taken on Feb. 3, 2008, before the California primary here.

Obama stars in new JibJab video

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Sen. Roland Burris will not be charged with perjury, a Sangamon County prosecutor said Friday. What Burris did not say spoke volumes politically, but it was not a crime.

Obama's latest joke about Rahm.

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Video courtesy of C-SPAN

Updated with video

President Obama's latest joke about longtime friend and chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, to be told Friday night at the RADIO AND TELEVISION CORRESPONDENTS DINNER

In Egypt, we had the opportunity to tour the pyramids. And by now I'm sure you've all seen the pictures of Rahm on that camel. I admit, I was a little nervous about the whole situation. I said at the time, "This is a wild animal known to bite, kick, and spit. And who knows what the camel could do?"

The official portrait of the Obama family dog, "Bo," a Portuguese water dog, on the South Lawn of the White House. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

Talk about health care reform is one thing--what is actually in the House or Senate biil is another. The three House committees working on health care on Friday released their unified draft legislation.


Roland Burris will not be charged with perjury, Downstate prosecutor says

Sangamon County State's Attorney John Schmidt declined to press perjury charges against U.S. Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) stemming from allegations he misled a legislative panel about the circumstances behind his appointment.

Schmidt said that while Burris' answers to the House committee probing former Gov. Blagojevich's impeachment were "incomplete," and vague, that did not rise to the level of a crime. "Based upon our review of the facts and the applicable law, there is insufficient evidence to charge Senator Roland Burris with perjury," Schmidt wrote in a letter to House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), whose office encouraged the probe.

Burris said in a statement that he was "very pleased" by the decision. He still has a Senate Ethics Committee probe hanging over him.

Said Burris, "I am obviously very pleased with today's decision by State's Attorney John Schmidt. His investigation was both thorough and fair, and I am glad that the truth has prevailed.

"This matter has now been fully investigated; I cooperated at every phase of the process, and as I have said from the beginning, I have never engaged in any pay-to-play, never perjured myself, and came to this seat in an honest and legal way. Today's announcement confirms all that.

"I am glad I can now put this matter behind me and get on with my work in the United States Senate serving the people of Illinois."

excerpt from Schmidt letter to Madigan:

The Illinois Supreme Court has consistently held the burden is on the questioner to pin the witness down as to the specific object of the questioner's inquiry.

excerpt from Schmidt press release:

The Sangamon County State's Attorney's Office announced today there is insufficient evidence to charge Senator Roland Burris with perjury for his testimony before the Illinois House Special Investigative Committee. In a letter (copy attached) to Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, the state's attorney's office explained the reasons why there is insufficient evidence.

Under Illinois law an individual commits perjury when under oath he knowingly makes a false statement. A review of the evidence, consisting of numerous interviews and documents, indicates there is insufficient evidence to prove Senator Burris made a statement he knew to be false. Some of his statements were vague, but vague statements cannot support a perjury charge.

click below for Schmidt letter to Madigan, press release...

A video diary on the growing of First Lady Michelle Obama's White House garden, by the Washington Times Christina Bellantoni, White House reporter and videographer

WASHINGTON--In the wake of news that President Obama, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett met with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan at the White House to urge her to run for the Senate--and not for governor--Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias-- issued a statement early Thursday morning saying no "insiders" will push him out of the Senate race he is already in.

"Voters in Illinois are facing the most troubling economic times in decades and they want leaders who will solve problems and fight hard every day against the political insiders who have failed us. When Barack Obama ran for this seat in 2004, he was not the choice of the insiders. He became the choice of the people because of the strength of his ideas and his ideals.

"Illinois has been ill-served by state party leaders who think they know better than voters. Now more than ever, anyone who seeks this seat must convince voters they have the ideas that will get our economy on its feet and put our people back to work, not just prove that they have the political clout to demand a clear field and win appointment."


WASHINGTON--The Obama White House is pushing to have Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan run for the U.S. Senate; she was at the White House last Friday meeting with President Obama, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett.

Madigan's spokesman, Robyn Ziegler, told me Wednesday about Madigan's White House visit designed to persuade Madigan to make the Senate contest rather than run for governor.

"They met and discussed the U.S. Senate seat," Ziegler told me.

"She has not made a decision as to what she is going to do. As you know she is considering her options and meeting with the president is an important step in that decision making process," Ziegler said.

I have been hearing Madigan might be giving more weight to running for the Senate, rather than for governor. I still think she's more partial to governor--but the full court press from Team Obama will be hard to ignore.

Here's the gist put out by a Madigan camper. Madigan is getting more serious but has a few conditions. If Madigan is to get in the Senate race, she wants an endorsement from Obama when she announces and she wants the Democratic primary field to be cleared of rivals.

WASHINGTON--President Obama has talked a lot on the campaign trail about fathers taking responsibility--and will reinforce the message at a White House Friday Fathers Day event that has been planned, pegged to the upcoming Fathers Day.

Obama half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng on the South Lawn of the White House June 16, 2009. (Photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--President Obama's half sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, Bryan Traubert, the Chicago physican married to Penny Pritzker, Obama's presidential campaign finance chair, and the Obama daughters godmother are among those named Wednesday to the President's Commission on White House Fellowships.

Former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) who had to withdraw his appointment as Health and Human Services secretary and Health czar, is also on the commission.

The director of the program is Cindy Moelis, a friend of First Lady Michelle Obama who worked with her in Mayor Daley's city hall. Moelis went on to become the Executive Director of the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation, established by Pritzker and her Traubert, her husband. Moelis' husband is Robert Rivkin, a lawyer who is general counsel to the Transportation Department, working for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

(Here's more about Moelis from Chicago author Carol Felsenthal)

I ran into Soetoro-Ng on Tuesday while at the White House kitchen garden on the South Lawn of the White House, while waiting for First Lady Michelle Obama to harvest some vegetables with students from a Washington grammar school. Soetoro-Ng said she was staying at the White House a few days.

Others from Chicago on the Commission:
*Judy Wise, an Obama fund-raising bundler.

*Eleanor Kaye Wilson, identified only as a Chicago educator in the press release is also, according to Felsenthal, the godmother of the Obama girls.

Writes Felsenthal over at the Huffington Post, "Another Chicago name on the list, Eleanor Kaye Wilson, caught my eye. When I was writing a profile of Michelle for Chicago magazine, I tried but failed to land an interview with Ms. Wilson, known affectionately by the Obamas as "Mama Kaye."

"Ms. Wilson, who lives in Olympia Fields, is the Obama girls' godmother as well as a friend and contemporary of Michelle's mother, Marian Robinson. Yvonne Davila, a friend of Michelle's since their days working in City Hall, told me that when Michelle and Barack were on the campaign trail, the Obama girls would often stay with with Mama Kaye, whom she describes as "the Martha Stewart of our group. ... She does foods that are amazing. She also does arts and crafts and it's such a great [treat] for our kids to go over there."

WASHINGTON--President Obama unveiled Wednesday his plan to overhaul that nation's financial regulatory system, in the wake of the global financial crisis, "one of the largest in history," he said.

"No one was responsible for the whole system," the president said.

"We are also proposing comprehensive regulation of credit default swaps and other derivatives that have threatened the entire financial system. And we will require the originator of a loan to retain an economic interest in that loan, so that the lender - and not just the holder of a security, for example - has an interest in ensuring that a loan is actually paid back. By setting common-sense rules, these kinds of financial instruments can play a constructive - rather than a destructive - role."

To learn about Obama's proposals:

White Paper: Financial Regulatory Reform:

Fact Sheets:

Requiring Strong Supervision And Appropriate Regulation Of All Financial Firms

Strengthening Regulation Of Core Markets And Market Infrastructure

Strengthening Consumer Protection

Providing The Government With Tools To Effectively Manage Failing Institutions

WASHINGTON -- Something very useful for consumers may come of this economic meltdown. President Obama wants to create a powerful, user-friendly Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

The agency would eliminate small print, gotcha clauses and legalistic gobblegook in mortgages, credit card and other financial agreements. And the agency would have teeth -- it would have the power to rewrite mortgage laws.

The Obama proposal is modeled after the pending Financial Product Safety Commission legislation introduced last April by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)

IMG_0108.JPGMrs. Obama in the White House kitchen garden with students. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

IMG_0121.JPGMrs. Obama with Sam Kass, the former Chicagoan who is an Assistant White House Chef and Food Initiative Coordinator. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

Mrs. Obama helping set the table for a meal in the First Lady's Garden with students. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

Mrs. Obama in the First Lady's Garden talking about healthy eating and President Obama's health care plan.

WASHINGTON--With Chicago officials in Switzerland promoting Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid at an important site selection meeting, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned that President Obama is creating a new White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport.

According to the White House, 'this permanent White House office will promote the values of the Olympic Movement and encourage increased youth participation in athletics. The primary function of the Office will be to enhance awareness of the Olympic Movement through promotion of its fundamental principles at the federal level."

WASHINGTON -- Some of the biggest questions in President Obama's push for health care reform are over the creation of a "public option" to compete with private companies in the health insurance marketplace.

Whatever the phrase "public option" suggests to you when you hear it, Obama told the American Medical Association in Chicago on Monday that it is not "about socialized medicine and government takeovers, long lines and rationed care, decisions made by bureaucrats and not doctors."

President Obama deviated from his prepared remarks some when he addressed the American Medical Association meeting in Chicago on Monday. Here is the transcript of his actual speech.

get-attachment-6.aspx.jpeg(AP) Stepping off of Air Force One, President Obama is greeted by Mayor Daley and Gov. Quinn at his arrival Monday at O'Hare Airport. Obama flew to Chicago from Washington--his second trip home as president--to address the American Medical Association. Obama was in Chicago about three hours.

WASHINGTON -- President Obama comes home to Chicago today -- for less than three hours -- to sell his health care reform proposals to a wary American Medical Association as Congress wrestles over sending Obama a plan with the public insurance option he wants.

The Obama White House is ramping up a push for Congress to complete work on legislation that could cover the nation's uninsured and at the same time control health care costs. The Chicago-based AMA, meeting at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, while not rejecting a government run plan outright, is more focused on driving down the cost of private insurance and other alternatives Congress is mulling, such as some type of government-backed co-op care coverage.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ and President Obama's former spiritual leader, got into another jam this week.

In an interview with David Squires, a columnist from the Newport News, Va. Daily Press, Wright blamed "them Jews" for keeping him from talking to President Obama. Wright then made it worse by saying in another interview he meant "Zionists." But on Friday he said he "misspoke" and issued an apology. I write on Wright and the murder at the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum--and President Obama's two speeches on Holocaust denial--over at

WASHINGTON -- Judging from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs' roundabout answer Friday, one can conclude that President Obama still might occasionally sneak a smoke -- even though smoking is not allowed in the White House.

The question about Obama's struggle to quit smoking came up at Friday's White House briefing as Obama applauded Congress for sending him a bill giving the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco.

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Ethics Committee probe of Sen. Roland Burris is moving to its next phase, seeking information from Burris himself, after having interviewed Sen. Dick Durbin and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and asking for the release of federal wiretaps.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Malia and Sasha and her mom, Marian Robinson, wrapped up their vacation in London and Paris and returned to the White House on Thursday, I'm told by an East Wing spokesman.

Semonti Mustaphi, a spokesman for the First Lady, told me that the Obama women arrived in Washington early Thursday afternoon, the day after Sasha celebrated her eighth birthday by touring the Harry Potter movie set in London. (The British press, bless 'em got it only half right--reporting that the Obama women had visited the studio on Tuesday.)

Mrs. Obama, her mom and daughters flew in a U.S. government plane from London, wrapping up a visit there that started on Monday morning. While in London, they stayed at the official residence of the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain.

WASHINGTON--President Obama delivers a speech in Chicago Monday to the American Medical Association to build pressure on Congress to pass his health care reform proposals.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will also return home on Monday--to be a draw at a fund-raiser for Senate Democrats, not to attend the Obama speech.

From the invite: Senate Victory 2010 dinner in Chicago on Monday, June 15th - featuring: The Honorable Rahm Emanuel, Senator Dick Durbin (IL), Senator Chris Dodd (CT), Senator Michael Bennet (CO), & Secretary of State & Senate Candidate, Robin Carnahan (MO).

Back on the health speech...

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs at the Wednesday briefing announced the Chicago visit.

"The President will travel on Monday, to Chicago, to address the annual meeting of the American Medical Association. He'll start with the recognition that the health care system status quo is unsustainable and he'll outline the case for health care reform. He'll make clear why we can't afford to wait another year or another administration to bring down costs that are crushing families, businesses, and government.

Chicago' Community Media Workshop just released a comprehensive study on the Chicago web world. The report includes a master list of Chicago based blogs and sites reporting and commenting on all things Chicago.

WASHINGTON--After three days in Paris, First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters on Tuesday were on their second day of sightseeing in London, continuing their European vacation.

The BBC was reporting that Mrs. Obama and her family surprised a British pub owner when they dropped in for dinner on Monday night. From the BBC: "The family dropped into The Audley, in the exclusive Mayfair district, which boasts the "best fish and chips in W1" on a board outside....The family spent about two and half hours at the pub, which is round the corner from the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, with Mrs. Obama enjoying a meal of sirloin steak and chips and her daughters tucking into traditional fish and chips."

Mrs. Obama, Malia and Sasha--who turns eight on Wednesday--flew to London Monday morning from Paris. Semonti Musphati, a spokesman for Mrs. Obama said the Obama women "visited Big Ben and the Tower of London and she met with Mrs. Brown."

That is Sarah Brown, the wife of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who met with Mrs. Obama at No. 10 Downing Street.

British Ambassador to the U.S. Sir Nigel Sheinwald, was Chicago on Monday, delivering a speech titled "Britain, America and the Global Economic Recovery." In it, he raises British concerns--shared by Canada, the largest trading partner of the U.S.--over "Buy American" provisions in economic stimulus spending and warns of a possible backlash.


"But these are tough economic times. The recession has cut consumer demand around the world, leading to a severe drop in trade flows. The World Trade Organisation estimates that trade will decline by 9% this year, which is the single largest year-on-year contraction in the post-war era. Cities like Chicago, where trade has created jobs, business revenues and taxes, have suffered as a result.

Falling global demand is bad enough. But it is in danger of being compounded by protectionist sentiment. There are pressures around the world to build barriers to trade or other forms of protectionism, which become so much stronger during a downturn. As my Prime Minister wrote in the Wall Street Journal in May, there is a danger that "a banking crisis has become a trade crisis."

WASHINGTON--Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) has brushed off waves of calls for him to resign--from newspapers and elected officials. The recent release of wiretaps of conversations between him and the brother of tainted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich prompted yet another round of stories pounding nails on his poltiical coffin.

On Monday, the Washington Post weighed in as if Burris would budge just because an out-of-state paper barked at him. The summary last graf of the Washington Post editorial:

We warned that anyone who accepted the appointment from Mr. Blagojevich to fill Mr. Obama's Senate seat would be suspect. With each passing month, Mr. Burris proves us right. He proves why the power to fill Senate vacancies should rest with voters at the ballot box in a special election. And he proves why he should resign.

(Updated with video Monday morning)

WASHINGTON -- After exploring a Senate run, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) told me Sunday she instead will seek another term in the House.

WASHINGTON--Newsweek's Michael Isikoff is reporting that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is trying to kill a book "he believes maligns his reputation. In the past year and a half, Fitzgerald has written four letters to HarperCollins--owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.--demanding it "cease publication" and "withdraw" copies of Triple Cross, a 2006 book by ex-TV newsman Peter Lance that criticizes Fitzgerald's handling of terror cases in New York in the 1990s."

..."To put it plain and simple," he wrote in a June 2 letter obtained by NEWSWEEK, "if in fact you publish the book this month and it defames me or casts me in a false light, HarperCollins will be sued."

The Chicago-based Fitzgerald e-mailed Isikoff: "The book's claims....are "outrageously dishonest."

And this: "A time stamp on one of the letters shows it was sent via fax from the U.S. Attorney's Office, though Fitzgerald said he was "not aware" it would be visible, and Justice permits "incidental use of fax machines" for "personal business."

get-attachment-5.aspx.jpeg(AP) Michelle Obama, Carla Sarkozy; Presidents Obama and Sarkozy

get-attachment-4.aspx.jpeg(AP) Michelle Obama and Carla Sarkozy

The official background from the White House on the Saturday visit of President Obama and First Lady Michelle to Normandy to mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day and a lively briefing from my French spy on duty in France........

official: The President and Mrs. Obama, Prime Minister Brown and Mrs. Brown , Prime Minister Harper and Mrs. Harper and President Sarkozy and Mrs. Sarkozy and will stop at the Visitors Center and the Overlook at Colleville before the official ceremony at the Cemetery begins. At both stops, the President will meet with United States D-Day veterans who will provide their perspectives on D-Day.

My French spy report 2:

Marine 1 landed in Caen at 12 (6 your time). Michelle's all dressed in white as is Carla. The crowd was chanting "Obama, Obama" (didn't hear one "Sarkozy"). After shaking a few hands and listening to both anthems, BO and Sarko retired for a 15-minute tete-a-tete and then lunch with spouses + Bernard Kouchner (foreign minister), etc. Sarkozy's sons were present (and BO chatted with the youngest).

Meanwhile, at Bayeux, Prince Charles was attending a ceremony to the memory of British soldiers buried in Normandy (more than twice as many as Americans, by the way) in the company of French PM François Fillon (with whom he will have lunch before joining the others at Coleville) -- which allows the French Embassy in DC to claim that the "incident" concening the Queen has been resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned (?!?)

15 minutes isn't much, so everybody's guessing what the prez will talk about. Middle East, of course, but more probably the Iranians, as Sarko has just had talks with their Foreign minister.

The Cairo speech has been well received here, but many commentators point to the part where BO mentioned the Islamic veil as a slight to the French (always touchy, as you know). Apparently, the Os turned down an invitation to a private dinner with the Sarkos at the Elysee. More generally, there's been grumbling here about the fact that BO's moves are announced at the last minute. "We can't make any plans in advance," an Elysee press spokesperson complained.

Sunny but windy in Coleville. Drizzly in Paris.

The Obama family in Paris



get-attachment-3.aspx.jpeg Mrs. Obama leaves the Eiffel Tower she toured with her daughters. Behind her is deputy chief of staff Melissa Winter and spokesman Catherine McCormick-Lelyveld. (AP photo)

A dispatch from one of my French connections about the Obama family landing in Paris on Friday.......How they did it, I don't know, but they arrived in Paris all together.
The Faubourg Saint-Honore, one of the very chic-est street in Paris (Hermes, Sotheby's, Lanvin, etc.) where the ambassador's residence and the Elysee Palace are, has been blocked all day and there are many complaints.....Tomorrow's dinner at the Jules Vernes seems to be on.....

and a note from another one of my French spies....The program has been disclosed by the AFP....The 3 girls (First Lady Michelle, Malia and Sasha) went to the Tour Eiffel ....They'll go to Notre Dame tomorrow. Then: private dinner.....They'll go to the Modern Art Museum on Sunday....Then Michelle will go to the Elysée to see Carla + Nicolas Sarkozy and kids
......Then shopping spree in a children's store in VI ème arrondissment (Rive Gauche / Upscale)

President Obama on Friday visited the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp in Weimar, Germany along with Holocaust survivor and author Eli Wiesel and German Chancellor Merkel.

Said Merkel, "We, the Germans, are faced with the agonizing question how and why -- how could this happen? How could Germany wreak such havoc in Europe and the world? It is therefore incumbent upon us Germans to show an unshakeable resolve to do everything we can so that something like this never happens again."

Said Obama, "But as we reflect today on the human capacity for evil and our shared obligation to defy it, we're also reminded of the human capacity for good."

Said Wiesel, "Mr. President, Chancellor Merkel, Bertrand, ladies and gentlemen. As I came here today it was actually a way of coming and visit my father's grave -- but he had no grave. His grave is somewhere in the sky. This has become in those years the largest cemetery of the Jewish people."

IMG_9887.JPG (photo by Lynn Sweet)
David Jacobson at the White House

IMG_9209.JPG(photo by Lynn Sweet)
Election Day, 2008. David Jacobson, campaign deputy finance chair with Penny Pritzker, finance chair, in Chicago.

WASHINGTON--President Obama tapped Chicago attorney David Jacobson, who was the Obama presidential campaign deputy finance chair, to be the U.S. ambassador to Canada on Thursday.

Jacobson is already at the White House. He is a special assistant to the president in the Office of Presidential Personnel. His focus is on filling slots on executive branch boards and commissions.

Before heading to Washington, Jacobson, 57, who grew up in north suburban Highland Park, was a partner at the Chicago office of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP. He specialized in securities and complex litigation.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama tapped pal Susan Sher to be her new chief of staff, replacing Jackie Norris, who came to know the first lady during the critical Iowa caucus campaign.

Sher has a special place in the Obama history--Mrs. Obama's resume hit her desk when she was working at Chicago's City Hall for Mayor Daley and she passed it on to Valerie Jarrett, who ended up hiring her at the Hall after dinner with her fiance--one Barack Obama.

Sher was already at the White House functing as a legal counsel in the East and West wings and as liasion to the Jewish community. In Washington, she lives in the same Georgetown building as Jarrett and White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, also a Chicago buddy.

WASHINGTON--I just read a post at that questioned why actor Kal Penn was not at work yet at the White House despite news of his new job coming out on April 7.

I just checked and a White House source told me Penn indeed will be arriving; I don't have his start date. Penn will be dealing with Asian-American affairs as an Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement.

WASHINGTON--The messageers at the Obama White House are briefing Democratic "talking heads" in a few minutes; the Thursday topics are President Obama's Cairo speech and Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination. White House messageer Dag Vega organizes the "talkers" calls.

from Vega's e-mail:


We are going to hold a conference call TODAY at 3:30 pm ET. Senior White House officials will be on to talk about the President's speech in Cairo today and to give you an update regarding Judge Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court.


President Obama in Cairo, Egypt Thursday in his most significant address to date to the Muslim world. Obama previously delivered a speech aimed at Muslims in Turkey and gave his first interview as president to an Arab new outlet.


But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek -- a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort -- that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There's so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country -- you, more than anyone, have the ability to reimagine the world, to remake this world.


First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Nancy Reagan at the White House on Wednesday. Mrs. Obama invited Mrs. Reagan for lunch.
Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton

michelle-nancy.jpg(First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Nancy Reagan at the White House on Wednesday. Mrs. Obama invited Mrs. Reagan for lunch. Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton

WASHINGTON--On Thursday, President Obama visits the Buchenwald concentration camp memorial near Weimar, Germany. Obama has spoken in the past about how a great uncle, Chicagoan Charles Payne, when a soldier in the 89th Infantry Division helped liberate a Buchenwald subdivision, the Ohrdruf forced labor camp.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has several events coming up this month in Chicago and Highland Park about genocide prevention, Nazism and the U.S. government response to the Holocaust.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama delivers the commencement address Wednesday morning at the Washington Math Science Technical High School.

After that, Mrs. Obama hosts a lunch for former First Lady Nancy Reagan in Washington. On Tuesday, Mrs. Reagan appeared with President Obama when he signed a bill to mark the 100th anniversary of former President Ronald Reagan's birth next year. Reagan died five years ago this week.


At the end of the week, Mrs. Obama flied to France to meet up with the president at Normandy, where ceremonies will be held to mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day. After that, she heads to Paris with, I'm told, daughters Malia and Sasha for a "private" visit and perhaps a family night.

IMG_0062.JPG (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor met with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday and told him despite her crack about being a wise "Latina," she assured him the law would be followed.

Sotomayor's visit with Durbin was just one of a string of 10 stops throughout the day with top senators. Durbin said the two chatted about their fathers dying when they were youths.

Durbin brought up Sotomayor's now controversial statement about superior Latina judgement.

Related Durbin, "I asked her about the "wise Latina" statement, which seems to have received more attention than almost anything she's said. And she said, "It's just one part of me." She said, "I'm many different things." And she said, "It -- basically it means that that's part of my life experience that I bring to my judgment." She said, "Maybe it means that with this background I'm a better listener; I listen for certain things." But she said, "Ultimately, it -- it's not going to decide any case for me. The law will make that decision; Constitution will be followed."

"But every one of us is a sum of all the parts of our life experience.

"And she mentioned that, of course, was important to her. She said race and gender don't take a back seat to good judgment when it comes to cases before her."

WASHINGTON--Former First Lady Nancy Reagan will lunch with First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday, the East Wing just confirmed. Mrs. Reagan will be at the White House on Tuesday afternoon when President Obama signs the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act in the Diplomatic Reception Room. June 5 marks the fifth anniversary of his death.

Mrs. Reagan tells Vanity Fair in the July issuethat she advised Mrs. Obama to entertain in the White House. Mrs. Reagan also told Vanity Fair she was disappointed not to be invited to the White House when President Obama ended the Bush era ban on embryonic stem cell research. Mrs. Reagan is a stem cell research supporter.

Cheney and gay marriage


(Video courtesy of C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON--Former Vice President Dick Cheney was asked Wednesday if gay marriage in the U.S. was "inevitable" and the father of a gay daughter said it's okay by him if states want to legalize same-sex unions.

"Well, I think, you know, freedom means freedom for everyone.

"And as many of you know, one of my daughters is gay. And -- something that we've lived with for a long time in our family. I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish.

"The question of whether or not there ought to be a federal statute that governs this, I don't support. I do believe that historically the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level. This has always been a state issue, and I think that's the way it ought to be handled today -- that is, on a state-by-state basis. Different states will make different decisions. But I don't have any problem with that. I think people ought to get a shot at that, and they do at present."

WASHINGTON--Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn heads here for a Wednesday meeting with Vice President Biden, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and other governors to map strategy for winning federal stimulus money for a Midwest high speed corridor.

Quinn will also be meeting with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)

WASHINGTON--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) hits Chicago on June 12 for a fund-raising lunch hosted by attorney William Singer at the law offices of Kirkland & Ellis. The event is billed as an "extraordinary, intimate opportunity to meet him, one on one, and to participate in an open ended discussion of the most important issues of the day."

President Obama stumped in Nevada last week for Reid, up for re-election in 2010 and Singer used that peg to bolster his pitch: "We in Chicago who are supporters of the President can help him by supporting Senator Reid. Please make your check out for either $1,000 or the maximum of $2,300 to Friends of Harry Reid."

WASHINGTON--White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett--a close personal pal of President Obama and First Lady Michelle--discusses their intertwined lives with Lois Romano of the Washington Post.

Jarrett first met the Obama's before they were married--when Mrs. Obama was interviewing with Jarrett for a job working for Mayor Daley in Chicago's City Hall

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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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