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August 2009 Archives

Former Gov. Blagojevich, awaiting trial on public corruption charges, including how he allegedly tried to sell a Senate seat, writes in his new book, The Governor, about how White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel--then a Congressman--tried to get a placeholder in his House seat in case he wanted to go back some day. Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, was asked about it at Monday's briefing. His answer below.

The Sun-Times Natasha Korecki, who broke many of the major stories about the Blagojevich probe, provides a quick over view of the Blagojevich book over at her blog.

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett was in play for the appointment.

Writes Blagojevich of Jarrett, "I knew her and I liked her. But was this the best I could do for the people of Illinois?" He also writes that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan would not support Jarrett. Blagojevich also writes that Marilyn Katz, a public affairs consultant, made overtures to him about appointing Jarrett, saying--according to Blagojevich--it would help him get Obama contributors to donate to him.

Back to Emanuel. Blagojevich said that in that same conversation--where Emanuel, Blagojevich wrote, was trying to figure out a way around the Illinois law where House vacancies are filled through a special election, not an appointment--he brought up his brother, Hollywood superagent Ari.

"After chiding him for not acknowledging the help I gave his brother Ari in the past to help one of his clientts bring the sport of Ultimate Fighting to Illinois--an idea, incidently, that I didn't like but nevertheless I did try to help him--I told him I would talk to my legal counsel. and see if there was a way where this perhaps might work."

from the Gibbs briefing.....

Q The AP is reporting that Governor Blagojevich's new book says that Rahm Emanuel asked him to see if they could have a placeholder appointed in his House seat so that after two years as White House Chief of Staff he could go back and win the seat again and pursue his ambition to become Speaker. Can you tell us if that's the case?

MR. GIBBS: I have not -- I barely cover with Rahm what's going to happen the rest of the week. I have not talked to him about that nor have I -- I've not seen the book by the indicted former governor of Illinois.

Q And is this something that ever came up in the transition that you're aware of?

MR. GIBBS: No, not that -- I do not remember any discussion about that.

Variety's Ted Johnson has an interesting story about ad boycotts of cable shows with hosts the "yellers"--who turn up the heat with inflammatory rhetoric.

Sam Kass, the former Chicagoan who is an Assistant White House Chef and Food Initiative Coordinator is the featured player in the new White House video on First Lady Michelle Obama's garden. The video debuted on AOL News on Monday morning. More about the seeds from Thomas Jefferson's garden growing in the White House here.

My wrap-up on Scotland releasing the Libyan Pan Am bomber.

Sen. Ted Kennedy's burial at Arlington National Cemetery generated news--over at PoliticsDaily, David Gibson writes about "the contents of a moving exchange of letters between Kennedy and Pope Benedict XVI" revealed at the burial service.

We knew that President Obama carried a letter from Kennedy to the Pope when the president had an audience at the Vatican. The reply came out for the first time on Saturday.

Ted Kennedy funeral photo gallery

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Here the link to the Ted Kennedy funeral photo gallery.

Updated 3:33 p.m. eastern with actual transcript.

WASHINGTON--President Obama met briefly and private early Saturday morning wth Vicki Kennedy, the widow of Sen. Ted Kennedy, who will be buried today. Obama will deliver a eulogy at the funeral.

Chicago's Daley family has been close for decades to the Kennedy clan. Mayor Daley and his brother, William Daley, the former Commerce Secretary, are in Boston for the funeral mass. The brothers just entered the church.

Sen. Dick Durbin, the number Senate leader and Sen. Roland Burris, both Illinois Democrats, were part of the Senate contingent at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum this morning, where Kennedy's flag draped casket is lying in repose.

The Obama family is wrapping up a vacation on Martha's Vineyard. Here's a photo gallery of the President, First Lady Michelle, Sasha and Malia on the island.

WASHINGTON--The late Sen. Ted Kennedy played a pivotal role in Barack Obama's presidential campaign, endorsing him over Hillary Rodham Clinton just before the crucial February, 2008 "Super Tuesday" primaries.

Kennedy annointed Obama his political heir and Obama will deliver a eulogy at Kennedy's Saturday funeral. The White House put up a photo gallery of Obama and Kennedy together after the Massachusetts senator died Tuesday night after a 15-month battle with brain cancer.

Kennedy's flag covered casket remains at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on Friday as mourners stream by. Here's my report on Kennedy's final journey. He will be buried Saturday at Arlington National Cemetary.

obama-marthas-vinyard.JPGWASHINGTON--The Obama family on Thursday took a bike ride along a beach in Martha's Vineyard. With the First Family is Chicago buddy Eric Whitaker and his family.

On Wednesday President Obama, First Lady Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia motorcaded to Oak Bluffs on the island, picked up big bags fried seafood and brought the take out over to Chicago pal/White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett's place for lunch.

CNN remembers Ted Kennedy

Photos: Ted Kennedy in Chicago

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy speaks to a Chicago crowd in May 1972.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy at the Conrad Hilton March 9, 1980 with Mayor Jane Byrne and Joan Kennedy.

During his bid for the presidency in 1980, Kennedy rides the L and chats with Beverly White on the way to the Jefferson Park CTA terminal. White told reporters she would vote for Kennedy. "I couldn't believe my eyes," she said. "I think he's the right one."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy at La Hacienda Restaurant March 27, 1987. He sang in Spanish and gave Harold Washington's candidacy for Chicago Mayor a strong endorsement before the Hispanic audience declaring, "One good term deserves another."

See more photos of Ted Kennedy in Chicago here

WASHINGTON--Political neophyte David Hoffman, the Inspector General of the City of Chicago, on Wednesday launched a Democratic bid for the U.S. Senate. His entry into the race reflects a view among some in the Illinois Democratic political establishment that neither of the two candidates already in the contest--state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Chicago Urban League Chief Cheryle Jackson-- may not be strong enough to beat Rep. Mark Kirk, the leading Republican in the GOP primary.

Hoffman, a corruption fighter in Mayor Daley's City Hall--the man has plenty of material--however, is a massively untested political figure. Hoffman is also starting the giant job of fund-raising from scratch and very late in the game.

Hoffman retained David Axelrod's former firm, AKPD, to handle his bid and they gave him the kind of rollout one gives to a political rookie that is, announcement by video. However the White House, which wooed Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to run--she turned down President Obama--gave up after Madigan in intervening in the race--and is not going to back Hoffman or anyone else.

The firm--poised to represent Merchandise Mart mogul Chris Kennedy if he had jumped in the race-- clearly wants to cloister Hoffman at this stage and not repeat the mistakes made by Caroline Kennedy when she tested-the-waters for securing the appointment to replace then Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the U.S. Senate and found herself stumbling in the rough and tumble of New York politics and press.

Hoffman will make a formal announcement soon. His videogives a few clues on what his Senate campaign will be about--ethics and cleaning up government as an independent. Kirk is also making ethics a central theme.

"The insiders and special interests will try to stop us," said Hoffman on his video.

Before Madigan decided to run again for Attorney General, Hoffman was mulling a run for the Attorney General slot.

One interesting note: On Hoffman's Senate site biography, he notes that he was a law clerk for a Supreme Court Justice--but does not include the name. On Hoffman's City of Chicago biography, Hoffman names who he worked for---Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist--- a Republican appointee.

Former President Bill Clinton on the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy, who crusaded for universal health care coverage.

Click below for full statement

Kennedy tributes


Please keeping checking back through the day for newly issued statements on the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy.

WASHINGTON-- President Obama on Wednesday hailed Sen. Ted Kennedy, who died late Tuesday night, a "singular figure in American history." Obama read a statement at the Blue Heron farm on Martha's Vineyard and took no questions.

Obama called Kennedy's wife Vicki earlier this morning.

Said Obama, The Kennedy name is synonymous with the Democratic Party, and at times, Ted was the target of partisan campaign attacks. But in the United States Senate, I can think of no one who in -- who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle.

His seriousness of purpose was perpetually matched by humility, warmth and good cheer. He could passionately battle others, and do so peerlessly, on the Senate floor for the causes that he held dear, and yet still maintain warm friendships across party lines. And that's one reason he became not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy.

Click below for complete statement.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Ted Kennedy, the "lion of the Senate," and a member of the nation's most famous political family, died Tuesday night at his home in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod. The Massachusetts Democrat was 77 and passed away after a battle with brain cancer.

The family put out a statement remembering one of the most influential senators in the history of the country, a brother of two slain giant figures, President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert Kennedy. He was the last surviving brother and the youngest of nine children of the storied political dynasty. His sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, died on Aug. 11.

"Edward M. Kennedy - the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply - died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port. We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," the family said.

Kennedy's endorsement helped President Obama at a critical time in his Democratic primary campaign. The president, vacationing at nearby Martha's Vineyard, issued a long statement near 4:30 a.m. eastern time saying he and First Lady Michelle were "heartbroken" at the news. Obama will make a statement on Kennedy's death at 8:30 a.m. eastern time from the Blue Heron Farm on the island.

Said Obama, "I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of
events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and
momentous support in my race for the Presidency. And even as he waged a valiant
struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as President from his
encouragement and wisdom.

An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a
great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the
greatest United States Senator of our time."

click below for full statements

WASHINGTON--The White House knew lousy economic news was coming out Tuesday, a reason President Obama decided to take a break from his Martha's Vineyard vacation to reappoint Ben Bernanke as the Federal Reserve Board Chairman and divert attention from the disheartening fiscal reports. New, soaring federal deficit projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Obama White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will play into GOP hands that the nation cannot afford Obama's ambitious health care reform plans.

Obama could have re-nominated Bernanke anytime, since Bernanke's term is not up until January, 2010. But Obama today is looking for cover--so keeping and rolling out an appointee of former President Bush became the media plan. The Obama press conference was at 9 a.m. and the OMB numbers came out at 9:30 a.m. and the CBO numbers at 10 a.m.

Note that the White House had said specifically that Obama was on Martha's Vineyard for a low-profile vacation--with a spokesman telling reporters to take time for a walk on a beach. "Nobody's looking to make any news," Deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton said Sunday.

But they were, it turns out. The Obama messageers used an option always open to them.

Said Obama:

Ben approached a financial system on the verge of collapse with calm and wisdom; with bold action and out-of-the-box thinking that has helped put the brakes on our economic freefall. Almost none of the decisions that he or any of us made have been easy. The actions we've taken to stabilize our financial system, to repair our credit markets, restructure our auto industry, and pass a recovery package have all been steps of necessity, not choice.

They've faced plenty of critics, some of whom argued that we should stay the course or do nothing at all. But taken together, this "bold, persistent experimentation" has brought our economy back from the brink. They're steps that are working. Our recovery plan has put tax cuts in people's pockets, extended health care and unemployment insurance to those who have borne the brunt of this recession, and is continuing to save and create jobs that otherwise would have been lost. Our auto industry is showing signs of life. Business investment is showing signs of stabilizing. Our housing market and credit markets have been saved from collapse.

WASHINGTON--The Martha's Vineyard White House just announced that President Obama will go to the press center set up on the island and make a statement on Tuesday morning. ABC News just reported that Obama is going to nominate Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke to a second term.

WASHINGTON -- Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi recalled Friday how relentlessly inquisitive Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak was when Novak was studying with the priest to become a Catholic.

Novak brought the "classic work ethic that defined him as a reporter" to his Catholic conversion, said Vaghi. Week after week, he would ask "very challenging and complicated questions of me. At times I thought I was on 'Crossfire'."

WASHINGTON--President Obama and First Lady Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia and Bo the dog are relaxing on Martha's Vineyard for the week. The First couple is playing tennis together, dining at Valerie Jarrett's place--she is up there too, along with Eric Whitaker--and hanging out.

Deputy Press Bill Burton on Monday revealed what is on Obama's vacation reading list. Here's the list

1. "The Way Home," by George Pelecanos
2. Tom Friedman's "Hot, Flat and Crowded"
3. Richard Price's "Lush Life"
4. Kent Haruf's "Plainsong"
5. "John Adams" by David McCullough.


WASHINGTON--The White House "deeply regrets" the release by Scotland of the Libyan Pan Am Lockerbie bomber, Abdel Basset Mohamed al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 for the 1988 bombing killing 270 people. The Scottish justice minister, Kenny MacAskill let him go on "compassionate grounds" because he is terminally ill with cancer. Scotland's laws allow for compassionate release. The terrorist is flying back to Libya.

Over at the New Yorker, journalist Joseph Bernstein--whose father, Michael, was one of passengers on the plane--writes about the outrageous decision.

What do you think of Scottish justice?

Updated 8:24 p.m. eastern time

WASHINGTON--President Obama held a conference call Wednesday with more than 1,000 rabbis--from all the major movements-- to pitch his health care plans in order to shore up flagging Congressional support, hoping to influence their High Holiday sermons. Later in the day, at about 5:30 p.m., Obama and Domestic Policy Chief Melody Barnes hosted a mega conference call sponsored by Faith in Public Life, Christian-oriented group, Faith in Public Life (I say this based on looking at the clergy affiliations on the board) with 140,000 people on the line.

It's part of a coordinated outreach effort to faith based groups as make passing the Democratic health plan a moral imperative.

A recording of the 140,000-person call is here.

Interesting note on Obama White House selective transparency--the call to some 1,000 rabbis was left off the Obama schedule. The 5:30 p.m. call to other clergy was on the schedule.

The Republican National Committee is calling this outreach to the "religious left." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is meeting with religious leaders in San Francisco tomorrow.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explaining about the call:

Said Gibbs Obama "already has completed a call this morning with rabbis that he was invited to join as they get ready for their important holidays and the messages that they and their congregants will have; the importance of, for faith leaders, the importance of health care and health care coverage for millions of Americans."

And this statement from the White House on the rabbi call:

"The High Holy Days are a time when Jews are called to reflect on our spiritual lives, and what our beliefs call for when it comes to the challenges confronting us as a society. As preparations for Rosh Hashanah begin, President Obama was grateful for the invitation to join an annual conference call with Rabbis to offer his thoughts on why health insurance reform is so crucial. There will certainly be rabbis and congregants on all sides of the debate, but one thing common to all Jews is Tikkun Olam -the commitment to making the world around us a better place - and today no issue is more central to that work than making our health care system work better for all Americans."

CNN on Robert Novak

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Here's a photo gallery covering the many decades of Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak's reporting career. Many of the photos--including a remarkable portrait of Novak talking to Karl Rove--were taken at a party the Chicago Sun-Times hosted on June 18, 2003, at the Army Navy Club in Washington to mark Novak's 40th anniversary of writing columns.

(Photo for the Sun-Times by Lauren Shay)

Please check back here; I am updating through the day.

WASHINGTON--Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak, one of the nation's most influential journalists, who relished his "Prince of Darkness" public persona, died at home here early Tuesday morning after a battle with brain cancer.

"He was someone who loved being a journalist, love journalism and loved his country and loved his family, Novak's wife, Geraldine, told the Sun-Times on Tuesday.

"Bob was always the pro, no matter what he had going on he was always at the ready to help out on stories, and he broke more than his share. Even as he became a national figure he was always proud to be part of the Sun-Times and we were proud of him," said Don Hayner, Editor in Chief of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Novak was remembered by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as "a good friend and a fine reporter. We spent many hours talking about the ins and out of Washington and Chicago politics together, and I will miss his friendship greatly."

Former Commerce Secretary William Daley and his brother, Mayor Richard Daley, were also friends of Novak. William Daley told the Sun-Times, "Bob was a proud Illinoisan proud of his Joliet upbringing and the university which he graduated.

"He was a tough reporter who was a conservative who believed in reporting and analyzing the politicians and what they said. He loved the Sun-Times with lots of friends there. Even though he had a rough reputation he cared deeply about people who were not the powerful. His sources were a multitude of people from every political persuasion I was proud to be one of them."

Mayor Daley said, "On behalf of the residents of Chicago, I extend my sympathies to the family and friends of Robert Novak.

"With the Chicago Sun-Times as his home base for many years, Bob Novak kept Americans informed about the impact of the federal government on their lives.

"He was an outstanding reporter and a communicator who distinguished himself in both print and electronic media. He will be greatly missed by all who value the role that a free press plays in our society."

Novak's remarkable and long-running career made him a powerful presence in newspaper columns, newsletters, books and on television. His was a conservative voice--but he was hardly a foot soldier of the Republican party. He was a major critic of President Bush's invasion of Iraq.

WASHINGTON--As all non-essential Chicago city workers on Monday took the first of three unpaid days off, I wondered about Mayor Daley's call for President Obama--and all federal workers-- to take 15 days without pay. Daley wants Obama to share the suffering of furloughed workers. While Daley may have just been looking for cover and to deflect criticism of how he is running the city--he may be on to something Team Obama--once upon a time Team Daley-- may want to consider. Read my column on Daley and Obama here.

WASHINGTON -- It's a Tuesday in June, and I am in one of the high-ceiling big rooms of the old office building next to the White House.

As I look around the room at the players assembled here -- including this scribe -- I'm thinking that with a few twists of fate, this all-Chicago gang could be huddling in Mayor Daley's City Hall.

Obama family visits Yellowstone


Obama Montana health care forum


I learned that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder each called Scotland's justice minister, urging him not to release the Libyan convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. My report here.

WASHINGTON -- Ezekiel Emanuel is a noted oncologist, bioethicist, older brother of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, an Obama administration health policy adviser -- and the target of smears by Sarah Palin and other critics of Democratic health care legislation. He's now fighting back.

"I'm sure it doesn't hurt that he's my brother to make me a target," Emanuel, a former West Rogers Park resident, told me Thursday.

WASHINGTON--University of Chicago geneticist Janet Rowley was one of 16 people awarded the presidential medal of freedom by President Obama on Wednesday.

Here's what Obama said about Rowley: "After graduating from the University of Chicago School of Medicine in 1948, Janet Rowley got married and gave birth to four sons, making medicine a hobby and making family her priority. It was not until she was almost 40 that she took up serious medical research, and not until almost a decade later that she discovered, hunched over her dining room table, examining small photos of chromosomes, that leukemia cells are notable for changes in their genetics, a discovery that showed cancer is genetic and transformed how we fight the disease.

All of us have been touched in some way by cancer, including my family. And so we can all be thankful that what began as a hobby became a life's work for Janet."

List of all 16 winners is here.

Former Sen. Adlai Stevenson endorsed Comptroller Dan Hynes for Illinois governor on Wednesday, where he faces Gov. Quinn in the Illinois Democratic primary. Not a mention about Gov. Quinn in his statement. Stevenson ran twice for governor, never made it.

My update on what Democrats are doing to try to take back health care town halls.

WASHINGTON -- The son-in-law of Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Michael McLaughlin, died Sunday while snorkeling near Tulum, Mexico.

Schakowsky and her husband, Robert Creamer, Evanston residents, had gathered their nine children and grandchildren for what was to have been a weeklong vacation while Congress was on break to mark Schakowsky turning 65 last May.

WASHINGTON--President Obama and First Lady Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia will be staying at a posh Martha's Vineyard farm, the Blue Heron for their vacation, according to the Vineyard Gazettte.

First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters are to arrive early in Martha's Vineyard. They are supposed to be coming up in advance of President Obama, who land Aug. 23 and stays through Aug. 30.

A few days ago, the three were spotted sightseeing in Philadelphia. Later this week they head to Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks. The girls have been to Europe twice this summer.

From the Vineyard Gazette:

While the mechanics of renting the property were still ongoing at press time, the Gazette has learned that a rental agreement for the farm will comprise three leases, one to be held by the Obamas, another by the Secret Service and a third by a White House entourage.

The amount of the rental has not been disclosed, but up-Island properties similar to Blue Heron Farm rent for between $35,000 to $50,000 per week.

WASHINGTON--Vice President Biden is returning to Chicago on Aug. 20 to headline a fund-raiser for freshman Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) at the Custom House, 500 S. Dearborn.

Biden, I am told, is going to fund-raise for the House members the Democratic House politiical operation deem the most vunerable.

Host committee in formation includes Joe Bohne, Dennis Hopkins, Mike Mullen, Joseph Perry, Steve Magruder, Balvinder Singh and State Sen. A. J. Wilhelmi

State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, I've learned, is picking up an early endorsement for his 2010 Democratic Senate bid from the Illinois State Council, Service Employees International Union. The Illinois SEIU is one of the most politically powerful unions in the state of Illinois.

What does this mean:

1."You can't overstate the value of an SEIU endorsement, particularly this early.
They combine a unique mixture of progressive values, significant resources, and an expertise in the mechanics of winning elections," Eric Adelstein, Giannoulias Media Consultant told me.

2. Cheryle Jackson, the Chicago Urban League Chief will have to deal with Giannoulias pressing unions for early backing just as she is getting her footing in the contest. Giannoulias will use these endorsements to argue that he is the most viable contender.

3. Chris Kennedy--the door is closing for him to jump in the senate or gubernatorial race.

WASHINGTON--After a short exploration period, Chicago Urban League chief Cheryle Jackson will officially get in the Illinois 2010 Senate Democratic primary in September. Her bid will be about, she said,"change, community opportunity and an end to catering to the privileged few on the inside while the rest of us on the outside look on."

The only other rival for sure so far: Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who on Monday picked up the backing from several unions: UNITE HERE, UFCW, UA International and the Illinois Pipes Trades Association.

WASHINGTON--The White House declined to comment on the demand from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley for President Obama--and every federal employee--to take a 15-day pay cut.

Daley--who has often rallied against Washington, no matter who is the president--has been presiding over a cash-stapped city and has said he will cut his paycheck by 15 days.

"I hope every federal employee from the president all the way down takes 15 days without pay to turn that money back to taxpayers' use, because they're getting laid off, they're getting cut back, there are no jobs out there," Daley said Friday.

From Kenyan NTV

Kirk on Downstate swing

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WASHINGTON--President Obama on Thursday tapped Martha Minow and John G. Levi, two lawyers with Chicago ties--and personal connections to the president and First Lady Michelle--as board members of the Legal Services Corporation.

Minow, the dean of Harvard Law School, is the daughter of Newton Minow, the former chair of the Federal Communications Commission, who is senior counsel at Chicago's Sidley Austin. When Obama was at Harvard Law School, Minow recommended that Sidley hire him for a summer job.

Levi was the Sidley partner who actually hired Obama--and also another attorney at the firm, one Michelle Robinson. Obama met Michelle at Sidley Austin, when she was assigned to be his advisor.

Melinda Henneberger, now the editor-in-chief of PoliticsDaily, interviewed Levi about the Obama summer romance for Slate.

Wrote Henneberger, "Obama walked into her office in 1988, after his first year at Harvard Law. He had a summer job at her firm, Sidley Austin, in Chicago, and she had been asked to be his summer adviser. Obama wrote about their first meeting in Audacity: "I remember that she was tall--almost my height in heels--and lovely, with a friendly, professional manner that matched her tailored suit and blouse." She explained billable hours, and the rest was history--but not right away. "They were being careful--or she was," says John Levi, the partner who hired them both. "I gather she was reluctant" to jump into an office romance."

The Senate 68-31-1 roll call vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor as the 111th justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Updated. 4:56 p.m. eastern.

WASHINGTON--The Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court Thursday afternoon on a 68-31 vote. She will be sworn in at 11 a.m. Saturday by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. as the nation's 111th high court justice--first Hispanic, third female-- during a private ceremony at the Supreme Court with just the Sotomayor family. Roberts will do another ceremonial swearing-in right after for her family and friends.

The Supreme Court announced that a "formal investiture ceremony will take place on Tuesday, September 8, at 2 p.m. at a special sitting of the Court in the Courtroom.

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt told me Sotomayor watched the Senate vote in her judicial chambers in New York.

President Obama will host a reception for her Wednesday at the White House.

But it was important to Obama for Sotomayor to be sworn-in at the court because of the symbolism--that the courts in the U.S. are an independent branch of the government.

Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes just sent out an e-mail announcing he will challenge Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn for governor in the Democratic primary.

A new Quinnipiac University poll, taken from July 27 to Aug. 3.......

That's what I hear......

WASHINGTON--Former President Clinton and U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee--who work for former Vice President Gore's Current TV--arrived back in the U.S. from North Korea to a joyful homecoming. John Podesta--the last Clinton-Gore White House chief of staff--played a role as did, of course Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who sanctioned her husband's "unofficial" mission.

The two were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor by the North Koreans. President Clinton traveled to North Korea on a trip that was billed as a private humanitarian attempt to seek their release. A senior Obama administration official said Clinton offered no apology towards the North Koreans as a condition of the release--contradicting what North Korean state-run media was reporting.

Mrs. Clinton, in an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell said her husband "was so relieved and so happy to be bringing these young women home. I think it's, in a way, even more personal since we have a daughter approximately the same age. And he told me it was, you know, a very moving experience. He can't wait to get them reunited with their families."

But Mrs. Clinton warned not to take this as a diplomatic breakthrough.

"So on the basis of the humanitarian mission, we feel very good. But I want to be sure people don't confuse what Bill did, which was a private humanitarian mission to bring these young women home, with our policy, which continues to be one that gives choices to North Korea. They can continue on the path they are on, or perhaps they will now be willing to start talking to us within the context of the six-party talks about the international desire to see them denuclearized."

At their arrival in Burbank, Calif., Ling on Wednesday described their dramatic last minutes as prisoners.

"Thirty hours ago, Euna Lee and I were prisoners in North Korea. We feared that at any moment, we could be sent to a hard-labor camp. And then suddenly we were told that we were going to a meeting.

"We were taken to a location. And when we walked in through the doors, we saw, standing before us, President Bill Clinton. We were shocked. But we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end. And now we stand here, home and free.

"Euna and I would just like to express our deepest gratitude to President Clinton and his wonderful, amazing -- not to mention super- cool -- team, including John Podesta, Doug Band, Justin Cooper, Dr. Roger Band, David Straub -- and the United States Secret Service, who traveled halfway around the world and then some to secure our release.

Gore said, "We want to thank President Bill Clinton for undertaking this mission and performing it so skillfully, and all the members of his team who played key roles in this.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told me Tuesday the folks protesting President Obama's health care overhaul at town halls hosted by Democrats are "tea baggers" and "birthers" -- using the newly spawned terms as political shorthand to describe Obama antagonists.

WASHINGTON--Surprise start to the White House briefing today.President Obama celebrating his 48th birthday today just came to the briefing room bringing a plate of cupcakes for birthdaying Helen Thomas. Obama posed for pictures with Thomas and said they both wished for world peace and an end to prejudice. And Obama cracked, a health care bill.


A new video, "Becoming Barack: Evolution of a Leader" features a 12 minute, never seen 1993 taped interview of Barack Obama plus other footage of early interviews that have not surfaced for years. The video, to be released on Aug. 11, also includes interviews with Chicagoans who knew the now President Obama when he was a community organizer and later on, after Harvard Law School, with Project Vote.

Obama, in the 1993 interview, talks about how at first he rebuffed an offer from Project Vote's Sandy Newman to lead a Chicago area voter registration drive. Obama said in that interview he was too busy writing the book that would eventually become his memoir However, he reconsidered a few weeks later, he said, once Carol Moseley Braun won the Illinois Democratic Senate primary and became the nominee.

There is also little seen video from Chicago's WMAQ-channel 5 and a 1990 clip of Obama at Harvard.

Obama also strikes themes and uses language in the 1993 interview that will reappear in his campaigns for senate and the White House. He sounds the same in 1993 as he does now, but his hair is darker--and he has more of it!

Back in 1993, Obama did not see how fast his political career would move.

"My general view about politics and running for office is that if you end up being fortunate enough to have the opportunity to serve, it is because you got a track record of service in the community and I think right now, I am still building up that track record and if it, a point comes where I think that I might do more good in a political office" then somewhere else, "I might think about it, but that time is certainly in the future."

I write more about this DVD over at

Statement by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Tuesday morning on the mission former President Clinton is on to seek the release of two jailed U.S. journalists in N. Korea.

"While this solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans is on
the ground, we will have no comment. We do not want to jeopardize the success of
former President Clinton's mission."

Just out Tuesday morning, a rebuttal video by the White House, featuring Linda Douglass, spokesman for the Obama health overhaul initiative who puts out fire lit by Drudge.

This via Politico's Mike Allen:

"Hi. I'm Linda Douglass. I'm the communications director for the White House Office of Health Reform, and one of my jobs is to keep track of all the DISINFORMATION that's out there about health-insurance reform. And there are a LOT of very deceiving headlines out there right now, such as this one -- take a look at this one.

This one says, 'Uncovered Video: Obama Explains How His Health Care Plan Will Eliminate PRIVATE Insurance.' Well, nothing can be farther from the truth. You know the people who always try to SCARE people whenever you try to bring them health-insurance reform are at it again. And they're taking sentences and phrases out of context, and they're cobbling them together to leave a VERY false impression. The truth is that the president has been talking to the American people a LOT about health-insurance reform and what is at stake for them.

I checked out claims floating in the blogosphere that the White House garden has soil problems; the office of First Lady Michelle Obama said the food is "completely safe." The garden is a signature project of Mrs. Obama, handled by Chicagoan Sam Kass, an assistant White House chef who also helps with food education programs.


(update) Marking the day.....

My neighborhood hamburger stand--Z- Burger, on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington's Tenley Town community-- frequented by former President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder threw an Obama birthday bash to mark Obama's 48th birthday.

Owner Peter Tabibian gave away more than 1,000 burgers on Wednesday. In addition, 48 lucky customers got tokens for 48 hamburgers and 48 milkshakes. Tabibian is standing by his 9' by 9' Obama birthday cake --weighing 250 pounds--decorated with pictures of Obama.

(end update)

President Obama celebrates his birthday on Tuesday. He was born Aug. 4, 1961 in Honolulu. And here is the brief on Obama's birth.

LOS ANGELES -- I met filmmakers Amy Rice and Alicia Sams when we all traveled to Africa to cover then-Sen. Barack Obama in August 2006. Rice and Sams were shooting a documentary on a senator who seemed to have a promising future. They started interviewing me and several others about Obama for a movie that none of us at the time knew would end up so soon with scenes of Obama in the Oval Office.

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said President Obama's meeting with Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley hit the right tone and tamped down the uproar over Obama's comments about the cops acting "stupidly."

Jarrett made her comments to Al Hunt in an interview on Bloomberg TV. Obama touched off a controversy when he answered my question to him at a press conference about his reaction to the July arrest of Gates by Crowley.

She said the president "hit it just right" in handling the controversy triggered by his original answer.

While then Sen. Barack Obama was considering running for president, his advisor and friend David Axelrod worried in 2006 that Obama would have to toughen up for a White House campaign. Axelrod told Obama that he was thin skinned and he wondered if Obama could take the punches that would come in a presidential campagin.

"You care far too much what is written and said about you. You don't relish combat when it becomes personal and nasty. When the largely irrelevant Alan Keyes attacked you, you flinched," Axelrod wrote in a memo.

Axelrod's strategy memo to Obama is revealed in "The Battle for America 2008," a new book by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson about the 2008 presidential campaigns.

Obama's charmed political career came in part because of puffy, fluffy non-critical press coverage. Axelrod fretted about how Obama would do in the rough and tumble of a campaign.

'It goes to your willingness and ability to put up with something you have never experienced on a sustained basis: criticism. At the risk of triggering the very reaction that concerns me, I don't know if you are Muhammad Ali or Floyd Patterson when it comes to taking a punch.'"

Schedule for Week of August 3, 2009

On Monday morning, the President and the Vice President will join VA Secretary Shinseki, Senator Webb and other administration officials at George Mason University to mark the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The bill honors the countless sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform by providing them with comprehensive educational benefits. On August 1st, the Department of Veterans Affairs will begin distributing tuition payments to schools participating in the program. The event is open to pre-credentialed media; the deadline to request credentials has already passed.

In the afternoon, the President will meet with the Emir of Kuwait, Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, at the White House. The President and the Vice President will then have lunch with the Emir at the White House.

Later, the President will honor the 2008 Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson at the White House. Also appearing at this event will be former NASCAR champions, other drivers from the 2008 Chase for the Sprint Cup, as well as Jimmie Johnson's #48 Chevy.

On Tuesday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.

On Wednesday, the President will travel to the Elkhart area in Indiana for an event.

On Thursday, the President will attend meetings at the White House. In the evening, he will attend a fundraiser and a rally for state Senator Creigh Deeds in Tysons Corner.

On Friday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.


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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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