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December 2009 Archives

WASHINGTON--Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton edges out former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as "most admired" woman in Gallup Poll.

WASHINGTON--After former Vice President Cheney said President Obama "is trying to pretend we are not at war," following the thwarted Christmas Day attempt to destroy a Detroit-bound airplance White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer wrote on the White House blog, " it is telling that Vice President Cheney and others seem to be more focused on criticizing the Administration than condemning the attackers."

President Obama on Thursday will officially get preliminary reports on the failure of the U.S. airport screening system and terrorist watchlist to prevent a terrorist from boarding a Detroit bound jet on Christmas with explosives in his underwear. Read my column on this here.

WASHINGTON--"Pulsing it." "Pulsing the system." That's the language used Tuesday by a senior Obama White House administration official to describe how the administration is scrambling to find out about the intelligence failures that led to a Nigerian suspected terrorist boarding Detroit bound Northwest Flight 253 with explosives in his underwear on Christmas Day.

I did quick Google and Nexis searches and found no "pulsing the system" references prior to Dec. 29. I think I'm on to something. It's a new term that may catch on and be part of the political or government lexicon.

Obama ordered preliminary reviews due by Thursday--tomorrow--on flaws in the airline screening system and the standards for putting individuals on the U.S. terrorist watchlist database. Here are three examples of how the term was used at the Tuesday briefing by the official--the White House would not allow a name to be used---to drive the message. Maybe it's a regional term, after all, the anonymous briefer, when asked about it said, "that's the way we say it in Minnesota."

Q What more can he expect to get in this preliminary look that he wants by Thursday that he doesn't have now? What are the other things that are out there that could possibly be resolved in the next day or so?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think we're pulsing it for all the information and intelligence that's out there about -- that could have been available at the time. Obviously it's a great opportunity to learn more about where we can get information that could be correlated and pushed more effectively into any particular review.

WASHINGTON--President Obama told the nation on Tuesday that the intelligence system designed to keep terrorists off airplanes is not working--and that's why all the warning signs that should have kept Nigerian terrorist suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab off Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day--were ignored.

*"When our government has information on a known extremist, and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been, so that this extremist boards a plane with dangerous explosives that could have cost nearly 300 lives, a systemic failure has occurred," Obama said.

Obama, speaking from Hawaii said a preliminary review of the incident he ordered is due Thursday. He also outlined problems of the security and intelligence systems put in place after the 9-11-2001 attacks where terrorists hijacked three U.S. aircraft.

This just in from the Hawaii White House regarding the Christmas Day terrorist attack on Detroit bound Northwest Flight 253...

"At approximately 11:00 a.m., at the Marine Base, President Obama will give a statement to the pool on preliminary information from his ongoing consultations about the Detroit incident."

(That is 4 p.m. eastern time, 3 p.m. Chicago time)

abc_a_PETN_underwear_091228_mn.jpg ABC News

front.jpg New York Post front page Dec. 29

ABC News RICHARD ESPOSITO and BRIAN ROSS deliver an exclusive: the underwear bomb worn by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian charged with trying to destroy Detroit bound Northwest Airlines flight 253.
View more photos and read their story here

Education Secretary Arne Duncan was the Chicago Public Schools Chief before President Obama tapped him for his cabinet. The Washington Post on Tuesday offers a tough assessment of his legacy at the Chicago Board of Education. Read it here.

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration was on the defensive Monday over how a Nigerian man who tried to destroy Detroit-bound Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day held a valid U.S. visa, was allowed to board the plane in Amsterdam even though he was on a terrorist watch list, and was able to bring an explosive substance undetected on the aircraft.

Already, three committees in Congress announced hearings on the incident in January; the House and Senate Homeland Security committees and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. It's not the posture the Obama White House wanted to be with Congress as Obama nears his first anniversary in office on Jan. 22 and with final negotiations over his signature health-care bill set for next month.

Updated 9:14 p.m eastern time, 8:14 Chicago time

WASHINGTON--The injured child who President Obama rushed to check on Monday--leaving his golf game--was the nine-year-old son of Chicago pal Eric Whitaker who had what was called a "minor" accident while surfing.

Obama, on vacation in his native Hawaii, was playing at the Luana Hills Country Club with Whitaker, a physician who is an executive at the University of Chicago Medical Center when the emergency call came that an ambulance was speeding to the Obama vacation compound.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said, "Eric and Cheryl Whitaker's son was examined and released from the hospital. He is home playing with his friends and just fine. "

The president later returned to his game.

end update

WASHINGTON--An ambulance was called to the Obama family Hawaii compound on Monday; President Obama left a golf game to return to the rented home; the Chicago Sun-Times has learned it was a minor accident not involving a member of the First Family.

A White House aide said on background a family friend "bumped his head during a morning surfing lesson, but all, including the First Family are ok."

Click below for update, filed at 5:42 p.m. eastern time, 4:42 p.m. Chicago time. The accident happened to the child of the family friend Obama was playing golf with; the child required stiches. Obama returned to the golf course., came out with its list of "Whoopers of 2009"--"the choicest falsehoods"
of the year, and a Sun-Times column I did about how President Obama could not support the claim he made in a speech that a Chicago area man --Otto Raddatz--died because his insurance coverage was yanked made the top of the list of whoopers from liberal.

On the conservative side, the biggest whooper was the assertion by Sarah Palin and others that the Democratic authored health care bill included "death panels." is a non-partisan fact checking outfit, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania,

WASHINGTON--The Obama team has been loading with lots of information touting administration goals and accomplishments and great pictures charting the Obama presidency. But as the nation faced another terror attack on Christmas--Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab--tried to destroy
Northwest Flight 253-- not a word on from any official about the U.S. response or, just at the consumer level, what travellers should prepare for in the days ahead in terms of ramped up security at airports and in aircraft.

WASHINGTON--Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee wants to know why Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab---on the U.S. terror watch database (referred to often as the TIDES list)-- was on Northwest Flight 253 attempting to destroy the aircraft. My interview with King here.

The Department of Justice filed charges against Abdulmutallab on Saturday.

WASHINGTON--"Fired, up, ready to go!" If you followed the Obama presidential campaign at all, you heard it, right? Of the thousands of holiday photos that President Obama and First Lady Michelle took with guests at various White House holiday parties--the First Couple posed for hours--most--make that almost all are not released. One that the White House did post has particular significance to Obama presidential history. The Obamas invited Edith Childs to a Dec. 4 holiday party. She's the Greenwood, S.C.

edith childs.jpg

(White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

bo in police car dec. 2009.jpg (White House photo taken Dec. 16, 2009)

WASHINGTON--Former Commerce Secretary William Daley penned an op ed in the Thursday Washington Post imploring Democrats to not drive moderates from the party. His peg is the defection of Alabama Republican Parker Griffith.

Now the Midwest chairman for JPMorgan Chase, the brother of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley was the chairman of Vice President Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.

Daley excerpts...

"The announcement by Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith that he is switching to the Republican Party is just the latest warning sign that the Democratic Party -- my lifelong political home -- has a critical decision to make: Either we plot a more moderate, centrist course or risk electoral disaster not just in the upcoming midterms but in many elections to come."

WASHINGTON--At 7:15:59 a.m. eastern time on Thursday morning, on a 60-39 roll call and with Vice President Biden presiding, the Senate passed historic health care legislation in a rare Christmas Eve day session. The bill passed on party line votes; Democrats for, Republicans against.

The House earlier passed its version of the sweeping measure to cover the uninsured in the nation. Congress returns next month to negotiate a merged bill--which must return to both chambers for another vote.

The Kaiser Family Foundation side by side comparison of the House and Senate bills is here.

FAA flight delay nifty website

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WASHINGTON--Your blogger is staying home for the holidays, grateful not to worry about whether a flight will depart or not what with the winter weather here. The FAA has a nifty website to help you track the status of flights.

WASHINGTON -- First lady Michelle Obama, Malia, Sasha and first dog Bo were visiting the Children's National Medical Center here on Tuesday when, unexpectedly, Mrs. Obama asked the kids if they had questions for her daughters.

Of course, they did. Malia, 11 and Sasha, 8, are often photographed with their folks, but the poised young ladies have not been heard from at a public event in the 11 months the Obamas have been in the White House.

They handled themselves like pros -- with Sasha getting a little coaching from mom, who made sure she did not spoil President Obama's Christmas gift surprise.

michelle, malia, sasha 2009.jpegFirst Lady Michelle Obama, Sasha, Malia read to children (AP)

malia and bo .jpeg Malia with Bo at childrens hospital (AP)

WASHINGTON-- President Obama, who with his family departs this week for their annual vacation to his native Hawaii, was asked about his body surfing--and why African Americans should get the H1N1flu shot among other issues--during an interview with April Ryan, the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Network.


Q Well, first of all, let's start off on a light note. You're preparing to go away to Hawaii for vacation, and everyone around here is talking about you body surfing. Is that a healthy thing to do?

THE PRESIDENT: It's a wonderful thing to do. I grew up doing it, love the ocean. I'll admit to you that the Secret Service these days does not like me doing it. The last time I tried it they had a bunch of people out on jet skis in the water and surrounding me with all kinds of stuff and it was a little distracting for the other swimmers. So I don't know if I'll get out there this year, but I tell you what I will definitely be enjoying some sun.

Click below for text

WASHINGTON-There will be no Christmas Eve final vote on the Democrats health care bill after all.

The office of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the number two Senate leader, announced that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed that the votes will start at 8 a.m. Thursday on the health care bill and for a two month extension of the debt limit.

WASHINGTON--There are now 198 detainees left at the Guantanamo Bay military prison, the White House told me. On Sunday, the Justice Department announced 12 suspected terrorists were sent to Yemen, Afghanistan and the Somaliland region.

On Tuesday--today--the State of Illinois is holding a public hearing on President Obama's order for the federal government to buy the nearly vacant Thomson Correctional Center in northwest Illinois to house detainees--estimated to be between 50 and 100.

The tally

198 detainees left as of Dec. 22
5 detainees to be transfered to New York City for federal trial
5 detainees to be tried in other U.S. venues.
188 detainees remaining to be sent to another country or sent to a U.S. city for a federal trial, or sent at some point to Thomson for a military trial or sent to Thomson for an indefinite period without charges.

h1n1_shot.jpg President Obama gets flu shot on Dec. 20 (White House photo by Pete Souza)

My Chicago Sun-Times colleagues Dave McKinney and Natasha Korecki story about how now impeached Gov. Blagojevich then chief of staff John Harris surfed the web on the day then President-elect Obama tapped then Rep. Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff--Nov. 6, 2008. Harris was researching whether Blagojevich could appoint someone for Emanuel's seat, with the idea being to have a placeholder in case Emanuel wanted to come back to Congress--and one day resume being on track to be House Speaker.

Updated Monday afternoon

WASHINGTON--The White House is throwing a series of holiday parties. I attended one of the parties for the press. Here's a picture tour of some of the food offerings. It turns out these photos have a place in telling the historic story of Obama entertaining in the White House because no other outlet has run pictures of the food from the Obama parties. How a First Family entertains is part of the history of the administration. Over at Obama Foodorama, which has emerged as the web site of record when it comes to reporting on anything having to do with food in the Obama White House--from First Lady Michelle Obama's food initiatives on healthy eating and her kitchen garden to White House entertaining--Eddie Gehman Kohan took a look at what I posted and wrote about the food featured in my pictures. Food expert Kohan, who founded Obama Foodorama also includes quite a backstory.

From Kohan:

"But the foodie reports have all been based on party goers' eyewitness accounts, because the White House has not released a formal advisory of what foods have been served at the holiday receptions. In previous administrations, members of the media were sent an advisory about the dishes being served at holiday receptions....but the Obama White House is doing things a little differently. And food photos taken by attendees have been dark and very low res...until now. Reporter Lynn Sweet has just saved the day for the historic record about White House foods, as far as your intrepid blogger is concerned; she just posted the best food shots to come out of any of the many receptions."

(photo by Lynn Sweet) For more about this gingerbread White House, Obamafoodarama has the details.

(photo by Lynn Sweet)

(photo by Lynn Sweet)

(photo by Lynn Sweet)

(photo by Lynn Sweet)

(photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--"You know that I am from Chicago,'' President Barack Obama said Sunday at the White House, "so let me first say that with the place where I live covered with snow I'm finally starting to feel like home.''

Washington had a historic snowfall over the weekend. I measured 18.5 inches in my yard in northwest Washington; other areas had even more accumulation. Unlike Chicago, almost everything closes down with the snow.

IMG_1001.JPGThat's 18.5 inches of snow on the table in my yard. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--The Senate advanced historic health care legislation on a 60-40 party line vote at 1:08 Monday morning, clearing a critical procedural hurdle. Illinois Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Roland Burris voted yes. Sixty votes were needed to avoid a filibuster on the legislation. The vote on the bill could come on Christmas Eve.


What happened early Monday morning and the next step from Politics Daily Patricia Murphy here.

The roll call

C-SPAN health care hub with useful links here

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sent the Obama White House on Saturday a new name for consideration for nomination to be the U.S. Marshall for the Northern District of Illinois-- Darryl McPherson, a Deputy U.S. Marshall senior inspector.

Durbin in August suggested Kenton Terrell, who withdrew his name for "family reasons." Durbin seeks input on appointments from bipartisan screening committees he organizes.

WASHINGTON--The Senate, in an unusual Saturday morning session, sent President Obama the massive Pentagon funding bill. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) breaks down the projects in it for Illinois. Though Chicagoans may not think of the city as a center for Defense Department contracts--a variety of academic and medical research activities in the Chicago area get funded through the Defense Department.

Here is the White House transcript on the unusual, dramatic, and somewhat comedic circumstances of how President Obama's meeting came about with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, South African President Jacob Zuma and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao to cut a climate change deal at the Bella Centre in Copenhagen.

Said a senior administration official: "Well, no, no, no, no. We weren't crashing a meeting; we were going for our bilateral meeting."

Click below for transcript

Over at ABC's "Political Punch," presided over by Jake Tapper, comes word and the video about two recent President Obama's interviews: with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize concert and Gloria Estefan, who talked to Obama for Univision.


WASHINGTON--The White House sent members of the Illinois congressional delegation a memo covering a series of questions they generated in the wake of President Obama's order for the federal government to purchase the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois for a prison to house detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba.

Thomson would be converted to a federal prison run by the Bureau of Prisons with the detainees held in a part of the complex to be run by the Defense Department.

The Obama administration memo, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times--with the fully searchable copy at the click--covers questions dealing with the legal rights of the detainees to the security of neighbors in Thomson who may end up living with military personnel guarding the suspected terrorists, to the impact the children of soldiers may have on the finances of the local school district. While the White House makes clear the federal law enforcement authorities will work with local and state officials to deal with potential threats, it's not spelled out if the federal government would reimburse them for the work.

obamas hanukkah.jpg President Obama and First Lady Michelle watch as Ethan and Esther Moran, along with their mother Alison Buckholtz light a menorah on the sixth night of Hanukkah. The menorah--which survived the Nazi destruction-- is on loan from the Jewish Museum in Prague. (Mrs. Obama visited the museum earlier this year.) Ethan and Esther's father Scott is a Commander in the U.S. Navy stationed in Iraq. (White House photo)

WASHINGTON--President Obama, First Lady Michelle and Vice President Biden celebrated Hanukkah with the lighting of candles on the sixth night of the festival at a 550-person White House party that included what one attendee was a "big Chicago presence." My report on the koshering of the White House kitchen for the party here

Among the Chicagoans at the Obama Hanukkah party:

Marcia Balonick
Michael Bauer and Roger Simon
Joan and Bill Brodsky
Lester Crown
Judy Gaynor
Paul Gaynor
Barbara Gold
Judy Gold
Joseph Gutman
Bruce and Vicki Heyman
Illinois State Senator Jeff and Lynne Schoenberg
Linda Sher
Susie and David Sherman
Andrea and Alan Solow
David Solow

Chicagoans Howard Learner and Lauren Rosenthal attended another Obama holiday party on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON--When they were members of Congress, President Obama and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel strongly backed measures to legalize the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and other nations. On Tuesday, the Obama administration--siding with the drug industry--thwarted a bid by a bipartisan group of Senators to add the provision to the Democratic health care bill when it was clear the amendment threatened to derail the overall legislation, a top Obama priority.

THEN, 2008: Then Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) campaigns in support of legalization of imported drugs from Canda and other western nations.

THEN, 2004: Then Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) was the leader of a movement to try to make legal the importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other countries to the U.S. In 2004, I wrote how Emanuel "deserves the credit for elevating importing drugs to a national issue."

Below, my 2004 column.

December 24, 2003 Wednesday

What Obama finds sexy

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What does President Obama consider sexy? He tells us during a speech at a Home Depot store in Virginia on Tuesday.

Time Magazine names Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke its 2009 "Person of the Year."


Bernanke is the 56-year-old chairman of the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the U.S., the most important and least understood force shaping the American -- and global -- economy. Those green bills featuring dead Presidents are labeled federal reserve note for a reason: the Fed controls the money supply. It is an independent government agency that conducts monetary policy, which means it sets short-term interest rates -- which means it has immense influence over inflation, unemployment, the strength of the dollar and the strength of your wallet. And ever since global credit markets began imploding, its mild-mannered chairman has dramatically expanded those powers and reinvented the Fed.

Durbin, Quinn

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky)

WASHINGTON -- President Obama ordered the federal government Tuesday to buy the Thomson Correctional Center in northwest Illinois to house Guantanano detainees as the administration revealed that military trials would be conducted at the prison.

Meanwhile, critics of Obama's plan to move the suspected terrorists now at the military prison in Cuba to Thomson -- 150 miles west of Chicago -- included all seven Republican members of the Illinois congressional delegation: Peter Roskam, John Shimkus, Mark Kirk, Judy Biggert, Don Manzullo, Aaron Schock and Tim Johnson together in a rare joint press conference at the Capitol. The GOP Senate and House leaders, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), as well as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), also objected to the transfer.

WASHINGTON-- The Obama White House--announcing officially Tuesday it will seek to purchase an Illinois prison to house Guantanamo detainees--revealed for the first time the administration wants to hold military trials at the northwestern Illinois facility.

At a briefing, a White House official--the Obama administration forbid use of his name--said there was a "Yes, I think the plan would be to hold military commission trials at the Thomson facility."

WASHINGTON--The White House will announce Tuesday that President Obama will seek to acquire the Thomson Correctional Center in northwestern Illinois to house detainees now held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

I reported in Saturday's editions of the Sun-Times that the Obama administration had settled on the nearly vacant Thomson and would be making the announcement soon.

Former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta on Monday predicted that a health care bill will pass one way or the other--with or without Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) the Independent who objects to a health insurance public option or expanding Medicare to cover certain 55-year olds.

WASHINGTON--"A very strong run so far." That's how former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta--the native Chicagoan who ran President Obama's transition operation--evaluated Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama told Oprah Winfrey the Obama family will celebrate Christmas and New Years this year--as they do every year--in President Obama's native Hawaii. Obama returned to Hawaii last year as president-elect.

Mrs. Obama told Winfrey on her Christmas special, broadcast Sunday, "You know, we're going to spend the holidays in Hawaii as we always do and with probably the same friends and family that we always see and the girls look forward to that."

WASHINGTON--Democrats are stepping up their attacks on Senate hopeful Rep. Mark Kirk, the front-running Republican, with Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from a neighboring Illinois district on Monday planning to lambast Kirk for his flip flop on earmarks.

White House settles on Illinois prison for Guantanamo detainees

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WASHINGTON -- Barring a last-minute glitch, the Obama White House has settled on an Illinois prison to house detainees now at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, sources close to the decision told the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday.

An announcement is expected shortly from the Obama administration to start the process to acquire the nearly vacant Thomson Correctional Center in northwestern Illinois.

A memo to the Justice and Defense departments prepared by administration officials and dated Thursday prompted speculation that the site selection was finalized. An administration official said the memo was a draft and downplayed the significance of its existence, calling it a "predecisional document." The memo was leaked Friday on Andrew Breitbart's "Big Government" Web site.

President Obama, in his Hanukkah greeting--the holiday starts Friday evening--throws in an interesting angle: "Hanukkah is not only a time to celebrate the faith and customs of the Jewish people, but for people of all faiths to celebrate the common aspirations we share."

Who knew?

WASHINGTON-- Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the number two leader in the Senate, was named the most admired senator by "congressional insiders" in a new National Journal poll.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Commitee sent White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers a letter Thursday with 15 questions about how the party crashing Salahis entered the White House without being on the guest list for the Nov. 24 state dinner honoring the Prime Minister of India. King lost a bid to subpoena Rogers before his committee, which did authorize them for the Salahis. Read King three-page letter to Rogers below.

Rep. Rogers pushes Desiree King for answers

United Nations Amb. Susan Rice discusses preventing genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Click above for transcript and video. Excerpt on Rice discussing President Obama on the Darfur region genocide in Sudan, interviewed by Michael Abramowitz, who is the director of the museum's Committee on Conscience:

And the president's new policy for Sudan highlights, first of all, the importance he attaches to effective action. It balances three very important and simultaneous priorities: one, ending mass atrocities, killings, violence, genocide in Darfur; two, effectively implementing the North-South peace agreement, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, so that the final stage of a just and fair referendum can occur and the people of Southern Sudan can determine their own future; and preventing Sudan from again serving as a safe haven for international terrorists, like Al Qaida.

Oprah Winfrey's Obama White House Christmas special is broadcast on Sunday. Check out the full report on the Sun-Times Oprah blog here.

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House is on course to make a nearly vacant Illinois prison the new home for up to 100 detainees now at the Guantanamo military prison in Cuba. While the question has been raised about whether they will ever face trial in a Chicago courtroom--and the White House says that won't happen--it's worthwhile to note in the debate that Chicago prosecutors filed charges against a suspect in the Mumbai terrorist attacks--and that could result in a trial in Chicago.

Illinois Guantanamo detainees won't race trials in Chicago--but other terrorist suspects will.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle invited family and close Chicago friends to Thursday's Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies in Oslo. Also traveling with the president are top advisors Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel did not accompany the president to Oslo.

The group: half sister Maya Soetoro-Ng and her husband, Konrad Ng plus Chicago pals Marty Nesbit and his wife, Anita Blanchard and Eric and Cheryl Whitaker

First Lady Michelle Obama attributes her buff arms to "determination" in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, who named her one of the most fascinating people of 2009.

MS. WALTERS: ....So do you feel pressured to have great arms? Do you have to get up every day and do the exercises?

MS. OBAMA: (Laughs.)

MS. WALTERS: I'm so glad you wore a sleeveless dress --

MS. OBAMA: Of course. Of course. You know, I --

I have to say that my personal routine hasn't changed much in the past 11 years. I mean, I really started right after I had Malia, our oldest. And some of that was, you know, in all honesty, it was a little sort of revenge. (Chuckles.)

Because I'm married to a man who has worked out all of his life. And regardless of how busy he is, he finds the time to work out. And there was a point at which I got a little resentful of that.

So if there's anything that I can attribute these arms to, it's probably just determination. (Laughs.)

Not all endorsements are equal; state Rep. Beth Coulson, a GOP contender in the 10th congressional district primary won the backing of former Gov. Jim Edgar, who comes from the moderate wing of the Illinois Republican family. Coulson is running for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who is seeking the GOP Senate nomination. The leading candidates on the Democratic side are Dan Seals and state Rep. Julie Hamos.

President Obama on being in Norway for the first time--to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize in Norway-- said this on Thursday:

Norway is a close friend and an ally, and the relationship between the American and the Norwegian people has always been extraordinarily strong. It's been noted that there are probably more Norwegians, or at least persons of Norwegian descent, in the United States than there are here in Norway. Norwegians were among the earliest settlers on our shores, and many Norwegian Americans rank as distinguished American citizens. I should also note that, as I was driving through, this being my first visit to Norway, I understood why they all moved to Wisconsin and Minnesota, some of our northern states, because they look identical to Norway.

WASHINGTON--The couple accused of crashing the Obama state dinner was slapped Wednesday with a subpoena to testify before the House Homeland Security Committee. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Ms.), the chairman, wants them to appear before his panel on Jan. 20. The Salahis declined an invitation to testify last week how they manager to glide past Secret Service agents and enter the White House for the Nov. 24 state dinner for the Prime Minister of India even though they were not on the guest list.

A bid by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) to have the panel also subpoena White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers was ruled non-germane. The White House blocked Rogers from testifying on separation of powers grounds. Last week, the Secret Service director, Mark Sullivan, told the committee his officers failed to follow their own procedures and let the Salahis in even though they were not cleared. Three Secret Service officers involved in the incident have been put on leave.

First Lady Michelle Obama sat next to rocker Bruce Springsteen Sunday night at the Kennedy Center honors. This is not the first time Mrs. Obama, President Obama and for that matter Sasha and Malia met "The Boss." My column on Mrs. Obama at the Kennedy Center here. A cool picture of the Obama family meeting Springsteen Nov. 2, 2008 at a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio here.

The Justice Department made clear Wednesday it won't tolerate "idle curiosity" from State Department workers snooping into the passport files of celebrities, sentencing a contractor to 100 hours of community service.

...In pleading guilty, Young admitted that between March 11, 2003, and Dec. 21, 2005, he logged onto the PIERS database and viewed the passport applications of more than 125 celebrities, actors, comedians, professional athletes, musicians, models, a politician and other individuals identified in the press. Young admitted that he had no official government reason to access and view these passport applications, but that his sole purpose in accessing and viewing these passport applications was idle curiosity.

michell obama and ermine erdogan .jpg
This was not on First Lady Michelle Obama's schedule, but this does seem like official business: she met Tuesday with Ermine Erdogan, wife of the Prime Minister of Turkey, in the Yellow Oval Room of the White House, Dec. 8, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

IMG_0899.jpg Rep. Barney Frank and Sarah Palin at the winter Gridiron Club dinner. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

palin purse.JPG That's Sarah Palin's otter purse (photo by Lynn Sweet)

todd palin.JPG

Below, Todd Palin's cummerbund is modeled after the Alaskan flag. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee said he will ask the panel on Wednesday to subpoena White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers to compel her to testify about the circumstances leading up to reality TV aspirants Tareq and Michaele Salahi crashing a state dinner and meeting President Obama at a reception. Meanwhile, King told me he saw Rogers at Monday's White House holiday party for members of Congress.

Obama speech on job creation. Text


al gore and obama.jpg (White House photo)

SNL Tiger Woods skit


WASHINGTON--What! Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, palin' around with a group of elite journalists? She was, the Gridiron Club winter dinner, where she took shots at herself and the journos in the audience.

I'm taking a quick break from the dinner to file this, so I'm not ready to say yet if she has given one of those speeches that turned around her image. But in her 11 minute, 36 second speech, she did no harm to herself. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) speaks in about 15 minutes.

Some of Palin's lines:

"You betcha. Who talks that way?"

On deciding to speak to the Gridiron Club "Sometimes you just got to trust your instincts. And when you don"t, you end up in places like this."

"At least now I can put a face to the newspapers I do read."

WASHINGTON--Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) are keynoting the Gridiron Club Winter dinner tonight. Palin is here with husband Todd. Palin and Frank will be speaking later at this dinner sponsored by the journalists group.

At the reception before the dinner, Palin told me she will be Tweeting later on tonight. She is carrying a purse made out of otter. (How do I know one fur from another. I don't. I asked her.)

It's snowing here--unusually early. Todd Palin told me they brought the weather with them. The event is black tie; Todd Palin's blue cummberbund is based on the Alaska state flag, with the Big Dipper and the North Star--for the most north state in the nation.

Earlier Saturday, Palin, who is on a book tour for her "Going Rogue," did a book signing at a suburban Virgina store.

WASHINGTON--White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers does not deserve the bum wrap she is getting over the Salahi gate crashing at the Obamas Nov. 24 state dinner for the Prime Minister of India. My 2,072-word "In Defense of Desiree Rogers" is here.

bo christmas.jpg

Bo the Obama dog decked out for Christmas (White House photo)

WASHINGTON--A contingent of Illinois political officials and activists with ties to President Obama and wife Michelle attended a holiday party at the White House on Thursday, featuring new, tighter security measures installed after wannabe reality TV show stars crashed a Nov. 24 state dinner.

One of my spies told me that White House staffers sat at tables at the entry gate checking off guests as they arrived; in all ID's had to be shown at three checkpoints before guests enterred the East Wing and passed through the magnetometer. This triple checking comes after Michaele and Tareq Salahi sailed past checkpoints and were able to enter the White House even through they were not on any guest list. A House committee on Thursday held a hearing on the security breach.

The holiday party food: shrimp, roast beef, turkey, smoked salmon, shrimp. Choirs, I am told, were singing in the different rooms of the White House.

Obama briefly spoke. No photo line. Chicago Obama staffers White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, FLOTUS Chief of Staff Susan Sher; Public engagement chief Tina Tchen were seen at the party.

The Illinoisans at the Obama party included:

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan
Illinois State Senate President John Cullerton
Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie
Illinois State Sen. Iris Martinez
Illinois State Sen. Terry Link
Former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones mentor to then state Sen. Barack Obama
Former Illinois State Rep. Robin Kelly, chief of staff for Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and state treasurer hopeful.
Cook County Clerk David Orr
Cook County Board Member Forrest Claypool
Illinois State Rep. Art Turner
llinois State Board of Education Chair Jesse Ruiz
Chicago Ald. Toni Preckwinkle

Dennis Gannon, CFL
Tom Balanoff, SEIU
Henry Tamarin, UNITE
Ron Powell UFCW

David Wilhelm
Michael Bauer
Roger Simon
Judy Gaynor
Susan and Lewis Manilow
Abner and Zoe Mikva

Obama's war

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WASHINGTON--Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Thursday that the agents who let Tareq and Michaele Salahi crash the Nov. 24 Obama state dinner have been placed on leave.

Sullivan told the committee procedures "were not followed at the initial our line of work, we cannot afford even one mistake."

The agents knew that the Salahis were not on the guest list but let them proceed anyway. The committee is probing the incident; the Secret Service last week took the blame and yesterday, the White House, in an attempt to get ahead of critics, announced new guidelines at the entrance which call for a representative of the White House staff to be with a Secret Service agent to check off names.

WASHINGTON--Oprah Winfrey is at the White House today--Thursday-- taping a Christmas show focused on President Obama and First Lady Michelle at the White House.

In the evening, the First Family headline the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on the Ellipse; the Obamas also will host a holiday party.

Robert Gibbs on Desiree Rogers

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Social Secretary Desiree Rogers: "The President, the First Lady, and the entire White House staff are grateful for the job that she does and think she has done a terrific and wonderful job pulling off a lot of big and important events here at the White House."

Tiger Woods is having a rough patch; here's a link to a post I did last April when the star golfer--whose personal life is under the microscope these days--visited President Obama at the White House.

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House on Wednesday blocked Social Security Desiree Rogers from testifying today before the House Homeland Security Committee hearing on how wannbe reality TV stars Tareq and Michaele Salahi whizzed by Secret Service agents and crashed the Nov. 24 state dinner.

The Salahi's also may not appear at the hearing; chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said he may subpoena the couple if they do not show up.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton goes to Congress and a NATO meeting in Belgium to discuss President Obama's Afghanistant escalate-and-exit plan.

WASHINGTON -- President Obama's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan by adding 30,000 U.S. troops -- at the same time announcing an exit strategy to start in July 2011 with no firm end date -- was clearly difficult for many of his most ardent supporters. This is not a popular policy with an important segment of Obama's base.

I've never really known Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 man in the Senate, to be at a loss for words. He's one of the most informed and articulate senators, but his terse statement showed how he was wrestling with the new policy. "President Obama asked for time to make his decision on a new policy in Afghanistan," he said. "I am going to take some time to think through the proposal he presented tonight."

WASHINGTON--As Congress and the Secret Service probe how Tareq and Michaele Salahi gained entrance to President Obama's state dinner last week without being on the guest list, I've learned that the Obama White House has 28 holiday parties planned over the few weeks with more than 50,000 people expected. And social office staffers--who were not posted near the entrance to check off guests coming into the state dinner--now will be more visible at the upcoming events.

In the wake of the party crashing incident, I asked Camille Y. Johnston, the communications chief for First Lady Michelle Obama about the heavy upcoming party season, kicking off this week.

"This holiday season more than 50,000 people will visit the White
House's 17 holiday parties and 11 open houses. Social Office staff will
be present to continue to assist guests and the United States Secret
Service should any confusion arise. As always, the United States Secret
Service will provide security and will control who has access to the
White House grounds."

The state dinner involved just 320 guests--plus the Salahis.

WASHINGTON--President Obama on Tuesday night will announce that he will send 30,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan this summer--but with a focused mission and a goal of getting the soldiers out of the country where 9-11 terrorists trained starting in July, 2011. How long a pull-out will take will be determined by conditions on the ground.

Speaking from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point tonight, Obama will tell the nation why he wants an Afghanistan troop surge and his plans for trying to bolster Afghanistan police and security forces. An initial exit date will not give Al Queda an incentive to wait out the Americans, an administration source said in a briefing Tuesday afternoon in advance of the speech.

"If the Taliban think they can wait us out, I think they are misjudging the president's approach," the official said. By setting when a conditions based process to withdraw starts--but not end-- "puts everyone... under pressure to do more sooner."

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), a West Point graduate and a member of the academy's board of advisors was invited to West Point tonight to hear Obama's speech about this deployment plans.

Salahis deny Obama party crashing

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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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