Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

May 2010 Archives

By Abdon M. Pallasch
Chicago Sun-Times Political Reporter

ELWOOD, ILL. --Heavy thunderstorms interrupted President Obama's visit to the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Elwood, Ill., today, and he urged those on hand to take shelter in their cars.

Obama laid a wreath at the tombstones of veterans at the cemetery just after 11 a.m. today. -- and just before the skies opened up.

After being escorted to the site by Marines, the president set down the wreath and stood solemnly, looking down, as a single trumpeter played "Taps". He wore a dark suit, white shirt and maroon tie.

A gentle breeze made the individual American flags in front of each of the headstones flutter under cloudy skies.

Thunder roared ominously as Obama and the other speakers made their way to the stage for the speaking part of the program. Thousands of people waited as bagpipers played.

But Obama could not even begin his speech as heavy rains poured down, drowning out his words. Thunder and lightning interrupted him. He said he did not want to risk anyone's safety, so he asked people to go back to their cars.

"A little bit of rain doesn't hurt anybody but we don't want anyone to be struck by lightning," Obama said.

"I'd ask everybody to very calmly move back to their cars. I'm going to go back to mine. We will make sure the thunder has passed."

The president said he'd wait to see if the thunder passes "in the next 15-20 minutes."

More than 20 minutes later, the thunder, lightning and downpour continue strong.

The wreath the president set up has blown over in the storm.

Complicating the evacuation is that many people parked in remote spots and were shuttled to the ceremony in buses and golf carts.

WASHINGTON--President Obama traveled one block north from his home at 5046 S. Greenwood in Chicago's historic Kenwood community on Sunday night to visit the home of Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett's parents, Barbara and James Bowman.

The White House passed along to the press pool that Obama was at Jarrett's folks home "for a party celebrating Jarrett's daughter's graduation from Harvard Law School."

That new HLS grad would be Laura Jarrett; my background stories on Valerie Jarrett and her family are here and a longer one here.

Updated 10:37 p.m. Chicago time

WASHINGTON--Both men running for the Illinois Senate seat vacated by President Obama--GOP nominee Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer-- will be at the Arlington Heights Memorial Day Parade on Monday. This is Kirk's first public appearence since the story broke over the weekend that Kirk claimed to have been named "Intelligence Officer of the Year" when he was not.

Giannoulias is doing a press availability before the parade kicks off. After that, he is heading to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill. to join Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and other state elected officials to hear President Obama deliver a Memorial Day address. Giannoulias was invited in his capacity as a state official--not as a candidate.

The Kirk campaign told me Sunday that Kirk would be in Arlington Heights. Later in the evening Kirk's government office issued a release stating Kirk--referred to as "U.S. Rep. and Navy Reserve intelligence officer Mark Kirk" would present medals "posthumously to the married relatives of two World War II veterans who served in Italy and Japan more than 60 years ago" in Memorial Park in the northwest suburb after the parade.

On Sunday night Kirk, playing defense, sent out an e-mail to supporters that focused as much on how the story came out--with a boost from the Giannoulias campaign--as on the gloss Kirk on his record as a commander in the Navy reserves. (See entire Kirk e-mail at the click)

Kirk campaign manager Eric Elk sent out a similar e-mail on Saturday night following the Washington Post story, published on Saturday. The Post broke the news that as the newspaper was looking into Kirk's record, Kirk on his campaign website put up this statement on May 27:

"Upon a recent review of my records, I found that an award listed in my official biography was misidentified as 'Intelligence Officer of the Year.' In fact . . . I was the recipient of the Rufus Taylor Intelligence Unit of the Year award for outstanding support provided during Operation Allied Force," Kirk said. The award was given to his unit, not an individual."

The Washington Post said in its story it was prodded to look at Kirk's record by the Giannoulias camp, so there is no mystery on that point. The Chicago Sun-Times, Tribune and New York Times also has stories over the weekend about Kirk inaccurately claiming an award. The Associated Press report covers that and more.

It's not clear what prompted Kirk to start scrubbing his own website. A standard line on Kirk's various bios for years has been the boast of being "Intelligence officer" of the year in 1999 for his combat service in Kosovo. One example: Kirk on C-SPAN in 2002 (video above) mentioning the award.

On Sunday Kirk said in his e-mail, "The error was discovered last week by my staff. Going through my Fitness Reports for 1999/2000, we recognized that referring to an award as "Intelligence Officer of the Year" was not precise - so we corrected my biography with the official name of a very distinguished award that I am honored to have received."

It 's not clear if Kirk caught the inaccuracy, a staffer or someone else.

In Chicago, President Obama worked out Sunday morning in a private fitness facility on the near West Side. From the pool report: "the name of the gym was not disclosed, but the building that (Obama) entered houses Naturally Fit, a fitness studio owned by Cornell McClellan, who is known in Chicago as Michelle Obama's personal trainer."

By Abdon M. Pallasch

Chicago Sun-Times
CHICAGO--An interesting "stand-off'' of sorts developed outside a barbecue President Obama was attending at a friend's house Saturday night between followers of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan on one side and members of the press and the U.S. Secret Service guarding the president on the other.

Just a few blocks from Obama's home in the Kenwood/Hyde Park neighborhood, Obama's friend Marty Nesbitt lives across the street from the ornate yellow-gold home where Farrakhan lives.

WASHINGTON--Illinois GOP Senate nominee Rep. Mark Kirk--who is making his Navy service a centerpiece of his campaign--for years has been claiming an award he did not earn: "Intelligence Officer of the Year."

Kirk, a commander in the Navy reserves who is an intelligence specialist corrected the record in a statement posted on his Senate campaign web site only last week.

"Upon a recent review of my records, I found that an award listed in my official biography was misidentified as 'Intelligence Officer of the Year.' In fact . . . I was the recipient of the Rufus Taylor Intelligence Unit of the Year award for outstanding support provided during Operation Allied Force," Kirk said. The award was given to his unit, not to him individually.

The Washington Post broke the story about Kirk's inaccurate award claim on Saturday. The Post said it started making inquiries about Kirk's military record after "complaints" from the camp of Kirk's rival, Democratic Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois state treasurer.

Asked by the Sun-Times on Saturday night what prompted Kirk to make the change, Kirk spokesman, Danny Diaz, a said "we noticed that it was misidentified and we corrected it."

It has taken Kirk some time to notice the mistake. The Post story noted Kirk, in a March 2002 House committee hearing on national security spending--recorded on C-SPAN--said "I was the Navy's Intelligence Officer of the Year." In a Chicago Sun-Times questionnaire Kirk filled out for the Feb. 2 Illinois primary, he also said he named "Intelligence Office of the Year, 1999."

WASHINGTON -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel asked former President Bill Clinton to push Rep. Joe Sestak to drop a Democratic Pennsylvania Senate bid against Sen. Arlen Specter, offering in return unspecified unpaid advisory positions, the White House said Friday.

The revelations were in a legalistic White House seven-paragraph memo by White House Counsel Robert Bauer, who said he reviewed the Emanuel-orchestrated bid to persuade Sestak not to make the race and concluded nothing had been improperly offered.

The White House -- which months ago denied anything was offered -- refused to answer follow-up questions. The report did not state what positions Sestak was offered or who was interviewed.

WASHINGTON---In Chicago, President Obama started Saturday by motorcading from his home at 5046 S. Greenwood to the University of Chicago Lab School on 58th Street and Kenwood to play basketball.

Obama left home at 8:49 a.m. Chicago time. He was wearing a black jacket and a White Sox cap.

His daughters, Malia and Sasha attended Lab school before moving to Washington.

Update 1

Obama left the Lab School at 10:55 a.m., waving to reporters before
getting into an SUV in the motorcade. He was home by 11:03 a.m. Chicago time.

A White House staffer told me Thursday there were no plans for Obama to attend a Blackhawks game while in Chicago and on Saturday morning nothing had changed. According to the pool report: A note from (White House spokesman) Bill Burton, to allay apparent confusion out there: While the President is rooting for the Blackhawks against the Flyers, he has no plans to attend the game this evening."

memorandum.jpgWASHINGTON---White House Counsel Bob Bauer, in a review released Friday about conversations between the White House and Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.)--in an effort to get him not to run against Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in a primary-- said Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel used former President Bill Clinton as an intermediary to offer Sestak an unpaid, executive branch advisory board position to avert "a divisive primary fight."

Bauer in his review said Sestak was not offered a nomination as Navy secretary.

Bauer said all the conversations were "consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements."

Sestak beat Specter in the Pennsylania primary held earlier this month.

Read the memorandum.

WASHINGTON--In Jerusalem, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel drew right right wing hecklers on Thursday but ended up being able to pray at the Western Wall in an emotional visit. The extended Emanuel family is in Israel for the bar mitzvah of Emanuel's son Zach and a nephew--with his movements closed tracked by the Israeli press.

"Emanuel, son pray at Kotel after right-wingers banned," Jerusalem Post report here.

The lede: "US President Barack Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel prayed peacefully at the Western Wall on Thursday after police detained right-wing activists Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel, and after Emanuel successfully evaded the press."

Emanuel and right-wing protestors story by McClatchy Newspapers here.

obama to chicago.jpeg Obama Family in Marine One on Thursday taking off from the White House South Lawn en route to Chicago (photo by Lynn Sweet)

IMG_2229.jpgObama family--President Obama, First Lady Michelle, Malia, Sasha, Marian Robinson leaving White House to board Marine One en route to Chicago (photo by Lynn Sweet)

IMG_2231.jpgObama family boarding Marine One on South Lawn of White House en route to Chicago.

WASHINGTON--President Obama, First Lady Michelle, Malia, Sasha and Marian Robinson are flying to Chicago on Thursday evening, the First Family returning to the city for the first time since Valentine's Day, 2009.

According to the pool report, Bo, the family dog, traveled to Air Force One earlier. White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod is with the family on Air Force One.

Jewish front row.JPGfrom left Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Vice President Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama, President Obama, Dodgers Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, Singer, Actor Theodore Bikel (Photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--President Obama on Thursday said "nothing improper" took place in conversations between people in his administration and Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) the Democratic Pennsylvania Senate nominee. Sestak said that an Obama White House official offered him a high level job in exchange for not challenging Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in a Democratic primary. Sestak did and he won.

Obama was asked about this during his Thursday press conference.

Q. Can you tell the American public, sir, what your White House did or did not offer Congressman Sestak to not enter the Democratic senatorial primary? And how will you meet your levels of expressed transparency and ethics to convey that answer to satisfy what appear to be bipartisan calls for greater disclosure about that matter? Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The -- there will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue --

Q From you?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: -- which I hope will answer your questions.

Q From you, sir?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You will get it from my administration, so -- and it will -- it will be coming out -- when I say shortly, I mean shortly. I don't mean weeks or months. With respect to the first --

Q Can you assure the public it was ethical and legal, sir?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I can assure the public that nothing improper took place. But as I said, there will be a response shortly on that issue.

WASHINGTON--President Obama, in a rare press conference his team called for him to lay out the administration response to the BP oil spill, said Thursday his administration fell short in anticipating the tragic consequences of a major off shore drilling accident.

"And -- and part of the purpose of this press conference is to explain to the folks down in the Gulf that ultimately it is our folks down there who are responsible," Obama said, addressing critics who say his administration has not taken firm charge of the effort to cap the drill.

In a 63 minute East Room session--with an 11 minute opening statement--Obama took responsibility for the disaster, triggered by an April 20 explosion--but rejected any comparisons to the slow Bush administration government response to Hurricane Katrina.

"And when the problem is solved and people look back and do an assessment of all the various decisions that were made, I think people can make a historical judgment. And I'm confident that people are going to look back and say that this administration was on top of what was an unprecedented crisis."

WASHINGTON--In another boost for Alexi Giannoulias' Illinois Democratic Senate campaign, David Plouffe, President Obama's campaign manager, hits Chicago on June 30 for a grass roots fund-raiser. Plouffe ran the presidential campaign from its Chicago headquarters and helped mastermind the strategy that expanded the Obama electorate, bringing younger and first time voters in the process.

Giannoulias is looking to broaden his fund-raising base and jazz up and organize the troops with Plouffe. After the campaign, the Obama for America organization was folded into the Democratic National Committee, reconstituted as Organizing for America. Last month, Obama helped OFA kick off its "Vote 2010" mid-term election drive to get those first time Obama voters to the polls in November. Plouffe is advising OFA on its mid-term election strategy.

WASHINGTON-- President Obama will hold a press conference at 12:45 p.m. eastern time on Thursday in the East Room of the White House. The last time Obama held an East Room press conference was the evening of July 22, 2009. Obama had a press conference in the briefing room in February.

WASHINGTON--The White House on Wednesday confirmed that President Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, in Jerusalem, invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House next week. Emanuel issued the invitation during a meeting with Netanyahu.

The meeting will take place on Tuesday. Netanyahu will travel to Washington from Canada. U.S. Special envoy George Mitchell was in the region earlier this month shuttling between Israelis and Palestinians for "indirect" peace talks.

Emanuel flew to Israel for the bar mitzvah of his son.

WASHINGTON--Baseball great Sandy Koufax, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Dodgers who refused to pitch in a World Series game on Yom Kippur--will be among the guests at the Thursday White House first ever reception for Jewish American month. Vocalist Regina Spektor will perform.

WASHINGTON--White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's Israel visit is getting detailed attention from the Israel press--down to whether or not he is eating in kosher restaurants. On Tuesday, the Israeli Defense Force gave Emanuel and his family a helicopter tour of Israel and of bases in the north and south. In Israel on Wednesday, Emanuel is meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to Haaretz, "The IDF confirmed that Emanuel and his family were
the guests of the IDF the bulk of the day, and added that the tour received
all the necessary approvals."

Emanuel travelled to Israel for the bar mitzvah of his son, Zach and a nephew. He's with his father, the Israeli born Benjamin and his brothers, Hollywood superagent Ari and Ezekiel, a White House health policy advisor.

Haaretz, an Israeli paper, reported in its Hebrew editions about Emanuel's movements. I asked a White House spokesman if the English translation version I am reporting off of had any fact errors and was told the report was accurate.

From Haaretz:
* "Emanuel and his family toured yesterday IDF bases in the north and south. Emanuel and his family came two days ago to the Upper Galilee and after a tour that included a view of Lebanon from the mountains of Metulla and a visit to the monument in the memory of the 73 who died in the helicopter disaster near Kibbutz Dafna."

*"It appears that the IDF, in coordination with the Foreign Ministry, gave
Emanuel and his son, who is celebrating his bar mitzvah, a touring-learning
experience. Yesterday in the morning Emanuel came to the base of the
Northern Command in Safed and from there continued via helicopter to the Air
Force base in Hatzerim."

*This one might have been for Ari: "The Emanuel family visited also the Kibbutz El
Rom Studios in the northern heights, where a film on the battle in Emek
Habacha in the Yom Kippur War was screened."

*"The family ended the day at the Sharola meat restaurant next to Mapalei Soar."

WASHINGTON--President Obama raised $1.7 million Tuesday night at fund-raisers in San Francisco-- $1.1m for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $600,000 for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

The price list, according to the invitation:

The cocktail reception cost $250 to $500 per person.

It's $2,000 for the VIP reception, which includes "premium standing area at the cocktail reception," according to the invite.

The dinner costs $35,200 per couple or $17,000 for an individual, and it includes a photo with the POTUS.

From the pool report: An official from Boxer's campaign says there will be 1,000 people total attending the fundraisers, roughly 100 paid for the dinner. After the Fairmont events, Obama headed to a private fundraiser at the home of Ann and Gordon Getty

WASHINGTON--Democratic Illinois Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias will be getting help from the Obama White House. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina are planning visits to Illinois to campaign for Giannoulias in June.

My Chicago Sun-Times colleague Abdon Pallasch has a report below, at the click.

Here's what I learned: Messina and Duncan are coming in for fund-raisers, a few days apart. Duncan may also do a press event with Giannoulias.

On Tuesday afternoon, I talked with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the Illinois Senate race. The "White House is going to help the Democratic nominee in Illinois and we look forward to supporting the nominee and retaining the Senate seat."

I asked if more White House help was coming and Gibbs, referring to Duncan and Messina told me, "This is high level help and this is a very important race. I don't think this is the last of it."

Obama on Tuesday headed to California to headline fund-raisers for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

How the news of Messina and Duncan coming to Illinois helps Giannoulias: More than the actual dollars Messina or Duncan generate at their events, the White House actually doing something tangible for Giannoulias helps donors who have been reluctant to write checks. GOP rival Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) is millions of dollars ahead in fund-raising. The White House weighed in after the Giannoulias family Broadway Bank failed and Giannoulias was still standing--and had a poll showing he was neck and neck with Kirk.

Thumbnail image for IMG_2030.JPG
Mrs. Obama, Lynn Sweet on White House South Lawn
from left, in gold shirt, Cynthia Gordy, Essence Magazine Washington Correspondent, Katherine Skiba, Chicago Tribune Washington Reporter, Darlene Superville, AP reporter, Lynn Sweet, First Lady Michelle Obama (photo by whoever picked up my camera and took some shots)
WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama ran, jumped, did some squats and ran an obstacle course on the White House south lawn on Tuesday, along with 84 kids and trainers from professional teams.

It was part of a kick-off of a summer program to get children to exercise. At one point she walked over to where the press was watching the event and said "you guys" should be participating too--and then she surprised me by calling out my name to come out and join her on the lawn. A few moments later, three other members of her press corps also came out.

Click below for transcript

WASHINGTON--President Obama, who returns to Chicago on Thursday with his family, will cut short his Chicago activities on Friday when he flies to the Louisiana Gulf Coast in connection with the ongoing catastrophic oil spill disaster. Obama will return to Chicago later in the day.

below, from the White House....

President Obama to Travel to Louisiana Gulf Coast

WASHINGTON--On Friday morning, May 28, President Barack Obama will travel from Chicago to the Louisiana Gulf Coast to assess the latest efforts to counter the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Administration has mobilized one of the largest responses to a catastrophic event in history, with more than 1,200 vessels in the region and more than 22,000 people, including many of the brightest scientific minds from both the public and private sector, working around the clock to mitigate the oil's impact.

WASHINGTON--White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday for what the White House called on Tuesday "an informal discussion of a range of issues in the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship."

Emanuel, whose father, Benjamin, was born in Israel, flew to Israel last week with other family members for the bar mitzvah of his son, Zach and a nephew. On Thursday, the White House said the Emanuel family will visit with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Over the weekend, Emanuel and his family visited Eilat, in southern Israel and made a short trip to Jordan. Emanuel brothers Ari, a Hollywood superagent and Ezekiel, a White House health policy advisor are on the trip. Here is my earlier report on Emanuel in Israel, and the sometimes strained U.S.-Israeli relationship.

WASHINGTON--The Obama family, finally, return to Sweet Home Chicago for the Memorial Day weekend.

The last time the family -- Obama, first lady Michelle, Malia, 11 and Sasha, 8 -- were back at their home on South Greenwood was over Valentine's Day weekend 2009. Obama made two quick day trips last summer, not staying overnight.

If anyone thought that the Kenwood community would host a Chicago White House -- and some people did -- well, they were very disappointed.

eric .jpg
Eric Whitaker (Sun-Times Photo by John White)

By Abdon Pallasch
Sun-Times Political Reporter
CHICAGO--President Obama's health care law will make a lot of people on Chicago's South Side and other "underserved" areas healthier, said the president's close friend Dr. Eric Whitaker, who has talked health policy with Obama since the two were grad students at Harvard in the early 90s.

"This new legislation will have a positive impact on this nation, on Chicagoans, and, indeed, on those I have worked with and for in underserved populations on Chicago's South Side," Whitaker said today. "It will benefit everyone in this room, all of us," he told diners at the City Club of Chicago.

WASHINGTON--Former White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers on Saturday hosted a welcome lunch for her successor, Julianna Smoot at a hotel here.

"It was a wonderful celebration welcoming Julianna to the social secretaries sisterhood," Rogers told me.

Hosting a lunch for the new Social Secretary is a tradition started in the 1990s by former Clinton White House Social Secretary Ann Stock. The lunch took place days after Smoot's first State Dinner, hosted by President Obama and First Lady Michelle for Mexico President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala.

Rogers threw the lunch bash at the Jefferson Hotel; her menu included green salad, crab cakes or chicken, with sorbet and berries for dessert.

WASHINGTON---For the first time since Valentine's Day weekend, 2009, President Obama, First Lady Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia will return to their home in Chicago--arriving on Thursday for the Memorial Day Weekend.

On Monday Obama will speak at the Abraham Lincoln Cemetery outside Chicago, according to a White House spokesman.

Last January in an interview I asked Mrs. Obama why the family only came back to their home on S. Greenwood in Kenwood--only once. Her reply is here.

Sunday morning update.....Ma'ariv is reporting that Emanuel and his entourage traveled from Eilat to Jordan, en route to Petra.

WASHINGTON -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is in Israel to celebrate the bar mitzvah of his son and a nephew. While there, he might meet with Israeli government officials, the White House told me Saturday night.

His brothers, Ezekiel, a White house health policy advisor, and Ari, a Hollywood superagent, will also be in Israel for the ceremony. Ezekiel Emanuel told me the trip was a "family affair."

Tommy Vietor, an assistant press secretary, said Emanuel "is in Israel for his son's bar mitzvah. He may have some meetings with Israeli government officials."

Sun-Times Political Reporter

CHICAGO--Gov. Quinn said today that the Thomson Correctional Center in Northwest Illinois might not be used for Guantanamo Bay-transferred enemy combatants after all.

But it would still be used as a federal prison, the governor said.

state dinner 2.jpgDesserts, centerpieces at the Obama Mexican President State Dinner Dessert and Entertainment Reception (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House included two Chicagoans with long time connections to President Obama at the head table at the Wednesday dinner hosted by President Obama and First Lady Michelle to honor Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala.

Among the 20 at the head table with the two presidents and their wives were State Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago) who served in the Illinois state senate with Obama and Chicago labor leader Henry Tamarin, president of Unite Here! Local 1. Tamarin's son, Nate, is the associate director of political affairs in the White House and one of original staffers of then Sen. Obama's political action committee, the HOPE Fund.

WASHINGTON--Vice President Biden and his wife Jill will travel to South Africa, Egypt and Kenya--the nation where President Obama's father was born--in June. In Kenya, Biden will meet with Kenyan President Kibaki and Kenyan Prime Minister Odinga.

Obama has met both those leaders--when he was last in Kenya. When then Sen. Barack Obama visited Kenya in 2006, he was treated as a native son and a head of state. The Kenya trip came on an Africa swing that included South Africa.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama and Margarita Zavala visited a suburban Washington elementary school on Wednesday and heard from a little girl worried that people were going to be deported. She may have been worried about her mother, I write in my report.

"Yeah, well, that's something that we have to work on, right? To make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers, right? That's exactly right," Mrs. Obama said

eva.jpegActress Eva Longoria Parker (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama hosted a splashy, elegant state dinner Wednesday night for Mexico President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala, and Chicago Olympic speed skater Shani Davis was on the invite list.

"I am just proud to be here," said Davis. Each guest can bring a guest, and Davis picked short track coach Jae Su Chun. Davis was wearing a Ralph Lauren suit and a light green tie he bought at Men's Wearhouse in Skokie.

State Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago) served with Obama when he was in the Illinois state Senate and she said as she walked into the dinner, "I am just really honored, really happy and honored to be here with my former colleague."

The dinner menu was created in part by guest chef Rick Bayless, founder of Chicago's Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, which had been a regular stop for Mrs. Obama when she lived in Chicago. The four-course meal featured Oregon Wagyu beef in Oaxacan black mole as the entree.
state dinner plate.jpegState Dinner place setting (photo by Lynn Sweet)

(Lynn Sweet/Sun Times)


Office of the Press Secretary



May 19, 2010

Below is a list of expected attendees who will join tonight's Reception and Performance following the State Dinner:

(Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times)

(Revised by White House; original below)

Office of the Press Secretary



May 19, 2010

Below is a list of expected attendees at tonight's State Dinner, followed by the list for the head table:

WASHINGTON--The dinner menu for the Obama White House State Dinner honoring Mexico President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala.

Dinner Menu
Jicama with Oranges, Grapefruit, and Pineapple
Citrus Vinaigrette
Ulises Valdez Chardonnay 2007 "Russian River"

Herb Green Ceviche of Hawaiian Opah
Sesame-Cilantro Cracker

Oregon Wagyu Beef in Oaxacan Black Mole
Black Bean Tamalon and Grilled Green Beans
Herrera Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 "Selección Rebecca"

Chocolate-Cajeta Tart
Toasted Homemade Marshmallows
Graham Cracker Crumble and Goat Cheese Ice Cream
Mumm Napa "Carlos Santana Brut" N/V

WASHINGTON--- Beyoncé and Rodrigo y Gabriela will entertain Wednesday night following the State Dinner the Obama White House is hosting for Mexico President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala.

WASHINGTON--President Obama, in a joint press session with Mexico President Felipe Calderon on Tuesday afternoon again slammed the new Arizona immigration law--and said his administration is contemplating a legal challenge. The law would allow law enforcement personnel to ask people they suspect are in the U.S. illegally for their papers. Calderon and Obama took two questions from the press in Rose Garden press conference.

Obama said that in his meeting with Calderone, "We also discussed the new law in Arizona, which is a misdirected effort -- a misdirected expression of frustration over our broken immigration system, and which has raised concerns in both our countries. Today, I want every American to know my administration has devoted unprecedented resources in personnel and technology to securing our border. Illegal immigration is down, not up, and we will continue to do what's necessary to secure our shared border.

And I want everyone, American and Mexican, to know my administration is taking a very close look at the Arizona law. We're examining any implications, especially for civil rights. Because in the United States of America, no law-abiding person -- be they an American citizen, a legal immigrant, or a visitor or tourist from Mexico -- should ever be subject to suspicion simply because of what they look like."

IMG00329-20100519-0940.jpg White House arrival ceremony for President Mexico Felipe Calderon (Photo by Lynn Sweet)

IMG00352-20100519-1121.jpgFirst Lady Michelle Obama and Margarita Zavala at an elementary school on Wednesday morning. (Photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--With booming cannons giving a 21-gun salute and full military honors, President Obama welcomed Mexican President Felipe Calderon to the White House for a state visit on Wednesday morning.

Joining them in the outdoor arrival ceremony--the first of the Obama administration--were First Lady Michelle Obama and Margarita Zavala, the former Mexican lawmaker who is Calderon's wife.

The ceremony was full of flourishes--including a U.S. Military fife and drum corps dressed in U.S. revolutionary-era garb. Obama and Calderon inspected the troops--from the five U.S. Military branches standing at attention in formation.

Obama called Calderon a "neighbor, friend and partner."

Calderon said the U.S. and Mexico can "overcome" challenges of major cross-border concerns, "migration," organized crime, and climate issues.

FOOTNOTE: Mrs. Obama wore a rasberry outfit from Calvin Klein.


WASHINGTON--Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan as a college student had a deep interest in Socialism and wrote her Princeton undergraduate thesis about the Socialist movement in New York and why it never endured. The thesis and much more are now on file with the Senate Judiciary Committee in advance of her confirmation hearings sometimes this summer. Also: Kagan has a $1.7 million net worth, most of her assets are in cash, she has no substantial investment, no credit card debt, no car, no mortgage. These details and more about Kagan's answers to Senate questions are in a column I co-wrote here.

WASHINGTON--The reluctance of the U.S. Congress and the Obama White House to move on immigration reform -- and the controversial Arizona law -- plus cross-border drug war violence will be on the agenda during a two-day visit by Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala.

President Obama and first lady Michelle host a State Dinner tonight for Calderon and Mrs. Zavala -- the couples both have young children and both women are lawyers who gave up careers when their husbands became president. Mrs. Obama dined at Los Pinos, the Mexican presidential residence, last month during her swing through Mexico City.

The U.S.-Mexico relationship is close, but the new Arizona state law -- where state law enforcement could demand that people produce papers (already opposed by Obama and Calderon) -- raises the question of how and when Calderon will deliver an Arizona rebuke. Calderon is under some domestic political pressure to say something while here, but I am told he does not want to make Arizona the highlight of his visit -- there are many other other issues on the agenda.

Calderon has two prime opportunities. Obama and Calderon hold a press conference today, and Thursday Calderon addresses a joint session of Congress. Obama and Calderon held a joint press conference on April 16, 2009, at Los Pinos. Calderon said then, "This is an historic event that will inaugurate a new era, a new relationship between our two countries."

Clarification: Bayless at Gapers Block said he did not send his tweets from the White House kitchen. Bayless also sent a tweet out about my post. To clarify: Bayless tweeted about the upcoming dinner and about the White House kitchen, but not from the White House kitchen. My apology.

The lede below is what appeared in the print editions.

WASHINGTON -- Rick Bayless, the Chicago superstar chef, was tweeting from the White House kitchen about today's Obama White House state dinner honoring Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala. Until the tweets stopped. The White House kitchen is for cooking, not tweeting.

Bayless' contemporary Mexican cuisine made his Frontera Grill and Topolobampo restaurants at 445 N. Clark a favorite of President Obama and first lady Michelle.

He was given the unpaid honor of being a guest chef, working the state dinner -- the second of the Obama administration -- alongside of White House House chef Cristeta Comerford.

WASHINGTON--Switching parties did not help Sen. Arlen Specter save his career; he was beat Tuesday in a Democratic primary by Rep. Joe Sestak. Rand Paul, Ron's son, won in Kentucky.A roundup on the Tuesday primary contests over at Politics Daily.

WASHINGTON---New details about who interviewed Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan before President Obama picked her emerged on Tuesday, with Chicagoans David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett --White House senior advisors--playing a role in Kagan being picked.

More information about the selection process was in an extensive questionnaire released Tuesday with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On April 7 Kagan--a former University of Chicago Law School professor-- met White House senior advisor David Axelrod; on May 6 she met with Valerie Jarrett, also a senior advisor. Obama nominated her on May 9.

She apparently did not meet with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

FOOTNOTE: Axelrod is a U. of C. grad; Jarrett is a former U. of C. board member.

WASHINGTON--Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan paid a courtesy call on Tuesday to Sen. Al Franken (D-Mn.), the former comic who joined the Senate just in time for the confirmation hearings of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Franken used that to riff with Kagan during a photo op before their meeting on Tuesday.


WASHINGTON--While the White House press operation is trying to downplay the glamour aspect of the Wednesday State Dinner honoring Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala and limit coverage, guest chef Rick Bayless, the Chicago cooking superstar, is so big the White House cannot muzzle him and force him into the background.

Bayless is going around the White House communications team and twittering from the White House kitchen. This is his latest, filed Tuesday morning: "Thanks 2 the 100s of well wishers! Ready 4 day 2 n rather small White House kitchen. Chef was challenged by some ingred,but last arrive 2day"

Bayless has so much clout, that the White House came to his Frontera Grill in Chicago for the sample dinner a few weeks ago--new Social Secretary Julianna Smoot, deputy Joe Reinstein, from Highland Park, and White House Chef Cristeta Comerford.

WASHINGTON--Susan Sher, chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama, will deliver the commencement address Saturday at the Loyola University Law School in Chicago. Sher, an alumnus of Loyola, will address graduates at the Gentile Center, on the Lake Shore campus.

Politics Daily has a wrap-up of the biggest Tuesday primary contests. (Illinois is out of this picture, holding the first-in-the nation 2010 primary last Feb. 2)

WASHINGTON--Top strategists for Alexi Giannoulias Illinois Senate campaign will be on a conference call today to discuss the state of the race.

On the call, from the Giannoulias team: Pete Giangreco, The Strategy Group; Eric Adelstein, Adelstein Liston; Michael Bocian, Greenburg Quinlan Rosner and Michael Rendina, Campaign Manager.

By Chris Fusco and Natasha Korecki

Chicago Sun-Times

CHICAGO--Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has subpoenaed Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to testify at his upcoming criminal trial, adding Jackson to a long list of politicians the former governor says can help him clear his name.

The South Side Democratic congressman was one of several people Blagojevich once considered appointing to President Obama's U.S. Senate seat after the 2008 presidential election. Prosecutors have alleged Blagojevich effectively put Obama's seat up for sale.

Lynn Sweet via Skype on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight," May 13, 2010.

President Obama stopped for lunch on an upstate New York swing on Thursday and got something not on the menu at Duff's Famous Wings: a steamy compliment from a female patron who told him, "you're a hottie with a smokin' little body."

Obama stopped at the local landmark in Cheektowaga, N.Y. and surprised the customers. The woman giving Obama the once-over was Luann Haley, 45. Sheryl Stolberg of the New York Times, the pool reporter, said Obama "replied by giving her a big hug. ("He gave me a squeeze,'' she said afterward.) She swooned and he said Michelle would be watching on television. "That's allright,'' Ms. Haley said as the cameras rolled."Hi Michelle, eat your heart out."

Click below for rest of pool report.

Video courtesy NBC Chicago Ward Room

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is leading the fight to break the hold big banks and major credit and debit card providers--Visa and Mastercard--have on business through what Durbin calls "price fixing" on "swipe" fees. Swipe fees are the cut the credit card companies take from the merchant every time a debit card is used. The fees now are the same for everyone--and Durbin wants banks to have to compete for swipe fee business. Durbin's amendment is supported by a variety of business groups. The Senate is expected to vote on the amendment on Thursday. The amendment, if approved, would be folded into the larger pending financial systems reform package.

Chicago Sun-Times Political Reporter

ROSEMONT, ILL.--With 4,000 Chicago area fans cheering her on, former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin trained her sights Wednesday night on Highland Park High School, which conservative talk radio has targeted for canceling the girls basketball team's trip to a tournament in Arizona.

"Them are fightin' words when you say a girl can't play in the basketball tournament ... for political reasons ... so we're going to see about that," Palin said.

WASHINGTON--Lawyers for former Gov. Blagojevich have subpoenaed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) in to testify at his federal corruption trial, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

"Ex-Governor Blagojevich's counsel contacted Senator Reid's counsel regarding service of a subpoena related to Mr. Blagojevich's pending trial, as he has apparently contacted many others. As a routine legal matter, Senator Reid's attorney accepted service. This action does not mean that Senator Reid will testify at trial," Reid spokesman Jim Manley told me.

051210palin1.jpgPalin at Rosemont

By Abdon M. Pallasch
Sun-Times Political Reporter

ROSEMONT, ILL.--Former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin brought 4,000 Chicago-area fans to their feet Wednesday night, attacking President Obama,
corrupt Illinois politicians and a Highland Park school that told its girl's basketball team it could not go to the play-offs in Arizona.

"Them are fighting words when you say a girl can't play in the basketball tournament, so were going to see about that," she said. Noting that the girls had bake sales to pay their way to the national finals for the first time in 26 years, Palin suggested conservatives could get the girls to Arizona despite the school board which opposes Arizona's strict new laws against illegal aliens.

durbin kagan.jpgDurbin and Kagan meeting in Durbin's Senate office (photo by Lynn Sweet)
Audio of Durbin's press conference with reporters after his meeting with Kagan.

Updated version

WASHINGTON--Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, a former University of Chicago Law School professor, paid courtesy calls to eight senators over seven hours on Wednesday. At her stop with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) they talked about serious legal matters--and her Chicago top restaurant picks.

"Medici pizza was one of her favorites; she liked Chicago hot dogs and she enjoyed watching baseball in Wrigley Field," Durbin said after spending about 20 minutes with Kagan.

The Medici on 57th at 1327 E. 57th St., is a well known Hyde Park eatery; Durbin said she also dined at Ann Sathers, famous for cinnamon buns, though did not say if she went to the Sathers on Belmont near the "L" or on Broadway. Before moving on to Harvard Law School, where she eventually became dean, Kagan was in Chicago from 1991 through 1995, living in Lincoln Park.

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WASHINGTON--Everything about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is being analyzed including her batting stance. This blog was the first to publish pictures of Kagan playing softball during faculty games at the University of Chicago Law School within hours of confirming on Sunday night Obama would tap her on Monday. Other outlets picked up the ball from there.

Over at, writer Mark Newman asked the pros about Kagan at bat.
"The reviews by Major League Baseball players were mixed, even yielding some astute advice," he wrote.

The photo was dug up by my Sun-Times colleague, Abdon M. Pallasch and the detail that caught my eye right away was that she was playing Chicago-style 16-inch softball. For many Chicagoans, no-mitt 16-inch softball with a "Clincher" is the norm, not the 14-inch game played with a glove.

And a big 'you're crazy' to those trying to make something of Kagan's sexual orientation from the picture. There are, have been and will be tons of women in Chicago who play 16-inch softball; there's no uniform; everybody wears jeans.

Famed Chicago chef Rick Bayless will have an opportunity to prepare his 28-ingredient mole sauce for President Obama.

WASHINGTON--Rick Bayless, the Chicago chef who founded the famous Frontera Grill, will be the guest chef at the Obama White House second state dinner on May 19, to honor Felipe Calderon, the president of Mexico, and his wife, Margarita Zavala.

White House Chef Cristeta Comerford and Deputy White House Social Secretary Joe Reinstein--from north suburban Highland Park--traveled to Frontera Grill at 445 N. Clark on Chicago' near north side recently for a tasting dinner.

The rustic Frontera and the white table cloth Topolobampo, adjacent to Frontera have national reputations for serving Mexican cuisine.

Jennifer Fite, a spokesman for Bayless, told me Bayless will arrive in Washington on Monday, May 17, to start work on the dinner next Wednesday.

The Obamas were Bayless regulars during their time in Chicago. Mrs. Obama was the first to taste Bayless' cooking during visits to Topolobampo; she later brought then Sen. Barack Obama.

WASHINGTON--Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan starts her courtesy calls to the Senators this week, following her Tuesday appointment from President Obama. Expect many photo ops of Kagan sitting with senators--but it would be surprising (though welcome from journalists)--if she takes any questions. The White House videographers landed an interview with Kagan, taped Monday after the East Room event with Obama, Kagan and Vice President Biden. It may be all we hear from Kagan for awhile. Her confirmation hearings won't start until sometime this summer. In the spot, she talks about Harvard--where she attended law school and where she was dean--and makes no mention of her time at the University of Chicago Law School, where she met Obama when they both taught there.

Kagan on Wednesday meets with, starting at 10:00 a.m. Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, Senator Leahy, Senator Sessions, Senator Durbin, Senator Hatch, Senator Kohl, and Senator Feinstein.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) met with Rachael Ray, the cookbook author and food show star about his legislation to bolster the quality of school food and find ways to pay for healthier meals. The meeting came on the day that First Lady Michelle Obama released her task force report on ending childhood obesity, a component of which is offering students healthier choices.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Healthy Schools Campaign support the Durbin legislation, introduced Tuesday. The Healthy Schools Partnerships Act of 2010 would, according to a statement from Durbin's office, "fund a competitive program that would bring together nutritional and academic experts, members of the community and local schools to produce innovative ideas to improve food quality, student choices in food and healthy school environments."

zook.jpgDomestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes at the podium. From left, Health Czar Nancy Ann DeParle; FTC chief Jon Leibowitz; Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; First Lady Michelle Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Elena Kagan is now a Supreme Court nominee; as Solicitor General, she had to file financial disclosures. The folks at ProPublica have Kagan's disclosure in a handy format; she made $427,299 as Harvard dean; in this political climate, the $10,000 she got from Goldman Sachs as an advisor may get more attention.

WASHINGTON--The long awaited White House strategy to reduce U.S. drug demand was released on Tuesday. The report, originally scheduled to be released earlier, was held so as not to overlap on the unfolding final stages of the health care debate. The report is being released in advance of the May 19 state dinner for Mexican President Felipe Calderon. U.S. consumption of drugs is fueling the cross-border drug war and getting use down is a major bi-lateral issue.

The goal: "a 15-percent reduction in the rate of youth drug use over 5 years and similar reductions in chronic drug use and drug-related consequences such as drug deaths and drugged driving."

Recognition of U.S. responsibility: "The United States is one of the world's most lucrative markets for illegal drugs. It is in our interest to work collaboratively with international partners to reduce the global drug trade because such actions protect the health and safety of our citizens. The United States also shares responsibility with drug-producing and transit nations for the existence of this dangerous, destabilizing, and violent criminal enterprise. Shared responsibility for the origin of a problem implies shared responsibility to solve it."

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday morning releases a report, "Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation" with 70 proposals to reduce childhood obesity.

Click below for a summary of the recommendations and here for the full report package.

from the White House:
In conjunction with the release of the action plan, Cabinet Members and Administration Officials will hold events across the country to highlight the importance of addressing childhood obesity.

"For the first time, the nation will have goals, benchmarks, and measureable outcomes that will help us tackle the childhood obesity epidemic one child, one family, and one community at a time," Mrs. Obama said. "We want to marshal every resource - public and private sector, mayors and governors, parents and educators, business owners and health care providers, coaches and athletes - to ensure that we are providing each and every child the happy, healthy future they deserve."

WASHINGTON--Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan donated $12,050 to Democrats between 2000 and 2008, according to Federal Election Commission records, all during her time at Harvard Law School. She donated to Barack Obama's Illinois Senate race--they met when they both taught at the University of Chicago--and his presidential contest.

CHICAGO FOOTNOTE: On Jan. 12, 2007, Kagan wrote a $500 check for a Chicago candidate--when Jose Cerda was running for clerk. Kagan and Cerda both worked in the Clinton White House.

Click below for the list of federal contributions.


Chicago Sun-Times

WASHINGTON -- Elena Kagan, nominated by President Obama Monday for a seat on the Supreme Court, first met him at the University of Chicago Law School, where they were both teaching.

Kagan was at the time a career academic while Obama was at the school part time, just beginning his political career.

Obama on Monday couldn't recall the details of that day in the 1990s when their paths first crossed at the law school in Hyde Park. Who knew to mark the spot at the law school where a future president met the woman who would be his second Supreme Court appointment?



Chicago Sun-Times

President Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan this morning for the Supreme Court vacancy being created by the retirement of Chicagoan John Paul Stevens.

Obama said Kagan would be the same "impartial guardian of the law" that Stevens has been over his 35-year career.

"Elena is widely regarded as one of the nation's foremost legal minds," Obama said.

The selection of Kagan, an unknown figure to much of America, came after nearly a monthlong process of consideration, though she was really in the before that, as a runner-up last year for the seat that went to Justice Sotomayor.

The president informed Kagan that she would a Supreme Court nominee on Sunday night. He then called the three federal judges he did not choose for the position, Diane Wood, Merrick Garland and Sidney Thomas.

Obama noted that, as dean at Harvard Law School "at a time when many believed that Harvard faculty had gotten a little one-sided in its viewpoint," Kagan recruited conservative scholars to join the faculty and tried to be a bridge over the ideological divide.

WASHINGTON--President Obama called Elena Kagan at 8 p.m. Sunday night to tell he he was going to nominate her to replace retiring Justice John Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court. At 10 a.m. Monday, Obama, Vice President Biden and Kagan were in the East Room of the White House to make it official, before an audience full of allies who can help her Senate confirmation.

"While we can't presume to replace Justice Stevens's wisdom or experience, I have selected a nominee who I believe embodies that same excellence, independence, integrity and passion for the law, and who can ultimately provide that same kind of leadership on the court: our solicitor general, and my friend, Elena Kagan," Obama said.

Click below for transcript

WASHINGTON--Democratic Illinois Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias, with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) is one of the first November contenders to make support of President Obama soon to be nominated Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan an issue. On Monday morning, just after Obama officially taps Kagan--a former University of Chicago Law School professor--Giannoulias and Schakowsky will bolster her nomination during a press conference at his campaign headquarters in Chicago.

Kagan will be the third woman and third Jew to sit on the current court. GOP Senate nominee Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) is looking for support from the Jewish and abortion rights communities. The Giannoulias-Schakowsky presser comes just before Kirk delivers a major speech at the City Club of Chicago at Maggiano's 111 W. Grand in Chicago. While Kirk may lay out his case against Giannoulias--and for himself--in the speech, it will be interesting to see if he will take an early stand on Kagan--and perhaps anger his GOP base--play it out--or be supportive. Kagan is expected at this point to get some cross-over GOP confirmation votes in the Senate.

A Chicago Sun-Times exclusive look at Elena Kagan, who President Obama on Monday will nominate for a seat on the Supreme Court. She's a slugger. While at the University of Chicago Law School, Kagan played on a 16-inch softball team. Playing 16-inch softball is as Chicago as deep dish pizza. Fielders do not wear gloves and the "Clincher," before it turns to mush is a finger breaker. My Chicago Sun-Times colleague Abdon Pallasch passed along the photos below of Kagan at bat; they come from University of Chicago Law School student and staff directories.

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Elena Kagan softball photo from University of Chicago Law School, 1994-95 directory of faculty and students

Elena Kagan, upper left, softball photo from University of Chicago Law School, 1993-94, school directory of faculty and students.

The man pitching to Kagan was the then Dean of Students, Richard Badger. Professor Richard Epstein in the bottom right picture.

The official schedule and guidance the White House issued for President Obama's Monday, May 10 activities on Sunday did not include his appointment on Monday of Elena Kagan as his Supreme Court nominee.

Monday will be a heavy news day at the White House. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs will hold a press briefing with General Stanley McChrystal and Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.


By Lynn Sweet and Abdon M. Pallasch
Chicago Sun-Times

President Obama will tap Solicitor General Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Chicagoan John Paul Stevens, a knowledgeable source told the Sun-Times on Sunday night.

Obama will announce Kagan's appointment on Monday. If confirmed the Supreme Court for the first time will include three women--and three Jews, Kagan and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

There is some symmetry in that Stevens was a University of Chicago graduate and Kagan and Obama both taught at the law school there together.

WASHINGTON--Solicitor General Elena Kagan is President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court, a source with knowledge of the selection told the Chicago Sun-Times on Sunday night. The president will announce the appointment on Monday.

Kagan has two significant Chicago connections:

*She joined the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School in 1991, becoming a tenured professor in 1995. Her time at the U of C overlaps with Obama teaching at the law school.

*She is a former clerk for Chicago's Abner Mikva when he sat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Kagan worked for Mikva from 1986 to 1987. Mikva, also a former Clinton White House counsel--and a former congressman--was an early support of Obama when he was starting his political career.

Obama interviewed Chicagoan Diane Wood, a federal appellate justice for the spot as well as the Lincolnwood raised Merrick Garland, who sits on a D.C. appellate court.

Betty White and Tina Fey hilarious Census skit on NBC's "Saturday Night Live"

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated Mothers Day at the White House early this year, with a Friday tea that honored her "mommy" Marian Robinson, who left Chicago's South Side to move in with the First Family and others, including former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and daughters and grandaughters of Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. There were cabinet members, military spouses and "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon--not the daughter of the president, that's Patricia, and she was there. My Michelle Obama Mothers Day Tea story is here

Click below for menu, china settings, partial guest list.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated Mothers Day at the White House early this year, with a Friday tea that honored her "mommy" Marian Robinson, who left Chicago's South Side to move in with the First Family and others, including former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and daughters and granddaughters of Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. There were cabinet members, military spouses and "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon--not the daughter of the president, that's Patricia, and she was there. My Michelle Obama Mothers Day Tea story is here

Click below for menu, china service, partial guest list

Obama week ahead

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house candidates jan.JPG Illinois Democratic House candidates, from left, Deidre "DK" Hirner; Rep. Jan Schakowsky; Rep. Melissa Bean; Rep. Debbie Halvorson; Dan Seals. At podium, Scott Harper (photo by Lynn Sweet)

mike jan.JPGSchakowsky on the big screen; lower right, Democratic activist Michael Bauer (photo by Lynn Sweet)

helen jan.JPGSchakowsky interviewing White House columnist and author Helen Thomas (photo by Lynn Sweet)

CHICAGO--Rep. Jan Schakowsky's major annual fund-raiser--her 9th "Ultimate Women's Power Lunch" drew Illinois' Democratic elite. The event, at the Hyatt on Wacker Drive, has evolved into a showcase for Democratic candidates up and down the ticket.

Seen: Sen. Dick Durbin; Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias; Gov. Quinn's runningmate, Sheila Simon; Attorney General Lisa Madigan and House members and candidates Deidre "DK" Hirner; Rep. Melissa Bean; Rep. Debbie Halvorson; Dan Seals and Scott Harper.

Hearst White House columnist Helen Thomas--who broke a number of barriers for women in the newsbusiness--guested at the event; Schakowsky interviewed her during the program.

This was President Obama's crowd; lots of people there who knew him when. Said Schakowsky, "I was just in embassies in Cairo and Israel and there was his big picture on the wall and its like, 'all right, he's the president."'

The Swamp blog running out of the Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau changes hands with Swampmaster Mark Silva moving to Bloomberg News. So long, Mark. Welcome to new Swampers James Oliphant and Jim Tankersley.

durbin jan.JPG (photo by Lynn Sweet) Durbin at Schakowsky fund-raiser

CHICAGO--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Friday stumped for the Democratic Illinois ticket at a fund-raiser for Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.); at a press conference after that, he called for curbs on fees credit card companies charge to small business owners. Durbin is a key figure in the banking reform legislation pending in the Senate.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) hosts her annual major fund-raiser on Friday in Chicago. Dubbed a women's "power lunch," it usually draws a who's who of Democratic pols --and candidates who want to tap into her fund-raising network. This year, columnist Helen Thomas is the headliner.

Expected in the audience: Senator Dick Durbin, Congresswoman Melissa Bean, Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, the Honorable Alexi Giannoulias, and candidates for Congress, Scott Harper and Dan Seals and candidate for lieutenant governor, Sheila Simon.

The Illinois Republican Party tried to hijack anAlexi Giannoulias Democratic Senate campaign event Thursday, a cutthroat day in the race for President Obama's former Senate seat.

Two story lines were spawned Thursday in the contest between Giannoulias, the Illinois state treasurer, and GOP Senate nominee Rep. Mark Kirk.

First Lady Michelle Obama, who has stayed off the political circuit since the 2008 presidential election, jumps back in on Friday when she headlines a fund-raiser in Washington for the Democratic National Committee. It is not clear year what Mrs. Obama will do on the 2010 campaign trail; she has enormous ability to raise millions of dollars for Democrats and to tally the troops; my report here.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, is getting a boost from a shopping center political action committee and other interests for his May 10 fund-raiser in Chicago. The ICSC political action committee, one of the organizers of the event--a PAC staffer is handling RSVP's--represents the shopping center industry


WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is hosting a fund-raiser for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid--in a tough re-election fight in Nevada--in Chicago on May 14, at the Fairmont Hotel.

Co-hosts include Richard Chesley, Laurence Geller, Dr. Siva Sivananthan

Donor levels: contribute or raise $4,800 to be a host or co-host; $1,000 to attend.

WASHINGTON--President Obama heads to San Francisco later this month for a high-end fund raisers to benefit Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), in a tough re-election campaign.

Obama will appear at two events for Boxer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on May 25. A 4:30 p.m. cocktail reception at the Fairmont Hotel and a
5:30 p.m. photo reception and dinner at theome of Ann & Gordon Getty

Prices for packages range from $35,200 per couple-- that includes the photo reception and dinner--to $250 for a single ticket to the cocktail reception.

DSCC chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) stopped in Chicago on Sunday to map fund-raising strategy for Democratic Illinois Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias.

WASHINGTON--Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick--a Chicago native--cancelled his Tuesday fund raiser in Chicago, staying home to deal with the emergency triggered by a water pipe break.

The funder was set to be held at the University Club of Chicago, 76 E. Monroe. Hosts had to give or raise $2,500. A ticket was $500.

WASHINGTON--Diane Wood, the Chicago federal appeals court judge, was interviewed by President Obama on Tuesday about replacing retiring Justice John Stevens on the Supreme Court, a source told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Wood had a second interview with Vice President Biden about the upcoming vacancy. Stevens, a Chicago native, was in Chicago on Monday to speak at a 7th circuit lawyers and judges conference where another person in the running to replace Stevens--Solicitor General Elena Kagan--was also on the program.

This is second time Wood has trekked to the White House for high court interviews; last year she was in the running for the appointment that went to Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Wood and Obama know each other from the days when he taught law at the University of Chicago.

So far four prospects have been to the White House for interviews: Wood, Kagan, a former U. of Chicago Law School professor; federal appeals judge Merrick Garland, raised in Lincolnwood and Sidney Thomas, a federal appeals judge from Montana.


WASHINGTON--The Obama White House is very pleased that a suspect was arrested in the attempted Times Square attack 53 hours and 20 minutes after a car full of explosives was discovered in Times Square.

The White House provided a detailed timeline of President Obama and White House actions, from Saturday night to Tuesday afternoon; read at the click.

WASHINGTON-- For all those parents working on their kids science fair projects--here is a goal. First Lady Michelle Obama said the White House is going to host its first ever Science Fair--doing for math and science stars what the White House does for the NCAA champs.

At the national science bowl on Monday Mrs. Obama said, "And this year we're going to host the first-ever White House science fair for students from all across the country. As the President has said -- -- he says this all the time. He says, when you win the NCAA championship, the winners come to the White House. And we think that budding inventors, scientists and mathematicians should be at the White House, too. So we're going to be excited to host you there."

Retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens--a Chicago native--made his annual homecoming visit Monday to the judges and lawyers who work in the Chicago based 7th circuit. Also there, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, a former University of Chicago law professor who is on the Obama White House short list to replace Stevens. My Sun-Times colleague Abdon Pallasch has the report--including about what happened at a long ago Cubs game

WASHINGTON--GOP Illinois Senate nominee Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) produced a spot released Tuesday to rebut an ad produced by Democratic rival Alexi Giannoulias. Kirk's campaign made a $250,000 buy on broadcast and cable outlets; the spot will run through May 13.

Kirk spot produced in response to Giannoulias ad. Giannoulias spot below. ...

Giannoulias spot, produced after the family owned Broadway Bank failed...

WASHINGTON---Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chair of the Senate Democratic political operation hit Chicago on Sunday to map fund-raising strategy with top donors to assist the Alexi Giannoulias Illinois Senate campaign.

Menendez, who oversees the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, huddled with about 30 contributors--who can tap their personal networks for more donors--at a session held at the Saddle and Cycle Club on 900 W. Foster Ave., a few blocks west of Lake Michigan on the North Side.

I was told the take away from the meeting was this: there was a "positive and engaged conversation about the state of the race and the DSCC support for it."

Giannoulias lags behind GOP Senate rival Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), both in cash raised and in cash on hand. As of March 31, Kirk has $3,015,943 cash on hand compared to Giannoulias, with $1,221,628 in his war chest.

Last week, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told me "We will do whatever it takes to help Cong. Kirk win that Senate seat. I am not prepared to quantify that yet." Cornyn was in Chicago on April 6 to headline a funder for Kirk and the NRSC.

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House on Monday night released a list of CEO's having dinner with President Obama and other top administration officials, including Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett and Austin Goolsbee. One interesting invitee: Angela Braly, the Chairman, President and CEO of WellPoint, a target of Obama White House ire.

On April 23, the health insurance company was taken to task by the administration for "routinely dropping coverage for women that are diagnosed with breast cancer." Earlier, during the health insurance reform debate, the WellPoint boost in California rates-- up to 39 percent--helped dramatize the need for regulation.

When you look at the list of the CEO's and Obama officials at the dinner--it's an example of how few women operate at the very top of these business circles.

Following is a list of the three women and ten men invited to dinner:

After spending some $2 million of his own money, pawnbroker Scott Lee Cohen won the Democratic Illinois lieutenant governor nomination, only to be pressured off the ballot when questions surfaced about his past. He left the ticket--replaced by Sheila Simon--and now wants back in. He announced Monday a longshot third party bid for governor. Abdon Pallasch has the report.

My Chicago Sun-Times colleagues Chris Fusco and Tim Novak package on Rep. Luis Gutierrez, his daughter and her condo and how he has moved yet again with his place not in the district.

WASHINGTON--Show business stars were everywhere at Saturday's White House Correspondents Association Dinner. Actress Dana Delany, now in "Desperate Housewives," was surprised when I told her -we were at the Newsweek reception before the dinner--I enjoyed her playing the role of a dominatrix in a movie titled--Delany reminded me--"Exit to Eden."

There were just tons of Hollywood stars around. Here's a sampling, in no particular order:

Dana Delany
The three Jonas brothers
Morgan Freeman
Betty White
Bill Maher
Dennis Quaid
Adrian Grenier
Kristin Davis
Dominic West
Gabourey Sidibe
Kathryn Bigelow
CCH Pounder
Cheryl Hines
Ashley Judd
Jessica Alba
Kim Kardashian
Tracy Morgan
Terence Howard
Ryan Secrest
Justin Bieber
Gayle King
Michael Douglas
Larry King
Kal Penn
Joy Behar
Chevy Chase
Julianna Margulies
Omar Epps
Tim Daly
Bradley Cooper

WASHINGTON--Comic Jay Leno's routine at the White House Correspondents Association dinner on Saturday night included a shot at former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Leno, speaking after President Obama said he had the "distinct honor" of being "the only person on the panel not subpoenaed by Rod Blagojevich.''

And this: "As you know, the president has the most diverse staff in history. They represent every ward of Chicago, and I think that is fantastic," Leno quipped.

The Blagojevich reference is about the failed bid by Blagojevich, facing federal corruption charges to subpoena Obama in a case that involves, among other charges, that Blagojevich tried to sell Obama's former Senate seat. Blagojevich has subpoenaed Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said last week he was not subpoenaed.

President Obama at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner. Speech transcript, May 1, 2010, click below. Obama speech transcript and video from the May 10, 2009 dinner.

WASHINGTON--For an overview on the White House Correspondents Association annual dinner on Saturday night, Politics Daily's Annie Groer dishes up how the event turned into a Hollywood meets Potomac extravaganza.

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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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