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July 2010 Archives

WASHINGTON--President Obama is flying back to Chicago on Wednesday to celebrate his 49th birthday at home. Obama had been previously scheduled to arrive in Chicago on Thursday, for three fund-raisers and to tour the Ford plant on the South Side.

A White House official said on Friday the schedule was revised and Obama will depart Washington for Chicago on Wednesday afternoon. He returns to Washington on Thursday evening. First Lady Michelle Obama will not be coming home with the president. She will be departing sometime next week for Spain, traveling with daughter Sasha, 9. Malia, 12, is at overnight camp.

On Thursday, Obama visits the Ford operation to tout the recovery of the auto industry in the U.S. The White House said the Chicago plant is being highlighted because "of plans to add 1,200 new jobs thanks in part to Department of Energy loan guarantees to invest in clean energy upgrades."

Later on Thursday, Obama headlines fund-raisers for Senate Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias and the Democratic National Committee, expected to haul in more than $2 million dollars all told.

Obama was born Aug. 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Obama was last in Chicago over the Memorial Day weekend.


WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama's top spokesman, Camille Johnston, will be departing for a private sector job, the White House announced Friday.

Johnston will be joining Siemens as Vice President, Corporate Affairs. "In this position, she will be a member of the U.S. leadership team and will be responsible for developing, leading and implementing a comprehensive and integrated media plan for Siemens Corporation," the company said in a statement.

Johnston will continue in the East Wing through Aug. 27 and start her new position in September. No replacement has been named.

Johnston presided over Mrs. Obama's communication operation since the beginning of the Obama administration and was an architect of the messaging strategy supporting Mrs. Obama's anti-childhood obesity drive dubbed "Let's Move!" During Johnston's tenure, Mrs. Obama's favorability ratings increased, according to all public polling, to the point where Mrs. Obama is the most popular person in the Obama orbit.

Johnston is the third high level East Wing staffer to leave Mrs. Obama's operation. Mrs. Obama's first chief of staff, Jackie Norris left in June, 2009; her first Social Secretary, Desiree Rogers, departed earlier this year.

"Camille has become a trusted advisor to me and to the entire East Wing," said First Lady Michelle Obama in a statement.

"From our first day in the White House when we opened the doors and greeted visitors, she has led a communications team that has developed creative and effective strategies for the Let's Move! campaign, our work on behalf of military families, arts and cultural events in the White House and our international agenda. Her dedication, calming presence and expertise have been invaluable. She will be missed, but we wish her all the best," Mrs. Obama said.

Johnston said in a statement, "Being invited by Mrs. Obama to be a part of her East Wing team was a privilege for which I am incredibly grateful. It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve the First Lady and the President and to be a part of this historic Administration."

Click below for White House, Siemens statements

Click below to follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House is highlighting an upbeat story--the comeback of the U.S. auto industry--through Obama's trip to Michigan on Friday and Chicago's Aug. 5 visit to the Ford Plant on the South Side. Here's the White House background briefing on the revival.

WASHINGTON -- During his appearance on "The View," President Obama got a quiz on celebrities in the news -- Snooki, Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson.

On Thursday, the Blagojevich trial jury asked for the transcript of the government's closing argument; Judge James Zagel turned down the request.

Thursday was day two of jury deliberations.

Updates, news on every development as always at the Sun-Times Blago Blog.

WASHINGTON---Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) re-election campaign polled her district on Tuesday and Wednesday, finding her with a strong lead over Democrat Scott Harper.

Biggert's campaign sent me a memo from her pollsters, Linda DiVall and Randall Gutermuth, with highlights from the new survey as a reply to my post about a poll Harper's campaign shared with me about his prospects in the west suburban Illinois House 13th district race. Harper is in a rematch with Biggert; she won in 2008 with 54 percent to Harper's 44 percent.

Click below for the Biggert campaign poll memo.

WASHINGTON--Illinois voters will vote twice for Senate on Nov. 2 and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk will be on the ballot twice--for a term of a few weeks to fill out what was left of President Obama's term--and for the regular six year term. Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) not pleased a federal judge in Chicago ruled that only the candidates already on the ballot for the November election will be on the special ballot.

Yes, that means no primary. Click below for Sun-Times political writer Abdon Pallasch's story.

Click here for links to my columns and posts about the Illinois Senate double header.

WASHINGTON--Democratic House candidate Scott Harper, in a rematch with Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), has a poll that his campaign says shows a path for him to win in November. However, with Biggert's commanding fund-raising lead, Harper faces a steep uphill battle in the 13th congressional district.

Harper's campaign shared with me a poll taken by his pollsters, the Global Strategy Group, of 400 likely voters, conducted between June 28-30, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.

Updated with full Obama statement.....

WASHINGTON--President Obama was asked by Barbara Walters on "The View" why he calls himself black when he is biracial, the product of a white mother and a black father. In answering, Obama may have used a word that may spark some controversy. He called African Americans "sort of a mongrel people" though "true for white America as well."

Here's the exchange:

OBAMA: Well, you know, when I was young and going through the identity crisis that any teenager goes through -- I wrote a book about this.

WALTERS: Yes. ... We all read it.

OBAMA: You know, part of what I realized was that if the world saw me as African American, then that wasn't something that I needed to run away from. That's something that I could go ahead and embrace. And the interesting thing about the African-American experience in this country is that we are sort of a mongrel people. I mean, we're all kind of mixed up.


OBAMA: Now, that's actually true for white America as well, but we just know more about it. And so I'm less interested in how we label ourselves. I'm more interested in how we treat each other. And if we're treating each other right, then I can be African American, I can be multiracial, I can be you name it. What matters is, am I showing people respect? Am I caring for other people? That's, I think, the message we want to send.

WASHINGTON--President Obama was asked about Snooki, the New Jersey television character during his interview on "The View," broadcast on Thursday and taped Wednesday when he was in New York. Obama also brought up Snooki during his speech before the National Urban League on Thursday. But Obama's Snooki memory may be a bit hazy.

On "The View," host Joy Behar, in a pop culture quiz asked Obama, Should Snooki run as mayor of Wasilla?

"I've got to admit, I don't know who Snooki is," Obama said.

BUT OBAMA MADE A SNOOKI JOKE BEFORE: On May 2, 2010, Obama joked about Snooki during his speech at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner. "The following individuals shall be excluded from the indoor tanning tax within this bill. Snooki, J-WOWW, the Situation, and House Minority Leader John Boehner,

OBAMA'S URBAN LEAGUE SNOOKI REFERENCE: "I was on the "The View" yesterday, and somebody asked me who Snooki was. I said, I don't know who Snooki is. But I know some really good teachers that you guys should be talking about. I didn't say the teacher part, but I just -- (laughter.) The question is, who are we lifting up? Who are we promoting? Who are we saying is important?"

WASHINGTON--President Obama told Barbara Walters and the other ladies of "The View" about some recent ups and downs, taping the show Wednesday in Manhattan. The ABC show will be broadcast Thursday at 11 a.m. est and a snippet was shown on the network "World News" show.

Walters asked Obama, "In the last month what has been the rose and what has been the thorn?" Rose and thorn is an Obama family game.

"In the last month the rose has to be a couple of days we took in Maine with Michelle, Sasha and Malia," he said. "They're full of opinions and ideas and observations and it's just a great age ... Malia just turned 12 and Sasha 9. Couldn't been a better couple of days."

Asked what the "thorn" was, Obama said, "Where do I begin?"

"Look, the country has gone through a tough stretch. Since I took office when I was sworn in ... the last 20 months have been a nonstop effort to restart the economy, to stabilize the financial system, to make sure we are creating jobs and not losing them."

The BP oil spill disaster and the H1N1 swine flu "pandemic" were also "thorns" he mentioned.

WASHINGTON--When President Obama returns home to Chicago on Aug. 5 for three fund-raisers, it's just one of a series of high end major donor events he is headlining between Wednesday and Aug. 9, with many more to come.

Tuesday night in Washington, Obama stroked major Democratic bundlers on behalf of the Democratic National Committee during a dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where guests included alumni of his powerhouse 2008 presidential finance committee.

For my complete report, click here.

Obama takes Manhattan on Wednesday, with two $30,400-per-person dinners, one at the home of Vogue editor Anna Wintour. On Aug. 2 Obama hits Atlanta for the DNC; event tickets range from $1,000 to $30,400.

On Thursday, Obama is the draw at a DNC fund-raiser at a private home in Washington or the Washington area. end update

As I reported earlier, Aug. 5, Obama travels to Chicago for three fund-raisers: Illinois Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias at the Palmer House Hotel at $1,000 to $2,400 per person; and for the DNC, a dinner at the home of developer Neil Bluhm for 50 folks, at $30,400 per person and a $250-per person reception at Chicago's Cultural Center

Obama lands in Texas Aug. 9: He's in Austin for an event with a donation from $5,000 to $30,400 for the DNC. In Dallas, Obama headlines an event for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

A wrap-up on Blagojevich defense closing arguments on Tuesday, by Sun-Times reporting team, Natasha Koreski, Sarah Ostman and Dave McKinney.

Day 29 of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is expected to start with jury deliberations.

Blagojevich, brother and co-defendant Robert finally hug, said "I love you."

Follow developments at the Sun-Times Blago Blog.

Click here to follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter

WASHINGTON--The political career of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) took a nosedive in the wake of the arrest of now former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich--whose fate will be decided by a jury, to start considering his criminal case on Wednesday. Jackson's first bright spot comes via Wednesday's edition of The Hill, where he ranks number 9 on a list of Capitol Hills 50 "most beautiful" people.

There are no mentions of Jackson's political troubles back home in the glowing review.

An excerpt: "He is the co-chairman of the House Members' Wellness Center and has ushered in sweeping changes. Jackson, a fitness nut, converted one of the gym's racquetball courts into a space dedicated to martial arts, yoga, Pilates and the P90X exercise program popular with several lawmakers. (Changes were funded by members' dues, not by taxpayers', he's careful to point out.) He donated a blender and juicer so members can whip up protein shakes and other post-workout meals. And he wanders through the members-only space in the mornings to make sure his fellow lawmakers are happy and taking care of their health."

WASHINGTON--President Obama tapes ABC's "The View" on Wednesday, an interesting booking by the Obama messageers. Good idea? Here's my take. The Obama segment will be broadcast Thursday.

And here, for all "The View" and the White House fans, here is the link to Obama and First Lady Michelle's previous guest stints on the show.

DNC video

WASHINGTON-- Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine and other top party officials are announcing a "major initiative" at a press conference here on Wednesday--linking all Republicans with the Tea Party, a formula they are betting will win them votes this November.

Here's a briefing memo about the new plans, from a DNC source:

"We are rolling out a MAJOR initiative tomorrow aimed at defining the choice in
the election. At a press conference at 11 am, party leaders, led by Chairman. Tim Kaine and Vice-Chairmain Debbie Wasserman Schultz and several other members of Congress
will roll out the "Republican-Tea Party Contract With America."

"They will lay out how the Tea Party is now the most potent force in Republican
politics and with the recent launch of the Tea Party Caucus on Capitol Hill
garnering the support of Republican leaders like NRCC Chair Pete Sessions and
Republican Caucus Chair Mike Pence - the Tea Party is now an institutionalized
part of the Republican party. They are one and the same.

WASHINGTON--Illinois is headed towards two Senate elections on Nov. 2, one for a six year term and the other to fill by a vote of the people the remainder of Barack Obama's Senate term--which will be only a few weeks. Watch for Illinois Senate nominees Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias do a lot of "voter education" to make sure that folks realize that the crucial vote is the one for the six year term.

This could lead to a fund-raising boost for Kirk, Giannoulias, I reported on July 8.

State party leaders will likely pick the nominees, Abdon Pallasch repored on July 26.

Links to texts of court decisions, briefs in story I reported on July 22.

My June 30 story about what until then was a little noticed court ruling about the challenge to letting Gov. Rod Blagojevich's appointment of Roland Burris to fill Obama's Senate term stand without an election.

Video courtesy NBCChicago's Ward Room

WASHINGTON--In reply to a question after his National Press Club speech Tuesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said schools should be open longer each day and for more months a year.

"I think schools should be open 13 months a year," Duncan said.

And Duncan, a basketball player, just dodged a question about basketball star LeBron James.....if he would have been as successful (could he be more?) if he went to college.

Said Duncan, "Next question, please."

The Sun-Times team covering the closing arguments at the Rod Blagojevich trial are filing a constant stream of posts at the Blago Blog about the courtroom antics of Blagojevich attorney during final arguments.

WASHINGTON--Education Secretary Arne Duncan cited Chicago's Urban Prep in his speech Tuesday at the National Press Club, titled "The Quiet Revolution," about the failures and successes in the nation's schools.

Duncan, a former CEO of the Chicago Public School system before President Obama tapped him for the cabinet used Urban Prep as an example of a school that works.

Said Duncan, "Go to Urban Prep in Chicago, an all-male, all-Black high school that replaced a school where only four percent of incoming freshmen were at grade. Today, every single member of their first graduating class is heading to a four-year college; 107 students -- 107 graduating -- and 107 going to college.

"I recently talked with Don Stewart who is the former President of the Community Trust and the former president of Spellman College -- and he told me that his mother wouldn't let him attend that public high school 50 years ago because it was so bad at that time. It took us half a century to have the courage to change and create Urban Prep. There is no excuse for that."

Click below for text, as prepared, of Duncan's speech.

To follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter, click here.

WASHINGTON--Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday is announcing that Illinois is one of 19 states named as finalists in the second round of "Race to the Top" funding.

Winners will be announced in September.

If Illinois gets the funding--and it is not certain--hundreds of millions of federal dollars could be pumped to the state.

Duncan is announcing the second round "Race to the Top" finalists at speech he is delivering at the National Press Club.

WASHINGTON---Mark Kirk's Illinois GOP Senate campaign released a proposal for seven debates on Tuesday, sending out the e-mail news as former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe was conducting a telephone briefing on Democrat Alexi Giannoulias race.

That's a messaging tactic designed to throw the story of the day off of Plouffe; as I write this, Plouffe, aiming this call at the Illinois political press corps, is still taking questions.

Kirk's camp sent out a pre-packaged proposal; usually the number of debates, the topics, the locations and who asks the questions are subject of negotiations. My guess is Kirk--who took part in no GOP debates in the primary--sees getting out first on debates as a way to try to control the process.

below, release from Kirk....

Kirk Proposes Seven Debates/Forums for Senate Race

Same locations and dates of the first and last Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858;

Foreign policy debate on August 21st in Ottawa, economic policy debate on October 15th in Alton, wide-ranging debate October 18th in Chicago

Northbrook, Ill. - Congressman Mark Kirk today proposed seven U.S. Senate debates and candidate forums beginning August 21st in Ottawa, Illinois - the date and location of the first of seven Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858.

"Our country faces serious issues at home and abroad," Congressman Kirk said. "I look forward to a thoughtful series of debates and forums to discuss the complex economic and foreign policy challenges before us while demonstrating the clear choice facing voters in this election."

In addition to a foreign policy debate on August 21st in Ottawa and an economic policy debate on October 15th in Alton - the dates and locations of the first and last Lincoln-Douglas debates - the Kirk campaign's proposal includes:

August 21: A foreign policy focused debate in Ottawa, Illinois hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

August 22: A Middle East policy candidate forum in Northbrook, Illinois hosted by To Protect Our Heritage.

August 25: An agriculture and jobs candidate forum in Bloomington, Illinois hosted by the Illinois Farm Bureau.

September 2: A wide-ranging debate in Springfield, Illinois (proposed hosts: WICS-TV, the Citizens Club of Springfield and the University of Illinois-Springfield).

October 15: An economic policy focused debate in Alton, Illinois (proposed host: KTVI Fox St. Louis).

October 19: A wide-ranging debate in Chicago, Illinois hosted by the League of Women Voters and ABC 7.

October 21: A wide-ranging debate in Carbondale, Illinois (proposed hosts: Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, WSIU-TV and the Southern Illinoisan).

Former Obama presidential campaign manager David Plouffe, on campaign call now to bolster Illinois Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, called GOP rival Rep. Mark Kirk a "man of fiction" whose "record and views are not fictional."

Illinois GOP Plouffe prebuttal

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WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama has added another vacation to her summer schedule, with a trip to Spain with daughter Sasha, 9, next month, the White House announced on Monday.

The travel is being billed by the White House as a "private mother-daughter trip with longtime family friends." The additional vacation travel comes when Malia, 12, will be going off to overnight camp for the first time.

While the trip is being described as "private," "while in Spain, Mrs. Obama will pay an official visit to Their Majesties King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain at their invitation," the White House said, with the activities to be closed to the press.

That the East Wing is announcing the trip is a welcome improvement. I'm all for giving Mrs. Obama and the kids lots of privacy -- but when they start hanging out with heads of state, well, that's worth letting the public know. In June 2009, Mrs. Obama's office declined to disclose in advance Mrs. Obama's travel to London and Paris where the first lady and her daughters visited the French president at the Elysee Palace and the wife of a now former British prime minister at No. 10 Downing St.

To follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter, click here.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich defense team lawyer who is supposed to deliver closing arguments today--may not on Day 28. Sun-Times federal court reporter Natasha Korecki and Sarah Ostman and Dave McKinney, the Springfield Bureau Chief has the story about the twist.

Follow the day in court at the Sun-Times Blago Blog.

By Abdon M. Pallasch
Sun-Times Political Writer

CHICAGO--State political party leaders will get to pick who's on the ballot for the special election to serve out the remainder of Barack Obama's senate term, U.S. District Judge John Grady said Monday.

Grady has not yet signed a final order, but under the framework he outlined at a hearing Monday, The Republican and Democratic state central committees of Illinois would decide who their nominees would be to fill out the last six weeks or so of Obama's term. The Green Party would do the same and independent or other third-party candidates who qualify for the ballot would also be eligible.

Current Sen. Roland Burris and gadfly Republican Andy Martin objected - seeking a more open process, but the judge and lawyers involved in the case noted they are free to seek the slating from their respective party leaders.

WASHINGTON--Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, mulling a 2012 White House bid, made his debut Monday before the national political press at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. Pawlenty said he will decide early next year if he makes the run; Sarah Palin has a lot more time, he said, because she is so well known.

WASHINGTON--Whoopi Goldberg announced on "The View" Monday morning that President Obama will join the ladies on the show on Wednesday. Obama will be in New York for Democratic fund-raisers. The show will be broadcast on Thursday.

Rod Blagojevich on "The View," January, 2009.

Michelle Obama on "The View," where she talks about how she stopped wearing panty hose "a long time ago," June 18, 2008.

Obama was a guest on "The View" during the presidential campaign, March, 2008.

Barbara Walters, speaking for her female co-hosts told him at the time, "we thought you were very sexy looking." Obama fanned himself after the gush.

Here is the LINK to the "Sexy Obama" segment on "The View."

WASHINGTON--The White House is scrambling in the wake of more than 90,000 WikiLeak documents on the Afghanistan war posted; reports on a grim picture in The Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel, which has an English edition.

My predictions: Another, more profound round of handwringing over the role of the Internet, comparisons to the Viet Nam War's Pentagon Papers publication, another week with the Obama White House playing defense. Last week, Obama's messaging team had to fight to get word out about the signing of a historic financial overhaul bill in the wake of the Shirley Sherrod firing uproar--prompted by the posting of a video and story on the Internet.

The White House is slamming WikiLeaks for publishing the memos. A White House official sent this memo around Sunday night, on background:

1) I don't think anyone who follows this issue will find it surprising that there are concerns about ISI and safe havens in Pakistan. In fact, we've said as much repeatedly and on the record. Attached please find a document with some relevant quotes from senior USG officials.

2) The period of time covered in these documents (January 2004-December 2009) is before the President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy.

3) Note the interesting graphs (pasted below) from the Guardian's wikileaks story. I think they help put these documents in context.

4) As you report on this issue, it's worth noting that wikileaks is not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes US policy in Afghanistan.

Sun-Times federal court reporter Natasha Korecki has a look ahead at the closing arguments today at the criminal corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The closings come on Day 27--the trial ran weeks less than both sides predicted because the federal prosecutors cut their case short and the Blagojevich defense team decided that Blagojevich could not withstand questioning, therefore would not testify and would not call any witnesses.

The Chicago Sun-Times Blago Blog brings reports from the courtroom throughout the day.

And click here to follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter

Obama July 26, 2010 week ahead

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Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich lawyers have one more chance with the jury with closing arguments on Monday. What are the points the Blagojevich legal team--and the federal prosecutors--need to make? The answers in a story about Blagojevich trial legal strategy from Sun-Times federal courts reporter Natasha Korecki.

President Obama is giving Chicago's Goose Island Beer Co. a boost by touting -- twice now -- its 312 Urban Wheat Ale in meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

"It's our best-selling beer and growing well above 18 percent," said Gregory Hall, the son of the founder of the North Side brewery. " I expect after all the excitement over the Obama-Cameron beer summit, we will see that rate of growth continue to climb."

WASHINGTON---The Senate Democrat political operation used one of baseballs biggest rivalries--the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals--to raise money for Senate Democrats and Illinois Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias at Wrigley Field on Saturday.

The event was hosted by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen.Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) who represent the states with the rival teams.

The Cubs beat the Cardinals 6-5.

The price for Giannoulias supporters was a $350 donation.

obama funder chicago.pngInvite for one of three events President Obama will headline in Chicago on Aug. 5.

WASHINGTON--As I reported on Sunday, President Obama is coming to Chicago on Aug. 5 for Democratic fund-raisers; Obama is now set for three fund-raising events. The White House on Friday also said Obama will visit the Chicago Ford plant. That "official" business will mean the government will foot a part of the bill for the visit and decrease the proportional share the Democratic National Committee and the Giannoulias campaign will have to pay. First Lady Michelle Obama will not be coming home with the president.

Obama's Democratic Chicago fund-raising events:

1. A funder for Alexi Giannoulias at the Palmer House. Ticket price per person is $1,000.00 for the general reception and $2,400.00 for the general reception and "preferential seating."

2. A major donor $30,400 per person dinner for 50 at the home of Neil Bluhm to benefit the Democratic National Committee. If a couple wants to attend each has to pay for a individual ticket--making it a $60,800 night. Federal election donation records are kept on individuals, not couples.

3. A small donor $250 reception at Chicago's Cultural Center for the DNC.

The White House, in announcing the Aug. 5 Obama visit, omits any mention of the presidential fund-raising, which is the main reason he is coming back home. Here's what the White House said: "On Thursday, August 5, President Obama will visit the Chicago Ford plant. He'll tour the plant and speak with workers. The plant has announced plans to add 1,200 new jobs thanks in part to DOE loan guarantees to invest in clean energy upgrades."

Kirk in Peoria

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WASHINGTON--Illinois Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias is in Las Vegas Friday, attending the Netroots Nation convention--a gathering of a large segment of the Democratic base vote. Giannoulias returns to Chicago on Saturday. On Sunday, White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod headlines a fund-raiser for Giannoulias in Chicago hosted by Bettylu Saltzman.

WASHINGTON--The Tribune has a story today asserting that Illinois GOP Senate contender Rep. Mark Kirk embellished a story he has told about almost drowning in Lake Michigan. The Tribune story here.

Click below for the Kirk react, including a statement from his mother.

Click below the Kirk react for statement from the campaign of Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias.

Shirley Sherrod: Her life

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WASHINGTON--Illinois Senate GOP candidate Rep. Mark Kirk announced Friday morning that if he were a senator, he would vote to confirm Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination.

"With regard to Solicitor General Kagan, I would support her nomination. Ms. Kagan appears to be modest and thoughtful not because she expected this nomination but because she is modest and thoughtful. Under the Constitution, only the President can make this nomination and Solicitor General Kagan is one of the more careful nominees he could have picked," Kirk said in a statement.

Kirk had been asked for several weeks about whether he would, if in the Senate, vote to confirm Kagan; he said he needed to study all of her written materials. Kagan's nomination passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with only one GOP vote, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

Click below for full Kirk statement

WASHINGTON--Howard Gottlieb, a Chicago business executive, arts patron, violinist and major donor to the Obama inauguration committee fund, was tapped Thursday for his second appointment in the Obama administration.

Gottlieb donated $50,000 to the Obama presidential inauguration committee; his wife Ann contributed $50,000, according to the Obama presidential inauguratio

In February, Gottlieb was appointed to the President's Advisory Committee on the Arts for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

On Thursday, the Obama White House announced that Gottlieb was named to a "key administration" post, the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

In another appointment, Obama picked Elaine Wynn, wife of Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn to the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. First Lady Michelle Obama, headlining an October, 2008 fund-raiser in Las Vegas for Obama's presidential bid credited Mrs. Wynn with helping to convince her that Obama should run for president.

"She played just as much a role in pulling me out as me," Mrs. Obama said at the time. "She has been, unbeknownst to her, a role model for me along this journey."

I was told by a White House spokesman on Thursday that Gottlieb stepped down from the Kennedy Center panel to take the arts and humanities appointment. The Gottlieb biography released by the White House did not paint the whole picture because it did not note the Kennedy Center appointment.n committee.

WASHINGTON--A federal appeals panel in Chicago on Thursday cleared the way for Illinois to have a special election on Nov. 2 to fill the weeks that will be left to Barack Obama's original Senate term. That means voters on Nov. 2 will vote twice for Illinois senate: for the six year term starting in January, 2011, and the 62 days that will be left to Obama's original term.

Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk, the major party nominees for Senate, have both said it is best at this point to just let Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) appointed by former Gov. Blagojevich--serve out his term.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals panel--Ilana Diamond Rovner, Diane P. Wood and John Daniel Tinder--refused on Thursday to reconsider their June decision for a special election.

Burris, who along with Gov. Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan fought the lawsuit brought by lead attorney Martin Oberman--has said he will be a candidate in the special election.

Oberman has been arguing that no primary is necessary and the federal panel seemed to agree with him. In the order issued Thursday the judges gave broad discretion to a federal district court judge to implement the election: "However Illinois conducts its election for the vacancy, the state should endeavor to certify the results of that election as soon as possible, so that the replacement senator may present his or her credentials to the Senate and take office promptly."

For text of Thursday's order, click below.
For links to text of the decision, my columns on this and other pleadings, click here.

WASHINGTON--President Obama on Thursday called ousted USDA staffer Shirley Sherrod; White House press secretary Robert Gibbs at his briefing said their conversation contained his apology. Gibbs said the White House tried to reach her Wednesday and could not connect.

Gibbs said Obama talked with Sherrod about what he had written about in his memoir, "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance," a best seller where he writes about grappling with his own racial identity.

"Obviously she has a remarkable story...He expressed his apology," Gibbs said.

According to a White House summary of the conversation provided before the Gibbs briefing:

"The President reached Ms. Sherrod by telephone at about 12:35. They spoke for seven minutes.

"The President expressed to Ms. Sherrod his regret about the events of the last several days. He emphasized that Secretary Vilsack was sincere in his apology yesterday, and in his work to rid USDA of discrimination.

"The President told Ms. Sherrod that this misfortune can present an opportunity for her to continue her hard work on behalf of those in need, and he hopes that she will do so.

On Thursday morning, Sherrod told NBC's "The Today Show" she deserved a call from Obama.


lynnobama.jpgWhite House press conference, July 22, 2009

WASHINGTON--It's been one year since President Obama's last East Room prime time news conference, where Obama's answer to my question about the arrest of Harvard professor Skip Gates triggered a national conversation about race-- and the White House "beer summit." The anniversary comes as the nation debates race again--and the role of media--in the firing of USDA worker Shirley Sherrod, who was on Wednesday offered a job back when it became clear to the White House and USDA secretary Tom Vilsack she never made a racist speech to the NAACP.

The story behind my question here.

My Politics Daily story here

WASHINGTON---Ousted USDA worker Shirley Sherrod received apologies from USDA Chief Tom Vilsack and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs; on Thursday morning on NBC's "Today Show," Sherrod said she deserves a call from President Obama--not for another apology, but to have a conversation with him about what happened and to tell him about the South--a place he never lived.

"Well, you know, he's the president of the United States of America. I've received the apologies that are important. I really would not want the president to apologize to me. I would love to have a conversation with him, though," Sherrod said.

Asked "what would you say to him," she added, " You know, I'd like to talk to him a little bit about the experiences of people like me, people at the grassroot level, people who live out there in rural America, people who live in the South. I know he does not have that kind of experience. Let me help him a little bit with how we think, how we live, and the things that are happening."

Sherrod said she wanted to tell Obama "we are people who struggle every day, who do the best we can in our communities, who love this country. We love him. We want him to be successful, because we feel he thinks in some ways like we do. And we think that's good for the country.

"Yes, there are issues out there that we're faced with -- issues of poverty, issues that I worked so hard on these last 11 months at rural development to try to really have an impact on -- mainly because that's me; but the other thing, I want everything to reflect -- I want a good reflection for him as the first black president."

Vilsack, at a press conference on Wednesday said in his apology, "I've learned a lot of lessons from this experience in the last couple of days. And one of the lessons I learned is that these types of decisions require time. I didn't take the time. I should have. And as a result, a good woman has gone through a very difficult period. And I'll have to live with that for a long, long time."

video courtesy NBC Chicago

"I believed all along I would testify," Blagojevich said in the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Court building. The government, he said, led his defense team to believe the trial would last four months and that several other witnesses would testify. "But the government proved my case, proved I was innocent, and there was nothing further for me to add."

"Yes, they proved some of the ideas were stupid," he said. "They also proved some of the ideas were good."

WASHINGTON--The tide is turning for ousted USDA worker Shirley Sherrod.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is reconsidering her firing. The NAACP apologized for its rush to judgement. At issue: an edited videotape of a speech Sherrod delivered made her remarks seem racist; the whole speech showed something different.

The episode--still unfolding on Wednesday and reaching up to a White House cabinet secretary--comes a year after President Obama wrestled with race related issues stemming from the arrest of Harvard professor Skip Gates, leading to a "beer summit" at the White House.

Sherrod told NBC's "Today Show," on Wednesday, "You know, that is so hard to take, especially when I kept saying, "Look at the entire thing. Look at my message." And no one would listen. No one would listen."

She's not sure she would take her job back: "You know, I am just not sure of how I would be treated there now. That's one I just don't know at this point."

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich must decide today if he will testify at his criminal corruption trial. Sun-Times federal court reporter Natasha Korecki is reporting Blagojevich is not going testify--and goes through the plus and minus points Blagojevich and his defense team weighed in getting to that decision.

Prosecutors stunned Blagojevich will not testify.

From the Sun-Times: During preparations with his own lawyers and others, Blagojevich showed signs that he would have trouble answering questions clearly and succinctly and might not be able to withstand what is expected to be a withering cross examination, sources said. The defense also took into account the possibility that the government, which put on a quick case after only six weeks, had rebuttal witnesses ready, potentially including convicted businessman Tony Rezko.

The Blago Blog delivers news updates from the courtroom.

WASHINGTON--New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday hosted a fund-raiser in his home for Illinois GOP Senate candidate Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)

After telling everyone he would, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich may not testify at his criminal corruption trial; his lawyers are split on what he should do. The Sun-Times story with the details is here.

By Abdon Pallasch
Sun-Times Political Reporter

CHICAGO--Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias Tuesday proposed ethics reforms so sweeping as to appear dead-on-arrival in Washington, D.C.

He wants a total ban on corporations and lobbyists donating to candidates and a lifetime ban on senators or congressmen every becoming lobbyists.

More modest laws passed by Congress have already been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has ruled that corporations have a First Amendment Right to free speech that includes donating to candidates.

"I'm not going to pretend that as a freshman United States senator, in one day we're going to change the world and move toward public financing," Giannoulias said.

"I'm saying candidates should take that pledge," Giannoulias said of his own decision not to take money from corporate Political Action Committees or federal lobbyists.

Giannoulias would not be trailing Republican Mark Kirk $2.3 million to $900,000 in fundraising if he were willing to take that money, he said.

"There are a lot of resources available that we have said 'no' to," Giannoulias said. But he wants to change the culture of lobbyist control, he said.

"In Washington, D.C., everywhere you go you see a lobbyist," Giannoulias said. "They run that town. Nine out of 10 people [you see as] you walk down the hall are all lobbyists."

Giannoulias does take contributions from state lobbyists in Springfield. He denied partisan motives in supporting bans on donations from corporations which often give more to Republicans, but not on unions, who more often support Democrats.

"My goal is saying 'No' to organizations that are out there that actually making a profit.," Giannoulias said. "Labor organizations that represent working class men and women, janitors, nurses, road-builders, these are not organizations that are out there to make money."

In his news conference Tuesday outlining his proposals, Giannoulias reminded voters of clear differences between him and Kirk. Kirk would have voted against extending unemployment benefits, as the senate is expected to do today. Giannoulias would have voted for it.

Kirk would have voted against the Wall Street reform bill President Obama is expected to sign Wednesday. Giannoulias would have voted for it.

Giannoulias said he was encouraged that President Obama - Giannoulias' long-time hoops-shooting buddy - will come to town to raise money for Giannoulias next month.

"I'm excited to have the president coming back to town, it's a good chance to reengergize and remind Democrats in Illinois why this race is so incredibly important and it will be a great boost for the campaign.

Working Lunch for P.M. Cameron of Britain

First course:
Chopped Kitchen Garden Salad
Cucumbers, Radishes, and Herbs

Main course:

Wild Striped Bass with Pepper Escabeche
Snap Peas, Vidalia Onion, and Kale


Fresh Plum Tart with Blackberry Sorbet

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

President Obama and First Lady Michelle hosted Broadway night at the White House on Monday with a group stars, including Nathan Lane, who got a little bit naughty while doing master of ceremonies duties.

Steele Chicago .jpg

3:26 p.m. eastern time: I was told by an RNC spokesman that the Steele event in Chicago on Wednesday was cancelled and will be rescheduled.

WASHINGTON--Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele headlines a major donor GOP fund-raiser in Chicago on Wednesday, with the cash divided between the RNC and the RNC Victory Fund, which will help bankroll House and Senate contests in Illinois and other states.

The ask if $500 per person for a ticket and give or raise $10,000 for VIP treatment and a private dinner.

Peter Mason, Elizabeth Christie, Andrew Magliochetti are the hosts.

Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross' Summer Reception

Peninsula Hotel, 108 E. Superior Street, Chicago
5:30 - 7:30 PM; Cocktails & Hors d' Oeuvres - ON the Terrace
$500 per person; Sponsorships available

Finally, Tuesday may be the day former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich testifies at his criminal corruption trial. His testimony today is not for sure because his defense lawyers have some other witnesses to get through first. On Monday, the Blagojevich defense team said White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel will be called as a witness and White House Senior advisor Valerie Jarrett likely will not. Both had been subpoenaed.

Sun-Times Natasha Korecki and Sarah Ostman
report on the Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and fund-raising angle.

Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown assessment of how Robert Blagojevich--brother and co-defendant-- testimony went--ok until the end.

The Sun-Times Blago Blog continues to provide real time updates from the courtroom.

The Chicago Sun-Times Natasha Korecki is reporting that it is "highly unlikely" that White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett will be called by the defense to testify in Rod Blagojevich's criminal trial.


Over at Politics Daily, Walter Shapiro ponders what will move voters in the 2010 balloting.

From a political and public relations perspective, the most troubling testimony to the Obama White House so far from Rod Blagojevich's criminal corruption trial was the surprise revelation that on election eve 2008, Barack Obama, confident he would win the White House on Nov. 4, called Illinois SEIU union leader Tom Balanoff to discuss the Illinois Senate seat he would soon be vacating.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich legal team begins his defense on Monday, with the wife of his co-defendant, brother Robert, and Robert himself expected to take the witness stand. Chicago Sun-Times federal courts reporter Natasha Korecki has the big picture of what will unfold and links to her earlier reporting about the brothers.

Stay tuned to the Sun-Times Blago Blog for rolling updates of what's happening in court.

WASHINGTON-- President Obama hits Chicago on Aug. 5 to headline a fund-raiser for Illinois Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias and will be the draw at another event for other Democrats, Giannoulias spokesman Kathleen Strand told me on Sunday. Vice President Biden, in Chicago to fund-raise for Giannoulias in June, will be doing more to help him, likely in the early fall.

Obama's visit back home to stump and fund-raise for his old Senate seat--should send a strong signal that the White House is strongly behind the Giannoulias bid. Obama was last back in Chicago on Memorial Day, when he spent the weekend at his Kenwood home with his family.

Obama's fund-raising help is critically needed. The White House boost comes as second quarter June 30 fund-raising showed Giannoulias, the state treasurer, lagging far behind GOP nominee Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.): Giannoulias raised about $900,000 in the second quarter compared to Kirk's $2.3 million. Kirk has about $3.9 million cash on had compared to about $1 million for Giannoulias.

Chelsea Clinton is getting married at the end of the month. There is fascination with all things about this wedding in some quarters, especially who will conduct the ceremony and, David Gibson at Politics Daily writes, if she will convert.

Chelsea, a Methodist is marrying Marc Mezvinsky, who is Jewish.

Writes Gibson, "It is telling that nowhere in the speculation among Jews is there any consideration that Marc Mezvinsky might become Christian."

Former President Bill Clinton will be walking his daughter down the aisle and not reprising his wedding role from last week.

On July 10, the ex-president officiated at the wedding of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and Huma Abedin, the longtime personal assistant to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Weiner is Jewish and Abedin is a Muslim.

WASHINGTON---President Obama will sign the new Wall Street bill into law later this week and the political ramifications of the measure are discussed on the latest edition of Women Up, the Politics Daily Sunday show where I guested with host Melinda Henneberger and Patricia Murphy, Bonnie Erbe and Sarah Wildman.

Obama July 19 week ahead

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WASHINGTON--Wearing his Chicago White Sox hat, President Obama joined by First Lady Michelle, daughter Malia and staffer Reggie Love headed to a Bar Harbor, Maine club on Saturday morning, perhaps for tennis or a workout. For a report on all their Friday biking and hiking activities, click here.

WASHINGTON--White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett is with the Obama family for a weekend vacation in Maine. The First Family hiked in Acadia National Park after arriving in Maine on Friday. Jarrett was spotted taking a boat ride by the pool reporter; click below for report.

Chelsea Clinton's wedding is--so the collective wisdom thinks--July 31 and everyone is hunting for details. Annie Groer over at Politics Daily has the big picture--and the confirmation that Oprah Winfrey has not received an invite to the wedding. Not surprising, Winfrey was never identified as being close to the Clintons.

Sun-Times Political Reporter

CHICAGO--In his first public appearance in Chicago in months, U.S. Sen. Roland Burris said he's having "a blast" in the Senate, and if any court orders a "special election" to cut short his term by a month or two, Burris will find a way to be a candidate.

"I'll tell you one thing: If there is a special election, I'm announcing my candidacy right now, I'm going to run!" Burris said.

Actually, under the scenario envisioned by lawyers fighting for a special election, party leaders would chose the candidates for the special election, more likely Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk than Burris.

After he was criticized for allegedly changing his story about how he won appointment to the Senate by former Gov. Blagojevich, Burris retreated to the political bunker and has not made public appearances in the Chicago area the way Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin does.

WASHINGTON--The Obama family departed Friday morning for Bar Harbor, Maine, where they are spending the weekend near Acadia National Park.

On Thursday, President Obama told NBC's Chuck Todd oldest daughter Malia, 12, will be going to overnight camp for the first time. During the summer, "a month of it's going to be taken up with Malia going away for camp, which she's never done before. And I may shed a tear," Obama said, adding "when she's on the way up."

The Blagojevich defense was caught off guard when the prosecution wrapped up its case weeks early. As a consequence, when the defense starts next week, the leadoff witnesses may include former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his co-defendant and brother, Robert. The defense had expected another month to make its case.


WASHINGTON--The Senate Democratic political operation--the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee-- is hosting a mega dollar fund-raiser July 15-18 in Martha's Vineyard with at least 13 Senators expected to attend, according to the invitation. The donation for the "Majority Trust Retreat" is a hefty $30,400 (plus the three nights in a hotel.) Illinois Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias is going to the event.

In the open seat north suburban Illinois 10th congressional district, second quarter fund-raising ending June 30 puts Democrat Dan Seals and Republican Robert Dold in about a tie, with Dold having the edge:

Dold for Congress raised $561,843 in the second quarter and ended the quarter with $724,542 cash on hand.

Seals for Congress received $556,156 in contributions. Seals will also report having $792,000 cash-on-hand.

kass lets move.jpg
Sam Kass in the White House kitchen garden with students (Photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Sam Kass, the Chicago native who is a White House chef who helps shape the Obama White House food initiatives, title has been upgraded to reflect his growing policy role.

Obamafoodorama had the scoop: "Kass has been quietly promoted within the ranks at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and is no longer known as Mrs. Obama's Food Initiative Coordinator. About a month ago, according to a White House source, Kass' title was changed from "Food Initiative Coordinator" to Senior Policy Adviser For Healthy Food Initiatives. There has been little fanfare, and no formal announcement from the East Wing or the White House about Kass' promotion.

...The new title more accurately reflects Kass' broad range of duties, as internal and external expert on all things health, kids, and food."

The East Wing told me Kass' title was changed to better reflect his role and he will not have any new duties.

Before coming to the White House, Kass was the Obama's personal chef. My Kass profile can be read here.

The Senate on Thursday passed a Wall Street reform bill on a 60-39 roll call and sent the measure to President Obama for signing. Illinois Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Roland Burris voted yes

Chicago Sun-Times Staff Reporter

CHICAGO--As part of federal health-care reform, private insurers will soon be barred from charging co-pays or deductibles for certain cancer screenings, blood pressure exams, routine vaccinations and a range of other preventive health services, under new rules announced Wednesday by the Obama administration.

The rules take effect for new health plans that begin on or after Sept. 23.

An estimated 41 million people would benefit from the new policy this year and a total of 88 million would by 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But the rules wouldn't apply to roughly 98 million people whose group health plans were "grandfathered" in under the Affordable Care Act.

To remain exempt from the law, grandfathered plans can't significantly reduce benefits or increase employee premium contributions by more than 5 percentage points.

Under the new rules, co-pays and other forms of cost-sharing would still be allowed for out-of-network care and the treatment of conditions identified by screening.

By removing cost as a barrier to getting routine health exams and vaccinations, the new regulations aim to reduce the number of people who develop preventable chronic diseases, which account for seven out of 10 deaths in the United States, White House officials said.

"Services like these will go a long way in preventing chronic illness," first lady Michelle Obama said Wednesday at a press briefing to announce the new rules.

The announcement comes at a time when the White House is trying to sell the early consumer benefits of the Affordable Care Act, amid calls from Republican Senate nominee Mark Kirk and others to repeal it.

Since President Obama signed the health-care law March 23, his administration has been making a concentrated effort to highlight the upfront benefits, with an eye toward the November elections. The measure passed with no GOP votes in the House and Senate. Kirk said Monday he will sign a GOP petition to try to repeal the health overhaul, putting him at odds with Democratic contender Alexi Giannoulias, who backs it.

On Wednesday, Michelle Obama headlined an event at George Washington University designed to draw attention to the preventive care screenings that will be available -- without insurance co-payments -- starting Sept. 23. She said the new law keeps "costs down and holds insurance companies accountable."

Under the rules, four types of preventive services will be covered at no charge to the consumer:

• Screenings that are strongly recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, including breast and colon cancer tests; screening of pregnant women for vitamin deficiencies; smoking cessation services, and tests for diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

• Routine vaccinations, including childhood immunizations and tetanus booster shots for adults.

• Well-child visits, vision and hearing tests for kids and weight counseling.

• Preventive care for women, which will be specified in guidelines scheduled to be released next year.

WASHINGTON-Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.), who also was a former ambassador to New Zealand and Samora, returned to Capitol Hill this week to highlight a bill banning antibiotics being given to animals we eat who are not sick.

Moseley Braun is the founder and president of Ambassador Organics, based in Chicago.

In Washington on Tuesday, Moseley Braun was volunteering her time on behalf of the PEW Charitable Trusts in support of legislation called "the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA)" originally introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and now sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and on the House side, Rep. Louis Slaughter (D-N.Y.) The measure "seeks to phase out the nontherapeutic use of certain antimicrobial drugs in livestock and poultry."

Among others, Moseley Braun met with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who has been working for years in the area of food safety.

I asked a Durbin staffer about the meeting and was told, "Of course, Senator Durbin and Ambassador Moseley Braun have a long standing friendship from their time serving together in the Senate. Senator Durbin is interested in hearing her views on food safety during today's meeting. Senator Durbin is the author of the bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) which, for the first time in decades, would modernize FDA's food safety responsibility and authority over 80% of our nation's food supply. Senator Durbin hopes to bring the food safety bill to the floor in the very near future, potentially this work period."

WASHINGTON--Illinois Democrat Senate Alexi Giannoulias raised just over $900,000 in the second quarter ending June 30 and has over $1 million cash on hand, with most of the money coming in June, campaign spokesman Kathleen Strand told the Chicago Sun-Times.

GOP Senate rival Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) campaign said earlier this month that Kirk raised $2.3 million in the second quarter and has about $3.9 million cash on hand.

Giannoulias' fund-raising was hobbled most of the last quarter because of a cloud over him because of the April failure of his family owned Broadway Bank. Giannoulias, the state treasurer, is also declining to accept donations from federal lobbyists and corporate political action committees.

Kirk has been attacking Giannoulias for his tenure at the bank--calling him a "mob banker" and in the past weeks also criticized Giannoulias because he owed no 2009 income taxes because of the bank failure.

People started writing Giannoulias checks again when his campaign showed it was surviving the Kirk hits over the bank failure and the Obama White House sent signals of support with a string of figures fund-raising for Giannoulias, including Vice President Biden, former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina. Senior White House advisor David Axelrod is in Chicago on July 25 for a Giannoulias fund-raiser.

While all these events have been small, they went a message to the activist Democratic donor community that Giannoulias remained viable despite the bank controversy. At the end of May, Kirk's campaign had to deal with Kirk's series of embellishments about his military career. Most polls show the contest in a deadlock at this point.

This morning in Chicago, Giannoulias is hosting a press conference where he is expected to highlight Kirk's opposition to Wall Street reform--a Senate vote is possible today on the overhaul bill--and on Kirk's accepting donations from the financial services industry. Kirk voted against the House version of the main Wall Street reform bill.

Both Kirk and Giannoulias devote an enormous amount of time to fund-raising, with most of it deliberately kept out of public view. On Wednesday in Washington, Kirk hosted a low dollar fund-raiser aimed at young Republicans and last week brought in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for fund-raisers in Jacksonville and Quincy, Illinois. Earlier this week, Gianoulias was in Los Angles and Vancouver for fund-raising.

John Wyma

After 23 days of testimony in the criminal corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the prosecution rested its case on Tuesday--a month early.

A Tuesday highlight: Former Blagojevich confidant and congressional chief of staff John Wyma turned state lobbyist tells jury how Rahm Emanuel called him in 2008 with a message from President-elect Barack Obama to transmit to Blagojevich: tap Valerie Jarrett to fill his Senate seat.

Sun-Times federal courts reporter Natasha Korecki outlines the road ahead in the trial at the Blago Blog. No court session today.

Organized labor was a bedrock supporter of the Obama-Biden ticket in 2008, and its no secret that union leaders are disappointed at the slow pace of progress on their legislative agendas. On Wednesday, Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill host labor leaders at their official residence.

kirk july 12.jpgMark Kirk at July 12, 2010 press conference in Northbrook, Ill. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

Illinois GOP Senate candidate Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who called for the repeal of the new health care law when President Obama signed it in March, reaffirmed his opposition on Monday and said he will sign a "discharge petition" to try to get the House to reconsider.

Kirk, said after doing his "homework" on the matter he would be signing a discharge petition that will be filed by Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.), expected at the end of July, a Herger spokesman said Tuesday.

President Obama on Tuesday afternoon unveils his administration's new HIV/AIDS national strategy.

*Read the National HIV/AIDS Strategy report here.

*Read the National HIV/AIDS Strategy Federal Implementation plan here.

The prosecution is zipping along on Day 23 of the criminal corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, reports Chicago Sun-Times federal courts reporter Natasha Korecki, partly because some witnesses with a lot of baggage have not been called by the prosecutors and the defense questioning has not been extensive. Defense lawyers were expecting to start putting on their case in August; the prosecution may rest this week. Blagojevich lawyers are asking for a delay.

Defense lawyers said they were misled; read today's Sun-Times story here.

Read the real deal on the Blagojevich trial at the Chicago Sun-Times Blago Blog.

The Giannoulias Democratic Illinois Senate campaign confirmed Monday--after prodding from the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee--that Alexi Giannoulias was in Canada on Sunday attending a fund-raiser at a trial lawyer convention in Vancouver that would benefit his Senate campaign.

Despite my requests for Giannoulias whereabouts each day, the campaign decided not to disclose that Giannoulias flew to Vancouver on Sunday.

The campaign confirmed that Giannoulias was in Vancouver only after the NRSC sent out a press release Monday with the tip that Giannoulias was proabably in Vancouver and urging reporters to ask the Giannoulias campaign for confirmation. I am an equal opportunity hardliner on this: I've taken the Kirk campaign to task for not revealing where GOP Illinois Senate candidate Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) goes for campaign cash as well as other people I have covered, from President Obama on down.

The Giannoulias campaign revealed Giannoulias whereabouts when I called and asked about the NRSC release. At that point, a campaign spokesman said the Giannoulias was in Los Angeles today for a round of West Coast fund-raising, mainly to cultivate relationships with donors, I was told.

The Vancouver fund-raiser was sponsored by the American Association for Justice's Committee for a Better Future. The price ranged from $43,200 to $250. The haul from the event was divided between 12 Democratic Senate candidates, according to the invitation (see the text of the invite at the click.). Foreign nationals cannot contribute to U.S. federal campaigns.

Trial lawyers overwhelmingly contribute to Democrats.

Here's the breakdown on how the proceeds of the Vancouver Democratic Senate fund-raiser will be divided:

(Michael) Bennet for Colorado: 9.30%
(Richard) Blumenthal for Senate: 7.07%
Robin Carnahan for Senate: 7.07%
Roxanne Conlin for Senate: 7.07%
(Jack) Conway for Senate: 7.07%
Chris Coons for Delaware: 7.07%
(Brad) Ellsworth for Indiana: 7.07%
(Lee) Fisher for Ohio: 7.07%
Alexi (Giannoulias) for Illinois: 7.07%
(Paul) Hodes for Senate: 7.07%
Charlie Melancon Campaign Committee, Inc.: 7.07%
Friends for Harry Reid: 20.00%


GOP Illinois Senate candidate Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) addresses a group of north suburban chamber of commerce groups at a Monday lunch at a Northbrook hotel. After that, Kirk will hold a press conference, his third in the Chicago media market in three weeks. Last week Kirk held pressers in Quincy and Springfield. Democratic Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer, did an ABC interview last week; otherwise, a low profile for the past week.

It's Day 22 at the Rod Blagojevich trial, and the prosecution is nearing the end of its case with John Wyma expected on the stand; Wyma, a former confidant of the former Illinois governor, allowed his conversations with him to be wiretapped, giving the feds a leg up in its probe. Sun-Times federal courts reporter Natasha Korecki has her Day 22 preview and look back at the five weeks of the trial.

We know the prosecution is making a spash, what with those f-words wiretaps of Blagojevich plotting to get something for filling Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat and other pay-to-play schemes. But are the prosecutors making a case? Korecki analyzes the case so far.

Last week I dropped by the federal courtroom in Chicago where Blagojevich is being tried and chatted with Blagojevich, the most cheery defendant; my column here.

The Sun-Times Blago Blog brings riveting updates through the trial day.

Kirk's Springfield agenda

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Updated Friday morning at 10:20 a.m.....

Update: A Kirk campaign spokesman called to tell me that McConnell on Friday morning was the headliner at a Kirk fund-raising breakfast in Jacksonville and that Kirk and McConnell will be appearing together Friday in Springfield at a press conference where Kirk is rolling out his "Springfield agenda." end update.

The Kirk for Senate campaign, it turns out, declined to be candid about Rep. Mark Kirk's activities while stumping in Quincy on Thursday, which included a fund-raiser headlined by the very top Republican in the Senate: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) The campaign sent out advisories about Kirk's "Quincy Agenda" which this blog posted in full. But the fund-raiser that Kirk held in Quincy--reported by the Quincy Newswas not disclosed. I specifically asked Kirk staff on Tuesday about Kirk's upcoming fund-raising plans, so its not for lack of trying.

And a note for those who may think I am picking on Kirk--I have for years been pressing political figures--President Obama when he was an Illinois senator, former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) on down-- for disclosure on where they go to raise money and who helps them. This information is not available on any public record.

The Kirk campaign apparently did not want the major Illinois media to know that the number one Republican in the Senate was stumping for him.

The Giannoulias campaign does issue advisories when big name Democrats come to Illinois for a Giannoulias fund-raiser.

Statements from July, 2010 that PolitiFact National reviewed

Mark Kirk claim regarding Alexi Giannoulias scored as Half-True:

(Giannoulias family) Bank had bigger problems than bad loans to mobsters
"At his father's bank, Alexi made tens of millions in risky loans to convicted mobsters. Then, the bank collapsed."

Alexi Giannoulias claim about Mark Kirk scored as True:

"He (Kirk) did violate Pentagon rules, twice actually, for improperly mingling politics with his military service."

Mark Kirk claim about Alexi Giannoulias scored as Barely True:

"Alexi Giannoulias' top aide was a longtime BP lobbyist."

The Illinois Senate race remains close, according to the latest Rasmussen poll, released on Thursday, as GOP nominee Rep. Mark Kirk stuggled in past weeks to get past a controversy involving the embellishment of his record as a Navy Reserves Commander.

In an automated poll taken July 7, Democrartic contender Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer, was at 40 percent to 39 percent for Kirk, nine percent for other contenders and 12 percent not sure.

In June, Kirk was at 42 percent to Giannoulias at 39 percent.

Kirk's Quincy agenda

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William Knapp, Rod Blagojevich at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, 2008. Photo by Lynn Sweet

While former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was scheming to trade Barack Obama's Senate seat, he did not seem to realize how radioactive he was to the Obama team. In the trial on Thursday, the Sun-Times Blago Blog is reporting on how the Obama team wanted to keep Blagojevich out of the giant election night rally in Grant Park.

The jurors just heard about an exchange of e-mails between William Knapp and Anita Dunn over that rally. Dunn was at the time one of the Obama campaign top communication advisers. Knapp was Blagojevich's media consultant. Knapp and Dunn (Dunn was on leave for the presidential campaign) were also business partners at their Washington, D.C. firm, known at the time as Squier Knapp Dunn Communications.

From Sara Ostman over at the Sun-Times Blago Blog:

Deputy Gov. Robert Greenlee said that before Election Day, he worked out a deal with Barack Obama's campaign to invite Rod Blagojevich to his Election Day rally.

Greenlee said he "suggested" to Obama's people that Blagojevich wouldn't actually show.

That way, when the media asked, Blagojevich wouldn't have to say he was snubbed by the politician from his own state. But by not showing up, Obama wouldn't suffer the embarrassment of actually having the tarnished governor at his historic rally.

Then the plan changed. Blagojevich changed his mind, Greenlee said.

"That day, Election Day, Gov. Blagojevich decided he did want to attend the rally," Greenlee testified.

When they went to obtain credentials: "the Obama campaign raised red flags," Greenlee said.

Obama staffer Anita Dunn reached out to Blagojevich consultant Bill Knapp in an email entitled "WTF." Knapp, in turn, reached out to Greenlee.

rod line rnc.jpg

The Illinois Republican Party is using the Blagojevich trial to raise money, debuting a product line--shirts, magnets, mugs, tote bages, dog ware, etc.--on Thursday to sell to the public at The catch for souvenir hunters: your purchase is really a donation to the Illinois Republican Party and could be reported on financial disclosure reports.

From the party: "The Illinois Republican Party has launched a full line of shirts, hats, mugs and other memorabilia which feature a caricature of former Governor Rod Blagojevich blow-drying his hair along with an elephant in the background who's pulling the plug on the hair dryer.

"The words, "Unplug the Machine," offer a not-so-subtle jab at Blagojevich and the Illinois Democratic Party, often referred to as "the machine."

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan are in federal court fighting a federal appeals court decision to have--yes, a little late in the game--a special election on Nov. 2 to fill the remainder of the Senate term Barack Obama gave up when he was elected president.

But if the special election proceeds--and presuming Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias would be the major contenders, just as they are for the full six-year term--they could raise double the money from their donors, who face donation caps in federal races. Under federal rules, contribution caps apply to each election, and a special election would be just that.

Meanwhile, how this will end up is not yet clear.

Marty Oberman, the lead attorney on the case to have the special election (Thomas Geoghegan is also on the case) filed a 104-page brief (read it here)in reply to Quinn and Madigan's plea to have the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reconsider their June 16 ruling calling for a special election on Nov. 2--the same day Illinois voters would be electing a senator for a full six-year term. Read the Quinn/Madigan pleadings here.

Oberman argues that the state is not obligated to hold an expensive primary--costing the cash strapped state millions of dollars it does not have--that voters will not be confused, and that the whole special election could be executed "efficiently and at no additional cost to the taxpayer."

My column on this stunning development here.

Read the June 16 opinion here.

Kirk in Quincy

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At one time Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was running a campaign aimed at then Gov. Blagojevich to get appointed to the Senate seat Barack Obama was vacating upon his election to the White House. Jurors--and the public--learned for the first time at Day 20 of Blagojevich's federal criminal corruption trial about how Jackson was at a meeting where one of his supporters and fund-raisers--who also raised money for other Democratic figures--offered to raise $1 million for Blagojevich in return for the Jackson appointment.

Sun-Times federal court reporter Natasha Korecki has a recap of Day 20 and a look ahead at Day 21

Keep up with the Blagojevich trial at the Sun-Times Blago Blog.

michelle sara netanyahu.jpg
(White House photo:First Lady Michelle Obama has tea with Mrs. Netanyahu, wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Yellow Oval Room of the White House)

First Lady Michelle Obama met Sara Netanyahu, wife of Israeli Prime Mininster Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time on Tuesday. Mrs. Obama invited her counterpart for tea while their spouses held a series of high profile meetings. Here's my report on Mrs. Obama's tea diplomacy--a part of working to smooth the sometimes rocky relationship between President Obama and Netanyahu.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich trial is now on the count dealing with whether he lied to the FBI about his fund-raising and on Day 19 jurors got a primer about the political fund-raising business--learning about call lists and bundlers. Sun-Times federal courts reporter Natasha Korecki has a look at Day 20 and a recap of Day 19.

On Wednesday, jurors heard testimony where a former Blagojevich finance director--the paid professional fund-raiser--called people who did not raise the cash Blagojevich expected a "bulls----er."

Keep tabs on the testimony in posts over at the Sun-Times Blago Blog.

Roskam in Israel

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Quigley in Poland


The issue of a misstatement about a military record may have an impact in one of the biggest House races in Illinois, where GOP nominee Adam Kinzinger, a captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves is pitted against freshman Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) in the south suburban 11th Congressional District. Kinzinger, who is making his miliary record a central part of his campaign, is learning the hard way just how accurate military candidates have to be about their records in this election cycle. Here is the report by Chicago Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallash about how Kinzinger overstated his record as a special operations officer.

kirk lake july 6.jpgPhoto by Al Podgorski, Chicago Sun-Times

Updated with Collinsville event...

Illinois Senate GOP nominee Rep. Mark Kirk is hitting southern and central Illinois this week--his first public stops since his military record embellishment controversy--while taking his time in deciding some potentially contentious issues.

Kirk was scheduled to fly to St. Louis on Tuesday, in order to campaign in the Illinois Metro East area on Wednesday. On Wednesday afternoon, Kirk will meet with local GOP leaders at Porter's Steakhouse in Collinsville. Kirk hits Quincy on Thursday and Springfield on Friday.

Kirk held a press conference at the Westin River North, in a room overlooking the Chicago River, where he talked about Lake Michigan water quality and how he and Democratic Senate contender Alexi Giannoulias are divided over the need to reverse, in the years ahead, the flow of the Chicago River. The water quality message was tailored for Chicago and the collar suburbs and will not be repeated Downstate.

Kirk is against, Giannoulias for reversing the river. The issue first came up on June 21, when I asked about the long range plans for the river and Lake Michigan at a Senate forum sponsored by the Metropolitan Planning Council.

The room was booked because it had a stunning view of the river and Kirk's podium was originally set in front of the window. But the backlighting was bad for the television cameras, so the shades were drawn and the view blocked.

After a discussion about water issues, Kirk took questions.


* Kirk blasted Giannoulias for not having to pay state or federal income taxes
because of the big losses he took when the family owned Broadway Bank failed. But in taking Giannoulias down, Kirk took with him GOP candidate for governor Bill Brady, who also paid nothing because of losses in his family business.


*Kirk is tiptoeing around a landmine he buried when he called earlier in the year for the repeal of the Obama health insurance law. I've asked Kirk twice now about whether he will sign a discharge petition to get the ball rolling for repeal. He's avoiding an answer for now; he faces a political problem no matter where he goes at this point.

If he does not sign, he's walking away from his call to repeal and that could hurt him with the GOP base. If he does sign, it will activate in a nanosecond Democrats and the Obama White House, who will want to defend one of Obama's legacy achievements.

As of July 1, a discharge petition--the first step needed to get the matter back before the House-- by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has 109 signers. The group includes Illinois House Republicans Judy Biggert, Peter Roskam, Don Manzullo and John Shimkus.

Last week Kirk said he had yet to study the repeal matter fully but since it was law, he wanted to make sure the regulations were written to the advantage of Illinois. On Tuesday Kirk told me, "I haven't got back to that, I haven't read it yet."


*On whether embattled Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele should resign, Kirk said, "I agree with Sen. (Lindsey) Graham that it is up to chairman Steele to reassess his position and ability to lead the party forward, pretty strongly with that view."


*Kirk is still undecided on whether he would vote to confirm Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court. Last week, Kirk avoided an answer as the hearings were going on. With the hearings completed, Kirk was asked again and he said he is still studying her record, including over the July 4 holiday.

Said Kirk, "I reviewed her record and her testimony..spent the weekend going through the cases she argued as our solicitor general. Now I am going through the submissions for the record where sometimes almost the key details come out. This is one of the most important and careful decisions that a senator should make. After I finish the review of the submission for the record, will render my judgement."

By Abdon M. Pallasch

Sun-Times Political Reporter
CHICAGO--U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk walked a tightrope Tuesday, trying to criticize his opponent, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, for paying no taxes on his state salary while not criticizing Kirk's fellow Republican, gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady, for doing the same thing.

"The only difference between Brady and Giannoulias is that the Giannoulias family transferred this tremendous $300 million dollar bill to the FDIC, and Treasurer Giannoulias wants to raise your taxes," Kirk said, referring to the cost to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for taking over Giannoulias' family's collapsed Broadway Bank.

In a statement likely to cause inconvenience for Brady, Kirk added, "I think that if you are depending on a salary paid by taxpayers, you ought to pay tax."

White House Senior adviser David Axelrod is the draw at a July 25 fund-raiser for Democratic Illinois Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias. One of the hosts is Bettylu Saltzman, the Democratic activist who years ago spotted a young Barack Obama as a comer on the Illinois political scene and told Axelrod he could be president some day.

Donations to the event ranges from $500 to $2,400.

Giannoulias has not released second quarter fund-raising numbers yet, but the guess is he will lag behind GOP rival Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). Kirk's campaign last week released the haul--and that he raised $1 million in June-- in part to show the controversy over the embellishments over his military record did not shut down fund-raising. Read Sun-Times political writer Abdon Pallasch's report here.

The criminal corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich continues on Tuesday after the July 4 break with Day 19 bringing testimony about fund-raising efforts of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) at a time he was lobbying for the appointment to replace Barack Obama in the Senate. Chicago Sun-Times federal courts reporter Natasha Korecki has the Day 19 look ahead and a recap of court action from last week, including the Blagojevich $400,000 shopping sprees.

The Blago Blog, helmed by the Sun-Times Blagojevich trial team, posts must read reports from the courtroom throughout the day.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets President Obama on Tuesday, with quite a difference in tone compared to last March.

On Friday, the White House briefed on the upcoming visit with Ben Rhodes, deputy National Security Adviser at the National Security Council and Daniel Shapiro, senior director for Middle East and North Africa at the NSC. Click below for transcript.

No court on Friday; here is the Sun-Times report on testimony on Thursday about former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's spending sprees for pricey suits and his lament about being stuck in the governors job while Barack Obama becomes president.

The wiretaps and testimony the jury is hearing in the criminal corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich--Thursday is Day 18--is showing how jealous Blagojevich was of the quick rise of Barack Obama. Not a crime, but very interesting. Sun-Times federal courts reporter Natasha Korecki Day 18 overview looks ahead and sums up Day 17.

One-time Blagojevich adviser Doug Scofield, testifying for the prosecution, tells that Blagojevich's Senate seat shakedowns were "ridiculous" even by their standards.

Must-read real time reports from the trial rolling through the Chicago Sun-Times Blago Blog.

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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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