Chicago Sun-Times
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December 2010 Archives

Below, statement from Chicago mayoral hopeful Gery Chico on Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) dropping out of the race. Says Chico, in referencing rivals Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of Staff and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.), ""My two major opponents are Washington D.C. politicians. I served as chief-of-staff to the mayor in Chicago." Chico ran for the Senate in 2004, defeated in the Senate Democratic primary by Barack Obama. Washington wasn't looking so bad to him back then.

From Chico: "Regardless of who gets in or out of this race, I am the only candidate with a Chicago resume that is built for mayor.

"My two major opponents are Washington D.C. politicians. I served as chief-of-staff to the mayor in Chicago. I served as president of Chicago Public Schools in Chicago. I served as president of the Chicago Park District in Chicago. I served as chairman of the City Colleges in Chicago.

"I succeeded in every public service position I held because I built coalitions across ethnic and racial lines. That will be the type of leadership I bring to this campaign and to the mayor's office. I have the best story to tell and the resources to tell it."

Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel is on vacation in Thailand this week; his campaign on Friday night sent out a statement from him reacting to Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) dropping out of the mayor's race. Though Davis endorsed former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.), front-runner Emanuel throws him a shout out in his statement ("his views will be needed") as he looks ahead, perhaps, of getting some support from him if Braun does not survive the Feb. 22 non-partisan primary. If no one gets more than 50 percent on Feb. 22, the top two vote getters face-off on April 5.

Emanuel statement: "Congressman Davis' work on behalf of the people of Chicago goes back many years, and it certainly won't stop today - his views will be needed in the dialogue about the city's future. With all of the challenges we face, we must come together to work on behalf of all Chicagoans and address the needs of every neighborhood."

Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) on Friday night quit his Chicago mayoral bid and threw his support to former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.). Read the report on this latest development from the Chicago Sun-Times Dan Rozek and Abdon M. Pallasch here.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) will be dropping his Chicago mayoral bid, Abdon M. Pallasch of the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting on New Year's Eve. Davis will make the announcement at a New Year's Eve press conference at his West Side headquarters, joined by former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) and state Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) who earlier dropped his mayoral bid. The three, all African Americans, have been wrestling over who will drop out in order to try to consolidate the black vote.

This makes Braun the leading African American mayoral contender.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson has been helping to broker some kind of a resolution to having either Braun or Davis drop out.

The front-runner in the Feb. 22 non-partisan primary is Rahm Emanuel, who is getting a chunk of the city's black vote, according to recent polls. The contest is really for second place. If no one gets more than 50 percent in the primary, the top two finishers face off in on April 5. Attorney Gery Chico and City Clerk Miguel del Valle are also running.

Emanuel is on vacation in Thailand.

Chicago mayoral hopefuls former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and Rep. Danny Davis, joined by state Sen. James Meeks, who dropped out of the contest, will be making a joint announcement about the campaign at 7 p.m. Chicago time. Will the news be one of the two leading African American rivals will be folding? The Rev. Jesse Jackson has been helping to broker some kind of a resolution to the situation to have either Braun or Davis drop out to consolidate the African American vote. The front-runner in the Feb. 22 non-partisan primary is Rahm Emanuel, who is getting a chunk of the city's black vote, according to recent polls. The contest is really for second place. If no one gets more than 50 percent in the primary, the top two finishers face off in on April 5. Attorney Gery Chico and City Clerk Miguel del Valle are also running.

The Obama family on New Year's Eve are ringing in 2011 in Hawaii and holding the annual talent show with family and friends they do each year.

And White House spokesman Bill Burton provide a list of the books Obama has been reading, including the already mentioned "President Reagan - The Role of a Lifetime" - by Lou Cannon. The other books are "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet" by David Mitchell and on the lighter side, "Our Kind of Traitor" by John le Carre.

Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel's legal team on Friday filed a legal brief in advance of next week's Cook County Circuit Court hearing on his residency challenge. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners ruled Emanuel never abandoned his Chicago residency when he moved to Washington in 2009 to be President Obama's Chief of Staff.

Challengers Burt Odelson et al are appealing the election board decision before a Cook County Circuit Court judge in a fight expected to go to the Illinois Supreme Court.

One of my favorite lines from the Emanuel brief: "The standard for determining whether an established residency has been abandoned turns entirely on whether the individual intended to abandoned it."

Go ask Alice.

Meanwhile, Emanuel continues his vacation in Thailand.

WASHINGTON--Here's another look at Chicago Mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel, in the new epilogue written by Jonathan Alter for the paperback edition of his bestseller, "The Promise: President Obama, Year One."

Alter devotes a chapter in the book--headlined "Rahmbo"--about Emanuel, President Obama's former Chief of Staff. "Rahm," Alter wrote, "played by his own rules."

In the Alter epilogue, previewed in the Huffington Post, "The Obama administration's perceived failure to take laser-like aim at the unemployment crisis was partly due to the dysfunctional relationship between White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, top economic adviser Larry Summers and senior adviser David Axelrod, specifically the intransigence of Summers.

According to Alter, a North Side Chicago native, "The inability to pivot in 2010 to a single-minded focus on jobs was a by-product of what one senior aide called "dysfunction" between Emanuel, Summers, and Axelrod. Rahm had always admired Larry, but he was becoming exasperated with his failure to give him a jobs plan he could sell. 'Week after week, Rahm would say, 'Let's explore this' or 'How about that?' and Larry would slow-walk everything,' recalled one senior advisor. 'He basically doesn't believe in the government helping small business'."

WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) announced he will cut his Senate office budget by 15 percent. Kirk was sworn in on Nov. 29. In a non-government e-mail he sent out on Thursday, Kirk said, "What a month it's been. We now represent 12.6 million people - 19 times more than a 650,000-person congressional district. Since taking office on November 29th, we received more than 136,000 phone calls and 25,000 e-mails from Illinois citizens. We opened offices in Washington, Chicago and Springfield. And to set an example of fiscal restraint, the cost to run our Senate office will be 15% less than the previous year."

I asked two Kirk spokesmen for details about the 15 percent office budget reduction. This is the answer I got from spokesman Lance Trover: "Senator Kirk will spend 15% less in FY 2011 to operate the Illinois junior Senator's office than was spent in FY 2010."

Michelle Obama's 2010 year in review

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First Lady Michelle Obama's 2010 highlights saw her first solo foreign trip, the launch of her Let's Move! anti-obesity drive, a return to the campaign trail a controversial vacation in Spain and her first Fox News interview since moving in the White House. Other notable 2010 events include the expansion of the White House kitchen garden, the christening of a Coast Guard cutter and a visit to India with the president, where she was a big hit.

Gery Chico unveils homeless plan

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WASHINGTON--Chicago Mayoral hopeful Carol Moseley Braun warned former President Clinton not to "parachute" into Chicago to campaign for rival Rahm Emanuel. When the former senator was running for re-election in 1998, she welcomed Clinton and then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to Chicago to fund-raise and get out the vote for her.

From the Chicago Sun-Times archives:

On Nov. 6, 1998, I wrote how Mrs. Clinton lamented that she should have done even more to help Braun win:

Clinton, "whose campaigning contributed to a string of Democratic election victories, said Thursday that she should have done more to help Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun win." Clinton "made her observations in a conversation with Garry Wills, the Northwestern University professor and author who was at the White House to receive a National Humanities medal."

Wills said that in a reception before the medal ceremony, "we talked mainly about how sad she was that they were not able to pull out the Braun election in Illinois. As she put it, 'I got in there too late' or 'I was involved in too many other things.' ... She thinks if she got involved a little earlier, they might have done it."

On Nov. 1, 1998, my former colleague Michael Gillis wrote:

"For the third time in two weeks, Democrats on Saturday brought in their heavy hitter from Washington to aid their local slate.

The heavy hitter's named Clinton, but it's not the president.

It's the first lady, who remains an immensely popular figure in Illinois. Local politicians, particularly Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, are hoping that popularity will translate into
votes Tuesday.

Hillary Clinton was here to help Moseley-Braun Oct. 17, attending a rally at a Mount Prospect school. She returned on Oct. 22 and 23 to stump for -- and raise money for -- Moseley-Braun and Cook County Board President John Stroger.

On Saturday, she attended two rallies with the Democratic slate, first at Operation PUSH on the South Side and then at Wright College on the Northwest Side.

The first lady also has made a campaign commercial for Moseley-Braun and sent out a fund-raising letter on Moseley-Braun's behalf. She raised $ 145,000 for the senator in 10 days, one of the most successful direct mail appeals of the campaign.

On Oct. 23, 1998, I wrote with colleague Mark Brown about Mrs. Clinton's help for Braun:

The first lady's only campaign commercial was made for Moseley-Braun, and her appeal was demonstrated in a fund-raising letter she sent out on Moseley-Braun's behalf. She raised $ 145,000 for the senator in 10 days, one of the most successful direct mail appeals of the campaign, said spokesman Michael Briggs.

With four days of campaigning this year for Moseley-Braun, the TV spot and fund-raising, the first lady has done more for the Illinois senator than any other candidate except Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), whose daughter is married to Clinton's brother.

"When Carol won her Senate seat in 1992, I was extremely proud that the state in which I was born and raised finally elected its first woman senator," Clinton's letter said, asking for money because the senator is "in the fight of her political life."

Does Moseley-Braun think Clinton's highly visible support will help her win back female voters who may have been dissatisfied with her first term?
"I think women voters are going to vote their interests, and there should be no question but that my representation and advocacy for women should encourage them to support my re-election," Moseley-Braun said.

On Oct. 16, 1998, my colleague Scott Fornek wrote about President Clinton's stumping for Braun:

President Clinton will fly into Chicago for a four-hour visit today to help Democrats raise $250,000 for the re-election campaign of Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun.

The trip comes just 24 hours before first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives for some campaigning with the Chicago Democrat on Saturday.

Moseley-Braun's staff said she plans to appear with Clinton at a luncheon fund-raiser at the Union League Club, barring last-minute emergencies.
Hillary Clinton is due to arrive here Saturday for a Democratic rally at Elmhurst College. Moseley-Braun's staff had called the event "a pro-choice rally," but school and campaign officials said Thursday it was a celebration of "women who have made a difference."


Braun's campaign issued a second, stronger statement hitting Clinton for "parachuting" into Chicago and slammed Emanuel on several fronts. Her statement at the end of the post.


Chicago Mayoral hopeful former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) added her voice to a warning issued by mayoral rival Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.): Don't come to Chicago to campaign for Rahm Emanuel or risk his relationship with African Americans.

On Tuesday, Davis got this ball rolling when he issued a statement telling Clinton to stay away from the mayoral election. Emanuel is the front-runner and Davis and Braun--both African American--need a big black vote if they have any chance of coming in second. The Feb. 22 contest is non-partisan and if no one gets 50 percent, a run-off between the top two finishers will be held April 5. Davis told me in an interview he also wanted President Obama--who has been helpful to Emanuel's campaign--to stay out of the mayoral contest. My column on this is here.

Here's what is new: Though Clinton appointed Braun as ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa after she lost her Senate re-election bid, a statement from her campaign issued Wednesday morning was strongly worded:

Said Braun,"Bill Clinton is an outsider parachuting in to support another outsider. Rahm's residency status continues to be challenged in court. It's not yet clear that he will be on the ballot. At the same time former president Clinton risks his legacy and the great respect that he has enjoyed among African Americans by coming to Chicago to endorse Rahm Emanuel who is running for mayor against two black candidates.

"Clinton should remember New Hampshire where he called Barack Obama's opposition to the war in Iraq 'a fairy tale.' He was wrong.

"Clinton should remember South Carolina where he played the race card painting Obama as "the black candidate". Again he was wrong. Bill Clinton will be wrong again if he gets involved in the Chicago mayoral contest. He should stay home and avoid
the cold."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson defends First Lady Michelle Obama's anti-obesity drive in his latest Chicago Sun-Times column.

YOU MAY NOT KNOW: Jackson's daughter, Sanita, a WVON show host, attended high school with Michelle Obama and sang at her wedding to Barack Obama.

Mayoral hopeful Rep. Danny Davis warned former President Bill Clinton -- who will be campaigning for rival Rahm Emanuel -- to stay out of Chicago politics if he wants to maintain warm relations with African Americans -- and told me President Obama should remain neutral as well.

"There are lots of people who supported the Clintons here" Davis told me, referring to the former president as well as Chicago native Hillary Rodham Clinton, now the secretary of state. "I think it would be great if they both took a neutral position."

Emanuel spokesman Ben LaBolt declined to comment. Emanuel is vacationing in Thailand with his wife and three children and will be back in Chicago after New Year's Day. Clinton is expected here in January and it is likely he'll also do a fund-raiser for Emanuel.


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Chicago mayoral hopeful Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) shot a warning on Tuesday morning to former President Bill Clinton, coming to Chicago to stump for rival Rahm Emanuel: Stay out.

Davis said that if Clinton did campaign for Emanuel, it would "fracture" and perhaps break his warm relationship with the African American community if he came "to town and participate overtly in efforts to thwart the legitimate political aspirations of Chicago's Black community."

Emanuel spokesman Ben LaBolt declined comment.

Emanuel is the front-runner in the Feb. 22 Chicago mayoral primary, a non-partisan election where if no one gets over 50 percent, then the top two contenders face an April 5 general election run-off.

Davis and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) are the leading African American candidates for mayor and neither of them, for now, shows any intention of dropping out in order to consolidate the city's African American vote. Last week, state Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) quit the race in the effort to boost the chance of the city electing an African American mayor. Even if one African American were in the contest, it could be tough to overtake Emanuel's lead: he is polling well in the African American community. Emanuel is the former White House chief of staff who served under President Obama--the first African American president.

After Moseley Braun lost her Senate re-election bid in 1996, Clinton appointed her in 1999 as ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa.

Emanuel owes his rise in politics to Clinton--he worked in 1992 presidential campaign and in his White House--and Clinton came to Chicago to campaign and fund-raise for Emanuel when he first ran for the House in 2002. On Saturday, Politico's Mike Allen had the scoop that Clinton would be coming to Chicago to campaign for Emanuel, which I confirmed that day with the Emanuel campaign.

Davis said in his statement:

"While we recognize the right of any individual to endorse and support any candidate that they so choose, I am seriously concerned and disturbed by press reports that former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to come to Chicago to campaign for Rahm Emanuel, who is a candidate for Mayor.

"The African American community has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with the Clintons, however it appears as though some of that relationship maybe fractured and perhaps even broken should former President Clinton come to town and participate overtly in efforts to thwart the legitimate political aspirations of Chicago's Black community.

"We respectfully request and urge former President Clinton not to become involved in the Chicago Mayoral Election."

The Obama family, in Hawaii for the holidays, attended church on Sunday. The family did not go to church on Christmas. Obama has attended church six times in Washington since becoming president, the last time on Sept. 19.

Pool report on church visit below...

POTUS left his vacation residence @ 11:05 a.m. local time to go to church on Marine Corps Base Hawaii. The name of the church is St. Michael's and it is the base chapel, according to White House press officer.

About 100 people will be in attendance. The whole family is there and some friends. No word yet on what friends. Several poolers will go into the church for the whole mass. "Joy To The World" was being sung by a full band and clapping parishioners as pool reporters were ushered in.

POTUS and family were in a front row and the celebrant said he was especially thankful to have the Obamas in attendance.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson continued his annual custom visiting the Cook County Jail on Christmas and on this Christmas, his son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) joined him and chatted with the Associated Press.

Jackson has been keeping a low profile for awhile: dragged into the Blagojevich mess and the subject of a Sun-Times story that raised questions about a "social acquaintance."

Jackson was re-elected Nov. 2 with 80.52 percent of the vote in the second congressional district.

Highlights of the AP interview:

"Every one of us has erred in their personal lives and while I don't claim
to be a perfect servant, I'm a public servant," Jackson told the AP. "Often
times we carry with us the burdens of our personal shortcomings even as we
struggle to articulate and clarify a message that helps other people. That
what I dedicated my life to."

Asked if he was worried about the political fallout of the Blagojevich retrial next year, Jackson Jr. said, "Preparing a case against Blagojevich is not a case against me."
"I entered public life to provide people with jobs. I have not deviated from
that mission one day in 15 years," he said. "The people of my district have
responded by re-electing me."

When asked if he'll seek higher office, Jackson said, "I'm honored to be in
public service

On the "social acquaintance"
"It was an immensely personal matter for us, which my wife and I handled in
the privacy of our home," the congressman told AP. "We've accepted
responsibility of being public people that there are elements of my life
that play out in public. . . . I'm grateful for a loving wife and loving

Jackson told the detainees: "Everybody's falling short of the glory of God."

Obama, Michelle Christmas video

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Former President Bill Clinton will campaign for Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel, the Politico's Mike Allen is reporting on Saturday morning. Emanuel left Chicago to work for the Clinton presidential campaign in Little Rock, Ark. as a fund-raiser and joined his White House. Clinton stumped for Emanuel on Chicago's North Side when he first ran for a House seat and faced a heated Democratic primary.

Clinton on Emanuel at the 2009 Gridiron Club dinner:

"Look, I know Axelrod from Chicago and Valerie. I know them before. Let's get this straight," Clinton said in his setup. "I found Rahm. I created Rahm. I made him the man he is today. I am so sorry," quipped Clinton.

Clinton traveled to Chicago on February, 2002 to stump and fund-raise for Emanuel's first House race....excerpts from the Feb. 2, 2002 story I wrote at the time:

..."Clinton came to Chicago to appear at two fund-raisers for Emanuel--who served as his senior adviser for seven years and whose portfolio included significant work on Clinton's crime initiatives--and at an event highlighting health coverage for the uninsured. Clinton tried to soften Emanuel's abrasive reputation by fondly commenting about an aide who was known as one of Clinton's fiercest loyalists and biggest defenders, even during the darkest days of impeachment.

"People used to joke about in Washington how tough Rahm Emanuel was," Clinton said. "Well, you don't need a shrinking violet in the White House or in Congress. And the violets that don't shrink tend to get more things done than the ones that do."

Emanuel's major rival is former state Rep. Nancy Kaszak (D-Chicago). Newly filed financial disclosure statements show that Emanuel's war chest, with $947,552 on hand, dwarfs Kaszak's Dec. 31 balance of $64,883 and Dagher's $34,000

Emanuel, who was a professional fund-raiser before joining the Clinton White House, tapped into Clinton's fund-raising network. Emanuel's campaign expected Clinton's visit to raise about $135,000, through a $100-a-ticket event at the Park West on the North Side and a $1,000-a-person smaller reception at a home on East Lake Shore Drive.
It just makes us work that much harder," Dagher said.

...Bracing for an Emanuel television ad blitz that will likely feature Clinton in some spots, Kaszak said she will be able to overcome Emanuel's big financial advantage.
The people of the Fifth Congressional District cannot be bought," she said.

Clinton appeared with Emanuel at the Infant Welfare Society, 1931 N. Halsted. As his wife, three children and father watched, Emanuel seemed to choke up as he thanked Clinton for his lavish praise. Emanuel called for a massive expansion of a government-bankrolled health insurance program for low-income children to basically cover almost all uninsured adults.

The Obama family is in Hawaii for Christmas and the White House on Friday released what the family will be having for Christmas dinner: steak, roasted potatoes and green beans, with pie for dessert.

State Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) dropped out of the Chicago mayors race on Thursday, the day after he met with two other African American rivals--former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) and Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) to discuss narrowing the number of African Americans in the field.

Meeks dropping out Sun-Times story is here.

Meeks, Braun, Davis meet together Sun-Times story is here.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners voted 3-0 Thursday to put Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel on the Feb. 22 ballot, with the stage now set for the residency challenge of the former White House chief of staff to move on to the circuit, appeals and Illinois Supreme Court. Read the Chicago Sun-Times breaking news report here.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners is hearing now free-wheeling arguments from Rahm Emanuel's residency challengers. Here is the link to an ABC7 live stream. Earlier on Thursday, hearing officer Joseph Morris recommended to the three-member board that Emanuel be allowed on the Feb. 22 city primary mayoral ballot.

Rahm Emanuel is a Chicago resident and should be allowed to run for Chicago mayor, a hearing officer recommended early Thursday, after challengers said his move to Washington to work as President Obama's White House chief of staff disqualified him from the Feb. 22 mayoral primary ballot. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners meets today to consider the hearing report and vote on the Emanuel case.

Hearing officer Joseph Morris found that Emanuel did not abandon his Chicago residency by moving to Washington because Illinois law carves out exemptions for people in "service" to the U.S.

Morris wrote in his opinion, "The preponderance of the evidence established that the sole reason for the Candidate's absence from Chicago during 2009 and 2010 was by reason of attendance to business of the United States." The Morris recommendation is non-binding on the three-member election board.

EMANUEL REACTS: "While the decision rests with the Commissioners, I am encouraged by this recommendation. It affirms what I have said all along - that the only reason I left town was to serve President Obama and that I always intended to return. Chicago voters should ultimately have the right to decide the election - and to vote for me, or against me. And they deserve a swift conclusion to this process so that the campaign can focus on the challenges facing the city and the need for safe streets, strong schools, and stable city finances."

Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman and political writer Abdom M. Pallasch file their report on Emanuel clearing the first round here, which includes a recap of the zany hearings held earlier in December where Morris allowed the 26 challengers to all have their say.

WASHINGTON -- President Obama wrapped up a lame duck congressional session with strong victories on Wednesday, and flew off to Hawaii for a winter break to close out two very productive legislative years.

The Senate on Wednesday handed Obama his top international priority and ratified the New START nuclear treaty with Russia--making the win sweeter because 13 Republicans climbed on board. The House and Senate sprinted through a stalled bill to compensate 9/11 workers injured at the World Trade Center site. In the morning, Obama signed the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law banning gays from serving openly in the military.

The last weeks have seen a legislative blitz. A food safety bill, years in the making, is headed to Obama's desk to sign. He recently signed a child nutrition bill and that tax compromise that forced Obama to extend Bush-era tax breaks for the very rich until 2012 in exchange for payroll tax deductions and unemployment benefits extensions.

As the Obama presidency nears midterm, there are other historic achievements that affect a lot of people: the health reform bill, new Wall Street regulations, creation of a consumer financial protection bureau, extension of unemployment benefits, the economic stimulus package, regulation of tobacco products and the popular cash for clunkers program.

WASHINGTON--The Senate on Wednesday ratified the New START nuclear treaty with Russia on a 71-26 roll call, including 13 GOP votes. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) voted to ratify, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) voted against ratification.

WASHINGTON--On the day he signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal, allowing gays to serve openly in the military, President Obama on Wednesday said his views on gay marriage are "evolving." Obama is a supporter of civil unions, but not of gay marriage.

Said Obama at a year end press conference--before flying to Hawaii to join First Lady Michelle--"with -- with respect to the issue of whether gays and
lesbians should be able to get married, I've spoken about this
recently. As I've said, you know, my feelings about this are
constantly evolving. I struggle with this. I have friends, I have
people who work for me, who are in powerful, strong, long-lasting gay
or lesbian unions. They are extraordinary people. And this is something that means a
lot to them and they care deeply about.

"At this point, what I've said is -- is that my baseline is a
strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal
rights that married couples have. And I think -- and -- and I think
that's the right thing to do.

"But I recognize that from their perspective it is not enough.
And I think this is something that we're going to continue to debate
and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward."

Asked about the military not recognizing civil unions, Obama said, "I understand. And I -- and as I said, this is going to be an issue that is not unique to the military. This is an
issue that extends to all of our society, and I think we're all going
to have to have a conversation about it."

WASHINGTON--The White House just announced that President Obama will hold a press conference at 4:15 est.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) just signaled his opposition to the START nuclear treaty with Russia, being debated on the Senate floor on Wednesday afternoon. Kirk earlier voted against advancing the bill to a final vote.

Kirk, in a floor speech said he had concerns about "ending full time compliance," the compliance inspection plans with Russia and that Russia provides to Iran fuel for a nuclear reactor.

"I think this agreement is ill advised," Kirk said.

WASHINGTON--President Obama on Friday signed legislation repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell law banning gays from openly serving in the military. "No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie," Obama said at the signing ceremony.

Said Vice President Biden: "It is, both morally and militarily, simply the right thing to do, and it's particularly important that this result was fully supported by those within the military who are charged with implementing it.

Said Obama, "This morning I am proud to sign a law that will bring an end to "don't ask, don't tell." It is a law -- this law I'm about to sign will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend. No longer will our country be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans who are forced to leave the military, regardless of their skills, no matter their bravery or their zeal, no matter their years of exemplary performance, because they happen to by gay. No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie."

WASHINGTON--The Senate on Tuesday voted 67-28 to advance the New START nuclear treaty with Russia--enough votes to ratify the treaty. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) voted against advancing the measure. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and all other Democrats voting were for moving the treaty to the final vote.

Passing the treaty is a top Obama White House priority. A treaty needs 67 votes to pass.

The Obama White House found 11 Republican votes:
Alexander, Bennett (UT), Brown (MA), Cochran, Collins, Corker, Isakson, Lugar, Murkowski, Snowe, Voinovich.

WASHINGTON--Freshman Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), one of eight Republicans to vote for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" legislation to repeal bans on gays serving openly in the military, is turning down an invitation from the Obama White House to attend the bill signing ceremony on Wednesday.

Kirk spokesman Kate Dickens said Kirk cannot attend the ceremony because he has pre-scheduled "calls on hiring and leases for Springfield and Metro East offices." Kirk was sworn-in on Nov. 29.

WASHINGTON--Illinois will lose a congressional seat, the U.S. Census Bureau announced on Tuesday; following the 2012 elections, Illinois will send 18 members to the House of Representatives, down from the current 19.

Nationally, the reapportionment favors Republicans: states that vote Republican gained the most seats, which has implications not only for the balance of power in Congress, but in the 2012 presidential campaign, because the the electoral votes are based on the new census counts.

In Illinois, Democrats will take the first stab at drawing the new district maps at a time when the GOP just picked up four seats. Presumably, the Illinois Democrats will mull whether they can throw together in a fight for survival any of the 11 Illinois Republicans who will be sworn in on Jan. 5 with GOP Reps. Joe Walsh, Bob Dold, Adam Kinzinger, and Bobby Schilling potentially the most vulnerable.

Illinois remains one of the top five most populous states in the nation, with a new official population total of 12,864,380, according to the new Census figures.

The Tuesday announcement just deals with reapportioning the 435-member House of Representatives. Starting in February, the Census Bureau will start announcing the state-specific numbers that are needed in order for redistricting. In Illinois, the Democratic controlled Illinois General Assembly will try to draw new boundaries for House, state legislative, city wards, judicial and other districts--though if there is not agreement, the job is kicked over to a commission.

The reapportionment favors Republicans: Texas picked up the most seats--four, with Florida gaining two and Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington gaining one.

In all, ten states lost seats. Eight of them are states that vote Democrat: New York and Ohio lost two seats, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are down one.

Missouri and Louisiana are also down a seat.

Illinois has been loosing congressional seats since 1930. Here's a recap on the number of House members Illinois has been sending to Washington each decade:

2010: 18
2000: 19
1990: 20
1980: 22
1970: 24
1960: 24
1950: 25
1940: 26
1930: 27

In Illinois there will be a political struggle over whether a new congressional map drops a seat from northern Illinois or Downstate. There also will be internal wrangling between GOP and Democratic incumbents who would not be threatened with losing their seat because of population shifts--but would want to improve or enhance political viability by having new district maps include neighborhoods that would be reliable Republican or Democratic votes.

If the census shows a big Hispanic population increase in Illinois--and if that growth is not scattered across the state--Illinois Democrats may be under pressure to create a second Hispanic district. The first Hispanic district in Illinois was drawn following the 1990 census--a convoluted "C" shape district that includes Hispanic neighborhoods on Chicago's North and South Sides wrapped around a district running from the lakefront to the near western suburbs drawn to yield an African American representative.

Following the 2000 and 1990 census, in Illinois, the GOP and Democratic House incumbents got together and cut deals with each other in order to try to protect their own seats in the wake of the musical chair scenario where it would be impossible for all of them to return to Congress. Still, they could not all save their seats. The remap after the 2000 Census saw Democratic Rep. David Phelps and GOP Rep. John Shimkus running against each other in the same district. Shimkus won and has been re-elected ever since.

State Sen. Kwame Raul (D-Chicago), who chairs the state senate reapportionment committee, told me on Monday the legislature will try to seize more control of the congressional remap process because it is their "responsibility," he said. Redistricting reform measures Raul backed never won state legislative approval.

WASHINGTON--New population figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau ranks Illinois in the top five most populated states, according to the 2010 Census. Arizona remains the fastest growing state in the nation.

The top five biggest states are California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois.

The top five smallest states are Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, and South Dakota.

WASHINGTON--Freshman Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) skipped the Sunday Senate session, where the chamber spent much of the afternoon debating the New START nuclear treaty with Russia, a subject of much interest to Kirk. Kirk was back in the Chicago suburbs hosting a big reception for his political backers and pals.

I asked about Kirk's whereabouts on Sunday and a spokesman, Kate Dickens told me,
"as you know, Mark missed the last two holidays serving in Afghanistan. He spent Sunday in church with his family, followed by a gathering with friends and supporters before returning to Washington."

(Kirk's Navy Reserve service in Afghanistan over the past two years seems off point. Kirk requested that he serve during the Christmas and New Year holidays because that's when Congress was on a break. Kirk also requested to serve in Afghanistan.)

Dickens declined to provide more information about the Kirk political event. I talked to someone who attended. While the Senate was a work, Kirk was at Renaissance Hotel in Northbrook greeting a few hundred people, including donors and other political backers.

Kirk was back in the Senate on Monday, where he attended a classified briefing on START along with other Senators. Kirk is undecided on START.

WASHINGTON--Sarah Palin took a shot at First Lady Michelle Obama's anti-obesity drive, called "Let's Move" on her TLC reality show on Sunday night. Tom Kavanagh over at Politics Daily has the story.

WASHINGTON -- After a few weeks on the job, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has made clear he is not going to be a backbencher. He's organized other GOP Senate freshmen. He's in great standing with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) even though he cast some votes with Democrats. He's also shown a tendency to grandstand and gloat.

FAST START: Kirk is taking on a high profile already in part because he's a veteran House member who knows the Capitol. He did not have to build an entire congressional staff from scratch. Like Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) who also served in the House before being elected to the Senate, Kirk comes in with a running start. Unlike President Obama, who kept a low profile initially as Illinois junior senator in part because he needed to learn the Senate operation (even though he came in a superstar) -- well, Kirk is not following that model.

Kirk was sworn-in on Nov. 29, replacing Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), to fill the weeks remaining in Obama's Senate term. That's why Kirk will have seniority among the incoming GOP Senate freshman class taking office on Jan. 5. Kirk took it on himself to organize the group and last Thursday called a press conference to talk about their first joint action.

"I'm happy to announce that all of the incoming Republican senators, the 13 of us, have written a letter to Leader Reid and Leader McConnell, expressing our opposition to the omnibus spending bill," said Kirk. "In general, we feel that a 1,900-page bill, spending over $1.1 trillion with over 6,000 earmarks, is a message to the American people that the Congress doesn't get or understand the recent election."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) later on Thursday pulled the earmark-laden bill, faced with opposition that had been brewing not for hours from Kirk but for days from a host of Republicans -- even those who had loads of earmarks in the bill -- Tea Party and good-government activists, outraged cable television hosts and others.

An anti-earmark crusader, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had been steaming over the omnibus, said on the Senate floor after Reid backed down, "I'm encouraged greatly by this action that was taken tonight to do away with this monstrosity."

Kirk, at a desk near McCain, asked McCain to yield the floor to him. Kirk asked a rhetorical question intended to rub it in: "As the most junior senator, for those who are not understanding what just happened, did we just win?"

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) seemed to tear into Kirk -- not by name -- when she responded on the floor, "What's offensive to me is we've gotten into this bad habit of trying to score cheap political points."

INDEPENDENT VOTES: Kirk on Saturday was one of eight GOP senators to support repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" legislation that banned gays from openly serving in the military.

In a vote that got less attention, Kirk and other independent-minded Republicans ticked off Fox News host Sean Hannity for voting against a proposal by Tea Party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) to make the income tax cuts Congress just voted on permanent.

"I'm trying to figure out. Did they understand the electorate in this election?," an angry Hannity asked.

Kirk on Friday seemed to revert back to campaign mode. He threatened to place a "hold'' on the defense appropriation bill if it included a provision to allow the transfer of detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba military prison to the United States. Any senator can stop legislation through a "hold." The provision was taken out in the House bill and Kirk crowed about it from the Senate floor.

But Kirk actually had an ally with Durbin on this. A Durbin spokesman told me no one from the Kirk office called. The Obama administration is buying an underused prison in Thomson, Ill., with the original plan calling for a part of the prison to be used for a small number of Guantanamo detainees, which Kirk opposed. The Thomson purchase is going through anyway and the facility will become a federal prison despite the deadlock over the ultimate fate of Guantanamo -- and that's a good deal for Illinois. Thomson without Guantanamo detainees will likely generate more Illinois and Iowa civilian jobs than if part of it were a military brig.

KIRK 9/11 FLOP FLIP: Last week I took Kirk to task for voting against a measure he backed while in the House to compensate workers at the World Trade Center site because he wanted the Senate to deal with tax and budget bills first. They are done. On Sunday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) told me that the Senate may vote again on the 9/11 bill this week and Kirk was not only going to support the measure but he is now "instrumental" in getting other Republicans on board.

WASHINGTON-- The Senate on Saturday voted to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on gays serving openly in the military on a 65-31 vote. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), one of eight Republicans to join with Democrats.

WASHINGTON--The Senate on Saturday is scheduled to vote on two hot button issues: the DREAM Act, dealing with student immigration and Don't Ask, Don't Tell, regarding gays serving openly in the military. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is a chief sponsor of the DREAM Act and supports DADT. Freshman Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is a probable no on the DREAM Act. What he will do on DADT will be revealed later today.

The Democratic National Committee's Organizing for America, the grass roots arm of the DNC, has mobilized a campaign aimed at persuading Kirk to vote yes on DADT. On Friday, 28,000 petitions were delivered to his office; in addition OFA targeted Kirk with robo calls, phone banking, e-mails, canvasses and targeted online ads.

Kirk said during the campaign he would not back the DREAM Act and was undecided about DADT, preferring to wait until a Pentagon report on the subject was concluded. The report is done--but Kirk's position is not yet known. In any event, Kirk has vowed to vote no on Senate legislation until tax and spending bills are done and has said any substantial business should wait until the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 5.

WASHINGTON--President Obama delayed his planned Saturday departure for Hawaii because Congress is still in session; First Lady Michelle, Sasha, Malia and their dog Bo jet to the islands today to start their winter vacation without him. Mrs. Obama's staff volunteered that she was taking a military business size plane--not an Air Force jumbo jet--in order to avoid a repeat of criticism she got last August for a lavish vacation in Spain. Read my report on this here.

WASHINGTON--Illinois Republicans were successful on Friday in stripping a provision from a House Defense bill that would have given permission for the transfer to the U.S. of detainees in the Guantanamo Bay, military prison.

The issue is of special importance to Illinois GOP lawmakers because earlier this year the Obama administration moved to buy an underutilized state prison in Thomson, Ill. in part to use to house Guantanamo detainees.

Closing Guantanmo was a central Obama pledge that the president has not been able to keep--a promise made during his campaign on his first day in office. Congress needs to give permission for any transfer of a Guantanamo prisoner to the U.S.

On Friday morning, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) who on Nov. 29 moved to the Senate from the House, had threatened to block the Senate from taking up the Defense bill if it came to the Senate from the House with language in it allowing the prisoner transfer. In the Senate, one senator has the power to stop a bill.

On the Senate floor on Friday night, Kirk noted that this was an "important week" for him in part because "we stopped a House effort this morning to permit...Guantanamo Bay terrorists from being transferred to the Heartland, likely Thomson, Ill. The revised bill prohibits such a transfer."

Kirk "worked with the Illinois GOP on this all morning to get the language changed," said Kirk spokesman Kate Dickens.

In a statement, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) said "Kirk and Schock worked vigorously with House Leadership to ensure the language was changed before it made it to the House Floor for a vote. As early as this morning, the entire Defense Authorization bill was in jeopardy as Illinois Republicans pledged to lead a fight to stop the bill if it was not changed back to current policy prohibiting the transfer of GITMO detainees to the U.S. mainland."

WASHINGTON--Former Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) dropped out of the Chicago mayoral race on Friday. Burris, who left the Senate on Nov. 29, had filed petitions to run in the Feb. 22 primary. In leaving the contest, he did not make an endorsement.

Burris said in a statement, "I want to thank all of those who backed me for the office of mayor and those who signed the petition, but I will not be offering myself as a candidate for mayor of Chicago.

"In the last 30 years, the people of Chicago have not had many opportunities to elect a new mayor--specifically, for an open seat. This election is very important, because it will determine whether Chicago remains the attractive, competitive, creative, effective, and productive city we all know it to be.

"I wish all of those who are in the race well. As a voter, I look forward to a spirited contest."

WASHINGTON--President Obama, at a ceremony on Friday to sign the tax cut and unemployment bill, gave a shout out to Illinois Democrats Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Danny Davis, who flanked Obama as he signed the legislation.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) on Friday threatened to place a "hold' on the Defense Appropriation bill if it includes a provision to allow the transfer of detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba military prison to the United States. Under Senate rules, any Senator can stall a piece of legislation--and the freshman Kirk is flexing his new senate muscle for the first time.

The issue flared up earlier this year when the Obama administration moved to buy an underused state prison in Thomson, Ill. in part to use to house Guantanamo detainees. As a House member from Illinois--until he was sworn into the Senate on Nov. 29--Kirk opposed any transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S.

Closing Guantanmo was a central Obama pledge that the president has not been able to keep--a promise made during his campaign on his first day in office. Congress needs to give permission for any transfer of a Guantanamo prisoner to the U.S.

Statement from Kirk:

"Instead of providing Congress with a clean Defense Authorization bill that could win overwhelming bipartisan support, Speaker Pelosi buried a provision in the House defense bill that permits bringing Guantanamo terrorists to the United States. Such a provision would weaken the security of our country. Therefore, should the Defense Authorization bill come to the Senate with the Gitmo terrorist transfer provision included, I will place a hold on the bill and would seek to strike the provision, restoring the current law that bans bringing Gitmo terrorists to the homeland.

"We should not put ourselves in a position where a rogue court can order the release of a member of the al Qaeda core. Just this week, a terrorist attack directed by a former Guantanamo detainee and now senior Taliban commander, Mullah Zakir, killed six U.S. soldiers in Kandahar.

"While we could authorize a federal prison in Thomson, Illinois to support economic growth, it should never weaken our nation's security by housing Gitmo terrorists. I urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to continue our bipartisan prohibition on transferring Gitmo terrorists to the heartland."

rahm basement.jpg(photo of Rahm Emanuel crawlspace in his Chicago home. Source: Rahm Emanuel campaign photo)

Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel did indeed store stuff in the Chicago home he rented to a tenant when he moved to Washington; his lawyers visited home and took pictures after his tenant testified nothing was there. Chicago Sun-Times Abdon M. Pallasch has the report.

New Asian Carp Control Strategy

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WASHINGTON--The House on Wednesday voted to repeal the ban against gays serving openly in the military known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell on a 250-175 roll call.

The Illinois delegation voted mainly on party lines. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) was the only Illinois Republican to vote yes. The Illinois delegation is one short in the lame duck session because Mark Kirk vacated his House seat when he was sworn into the Senate. The tenth district seat remains vacant until the newly elected House member, Robert Dold, is sworn in on Jan. 5.


Democrats -- Bean, Y; Costello, Y; Davis, Y; Foster, Y; Gutierrez, Y; Halvorson, Y; Hare, Y; Jackson, Y; Lipinski, Y; Quigley, Y; Rush, Y; Schakowsky, Y.

Republicans -- Biggert, Y; Johnson, N; Manzullo, N; Roskam, N; Schock, N; Shimkus, N.

The Rahm Emanuel Chicago mayoral residency hearing, Day 3 report by Chicago Sun-Times political reporter Abdon M. Pallasch is here.We learned on Wednesday Emanuel's tenant wanted $100,000 to move from his house.

WASHINGTON--The Senate on Wednesday passed the controversial tax deal negotiated by the Obama White House and Republicans on a 81-19 vote. The measure now moves to the House. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) voted yes.

WASHINGTON--Chicago mayoral hopeful Gery Chico's top campaign strategist penned a memo arguing that the lead rival Rahm Emanuel has now may not hold, that his winning the mayoralty is not "inevitable."

Emanuel is at the top of all polls. He has spent more than $1 million so far in his campaign. No rival is on the air with ads right now and Emanuel's spots have been running for weeks.

Ken Snyder, Chico's senior strategist said in his memo, not referring to Emanuel by name, "Lately, some in the political class have expressed doubt about whether a scrappy, insurgent campaign like ours can take on the deep pockets and Washington campaign tactics of Rahm Emanuel. They are suggesting that the election is already over and that Rahm is "inevitable."

"Not so fast.

"Despite the fact that no candidate has a resume built for Mayor like Gery, he remains relatively unknown. This is good news for us. It means Gery has the room to grow significantly in the polls as voters begin to learn about his story, record and vision.

"The last candidate who was said to be this "inevitable" was Hillary Clinton. We all know how that story ended.

"Just last year the pundits said that it was inevitable that Terry O'Brien would win the race for Cook County Board President. Toni Preckwinkle started out at 12 percent in the polls, but voters had another plan."

Click below for entire memo....

rahm hudson.jpeg

WASHINGTON--The invitations are out--star vocalist Jennifer Hudson is the headliner in a January fund raiser for Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed had the scoop about Hudson helping Emanuel on Dec. 12, 2010.

WASHINGTON--A Chicago Tribune poll out on Wednesday put mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel in the lead and a lot of voters undecided--with the race for number two wide open. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the Feb. 22 non-partisan primary the top two contenders face off on April 5.

The Tribune poll overall number in the horserace put Emanuel at 32 percent; that compares to an Emanuel campaign poll I wrote about that put Emanuel at 43 percent. The difference, I was told, is that the Emanuel survey included "leaners" and the Trib poll did not.

Here is the Tribune head to head:

32 Rahm Emanuel
30 Undecided
9 Gery Chico
9 Danny Davis
7 James Meeks
6 Carol Moseley Braun
3 Miguel del Valle

The poll: 721 registered, likely voters, taken Dec. 10-13, margin of error of 3.6 percent.


WASHINGTON -- Since becoming a state in 1818, Illinois has sent 53 senators to Washington and the newest, Sen. Mark Kirk, mentioned 13 of them in his first formal floor speech on Tuesday -- the long forgotten Ninian Edwards for one.

Kirk read his remarks from a three-ring white notebook, perched on a lectern on his desk, on the last row on the GOP side of the chamber. Kirk was sworn in on Nov. 29 to fill the remaining weeks of President Obama's Senate term, and next month he begins a full six-year term. After his speech, Kirk told me he figured he would get it out of the way now, because there will be about a dozen freshmen joining the Senate when the new session starts in January and they all will probably want to start off with a maiden speech.

Sen. Dick Durbin was in the chamber for the speech, and Kirk sent him compliments. "We have pledged to work closely on issues that will benefit the people of our state," Kirk said. Durbin is the Majority Whip -- the No. 2 leadership position in the Senate -- and Kirk noted he is "one of the few senators from Illinois to hold such a position of distinction."

Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel had a major goal going into Tuesday's residency hearing: stay calm, not blow up and display his temper. After 12 hours on the stand at the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners hearing--where he was subject to hostile, uninformed, off the subject and sometimes plain nutty questions, Emanuel kept his calm. Chicago Sun-Times political reporter Abdon M. Pallasch report is here.
Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel had a major goal going into Tuesday's residency hearing: stay calm, not blow up and display his temper. After 12 hours on the stand at the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners hearing--where he was subject to hostile, uninformed, off the subject and sometimes plain nutty questions, Emanuel kept his cool.

Chicago Sun-Times political reporter Abdon M. Pallasch report is here.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown writes here that the facts about Emanuel's residence in Chicago and Washington have never been in doubt--and takes a look at the fringe figures who had a field day taking pokes at the one-time White House Chief of Staff.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) announced on his Twitter account on Tuesday he will vote no on the Omnibus budget bill. He said, "Congressional leaders are putting forward a 1,924-page "Omnibus" Appropriation bill that few, if anyone has read. I will vote No.''

Kirk is in the Senate chamber now waiting to deliver his first floor speech.

Thumbnail image for rahmhearing.jpg

Questions--if you can call them that at Rahm Emanuel's Chicago mayor residency hearing--have been in left and right field for the past bit of time. I'm watching a live stream of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners hearing in Chicago--here is the link to ABC7--and a man just asked Emanuel about the 1993 shoot out in Waco, Texas. The man is asking rambling questions and hearing officer Joe Morris, with the patience of a saint, is begging him just to ask Emanuel a question. Emanuel is sitting there with a bemused look--between a smile and a smirk. In the background I see Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallasch and Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown.

Rahm Emanuel Residency hearing. Day 1

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Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel is testifying today at a residency hearing challenging his right to be on the ballot.

The Chicago Sun-Times Abdon M. Pallasch on-the-scene report is here.

Pallasch FAQ's about the residency fight is here.

My over-view story is here.

WASHINGTON-- Freshman Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) will deliver his first floor speech at 5 p.m. eastern time on Tuesday. Kirk was sworn-in on Nov. 29.

Last week, Kirk gave a speech on Iran to an outside group, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

WASHINGTON--As the Senate is poised to take up a controversial compromise tax deal--blasted by some on the left and on the right-- Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) summed it up this way for who it helps: "God bless Tiny Tim and Donald Trump."

Durbin made the quip in a Tuesday morning interview with Harry Smith on CBS, when he was asked to predict if the tax deal will pass the House. As of now, its fate is uncertain.

"Well, I can tell you that that vote last night in the Senate was overwhelming," Durbin said of the procedural vote to advance the legislation.

"When over 80 United States senators of both political parties support a measure, I think the House takes notice. But let me say, I understand the resistance in the House among some Democrats. You know, this bill, I think, gets high marks for economic stimulus, moving us forward and out of this recession. But in the spirit of the season, it does say, "God bless Tiny Tim and Donald Trump."

"It gives the wealthiest in America a tax break at a time when they don't need it, shouldn't have it. But it was part of the compromise the Republicans insisted on."

The deal, negotiated between President Obama and Republicans gives several tax breaks to the nation's wealthiest, in exchange for extension of jobless benefits and a shave in a payroll tax all earners have to pay. Thus the Tiny Tim and Trump comparison.

Smith asked, "But at the end of the day, will the House go along? Because it's clear that the senators are on board. Will the House do this, and will it get done by Christmas?"

Durbin predicted, "I think it will be done by Christmas. I think there may be several stages in this debate. But ultimately those who oppose it will have their day."

WASHINGTON -- The controversial $900 billion tax package President Obama negotiated with Republicans cleared a major hurdle in the Senate on Monday, setting the stage for passage later this week. The fate of the legislation in the House is uncertain.

The measure the Senate is poised to approve extends for two years Bush-era federal income tax cuts Republicans made a priority of getting for all income levels. At the top of objections from liberal Democrats was Obama handing Republicans a generous estate tax benefit -- with the rate to be 35 percent for estates valued at more than $5 million. In return, Obama won extension of unemployment benefits and a trim in payroll taxes for a year.

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House has the votes to ratify the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia, with the Senate preparing for a vote this week, the Sun-Times has learned. The debate could come as early as Wednesday, after the vote on the tax package Obama negotiated with the Republicans. The Senate on Monday was advancing the tax legislation, with enough votes to end debate.

The New START vote will proceed because of a loophole in the Nov. 29 letter all 42 Republicans signed not to advance legislation until the tax deal and government funding bills are passed. The Senate is tentatively set to take up the funding measure at the end of the week.

The Nov. 29 letter states that the GOP senators will "not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all Americans. THE LOOPHOLE: A vote to ratify a treaty is different under Senate rules than a vote to advance legislation, which needs a cloture vote. No cloture vote will be needed for the Senate to take up New START.

WASHINGTON--The Senate on Monday was headed to approving the tax package President Obama negotiated with Republicans with more than 60 senators moving to advance the legislation; 60 votes were needed to avoid a filibuster. The voting on the procedural issue will be open for a few more hours. The vote on the legislation itself may not occur until Wednesday. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) voted to advance the measure.

Kirk statement: "I voted for the bill to prevent a massive tax hike from hitting Illinois families and hurting our economy during this Great Recession. President Obama and Senate leaders agree that this legislation will help end the recession, adding jobs and restoring tax-rate certainty to this fragile economy. .....After enactment of this legislation, I will turn my attention to cutting federal spending, reducing the cost of Congress and the Executive branch to bring down the debt."

WASHINGTON--A new poll taken for Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel gives him a major lead over his competition, and raises the question of whether Emanuel could clinch the contest in the Feb. 22 primary outright with a majority vote.

The Emanuel poll was taken by his longtime pollsters, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, between Dec. 1 and 8. That was during a time when Chicago news outlets were running stories about Emanuel's residency challenge, the subject of hearings this week before the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

The sample size was big--1,020 likely voters 410 African American voters and 200 Latino voters. The margin of error overall survey results is plus or minus 3.07 percent; among African American voters plus or minus 4.84 percent and among Latin voters, 6.93 percent.

In the head to head horserace:

43 percent Emanuel
and basically a four-way tie for second place
11 percent Carol Moseley Braun
10 percent Danny Davis
9 percent Gery Chico
8 percent Miguel Del Valle
the others
7 percent James Meeks
1 percent Roland Burris
2 percent Other
7 percent Undecided

Emanuel's lead was large among blacks and Hispanics and in every area of the city except the West Side, where he is in a statistical tie with Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.).

Among blacks polled, Emanuel was at 39 percent to 21 percent for Davis, to 14 percent for Meeks, to 13 percent for Moseley Braun, to 3 percent for Chico, 2 percent for Burris and 7 percent at undecided.

Chicago City Clerk Miguel Del Valle is the top candidate of Hispanics surveyed, getting 37 percent of the Hispanic vote to 32 percent for Emanuel, 9 percent for Chico, 5 percent for Moseley Braun and everyone else under 4 percent.

I did not see the entire poll, I saw a summary prepared by Greenberg Quinlan with highlights from the survey; that summary did not include how the question was asked.

Emanuel is on the air in Chicago with a major commercial buy.

The Feb. 22 contest is a non-partisan primary. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote getters face off in an April 5 general election. So far, the contest is mainly a race for second place, with the hope of the number two survivor to live for another day and consolidate as a voting bloc Chicagoans who want an alternative to Emanuel for mayor.

The Emanuel poll shows pretty clearly that so far, no rival has been established as the viable alternative.

From the Greenberg Quinlan memo: Emanuel's "lead is built upon a very positive profile, with Emanuel by 91 percent of the voters, 54 percent offering warm or positive ratings and just 22 percent cool or negative ratings. Voters are much more mixed in their views of the other well known candidates including Moseley Braun, who garners net negative ratings (34 percent, 39 percent cool, 90 percent name identification), and Chico (25 percent warm, 22 percent cool, 65 percent name identification)."

stanley cup.jpegThe Stanley Cup in the Capitol. Rep. Mike Quigley (L), Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. Dick Durbin. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--The Blackhawk's Stanley Cup arrived in the Capitol on Monday, stopping at the House and Senate side, hosted by hockey fanatic Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) paid a visit to Durbin's office to check out the cup.

The Stanley Cup landed in Washington from a Canadian stand; it returns to Chicago after the D.C. visit.

WASHINGTON--Hours before a Senate vote on a tax compromise President Obama negotiated with Republicans, freshman Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is taking an e-mail survey that supposedly he will use to decide how to vote. "I will tell you where I stand when I hear from you," Kirk said in an e-mail sent out on Monday.

Kirk incorrectly describes the deal in his e-mail, when he makes a reference, not by name to the Bush era tax cuts that would expire at the end of the year if not extended. No one--Democrat or Republican--suggested that the breaks expire and taxes go up for all income brackets. At issue is whether the tax cuts should be extended for the wealthy. Obama and Democrats had wanted to extend the break to earners with incomes below $250,000 but as part of the compromise, Obama gave that up.

Kirk's explanation is just not accurate because it is so sweeping: "While many support this bipartisan bill, some House leaders say this legislation is misguided and taxes should go up."

In any event, sending out this e-mail to solicit input--when Kirk does not even provide the varied elements of the deal, including a cut in payroll taxes for a year--an item that will impact everyone who gets a paycheck--makes this e-mail gambit by Kirk even lamer.

e-mail from Kirk:

Should Congress Enact the Bipartisan Tax Bill

Dear Friends,

In 2001 and 2003, Congress passed tax relief measures helping taxpayers across the board. Rates were lowered for low-income, middle class and upper-income Americans to help the economy recover from the downturn caused by the "Dot-com" and September 11th blows to our national income. Unfortunately, this relief is scheduled to expire New Year's eve, triggering one of the biggest tax hikes in U.S. history.

If allowed to occur, tax rates would go up for nearly all Americans who pay taxes. Low-income Americans would see their taxes go up from 10% of income to 15%. The top rate would go up from 36 to over 39%. The marriage tax penalty (charging married couples more than two singles filing independently) would reappear, along with the death tax jumping from 0% to 55%. The capital gains rate would increase from 15% to 20% coupled with dividend tax rates more than doubling for some taxpayers - hurting seniors and Americans nearing retirement most.

After a long debate, the President and Congressional leaders proposed bipartisan legislation to ensure the U.S. economy does not suffer a $4 trillion tax-hike shock and risk starting another recession. A new compromise would extend current rates for two years and reform the death tax to exempt the first $5 million, followed by a 35% tax rate. While many support this bipartisan bill, some House leaders say this legislation is misguided and taxes should go up.

Should Congress enact the bipartisan tax bill proposed by President Obama and Senate leaders?
Don't Know
I will tell you where I stand when I hear from you.

Thank you for taking the time to share your views with me on this issue. Please feel free to contact me by phone at (202) 224-2854 or (312) 886-3506, or through our website at

It is an honor to serve you in the Senate.

Very truly yours,

Mark Kirk
U.S. Senate

First Lady Michelle Obama joins President Obama at the food bill signing on Monday morning at a Washington school.

Excerpt from her speech:

"We can all agree that here in the wealthiest nation on earth, all children should have the basic nutrition they need to learn and grow and pursue their dreams. ... And that's why we've seen such a groundswell of support for these efforts ... From educators working to provide healthier school meals ... From doctors and nurses who know that unhealthy kids grow into unhealthy adults ... From business and labor leaders who know that we spend nearly $150 billion a year to treat these diseases ... From advocates and faith leaders who know that school meals are vital for combating child hunger ... "And from military leaders who tell us that when more than one in four young people are unqualified for military service because of their weight, childhood obesity isn't just a public health threat -- it's not just an economic threat -- it's a national security threat as well. These folks come at this issue from all different angles. But they've come together to support this bill ... And they know that in the long run, it won't just save money, it will save lives."

On Nov. 29, the day Sen. Mark Kirk was sworn into office, he signed a letter with all the other Senate Republicans promising not to act on any legislation until the Senate voted on government funding measures and to extend the Bush era tax federal income tax breaks. By signing the letter, Kirk stuck with his GOP leadership the first day on the job. But there is a real life consequence for 9/11 responders because of Kirk's self-imposed pledge.

During the hard fought Illinois general election Senate race -- and during his House career representing Illinois' 10th congressional district -- Kirk touted his moderate credentials, citing votes where he broke with the GOP, such as on stem cell research.

One of these break-from-the-pack votes occurred on Sept. 29, in the heat of the campaign when Kirk was appealing to Democratic and independent voters in Illinois. On that day, Kirk was one of only 17 Republicans in the House -- and the only Republican in the Illinois delegation -- to vote for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010.

Meeks on Rahm Emanuel education plan

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Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel's residency challenge heats up this week, with a hearing starting before the Chicago Board of Elections. Chicago Sun-Times Abdon M. Pallasch story about Emanuel amending his federal income tax returns over his residence is here.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent who sides with the Senate Democrats, stood for more than eight hours on Friday (no food, no bathroom break) to deliver a filibuster-style speech protesting the tax deal President Obama made with Republicans. Read Politics Daily's Patricia Murphy's report here.

WASHINGTON--President Obama pushed the Senate to ratify the New START treaty with Russia before the Christmas break, repeating his prediction in an NPR interview aired on Friday the measure will pass.

"Well, the START treaty is something that I absolutely think has to get done before Congress leaves for Christmas vacation. It is good for our national security. It allows us to verify what's going on with respect to nuclear weapons in Russia," Obama said.

Obama added, "And my understanding is, is that we have a number of Republicans, starting with Richard Lugar - somebody who, by the way, on my first trip abroad, I accompanied to Russia to talk about nuclear proliferation issues. He's been a great champion of this treaty. We're going to keep on working the numbers. And hopefully, we're going to be able to get it done."

My column on the split over START among some Senate Republicans and members of the GOP national security establishment is here.

My column on the Obama White House wooing freshman Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to support the treaty is here.

My Feb. 9, 2006 post about then Sen. Obama and Sen. Lugar working on proliferation issues is here.

WASHINGTON -- In a raucus caucus meeting on Thursday, House Democrats rejected the tax deal President Obama negotiated with Republicans, meaning that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will not bring the package to the floor as it is.

However, House members and the Obama team anticipate the package -- with some changes -- to pass because Republicans are expected to add votes to take the place of every defecting Democrat. Republicans will have to put votes up to show it is a true compromise.

One possible sweetner for Democrats who say Obama caved to Republicans: The Sun-Times has learned a green renewable energy jobs tax credit may be added to the package.

WASHINGTON--The Senate failed on Thursday to advance "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" legislation to allow gays to serve openly in the military in a 57-40 vote. The DADT repeal measure was part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011. The vote was on allowing the bill to advance without threat of a filibuster; as a practical matter, the issue is kicked over until next year, when it will be harder to pass in the new Congress.

The Illinois senators split on the vote: Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, voted yes. Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican sworn into office on Nov. 29, voted no. During the campaign, Kirk declined to say if he supported DADT, saying he wanted to wait for the Pentagon study to be complete. Kirk's no vote as a policy matter does not reveal wheather he is for or against repealing DADT; rather, his position is the Senate in the lame duck session first has to vote on a tax package and on bills to keep the government operating. As a practical matter, however, voting no because of displeasure over the process--the sequence of voting on bills--had the practical impact of killing repeal for now.

Kirk statement, issued before the DADT vote, about what he called "regarding today's Senate procedural votes:

"The Senate's top priority should be to prevent a large tax increase from hitting families and small business employers on January 1st. I promised the people of Illinois that Job #1 would be jobs. I support the President's proposal and will vote today to ensure the bipartisan tax bill takes precedence before considering non-economic legislation, including items I support like the 9/11 victims health bill."

WASHINGTON--Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) in the new Congress will become the chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity. With the GOP House takeover, Republicans will become chairs of House committees, so leadership on the panels takes on extra significance.

Comptroller Dan Hynes endorsed Rahm Emanuel for Chicago mayor on Thursday. Hynes vouching for Emanuel is helpful in Hynes' native Southwest Side as well as on his adopted North Side. Hynes, who grew up in the 19th Ward, will stump for Emanuel on the South and Southwest sides on Saturday.

Hynes is a big name in Illinois politics. He ran for governor in the February Democratic primary and for Senator in the 2004 Senate primary President Obama won. Hynes' brother, Matt, is a paid Emanuel campaign advisor.

Hynes statement:

"The challenges facing the city of Chicago are great, and Rahm Emanuel is the candidate with the strength, experience and determination to meet them," said Hynes. "Throughout his career, Rahm has fought tirelessly on behalf of average Chicagoans and Americans, whether it was taking on the NRA to prevent criminals from obtaining guns or taking on the federal bureaucracy to make it easier for college students to apply for financial aid. His plans to make our streets safe, our schools strong, and our city finances stable are what Chicago needs at this critical time."

Rahm is honored by the Comptroller's endorsement. "Comptroller Hynes has been a constant check on mismanagement in Illinois government, as the architect of the ban on pay-to-play and an advocate for government transparency and fiscal responsibility. I am honored to have his support as I work to bring greater accountability to city government and end business as usual in Chicago."

Hynes will join Rahm for campaign events on the South and Southwest sides on Saturday.


WASHINGTON--Headaches ahead for the Obama White House; House Democrats in a meeting on Thursday rejected the tax deal President Obama's team negotiated with Republicans.

Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, former U. of Chicago professor, explains on his whiteboard Obama tax deal compromise with Republicans. He's selling, House Democrats are not buying.

Chicago mayoral candidate Gery Chico's video, above, is about "trackers" at his events sent by Rahm Emanuel's mayoral campaign. Assigning "trackers" to monitor rival events is now standard for a lot of campaigns--but usually trackers are told to properly identify themselves when asked. In the video, Emanuel trackers clearly do not do that.


Emanuel spokesman Ben LaBolt said in reply to the video, "If attending a public event to see what is said about the campaign is espionage, Tom Clancy is going to be mighty disappointed."

WASHINGTON--Democrat House progressives are unhappy with the tax compromise President Obama cut with Republicans, including four from Illinois, Danny Davis, Luis Gutierrez, Jesse Jackson Jr. and Jan Schakowsky. The White House is organizing a massive drive to get it passed. If the tax package does not change, will they vote yes or no?

WASHINGTON--The House passed the DREAM Act on Wednesday--allowing undocumented students to remain in the U.S.--but the immigration measure, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) faces an uphill battle when the Senate takes it up on Thursday. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has signaled he will vote against the bill.

Obama on House passing DREAM Act

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Democrats _ Bean, Y; Costello, N; Davis, Y; Foster, Y; Gutierrez, Y; Halvorson, Y; Hare, Y; Jackson, Y; Lipinski, N; Quigley, Y; Rush, Y; Schakowsky, Y.

Republicans _ Biggert, N; Johnson, N; Manzullo, N; Roskam, N; Schock, N; Shimkus, N.

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House on Wednesday was defending President Obama's tax compromise with Republicans--which has drawn criticism from Democrats--by highlighting support from a variety of Democratic mayors and governors the Obama team is collecting.

So far we have not heard from Chicago's Mayor Daley. Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney asked about Illinois Gov. Quinn and got this reply from a spokesman:

"Governor Quinn is strongly supportive of President Obama and his commitment to bolstering our nation's economic recovery. The Governor supports extending unemployment benefits for the hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents who are without work. The Quinn administration will closely review and follow the federal legislation once it has been introduced. Without an extension of unemployment benefits, more than 260,000 Illinois residents would exhaust their benefits by the end of February."

Rahm Emanuel's Rose Garden Strategy

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Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel, the frontrunner, is picking and choosing what joint forums and debates he will appear in with his rivals, reports the Chicago Sun-Times Abdon M. Pallasch. Typical frontrunner message management strategy

Elizabeth Edwards: Her life

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WASHINGTON--White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod hit the morning news shows on Wednesday to defend the tax deal President Obama cut with Republicans--drawing criticism from his own Democratic base, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)

On CNN, Axelrod said, "I think what -- I think it is a good deal in the sense that not only are we extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class, but also we're extending tax cuts that we passed two years ago to help people with their college tuition, to help families with children. And there are additional things in here that will -- there's an additional payroll tax cut for -- that will help middle class people across this country.

"So what I'm saying is at a time when our economy needs additional energy, when people are struggling, that this is enormously helpful and the opposite would be true if we don't do it."

On MSNBC, Schakowsky said, "I think that we still feel that it is not a done deal, and we're going to work toward making some changes.

".... But I still think that we might be able to make some changes. I think if we get rid of the estate tax changes, if we, perhaps, add to $250 for Social Security beneficiaries who haven't seen a COLA increase for the last two years.

"In other words, I think there is still some negotiating to be done and still get it all done by the end of this lame-duck session. "

IMG_2406.JPGFirst Lady Chief of Staff Susan Sher, (l), her son, author Graham Moore (center) White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett (r) at Washington book party for Moore's book, "The Sherlockian" (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Susan Sher is First Lady Michelle Obama's chief of staff, but the title that seems most apt for her lately is proud mom: Sher's son, first-time novelist Graham Moore, author of "The Sherlockian" was feted twice here: at the residence of the vice president last Wednesday and at book party Monday that drew a "who's who's" crowd.

Second Lady Jill Biden hosted a rare personal party in the home--well decorated for the holidays, down to stockings on the fireplace--a tribute to her friendship with Sher, who is stepping down early next year and returning to Chicago.

What everybody who gets a paycheck gets in Obama tax deal: This agreement includes a 2 percent payroll tax cut for employees. Quite simply, under current law, employees pay 6.2 percent for Social Security. This proposal would be that for the year 2011, they would pay at a 4.2 percent tax level. So that means that a worker making $40,000 would get $800 in tax relief. A worker making $70,000 would get $1,400 in tax relief.

White House view on politics of the compromise and lame duck congressional session: This was a deal just simply to resolve the tax issue. It should not have impacts on the other things the President wants to get done in the lame duck session. Obviously that includes START, the DREAM Act, and the defense authorization bill, including the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." The President still strongly supports all three of those things and is going to work to try to accomplish them in the Senate.

Obama's tax cut deal. Transcript


Sen. Dick Durbin brings donuts to freshman Sen. Mark Kirk's Senate office (photo courtesy of Durbin office)

WASHINGTON--Freshman Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) will join Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in continuing a long-time tradition of the senators from Illinois hosting a constitutient coffee weekly when the Senate is in session for Illinoisans visiting the Capitol.

On Monday, Durbin and his chief of staff, Patrick Souders, carried donuts over to Kirk's Senate Russell Building office to greet the new senator, sworn in last week, and his staff. The two agreed to host the coffee and donut sessions usually held on Thursdays.

It is fairly rare for both senators of a state to do events together and Illinois is a proud exception: the coffees started with the late Sen. Paul Simon and former Sen. Alan J. Dixon. Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and Simon were the next pair followed by Braun and Durbin; Durbin and former Sen. Peter Fitgerald, the first Republican in the mix followed by Durbin and now President Obama. Durbin and former Sen. Roland Burris were next and now Durbin and Republican Kirk are the new pair.

The breakfasts are chances for anyone from Illinois to talk directly to their senators and their top staffers about any problem or issue without any need at all for an appointment-- or a professional lobbyist to get involved.

Durbin and Kirk will restart the breakfasts starting in January, after the new Congress is sworn-in

Later in the day, both Senators were scheduled to attend the White House Christmas party for members of Congress. Kirk was taking his 16-year-old niece from North Carolina.

rahm housedc1.JPG Rahm Emanuel's Washington D.C. rented residence (photo by Lynn Sweet)

rahm housedc 2.JPGRahm Emanuel's car with Illinois plates in the driveway of his Washington residence (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--While the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners on Monday started to hear challenges from folks trying to knock mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel off the ballot on residency grounds, I checked out his Washington rented home in the Woodley Park neighborhood, across the street from the Washington National Cathedral.

For those trying to make a case that Emanuel moved permanently to Washington: the car in his driveway has Illinois plates. According to the Illinois Secretary of State, the car, described as a "2009 Mercury" on Illinois records, is registered to Emanuel at his new Chicago address: 754 N. Milwaukee.

That's where Emanuel moved to because the home he owns at 4228 N. Hermitage was rented to one Rob Halpin after Emanuel relocated to Washington to serve as President Obama's chief of staff. The car title registration is still at the Hermitage address. The vehicle is leased to Emanuel, according to state records. The car was never registered anywhere else.

Halpin surprised everyone by filing petitions to run for mayor. On Monday, as my Sun-Times colleague Abdon M. Pallasch reports, Halpin dropped his bid for mayor.

WASHINGTON -- In office less than a week, Sen. Mark Kirk has been called by a variety of top Obama White House national security officials in a bid to win his vote for an arms control treaty with Russia known as New START.

Vice President Joseph Biden --who swore in Kirk Monday -- told the Chicago Sun-Times, "I hope, I hope the new senator will feel satisfied as the debate begins, God willing it begins, in talking to his colleagues who have been working on this a long time."

After Kirk won election in November, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called to congratulate him -- and "put in a good word on START and to offer a briefing," said Brian McKeon, Biden's national security adviser. This week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper phoned Kirk. He also got a call from Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

Rahm Emanuel's "birthers"

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Hat tip to Politico's Ben Smith: One of the objectors to Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel's nominating petition, trying to kick him off the ballot, Alfredo Castillo, is demanding a certified of his birth certificate.

Hearings on challenges begin today at the Chicago Board of Elections

Read Sun-Times story about Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel's environmental plan here.

Read Sun-Times story about Chico's law firm's lobbying business here.

WASHINGTON--The House is headed to a vote on the DREAM Act this week in the lame duck session. Whether the measure, to allow students in the U.S. illegally to stay, can pass is still not clear. The DREAM Act faces a tough time in the Senate.

Meek Chicago Mayoral Dec. 6 schedule

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Obama Dec. 6 week ahead

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WASHINGTON--President Obama issued nine pardons on Friday--these were his first-- including a Rockford woman convicted on drug charges.

"The President was moved by the strength of the applicants' post-conviction efforts at atonement, as well as their superior citizenship and individual achievements in the years since their convictions," the White House said in a statement about his pardon decision.

Click below for the list...

WASHINGTON--President Obama is in Afghanistan, in a three-hour holiday visit with the troops that has been planned for a month but unannounced until his arrival at Bagram AFB, were he will remain.

The "primary focus of the trip is to meet with and thank US troops," the White House said; Obama will also video teleconference with Afghan President Karzai from Bagram."

For details, click below....

WASHINGTON--The Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday--in a second day of hearings on the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the ban on allowing gays to serve openly in the military heard from the top leaders of each service branch.

Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Amos-as expected--said in his testimony the repeal should not be implemented at this time, what with half of the Marine Corps engaged in war fighting efforts.

He said in prepared testimony a Pentagon survey on the repeal--which recommended the ban be lifted--found Marines in particular "viewed repeal negatively regarding unit effectiveness, unit readiness and cohesion."

Amos added, "Their message to me is that the potential exists for disruption to the successful execution of our current combat mission should repeal be implemented at this time."

At the fiscal commission meeting; Sen. Dick Durbin back, right, Rep. Jan Schakowsky right; standing in back commission co-chairs former Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, talking to Schakowsky (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--The bi-partisan fiscal commission is having its last meeting Friday morning in the Dirksen Senate office building. There are not a supermajority of votes--14 out of 18--for the commission report on curbing the federal defict and spending to be sent to the Senate.

But there was a majority--the final tally was 11-7, with six elected lawmakers, three Democrats and three Republicans supporting the suggestions for the spending cuts and tax hike package. Read the report here

Two Illinois Democrats on the panel split: Sen. Dick Durbin is a yes and Rep. Jan Schakowsky is a no.

"A strong bi-partisan coalition has already voted for this plan," co-chair Erskine Bowles said. "...This plan will make an important first step forward....the nation will "understand the peril" of ever increasing debt," he said.

Durbin caught flak, he said, from his progessive supporters for backing the report, which includes medical malpractice reforms and curbs on social safety net spending. He explained why: he saw the report as a first step--not a final one--to addressing the problem.

"And so I've received a few phone calls in the last 24 hours," Durbin said. "And some of my closest friends and allies in politics can't understand this. They have said, why is a progressive like Dick Durbin voting for this deficit-commission report? Well, here's why.

"I believe that politicians on the left and the right, Democrats and Republicans, have to acknowledge the deficit crisis our nation faces. When we borrow 40 cents out of every dollar we spend, whether it's in the Pentagon or for food stamps, that's unsustainable. And being indebted for generations to China, OPEC and other nations around the
world will not allow us to build a fair and just America.

"When we engage in the critical decisions about our nation's future budgets, I want progressive voices at the table to argue that we must protect the most vulnerable in our society and demand fairness in budget cuts. Today with my vote, I'm claiming a seat at that table.

"To use an analogy that only a senator might use, I don't view this as a vote on final passage. I wouldn't vote for this commission report on final passage, but I do believe it's a vote on a motion to proceed, to begin the debate. This is a report that is meant to
kick start an adult debate on the debt that the United States Congress absolutely must face. That's why I'm voting yes," Durbin said.

Schakowsky said the plan went too far in "eroding the middle class in America" and the "alarming redistribution of wealth that is shrinking the middle class," noting that Congress is balking over extending unemployment benefits.

While there is talk about shared sacrifice, "I ask, painful for whom?" Schakowsky said. Schakowsky authored a plan that revives the public option and cap and trade climate programs.

The plan asks Medicare beneficiaries to pay more out of their own pockets, cuts Medicare by imposing higher cost-sharing requirements and shaves Social Security benefits."We don't need to cut Social Security in order to save it," she said.

But the commission has proven that having the discussion about fiscal restraint is not "mission impossible," she said.

Commission co-chair former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican, speaking of Durbin, said
"Everyone of us has cast tough votes, maybe the toughest of your, careers, but I must single out one person. I served in the U.S. Senate for 18 years, 10 years as assistant majority and minority leader under Bob Dole, and I always enjoyed the assistant majority leader role much more than the other.

"But the role of the leader is to lead, and you did, Dick Durbin. You and I have worked on feckless causes before. How about Americans for Campaign Reform? That was a dazzler. You can see how well we've done there ---- and -- but again, the leader.
And to have five of the six senators appointed support this remarkable plan is very special. But I just leave you with one thought, Dick. The tallest tree catches the most wind, and the breezes are going to blow around your head."

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House is kicking off the holiday party season. For my report on the decorations, click here. For some inexplicable reason, the White House will not release the exact number of holiday parties. I am told about 20.

WASHINGTON---Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of 18 members of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, will vote yes on Friday on a package of recommendations to cut the deficit and reign in federal spending. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, another commission member (D-Ill.) earlier said she vote no. The report needs 14 votes in order for the suggestions to be taken up by the Senate.

On Wednesday, Durbin discussed his concerns during a commission meeting; my report on Durbin and why Schakowsky is voting no is here.

hanukkah party.JPG
At the White House Hanukkah party: Chicagoans Rabbi Capers C. Funnye, Jr., Marcia Balonick and Jane Ramsey (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--In a room heavily decorated for Christmas, President Obama and First Lady Michelle hosted a Hanukkah Party on the second night of the Jewish festival.

There was a heavy contingent of Chicagoans spotted in the East Room event, packed with about 500 people, including Rabbi Capers C. Funnye, Jr. who is Mrs. Obama's cousin. Funnye is the rabbi of Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation at 6601 S. Kedzie in Chicago.

Funnye told me this was his third White House Hanukkah party--not only last year with cousin Michelle--the Bush White House invited him in 2007.

Among the other Chicagoans at the party: Jane Ramsey, Judy Gold, Marcia Balonick, state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, Neil Bluhm, Alan Solow and Jon Medline.

Among the others present: the three Jewish Supreme Court justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

Unlike last year, there was a photo line with the president, who greeted his guests with Mrs. Obama for remarks and a menorah lighting. Quipped Obama, who was elbowed last weekend in a basketball game and required stitches, "Yes, they will be able to photo shop my lip for the picture.

Saxophonist Joshua Redman played a poignant "Rock of Ages," a traditional Hanukkah song and the Marine Band in the foyer was playing a medley of Hanukkah tunes.

In addition to a lavish spread of small lamb chops and sushi--everything was glatt kosher--waiters passed trays of small latkes.

hannukkah party2.JPG (photo by Lynn Sweet)

Click below for menu and other details of the 2010 Obama White House Hanukkah party

WASHINGTON--Incoming House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday cranked up resistance to President Obama's opposition to extend the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy.
Boehner called a plan for a lame duck session House vote on continuing the tax break only for those earning under $250,000 "chicken crap."
Politics Daily Patricia Murphy has the report.

WASHINGTON--The Senate is holding two days of hearings on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the wake of a Pentagon survey released this week recommending that gays be allowed to openly serve in the military. At a Thursday hearing, Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) tangles with Defense Sec. Robert Gates over repeal, which Gates is for and McCain, a Navy veteran, is against.

Click below for McCain/Gates exchange.....

below from Emanuel, Chico campaigns......


This afternoon, Rahm Emanuel will lay out his plan to change the culture of city government.

1:15 PM CST
Union League Club
French Room
65 West Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL

Gery Chico to discuss his ethics reform proposals

WHAT: After laying out a series of ethics proposals earlier this week, mayoral candidate Gery Chico will share some remarks and take questions from the media.

WHEN: 2 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 2

WHERE: Northwestern University Law School (357 E. Chicago Ave.)

WASHINGTON--President Obama is being hit from the left by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee--urging no compromise with Republicans over extending the Bush income tax cuts for earners above $250,000. The group is running the spots in D.C. and added Iowa after some $50,000 in donations came through on the first day the spot was released.

schakowsky.jpeg (AP)

WASHINGTON -- After its meeting on Wednesday, it's not clear whether an 18-member bipartisan panel created to make tough choices about reining in the federal budget and reducing the deficit -- Illinois Democrats Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Jan Schakowsky are on it -- can find the 14 members needed to agree on a recommendation package to send to the Senate.

President Obama created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform last February. It was supposed to complete its mission by Wednesday. The final report, unveiled Wednesday, was e-mailed to commission members and staffers at 4 a.m. Because of the difficulty of getting agreement, the final vote was kicked over until Friday.

Schakowsky is a firm no -- the only proclaimed no so far -- and Durbin is undecided. Only seven said they would embrace the report. Schakowsky and Durbin, two progressive Democrats, share a concern that fiscal sacrifices not "disproportionately impact," as Durbin put it during the meeting, the elderly, the poor and children.

Durbin did not agree with a medical malpractice reform proposal that was part of the package. He said his "friends on the left" may be surprised that he favored a gradual increase in the Social Security retirement age. Under current law, the age increases to 67 in 2027. Proposed is making the national retirement age 68 in 2050 and 69 in 2075. Hardly "radical," Durbin said.

Schakowsky told me the proposals do nothing to address the "growing disparity" between the incomes of the rich, poor and middle class. There is nothing in the plan, she said, to "get money into people's pockets." Schakowsky crafted her own plan--released last month--that focused on economic growth by 2015 without curbing seniors' out-of-pocket Medicare costs.

"We talk about shared sacrifice. I think these numbers indicate that sacrifice, in fact, has not been shared, that some people have lost and others have significantly gained over the last several years. So we're not starting at the same point when we say we need to share the sacrifice," Schakowsky said at the meeting.

The final report -- close to a draft version released last month by commission chairmen former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican, and Erskine Bowles, President Clinton's former chief of staff -- needs the approval of 14 of the 18 members, and it seems unlikely the votes are there.

One big change: a suggestion to kill the mortgage interest tax deduction was withdrawn, replaced with a proposed 12 percent mortgage interest tax credit, with no credit for second residences.

Illinois will have a new civil union law: read the Sun-Times report here.

WASHINGTON--In an effort to help out tourism in the Hurricane Katrina-stricken Gulf Coast, the White House mess (restaurant) is featuring a regional menu.

Here is White House Chef Cristeta Comerford's Gulf Shrimp Cocktail recipe she will be serving at the White House holiday parties:

Gulf Shrimp Cocktail (Serves 6)

For the shrimp:

¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup kosher salt
1 lemon halved
2 lbs large shrimp in the shell
For the Cocktail Sauce:

½ cup chili sauce
3 tbsp prepared horseradish
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp hot sauce

Add the vinegar, salt and a halved lemon into a large pot of boiling water. Add the shrimp, and cook for about three minutes, or until the shells turn pink. Remove with a slotted spoon into a bowl of iced water. When the shrimp are cool enough, peel the shells and devein. Keep refrigerated until service. For the cocktail sauce, combine all the remaining ingredients and set aside.


Cris Comerford is the White House Executive Chef

A homeless sex offender--who can't be found--signed off as a petition passer for two Chicago mayoral candidates--state Sen. James Meeks and Rob Halpin, the man who rented out mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel's Chicago home. Halpin, in a surprise move, filed to run for mayor, in a candidacy where he clearly is a put up contender. Halpin has no real campaign, staff, fund-raising program or agenda--except, it seems, to be a spoiler for Emanuel. Getting on the Chicago ballot is not easy--12,500 valid signatures from registered Chicago voters are needed.

Chicago Sun-Times Wednesday story on Halpin, Meeks petition problems is here.
Excerpt: "A notary public says her signature was forged on 400-plus nominating petition sheets filed by Chicago mayoral hopefuls Rob Halpin and James Meeks -- a development that raises new questions for the supposedly rival candidates.

"A signature and notary seal for Maricela Rodriguez appear on more than 25 percent of Halpin's 1,185 petitions, including 266 circulated by a homeless sex offender, Arthur J. Hardy Jr."

Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday story about homeless sex offender circulating petitions for Meeks, Halpin is here.

Greta Van Susteren interviewed freshman Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) on Tuesday.

Kirk talked about the introduction of his first Senate bill--turning over decisions about deficit reduction to a commission, taking the power away from lawmakers--and reminds all for no particular reason that was obvious-- that President Obama lost a House race in the year 2000--the same year Kirk won his House seat.

excerpt...."First of all the president and I ran for Congress the same year. I won and he was defeated. He then ran and won the Senate race and become our president. This is his so-called Senate seat, although I would argue it's the seat owned by the people of Illinois."

Kirk's first bill:

Title: A bill to establish the Grace Commission II to review and make recommendations regarding cost control in the Federal Government, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen Kirk, Mark Steven 1 [IL] (introduced 11/30/2010) Cosponsors (None)
Latest Major Action: 11/30/2010 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

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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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