Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

March 2011 Archives

WASHINGTON--President Obama will register as a 2012 re-election candidate as early as next week, I've learned, with the Federal Election Commission filing possibly coming as early as Monday.

Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan told me, "no decision has been made." But I've heard from a campaign insider that the papers will be quietly filed in a few days with more of a kick off--via an Obama video and or text message--- to come later.

As I've reported, Obama will be in Chicago on April 14 for the fund-raising launch events to fund his bid for a second term, with events in Los Angeles and San Francisco on April 19 and 20. Obama will be in New York at the end of the month. The FEC registration clears the way for the Obama team to start collecting contributions for the Obama 2012 Victory fund which is being established.

My March 30 column with scoops on Obama 2012 fund-raising and other re-election campaign details is here.


My March 28 column with my scoop about the Obama 2012 national headquarters in Chicago's Prudential Building is here.


Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @lynnsweet

WASHINGTON--While President Obama's ratings have taken a dip lately, a new poll released Thursday by Harvard University's Institute of Politics finds Obama is improving his standing among the nation's youth. Recapturing the youth movement is a priority of the Obama 2012 campaign; the Obama White House this week stepped up its outreach to youths. Another reveal from the IOP survey: Some 90 percent of college students are on Facebook; that will be a factor in 2012 political communication. It's not just e-mail anymore.


From the IOP: "A new national poll of America's 18 to 29 year olds by
Harvard's Institute of Politics (IOP), located at the John F. Kennedy School of
Government,
now finds a majority of Millennials (55%) approve of the job
performance of President Barack Obama, a rise of six percentage points from IOP
polling conducted last October. The President's job approval rating among
students on four-year college campuses - now 60% - increased even more (nine
percentage points) over the same period."

WASHINGTON--The defection of a key Gaddafi aide--Foreign Minister Moussa Kusa--seen as a mastermind behind the Pan Am 103 bombing--is a "significant blow," to Gaddafi, the Obama White House said Thursday morning.

From Tommy Vietor, National Security Council Spokesman: "This is a major defection and a significant blow to the Gaddafi regime. Moussa Kusa is one of Gaddafi's most trusted aides who can help provide critical intelligence about Gaddafi's current state of mind and military plans. It also demonstrates that the people around Gaddafi understand his regime is in disarray. As the President said the other night, 'it should be clear to those around Gaddafi, and to every Libyan, that history is not on his side.' The people around Gaddafi have to choose whether to place their bet on a regime that has lost all legitimacy and face grave consequences, or get on the right side of history. Moussa Kusa's decision shows which way the wind is blowing in Tripoli."

=

WASHINGTON---Freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) scolded President Obama while discussing the possibility of an April 8 government shutdown with Fox's Greta Van Susteren on her "On the Record" show Wednesday night.

"I've been very clear, Greta, that the president of the United States should be ashamed of himself because he isn't even participating in the seriousness of these talks," Walsh said.

Walsh was apparently unaware that Vice President Biden on Wednesday night was at the U.S. Capitol trying to broker a deal and that White House chief of staff Bill Daley has also been deeply involved in trying to avoid a shutdown. Biden on Wednesday night reported "progress" but warned, "it's not a deal until it's a whole deal."

Walsh--who beat former Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) by only 291 votes last November in the far north suburban Chicago district, fueled by Tea Party activists--criticized Biden for not being involved in the negotiations-- on the very day he was.

Said Walsh on Wednesday, "Vice president Biden said he would be involved. The next day he flew out of the country. I've been saying for a few weeks that the Democrats' only card is to shut down the government. They've lost the substance of this argument. All they want to do is make the Republicans look like the bad guys."

Walsh's dated reference: After Obama made Biden the point man on the budget, earlier in March Biden traveled to Russia, Finland and Moldova for a week.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday night, Biden talked to reporters at the Capitol "I think we're making good progress. We're all working off the same number now, $73 billion.... The appropriations committees met today. Obviously, there's a difference in the composition of that number -- what's included, what's not included. It's going to be a thorough negotiation. We're getting back -- we got to roll up our sleeves. They're going back, meeting tomorrow morning at what, 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m. -- whatever it is tomorrow morning."

WASHINGTON--Donald Trump, mulling a GOP presidential run, actually said there was a "good chance" President Obama was not born in the U.S.A. during an interview with Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie on their MSNBC show Thursday morning, which makes Trump either part of the birther fringe or a free-wheeling promoter of NBC's the "Celebrity Apprentice."

"We all agree he was born," Trump said. Trump's point: Team Obama never came up with papers from a Honolulu hospital documenting Obama's birth. The state of Hawaii did issue a certificate of Obama's birth, which the Obama 2008 presidential campaign released. The best evidence attesting to Obama's Hawaii birth: a birth announcement printed shortly after his Aug., 4, 1961, birth in the Honolulu Advertiser on Aug. 13, 1961.

announcementclose-up.jpg

Trump said he will decide on a president run prior to June.

FACTCHECK.ORG ON OBAMA'S BIRTH

WASHINGTON--The Obama administration is resisting calling the Libya attacks a war. President Obama did not use that word in his Monday address to the nation on Libya and at the Wednesday briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney deflected a question about Libya from a reporter: "Is it a war?"

Replied Carney, "Look, it is a -- obviously, it's military action. Did we invade Libya? No. Are we -- do we have U.S. troops on the ground in Libya? No. You can call it -- it's been a false argument that some media outlets have tried to engage about the nomenclature here. It is the use of military force in concert with our allies. Military force is inherently a risky proposition, puts men and women in harm's way, and military -- but what it is not is in the context that we live in today, anything like a situation where you had I believe at one point 170,000-plus U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq; where you have 100,000 U.S. troops and 140,000 ISAF troops overall in Afghanistan in a prolonged engagement, a prolonged war. That is not what is happening in Libya.

"The President made very clear how this is not at all like that. You can call it what you want, but it's not analogous."


Whether from the air, sea or land, when U.S. soldiers are shooting at foreign targets--is it a war?

WASHINGTON--Caroline Kennedy's 2008 endorsement of then Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) came at a crucial time during the Democratic primary season, where Obama was battling then Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) On Tuesday night, Obama tapped Kennedy husband Edwin Schlossberg as a member of the Commission of Fine Arts.


And Obama appointed Chicagoan Deepa Gupta, as a member of the National Council on the Arts. Gupta is a Program Officer for Media, Culture and Special Initiatives at the Chicago based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

WASHINGTON--A new Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday concludes that President Obama's ratings have declined--and he may be in trouble with independents.

Over at pollwatchdaily.com, Bruce Drake takes a look at the Quinnipiac survey conducted March 22-28 --and puts it in the context of other Obama presidential polling.

Quinnipiac on Wednesday:
42 percent Obama approve
48 percent Obama disapprove
10 percent undecided

Click below for PDF of Quinnipiac U. poll

033011_NAT_PRES_+_BP.doc

WASHINGTON--White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, who is also Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, answers questions about women in the workplace at 5:05 p.m. est. Click here to watch it live.

WASHINGTON -- On Monday I revealed that the Obama 2012 campaign is kicking off with a series of fund-raisers starting in Chicago on April 14 and now I have more details: President Obama hits California on April 20 and 21 for fund-raisers in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The date Obama registers as a 2012 candidate with the Federal Election Commission is soon, I've heard, though "no decision has been made," said Democratic National Committee Press Secretary Hari Sevugan. Anyway, there is no real suspense. Everyone knows Obama is running for a second term. There are a few considerations for the final timing, especially if there is a government shutdown as a result of congressional budget battles, or if the Libya military action takes an unexpected turn for the worse.

Still, there will be some hoopla surrounding the "official" announcement, and in the planning stages are a string of "official" launch events, in a variety of apps, in the e-world and the real one. Marc Ambinder over at the Atlantic says the re-elect team wants to keep the announcement date a "secret" so they can first send out e-mails or text messages to supporters. Stringing out the announcement (sign up and be the first to know!) will help Obama 2012 organization build its lists.

The Obama team has fund-raising as a top priority. Obama's main war chest for a second term, I'm told, will be called the "Obama Victory Fund 2012. On Tuesday, Vice President Biden prospected in Washington with about 75 big wallet Democrats, while Obama raised $1.5 million at a fund-raiser in New York City for the Democratic National Committee, his main political operation until the re-elect is created.

The Chicago visit will likely consist of two events: a very high-dollar dinner and a lower-end reception. Remember: it was Chicago's elite donors who bankrolled Obama at the start of his 2008 presidential campaign.

The Chicago national Obama 2012 headquarters, I scooped Monday, will be in the Prudential Building. More details:

† The Obama 2012 ground game will start soon -- as early as May, a source told me, with re-elect staffers setting up shop first in battleground states. Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Wisconsin and others. The pro-labor protests triggered by GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to strip public unions of their collective bargaining rights has already provided a test run for the DNC's Organizing for America arm, energizing the group that launched as Obama for America in 2008.

† The top Obama 2012 staffers will be in Chicago before the April 14 Obama event. Campaign manager Jim Messina is already in the city; with deputy managers Jennifer O'Malley Dillon and Julianna Smoot and fund raising chief Rufus Gifford and others soon to follow.

WASHINGTON--Budget battles have consequences and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked fellow Illinoisan, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, to lock in money for Illinois projects before House Republicans try to take it away under their FY 2011 budget plan, currently the subject of much debate in Congress. Durbin and LaHood, a Republican former House member from Peoria, have been touting the transportation infrastructure projects as a job plan.

Read Durbin's letter to LaHood at the click.

The Illinois projects at risk, per Durbin:


Illinois projects in jeopardy under the House Republican plan include:

· The Chicago to Quad Cities Amtrak route ( $230 million and 588 jobs per year for the first four years of design and construction);

· The Englewood Flyover CREATE project ($133 million and 1,450 Chicagoland jobs);

· The Wadsworth Bridge Replacement to improve the Chicago to Milwaukee Amtrak service ($3.71 million);

· The CTA's purchase of All-Electric Buses ($2.21 million);

· The Peoria Warehouse District Project ($10 million and combined with private investment 1,000 local jobs);

· The Moline Multimodal Facility ($10 million);

· The Barrington EJ&E Grade Separation at US 14 ($2.8 million); and

· A Hybrid Paratransit Bus for Grundy County ($144,000).

WASHINGTON--While President Obama is in New York City collecting $1.5 million for the Democratic National Committee at a fund-raiser Tuesday, Vice President Biden is prospecting here with about 75 big wallet Democrat donors.

The Biden event is at a private home here and the guest list was put together by the DNC and its grass-and net--roots arm, Organizing for America. The guests include Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown and former-mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. This is not a fund-raiser where people pay to attend; rather Biden is prospecting to get people jazzed up about fund-raising for the Obama/Biden 2012 ticket.

This is all part of the 2012 money chase. On Monday, I revealed that the Obama 2012 launch is in April with a big fund-raising drive at the start: "I've also learned that when President Obama hits Chicago for a Democratic National Committee event April 14, it will be one of a series of gatherings around the country in April -- at Democrats' best donor cities -- kicking off the Obama 2012 campaign." In that same column, I also had the scoop that the Obama 2012 national headquarters will be in Chicago's Prudential Building.

In New York, Obama will raise $1.5 million from 50 people at a fund-raiser at Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster restaurant (with a $30,800 per-person ask). Obama will also appear before about 250 folks--activists, volunteers, lower dollar donors--at a no-charge "thank you reception" s at the Studio Museum of Harlem.

WASHINGTON--Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle meets with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) here on Wednesday, the day after Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel and Preckwinkle forged a compact to work together on common issues. It's an obvious joint venture but one that has never been pursued at the level Emanuel and Preckwinkle seem to be at. On Tuesday, the two announced creation of a study group to find ways to enhance city-county cooperation. Mayor Daley had somewhat of a hands off policy, since his brother, John Daley, is a Cook County Board Member--and chairman of its key Finance Committee.

Precwinkle's meeting with Durbin is to discuss Cook County priorities; after that, Durbin will meet with members of the Will County Board on some of their issues.


WASHINGTON -- President Obama, in defending military strikes in Libya, relied heavily on a humanitarian argument in his Monday night speech: faced with Moammar Gadhafi's threats to slaughter his own people, America had "responsibilities to our fellow human beings" to act. To do nothing, Obama told the nation, would "have been a betrayal of who we are."

What is important, said Obama, is that the U.S. is not a nation to "turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And, as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."

Such is a definition, then, of an Obama Doctrine of how the nation acts under his presidency, even as U.S. soldiers are engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. And even as Congress -- some members on both sides of the aisle -- believe Obama merely notified them of his intentions to attack Libya -- not the consultation he claimed on Monday. Obama's team successfully lobbied the U.N. and NATO to pull together a strong international response; the administration felt no similar sense of urgency in explaining its actions to Congress.

I'm sure the 27-minute speech will not silence Obama critics, but it may apply some brakes as Congress returns this week to grapple with the costs, risks, and rationale for getting involved in Libya while not intervening in the opposition movements of other Middle East nations during this extraordinary history-in-the-making revolutionary period.

Simply put, Obama does not want a massacre to happen on his watch. President Clinton has regrets to this day not using U.S. force to stop genocidal murders in Rwanda in 1994 and, by extension, so does Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The world stood by, just as it did during the Nazi Holocaust.

As for taking action against Libya, Obama laid out the case that the U.S. involvement will be limited and that toppling Gaddafi -- regime change -- is not part of the military mission.

But it was a mission of necessity, of that Obama was certain. "We have intervened to stop a massacre." He's been long tutored on the topic. As a U.S. senator from Illinois, he met Samantha Power, who in 2003 won a Pulitzer Prize for her book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Impressed with each other, Power took leave from her human rights work at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government to join Obama's Illinois Senate office for parts of 2005 and 2006. In the Obama White House, Power is Senior Director and Special Assistant for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights.


WASHINGTON--Several of my colleagues asked at the Monday White House briefing why President Obama on Monday night is not delivering his prime time Libya speech from the Oval Office--as if speaking from the National Defense University here somehow devalued the importance of the speech. The Oval Office is not the premium venue it may once have been. Unless Obama was making the speech from Tripoli, the location does not matter that much.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough shrugged off attempts to read tea leaves about the location. Said Carney, "And I think there are different venues to do this. It's still -- it is the President speaking to the American people and -- at a time when we expect a lot of Americans will be home and able to watch."

The Obama White House--as all modern day presidential administrations--cares a lot about optics. That's why every Obama event is carefully staged. Obama will speak before an audience of military personnel and a large contingent from the city's diplomatic corps. The guest list makes sense: the Obama team wants to underscore that the Libya attacks are not a unilateral move and that the U.S. is part of an international coalition. The diplomats are expected to be representatives from other countries involved in the military action. You don't get that storyline possibility sitting in the Oval Office.

Most people viewing the Obama speech Monday night will see a tight shot of the president flanked by flags and a blue backdrop. I would expect the cameras to show some shots of the audience. Don't expect a lot of reaction: military audiences are known for sitting on their hands; it's part of their culture not to applaud and interrupt speeches from the commander-in-chief.

Anyway--Obama is always a better speaker when he has a large room and an audience; talking tele-prompter to camera has never been his strongest game.

Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough was asked during the briefing,"Why is this not in the Oval Office? Why is it at NDU?"

Said McDonough: "Well, I think it's very important to go down to NDU, which is a place where we have mid-career officers from each of the services who are currently serving or who have -- many of them just come back from tours overseas. But if you just line it up, Chip, about what our military is doing right now -- undertaking an enormous effort in Japan to support our Japanese allies in this moment of great trial; continuing the effort in Afghanistan to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for al Qaeda; winding down our effort in Iraq so as to ensure the hand-over at the end of this -- at the end of next year, so that we are in a position to shape the environment using our unique assets and capabilities in Libya so that we can hand off to our allies.

....So he wants to send a very clear signal to the folks there to that regard. But as it relates to whether it should be in the Oval or somewhere else, I think that that's probably better addressed to somebody else.

Another reporter asked McDonough again about why the speech was not in the Oval Office: Asked a reporter, "Well, what about the argument that has been widely reported, or at least commentated that he's doing it to downplay the importance of the Libya operation -- that's why he's not in the Oval Office?"

Said McDonough, "Well, you know, we've had meetings every day with the President, and the President is meeting every day either telephonically, in person -- including over the weekend -- with the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Vice President, General Ham, Secretary of State and his National Security Advisor because of the importance he attaches to it. The fact is that he attaches great importance to it. And as I think each of you has heard him say, no issue weighs more heavily on him and he attaches no greater importance to any issue than the decision to send our men and women in uniform into conflict."

And yet another try, this time to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
Asked a reporter, "Why is the President not delivering this from the Oval Office? Why in an auditorium? Is it not -- and not primetime but at 7:30 p.m.? Is he trying to not make this speech comparable to other Presidents who have announced war efforts?"

Said Carney, "I think giving an address that's going to be covered by the -- we hope by all the major networks and cable channels is -- signifies how important we think this is. As Denis mentioned, the National Defense University is a very appropriate place to give a speech like this, given the tremendous engagement and sacrifice that our armed forces have been making around -- Libya being the case specific right now, but around the world in different areas; and one area that Denis mentioned that people tend to forget because it's not a traditional military operation, and that's the assistance provided to our allies in Japan.

"And I think there are different venues to do this. It's still -- it is the President speaking to the American people and -- at a time when we expect a lot of Americans will be home and able to watch."

easter-2011-eggs.jpg(White House photo, taken March 24)

WASHINGTON--The White House 2011 Easter Egg Roll is April 25, the first mega event presided over by new Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard. The theme is keyed to First Lady Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign: "Get Up and Go!"

On Monday, the White House revealed the " official souvenir egg and logo for the 2011 Easter Egg Roll," pictured above.

"This year's egg comes in four pastel colors - purple, pink, green, yellow - and includes the stamped signatures of the President and First Lady," the White House said.


WASHINGTON -- The Obama 2012 national headquarters will be at One Prudential Plaza, I've learned exclusively, a skyscraper whose south front faces Grant Park, where President Obama held his 2008 election night victory rally.

The building -- completed in 1955 and known to Chicagoans by its original name, the Prudential Building -- at 130 E. Randolph is a very short walk from Obama's 2008 headquarters, which was on the 11th floor of 233 N. Michigan. Obama's team has been scouting locations in Chicago for weeks and settled on the Prudential Building in part because of the ability to make it a secure location.

A source inside the Obama operation confirmed what I learned on my own -- that the headquarters will be in the Prudential Building and that a skeleton crew of Obama 2012 staffers are already in Chicago, including Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina. The headquarters is not yet up and running; it will open for business at a later date.

I've also learned that when President Obama hits Chicago for a Democratic National Committee event April 14, it will be one of a series of gatherings around the country in April -- at Democrats' best donor cities -- kicking off the Obama 2012 campaign.

The DNC is running Obama's political operation until Obama registers as a 2012 presidential candidate with the Federal Election Commission, which will allow him to create a committee to accept political contributions. Until the Obama 2012 committee is formed, the DNC is raising money that will benefit Obama's drive for a second term.

Biden was the draw last Monday -- March 21 -- in Boston at a DNC event, not a fund-raiser where someone pays to attend; it was to crank up past and future bundlers to get some face time with Biden so they will take on major fund-raising duties for the 2012 Obama re-election campaign. In mid-March, President Obama attended two DNC events in Washington aimed at the megadonors who are, have been or will be on his National Finance Committee.

With Obama facing no Democratic primary -- an obvious contrast to his 2008 presidential election battle -- prospecting events with major fund-raisers and bundlers -- people who use their connections to raise money -- are a priority on the Obama 2012 re-elect agenda.

I confirmed with a DNC official that on Tuesday, Obama, while in New York, will headline two events for the DNC in Harlem: a fund-raiser at Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster restaurant (with a $30,800 per-person ask) and a "thank you reception" for supporters at the Studio Museum of Harlem. (Samuelsson was the guest chef for the Obama White House first state dinner in November 2009, honoring the prime minister of India.)

I've been reporting on how Messina has been traveling around the country for weeks now, prospecting with megadonors who will be the backbone of the Obama finance operation. On Thursday, Messina does a briefing for the DNC's Women's Leadership Forum, a group created to cultivate and generate donations from women.

Footnote: In 2007, the Obama presidential campaign took over a turn-key sublease at 233 N. Michigan from Accenture, 33,000-square feet complete with custom workstations, meeting rooms and space for the various departments of the Obama campaign; eventually the campaign expanded to other space in the building.

WASHINGTON--Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates hit the network Sunday shows--ABC, CBS, NBC-- to explain and defend the Obama administration on Libya, paving the way for President Obama's Monday night address to the nation.

Clinton to NBC's David Gregory: "I think we've prevented a great humanitarian disaster, which is always hard to point to something that didn't happen, but I, I believe we did. And now we're beginning to see, because of the good work of the, the coalition, to see his, his troops begin to turn back towards the west and to see the opposition begin to reclaim ground they had lost."

Gates to CBS' Bob Schieffer:

SCHIEFFER: There are some people in the Pentagon quoted in various newspapers as saying this no-fly zone may last for three months or so. How long do you think this is going to be in place?

GATES: I don't think anybody has any idea.

Gates to ABC's Jake Tapper:

TAPPER: Do you think Libya posed an actual or imminent threat to

the United States?

GATES: No. No, it was not -- it was not a vital national interest

to the United States, but it was an interest. And it was an interest

for all of the reasons Secretary Clinton talked about, the engagement of

the Arabs, the engagement of the Europeans, the general humanitarian

question that was at stake.

There was another piece of this, though, that certainly was a

consideration. You've had revolutions on both the east and the west of

Libya. They're fragile.

TAPPER: Egypt and Tunisia?

GATES: Egypt and Tunisia. So you had a potentially significantly

destabilizing event taking place in Libya that put at risk potentially

the revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt, and that was another

consideration I think we took into account.

WASHINGTON--My post Sunday morning about ten big U.S. companies paying little or no tax--the list is from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT.)-- is generating some buzz; Fox's Greta Van Susteren over at her GretaWire blog picked up my post and is asking this question: In light of the posting about who doesn't pay...would a flat tax be the fairest way to collect revenue?

To vote on GretaWire and read more click over to http://gretawire.blogs.foxnews.com/in-light-of-the-posting-about-who-doesnt-pay-would-a-flat-tax-just-be-the-fairest-way-to-collect-revenue/#ixzz1Hpi9l6iu

WASHINGTON---With federal income taxes due in a few weeks, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent allied with Democrats, on Sunday released a list of ten big profitable U.S. companies paying little or no taxes. Sanders wants to close the loopholes that make this tax avoidance legal. Some people call the income tax system with generous loopholes for big companies corporate welfare or corporate entitlements. As Congress returns to work this week--after yet another break--to negotiate over big budget cuts--with social safety net programs facing reductions--Sanders is pushing for corporations to pay more of a fair "share."

The Bernie Sanders Ten, per release....

1) Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.

2) Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.

3) Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.

4) Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.

5) Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.

6) Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

7) Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

8) Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.

9) ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

10) Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.

WASHINGTON--The cherry blossoms here are blooming; here are photos I took on Saturday--the first day of the National Cherry Blossom festival-- during a stroll around the Tidal Basin. Check out the cherry blossom cam here.

cherry blossom1.jpg(photo by Lynn Sweet)

cherry blossom3.jpg (photo by Lynn Sweet)

cherry blossom.jpg(photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON---Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate from a major party, died Saturday at the age of 75. She died during Women's History Month---and next Thursday was to have been honored--along with Sen. Barbara Milkulsi--by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi at a reception in the Library of Congress.

Pelosi Statement on the Passing of Geraldine Ferraro

"Geraldine Ferraro will be deeply missed. She not only made history when she was nominated for Vice President, she inspired women across the country to reach their own greatness as they strengthened our country. Her service in the House is a source of pride to all of us in Congress.

"In 1984, her nomination was greeted with thunderous applause in the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The drumbeat that Geraldine Ferraro began that day in July will continue for a long time to come.

"As a woman and Italian American, my family and I loved her dearly and will miss her personally.

"My thoughts and prayers are with her husband John and the entire Ferraro family during this difficult time."


Statement by President Obama on the Passing of Geraldine Ferraro

"Michelle and I were saddened to learn about the passing of Geraldine Ferraro. Geraldine will forever be remembered as a trailblazer who broke down barriers for women, and Americans of all backgrounds and walks of life. Whether it was as a public school teacher, assistant district attorney, Member of Congress, or candidate for Vice President, Geraldine fought to uphold America's founding ideals of equality, justice, and opportunity for all. And as our Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission, she stood up for those ideals around the world. Sasha and Malia will grow up in a more equal America because of the life Geraldine Ferraro chose to live. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her husband, John Zaccaro, her children and grandchildren, and their entire family."

Statement by President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on the Passing of Geraldine Ferraro

"Gerry Ferraro was one of a kind -- tough, brilliant, and never afraid to speak her mind or stand up for what she believed in -- a New York icon and a true American original. She was a champion for women and children and for the idea that there should be no limits on what every American can achieve. The daughter of an Italian immigrant family, she rose to become the first woman ever nominated to the national ticket by a major political party. She paved the way for a generation of female leaders and put the first cracks in America's political glass ceiling. She believed passionately that politics and public service was about making a difference for the people she represented as a congresswoman and Ambassador.

For us, Gerry was above all a friend and companion. From the rough-and-tumble of political campaigns to the important work of international diplomacy, we were honored to have her by our side. She was a tireless voice for human rights and helped lead the American delegation to the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Through it all, she was a loyal friend, trusted confidante, and valued colleague.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Gerry's husband John, her children and grandchildren, and their entire family."

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, in meetings with aldermen, discussed cutting the 50-member Chicago City Council in half, Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman reported in the Friday Sun-Times. Of course, that's not a productive line of discussion when Emanuel has to put together a ruling coalition of aldermen after he takes office mid-May. In the Saturday Sun-Times Spielman reports, Emanuel explains--and never a plus when you have to explain what you really meant-- he really was just feeling out how much the aldermen understood Chicago voters "appetite for change."

WASHINGTON--President Obama's team is realizing the U.S. public needs much more explanation on Libya; Obama devoted his Saturday address to defending the attacks and will address the nation during a prime time speech on Libya on Monday.

My sense: The public needs a lot more information about the humanitarian aspects of the mission, the duration of U.S. involvement, the end game and the exit strategy. Will this conflict will be short lived? And a new government in Libya--if Moammar Qaddafi is overthrown--will it be friendly to U.S. interests?

Obama on Monday will speak at 7:30 p.m. est from the National Defense University in Washington, the White House announced on Friday night. The address is intended to answer a lot of the questions being raised; it is supposed to "update the American people on the situation in Libya, including the actions we've taken with allies and partners to protect the Libyan people from the brutality of Moammar Qaddafi, the transition to NATO command and control, and our policy going forward."

The regular Saturday address is a blueprint of the Monday speech. Said Obama, "We're succeeding in our mission. We've taken out Libya's air defenses. Qaddafi's forces are no longer advancing across Libya. In places like Benghazi, a city of some 700,000 that Qaddafi threatened to show "no mercy," his forces have been pushed back. So make no mistake, because we acted quickly, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided and the lives of countless civilians--innocent men, women and children--have been saved."

The entire Saturday address at the click...

WASHINGTON--The biggest expense of the House of Representatives is on salaries and benefits, a Sunlight Foundation study found.

Sunlight, a non-partisan organization dedicated to making government more transparent, crunched reports by House members to provide a comparative snapshot on spending, with some provisos, detailed at the click.

Sunlight's 2010 disbursements for Illinois House delegation PDF here: 2010_House_Disbursements_Summary_ILLINOIS_useme-1.csv


2010 Illinois Delegation House Member Office Spending
source: The Sunlight Foundation

IL-1 Bobby Rush $1,491,881.02

IL-2 Jesse Jackson, Jr. $1,351,380.26

IL-3 Daniel Lipinski $1,379,394.00

IL-4 Luis Gutierrez $1,423,412.40

IL-5 Mike Quigley $1,395,657.31

IL-6 Peter Roskam $1,353,840.06

IL-7 Danny Davis $1,519,836.70

IL-8 Melissa Bean $1,408,763.52

IL-9 Jan Schakowsky $1,410,581.72

IL-10 Mark Kirk $1,189,176.23

IL-11 Debbie Halvorson $1,476,054.87

IL-12 Jerry Costello $1,324,138.74

IL-13 Judy Biggert $1,481,968.15

IL-14 Bill Foster $1,476,717.77

IL-15 Tim Johnson $1,281,785.35

IL-16 Donald Manzullo $1,250,486.17

IL-17 Phil Hare $1,464,500.30

IL-18 Aaron Schock $1,301,568.50

IL-19 John Shimkus $1,346,342.51

WASHINGTON---First Lady Michelle Obama, about to kick off a major initiative dealing with military families, delivers commencement speeches in May and June to graduates of West Point and a small high school on the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia.

This will be the third year Mrs. Obama has talked to graduating high school and university seniors. For 2011, Mrs. Obama will also keynote graduations at Spelman College in Atlanta, a historically black college for females and the University of Northern Iowa, returning to a state she well traveled in the 2008 presidential campaign.

For details, click below....

WASHINGTON--Maya Soetoro-Ng, President Obama's half sister, comes out with a book, "Ladder to the Moon," next month, hitting D.C. and other cities on a tour to talk about the story she penned: her late mother, Ann Dunham, talks to a grandchild she never knew.

The Obama family--extended--is churning out books: Last week, (March 16,) First Lady Michelle Obama announced a deal for a book about her White House garden, due out in April, 2012. Her brother, Craig Robinson, wrote a memoir, "A Game of Character: A Family Journey from Chicago's Southside to the Ivy League and Beyond" published last April.

Obama is Soetoro-Ng's older brother; she was born to Dunham in Jakarta, Indonesia and grew up in Hawaii.

View more videos at: http://www.nbcchicago.com.

Mayor Daley is in China this week, checking out a high speed rail train on a 30-minute ride from Bejing to Tianjin. Thanks to NBCChicago for the video and report.

Daley has just a few more weeks in office; Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel takes office mid-May. Daley is interested in a high speed rail line to O'Hare. But is Rahm? Read the Sun-Times story by Fran Spielman here.

Meanwhile, the Chicago to St. Louis high speed rail project is on track: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) et al announced more funding for the project this week. Read my post about it here.

WASHINGTON--Former Vice President Al Gore is rarely seen around here; he will hit D.C. on April 15 to keynote a conference on climate change also featuring EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and former Obama White House "green" advisor Van Jones, who resigned in a 2009 controversy.

WASHINGTON--Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the former Chicago Public Schools chief, on Friday cuts the ribbon and gives a speech at an art exhibit featuring work from CPS students.

From the release: "In the opening ceremony, Secretary Duncan will be joined by CPS Director of Humanities Paul Whitsitt, Curie Metropolitan High School Art Teacher Jesse Wyss, and Kenwood Academy High School Art Student Armani Howard. In addition, the Gallery 37 & ChiArts Jazz Quintet will give a special performance. Gallery 37 & ChiArts Jazz Quintet students are trained by the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, which is also sponsoring the students' trip to Washington, D.C. "

WASHINGTON--In the wake of the Japan nuclear disaster, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) will chair a hearing on Friday in Chicago on the safety of Illinois nuclear power plants.

Illinois has 11 reactors operating at 11 sites operated by Exleon Corp. Last week, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, in Washington, called for Exelon to pay more to bolster state inspections of their reactors.

Testifying at the Dirksen Federal Building session will be:

* Charles Pardee, Chief Operating Officer, Exelon Generation;
* Mark T. Peters, Deputy Laboratory Director for Programs, Argonne National Laboratory;
* Cynthia D. Pederson, Deputy Regional Administration, Region III, Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and
* Joseph Klinger, Assistant Director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

WASHINGTON--House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) increasing complaints about Congress notified but not consulted on the Libya military operation was heard by the Obama White House on Thursday and on March 30, House members will get a classified briefing on Libya from the Obama war cabinet.

My post earlier Thursday on the subject of Obama, Congress and Libya is here.

My post asking what is the end game on Libya is here.

Testifying next Wednesday will be Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Director of National Intelligence Lt. Gen. James Clapper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen.

Because of the Wednesday classified hearing, the House Foreign Relation Committee hearing on Libya--the first public hearing--was switched to Thursday from Wednesday.


WASHINGTON---House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has a point--that the White House, despite their assertions, did not consult with Congress very much about the military action in Libya. Boehner and others have a number of legitimate questions about the U.S. engagement that need answering. (Boehner questions below.)

But it's fair to point out that the GOP House leaders could have been more assertive--perhaps call members back from recess, demand calls from top military and White House brass, etc. Playing "victim" is not becoming for congressional leaders.

The Obama administration briefed members and staffers after the decision was made to attack; that's a one-way street, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck noted on Thursday in a memo he sent around. "Consulting implies one is seeking input on if and how to act. The earliest communication on this topic was last Friday, when leaders were informed of the WH plan. At that point, the plan was already in motion and the use of U.S. military assets had already been committed to other nations. ....Notification is always appreciated, but it is not a substitute for the long-respected custom of congressional consultation before committing to military action, even the kinetic kind."

UPDATE As for playing victim, Buck disagrees with how I put it, telling me, "Per "playing victim," we've made quite clear that this isn't just about getting answers and making the case to Congress. More importantly, it's making the case to the American public before taking military action. They deserve(d) answers to these questions just as much as Congress." END UPDATE

On Wednesday, Ben Rhodes, the deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications implied a two-way street, when he talked about consulting Congress, though it seems more precise to say Congress was notified.

Said Rhodes, "First of all, we would like congressional support. We've consulted with Congress throughout this process, again, consulted before we took military action, and continue to brief Congress and, again, welcome congressional support and believe it's very important to have a very close and ongoing dialogue with Congress about what we're doing in Libya."

Anyway, moving ahead, the Obama White House needs to make clear the mission length, scope and goals.

Here are Boehner's questions, some of which will come up next Wednesday, when the first congressional hearing on the military strikes against Libya will be held by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton invited to testify.

From Boehner.....

· A United Nations Security Council resolution does not substitute for a U.S. political and military strategy. You have stated that Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi must go, consistent with U.S. policy goals. But the U.N. resolution the U.S. helped develop and signed onto makes clear that regime change is not part of this mission. In light of this contradiction, is it an acceptable outcome for Qadhafi to remain in power after the military effort concludes in Libya? If not, how will he be removed from power? Why would the U.S. commit American resources to enforcing a U.N. resolution that is inconsistent with our stated policy goals and national interests?

· In announcing that our Armed Forces would lead the preliminary strikes in Libya, you said it was necessary to "enable the enforcement of a no-fly zone that will be led by our international partners." Do we know which partners will be taking the lead? Are there clear lines of authority and responsibility and a chain of command? Operationally, does enforcement of a no-fly zone require U.S. forces to attack non-air or command and control operations for land-based battlefield activities, such as armored vehicles, tanks, and combatants?

· You have said that the support of the international community was critical to your decision to strike Libya. But, like many Americans, it appears many of our coalition partners are themselves unclear on the policy goals of this mission. If the coalition dissolves or partners continue to disengage, will the American military take on an increased role? Will we disengage?

· Since the stated U.S. policy goal is removing Qadhafi from power, do you have an engagement strategy for the opposition forces? If the strife in Libya becomes a protracted conflict, what are your Administration's objectives for engaging with opposition forces, and what standards must a new regime meet to be recognized by our government?

· Your Administration has repeatedly said our engagement in this military action will be a matter of "days, not weeks." After four days of U.S. military action, how soon do you expect to hand control to these other nations? After the transition to coalition forces is completed, how long will American military forces remain engaged in this action? If Qadhafi remains in power, how long will a no-fly zone will be enforced?

· We are currently in the process of setting priorities for the coming year in the budget. Has the Department of Defense estimated the total cost, direct and indirect, associated with this mission? While you said yesterday that the cost of this mission could be paid for out of already-appropriated funds, do you anticipate requesting any supplemental funds from Congress to pay for ongoing operations in Libya?

· Because of the conflicting messages from the Administration and our coalition partners, there is a lack of clarity over the objectives of this mission, what our national security interests are, and how it fits into our overarching policy for the Middle East. The American people deserve answers to these questions. And all of these concerns point to a fundamental question: what is your benchmark for success in Libya?

WASHINGTON--The first congressional hearing on the military strikes against Libya will be next Wednesday, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton invited to testify.

UPDATE The hearing was changed to Thursday; Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg will testify END UPDATE

President Obama is facing criticism from Republicans and Democrats for launching the Libyan attacks without making clear the end game.

Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl.) will hold the hearing, her spokesman Brad Goehner told me Thursday morning, in order to "assess the U.S. national security and foreign policy interests at stake in Libya, other actions being considered, and what this means for the broader region."

Clinton has been invited to tesify; if she can't make it, Ros-Lehtinen wants Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg in the witness chair.

The full committee hearing is titled "Libya: Defining U.S. National Security Interests."

On Sunday Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement, "I am concerned that the President has yet to clearly define for the American people what vital United States security interests he believes are currently at stake in Libya. We need to know what the President believes ultimately must be accomplished in Libya to protect and advance U.S. interests there."

WASHINGTON--Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will not stay on for a second term if President Obama is re-elected---and will not be seeking another public office. That's what she has been telling interviewers this week, as she is as busy as ever, juggling a multi-crisis portfolio as she travels the globe. My observation: she looks tired.

At a Wednesday press conference at the State Department, held with Morroco Foreign Mininster Taieb Fassi-Fihri, Clinton defended the air strikes in Libya and the creation of a no-fly zone: "This week, Gadhafi's troops were poised to enter Benghazi over the weekend, putting hundreds of thousands of civilians in that city of 700,000 at great risk. Today those troops have been pushed back, and those civilians are safer as a result. Coalition efforts have downgraded Gadhafi's air defense capabilities and set the conditions for an effective no-fly zone.

"I know that the nightly news cannot cover a humanitarian crisis that thankfully did not happen, but it is important to remember that many, many Libyans are safer today because the international community took action."

The Obama administration condemned the bombing in Jerusalem; Clinton said, "The United States is committed to Israel's security, and we strongly condemn this violence and extend our deepest sympathies to all those affected." And of course with Japan struggling with the nuclear disaster coming after the earthquake and tsunami, Clinton said, "We stand ready to help in every way that we possibly can."

All the nonstop travel--some 80 countries since Obama took office--and crisis after crisis--have left Clinton ready to move on---not now--but after Obama is re-elected and a replacement is in the pipeline.

In a People Magazine interview with Sandra Sobieraj Westfall, "I've been on the highest tightrope of American and global politics. In two years it will be 20 years," Clinton, 63, tells PEOPLE in an interview for the new issue. "I want to do other things," she adds, saying she plans to step down when President Obama's first term ends in January 2013 and not seek any other public office."

Clinton told ABC News Diane Sawyer--presuming Obama is re-elected,"Oh, I will stay until the beginning of the next term because I know it takes a while for people to get appointed and confirmed. I mean, obviously, there needs to be a seamless transition with whomever President Obama decides to appoint after he is reelected, which I am confident he will be."

WASHINGTON---Former First Lady Nancy Reagan--a former actress--saluted her friend, Elizabeth Taylor, who died Wednesday at the age of 79 as "truly a legend."

Mrs. Ronald Reagan---that is her preference--said in a statement, issued from Los Angeles, "Elizabeth Taylor was a dear friend. I knew her from our days together at MGM when she was just a teenager, and I watched her grow into one of Hollywood's finest actresses. She was passionate - and compassionate - about everything in her life, including her family, her friends, and especially the victims of the AIDS. She was truly a legend and we will miss her."

WASHINGTON---Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, mulling a 2012 GOP presidential run, said Wednesday he would "not have intervened" in Libya. And the White House muddled message on the outcome U.S. really wants with murderous Libyan Leader Muammar Qadhafi---stay or go---makes it easy for critics.

Gingrich, interviewed by Matt Lauer on NBC's "The Today Show" on Wednesday was asked if a goal of the military attacks should be to throw Qadhafi from power.

Said Gingrich, "i think that now the -- let me draw a distinction. I would not have intervened. I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Qadhafi. I think there are a lot of allies in the region that we could have worked with. I would not have used American and European forces --


"....Having decided to go there, if Qadhafi does not leave power, it will be a defeat for the United States. It will lengthen our engagement. It will increase our costs. And notice, by the way, at least according to this morning's papers, the White House refuses to even tell Congress whether they're going to ask for a supplemental to pay for the war."

Elizabeth Taylor, dead at 79.

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WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) holds a hearing on the civil rights of U.S. Muslims on March 29---the first of its kind--a pointed response to a hearing held earlier this month on terrorism in the U.S. Muslim community chaired by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).

Durbin's office said in a release the hearing is "in response to the spike in anti-Muslim bigotry" and is the first by the subcommittee he chairs, the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. Durbin's panel will "consider measures to protect the civil rights of American Muslims."

"Our Constitution protects the free exercise of religion for all Americans," Durbin said. "During the course of our history, many religions have faced intolerance. It is important for our generation to renew our founding charter's commitment to religious diversity and to protect the liberties guaranteed by our Bill of Rights," Durbin said in a statement.

The witness list, released by Durbin's office includes: "Muslim civil rights leader Farhana Khera; Cardinal Theodore McCarrick; Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, the Obama Administration's top civil rights official; and former Assistant Attorney General Alex Acosta, the Bush Administration's top civil rights official."


WASHINGTON---House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has nothing but taunting disdain for the string of Republicans running for president in 2012 and is confident President Obama will win another term.

"This election, the President is going to win the election. Republicans don't have a bench. They don't even have a team. So I think the President is clearly going to win the election," Pelosi said.

GOP former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has been running for months, took a step closer to making it "official" on Monday when he said he would be filing papers to create a presidential exploratory committee.

The FEC filing--you can see it here--shows that Pawlenty actually signed the papers creating the Pawlenty for President Exploratory Committee on March 18.

Pelosi, in Italy today--she is on a congressional trip to Italy and Afghanistan and ok after visiting a hospital in Rome because she was not feeling well after her Afghanistan swing---made her disparaging comments during a session with print columnists last Wednesday in her Capitol office.

While away, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out over Pelosi's signature a fund-raising appeal--the quarter ends March 31--- with this pitch: "I've had enough of the Republicans' extremist anti-jobs agenda and I think you have too."

WASHINGTON--Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel's political machine--the "New Chicago Committee" --collected another $95,000, reports filed Monday show, from nine donors--- including five top executives for Madison Dearborn partners, the Chicago private equity investment firm.

That's on top of the original $40,000 from four founding contributors to Emanuel's warchest created earlier this month to send money to aldermanic candidates Emanuel supports in the April 5 runoffs.

Though Emanuel had about $2.1 million cash on hand after the Feb. 22 mayoral primary Emanuel won outright, laws prevent transferring money from his "Chicago for Rahm Emanuel" warchest to his "New Chicago" political action committee, I'm told. Emanuel is trying to build a working coalition of alderman in the 50-member Chicago City Council.


The nine donors in the Monday report filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections are:


From Madison Dearborn
Nicholas W. Alexos $10,000.00
Paul Finnegan, $10,000
Samuel Mencoff, $10,000
James Perry, $5,000
Timothy Sullivan, $10,000

Others
Clayco, Inc., a St. Louis firm, $20,000.00

Isaac Goldman, Front Barnett, $10,000
Roger Kiley, Kiley PC, $10,000
Lewis Manilow, $10,000, a Democratic activist and major Democratic donor

I PREVIOUSLY REPORTED

The founding donors of the New Chicago Committee are:

$10,000 from Newsweb's Fred Eychaner, who is one of the biggest Democratic donors in the nation. He gave $100,000 to Emanuel's mayoral campaign.

$20,000 ($10,000 each) from Advisory Research's David Heller and wife Diane. The couple put down $200,000 for Emanuel's mayoral bid.

$10,000 from New World Ventures Jay R. Pritzker, known as J.B.


WASHINGTON---Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Gov. Quinn and other state and federal officials will announce Tuesday afternoon in Chicago funding for a second phase of the Chicago-St. Louis high-speed rail line. The Obama administration has been touting high-speed rail construction as a jobs program--as well as a filling a transportation need.

Quinn was in Washington last week discussing the project with Durbin and Joe Szabo, the chief of the Federal Railway Administration, who will join Quinn, Durbin, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Joe Bateman, Vice President, Union Pacific Railroad and others at a press conference at the Amtrak rail yard, near Roosevelt Road and the Chicago River.

Speaking to reporters in the Capitol on Thursday about the Chicago-St. Louis route, Quinn said, "We want to make this corridor the pre-eminent one in America. ...The key route is Chicago to St. Louis. We want to get Cubs fans down to Busch Stadium faster so they can see better results than they've seen in recent years."

Work has already started on the high speed tracks, with much of the construction so far between Alton and Springfield. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Quinn are cooperating on the project. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker rejected federal high speed rail funds and Illinois got some of that money; Florida also turned down federal funds. Quinn and Durbin have asked Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood to funnel some of the Florida allocation to Illinois based rail projects.

WASHINGTON--President Obama was notified Monday while in Chile that a U.S. fighter jet crashed in Libya, White House Press Secretary told reporters in an audio briefing transmitted from Air Force One, en route to El Salvador. The plane was not shot down and crashed due to mechanical problems. The two pilots ejected and are safe.

Thumbnail image for obama family chile.jpgObama family leaving Brazil for Chile on Monday (AP photo)

obama family brazil.jpgMarian Robinson, President Obama, First Lady Michelle, Malia and Sasha departing for Brazil (AP photo)

WASHINGTON--President Obama and First Lady Michelle are traveling to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador with daughters Malia and Sasha, Mrs. Obama's mother, Marian Robinson and the girls godmother, Eleanor Kaye Wilson. Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Wilson, who lives in the Chicago area, are close friends. Malia and Sasha are on Spring break.

In 2009, Obama appointed Wilson to the President's Commission on White House Fellowships.

WASHINGTON---President Obama has forgotten some pals who helped launch his political career, said Chicago N'Digo publisher Hermene Hartman in a Chicago Magazine interview by Carol Felsenthal published Monday.

Hartman tells Felsenthal about her relationship with the Obamas......

"It used to be good. It used to be superb before they got to the White House. I haven't been invited, and I'm insulted."

"....Barack is not necessarily loyal. In Chicago politics, that's rule number one: be loyal; dance with the one who brought you. I see that as a key trait. I see Rahm (Emanuel) having it. Rahm is very appreciative and very thankful. I was very loyal to Barack, but he has not been loyal to some of the people who were there for him from day one. That's my personal disappointment in him. Did you outgrow us, or did you forget?"

WASHINGTON---Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Monday announced the creation of a 2012 GOP presidential exploratory committee.

WASHINGTON---With the U.S., British and French forces attacking Libya, President Obama and his team are pledging no U.S. ground forces and that NATO and U.S. allies will replace the U.S. as the military lead in short order. Obama on Monday--and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon on Sunday underscored that message.

In Santiago, Chile, Obama said on Monday, "Together with our partners, the United States is taking military action to enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 and protect the Libyan people. Across the region, we believe that the legitimate aspirations
of people must be met and that violence against civilians is not the answer."

Obama was worried Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi would carry out genocidal murders "on his own people," he said in Chile. "Not only was he carrying out murders of civilians, but he threatened more; he said very specifically: We will show no mercy to people who live in Benghazi."

Donilon during a Sunday briefing in Brazil talked about what he said was a "limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to support and protect Libyan citizens."

NATO would take over, Donilion said, "in a matter of days, not weeks, as the President has said, and as Admiral Mullen has said. The exact point at which that transition will take place is not one that I really can comment on here. That will really have to be driven by the assessments of the coalition as to what we -- how the field has been set here, what's been accomplished, and General Ham, who's been working obviously on the front lines of this operation."

The White House released a letter Obama sent to congressional leaders on Libya .2011libya.military.rel.pdf or below at the click

Sarah Palin is the latest potential 2012 GOP presidential candidate to visit Israel in the run-up to the Republican primaries. The Jerusalem Post is reporting Palin and her husband Todd on Monday "will visit the Old City again on Monday, tour Gesthsemane and the Mount of Olives, and have dinner with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at their official residence in Jerusalem."

The JPost's Melanie Lidman and Gil Hoffman are keeping taps on the U.S. GOP 2012 contest from the Israeli end, writing,"Netanyahu has already met in Jerusalem over the last two months with a number of leading US politicians considered as likely candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, including former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani."

FOOTNOTE: Hoffman, the JPost political correspondent, is a Chicago area native and Northwestern University graduate.

WASHINGTON-- President Obama will stop in Poland on his May visit to Europe--as well as Ireland, England and France--the White House announced on Monday, as Obama continued on his swing through Brazil, Chile and El Salvador.

Obama hits Europe between May 23-28.

WASHINGTON---Vice President Biden heads to Boston on Monday, for a late afternoon Democratic National Committee event to jazz up mega donors for the 2012 Obama re-election campaign. The event is not a fund-raiser where someone pays to attend; it is an invite for past and future bundlers to get some face time with Biden so they will take on major fund-raising duties for the 2012 Obama re-election campaign. Last week, President Obama attended two DNC events in Washington aimed at the mega donors who are, have been or will be on his National Finance Committee. At present, all the 2012 organizing is being done by the DNC--Obama's political arm--because the papers to officially create the 2012 Obama re-elect organization have not yet been filed.

Boston has always been fertile fund-raising ground for Obama, with the way paved for him by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; his first campaign media advisors were David Axelrod and David Plouffe, former and present Obama White House senior advisors. Patrick used Axelrod's former firm, AKPD, for his re-election campaign. Obama was in Boston two weeks ago for a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee gathering.

Biden in the 2010 cycle headlined scores of events for Democrats and already is in play for 2012. He headlined a DCCC event in Philadelphia last week.

The Obama re-elect game plan calls for the Obama team to initially focus on massive money raising. Obama raised $750 million for his 2008 bid---including his primary battle. Obama 2012 Campaign manager Jim Messina has been criss crossing the nation in recent weeks for what is called in the fund-raising business "prospecting" meetings.

Messina is organizing the leadership of Obama's 2012 massive fund-raising effort, along with DNC finance director Rufus Gifford, who will be the Obama 2012 finance director and incoming deputy campaign manager Julianna Smoot, who finished her tenure as White House Social Secretary last week.

Penny Pritzker, the 2008 finance chair will not be reprising her role in 2012, I reported earlier, though she will be active in helping the drive.

Bundlers are people who tap into their own extensive personal networks to raise money for a candidate.

I've had a string of posts about Obama 2012 fund raising:

Obama hits Chicago on April 14 to line-up 2012 money.


Obama cranking up 2012 fund raising.


Scoop: Messina started wooing major donors in February.

Scoop: Messina criss-crossing U.S. for mega donor meetings.

WASHINGTON--The launch of attacks on Libyan targets by U.S., French and British forces on Saturday scrambled the lineups of the Sunday shows; the White House on Friday was offering Energy Secretary Steven Chu in the wake of the Japan nuclear crisis.

With the Libyan attacks, Admiral Mike Mullen Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff was booked on ABC's "This Week with Christiane Amanpour" and NBC's "Meet the Press." Chu is still going to appear on "This Week" and it looks like Chu was dropped from "Meet."


WASHINGTON--Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and folks from her Evanston based organization head to the Milwaukee area on Saturday to bolster the drive to recall GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the wake of his bid to strip public employees in his state of some of their collective bargaining rights.

From Schakowsky's political team: "Saturday we have the opportunity to help hold those Republican State Senators who were responsible for passing the bill accountable."

WASHINGTON--Vice President Biden hired Washington Post political and Capitol Hill reporter Shailagh Murray to serve as his new communications director. She replaces Jay Carney, the former Time Magazine Washington Bureau Chief who moved up to become White House Press Secretary upon the departure of Robert Gibbs.

Murray is a graduate of Northwestern University and the University of Missouri, Columbia.

WASHINGTON---Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel's political operation--the "New Chicago Committee" is bankrolled by four major Democratic donors, disclosures filed Wednesday with the Illinois Board of Elections show.


The New Chicago Committee is being run by longtime political operative Tom Bowen and was created earlier in the month to fund Emanuel backed candidates and causes, with the aldermanic runoffs in April the first order of business for what will grow into the Emanuel machine.

The founding donors of the New Chicago Committee are:

$10,000 from Newswebs' Fred Eychaner, one of the biggest Democratic donors in the nation. He gave $100,000 to Emanuel's mayoral campaign.

$20,000 ($10,000 each) from Advisory Researchs' David Heller and wife Diane. The couple put down $200,000 for Emanuel's mayoral bid.

$10,000 from New World Ventures' Jay R. Pritzker, known as J.B.

Jeremy Bernard White House.jpg(Associated Press photo)

WASHINGTON--Incoming White House Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard was on the job Thursday, St. Patrick's Day, handling his first event, the White House big reception where the guest list includes Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and other Irish Americans. Bernard is pictured above with Stacy Koo, Deputy Associate Director in the Social Office. He is in what the East Wing called a "transition week" with Social Secretary Julianna Smoot, leaving to become the Obama 2012 deputy campaign manager.

WASHINGTON--President Obama returns home to Chicago on April 14 for a Democratic National Committee event, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned, with major donors and fund raisers who will be asked to recreate the massive fund-raising machine they launched in 2008 that bankrolled his presidential bid.

Obama this week headlined two events with mega donors intended to line up financial support for his re-election campaign, to be headquartered in Chicago. Please note: the Chicago event---which could even include other announcements about the re-election campaign--is not a fund-raiser, where people pay to attend. Obama coming helps jazz up the top ranks of fund-raisers who helped in 2008 and--and prospects the Obama team wants to bring in the family who were not active in 2008.

The Obama re-elect game plan calls for the Obama team to initially focus on massive money raising. Obama raised $750 million for his 2008 bid---including his primary battle. Obama 2012 Campaign manager Jim Messina has been criss crossing the nation in recent weeks--including Chicago--for what is called in the fund-raising business "prospecting" meetings.

Messina is organizing the leadership of Obama's 2012 massive fund-raising effort, along with DNC finance director Rufus Gifford, who will be the Obama 2012 finance director. Penny Pritzker, the 2008 finance chair will not be reprising her role in 2012, I reported earlier, though she will be active in helping the drive.

Obama's last public appearence in Chicago was Oct. 31, where he headlined a rally on the Midway Plaisance--at the University of Chicago campus--for the Democratic ticket

Obama was in Chicago on Aug. 5, 2010 to raise money for the DNC.

Updated....


WASHINGTON--The Obama White House is being asked by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to provide a letter with a guarantee that detainees at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would not be sent to a nearly vacant state-owned prison in Thomson, Ill. the federal government wants to buy.

The letter is intended to address objections raised by Republicans, including Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), that detainees would end up in the northwest Illinois maximum security facility--even though the Obama White House has backed down from the plan. Republicans are worried there is no promise the matter of transfers would not come up in the future.

Update: Durbin "will in fact be sending a letter to the Administration (Friday) asking them to comply with the current law which prohibits the placement of suspected terroristsfrom Guantanamo Bay at Thomson," his office said. End Update

Last week--on March 10--Kirk and nine of the eleven GOP Illinois members of Congress sent a letter to Obama "asking for a firm commitment from your Administration that it will abandon any and all efforts to house al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists from Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) as well as other terrorists held by the U.S. Military abroad at the Thomson Correctional Center so that Congress can focus its efforts on acquiring and operating Thomson as a maximum-security federal prison. Until such a commitment is given, Congress will not approve funds to purchase Thomson from the State of Illinois."

Quinn spoke to seven reporters from Illinois outlets after meeting with the Illinois congressional delegation in Durbin's Capitol office here. In Washington, Quinn also was headlining a fund-raiser for the Democratic Governor's Association--he is the new national finance chairman--and meeting with the Federal Railroad Administration on high speed rail issues.

Quinn said that Kirk brought up at the delegation meeting the need for a guarantee, in writing -barring detainees from Thomson. Quinn said the federal government and the State of Illinois were "very close on price" for the facility, with the tab at about $180 million. Of that, the state would use $60 million to pay off debt to build Thomson and put the rest of the money for capital needs.

WASHINGTON--Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said he was open to repealing a law allowing video gambling, with his comment coming after State Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) moved to restore the ban on the gambling game.

Quinn, speaking to reporters from seven Illinois print news outlets, was asked about Cullerton's move. Quinn noted that he signed a law allowing video gambling as part of a deal with Republicans to fund a capital bill. Quinn said he was never "fond" of allowing video gambling.

"I told the Republican leaders I have no love for video gambling," Quinn said. Quinn said a higher cigarette tax was a "better way" to go than legalized video gaming.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Sun-Times Springfield Bureau reported that Cullerton, "in a surprise move....took steps to gut the controversial 2009 authorization of video gambling machines in bars and restaurants throughout the state.

"The measure, if passed by both chambers of the Legislature and enacted by Gov. Quinn, would represent a 180-degree shift from when video gaming was regarded as a $534 million cash cow to support the governor's $31 billion capital program.

"Since video gambling was authorized statewide, Chicago refused to permit it in the city, and 80 local governments opted out entirely, raising questions about the program's financial viability.

"In late January, more doubts were cast on the future of video gambling when a state appeals court ruled the law that allowed for it and other tax and fee hikes to pay for the construction program was unconstitutional."

WASHINGTON--President Obama is making a surprise visit to the Japanese right now--Thursday afternoon--according to a pool report, signing a condolence book in the wake of the terrible disasters that have hit Japan.

Updated 5:19 p.m. cst with Exelon statement

WASHINGTON--Illinois has the most nuclear power plants in the nation and Japan's nuclear plant meltdown is prompting Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday to call for higher fees from Exelon to pay for more inspections.

Quinn told reporters from seven Illinois news outlets he wants Exelon Corp., the company operating 11 nuclear reactors in Illinois on six sites to kick in more money for more safeguards.


"We are going to seek from the General Assembly higher fees," from Exelon, Quinn said, "to make sure that our Emergency Management Agency has everything it needs to do its safety review job."

Illinois already conducts its own independent safety inspections--in addition to federal government inspections--but Quinn said "from the moment" he heard about the Japanese nuclear crisis, he wanted to review Illinois readiness--whether for a tornado, flood or other disaster.

Quinn met Wednesday with Jonathan Monken, the director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and his deputy, Joe Klinger.

"Under these circumstances, we need to review everything in our agency," Quinn said.

Quinn said he already had asked the Illinois General Assembly for a two percent increase for inspections, and that request is pending before the legislature. The base flat fee Exelon has been paying has not been increased in more than eight years, Quinn said. Exelon has been "barking about" the two percent increase, Quinn said.

Now that two percent might not be "sufficient" as the events in Japan served as a "wake up call." Quinn said he does not want to be held to that number. "We may seek a higher number," as lessons learned from the Japanese nuclear crisis become apparent.

"Everybody in the world has to study what happened...and I don't want to come in with a fee that we ultimately decide has to be higher," Quinn said.

Exelon said in a statement, "While our plants are safe, we can appreciate the Governor's concerns about the Japan disaster, and we will be discussing the issue with the administration."

WASHINGTON--Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will lunch with Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel on Friday at his office in Chicago, and he dubbed the incoming mayor an "aggressive progressive" just like himself.

"We have a progressive mayor-elect and a progressive governor and we want to be progressive and aggressive," Quinn told reporters for Illinois news outlets, meeting with them after a session with the Illinois congressional delegation on Thursday.

"Aggresive and progressive, that's my goal. Starts with jobs."

Quinn, pulling out a card from his suit coat, said he had a list of state and city issues to go over with Emanuel, who will take office in mid-May.

WASHINGTON--Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will lunch with Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel on Friday in Chicago, and he dubbed the incoming mayor an "aggressive progressive" just like himself.

"We have a progressive mayor-elect and a progressive governor and we want to be progressive and aggressive," Quinn told reporters for Illinois news outlets, meeting with them after a session with the Illinois congressional delegation on Thursday.

"Aggresive and progressive, that's my goal. Starts with jobs."

Quinn, pulling out a card from his suit coat, said he had a list of state and city issues to go over with Emanuel, who will take office in mid-May.

WASHINGTON--Incoming White House Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard is on the job in the East Wing, working this week with departing Social Secretary Julianna Smoot, departing to become the deputy campaign manager of President Obama's 2012 re-election bid.

Bernard and Smoot have a big St. Patrick's Day bash at the White House tonight. Bernard's first mega event will be the White House Easter Egg roll.

WASHINGTON--Former Bears Coach Mike Ditka hits the Capitol on Thursday, a guest of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) at a lunch with GOP senators featuring beloved Chicago-style food from Chicago.

You may remember.....during the GOP Illinois senate primary, there was a dust-up over whether Dikta endorsed a Kirk rival or just said nice things about him. Anyway, that was then.

To honor Dikta, who led the Bears to the 1985 Superbowl, Kirk is serving ribs, pizza, Italian beef, hot dogs and cheesecake.

FOOTNOTE: In 2007, Ditka testified before a Senate committee on the NFL retirement system.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) remembered Jim Tyree, chairman and CEO of Mesirow Financial and chairman of Sun-Times Media who died on Wednesday, for his inspiring "positive view of life."


Durbin on Mr. Tyree: "Jim Tyree's determination and positive view of life inspired me and all he met. I will never forget Jim walking into my office only a few weeks after a double-organ transplant to tell me he was diabetes-free for the first time in his adult life and urging me to support stem-cell research and diabetes research to spare others the ordeal he had borne. After all his many battles I came to think Jim was indestructible. His passing is a reminder of our ultimate frailty but a testament that a life well-lived endures."

WASHINGTON--President Obama called Jim Tyree "a quintessential Chicagoan," paying tribute to the chairman and CEO of Mesirow Financial and chairman of Sun-Times Media who died on Wednesday.


Obama said in a statement, "Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Jim Tyree. Jim was a quintessential Chicagoan, a South Side kid from humble roots who worked his way to the top but never left the city behind. He was beloved for what he gave back to the city that gave him so much -- from his work with non-profit organizations, to his service on the board of the University of Chicago Medical Center, to his role in giving the Sun-Times a new lease on life. He will be sorely missed, but never forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Eve, and their three children in these most difficult of times."


Mr. Tyree, 53, had been battling cancer for several months. The Chicago Sun-Times has a package of stories about Mr. Tyree, the "South Side kid" who loved Chicago and made sure Chicago remained a two-paper city.

Read the main story on Mr. Tyree here.

Mr. Tyree believed in a two-newspaper Chicago story here.

Publisher John Barron on Mr. Tyree here: "Jim Tyree took delight in owning the Sun-Times."

garden 2011.jpg
White House garden, Spring, 2011 planting on March 16. (photo by Marian Burros)

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama planted her spring kitchen garden on Wednesday---the third year for the garden--as Crown announced that Mrs. Obama will author a book about her signature project. Mrs. Obama, who will have a ghostwriter help her, accepted no advance for the book and the proceeds will go to charity.

"In her book, Mrs. Obama will tell the story of the garden she has established on the South Lawn of the White House and explore how improved access to fresh, locally grown food can promote healthier eating habits for families and communities," Crown said in a release.

Mrs. Obama, who has spoken extensively about the garden, will provide new material for the book, the Sun-Times has learned. The publisher will hire a photographer for most of the pictures to be used in the hardcover book. The book will also take a look at school, urban and community gardens across the country,

The book is scheduled for publication in April, 2012--during the Obama 2012 re-election campaign. The book so far has no title. The announcement of the book by Crown was made just after Mrs. Obama's planting event, timed to maximize free publicity with pictures of children helping Mrs. Obama plant the garden.

Attorney Robert Barnett represented Mrs. Obama in the negotiation; he also negotiated book deals for President Obama, starting when he was a senator from Illinois. Crown is a division of Random House, Inc. and the company said a donation from the proceeds will be made to a charity, though the statement the company released did not say what percentage of profits would go to charity.

When Mrs. Obama broke ground for a kitchen garden on the White House south lawn in 2009, no one knew it would grow into her "Let's Move" anti-obesity and healthy eating campaign. With help from youngsters from Washington schools, Mrs. Obama presided over the third Spring planting of the garden on Wednesday--a collection of vegetables, fruits and herbs.

The garden is actually a four-season enterprise with multiple plantings through the year and "hoop houses" erected in the winter to warm the soil and protect the plants from the weather. The produce of the garden--and a nearby beehive--is used in White House meals as well as donated to Miriam's Kitchen, which is a Washington area social service agency providing meals to the homeless.

Key misconception: Mrs. Obama's garden was never, ever an organic garden, as defined under federal guidelines.

Key quote from Mrs. Obama in June, 2009, at the first harvest: "The planting of this garden was one of the first things I wanted to do as First Lady here at the White House."

Key dates in Mrs. Obama garden history:

March 20, 2009: Ground cleared and broken for the original 1,100 square-foot garden on the west side of the South Lawn.

April, 2009: First Spring planting

March 31, 2010, Second Spring planting

garden1 2011.jpg
>Sam Kass, White House food initiative coordinator and chef with First Lady Chief of Staff Tina Tchen at the planting. (photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan)

June 4, 2010, Harvest of second Spring planting

March 16, 2011, Third Spring planting

WASHINGTON--President Obama filled out his NCAA tournament brackets, putting down his 2011 picks for the third year in a row on ESPN.

Obama's Final Four selections: Duke vs. Ohio State and Kansas vs. Pitt.

OBAMA BRACKET HISTORY

2008 Obama NCAA picks click here

2009 Obama NCAA picks click here

2010 Obama NCAA picks click here

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @lynnsweet

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama will travel with President Obama to Latin America next week, taking on a few solo stops in Brazil, Chile and El Salvador. Her only solo international trip was last April, when she traveled to Mexico with a quick stop in Haiti en route. This will be a family trip: daughters Malia and Sasha will be on Spring Break and will be traveling with their folks. First Lady Chief of Staff Tina Tchen--who joined the East Wing a few weeks ago--is also going, her first international trip with Mrs. Obama.

The White House said in a statement about Mrs. Obama's Latin American travel: "In a series of solo events, the First Lady will continue her efforts to engage young people around the world - especially from disadvantaged and marginalized communities. She will encourage young people to excel academically, serve their communities, and take an active role in building stronger and enduring ties between their countries and the American people."

From the White House:

Brasilia, Brasil - Saturday, March 19th - Late Morning
Continuing her interest in local culture and arts programs, the First Lady will attend a cultural performance with young Brazilians, many from disadvantaged backgrounds who have participated in a range of U.S. sponsored exchange and leadership development programs.

Background from the White House: "In January 2010, the First Lady met with more than 30 Brazilian youth participating in the State Department's Youth Ambassador Program at the White House. One of the Youth Ambassadors she met then will attend the event in Brasilia."

Santiago, Chile - Monday, March 21st - Mid-afternoon
The First Lady will join Chilean First Lady Cecilia Morel for a tour of the Museo Interactivo Mirador that will include performances by Chilean youth.


Following this visit, the First Lady will address students at the Liceo Bicentario Instituto Cumbre de Condores de Rence, a public school built in 2010 that will graduate its first class of high school-age students this year. Mrs. Obama will deliver personal remarks about her own upbringing and education pursuit. She will share the Obama administration's view that that education is key to a strong economy and nothing is more important than preparing young people for a changing world and changing workforce. The school is located in a low income area of Santiago and its graduates may be the first in their family to attend higher education.


San Salvador, El Salvador - Tuesday, March 22nd - Late Afternoon
In San Salvador, El Salvador, the First Lady will meet with young people from Superate, an education and skills development program for disadvantaged young people. Young people in the program are required to participate in community service activities. Ninety-five percent of graduates go on to higher education. Youth under the age of 14 make up approximately 35 percent of El Salvador's population.




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WASHINGTON--Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hit Chicago on Monday for a fund raiser at the East Bank Club hosted by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

The breakfast event at the club--a popular venue for fund raisers--was attended by about 50 donors.


WASHINGTON--President Obama hits his second Democratic National Committee donor event this week, headlining a reception late Wednesday afternoon with his top 2008 mega fund-raisers as his team lines up money to bankroll his 2012 re-election bid.

I am told by DNC sources the event is a meeting of the DNC's National Finance Committee and the DNC's National Advisory Board, both elite donor maintenance programs. Members of the NFC are "bundlers," who pledged to raise $300,000 for the November 2010 midterm elections. NAB members promised to contribute at least $30,400 to the DNC for four years in a row. Many members of these councils were Obama's top 2008 presidential campaign bundlers.

Bundlers are people who tap into their own extensive personal networks to raise money for a candidate. Obama's elite bundler group got the most facetime during the 2008 presidential with Obama and First Lady Michelle.

Obama will deliver remarks to these major 2012 fund-raising prospects at 5 p.m. at a hotel here. On Monday, at another hotel-- down the street from the White House--Obama was the draw for about 50 supporters at a DNC event with donors who backed Obama big time in 2008 and other Democratic prospects being wooed by his 2012 team.

Read my post on the Monday session at the St. Regis Hotel here.

Meanwhile, a major fund-raiser told me that the Obama 2012 team has put together a powerpoint presentation about Obama's re-election bid--he called it the "scared straight" edition--which showed the team has a concern about independent voters. "It was designed to frighten people into thinking all the gains that have been made will be lost."

No "official" Obama re-election papers have been filed with the Federal Election Commission. No money for the Obama 2012 re-elect can be collected until Obama files with the FEC. Any pledges obtained by the DNC goes to the DNC. But since the main purpose of the DNC at this stage is to support Obama's programs and re-election--it is a difference without a major distinction.

The Obama re-elect game plan calls for the Obama team--to be headquartered in Chicago-- to initially focus on massive money raising. Obama raised $750 million for his 2008 bid---including his primary battle. Obama 2012 Campaign manager Jim Messina has been criss crossing the nation in recent weeks--including Chicago--for what is called in the fund-raising business "prospecting" meetings.

Messina is organizing the leadership of Obama's 2012 massive fund-raising effort, along with DNC finance director Rufus Gifford, who will be the Obama 2012 finance director. Penny Pritzker, the 2008 finance chair will not be reprising her role in 2012, I reported earlier, though she will be active in helping the drive.

WASHINGTON--Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine--speaking Tuesday morning to a meeting of Democrats--told them he is all but in the Virginia Senate race. Or at least that was the impression he left with people I talked to who were there.

Kaine, a former Virginia governor and mayor of Richmond, addressed a breakfast session of a DNC group of local leaders called "Democratic Municipal Officials," meeting at the same time and in the same place where the National League of Cities was holding its annual conference here

A person who was there passed along that Kaine said---and this is a paraphrase of his quote--that although he had one of the greatest jobs in the world, Kaine said was all but assured that he would run.

Virginia Democrats are looking for a 2012 contender because Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) announced that after one term he will not seek re-election.

WASHINGTON--Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn hits Washington on Thursday, where he will meet with the Illinois congressional delegation, attend a St. Patrick's Day party at the White House and, in his new role as finance chair of the Democratic Governor's Association, host a event for donors.

Quinn will discuss a variety of Illinois issues with the delegation; he told me when we talked a few weeks ago he barely knows some of the five freshman House members.

The 19 Illinois House delegation for the 112th Congress is made up of 11 Republicans and 8 Democrats. The new members are all Republican--Rep. Robert Dold, Rep. Randy Hultgren, Rep. Adam Kinzinger and Rep. Bobby Schilling.

Quinn will also sit down with Illinois reporters on Thursday.

In his role as the national finance chair for the DGA, Quinn hosts two DGA events at the American Gas Association, with two donor groups: a "Chairman's Board Meeting" followed by a "Governors' Series Luncheon"

WASHINGTON--President Obama makes his first major fund-raising pitch for his 2012 re-election on Monday night when he meets with about 50 backers---some involved in his 2008 campaign and others who are considered potential major supporters.

Obama meets with the group at the St. Regis Hotel at 7:30 p.m. est at an event organized by the Democratic National Committee, which is the political arm of the Obama operation for now since "official" Obama re-election papers have yet to be filed with the Federal Election Commission. No money for the 2012 re-elect can be collected until Obama files with the FEC. Any pledges obtained at the DNC reception Monday night--it is a DNC event--goes to the DNC. But since the main purpose of the DNC at this stage is to support Obama's programs and re-election--it is a difference without a major distinction.

The Obama re-elect game plan calls for the Obama team--to be headquartered in Chicago-- to initially focus on massive money raising. Whether the pitch on Monday is to raise money for the DNC -- to join one of their top "finance" councils--or to get folks jazzed about 2012, the goal is the same, to re-elect Obama.

Obama 2012 Campaign manager Jim Messina has been criss crossing the nation in recent weeks in what is called in the fund-raising business "prospecting" meetings. He's helping to organize the leadership of Obama's 2012 massive fund-raising effort, along with DNC finance director Rufus Gifford, who will be the Obama 2012 finance director.

Penny Pritzker, the 2008 finance chair will not be reprising her role in 2012, I reported earlier, though she will be active in helping the effort.

Obama headlined a fund-raiser in Boston on March 8 to benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee--where the goal was to raise $1 million--and in Miami on March 4 to benefit mainly the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fl.)

Because Obama will not be delivering "formal" remarks, a pool reporter will not allowed to be present.

WASHINGTON--Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood played a critical role in crafting the compromise between Mayor Daley and O'Hare's major airlines, United and American, allowing the resumption of expansion and modernization of O'Hare.

I'm told:

*LaHood was "distressed" that the January lawsuit filed by United and American threatened the O'Hare project; the federal government already invested millions in the expansion.

*The airline CEO's and Daley met for hours in LaHood's office here on Feb. 9.

*Once the principles departed, teams from the airlines, city and Transportation department kept talking.

*Talks between top staffers moved to Chicago and were up and down during a three-week period. LaHood stressed the parties needed to work this out and made calls to nudge along the deal.

*Critical to the deal LaHood brokered:

1. Construction of the south runway will resume now with other building decisions deferred as long as March 1, 2013.

2. An additional $155 million in new federal money LaHood was able to obtain for O'Hare, which plays a central role in the nation's aviation system. Of that, $105 million is for the south runway. Overall, the federal investment in the O'Hare project is $955 million.

3. Chicago agreed that a Western Terminal Complex will only be built when the airlines--who will foot the bill-- decide there is enough demand.

Rahm Emanuel on O'Hare deal

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below, from Emanuel....

Statement From Mayor-Elect Emanuel On O'Hare Airport Modernization Agreement

Today's agreement is a victory for the economic future of our city, our state, and our region. By allowing the modernization of O'Hare International Airport to move forward, the agreement will create new jobs in the short term and help secure Chicago's economic competitiveness in the long term. I am pleased that the parties reached an agreement that is in the interest of all Chicagoans and applaud Mayor Daley, Secretary LaHood, and Senators Durbin and Kirk for seeing this through.

###

In an unusual move parties in the O'Hare expansion deal--American, United, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, city of Chicago, and the Illinois senators, Mark Kirk (R) and Dick Durbin (D) agreed to a joint press release to announce the dropping of the airlines lawsuit and the continuation of the expansion and modernization of Chicago's main airport.

Click below for the statement.....

By LYNN SWEET

Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief

Last Modified: Mar 14, 2011 10:55AM

WASHINGTON -- The city of Chicago and the two main airlines at O'Hare Airport -- American and United -- have broken a deadlock that will allow the construction of a south runway, an aide to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Monday.

Some aspects of the deal -- which was reached Saturday afternoon and is being announced later Monday morning at a news conference at O'Hare -- still need to be resolved.

At issue has been a serious dispute between the city and the two airlines over a deal to build new runways at O'Hare that at one time -- when airline traffic was much higher -- the airlines eagerly sought and for which they were willing to help pay 60 percent of the costs.

More recently, with business down, the airlines filed a lawsuit on Jan. 18 trying to block the city from going ahead with the expansion project without the approval of the airlines.

The Chicago Sun-Times has learned exclusively that. as part of the deal, the airlines will dismiss the lawsuit; in return, the airlines got a pledge that the city will negotiate -- not try to dictate -- construction of a north runway and other modernization projects. Chicago city officials agreed that a proposed Western Terminal Complex will be developed only as demand dictates. Talks on these projects are to begin no later than March 1, 2013.

The deal involving the city, the airlines and the federal government will allow $1.177 billion worth of construction to complete the south runway, one of two remaining projects of the massive expansion and modernization program.

The deal to break the stalemate was negotiated by Durbin, Mayor Daley and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Illinois congressman. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) was also involved. Durbin and Kirk met with the United's and American's chief executive officers -- Jeff Smisek and Gerard Arpey -- on Jan. 27.

Durbin asked LaHood last month to help resolved the dispute. A few weeks ago, on Feb. 9, LaHood hosted meetings at his Washington office with Daley and the airlines' CEOs.

Under the compromise, the city will kick in $365 million from passenger facility charges, and the airlines will contribute $300 million through their landing and rental fees. The city will use this revenue stream to back the issue general aviation revenue bonds.

LaHood cleared the way for the use of a portion of $410 million in the airport improvement program announced last year -- $175 million -- to be used for the south runway. The federal government will also kick in $155 million in new money for the O'Hare modernization.

LaHood called the deal "a landmark achievement that will benefit air travelers throughout the entire nation. Making improvements to O'Hare will not only reduce flight delays and improve service for air passengers across America, it will ensure one of our busiest airports continues to thrive economically in the future."

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel blames Ald. Ed Burke (14) for laying the groundwork to his residency challenge, Chicago Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman reports in her exclusive interview with Emanuel.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama will oversee the third Spring planting of her White House kitchen garden on Wednesday. The last Spring planting was March 31, 2010.


UPDATE: The report below--from an Irish news site---that Mrs. Obama has requested shamrock seeds for the garden--is not true, according to Mrs. Obama spokesman Katie McCormick Lelyveld. "It didn't originate from our office or the kitchen" she said. END UPDATE

And with St. Patrick's Day this week--with a White House reception to mark the occasion-- an Irish news outlet is reporting that Mrs. Obama has requested shamrock seeds for the garden.

WASHINGTON--President Obama zinged himself first when he started his Gridiron Club dinner speech on Saturday, wryly referencing the birthers who just don't believe he was born in the USA.

The band started playing "Hail to the Chief," the traditional presidential musical introduction when Obama interrupted and asked "Can we go with that song we talked about?"

With that, the band switched to the Bruce Springsteen hit "Born in the U.S.A."

Obama aimed at his own administration and the long list of GOP 2012 presidential candidates in his schtick: (My story on how Obama, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ribbed Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel at the Gridiron Club dinner is here.)

CHIEF OF STAFF BILL DALEY
"Bill Daley came over from Wall Street to take his place and the senior staff actually seems pretty happy with the change, particularly the new executive bonus plan." On Daley replacing Emanuel as White House chief-of-staff.

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER
"I used to think that it was a tan. But after seeing how often he tears up, I've come to realize that it's not a tan, that's rust," a reference to Boehner's tears and what looks like a perma-tan.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
"I do have a couple of regrets to pass along. My Secretary of State could not be with us. I dispatched to the Middle East to talk about how these countries can transition to new leaders. Though I got to be honest. She's gotten a little passionate about the subject.
These past few weeks, it's been tough falling asleep with Hillary out there on Pennsylvania Avenue, shouting, throwing rocks at the window."

MISSISSIPPI GOV. HALEY BARBOUR
"When Michelle said you need to run, she didn't mean for president," a reference to the First Lady's visit to Mississippi to promote her "Let's Move" program.

SEBELIOUS
"Sebelious did a great job...she does a great job each and every day. In these tough times I asked all my cabinet members to cut even those things they care deeply about. In Kathleen's case, it was her once promising political career."


WASHINGTON--Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel was the subject of good-natured ribbing at the 126th annual Gridiron Club dinner on Saturday night from all three speakers, President Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

"Welcome home," Obama shot at Emanuel, a reference to the residency challenge Emanuel--his former chief-of-staff---faced when he moved back to Chicago from here to run for mayor.

Emanuel was the guest of the Chicago Sun-Times at the white tie and ball gown event, a gathering of more than 600--mainly from the worlds of politics, government and media.

Before Obama zinged Emanuel in his address, the Republican and Demcratic speakers--Daniels and Sebelius--aimed barbs at Chicago's incoming mayor in their speeches, exercises in self-deprecating humor and mockery.

Emanuel is well known for his use of profanity and with the Chicago city limits close to the Indiana border, Daniels quipped, "It was a little hard to feel humorous with the economy still so tough. As if our state budget wasn't tight enough, now after the Chicago mayor's race we have to build a missile defense system against F-bombs."

Sebelius, taking note of Emanuel's mid-May inauguration said, "I am looking forward to Rahm putting the swearing back in swearing in."

Obama is practiced at mocking Emanuel, making him the butt of jokes for years. At the 2009 Alfalfa dinner, Obama joked about Emanuel's cussing, in this context just weeks after his own swearing-in as president.

2009 Flashback: "Of course, for Rahm, every day is a swearing-in ceremony. "But don't believe what you read. Rahm Emanuel is a real sweetheart. No, it's true. Every week the guy takes a little time away to give back to the community. Just last week he was at a local school, teaching profanity to poor children."

Back to 2011. Obama kidded Emanuel about the residency challenge he faced when he returned to Chicago in October to run for mayor, a case that went all the way up to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Said Obama, "Rahm Emanuel is here, hard at work on Chicago's problems. Let me just be the first to say, 'Welcome Home,'--- unless anybody from the Illinois Supreme Court is here, then 'Welcome to Washington."'

"You know the day I hired Rahm as my chief of staff, unemployment was under eight percent and my approval ratings were in the sixties, so good luck Chicago."

john blackhawk2.jpgPresident Obama, Blackhawks (Photo by John Barron)

don blackhawk3.jpegFirst Lady Michelle Obama, Blackhawks (photo by Don Hayner)

don blackhawk2.jpeg (photo by Don Hayner)

john blackhawk1.jpgWill County Executive Director Larry Walsh, State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-Ill.) (photo by John Barron)

WASHINGTON--President Obama welcomed the Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks to the South Lawn of the White House on Friday.

Said Obama, Chicago's South Sider president: "And let me, yes, just say to all the Bears fans, Bulls fans, White Sox fans, and Cubs fans -- -- I want to see all of you sometime soon, as well."

Of course, Blackhawks president John McDonough and Blackhawks chairman W. Rockwell 'Rocky' Wirtz were there.

Among those flying in from Illinois for the event: State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) and his 11-year-old son, Nadav; State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park); State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale); attorney Bill Singer; Bears field goal kicker Robbie Gould; Wight & Co. COO Pat Cermak; Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.); Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.); Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) and former Chairman Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Jack Sander.

Thumbnail image for don blackhawk1.jpeg(photo by Don Hayner)

WASHINGTON--- Chicago Sun-Times Blackhawks writer Adam Jahns previews the Blackhawks White House visit on Friday. Read his story here.

WASHINGTON--President Obama learned of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami from White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley around 4 a.m. est, the White House said on Friday morning. A bit more than a hour later, the White House issued a statement of condolences to Japan from Obama and First Lady Michelle--with notice that Obama told federal emergency management officials to be ready to assist Hawaii, where the tsunami is headed.

Obama on Japan earthquake, tsunami: "Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the people of Japan, particularly those who have lost loved ones in the earthquake and tsunamis. The United States stands ready to help the Japanese people in this time of great trial. The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable, and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan as they overcome this tragedy. We will continue to closely monitor tsunamis around Japan and the Pacific going forward and we are asking all our citizens in the affected region to listen to their state and local officials as I have instructed FEMA to be ready to assist Hawaii and the rest of the US states and territories that could be affected."

WASHINGTON--Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, on Thursday morning gavels to order his controversial hearing on the "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response."

Patricia Murphy over at Politics Daily has an overview on the hearing and the witnesses who will testify.

WASHINGTON--President Obama has nominated Daniel Shapiro to be U.S. Ambassador to Israel, tapping a long-time associate who was a key member of the Obama 2008 presidential campaign, handling Mideast affairs. Shapiro was also an important in Obama's outreach to the U.S. Jewish community.

At present, Shapiro is Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa on the Obama White House National Security Council.

WASHINGTON--President Obama is hosting members of the Illinois and North Carolina congressional delegations at the White House Wednesday night to watch the Chicago Bulls play the Charlotte (N.C.) Bobcats. No Illinois GOP House members are attending the watching party; four Illinois House Democrats will be there, in addition to the two Illinois Senators, Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk. North Carolina mustered a bi-partisan House group to watch the game.

The list of Chicago area congressional attendees, from the White House:

Sen. Dick Durbin (D) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R)

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Rep. Danny Davis, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Rep. Jan Schakowsky, all Democrats.

From North Carolina:

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC)

Rep, G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Rep. Larry Kissell (D-NC), Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC), Rep. David Price (D-NC), Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC)

State and Local Government

Mayor Anthony Foxx, Mayor of Charlotte
James Mitchell, Council Member, City of Charlotte

WASHINGTON--Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signs a bill on Wednesday abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. Quinn talked about his struggle to decide whether to sign the bill when he was here last month for the National Governors Association meeting.

Quinn noted that he was lobbied to sign the ban during calls from death penalty foes Desmond Tutu, Martin Sheen, Sister Helen Prejean and pleas from those who wanted Illinois to keep the death penalty on the books, including the families of victims and state's attorneys from around the state.

Quinn said whether to sign the bill was harder to decide than other legislative matters because "It is an emotional issue when you talk to family members. I've talked to families on both sides of the death penalty issue, some are for abolition, some are not. So you have to really have to have an opportuniuty of review and reflection."

I asked Quinn if he was convinced Illinois--with its record of putting wrongly convicted people on Death Row, which led to the current moratorium---won't make mistakes again.

"That is the ultimate decision I have to make within a short period of time, whether or not problems that have existed in Illinois death penalty statute, its implementation, are corrected."

WASHINGTON--On Wednesday night, President Obama will be watching the Chicago Bulls play the Charlotte Bobcats at the White House. His guests will include a group of bipartisan members of Congress representing Chicago and Charlotte, the White House said.

Obama welcomes the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks to the White House on Friday.

The basketball playing Obama--his Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his former senior advisor David Axelrod--have more than a fans interest in the Bulls,Chicago Sun-Times Bulls reporter Lacy Banks revealed in his scoop headlined, "Obama, White House wanted Thibodeau coaching Bulls"

Writes Banks in his exclusive interview with Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf:

''Tom Thibodeau was first recommended to me by [U.S. Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan,'' Reinsdorf said during an exclusive interview with the Sun-Times on Tuesday. ''And that was two years earlier. The Celtics didn't give us a chance to talk with him until after the playoffs, when they won the championship.''

.....''When the job was open again, I talked to Duncan several times on the subject, and he still strongly recommended Thibodeau,'' Reins-dorf recalled. ''So we hired him. Then in July 2010, the White Sox were playing in Washington, and we invited President Obama to come to the game.

''First, David Axelrod [then Obama's senior adviser] arrived and said, 'Thanks for hiring Thibodeau.' Then a little while later, President Obama came in and the first thing he said to me was, 'Great hire.'

''Isn't that a beautiful story?''


WASHINGTON--President Obama on Wednesday tapped Commerce Secretary Gary Locke--the grandson of a Chinese immigrant--to be the new U.S. Ambassador to China. He will replace John Huntsman, a Republican who is stepping down--possibly to run for president.

Locke noted that his grandfather worked in the U.S. as a "houseboy." His grandfather went back to China--where Locke's father was born--and his dad eventually came to the U.S.

A sign how important the U.S.--Chinese relationship is: Locke was flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Obama at the announcement.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich--facing a second federal criminal trial in April on 20 counts--is asking a judge just to sentence him for the count he was convicted on last year and let him start serving his time. A bid to avoid a retrial? Sun-Times Federal Court Reporter Natasha Korecki explains here.

Read Blagojevich's legal pleadings here:
blagodismiss.pdf

WASHINGTON--Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel has treated people roughly for years--my goodness, it is not fun to be on the receiving end, but it does toughen you up--and it will be interesting how he translates to dealings with Chicago's 50-member City Council when he is sworn in as mayor in Mayor.

The Wednesday Washington Post--in a story by Anne Kornblut about troubled relations with Cabinet members--and how Chief of Staff Bill Daley is trying to repair the damage--we get this insight into Emanuel's management style:

From the Post: "According to two administration officials, Cabinet secretaries complained to the new administration that Emanuel did not help them set priorities but instead only called to complain when things went wrong. "Rahm was always moving too fast, thought the Cabinet was useless, didn't have time for it, everything was full speed ahead - fast, fast, fast, can't stop to explain it to somebody," said one Democratic operative who is allied with Emanuel and still consults with the administration. By contrast, the operative said, "Daley comes with a different sensibility about how the Cabinet can be utilized."

Still, one senior White House aide said, Daley has told Cabinet members that the relationship is a "two-way street" and that "if they want more influence and involvement, then they have to do more."

Dan Sinker--aka @Mayor Emanuel-- who teaches journalism at Columbia College in Chicago--guested on the Colbert show on Tuesday.

Obama Ash Wednesday message

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WASHINGTON--Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), defended his upcoming hearings on the U.S. Muslim community and terrorism in a Fox News interview, as Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) on MSNBC's "Hardball" with Chris Matthews spoke out against King, saying Muslims in her north suburban and North Side Chicago district were upset with the targeting.

Said King on Fox: "I will not back down whatsoever. These hearings are absolutely essential, and I don't care what they say or what they accuse me of, I'm going ahead with the hearings. These are necessary for the homeland security of our nation. There are real threats against the country, and when you listen to even what the administration is saying, that al Qaeda is targeting and attempting to radicalize the Muslim-American community, how could I as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee not examine that phenomenon that's going on?"

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel hit Kennedy-King City College on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON--Obama 2012 Campaign Manager Jim Messina hit Miami Tuesday to prospect major donors, the latest stop on his national tour to line up big fund-raisers needed to bankroll President Obama's bid for a second term.

This follows a Texas swing Messina just wrapped up in Austin and Dallas on Sunday and Monday.

I first disclosed Messina's trips to Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles to huddle with mega donors here on Feb. 2 .... and here on Jan. 29


Messina--often with Rufus Gifford, the DNC Finance chief who will be the Obama 2012 fund-raising director--is first shoring up support with folks who were part of the Obama 2008 finance committee.

DNC professional fund-raisers are giving some 2008 donors--as they did recently in Portland, Oregon when Obama was at Intel Corp.--some access to Obama events to fire them up for 2012.

This comes as Obama has stepped up some of his fund-raising for Democrats, headlining an event for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Boston on Tuesday.

On Friday, Obama was the draw at receptions at the Fontaineblue Resort and a home to benefit the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other Florida Democrats.

Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel's Chicago 2011 transition team launched a website on Tuesday: among the features, a place to send a resume to work in the Emanuel City Hall.

The Obama White House also gathered resumes during the transition after the 2008 election. Some people in the White House and agencies got jobs that way--but many plum spots went to folks who worked in the campaign and big fund-raisers, who helped the 2008 bid.

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama--and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton--team up Tuesday morning at the State Department to mark International Women's Day, delivering awards to heroic female activists from around the world.

From state.gov:

Since the inception of this award in 2007, the Department of State has honored 38 women from 27 different countries. This is the only Department of State award that pays tribute to women activists worldwide.

The names of this year's honorees:

Her Excellency, Roza Otunbayeva, President of the Kyrgyz Republic;
Maria Bashir, Prosecutor General, Herat Province (Afghanistan);
Nasta Palazhanka, Deputy Chairperson, Malady Front (Young Front) non-governmental organization (Belarus);
Henriette Ekwe Ebongo, journalist and publisher of Bebela (Cameroon);
Guo Jianmei, lawyer and Director of the Beijing Zhongze Women's Legal Counseling and Service Center (China);
Yoani Sanchez, Innovator and Blogger, Founder of Generación Y blog (Cuba);
The Honorable Agnes Osztolykan, Member of Parliament, Politics Can Be Different Party (Hungary);
Eva Abu Halaweh, Executive Director of Mizan Law Group for Human Rights (Jordan);
Marisela Morales Ibañez, Deputy Attorney General for Special Investigations against Organized Crime (Mexico);
Ghulam Sughra, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Marvi Rural Development Organization, (Pakistan)

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WASHINGTON--Rod Blagojevich makes a cameo in a hilarious Daily Show video on a faux hunt for the Wisconsin Democratic state lawmakers hiding out over the Illinois border near Rockford--to deny Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker a vote on a bill to strip union collective bargaining rights. Blagojevich faces an April re-trial on federal corruption charges. Though the piece is funny, Blagojevich uses the schtick to make a point on workers rights to organize--and perhaps then to justify taking part in a stunt that calls him a former "warlord" and mocks his famous phrase, "f------ golden."

WASHINGTON--White House Senior Advisor David Plouffe hit the Democratic National Committee headquarters here Tuesday morning as new DNC chief Patrick Gaspard held his first all-staff meeting. Plouffe--was the the Obama 2008 campaign manager--who joined the Obama White House earlier this year--he works out of David Axelrod's former office--was at the DNC to lay out the some of the roadmap for the 2012 Obama re-election campaign. Gaspard moved over to the DNC from the White House, where he was the political director. He replaces now former DNC executive director Jen O'Malley Dillion, who is moving to Chicago to become an Obama 2012 deputy campaign manager.

WASHINGTON---Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel and wife Amy Rule partied last Sunday with Hollywood and political stars at the Kuwait Embassy here to benefit the Kuwait-America Foundation, the Washington Post's Reliable Source column reported on Tuesday.

The column, co-authored by Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger, reports that the "night's big draw" was former President Clinton --he was "the last to leave" the dinner--but Emanuel drew a lot of attention.

From the Post: "Chicago's mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, officially there as husband of Amy Rule, tried to fly under the radar on this trip back to D.C. (wife and kids still live here until school's out), and utterly failed. Most of the 144 guests mobbed around to congratulate him on the election; Clinton gave him a big shout-out from the podium."

Emanuel on Saturday is a guest of the Chicago Sun-Times at the Gridiron Club annual dinner here which President Obama--and a lot other boldface names--will attend.

Among the stars at the Kuwait Embassy, via the Post: Ben Affleck, Michael Douglas, Michael Bolton. The program was co-hosted by MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough of "Morning Joe." Others: Sen. John McCain and wife Cindy, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

stanley cup.jpgRep. Mike Quigley, Sen. Dick Durbin and the Stanley Cup in Durbin's Senate office. The Chicago Blackhawks are being honored at the White House on Friday, Quigley hosts a briefing on the status of hockey on Thursday. (Photo by Lynn Sweet)

Click below for information on Quigley briefing...

WASHINGTON--For years, Congress has declined to allow Polish citizens to visit the U.S. without a visa, though folks from 36 countries can come here without one.

I first wrote about this in 2006 (see my story at the click) and noted that Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) has been on this since 2005. He's trying again, with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.). The Lipinski and Quigley districts have large numbers of Poles and Polish-Americans. The measure passed at least once in the Senate.

Quigley's been on the Poland visa matter since his April, 2009 swearing in.

from Kirk/Quigley/ Lipinski release: "Poland currently is one of the few European nations to be excluded from the VWP, despite its nearly century-long diplomatic relationship with the United States. The Polish government repealed its visa requirement for U.S. citizens traveling to Poland in 1991."






WASHINGTON--President Obama ordered the resumption of military commissions to deal with some--not all-- alleged terrorist detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison on Monday.

Read the Obama administration new Guantanamo policy here: Fact_Sheet_--_Guantanamo_and_Detainee_Policy.pdf

Obama has been struggling how to deal with the prisoners. He did not fulfill his pledge to close Guantanamo a year after taking office. Last year, Obama gave up on transferring some of the Gitmo detainees to a high security facility the Obama administration wanted to open in Thomson, Ill.


From the White House: "The Secretary of Defense will issue an order rescinding his prior suspension on the swearing and referring of new charges in the military commissions. New charges in military commissions have been suspended since the President announced his review of detainee policy, shortly after taking office."

From Obama on "New Actions on Guantanamo Bay and Detainee Policy: "Today, I am announcing several steps that broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice, provide oversight for our actions, and ensure the humane treatment of detainees. I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, and we will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice system - including Article III Courts - to ensure that our security and our values are strengthened. Going forward, all branches of government have a responsibility to come together to forge a strong and durable approach to defend our nation and the values that define who we are as a nation."



WASHINGTON--Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday launches the "100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges," a continuation of work she began when she was the First Lady and used her position to highlight the plight of women worldwide.

Tuesday--March 8--is International Women's Day.

Clinton's top appointment on international women's affairs is Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer--a onetime chief of staff to the former first lady--who ran the Vital Voices Global Partnership, an outgrowth of Mrs. Clinton's Vital Voices Democracy Initiative, established in 1997.

Verveer and Clinton Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills "will participate in a conversation with the "100 Women" moderated by Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Ann Stock."

Background, from the State Department: This effort kicks-off a year-long series of events to highlight key foreign policy issues that directly impact women and girls worldwide through the International Visitor Leadership Program's exchanges.

Obama March 7 week ahead

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WASHINGTON--The Obama White House on Sunday made an appeal to the U.S. Muslim community to work together to find ways to avoid violent extremism, in a speech Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough delivered to a Muslim audience. (Click below for transcript of prepared remarks.)

This comes as Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, on Thursday holds a full committee hearing on "the Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response."

The witness list has not yet been announced. On Sunday, King said the threat of domestic Islamic terrorism justifies his look into the U.S. Muslim community. Read about King's comments on Sunday here.

Statement from King on why he is holding the hearing:


"We will examine al Qaeda's latest and dangerous tactic of radicalizing members of the American Muslim community and recruiting them to engage in jihadist attacks against innocent Americans. We will also examine the American Muslim community's response to the growing threat. Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano declared that the terrorist threat level is at its most 'heightened state' since 9/11; National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter called al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) the most significant threat to our homeland; and Attorney General Eric Holder recently said that radicalization in this country by AQAP's Anwar al Awlaki and other terrorist recruiters is what keeps him awake at night.

"At the hearing, we will hear from American Muslims, including those with first-hand, devastating experience with the effects of al Qaeda's radicalization efforts. This life-and-death issue is too important to ignore in the name of political correctness."

Excerpt from McDonough's prepared remarks:

Here in Virginia and across the country, Muslim Americans are our neighbors and fellow citizens. You inspire our children as teachers. You strengthen our communities as volunteers, often through interfaith projects, like the President's "United We Serve" program. You protect our communities as police officers and firefighters.

You create jobs and opportunity as small business owners and executives of major corporations. You enrich our culture as athletes and entertainers. You lead us as elected officials and Members of Congress. And no one should ever forget that Muslim Americans help keep America safe every day as proud Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen. Indeed, some of these heroes have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation and now rest in our hallowed national cemeteries.

That's why I appreciate the opportunity to be here today. It's this very idea--the idea of America as a secure and pluralistic nation; as a society that doesn't just accept diversity; but which is strengthened by it--this idea is more important than ever.

Over the last several months and again later this month in New York City, John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, will continue to outline the steps we are taking--across our government--to keep America and our communities safe and secure, including from the threat of al Qaeda and its adherents.

I am here to talk with you about how our communities - your communities - contribute to keeping our country safe: specifically, as part of our approach to preventing the radicalization that leads to a range of threats here at home, including terrorism.

WASHINGTON--Incoming White House Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard won't land in town for a bit--he's the chief of staff to the U.S. Ambassador to France, in Paris. A profile of Bernard, 49, on NPR shows that the road to the Obama White House started with his energetic fund-raising during the 2008 campaign, dealing skillfully with major donors who are used to being treated well.

The next big special event at the White House is the St. Patrick's Day celebration, with the mega Easter Roll coming up next month. Bernard replaces Julianna Smoot, who is departing to become deputy campaign manager of the Obama 2012 re-elect campaign.

rahm sally armbuster.JPGEmanuel campaign staffer Sally Armbuster at Emanuel headquarters. Armbuster is a former aide in the Obama White House Social Secretary office. (photo by Lynn Sweet) follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet

CHICAGO--Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel's successful mayoral campaign was organized like a mini-presidential campaign, staffed with former White House personnel and seasoned Illinois political operatives, covering 50 Chicago wards instead of 50 states.

Emanuel, a veteran of the Obama and Clinton White Houses, a former House member who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- who has put together many campaigns -- is running his pre-and post-mayoral election Chicago operation on a national model: Since returning to Chicago in October, he has formed committees to bankroll his campaign, his inauguration, his transition and his permanent political organization.

And mimicking a national campaign, Emanuel even put a flag pin on his suit lapel for his mayoral bid: A Chicago flag, that is.

Emanuel started to organize his campaign before he left his job as President Obama's chief of staff on Oct. 1. Obama administration staffers -- many with Illinois connections -- provided a lot of the campaign infrastructure, complemented by hires of staffers who ran state and local campaigns in Illinois.

Once back in Chicago, almost everywhere Emanuel went was "advanced" -- that is, checked out beforehand -- by Mike Ruemmler and Mike Faulman, who were drafted out of the Obama White House advance shop. Faulman served as Emanuel's "bodyman," or traveling personnel assistant.

Communication Chief Ben LaBolt was a major and early hire for Emanuel, who snared the La Grange native from the White House press office where his national portfolio included a special niche developed during Obama's 2008 presidential campaign: handling Chicago-related matters for the Obama administration.

The Deputy Press Secretary, Tarrah Cooper, came out of the Department of Homeland Security press shop. Emanuel's mayoral scheduler, Kate Kochman, was his scheduler in the White House.

The chief financial officer of his campaign, Erin Mackey was the director of finance at the White House and before that a staffer in the Obama-Biden transition team and the budget manager for Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

At the start of the campaign, Emanuel was assisted by Jasculca Terman, the Chicago-based public affairs firm that fields a team with presidential-level experience, and Buffy Wicks, an Obama 2008 key field organizer, who was for a time a deputy director in the White House Office of Public Engagement, overseen by White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Wicks is the vice president of political affairs at AKPD Message and Media, Emanuel's media consultants. AKPD was founded by former White House Senior adviser David Axelrod.

The Emanuel fund-raising drive was run by Jordan Kaplan, who was a deputy finance director for the Obama presidential campaign and Obama's Senate political operation, and Anne Olaimey, who ran the Business Liaison office at the Commerce Department -- and who has raised money for Emanuel going back to his first House race in 2002.

Sally Armbruster was an assistant in first lady Michelle Obama's Social Secretary office; she ran special events for Emanuel's campaign.

There were about 40 or 50 paid staffers in Emanuel's campaign, and Emanuel blanketed his White House alumni with local savvy: Matt Hynes, who has run Illinois statewide races, (his brother former Comptroller Dan Hynes) was a senior adviser dealing with political outreach; Blake Sercye, the political director, steered Gov. Quinn's campaign African-American outreach. Field Director Anna Valencia ran Illinois state Senate races for State Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), and policy chief David Spielfogel did the same job for Alexi Giannoulias' Illinois U.S. Senate bid.

Deputy campaign manager Tom Bowen jumped into the Emanuel campaign from managing Forrest Claypool's independent run for Cook County assessor and Giannoulias' primary campaign. Bowen will be running Emanuel's permanent political operation, the New Chicago Committee, a political action committee modeled after leadership PACs run by House, Senate and presidential candidates.

Mayor elect Rahm Emanuel is creating a political action committee, called the "New Chicago Committee," to bankroll his political operation which will include raising money and donating to other candidates--from aldermanic on up--and causes.

Emanuel Deputy Campaign Manager Tom Bowen--who managed Forrest Claypool's independent Cook County Assesors race--and Alexi Giannoulias' Senate Democratic primary--will helm the New Chicago Committee.

The New Chicago Committee is modeled on House and Senate members "leadership" political action committees. While a House member, Emanuel ran a leadership PAC, "Our Common Values" PAC; with most donations to help Democratic House candidates.

This is the fourth fund-raising committee Emanuel has created since he returned to Chicago in October. They are:

1. Chicago for Rahm, the Emanuel mayoral campaign

2. The Emanuel transition committee, funding for which will likely come from Chicago's non-profit foundation community. Official name: Chicago 2011 Transition Committee, a not-for-profit corporation. Papers to create the transition committee were filed with the Illinois Secretary of State on March 2.

3. The Emanuel inauguration committee, which will be raising money from donors. Official name: Chicago 2011 Inaugural Committee, a not-for-profit corporation. Papers to create the inaugural committee were filed with the Illinois Secretary of State on March 2.

4. The New Chicago Committee, Emanuel's political action committee which will bankroll his political operation.

Mayor elect Rahm Emanuel's "Chicago 2011" mayoral inauguration committee--the MIC--held its first meeting on Wednesday over at the Chicago Cut Steakhouse, 300 N. LaSalle.

Chicago 2011 was created by Emanuel to bankroll a series of events marking his May inauguration as mayor. The committee will fund citywide events not only for Emanuel, but in a bid for unity--and command and control--Emanuel's MIC will also organize inauguration celebrations for the City Clerk and City Treasurer. The committee--Desiree Rogers is one of the members--is tasked with raising money and planning a variety of events spread over several days in May to mark the swearing in of the officials elected citywide: mayor, city treasurer and city clerk. Aldermen will, if they choose, be able to coordinate their swearing-in activities with the MIC.


WASHINGTON--Patrick Gaspard, the former White House political affairs director, started his new job Tuesday as executive director of the Democratic National Committee. He replaced Jennifer O'Malley Dillion, who is departing to become deputy manager of the Obama 2012 re-election campaign, to be headquartered in Chicago.

P030411PS-0078
(White House photo)

WASHINGTON--Mayor elect Rahm Emanuel met with President Obama, his former boss in the Oval Office on Friday, and hung around the White House a bit to say hello to staffers he worked with as chief of staff.

"He was walking around saying hello to folks," White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett told me. "He looks terrific. Never happier." Emanuel also visited with his successor--and longtime pal--new chief of staff Bill Daley.

Emanuel wandered over to one of the press offices, down the way from the Oval after he met with the president, lingering about 10 minutes. He gave everyone hugs, I'm told.

On his Twitter page Emanuel gave no clues on the substance of any conversation, tweeting, "Had a great discussion with President @BarackObama this morning."

Emanuel avoided cameras and reporters on his way in and out, using an entrance to the White House where he could not be spotted coming and going. Emanuel's team is looking to downplay this visit back to the White House. Neither Emanuel's campaign nor the White House so far want to provide any "guidance"or a "readout" about what the two friends talked about. Remember: while Obama and Emanuel may not have seen each other in awhile, the two continued to talk all the time after Emanuel left the White House in October.

White House press secretary Jay Carney, asked about the Emanuel visiting during a briefing on Air Force One--Obama was en route to Florida--said "It was a personal visit and that's all I know." He joked, "It felt a little different in the White House, though. I didn't see him, but you could tell -- you could feel His Honor's energy."

Emanuel is in D.C. this weekend--and the next--staying at his rented home here. His wife, Amy and three kids are staying in D.C. until the end of the school year.

FOOTNOTE: Former White House senior advisor David Axelrod also is in Washington this weekend.

WASHINGTON--While the GOP 2012 presidential field is jelling, I bring you this day in presidential history from the last contest. On March 4, 2008, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee dropped his presidential bid. Huckabee--who wrongly said President Obama was raised in Kenya on Monday--appealing to the birther wing of the Republican party--is mulling a second run.

WASHINGTON--White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley is on NBC's "Meet the Press" this Sunday, the second Sunday show interview of his Obama administration tenure. Daley debuted on the Sunday circuit on Jan. 30, on the CBS show, "Face the Nation."

WASHINGTON--Patrick Gaspard, the former White House political affairs director, started his new job Tuesday as executive director of the Democratic National Committee. He replaced Jennifer O'Malley Dillion, who is departing to become deputy manager of the Obama 2012 re-election campaign, to be headquartered in Chicago.


WASHINGTON--Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel will make his first return to the White House since he left as President Obama's Chief of Staff on Friday, when he meets with his former boss in the Oval Office.

Obama hosted a lavish White House send-off ceremony for Emanuel on Oct. 1 and was supportive of his candidacy. The two continued to talked regularly, Emanuel said during his campaign.

Emanuel will spend the next two weekends here to be with his family--still camped out in D.C. until the school year is finished--now that the campaign is over. His swearing-in is not until mid-May.

A week from Saturday--March 12--Emanuel will be the guest of the Chicago Sun-Times at the Gridiron Club annual dinner here, which Obama will attend.

The day before--Friday, March 11--the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks will be at the White House to be honored by Obama and First Lady Michelle, with the invite list to include--no wonder--at lot of Chicagoans. No official word on whether Emanuel will attend, but I would bet on it.

Emanuel was the Democratic Gridiron Club speaker the dinner in 2007--he was then in House leadership--with the other headliner Republican Mitt Romney, who was running--the first time--for president.

As many now well know from his residency challenge, Emanuel moved from Chicago to Washington in 2009 to become Obama's White House chief of staff, with his family later coming here to join him.

His wife, Amy and three children, enrolled in local elementary schools, remained in Washington--in a house near the National Cathedral--when he returned to Chicago to launch his mayoral bid.

Quipped former President Clinton at the 2010 Gridiron Club dinner: "I found Rahm. I created Rahm. I made him the man he is today. I am so sorry," joked Clinton.

The Chicago Blackhawks, the Stanley Cup champions, will be at the White House on March 11 to be honored by President Obama and First Lady Michelle. The Blackhawks play the Washington Capitals on Sunday, March 13.


Below, from the White House....

On Friday, March 11, at 3:00 p.m. ET, President and Mrs. Obama will welcome the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks to the White House to honor the team's 2009-10 championship season.

Following the ceremony, First Lady Michelle Obama, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, and USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean will preside over a street hockey workout and clinic on a rink set up on the South Lawn of the White House. The clinic for local youngsters, which will be conducted by members of the Blackhawks and Washington Capitals, is part of a new collaboration between Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! initiative, the NHL and USA Hockey to encourage American children to lead active and healthy lives and continues the President's tradition of sports champions serving in the community as part of their visit.

Earlier in the week, members of the team and Blackhawks staff will also visit troops and their families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Screen_shot_2011-03-03_at_1.14.39_AM.png(Sun-Times photo by Rich Chapman)


Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel met his potty mouth @MayorEmanuel Twitter alter ego, Dan Sinker on Wednesday, giving him a $5,000 check (for a charity) for unmasking himself, keeping a promise he made to the Sun-Times Rich Roeper on his WLS-AM show during the campaign. Sun-Times political reporter Abdon M. Pallasch has the details here.

WASHINGTON--British Ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald will focus on British-American trade during a lunchtime speech Wednesday at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs.

For live tweets of the speech from the Chicago based British Consulate-General, check out: @UKinChicago.

Excerpt from the prepared text of the speech: "We are each other's largest investors. Around a million jobs in each country depend on the other's companies. And these are high quality jobs: pay is 40% more than the average US household income. At nearly half a trillion dollars, the UK's stock of investment in the US is over 500 times China's investment in the US."

Background from the British Embassy: "UK investment in the US makes a local impact in Illinois totalling $9 billion and providing 60,000 jobs. The Ambassador said British businesses specialising in green energy are looking at opportunities for further investment in the state including offshore wind in the Great Lakes."

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama rarely can break out of her "bubble," her staff wakes up to e-mails from the boss and she does not want her daughters to have cell phones, according to her former chief of staff Susan Sher.

Those glimpses at the life of the present First Lady came Tuesday at a conference, "The Legacies of America's First Ladies," at American University, organized by Anita McBride who was chief of staff for Laura Bush.

Sher, who resigned last month to return to Chicago, first met Mrs. Obama--then Michelle Robinson--when she applied for a job in 1991 in Mayor Daley's City Hall. Sher shared insights into running the East Wing operation on a panel with McBride and Melanne Verveer, Hillary Rodham Clinton's former chief of staff.

Sher related:

*The White House residence does not have wireless internet service. Mrs. Obama does not watch cable television

* The president speaks over all kinds of secure lines, but when it comes to land line phones in the residence, however, when a call goes through from the White House operators, it only rings in one room. So when the First Couple were on a trip in 2009 and wanted to say good night to Sasha and Malia, they could not get right through to the kids, because the phone did not ring in the room they were in.

"Sort of quaint," Sher said. The White House ushers, wanting to be responsive, offered to get the girls cell phones. Mrs. Obama said they didn't want them. With all the protection in the White House, "we know they are safe."

*"Unlike me, our current first lady is a morning person," Sher said, with emails waiting for her when she got up, often "thoughts and ideas" that needed a reply.


*Mrs. Obama has talked about missing being able to shop at the Roosevelt Road Target in Chicago, a place Sher said the first lady can visualize "up and down every aisle." A while back, Sher asked her to go "on an outing" with her to see an exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. "She got so excited" about the "field trip" because "the Secret Service told her that we can walk ....she didn't know it was literally across the street." Even these kinds of outings are rare, Sher said.

Audio clip from Media Matters

WASHINGTON--Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, mulling a 2012 presidential run, insisted on a New York radio show that President Obama was born in Kenya--a totally wrong statement.

Huckabee's statement was first reported by the liberal group, Media Matters.

On Feb. 28 Huckabee said on WOR's The Steve Malzberg Show yesterday--during "birther" conversation about the Hawaii born president.

MALZBERG: Don't you think it's fair also to ask him, I know your stance on this. How come we don't have a health record, we don't have a college record, we don't have a birth cer - why Mr. Obama did you spend millions of dollars in courts all over this country to defend against having to present a birth certificate. It's one thing to say, I've -- you've seen it, goodbye. But why go to court and send lawyers to defend against having to show it? Don't you think we deserve to know more about this man?

HUCKABEE: I would love to know more. What I know is troubling enough. And one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American. When he gave the bust back to the Brits --

MALZBERG: Of Winston Churchill.

HUCKABEE: The bust of Winston Churchill, a great insult to the British. But then if you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.

From Media Matters: a spokesman for Huckabee walked back his comments on Tuesday:

"Governor Huckabee simply misspoke when he alluded to President Obama growing up in 'Kenya.' The Governor meant to say the President grew up in Indonesia. When the Governor mentioned he wanted to know more about the President, he wasn't talking about the President's place of birth - the Governor believes the President was born in Hawaii. The Governor would however like to know more about where President Obama's liberal policies come from and what else the President plans to do to this country - as do most Americans."

WASHINGTON--Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is the new finance chair of the Democratic Governors Association, I'm told, responsible for raising millions of dollars from across the country to help bankroll upcoming governor contests.

Quinn was tapped for what is his first big national political role by DGA chairman Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. Taking on the finance chair chores means Quinn will travel more around the country to raise Democratic cash.

O'Malley told the Sun-Times he was "very pleased" Quinn "will be the next Finance Chair of the Democratic Governors Association. Gov. Quinn knows what it takes to win close races, last year withstanding an onslaught of negative attacks to win the governorship of Illinois in a tough political environment.

"In his new role as Finance Chair, Gov. Quinn will be representing Democratic governors at events in Illinois and throughout the country, helping to ensure that the DGA has the resources it needs to elect more Democratic governors and fight back against Republican attacks."

DGA Vice-Chair North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said Quinn's "strong record of fighting for working families has earned him the support of Democratic donors, and I have no doubt he will be successful in his new role as Finance Chair. Gov. Quinn knows the importance of successful fundraising and will be a tremendous asset for us as we expand the ranks of Democratic governors."

At one-time seen as reluctant to be involved in major fund-raising, Quinn stepped up to the plate when it came to his battle to win election on his own in 2010, after becoming governor after Rod Blagojevich was impeached in 2009. Quinn raised $23 million in what was a brutal Democratic primary and general election campaign against Illinois State Sen. Bill Brady.

There are four governor contests in 2011: Republicans are governor in Mississippi and Louisiana and Democrats hold the seats in Kentucky and West Virginia.

Quinn has been in Washington since Friday for meetings of the National Governors Association and the DGA. Quinn attended a DGA fund-raiser at Union Station here on Saturday night. Quinn on Tuesday was scheduled to speak to the AFL-CIO's Executive Council

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, has formed Chicago 2011, a mayoral inaugural committee--a MIC--to bankroll a series of events marking his May inauguration as mayor. The committee will fund citywide events not only for Emanuel, but in a bid for unity--and command and control--Emanuel's MIC will also organize inauguration celebrations for the City Clerk and City Treasurer.

Aldermen are not officially part of the MIC, but could chose to coordinate their own swearing-in activities with the Emanuel organization.

Among the MIC co-chairs: Desiree Rogers, the CEO of Johnson Publishing, the former Obama White House Social Secretary. Emanuel, President Obama's former chief of staff, was the chief fund-raiser for former President Clinton's 1993 presidential inauguration committee.

Emanuel has or will have three entities he is overseeing:

ChicagoforRahm: The Emanuel Campaign fund

Emanuel Transition Committee:
Funding for that has not been figured out yet

Mayoral Inauguration Committee: The celebrations will be privately funded. Emanuel fund-raisers Jordan Kaplan and Anne Olaimey will work on the MIC.


Below, release from Emanuel campaign....

CHICAGO 2011 INAUGURAL COMMITTEE CO-CHAIRS ANNOUNCED

Today Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, Treasurer Stephanie Neely and City Clerk-elect Susana Mendoza announced the co-chairs of the Chicago 2011 Inaugural Committee. This diverse group of civic leaders from across the city will organize the inauguration of Chicago's three city-wide elected officials and coordinate with members of the City Council as they prepare to begin their terms. The inaugural events for the city-wide electeds will be held jointly, they will be open and accessible to all Chicagoans and appropriately represent our commitment to taking on the challenges we face with common purpose.

Melinda Kelly is Executive Director for Chatham Business Association (CBA) Small Business Development Inc. where she provides viable and effective for support small businesses to enhance the social, political, and economic growth within the Chatham community. Kelly had extensive experience combining business and social service. Additionally Kelly serves on various Small Business Advisory Committees and is credited with implementing the Chatham Lending Initiative, a Small Business Association certified loan program. Recently Kelly also facilitated the creation of the Chatham Cottage Grove Special Service Area (SSA). Prior to joining CBA, Melinda Kelly served as an Employment Specialist assisting Chicago Housing Authority residents and as the Compliance Director for mortgage brokers and loan originators.

Eric Lefkofsky is the co-founder of LightBank, a venture fund focused on helping disruptive technology businesses. Lefkofsky is also a founder and director of several firms, including InnerWorkings, Inc., Echo Global Logistics, Inc., MediaBank, LLC, and Groupon.com, Inc. Lefkofsky serves on the board of directors of Children's Memorial Hospital, the board of trustees of the Steppenwolf Theatre, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Lefkofsky is the author of Accelerated Disruption and an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School.

Antonio Gracias is the founder, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Investment Committee at Valor. Prior to founding Valor in 2001, Gracias served as Founder and Managing Member of MG Capital, a private equity firm headquartered in Chicago. Gracias engages in community-spirited leadership as an Aspen Institute Henry Crown Fellow and was recognized for his service by the educational arts nonprofit Changing Worlds. Gracias is a member of the Commercial Club of Chicago, and serves on the boards of the Grand Victoria Foundation, the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Economic Club of Chicago, and the Board of Visitors at the University of Chicago Law School. He also serves as a Trustee of the Field Museum. Gracias holds a joint BS and MSFS from Georgetown University and a JD from the University of Chicago Law School.

David Herro is a Chief Investment Officer at Harris Associates, as well as a Portfolio Manager of the Oakmark International Fund, the Oakmark International Small Cap fund and Oakmark Global Select fund. Before joining Harris, Herro worked for The State of Wisconsin Investment Board and The Principal Financial Group of Des Moines, Iowa. Herro earned his MA in Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a BS in Business/Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

John T. Coli is President of Teamsters Joint Council 25. Coli, who has been a member of the Teamsters since 1971, also serves as Secretary-Treasurer of Local 727 and as a Central Region Vice President for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Prior to his tenure with the Teamsters, Coli served as a prosecutor and administrative law judge for the Illinois Secretary of State. Coli is currently a Trustee for the Local 727 Health and Welfare Fund, Pension Fund, Parking Industry Labor Management Committee, and Legal and Educational Assistance Fund, and serves on the Executive Board of the Chicago Federation of Labor. Coli also has government experience at both the local and national levels, having been appointed to President Barack Obama's Immigration Roundtable, Gov. Pat Quinn's Economic Recovery Commission and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's Transition Team. Coli earned his BA from San Francisco State University and his JD from John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Tim Mullen was the director of the Lincoln Park Zoo from 1999 to 2005. Mullen, a private investor, currently serves on the Board of Trustees at the Francis W. Parker School. Mullen has also served as a director and investor of Thinkorswim Inc. of Chicago and was Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of First Options of Chicago, Inc.

Desiree Rogers is the CEO of Johnson Publishing Company. In 2008, President Obama named Rogers the first African-American White House Social Secretary. Rogers was elected president of People Energy's two natural gas utilities in 2004. Previously, Rogers led the Illinois State Lottery. Rogers has served on several corporate and non-for-profit boards, most recently serving on Equity Residential, a publically traded REIT, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and as Vice Chairman of the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry. She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from Wellesley College.

###

WASHINGTON--While U.S. women have made gains, when it comes to salary, a big gender gap still exists, a new Obama White House study found, with females earning about 75 percent of what male counterparts make.

Womens lives have changed: fewer women are getting married, women are staying in school longer compared to 30 and 40 years ago, men spend more time in leisure and sports than females, women do more volunteer work, women live longer than men, but experience a lot of "mobility" problems compared to men.

The study is the first comprehensive federal look at the status of women in 48 years, the White House said, "when the Commission on the Status of Women, established by President Kennedy and chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, produced a report on the conditions of women.

VIEW THE ENTIRE REPORT HERE: "Women_in_America.pdf

"The Obama Administration has been focused on addressing the challenges faced by women and girls from day one because we know that the success of women and girls is vital to winning the future," said Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls Valerie Jarrett in a statement. "Today's report not only serves as a look back on American women's lives, but serves as a guidepost to help us move forward."

The report is "long overdue," Jarrett said in a Tuesday morning conference call. The release of the survey was timed for March 1, the beginning of Women's History Month.

First Lady Chief of Staff Tina Tchen is the executive director of the council

Finding: "Gains in education and labor force involvement have not yet translated into wage and income equity. At all levels of education, women earned about 75 percent of what their male counterparts earned in 2009. In part because of these lower earnings and in part because unmarried and divorced women are the most likely to have responsibility for raising and supporting their children, women are more likely to be in poverty than men. These economic inequities are even more acute for women of color."

One reason: Women tend to work in lower paying areas, said Rebecca Blank, acting deputy Secretary of Commerce in the conference call.

Jarrett on the call said women have to be encouraged to get the education they need to go "into higher paying fields."

Blank ran the Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research and was an economics professor at Northwestern.

Blank served in the Clinton White House as a Member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, from 1997-1999.

Another finding: As of 2009, fewer women are married than in the past. "The percentage of adults who are married declined between 1970 and 2009, from 72 percent to 62 percent for women and from 84 percent to 66 percent for men. In 2009, 15 percent of women and 20 percent of men had never married, compared to 7 percent and 9 percent, respectively, in 1970."

WASHINGTON--Libyran strongman Moammar Gadhafi, in an interview with ABC's Christiane Amanpour, the host of "This Week" is in a state of denial about the uprising in his country. "They love me. All my people with me. They love me all," Gadhafi told her.


He says it is not happening. An excerpt from their exchange:

COL. GADHAFI: No demonstrations at all in the streets.

MS. AMANPOUR: But --

COL. GADHAFI: They love me. All my people with me. They love me all.

MS. AMANPOUR: But if they do love you --

COL. GADHAFI: They will die to protect me, my people. No, no.

MS. AMANPOUR: If you say they do love you, then why are they capturing Benghazi and they say they're against you there. Why are they --

COL. GADHAFI: This is al-Qaida. This is al-Qaida. It is al- Qaida, not my people.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is on C-SPAN now from the Capitol, talking about how Congress is trying to break the budget stalemate and avoid a shutdown. He'll also be taking calls.

UPDATE
Kirk, a former House member, said he was "a little surprised" at how partisan the Senate is, including the custom of Democratic and GOP senators holding separate lunches each week. Kirk said he has teamed up with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to launch bi-partisan lunches on Thursday. END UPDATE

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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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