Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

April 2011 Archives

greta, david, sarah, rupert.jpg
FOX News Greta Van Susteren, David and Susan Axelrod, Sarah Palin, Wendi and Rupert Murdoch (photo by Lynn Sweet)

white whca brunch.jpegOlympic gold medalist Shaun White (photo by Lynn Sweet)

buzz.jpegAstronaut Buzz Aldrin (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, husband Todd and daughter Bristol, actress Morgan Fairchild and Olympian Shaun White were part of an eclectic crowd gathered for a brunch before the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner Saturday night.

Palin told me she is giving a speech and will not be able to make the dinner--though her daughter will.

The Georgetown brunch was sponsored by Tammy Haddad and Ted Greenberg; Kevin Sheekey, Hilary Rosen, Mark Ein, Alex Castellanos, Anita Dunn, Bill Knapp, Jim Courtovich, David Adler, Steve McMahon and Franco Nuschese.

Two charities were highlighted and since this is Washington, it should be noted that the leader of one has ties to Democrats and the other to Republicans. The charities: CURE Epilepsy, founded by Susan Axelrod, whose husband, David, is a key Obama advisor and White Ribbon Alliance, overseen by Wendi Murdoch, married to media mogul Rupert.

WASHINGTON--Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel flew here on Saturday; he will attend the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner this evening, as is his wife, Amy Rule.

Emanuel was spotted earlier today jogging along a pathway in Rock Creek Park. (hat tip: one of my neighbors.) Emanuel's family remains living here until the end of the school year.

Keeping things even: Emanuel is a guest of the Chicago Tribune tonight; in March he was a guest of the Chicago Sun-Times at the Gridiron Club dinner.

WASHINGTON--The White House Correspondents' Association Dinner is tonight, with Saturday Night Live headwriter and comic Seth Meyers the headliner. Meyers--I locked eyes with him for a mini-moment at the New Yorker party Friday night--speaks after President Obama, always a hard act to follow.

David Axelrod hit town early, returning from Chicago to put the finishing touches on Obama's speech: Obama's routine is expected to be multi-media with a big dose of self-deprecating humor. Obama led his March Gridiron Club speech with a birther joke. Will he play a trump card at the WHCA dinner? Donald Trump is expected to be in the audience, a guest of the Washington Post.

Writing funny: Axelrod and White House speechwriters Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett do the main speech chores. Wry wits all.

I'll be heading over to a pre-dinner brunch. I'll be reporting and posting photos today via Twitter.

Sign up now to follow me on Twitter: @lynnsweet

For live coverage of the speeches: C-SPAN blankets the dinner with live coverage starting at 6:45 p.m. est.

May is Jewish-American month.

Excerpt from President Obama proclamation.....

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2011 as Jewish American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to visit to learn more about the heritage and contributions of Jewish Americans and to observe this month with appropriate programs, activities, and ceremonies.

Entire proclamation at the click....

WASHINGTON--All bets are now off when it comes to 2012 presidential fund-raising.

On Friday two former Obama White House staffers started fund-raising to support President Obama's re-election bid, taking the big donations from sources they will not be compelled to disclose, the kind of "secret" campaign money Obama has deplored.

The move comes as outside groups loom as important players in the 2012 contests, far more than in 2008, when different campaign finance laws were in place.

Democrats are bankrolling the new groups after seeing a tidal wave of Republican money--much from undisclosed donors--pour into 2010 contests.

Former Obama staffers Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney will be senior strategists for two allied groups, Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action created "in response to the extremist right-wing efforts pledged by Karl Rove and the Koch brothers," they said in a statement.

Rove, President Bush's former political strategist, is an advisor to groups that operate under the umbrella name "American Crossroads," funded in part by oil billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. American Crossroads spent millions in 2010 to influence contests and pledged to defeat Obama in 2012.

Burton is a former Obama deputy press secretary; Sweeney was chief of staff to former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, the mayor-elect of Chicago. Democratic strategist Paul Begala will be senior advisor to the groups.

WASHINGTON--Former White House Social Secretary Julianna Smoot--now a top deputy on the Obama 2012 campaign--hosted a welcome lunch on Friday for her successor, Jeremy Bernard.

Everybody is excited about meeting Bernard, I hear.

The lunch, at the Jefferson Hotel, was the same locale where almost a year ago former White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers hosted a similar gathering for Smoot, her successor. Read my report about that 2010 session here.

Former White House Social Secretaries--whether working for a Democratic or GOP administration- share a camaraderie from holding a unique position. The White House Social Office is really an events management operation, handling everything from bill signings to parties.

Until the appointment of Bernard, the first man in the job, the group had been exclusively female.

Hosting a lunch for the new Social Secretary is a tradition started in the 1990s by former Clinton White House Social Secretary Ann Stock.

The lunch took place the week Bernard oversaw the giant White House Easter Egg Roll and before he runs his first state dinner in June.

The former Social Secretaries at the Smoot lunch:

Capricia Marshall, from the Clinton White House and now the Chief of Protocol at the Department of State; Amy Zantzinger, who served under President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush; Lea Berman and Cathy Fenton, who also came out of the George W. Bush White House; Gahl Burt, from the Reagan administration; Bess Abell, from the Johnson White House and Maria Downs, from the Ford White House who is a Chicago native.

Rogers could not make the lunch; this is her daughter's birthday weekend.

WASHINGTON -- A factor in President Obama's decision to address the "birther" question -- and release his "long form" birth certificate -- came when ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos asked him about it in an April 14 interview where Obama wanted the story to be on his new debt and deficit reduction plan.

That's what White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley told me in a phone interview where we discussed economic and fiscal matters -- and the looming day in May when U.S. borrowing hits the debt ceiling, unless Congress raises the cap.


Kate and William become the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their wedding day. Click here for complete coverage.

Royal wedding: Kate's dress

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Royal wedding at the Sun-Times

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The Chicago Sun-Times covers the Royal Wedding: Read all about it here.

More Rahm Emanuel appointments

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Michelle Obama's favorite things

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WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama took questions from kids whose folks work at the White House, at an event Thursday to mark "Take Your Child To Work Day."

The kids had a lot of questions dealing with Mrs. Obama's favorite things; we learn about her favorite color, book, sport and football team--Da Bears, of course--and more:

Favorite color?

MRS. OBAMA: My favorite color. You know what, Sasha asked me this the other day, and it's hard for me to have a favorite color because I like them all so much. I mean, look at this dress. It's got like every color in it. But I guess if I had to pick one, it would be something like lavender, purple. I tend to like those colors.

Favorite thing to do in your spare time here?

MRS. OBAMA: Oh, that's a good question. I exercise a lot just to keep moving. I do that. You know, nowadays, I spend a lot of time talking to my girls. They're at the age where they have a lot of questions and a lot of conversations, so dinnertime conversations, right before bedtime conversations, I have fun doing that.

Going out with friends when I get a chance to. Going to the girls' games. We love doing that. So now it's soccer and lacrosse, and that's what I'll be doing all day Saturday and Sunday.

Favorite sport?

MRS. OBAMA: Tennis, without a doubt. Favorite sport to play is tennis. Favorite sport to watch is tennis, and I do like basketball. I enjoy the game. I enjoy watching basketball.

How do you choose your clothing?

MRS. OBAMA: How do I choose my clothing? You know, it kind of depends on what I'm doing today, so after this, I have to do a luncheon, so I wanted to wear something that was comfortable, but also kind of pretty because it's a luncheon with some ladies. And -- but when I'm doing something where I'm outside and it's going to be hot, or I'm going to be running around, I'll wear something that's comfortable for that. So it really depends on the day and how I feel.

I thought, I like this dress, it's pretty, and I felt like being pretty today. Did it work? Is it pretty? Am I working?

Favorite football team?

MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my favorite football team -- Da Bears! ... But you know what, I like the Pittsburgh Steelers too because --

Favorite part of the White House?

MRS. OBAMA: What's my favorite part of the White House? All right, there is my favorite part outside. I like the Rose Garden, especially now when it's spring, because it's really green, and then the flowers are just so pretty, and you see magnolia trees, and it's near my husband's office, so it's kind of close to him. That's a pretty place.

Inside I like -- my favorite room is the Yellow Oval Room in our house. ....

.... Well, we live right upstairs, and there is a room that's similar to that that's in our residence that's yellow, oval, and it's shaped the same way. But right next to it is the Truman Balcony, and when it's warm, you can go outside, and you get a great view of the Washington Monument, and it's fun to sit out there. And if the girls are walking Bo, we can watch them play. So that room is my favorite.

More favorite things at the click below....

WASHINGTON--White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett said President Obama will not release his academic records, commenting a day after Obama put out his "long form" birth certificate and Donald Trump decided to press his luck by demanding Obama's college transcripts.

"We know this is nonsense," Jarrett said in an interview on The Joe Madison Show on SiriusXM on Thursday morning."He is almost 50 years old. And he is president of the United States and I don't think anybody will debate his intelligence and so now we do need to get serious...let's just get serious...get back to focusing on what's important.

Trump, on a birther roll as he explores a 2012 GOP presidential run, claimed credit for forcing Obama to finally release the "long form," which proved what had been proved before--Obama was born in Hawaii. Trump is now on another tangent, asking why Obama never released college transcripts and wondering how he got into Occidential and Harvard.

Jarrett cuts through Trump's barely coded remarks.

Listen to Jarrett and Madison:


Obama, born in the U.S.A.

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WASHINGTON--President Obama on Thursday will make it official and nominate CIA director Leon Panetta as the new Defense Secretary and Afghanistan Commanding General David Petraeus to replace Panetta as the CIA director.

Other national security changes coming, according to the White House: Ryan Crocker will be the new U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, and Lt. Gen. John Allen will follow Petraeus as commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Click below for White House background briefing on the personnel changes.....

Thanks to my former Sun-Times colleague Rob Feder now at Time Out Chicagofor putting me on his list of ten most powerful Chicago female journalists.

Read Feder's entire story here. Feder's list:

The Ten Most Powerful Women in Chicago Journalism:

Emily Barr, president and general manager, ABC 7
Carol Marin, columnist, Chicago Sun-Times, political editor, NBC 5, correspondent, WTTW
Jane Hirt, managing editor, Chicago Tribune
Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief and blogger, Chicago Sun-Times
Mary Schmich, columnist, Chicago Tribune
Mary Field, executive producer, WTTW
Sally Eisele, managing editor of public affairs, WBEZ
Linda Johnson Rice, chairman, Johnson Publishing Co.
Madeleine Doubek, assistant vice president and executive editor, Daily Herald
Mara Shalhoup, editor, Chicago Reader

WASHINGTON--Oprah Winfrey interviewed President Obama and First Lady Michelle in Chicago on Wednesday a few hours after he released the "long form" of his birth certificate in an attempt to quash questions about his U.S. birth. Joked Obama to Winfrey, "I was there, so I knew-- that --I knew I had been born. I remembered it."

The show will be broadcast on May 2.


Clip 1
OPRAH: And before you came today you had a press conference.

PRES. OBAMA: I did. OPRAH: By the time this airs, it will be all over the world that you outed the birth certificate. You let us see the birth certificate. (Laughter.) MRS. OBAMA: He was born here.OPRAH: Yes. And it's confirmed again that you are born -- PRES. OBAMA: Once again. OPRAH: -- once again in the United States. Why did -- why did you wait so long, though? PRES. OBAMA: You know, keep in mind what had happened. This came up about two -- OPRAH: Two and a half years ago. PRES. OBAMA: Two and a half years ago. And so we called up the folks in Hawaii and the Department of Health. OPRAH: When it first came up were you thinking, I hope I was born here. PRES. OBAMA: Can I just say? I was there, so I knew -- (laughter) -- that -- I knew I had been born. I remembered it. (Laughter.) OPRAH: Of course you did.

More excerpts at the click.....

President Obama and First Lady Michelle flew to Chicago on Wednesday to tape the Oprah Winfrey show (Chief of Staff Bill Daley and First Mom Marian Robinson were also on Air Force One) and the Chicago Sun-Times Abdon M. Pallasch handled the pool reports:


Mayor Daley is in the front row as President Obama and the First Lady begin the interview with Oprah just after noon CST.

The president is in a Navy blue suit. The first lady is wearing a multi-color dress. That's about all we're allowed to report.

Taping went from about noon to 1:10 p.m. CST with 4 or 5 short breaks.

Afterward, backstage in a hallway, Obama presented Mayor Daley with an 1834 surveyor's map of the city of Chicago from the National archives, framed with a note that said, "Thank you for making a great American city a great world city."

As some of Daley's family members including Obama Chief of Staff Bill Daley, the mayor's brother, looked on, Obama praised Daley's tenure as mayor and added that if Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel needs help, that Daley should offer him some tips.

On the chopper ride downtown from O'Hare, Daley "generated about 30 ideas" on everything from fighting rats to breeding bees, Obama said. Obama thanked Daley for training his brother well.



WASHINGTON--President Obama released his "long form" birth certificate on Wednesday, in an attempt to defuse and defang revived questions about whether he was born in the U.S. fueled lately by Donald Trump, who is mulling a GOP 2012 presidential bid.

The White House released Obama's "certificate of live birth," the underlying document signed by his mother and the doctor who delivered him. That document--never before released until Wednesday--is what the State of Hawaii used to generate a "certification of live birth" accepted by the state and federal authorities as the legal proof of birth.

A bemused looking Obama even took the extraordinary step of adding to his schedule on Wednesday morning a surprise stop in the White House briefing room to comment on the release of further proof that he was born in a Honolulu hospital on Aug. 4, 1961--and is eligible to be president.

"We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We got better stuff to do. I've got better stuff to do. We've got big problems to solve. And I'm confident we can solve them, but we're going to have to focus on them, not on this," Obama said.

Said Obama, "And I have to say that over the last two and a half years, I have watched with bemusement. I have been puzzled at the degree to which this thing just kept on going. We've had every official in Hawaii -- Democrat and Republican -- every news outlet that has investigated this, confirm that, yes, in fact, I was born in Hawaii, August 4th, 1961, in Kapiolani Hospital."

During the 2008 presidential campaign, when questions were first raised about whether Obama was born in Hawaii, the campaign released the shorter, unsigned, computer generated state of Hawaii document, "certification of live birth."

The campaign hoped that document would settle once and for all the matter of Obama's native birth, but it did not, as the so-called "birther movement" took root. I was told through the years the campaign never asked the state of Hawaii for a waiver of state rules to allow for the release of the underlying document.

On April 22 Obama finally sent a letter to Hawaii authorities asking for the document, in an attempt to stop what was becoming a major distraction.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a Wednesday statement, "the President directed his counsel to review the legal authority for seeking access to the long form certificate and to request on that basis that the Hawaii State Department of Health make an exception to release a copy of his long form birth certificate. They granted that exception in part because of the tremendous volume of requests they had been getting."

Obama did not mention Trump by name when commented about his Hawaii birth.

"We're not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by side shows and carnival barkers.
"We live in a serious time right now, and we have the potential to deal with the issues that we confront in a way that will make our kids and our grandkids and our great grandkids proud. And I have every confidence that America in the 21st century is going to be able to come out on top, just like we always have. But we're going to have to get serious to do it.
"Now, I know that there's going to be a segment of people for which no matter what we put up, this issue will not be put to rest, but I'm speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We got better stuff to do. I've got better stuff to do. We've got big problems to solve. And I'm confident we can solve them, but we're going to have to focus on them, not on this."

Obama said in recent days he could barely get coverage for his budget proposals, drowned out because of the mainstream media making the "dominant news story" questions about his birth.

Trump's use of the Obama birth issue has helped propel him to near the top of polls of GOP 2012 contenders.

Though the White House wants to put the issue of Obama's birth to rest, Obama said a segment of people will never be convinced of his native birth; even so, "we do not have time for this kind of silliness."

Obama said at the top of his comments that he has "watched with bemusement" assertions he was not born in the U.S. I've been puzzled by the degree this thing just kept on going

Trump, in Portsmouth, N.H. said he "accomplished something important" speaking in the first-in-the-nation primary state. Trump said he was "honored and proud" and bragged that he was able to "do something" no one else could do.

Trump said of the certified document, "I want to see it...he should have done it a long time ago."

He then went on to push Obama for the release of his college transcripts.

The White House acted as recent polling showed that a segment of the U.S. population clings to the belief that Obama was born outside the U.S.--which would then not make him eligible to be president. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll: Only 38 percent say Obama definitely was born in the USA. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say Obama was not born in the U.S. A New York Times/CBS poll: 25 percent said Obama was not a "natural born citizen." Among Republicans, 45 percent believed he was born outside the U.S.

WASHINGTON--President Obama and First Lady Michelle make a rare visit home on Wednesday to tape an Oprah Winfrey show; the president touches down in Chicago for a little more than three hours. This will be Obama's ninth visit back to Chicago since becoming president. After the Chicago stop, Obama heads to New York for a series of fund-raisers to benefit his 2012 re-election campaign.

Obama's last visit was April 14, when Obama hit Chicago for three fund-raisers and a night at his Kenwood home.

The other visits:

Oct. 30-31
Oct. 7
Aug. 4-5
May 27-31

July 23
June 15
Feb. 13-16

WASHINGTON--President Obama and First Lady Michelle hit key 2012 swing states--Florida and Iowa-- to deliver 2011 graduation speeches--as well as stopping at military academies for commencement addresses.

The White House on Tuesday said Obama will deliver the commencement addresse at Miami-Dade College on Friday in addition to the United States Coast Guard Academy, and the soon-to-be-announced winning school of the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge.

Mrs. Obama heads to the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls Rapids on May 7, with other speeches at Spelman College, Quantico Middle High School, and West Point.

WASHINGTON--White House chief of staff Bill Daley delivers commencement speeches at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana campus on Sunday, May 15--the birthday of his father, the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.

The next day, Monday May 16, Rahm Emanuel, who Daley replaced as White House chief of staff, gets sworn in as mayor of Chicago. Daley's brother, Mayor Daley, will pass the baton to Emanuel that Monday morning.

According to the U of I: Daley will "speak at both the 10:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. campuswide Commencement ceremonies at the Assembly Hall."

Lynn Sweet questions RNC chairman Reince Priebus about birther claims at Christian Science Monitor breakfast. Video courtesy Christian Science Monitor.

WASHINGTON--The chairman of the Republican National Committee said Tuesday President Obama was born in the U.S., with Reince Priebus' comment coming as questions about Obama's birthplace face a revival, fueled lately in part by Donald Trump, who is mulling a 2012 GOP presidential bid.

At a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, I asked Priebus if questions about Obama's birth--which is documented to have been in Hawaii-- could yield Republican votes--and what he thought of Trump's persistent questioning about Obama's birthplace. (See video above for the clip)

"Trump and the candidates can talk about it all they want, but my position is that the president was born in the United States," Priebus said. "I don't think it's an issue that moves voters. It is an issue in my opinion that I don't personally get too excited about because I have to, I think, the most important question is what is going on in this country in regard to jobs, the debt, deficit and spending."

In a follow-up, I noted that it is GOP allies who are raising most of the questions. Replied Priebus, "I think it's being revived mainly by people in the media."

Recent polling shows that a segment of the U.S. population clings to the belief that Obama was born outside the U.S.--which would then not make him eligible to be president.

*A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll: Only 38 percent say Obama definitely was born in the USA. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say Obama was not born in the U.S.

*A New York Times/CBS poll: 25 percent said Obama was not a "natural born citizen." Among Republicans, 45 percent believed he was born outside the U.S.

Former Hawaii Health Director Dr. Chiyome Fukino--a Republican who was an appointee of a GOP governor-- looked at Obama's original birth certificate twice. That is the document the state certified computer generated certificate of birth is based on. She discussed the controversy with CNN's Gary Tuchman for Anderson Cooper's "360."
See it here.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney shot back at Rev. Franklin Graham on Monday, saying it was "preposterous' that evangelist questioned whether Obama was born in the U.S.

"I would just say I think it's unfortunate that a religious leader would choose Easter Sunday to make preposterous charges. And I'll leave it at that."

WASHINGTON--Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) told FOX News Sean Hannity he is exploring a 2012 presidential campaign, making a second try for the White House.

From the Monday show.....

Hannity: "You have an announcement tomorrow in Iowa."

Paul: "I do. Were you interested?"

Hannity: "Yes, I'm very interested."

Paul: "We're going to announce that I am going to start an exploratory committee tomorrow. I will stop in Iowa on my way home and that might lead to the next decision. It depends what kind of reception I get on your show tonight. If I get booed or something then maybe I won't do it."

WASHINGTON--Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina said the president's bid for a second term will be "metrics driven" in a video where Messina outlines some of his strategic plan.

WASHINGTON--White House Press Secretary Jay Carney shot back at Rev. Franklin Graham on Monday, saying it was "preposterous' that the evangelist questioned whether Obama was born in the U.S.

"I would just say I think it's unfortunate that a religious leader would choose Easter Sunday to make preposterous charges. And I'll leave it at that," Carney said at the daily briefing after being asked about the matter by David Corn, the Washington Bureau Chief for Mother Jones.

Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, made the discredited assertion about Obama's birth--while also questioning Obama's Christian faith--during an Easter Sunday interview on ABC's "This Week with Christiane Amanpour."

Donald Trump, who is mulling a GOP 2012 presidential bid has helped revive the Obama "birther" matter--people who refuse to believe Obama was born in Hawaii no matter when evidence is put in front of them-- in a string of recent interviews and Graham piled on.

Said Graham: "Well, the president, I know, has some issues to deal with here. He can solve this whole birth certificate issue pretty quickly. I don't -- I was born in a hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, and I know that my records are there. You can probably even go and find out what room my mother was in when I was born. I don't know why he can't produce that. So I'm not -- I don't know, but it's an issue that looks like he could -- he could answer pretty quickly."

Graham also commented on Obama's Christianity: "As it relates to Muslim, there are many people that do wonder where he really stands on that. Now, he has told me that he is a Christian, but the debate comes, what is a Christian. For him, going to church means he's a Christian. For me, the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ and are following him in faith and we have trusted him as our Lord and savior. That's the definition of a Christian. It's not as to what church you are a member of. A membership doesn't make you a Christian."

Asked, "Do you believe (Obama) when he tells you he's a Christian," Graham said, "Well, when he says it, of course, I can't -- I'm not going to say, well, no, you're not. I mean, God is the only one who knows his heart."

WASHINGTON--President Obama and First Lady Michelle fly to Chicago on Wednesday afternoon to tape an Oprah Winfrey show, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked Monday why the First Couple agreed to the interview.

"Her show is coming to a conclusion of a -- of a terrific run," said Carney of Winfrey's decision to fold the show this year after 25 years.

"And I think, as you know, he considers Oprah a friend and he looks forward to being on the show with the first lady."

WASHINGTON--Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour on Monday pulled out of the 2012 GOP presidential primary, calling it a "difficult, personal decision" in a statement on his website.

Barbour had been considered in the top tier of hopefuls because of his enormous fund-raising ability, but that plus was tempered in what might have been a minus--his years as a Washington lobbyist.

Barbour's statement at the click....

WASHINGTON--Chef Alice Waters lunched with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the Supreme Court on Monday, with the famed Berkeley founder of Chez Panisse in town for The Atlantic's food summit.

A Waters spokesman confirmed the lunch when I called to check.

Sotomayor dined at Chez Panisse last February, when she was speaking at the University of California, Berkeley.

Other keynotes in addition to Waters at The Atlantic's food forum include two Chicago natives: Ezekiel Emanuel, Chair of the Clinical Center Department of Bioethics, National Institutes of Health, the former White House health policy advisor who is the brother of Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel and White House chef Sam Kass, the White House Senior Policy Adviser For Healthy Food Initiatives.

WASHINGTON--President Obama, First Lady Michelle, Malia and Sasha headed to Easter services on Sunday morning at Shiloh Baptist Church leaving the White House at 9:46 a.m. The Obama family rarely attends public church services; Sunday was the seventh time Obama attended church in Washington since becoming president.

The sixth time was Sept. 19, 2010 when the Obama family walked across Lafayette Square from the White House to St. John's Episcopal Church.

For Easter 2010, the Obama family worshiped at Allen Chapel AME, the fifth time Obama attended church in Washington.

For Easter 2009, the Obama family attended services at St. John's Episcopal Church

The Obama family 2009 Easter outfits are here

WASHINGTON--Google's Eric Schmidt is dining Friday night with Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina in Chicago--at Cafe Spiaggia--the day after Obama hosted a townhall meeting at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.

I'm told by a Democratic source the Schmidt/Messina dinner at the upscale eatery on Michigan Avenue is part of the Obama team wooing and coordinating with the tech world--from developing relationships with the top honchos to developing the best mobile apps for political communication.

Obama Facebook townhall transcript is here.

Feb. 17: Obama dines with high tech leaders in Woodside, Calif. Among those present: Schmidt, FacebookCEO Mark Zuckerberg, Carol Bartz, Yahoo! President and CEO; Art Levinson, Genentech Chairman.

Flashback: Schmidt hosted Obama at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. during the Democratic primary campaign in November, 2007.

From my column then: "Google CEO Eric Schmidt tested the geek in Obama, asking him "the most efficient way to sort a million 32-bit intergers." Obama, coming prepared said, "I think the bubble sort would be the wrong way to go,'' which is, of course, as you all know, a computer science reference to a sorting algorithm."

WASHINGTON--Illinois GOP freshmen Sen. Mark Kirk and Joe Walsh guest Sunday on CBS 'Face the Nation."

From CBS: "This week's guests on Face the Nation are Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) along with Representatives Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) and Joe Walsh (R-Ill.)."

WASHINGTON--President Obama has scooped up millions of dollars for his 2012 re-election campaign the past two weeks and First Lady Michelle jumps in when she headlines a fund-raising event aimed a female donors in May.

Obama, Mrs. Obama and high profile members from the Obama administration and the Obama 2012 campaign team will be speaking at a fund-raiser here on May 18 and 19 jointly sponsored by the Democratic National Committee's Women's Leadership Forum and Obama for America.

Mrs. Obama addressed the WLF last year. While Obama has been on the road to raise 2012 campaign cash--last week in Chicago, this week San Francisco and Los Angeles, next week New York--it's not clear yet how much time Mrs. Obama is willing to devote to political fund-raising. Her decision is important--she is one of the biggest draws for Democrats. Mrs. Obama did no fund-raising trips in 2009 and in 2010 waited until October to help candidates raise cash for the November mid-term elections.

At the May event, tickets range from a $250 contribution for seniors and youths to $200,000 raised by the top level bundlers--people who tap into their personal networks to raise money.

Mrs. Obama speaks to the entire group on May 19 and will dine with the mega donors: those who raised $200,000 at the high end to, at the low end, those who donate at least $35,800 or raise $75,000.

The speaking list also includes: Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Domestic Policy Chief Melody Barnes, Mrs. Obama Chief of Staff Tina Tchen, White House Senior Advisor David Plouffe, Obama health policy czar Nancy-Ann DeParle, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC Chair Designee, Cecile Richards, President, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the top three Obama 2012 honchos: 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina, and deputies Jennifer O'Malley Dillon and Julianna Smoot.

Gas more than $5 a gallon at Washington D.C. gas station. April 21, 2011. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--I drove by a gas station here today with the most expensive gas I have ever seen--more than $5 for premium. The Obama team knows high gas prices can be a political killer, especially with the upcoming summer driving season.

President Obama announced on Thursday the creation of a task force led by the Justice Department to determine if gas prices are spiking because of fraud.

"The Attorney General is putting together a team whose job it is to root out any cases of fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices, and that includes the role of traders and speculators. We're going to make sure that nobody is taking advantage of American consumers for their own short-term gain," Obama said at a town hall meeting at the renewal energy company ElectraTherm in Reno, Nev., his third in three days.

Click below for Obama Reno town hall transcript.

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel was blistered by former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) during the Chicago mayoral primary; she ended up with a campaign debt. Emanuel on Thursday headlines a "unity celebration" debt retirement fund-raiser for Braun 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. at Karyn's on Green,130 S. Green St.

Headlining is one thing--is Rahm calling his donors for Braun?

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's re-trial on public corruption charges starts today in a federal courtroom in Chicago--before the same judge, James Zagel--who presided over his first trial last summer. For updates inside the courthouse, check out the Sun-Times Blago blog here.

WASHINGTON--Former President Bill Clinton and is Clinton Global Initiative foundation will hold a summit on the economy and job creation in Chicago on June 29-30. It's the first time Clinton is convening a CGI program dedicated to jobs--and the first time Clinton--wildly popular in Chicago--is bring a CGI meeting to the city--host to the Obama 2012 re-election campaign headquarters.

The Obama White House and the Obama 2012 re-election campaign want to be on top of mobile devices trends, as the government and political teams study how to communicate on a mass basis. On Tuesday, the White House announced two new developments in White House mobile apps. On Wednesday, the Obama team picked the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. for President Obama to host townhall meeting on reducing the deficit.

From my column: *Social media in 2012 is completely different from 2008. The most significant new media for the Obama re-election team in 2012 may be apps on mobile devices; laptops are passé with a younger crowd. Twitter was new in 2008 and relatively minor in the Obama universe, with some 80,000 followers at the end of the campaign. As of last Thursday night, Obama's official Twitter account had 7,404,242 followers."

From post: According to the numbers, more and more of you are using mobile devices to access content on In the last two months, 6.6% of visits to came from the iOS or Android operating system - nearly double the share of visits over the same period last year (3.6%)

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus hits Chicago on Wednesday, keynoting a City Club of Chicago breakfast and later headlining the Northwest Suburban Cook County Lincoln Day Dinner in Schaumburg. In between Priebus will be lunching with major donors and huddling with prospective contributors.

Priebus will hold a press conference after his City Club address.

President Obama hits Hollywood this week using star power to help him collect re-election cash. Ted Johnson over at Variety, who writes about the intersection of politics and show business has this assessment:

"As President Obama returns to Hollywood circles on Thursday for his first re-election fund-raising swing, it's not difficult to find supporters expressing frustration or disappointment privately and publicly.

What has not materialized, however, is a sense that showbizzers will be looking elsewhere."

Read his article here.

Obama 2011 tax returns

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President Obama and First Lady Michelle host their third Passover seder at the White House on Monday with the meal featuring a traditional menu of brisket, kugel and matzoh balls. As in the two previous seders, the White House will use the Maxwell House Haggadah, published by the coffee maker, very basic but with all the elements.

The guests at the White House seder include Obama daughters Malia and Sasha plus a group of Obama 2008 campaign staffers who found themselves in Harrisbug, Pennsylvania on Passover 2008. Led by Eric Lesser, now with the White House Council of Economic Advisors, they scrambled and put together a seder, invited then Sen. Obama and created a tradition that continues to this day. "Each year since, President and Mrs. Obama have hosted a Seder at the White House including those who were there, plus others staffers and family," the White House said on Monday.

The food is kosher style but not kosher and most of the cooking is being done by the White House kitchen, with some family recipes from staffers for: chicken soup with matzoh balls, braised beef brisket, potato kugel, carrot soufflé, and matzoh chocolate cake. The White House web page is featuring recipes from eight U.S. Jewish chefs. Chicago's Gail Gand, Pastry Chef of Tru, contributed her Passover Lemon Sponge Cake with Strawberries recipe.

My post on the Obama 2010 seder is here.

My post on the Obama 2009 seder is here.

Excerpt from 2009: President Obama and his family hosted a seder at the White House on Thursday, the second night of Passover. Last year Passover fell during the Pennsylvania primary and Obama joined a makeshift seder Eric Lesser--now an assistant to David Axelrod--put together at a hotel in Harrisburg.

Click below for attendees to the 2011 White House seder and the Jewish chefs whose recipes are being featured at

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former Chicago Public Schools chief, said in a statement Monday he likes Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel's new schools team.

Details on Rahm Emanuel's team here.

Duncan release at the click...

frank and mark.jpeg

Chicago Sun-Times reporters Frank Main and Mark Konkol upon hearing they won a Pulitzer Prize. | Ernie Torres~SunTimes

The Chicago Sun-Times won a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting on Monday, with the award going to Frank Main, Mark Konkol and John J. Kim.

The Sun-Times story is here.

Excerpt: "For the first time in 22 years, the Chicago Sun-Times has won a Pulitzer Prize, putting reporters Frank Main, Mark Konkol and photographer John J. Kim -- who won for local reporting -- in the company of such legendary Sun-Times newsmen as Roger Ebert, John H. White and Jack Higgins.

From the Pulitzer release: "Awarded to Frank Main, Mark Konkol and John J. Kim of the Chicago Sun-Times for their immersive documentation of violence in Chicago neighborhoods, probing the lives of victims, criminals and detectives as a widespread code of silence impedes solutions."

Congratulations Frank, Mark and John. A proud day for the Sun-Times.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich re-trial on public corruption charges starts Wednesday in a federal courtroom in Chicago. Sun-Times federal court reporter Natasha Korecki who covered the first trial and the run-up, talked to Rob Blagojevich--the brother of the disgraced former governor--and he said Rod should testify in his own defense the second time around. Read Korecki's story here.

from Korecki's story:

Rob Blagojevich's remarks come just before his brother is set to face retrial Wednesday, beginning with jury selection. Rob Blagojevich said the two have spoken a few times since last summer's trial and he passed along the advice over the phone.

Rod Blagojevich will be retried on 20 charges, including the accusation that he tried selling President Obama's vacant Senate seat. In August, a jury convicted the former governor of one count and deadlocked on 23 other charges. The jury deadlocked on all four counts against Rob Blagojevich.

Prosecutors subsequently dropped their case against Rob Blagojevich, which was more narrowly focused than his brother's.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is the other South Sider who has made it big in national politics.

"My life is often described as 'improbable,' " Patrick writes in his just released memoir, A Reason to Believe, which opens with a scene where a 15-year-old Patrick braces for humiliation when he realizes he boarded a southbound Wabash Avenue CTA bus near 54th St. without money for the fare. The driver lets him ride anyway, telling him, "Just pass it on, son."

That act of kindness helped shape the values of Patrick, a Democrat re-elected last November after a sometimes stormy first term. He is friends with President Obama, a co-chair of his 2008 White House campaign. Patrick is poised to take on a larger role in Obama's re-election bid, meeting with Obama 2012 strategist David Axelrod in Chicago last February and last week at the White House with Senior Advisor David Plouffe.

In raising his profile, Patrick addressed Democrats in Colorado in January and will be keynoting Democratic dinners in Wisconsin and Florida -- all critical swing states for Obama in 2012.

Patrick was also in Washington to announce the creation of a group he will help lead, dedicated to aggressively defending Obama's health care law. The Affordable Care Act, under attack by Republicans, is modeled in part on the Massachusetts health coverage plan. Patrick is bragging about the success of the Massachusetts system, while his predecessor, former Gov. Mitt Romney, a 2012 GOP presidential hopeful, has been distancing himself from the health law he signed.

Obama and Patrick never overlapped in Chicago. They met in 1995 at the suggestion of Abner Mikva, the Chicagoan who was then serving as President Clinton's White House counsel. Patrick was in the Clinton Justice Department.

When I talked to Patrick Friday in a phone interview, he recalled Mikva told him, "There is a young man in Chicago, I think you guys should know each other. There is a lot about him that reminds me of you and a lot about you that reminds me about him."

Obama and Patrick share common elements in their stories, their politics, their political consultants -- even slogans. Axelrod and Plouffe and their firm were key strategists in Patrick's runs for governor in 2006 and 2010 and Obama's 2004 Senate and 2008

Here are videos from the Satva Design Studio about the creation of the red and blue Obama "O" logo for the 2008 campaign, retooled for Organizing for America and a key element in the Obama 2012 logo. In 2008, the "O" with the stripes was used to spell Obama. In 2012, that same versatile logo is now the zero in 2012; in other applications the logo still represents Obama.


Below, from the intro to the video:

"Creative director Sol Sender tells the story of conception and birth of the Obama 08 logo, including the strategy behind it, developmental concepts and finalist designs for the identity not chosen by the campaign. Sender, now a strategist with design agency VSA Partners ( in Chicago, was creative director and principal of his own design firm, Sender LLC, when he was hired to create the campaign logo. In the fall of 2006, Sender and his team were engaged to do the work by MODE, a Chicago-based motion design studio with an existing relationship with David Axelrod, the Obama campaigns chief strategist. Obama 08 campaign took on design responsibility for the logo in mid-2007, and extended the identity across multiple applications."

Donald Trump--testing the waters for a GOP 2012 presidential bid--has been gaining a lot of attention--because he has put himself in the "birther" column--not believing President Obama was born in Hawaii. I discuss Trump's media treatment Sunday morning on CNN's "Reliable Sources' with host Howie Kurtz, Mark McKinnon of The Daily Beast and Craig Crawford of CQ/Roll Call. The program starts at 11 a.m. est, that's 10 a.m. Chicago time.

President Obama sent a Passover holiday greeting--Chag Sameach--to Jews worldwide who will celebrate Passover starting with the first seder on Monday night. Obama will host his third White House seder on Monday; my story about the White House seders--and the 2010 menu--is here.

From Obama:

My family and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating the sacred festival of Passover.

On Monday evening, Jewish families and their friends in America, Israel, and around the world will gather around the Seder table and retell the story of the Exodus, one of the most powerful stories of suffering and redemption in history. The story of Passover - which recalls the passage of the children of Israel from bondage and repression to freedom and liberty - inspires hope that those oppressed and enslaved can become free. The Seder, with its rich traditions and rituals, instructs each generation to remember its past, while appreciating the beauty of freedom and the responsibility it entails.

This year, that ancient instruction is reflected in the daily headlines as we see modern stories of social transformation and liberation unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa. Against the backdrop of change, we continue to pray for peace between Israel and her neighbors, while reaffirming our enduring commitment to Israel's security.

As Jewish families gather for this joyous celebration of freedom, let us all be thankful for the gifts that have been bestowed upon us, and let us work to alleviate the suffering, poverty, injustice, and hunger of those who are not yet free. Chag Sameach.

CHICAGO--White House Press Secretary Jay Carney shrugged off Friday candid comments President Obama made about Republicans and budget negotiations before a private fund-raiser with donors here, not knowing his remarks were being carried in a live audio feed to a press room in the White House.

CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller in Washington caught the comments. Carney brushed it off during a briefing on Air Force One as Obama returned to Washington on Friday from Chicago.

Below, the exchange:

Q How did it happen last night that those remarks were piped back into the press room?

MR. CARNEY: It was a miscommunication, nothing more than that. But we've -- it's not a problem, not an issue.

Q Is the President embarrassed about anything that he said --

MR. CARNEY: Not at all.

Q -- or regret --

MR. CARNEY: Not at all. There's nothing --

Q -- might have clarified them differently if he had known they were for public distribution?

MR. CARNEY: He obviously -- that was meant to be a closed-press event. He was taking questions from supporters. But there's nothing -- nothing he said that contradicts anything he said in public.

CHICAGO--President Obama, briefing major donors here offered candid comments on budget negotiations with Republicans--in remarks Obama thought were private but caught on an audio feed--by CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller in Washington.

From the report at CBS News (hat tip Mike Allen at Politico):

"In the candid remarks, Mr. Obama complains of Republican attempts to attach measures to the budget bill which would have effectively killed parts of his hard-won health care reform program.

"I said, 'You want to repeal health care? Go at it. We'll have that debate. You're not going to be able to do that by nickel-and-diming me in the budget. You think we're stupid?'" recalled the president of his closed-door negotiations on the bill to fund the federal government until September.

obama navy pier.JPGPresident Obama at Navy Pier, April 14, 2011. (Sun-Times photos by Keith Hale)

CHICAGO--Saving the most raucous for last, President Obama kicked off fund-raising for his re-election campaign Thursday with three sessions in Chicago, raising $2 million from 2,500 supporters. Read the rest of the Chicago Sun-Times Abdon M. Pallasch story about President Obama in Chicago here

Pallasch Pool Report on Obama arriving at his Kenwood home:

Bit of a delay dropping the Prez at his house as he stopped on the way home and jumped out of the car to shake hands with eight children cheering him near his house. They were among several groups of fans gathered in his neighborhood to cheer.

He was dropped home at 10:20.

CHICAGO--President Obama switched it on Thursday night, framing the terms of his bid for a second term to a hometown Chicago crowd, pandering only a little when he pulled on a Bulls cap at the end of his speech at Navy Pier, the event designed to jazz up the grass-and net-roots younger crowd. He dusted off "Yes we can," to conclude, the anthem of 2008.

At Navy Pier--where the cheapest ticket was $100--and at MK Restaurant--with a $35,800-per-person tab--Obama laid out the foundational arguments to recreate for the 2012 vote the 2008 campaign--akin to a movement--born with the slogans "Hope" and "Change."

'There is "unfinished business," Obama said. The "vision hasn't changed. What we care about hasn't changed. Our commitments should not have changed.

And so this campaign is not my campaign; this is your campaign. And the question is do we finish the job. I'm prepared to finish the job. I hope you are, too."

Obama's re-election campaign in its initial stage will focus on big money fund-raising from major donors and, before tapping their wallets, rebuilding support from the grass-and-net-roots supporters who were the backbone of his 2008 bid--- who may have to be coaxed some to come back.

White House Senior Advisor David Plouffe, the 2008 campaign manger--a rock star to the 2008 volunteer army--spoke to some 2,300 people Navy Pier with an appeal to the youngish crowd. Said Plouffe, "This generation, your generation, elected a president once, and we need you to do it again. If the people who normally vote in presidential elections, vote and that's it, the usual suspects, this election will be way to close for any of our comfort.

"...There are only 572 days left to the next election. That may seem like a lot of time, but you know, it will be here before we know it," Plouffe said.

Obama's three fund-raisers scooped up more than $2 million, with the early money going to hire a staff and build out the Prudential Building national headquarters, in the city's landmark highrise.

Talking to a variety of sources, I've learned:

*The first Obama 2012 staffers will be sent to the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada in May. Though Obama has no primary, he does have a large group of GOP 2012 presidential hopefuls and other Republicans attacking him. Pushing back against Republicans in those primary states also gives Obama 2012 volunteers tasks to do in the run-up to the general election.

*The 2012 campaign is being run in a different environment. You can only be the first African American president one time around. The barrier has been broken. While a lot of emphasis is on fund-raising the biggest gift the Obama team has now is time--to deal with base supporters who are disappointed with Obama's performance.

*The Obama team sees many roads to winning a second term, even if they loose Florida and Ohio. A new state, Arizona is seen as possible this time around; not so in 2008, when Arizona Sen. John McCain was the GOP presidential nominee. As in 2008, Obama will run a 50-state campaign.

*Social media in 2012 is completely different from 2008. The most significant new media for the Obama team in 2012 may be apps on mobile devices; laptops are passé with a younger crowd. Twitter was new in 2008 and relatively minor in the Obama universe, with some 80,000 followers at the end of the campaign. On Thursday night, Obama's official Twitter account had 7,404,242 followers.

obama rahm navy pier.JPGPresident Obama, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel at Navy Pier, April 14, 2011 (Sun-Times Photo by Keith Hale)

Click below for transcript...

And the crowd chants "MVP, MVP."

obama2012 press.jpegFirst edition Obama 2012 press passes (photo by Lynn Sweet)


Obama told about 150 donors at his first event of the night at N9NE restaurant that "It's good to be home."

Chief of Staff Bill Daley, who flew in with the president on Air Force One, and outgoing Mayor Richard M. Daley both followed Obama into the restaurant.

When Obama walked in, Mayor Daley was talking to Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel.

"I got a little confused," Obama said. "I walk in, two guys talking, both of them very animated, both of a little intimidating even though they're not tall in stature. I was trying to figure out who I should bow to first. I decided to go with the current mayor."

Obama also gave shout-outs to Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Secretary of State Jesse White and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who were among the diners/donors.

Obama also shouted to Daley, "Bill's doing OK, Rich."

Emanuel introduced Obama, praising the job he has done in his first few years, saying the economy is now "helping people buy homes, buy cars send their kids to college. We are back on the move rather than being on our back."

Obama returned the praise to Emanuel, saying, "Yes, he is foul-mouthed. Yes, that finger thing is a little creepy. But I love him anyway. And Chicago, you did the right thing by electing him the next mayor of Chicago."

Obama said of Daley, "He is somebody who has done more not just to make Chicago a great American city but a great world city. His legacy is going to be as deep and lasting as his father's was."

CHICAGO--President Obama and First Lady Michelle and other members in the Obama orbit have deep ties to the University of Chicago and on Thursday, Obama nominated the president of the school, Robert J. Zimmer to the National Science Board, National Science Foundation.

Below, Zimmer biography provided by the White House....

Robert J. Zimmer, Nominee for Member, National Science Board, National Science Foundation

Robert J. Zimmer became President of the University of Chicago in 2006. Prior to his appointment as President, he served more than two decades as a faculty member in the mathematics department and administrator at the University. As President of the University, Mr. Zimmer chairs the governing boards of both Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. He also was the Provost at Brown University from 2002 to 2006. Additionally, he serves on the executive committee of the Council on Competitiveness and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He served on the President's Committee on the National Medal of Science until 2010. A specialist in the mathematical fields of geometry--particularly ergodic theory, Lie groups, and differential geometry--Mr. Zimmer is the author of two books and more than 80 mathematical research articles. He received his A.B. from Brandeis University in 1968 and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard University in 1975.


President Obama will host his third White House seder on Monday, the first night of Passover.

My story on the 2009 Obama White House seder--Ma Nishtaneh in the White House?--with the news they used Maxwell House haggadahs--is here

My story on the 2010 Obama White House seder is here

The 2010 Passover White House menu:
Gefilte Fish
Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls
Braised Beef Brisket
Chicken Roast
Sweet Potato-Carrot Tzimmes
Carrot Souffle
Spring Asparagus
Flourless Chocolate Cake
Golden Apricot Cake
Brown Sugar Macaroons

michelle one.jpgFirst Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden arrive at an Operation Shower baby shower for expecting military families at Ball Center in Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 13, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden traveled to Colorado, Texas and North Carolina on Tuesday, on a two-day blitz to publicize their "Joining Forces" drive to help military families.

One way to help: throw a baby shower, as they did, bringing White House onesies to a shower at Camp Lejeune, N.C. calling the stop at the Marine Base, "Operation Shower Drop By."

Said Mrs. Obama, "So we want to ask the rest of the nation to look at this. This is a fun way to give back. And we did this at the White House. We brought you guys White House onesies and blankets. We took up a drive. We had boxes all over the West Wing and the East Wing. People wrote checks. We brought -- I mean, this was fun. And any business, any community, any school can do this for a military family, for an expectant mom. All you have to do is find them. And all you all have to do is ask and reach out."

My story on the "Joining Forces" launch on Tuesday is here.

Click below for Mrs. Obama transcripts at events in Denver, Camp Lejeune and San Antonio.

CHICAGO--President Obama travels to Chicago Thursday afternoon after a jammed day in Washington--meeting with Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson who led his fiscal commission-- and Amir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani of Qatar. Obama wraps up the long day at a 9:30 p.m. fund-raiser at Navy Pier, his third of the day.

Obama will haul--my ballpark estimate--some $2 million from the three events for the joint Democratic National Committee and Obama 2012 operation named the Obama Victory Fund. The price tags run from $100 to $35,800 per person.

From a Democratic source:
225 guests at events where the cheapest ticket is $5,000 and the most expensive is $35,800. (no breakdown provided)

2,000 folks at Navy Pier, with the lowest price ticket is $100. Announced Thursday morning: Ernie Banks, "Mr. Cub," will be at the Navy Pier event, whose celeb guests include Bulls Star Derrick Rose. Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel will introduce Obama and White House Senior Advisor David Plouffe introduces Emanuel.

Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina: reports of $1 billion 2012 goal "baseless." My story here.

The tick toc, according to the White House:

4:20PM est Obama departs Andrews Air Force Base en route Chicago.

Chicago time:

5:10PM Obama arrives Chicago O'Hare International Airport

6:25PM Obama delivers remarks at event N9NE Restaurant

7:35PM Obama delivers remarks at event MK Restaurant

9:30PM Obama delivers remarks at event Navy Pier

To follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @lynnsweet

CHICAGO--President Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina said it is "baseless" that Obama wants to raise $1 billion for his re-election, with the comment coming as Obama hits Chicago Thursday afternoon to launch a massive fund-raising drive for a second term.

"We'll raise enough funds to compete and win, and that will take a significant amount given the vast amounts GOP-allied groups are already raising. But this pie in the sky speculation about a billion dollars is baseless," Messina said.

Messina was reacting to news reports that Obama's fund-raising team was aiming for $1 billion, which would have surpassed the $750 million collected for Obama's 2008 run. Messina had told donors at earlier briefings only that he was looking for "north of $750 million," a reference to 2008.

Obama headlines three events in Chicago on Thursday, with ticket prices ranging from $100 to $35,800 per-person.

The low dollar event is at Navy Pier; Obama will be introduced by Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel and Emanuel will be introduced by White House senior advisor David Plouffe, who was Obama's 2008 campaign manager.

Bulls stars past present and past--Derrick Rose (on the cover of the new Sports Illustrated) and B.J. Armstrong will be on the program and singer Colbie Caillat will perform. Bulls star center Joakim Noah will also be attending.

As the Obama 2012 campaign ramps up--headquartered in Chicago-- the first fund-raising focus is going to be on major donor events while appeals are made to the 2008 grass-and-net-roots supporters are jazzed up about 2012.

Towards that, Messina in an e-mail to backers sent Wednesday night pivoted off of Obama's speech earlier in the day outlining his debt-and-deficit reduction proposals.

"As we seek to build an organization based outside of Washington, President Obama's speech also provides an unusually stark contrast -- one all of us can use to start conversations with our friends and neighbors about what's at stake in this election," Messina wrote.

obamasweet.jpg (Getty Images)

President Obama, offering his debt and deficit reduction plan Wednesday as Republicans pressure Congress and the White House for deep cuts, called for "shared sacrifice" for everyone--including the nation's wealthy.

Obama blistered "tax breaks for the wealthy" in his speech while calling for $4 trillion in deficit reduction in 12 years or less. Obama, however, declined to fill in many details of his plans--he called for a decrease in Defense spending--leaving budget negotiations to begin in May between GOP and Democrat House and Senate leaders, led by Vice President Biden.

In his call for the country to "live within its means," Obama said, "As a country that values fairness, wealthier individuals have traditionally born a greater share of this burden than the middle class or those less fortunate. This is not because we begrudge those who've done well - we rightly celebrate their success. Rather, it is a basic reflection of our belief that those who have benefitted most from our way of life can afford to give a bit more back. Moreover, this belief has not hindered the success of those at the top of the income scale, who continue to do better and better with each passing year."

Obama's speech, at George Washington University, comes a week after Republicans, led by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) unveiled their own plan to tackle looming debt and deficit problems, including revamping Medicare. Obama said that would "end Medicare as we know it."

Transcript of Obama speech below at the click...

CHICAGO--Before President Obama speaks at a Navy Pier fund-raiser here on Thursday--one of three to kick off his 2012 re-election fund-raising drive--his former chief-of-staff, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel will introduce him. And White House Senior Advisor David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager, will introduce Emanuel.

As I reported already, the Navy Pier program includes Bulls stars present and past--Derrick Rose and B.J. Armstrong--and a performance by singer Colbie Cailat. Bulls star center Joakim Noah will also be attending.

(Noah is a French-American and his father was just in the news for getting Neo-Nazi death threats: Yannick Noah, the father of Bulls' center Joakim Noah, said he was the target of death threats and racial slurs from neo-Nazis prior to playing a concert in France, a French newspaper reported on Sunday.)

Obama has three events in Chicago, expected to haul in millions of dollars for his Obama 2012 campaign and the Democratic National Committee, followed by other big funders in San Francisco and Los Angeles on April 20 and 21 and New York on April 27. Obama and First Lady Michelle will be in Chicago during the day on April 27 taping an Oprah Winfrey show.

In Chicago, Obama 2012/DNC is organizing:

♦ A $35,800-per-person dinner at the MK Restaurant.

♦ Another dinner with tickets from $5,000 to $15,000 at N9NE Steakhouse.

♦ A large reception at the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier with tickets as low as $100.

White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett return home to Chicago on Friday for an Art Institute tribute to Mayor Daley and his wife Maggie for their support of the arts in Chicago. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will also guest at the event, where mayoral brother Bill is expected to speak.

President Obama outlines his long-term plan to reduce the debt and deficit in a Wednesday afternoon speech at George Washington University. He's got a challenge here: Obama has pressure from liberals and progressives--the base he needs energized to help him win a second term in 2012--to not cut many social safety net programs; he has to balance that with what seems to the White House a clear need to compromise with Republicans on a variety--but not all--fiscal matters.

Obama's speech comes after House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) authored a fiscal 2012 budget plan with roll backs for Medicare, Medicaid and other deep cuts.

Meanwhile: will Congress and Obama raise the debt ceiling in May? The nation has more than $14 trillion in debt right now.

All this comes as Obama's re-election campaign is ramping up and GOP 2012 presidential candidates are stepping up their drives--Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour, and yes, for now, birther Donald Trump.

Guidance from the White House on the upcoming speech comes in broad strokes; here it is:

On Wednesday, the President will lay out his vision for reducing our deficit based on the values of shared prosperity and shared responsibility in a speech at The George Washington University.

The President will advocate a balanced approach to controlling out of control deficits and restoring fiscal responsibility while protecting the investments we need to grow our economy, create jobs, and win the future. The President's proposal will build off of the deficit reduction measures included in his 2012 budget and will borrow from the recommendations of the bipartisan Fiscal Commission he created.

The President will lay out four steps to achieve this balanced approach, including: keeping domestic spending low, finding additional savings in our defense budget, reducing excess health care spending while strengthening Medicare and Medicaid, and tax reform that reduces spending in our tax code.

The President will make clear that while we all share the goal of reducing our deficit and putting our nation back on a fiscally responsible path, his vision is one where we can live within our means without putting burdens on the middle class and seniors or impeding our ability to invest in our future.


WASHINGTON--President Obama and First Lady Michelle return home to Chicago on April 27 to tape an Oprah Winfrey show at her near West Side Harpo Studios. Obama overnights in Chicago on Thursday, in the city to headline three fund-raisers to benefit his 2012 bid for a second term.

The airdate for the show is May 2.

Winfrey and the Obamas' are friends and the First Couple sitting for an interview on her last season--her 25th-- is some goodbye; Winfrey's final show is May 25. The April 27 taping will be the third time the couple have appeared together on Oprah.

By now, many of you are familiar with the story: Winfrey threw herself into politics for the first time when she stumped for Obama in 2008 in three critical early Democratic primary states: Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. She also hosted a big fund-raiser for Obama on her California estate outside of Santa Barbara (I remember well sitting on a curb across the street from her mansion filing while Ben LaBolt was herding the press) and appeared at an "issues conference" for big donors in Chicago during the general election.

The Obamas' have appeared on Oprah before, on her daytime show and on Nov. 25, 2009, on her prime time special about their first Christmas at the White House. Mrs. Obama has also been featured in Oprah's "O" Magazine.

The Obama's were on the show together on Oct. 18, 2006, when his book, "Audacity of Hope" was published and Jan. 19, 2005, after he was elected a Senator from Illinois. Mrs. Obama, who on Tuesday unveiled her "Joining Forces" program to help military families, was on Oprah on Jan. 27, 2011 to talk about the plight of military families, in a show where Tom Brokaw and Bob Woodward also guested.

joining forces.jpg

Joining Forces

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama, in launching "Joining Forces" on Tuesday, is using her considerable bully pulpit to do for the cause of helping military families what she has done with her "Let's Move" anti-childhood obesity drive: shine a light on a national problem and seek public-private partner ships to find solutions.

"I want every military family to know, Michelle hears you," President Obama said in introducing his wife at the White House kick-off.

Mrs. Obama said companies are making "major, new committments" to help military families while urging individuals to "do something as simple as mowing the lawn, shoveling the snow" to assist.

"Joining Forces was created to recognize and serve our nation's extraordinary military families who, like their loved ones in uniform, serve and sacrifice so much so that we can live in freedom and security," said Mrs. Obama in her prepared text. "This is a challenge to every segment of American society not to simply say thank you but to mobilize, take action and make a real commitment to supporting our military families."

The White House kick-off, with Mrs. Obama, President Obama, Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill--plus a number of military officers, cabinet members, members of Congress, military families and executives of corporations and non-profits in partner programs-- comes after months of planning.

The effort involved a "huge staff" of aides drafted from the East and West Wings and various federal agencies, an administration official said on background during a briefing call Tuesday morning; the cost to run the program, the official said, is "minimal," but did not provide a figure.

Retired Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the Afghanistan commander who was fired by President Obama last year after his aides bad mouthed civilian leaders in a Rolling Stones interview, is an unpaid advisor to the "Joining Forces" initiative,along with Patty Shinseki, wife of Eric K. Shinseki, the Veterans Affairs Department Secretary.

They were selected jointly by Mrs. Obama's team and the nonpartisan Center for a New American Security, a Washington national security think tank, the official said Tuesday. The Center will be in charge of "mobilizing ongoing" support for the initiative.

Mrs. Obama took on military family assistance as a signature issue during the 2008 presidential campaign, and, with Dr. Biden, have visited a number of military installations in the past two years and have spoken out on the stresses facing families with the U.S. engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--not to mention new fighting in Libya. The nation has been at war for years, yet the impact is mostly on the lives of people on active duty or in the reserves and their families.

Her "Let's Move" initiative--an outgrowth of the WhIte House garden--was started in February, 2010, also with much fanfare and support from the White House. While the goal of "Let's Move" is long term--to end childhood obesity in a generation--the military families Mrs. Obama wants to help need assistance now.

Many of the "Joining Forces" programs to help soldiers and their families--jobs are a major issue--are already ongoing; the point is to "pivot" forward," the official said in the briefing, who called "Joining Forces"--in one sense a clearinghouse of many ongoing and potentially new programs "unprecedented."

Get all the details on corporate partnerships here:

Check out the Joining Forces website:

The kick-off comes as Obama has put potentially more strains on military families, committing U.S. military resources to Libya in addition to carrying out wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden have already done a number of interviews with high-profile outlets, who featured the two women in exchange for devoting editorial resources to supporting the "Joining Forces" drive.

Some of the specific programs:
*Sears, Walmart, Sam's Club have been and will help spouses employed by them married to active duty soldiers get job transfers to other stores when duty stations change.
*Siemens Corp. Goodwill, will reserve 10 percent of open clean tech industries jobs for veterans.
*Microsoft and HP will offer training in new technologies.
*Best Buy's Geek Squad will host seminars at 17 military base "cutting edge" technology.
*Intel will provide access to protected sites where military personnel and spouses can get job training skills.
*Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg will star in Joining Forces commercials.
*Other free media deals were made with Nickelodeon, County Music Television, Disney, ABC, Walt Disney Studios, Major League Baseball, Sesame Street and AOL Huffington Post Media Group.

After the launch, Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden head off to Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas--the first three swing states critical to the Obama 2012 re-election bid--for a media blitz on Wednesday and Thursday bolstered by celebrities: Jessica Simpson, Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers; home arts guru Martha Stewart and Sesame Street's Elmo.

Get all the details on corporate partnerships here:


WASHINGTON--The Obama team is lavishing love on the swing state of Colorado. President Obama dropped in a tour Colorado students were taking at the White House. The scene was made into a White House video--featured at First Lady Michelle Obama pops up in Denver and Colorado Springs on Thursday to tout her "Joining Forces" military family program, to be unveiled at noon on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama, joined by President Obama, Vice President Biden and his wife Jill kick off a stepped up campaign on Tuesday--to be called "Joining Forces"-- to focus more attention on the plight of military families, bringing back into the fold a commander Obama fired.

The White House announced in advance of the Tuesday event that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, removed by Obama as commander in Afghanistan after a Rolling Stone magazine profile carried unflattering quotes from officers serving under him, will lead a three-member "Joining Forces" advisory panel.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said McChystal and his wife will attend the White House event. The kick-off comes as Obama has put potentially more strains on military families, committing U.S. military resources to Libya in addition to carrying out wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

After the launch, Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden head off to Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas--the first three swing states critical to the Obama 2012 re-election bid--for a media blitz on Wednesday and Thursday bolstered by a cast of celebrities: Jessica Simpson, Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers; home arts guru Martha Stewart; Sesame Street's Elmo and the cast of Discovery Channel's Mythbusters.

"Joining Forces" will be a major public relations, branding and policy initiative for Mrs. Obama, much as is her anti-childhood obesity campaign, "Let's Move" which is a combination public-private enterprise.

While "Let's Move" was an outgrowth of Mrs. Obama's White House garden on the South Lawn, Mrs. Obama's interested in military families started during the 2008 presidential campaign. Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden have spoken out on the problems facing the military while the nation is at war and visited military installations these past two years; "Joining Forces" takes it to another level.

The "Joining Forces" initiative has been in the works for months, and is an outgrowth of a Jan. 24 presidential report detailing 50 commitments by federal agencies to help military families.

Mrs. Obama, at a Jan. 24, 2011 White House event with Obama to unveil the report, said, "back in May, I announced that my husband had directed his Cabinet to identify new priorities and new partnerships to support our military families. So today, they have come back with 50 -- 50 specific commitments that aim to keep improving your quality of life.

On Wednesday Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden visit the giant Marine base, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, an Army medical center in San Antonio, and end up at a Colorado Rockies vs. Mets game in Denver with military families in the stands. On Thursday, the women hit Colorado Springs--near the campus of the the U.S. Air Force Academy--and then to Columbus, Ohio, for two events.

Click below for more information about the Obama/Biden "Joining Forces" blitz:

WASHINGTON--President Obama kicks off his 2012 re-election fund-raising drive headlining three events in Chicago on Thursday, with the low dollar reception at Navy Pier featuring Bulls stars present and past--Derrick Rose and B.J. Armstrong--and vocalist Colbie Caillat.

Obama makes a rare visit back to overnight at his Kenwood home Thursday. The last time Obama hit Chicago was an Oct. 30 daytrip, the weekend before the November election-- at a rally near the University of Chicago on the Midway Plaisance. Before that, Obama was in town Aug. 4 for a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser and overnighted at his place.

As I reported last week, Obama has three events in Chicago, expected to haul in millions of dollars for his Obama 2012 campaign and the Democratic National Committee, followed by other big funders in San Francisco and Los Angeles on April 20 and 21.

In Chicago, Obama 2012/DNC is organizing:

♦ A $35,800-per-person dinner at the MK Restaurant.

♦ Another dinner with tickets from $5,000 to $15,000 at N9NE Steakhouse.

♦ A large reception at the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier with tickets as low as $100.

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former White House chief of staff, is also expected to attend at least one event.

Obama registered with the Federal Election Commission as a 2012 candidate on April 4.

WASHINGTON--Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Monday announced formation of an exploratory committee to mount a second bid for the White House, joining what may well be a crowded 2012 GOP primary field.

"It is time we put America back on a course to greatness," Romney said on a YouTube video, with the announcement also going out on Twitter.

WASHINGTON--President Obama, who often plays golf on weekends doesn't love the links--it's just one of the only ways for him to get outside and still remain in his security bubble.

That's what Obama told Hearst Magazine editors during a Saturday session. Obama has in past interviews talked about how he missed the simple pleasure of life, such as riding a bike along Chicago's lakefront. Mrs. Obama has said she misses shopping at the Target on Roosevelt Road.

From the Hearst interview, as published on Hearst's Houston Chronicle website:

From the Hearst story, which helps explain why Obama gave the interview: "Hearst Magazines publishes periodicals including Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire, O, The Oprah Magazine, Popular Mechanics, Redbook, Esquire and Cosmopolitan, among others."

On the loss of privacy:

"I just miss -- I miss being anonymous. ... "I miss Saturday morning, rolling out of bed, not shaving, getting into my car with my girls, driving to the supermarket, squeezing the fruit, getting my car washed, taking walks. I can't take a walk."

Not a golf fanatic:

"It's the only excuse I have to get outside for four hours at a stretch," he told the Hearst executives.

His dream:
"I just want to go through Central Park (in New York) and watch folks passing by...Spend the whole day watching people. I miss that."

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama had to nix weekend plans for a trip to colonial Williamsburg with the family because of the down-to-the-wire budget battle; the weekend fun schedule was revised to include a pizza party with daughters Malia, Sasha and pals, reports Obamafoodorama.

excerpt from Obamafoodorama story: "First Lady Michelle Obama had a swell time with daughters Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9, at popular Capitol Hill eatery We, The Pizza on Saturday evening, according to a hip ObFo tipster who was there for dinner at 8:00 PM, enjoying one of chef Spike Mendelsohn's gourmet pies. Mrs. Obama was also accompanied by a big party of about 15-20 pals and staff, and the group dined upstairs, at a single large table. Multiple pizzas were spotted on the table, and there was much laughter, according to the source."

WASHINGTON--Desiree Rogers, the CEO of Johnson Publishing, and a former White House Social Secretary told ABC News "Nightline" it is "liberating" to run Jet and Ebony magazines and a "less mature person might be resentful" about the circumstances behind her departure from the Obama administration.

The ABC interview with Rogers, also a co-chair of Mayor-elect Emanuel's Mayoral Inaugural Committee will be broadcast on Monday night. ABC's web story is headlined, "Ex-White House Staffer Discusses Obama Administration Pitfalls and Elation Over New Publishing Gig"

On being CEO of Chicago based Johnson Publishing:
"It feels liberating," she told "Nightline's" Bill Weir. "I feel like, for the first time, I'm in a position that allows me to really use all of my assets in a very powerful way."

On state dinner crashers Tareq and Michelle Salahi showing up at the Obama White House first state dinner, for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India in 2009:
"It's unfortunate that, you know, this happened and ... it's over," she said. "It's the past, it's behind us and that's the end of it."

As ABC put it: "Although tensions already were building between Rogers and her colleagues, the Salahis' security breach, which launched an investigation, became the trigger for her dismissal from the White House in February 2010."

On her departure from the White House:
"I think a less mature person might be resentful," she said. "....My job is to make certain that I've done what I was asked and my department has done what we were asked to do by the president and the first lady and the State Department. I believe that we accomplished that. ...and so for me, that's what I dwell on."

More on her departure from ABC News web story on Rogers interview: (an entire transcript has not been released)

"Ultimately, Rogers said, her departure from the White House was a "joint decision" made between her and Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama.
"I was never sure that I wanted to be there for, you know, four years," she said. "I'm a business person at heart."

Still, she referred to her relationship with Jarrett as "strained."
"This is work," she said. "You have to separate that from your own, you know, personal endeavors."

A do-over she would take from her White House tenure:
"I would have declined more interviews that were brought to me," she said. "I'm not certain what the fascination was with me in particular. ... I think, you know, we could have managed all of that better."

WASHINGTON--White House Senior advisor David Plouffe said on CNN's "State of the Union," NBC's "Meet the Press" and other Sunday shows President Obama will unveil his approach to "long-term deficit reduction" this week. I'm told by the White House the speech will be Wednesday.

CONTEXT: The speech will come as Congress faces a vote on raising the debt ceiling--a matter many Republicans are deadset against. This comes as Obama and Congress finally finished up battles near midnight Friday on the fiscal 2011 budget---almost six months into the fiscal year--only to plunge right into more significant haggling over the fiscal 2012 budget.

Plouffe to Candy Crowley on SOTU: re deficit reduction: 'He'll speak to that this week. But he believes we need significant debt reduction in the coming years, and that's what he's going to speak to this week."

Plouffe to David Gregory on MTP: "The President will be laying out his approach to long-term deficit reduction later this week. And I think that we have to focus on that.

The debt ceiling is something that has to be raised every once in a while. It's something the Speaker of the House John Boehner has said if we didn't raise it would bring a financial disaster both in this country and around the world. Economist after economist has said it would raise interest rates. It could wreak havoc on the housing market, on the economy. It could be a catastrophic failure for the United States economy if we didn't raise it."

from the White House....

Pfeiffer Post: Details of the Bipartisan Budget Deal
by Dan Pfeiffer on April 09, 2011 at 06:44 PM EDT

(Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director)

Last night, President Obama announced that the federal government will remain open for business because Americans from different beliefs came together, put politics aside, and met the expectations of the American people. Today, small businesses will no longer worry or have to wait on a loan to open or expand their business, families will receive the mortgages they applied for, and hundreds of thousands of government workers, including our brave men and women in uniform, will continue to receive paychecks on time.

This deal cuts spending by $78.5 billion from the President's FY 2011 Budget request -- the largest annual spending cut in our history. These are real cuts that will save taxpayers money and have a real impact. Many will be painful, and are to programs that we support, but the fiscal situation is such that we have to act.

The two sides agreed to cut $13 billion from funding for programs at the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services as well as over $1 billion in a cut across non-defense agencies, forcing everyone to tighten their belt. There will be reductions to housing assistance programs and some health care programs along with $8 billion in cuts to our budget for State and Foreign Operations. These significant cuts to the State Department and foreign assistance will mean we will not meet some of the ambitious goals set for the nation in the President's Budget.

Our team also went after wasteful spending and earmarked, special interest programs including $630 million in earmarked transportation projects and at least $2.5 billion in transportation funding that is ready to be earmarked. We were able to cut $35 million by ending the Crop Insurance Good Performance Rebate, which gives successful farmers, who have no claims, a rebate for insurance premiums already subsidized by the federal government. In addition to these cuts, we were able to eliminate $30 million for a job training program that was narrowly targeted at certain student loan processors. We also looked to the Defense department for savings, and were able to identify $18 billion in cuts deemed unnecessary by the Pentagon. These types of cuts are what the American people expect out of their leaders in Washington.

Just as families across the nation do everyday, we had to make tough choices and begin to live within our means, but we also had clear lines that protected the investments we need to win the future.

We protected funding for critical programs that invest in science programs, our kids' education, and critical health programs. We are maintaining current levels of Head Start enrollment, funding Race to the Top, including an early learning element, and have sufficient savings available to maintain the Pell Grant maximum award and the broad education reform agenda, including K-12 education. There is still robust investment to efficiently and effectively run Medicare and to implement the Affordable Care Act. Even though we will no longer double the funding of key research and development agencies, you will still see strong investments in National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Science Foundation and the Office of Science.

By insisting on these cuts, we were able to achieve savings and avoid most of the harmful proposals. We avoided deep cuts in international programs that, among other things, threaten our transition out of Iraq. We were able to avoid making than $500 million cut in lifesaving biomedical research at National Institutes of Health. We avoided terminating 60,000 children from the Head Start Program in September and fund student load to provide adequate services to student loan borrowers. We are able to implement financial reforms signed into law to prevent another financial crisis.

We also made sure this was a debate about spending cuts, not social issues or pursuing an ideological agenda that has nothing to do with our budget. We all understand that these are important issues that deserve discussion, just not during a debate about our budget and at a time when the American people expect more out of their government.

We were able to stop Republican efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act as well as Planned Parenthood and international family planning programs. They also wanted to limit funding for the establishment of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and block the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing clean air and water rules. While we made significant cuts, we just couldn't afford to cut these important programs that are critical to our nation.

Last night was a perfect example of Democrats and Republicans coming together, working tirelessly to hammer out a deal and making the tough choices to live within our means. We all know that we face tough challenges ahead, from job creating and growing our economy, to educating our children and reducing our deficit, and we must continue to work together to achieve those goals and deliver for the American people.

Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

WASHINGTON--White House staffers, including Chief of Staff Bill Daley, broke into applause after President Obama announced a budget deal late Friday, averting a federal government showdown. The pool report, by Carol Lee of the Wall Street Journal, has the details--including that Obama re-enacted the statement for still photographers.

Click at the bottom for the Carol Lee pool report.

Click here for Obama budget deal announcement transcript.

Click here for Sweet blog budget battle coverage.

To follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @lynnsweet

From Office of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)..... key elements of the bipartisan agreement.....

THE LARGEST SPENDING CUT IN AMERICAN HISTORY. The agreement will immediately cut $38.5 billion in federal spending - the largest spending cut in American history in terms of dollars - just months after President Obama asked Congress for a spending "freeze" that would mean zero cuts.

HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS IN SPENDING CUTS OVER THE NEXT DECADE. The agreement will cut hundreds of billions of dollars from the federal budget over the next decade - "real money," as the Wall Street Journal editorial board recently noted.

OFFICIALLY ENDS THE "STIMULUS" SPENDING BINGE. The agreement begins to reverse the "stimulus" spending binge that began in 2009 - signaling the official end of a period of unprecedented government intervention that former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan and other economists say hurt job creation in America by crowding out private investment.

SETS STAGE FOR TRILLIONS MORE IN SPENDING CUTS. Clears the way for congressional action on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's budget - The Path to Prosperity - which cuts trillions in spending and offers a long-term blueprint for American job creation.

GUARANTEES SENATE VOTE ON REPEAL OF OBAMACARE. The agreement reached with Senate Democrats guarantees a Senate debate and vote on legislation that would repeal President Obama's government takeover of health care in its entirety. The House passed such legislation in January as part of the Pledge to America.

NEW TOOLS IN THE FIGHT TO REPEAL OBAMACARE. The agreement will generate new tools for the fight to repeal Obamacare by requiring numerous studies that will force the Obama Administration to reveal the true impact of the law's mandates, including a study of how individuals and families will see increased premiums as a result of certain Obamacare mandates; a full audit of all the waivers that the Obama Administration has given to firms and organizations - including unions - who can't meet the new annual coverage limits; a full audit of what's happening with the comparative effectiveness research funding that was in Obamacare and the president's failed "stimulus" spending bill; and a report on all of the contractors who have been hired to implement the law and the costs to taxpayers of such contracts.

DENIES ADDITIONAL FUNDING TO THE IRS. The Obama administration has sought increased federal funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) - money that could be used to hire additional agents to enforce the administration's agenda on a variety of issues. This increased funding is denied in the agreement.

GUARANTEES SENATE VOTE & DEBATE ON DE-FUNDING PLANNED PARENTHOOD. The agreement with Senate Democrats guarantees a Senate debate and vote on legislation that would end federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

BANS TAXPAYER FUNDING OF ABORTION IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. The agreement includes a complete ban on local and federal funding of abortion in the District of Columbia, applying the pro-life principles of the Hyde Amendment ("D.C. Hyde").

MANDATORY AUDITS OF THE NEW JOB-CRUSHING BUREAUCRACY SET UP UNDER DODD-FRANK. The agreement subjects the so-called Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by the job-destroying Dodd-Frank law to yearly audits by both the private sector and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to monitor its impact on the economy, including its impact on jobs, by examining whether sound cost-benefit analyses are being used with rulemakings.

Updated with House vote, other details of agreement.....more budget battle coverage on the Sweet blog here.....

WASHINGTON--With about an hour to spare, a federal government shutdown was averted on Friday night in a deal where Republicans won spending cuts and Democrats thwarted a GOP House drive to defund health services for women provided by Planned Parenthood.

"Like any worthwhile compromise, both sides had to make tough decision and give ground on issues that were important to them. I certainly did," Obama said from the White House, standing in front of a window that allowed a view of the Washington Monument--a structure, Obama noted, that would have been closed if there was a shutdown. (Click here for Obama transcript)

"Shutdown avoided. Your voices heard loud and clear," was the message on the Planned Parenthood Twitterfeed. Taking on Planned Parenthood--which takes no federal money for abortions--but does to provide medical care for women, such as family planning and cancer screenings--was seen as a proxy for the long running and always contentious abortion fight.

However, as part of the deal, Senate Democrats had to promise to take up the Planned Parenthood funding question again, but in the friendly confines of the Democrat controlled Senate, a defunding measure will likely fail.

The agreement also adds a complete ban on local funding for abortions in the District of Columbia, which is still under the thumb of Congress in many ways. Federal funding for any abortions has been outlawed for years.

The deal, negotiated between the Obama White House, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) was announced after 11 p.m., just before the midnight Friday deadline. At issue is the budget for the six months left for fiscal year 2011. Another budget battle is brewing--over the pending fiscal year 2012 budget, with even deeper cuts and a GOP House proposal to revamp Medicare and Medicaid.

The agreement calls for $38.5 billion cuts in federal spending--more than the Democrats wanted and less than some Tea Party fueled Republicans were demanding.

Because it takes time to translate the details of the agreement into legislation, Congress is passing stopgap "bridge" bills to be signed by Obama to keep government open until the final language is done in a few days. The stopgap measure runs through April 15.

The Senate passed the measure by a voice vote. The House was expected to vote after midnight; voted after midnight, but as a practical matter, voting early Saturday morning still keeps government open. The short-term extension passed on an overwhelming bi-partisan 348-70 roll call at 12:39 a.m. est

Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew sent out a memo at midnight instructing federal agencies to remain open. "Earlier this evening, the Senate passed a short term CR that will extend current funding levels until the full-year bill can be passed and enacted next week. We expect the House to take up the CR shortly and for the President to sign this CR no later than tomorrow. As a result, at this time agencies are instructed to continue their normal operations," Lew wrote.

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @lynnsweet

WASHINGTON--With a shutdown looming, Illinois Republicans Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Mark Dold are on a conference call now--it started after 5 p.m. est--and each said Planned Parenthood should not be 100 percent defunded.

Said Kirk, "Democrats should give on spending proposals because we need more discipline and Republicans should give on the the extraneous policy riders so that government does not shut down," a reference to the House GOP move to defund Planned Parenthood's women health services.

A shut down could still be averted, Kirk said. "There is precious little distance between the President and the Speaker over spending," Kirk said.

House and Senate Republicans, by the way have a split over the Planned Parenthood issue: it is being fueled mainly by House Republicans--not Senate Republicans--Kirk noted.

At issue regarding Planned Parenthood: Federal funds for family planning and health services for women, including cancer screenings. Planned Parenthood does not get federal funding for abortions--federal law, under the Hyde amendment--named for the late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) has outlawed federal funding for abortion for years.

Kirk predicts no shutdown: "These things have a way of wrapping themselves up around 10, 11'o clock in the evening," Kirk said.

WASHINGTON--White House Senior Advisor David Plouffe, the manager of President Obama's 2008 campaign who has rarely been seen or heard from since joining the White House earlier this year (he rotated in as David Axelrod left) guests Sunday on ABC's "This Week with Christiane Amanpour." Obama filed for re-election this week and Plouffe will be asked about 2012 strategy.

Plouffe will also chat with NBC's David Gregory on "Meet the Press."

Plouffe will be interviewed by CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union with Candy Crowley."

Shutdown: Illinois Impact

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WASHINGTON--With a little less than 12 hours left to avoid a federal government shutdown, Democrats are saying Friday a GOP bid to defund Planned Parenthood female health services, such as cancer screenings and family planing is holding up a deal--in a proxy fight over abortion. Republicans are saying the holdup is over spending cuts that are not deep enough.

"The big fight is over spending," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at 1:04 p.m. est. at a press conference at the Capitol. He sidestepped a direct question about Title 10 Planned Parenthood defunding. "Almost all the policy (issues) have been delt with," Boehner said.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on the Senate floor Friday morning said an agreement had been made between the Republicans and Democrats on the amount of spending cuts on Thursday night, but there is no overall deal because "of the insistence of the House Republicans" to "virtually devastate the Title 10 family planning program. Let me ask you something. In the big national debate in the last election over the future of our country and what we would do with our deficit, how many times do you remember this issue coming up?"

Durbin makes a point.My take: It could be the Republicans, pushed by the Tea Party factions in their ranks put the contentious social issues on the table in order to trade them at the last minute for deeper spending cuts. After all, this entire fight is over the fy2011 budget--the six months or so left to it. The social issue fight can be left for the upcoming battles over the pending fy2012 budget, with a dramatic switch of spending priorities offered up by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).

Ryan is scheduled to be in Chicago on Monday, April 11: He is booked for a Republican Jewish Coalition roundtable downtown.

Here's the noon (est) update on a dramatic day:

*The Democrat Senators caucus at 2 p.m. est for an update on budget negotiations.

*President Obama spoke separately to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) by phone on Friday. Over the past two days, two leaders have met with Obama four times at the White House.

Boehner on Friday morning in the Capitol: "There's only one reason that we do not have an agreement as yet, and that issue is spending. We're close to a resolution on the policy issues. But I think the American people deserve to know when will the White House and when will Senate Democrats get serious about cutting spending. A bill that fails to include real spending cuts will hurt job growth and signal that Washington's not serious about dealing with its spending addiction. And I think the Senate should follow the House lead and pass the troop funding bill and do it today. And I also believe the president should sign the troop funding bill into law. This is the responsible thing to do to support our troops and to keep our federal government open."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Friday morning, from the Senate floor: "Let's be very clear about this: if the government shuts down, it's either because Democrats are pretending that a previously non-controversial provision is suddenly out of bounds. Or they refuse to take another baby step in the direction of balancing the government checkbook, something we know the American people want. Neither reason is worth a shutdown -- especially when neither side actually wants one. And that's why I believe there will be an agreement here shortly. I've been in many negotiations over the years. I assure you, these are not un-resolvable issues."

McConnell has a point: "First, that the whole reason we're in this mess is that Democrats abdicated their responsibility to keep the government funded through this year." The debate is over fy2011 spending; a budget could have been locked in last year, when Democrats still controlled the House.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama's team has been planning for months the launch of her stepped-up drive to help military families; a major rollout is set for Tuesday at the White House. On Thursday, speaking at a "military child of the year" event in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Mrs. Obama said forging public, private and non-profit partnerships are a centerpiece of the program.

"...for the past two years, I've traveled this country meeting with military families and working to raise awareness of the incredible contributions that these families are making, and it's why next week Jill Biden and I are launching a new nationwide campaign calling on every single American to honor, recognize, and support our military families. And our message is very clear: It's that every American has the ability -- and the obligation -- to give something back to our military families," Mrs. Obama said.

"Everybody can do something. Schools can work to better meet the needs of military kids. Businesses can make an effort to hire military spouses. Ordinary citizens can do something as simple as offering to shovel the snow, babysit, organize events in their communities to celebrate these families.

"And in the coming months, Jill Biden and I will be traveling the country -- Jill's a Blue Star mom herself -- and we'll be highlighting the best businesses and nonprofits and community efforts, and we're going to be doing everything that we can to tell the stories of our military families. And I think we could learn a thing or two from a couple of our honorees tonight."

full transcript at the click....

WASHINGTON--President Obama canceled a Friday trip to Indianapolis as a federal government shutdown looms at midnight Friday because House and Senate leaders remained deadlocked in a budget battle.

Obama met through the day Thursday with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) as the federal government started to put shutdown plans in place. Obama cancelled his Indianapolis trip on Thursday night, after another meeting with Boehner and Reid did not break the impasse.

Near 9:30 p.m. est, Obama said they made "additional progress this evening. I think the staffs of both the House and the Senate, as well as the White House staff, have been working very hard to try to narrow the differences. We made some progress today. Those differences have been narrowed. And so once again the staff is going to be working tonight around the clock in order to see if we can finally close a deal."

Obama added that "difficult issues" remain on the table. "They're important to both sides. And so I'm not yet prepared to express wild optimism. But I think we are further along today than we were yesterday."

In a joint statement, Boehner and Reid said, "We have narrowed the issues, however, we have not yet reached an agreement. We will continue to work through the night to attempt to resolve our remaining differences."

Obama's complete statement at the click...

WASHINGTON--Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) the Tea Party movement leader mulling a 2008 presidential run, seemed to put some distance between herself and GOP hard liners trying to inject abortion and climate change into budget talks taking place as a government shutdown looms.

Republicans--who control the House-- want a bill that preserves salary payments for the U.S. military even if there is a shutdown--but poisoned the legislation for most Democrats by adding elements that Democrats--who control the Senate--have rejected, such as $12 billion in Defense cuts

On "John King USA," King asked, 'do you think for the sake of getting a deal now, should Republicans say, let's get more spending cuts and give up, whether it's abortion funding or it's environmental regulation funding, set that aside for the next battle?"

Bachman replied, "Well, my opinion is this. I think that we should have clean bill that makes sure that the paycheck gets to the troops on time. After all, now that President Obama has us engaged in a third war in Libya, I think it's imperative that our troops not pay a price and none of the family's back home should worry whether or not they're getting a check."

If the issue is really about making sure soldiers are paid no matter what--something Democrats and Republicans agree with--then House and Senate members would have to agree to a short term CR that is clean.

The Democrats are pressing hard on Thursday-- that Republicans are trying to force a social agenda by adding riders to bills: from abortion funding in the District of Columbia, to ending funding for Planned Parenthood, to limits on the Environmental Protection Agency.

Said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) from the Senate floor on Thursday afternoon: "Why in the world flounder over two social issue: closing down the E.P.A.'s functions and closing down women's access to health care? That's where they are. It's no longer about the deficit."

WASHINGTON--As the Obama administration prudently prepares for an "orderly shutdown," as budget talks remain stalemated, a memo prepared by the Office of Management and Budget states that government websites may not be maintained during a closure--IRS excepted.

The Obama White House, faced with the increasing possibility of a federal government shutdown at midnight on Friday on Thursday issued a 16-page memo with instructions to agencies and employees on how to proceed if the shutdown becomes real.

From the memo, page 14: "The mere benefit of continued access by the public to information about the agency's activities would not warrant the retention of personnel or the obligation of funds to maintain (or update) the agency's website during such a lapse."

An exception--the IRS. For those preparing IRS returns and want to file electronically comes this guidance from the OMB "maintenance of the IRS website may be necessary to allow for tax filings and tax collection, which are activities that continue during an appropriations lapse), then the website should remain operational even if its costs are funded through appropriations that have lapsed."

A negotiation session on Thursday afternoon at the White House with President Obama, Vice President Biden, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) failed to yield a deal; the parties return to the Oval Office this evening.

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House, faced with the increasing possibility of a federal government shutdown at midnight on Friday, on Thursday afternoon issued a 16-page memo with instructions to agencies and employees on how to proceed if the shutdown becomes real.

A negotiation session on Thursday afternoon at the White House with President Obama, Vice President Biden, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) failed to yield a deal; the parties return to the Oval Office this evening.

From the Obama Office of Management and Budget:

At this time, agencies should proceed
as follows:

Today, Thursday, April 7: You should continue to review your shutdown plans and begin the process of communicating the details of your plans to all employees. Your communications with an employee should address the expected status of that employee under a shutdown: that is, whether the employee would continue to report to work (either because the employee is paid from an appropriation that continues to remain available or because the employee would be needed for the agency's performance of its "excepted" functions) or instead would be placed on furlough as "non-excepted."

An agency may , complete this communication electronically if appropriate. Agencies also are encouraged to conduct appropriate outreach to unions, State, local and tribal governments, grantees, contractors, Congressional committees, and other stakeholders.
Tomorrow, Friday, April 8: As noted, the current CR expires at midnight tomorrow. Therefore, tomorrow is a normal workday for the Federal Government, and all employees should report to work as normal. Agencies must complete the process of communicating to all employees their status under a shutdown no later than the end of the day tomorrow.
We will advise you tomorrow of further developments, including whether a new CR will likely be enacted. If we inform you tomorrow that a new CR is not likely to be enacted, then you should prepare to implement your shutdown plan beginning on Saturday, April 9.

In that case, agencies must instruct non-excepted employees (including those who do not have a weekend work schedule) that they are prohibited, pursuant to the legal requirements of the Anti deficiency Act, from performing any work over the weekend pending further notice. This means that the non-excepted employees will be prohibited, after midnight on Friday night, from working remotely, such as from home --including by accessing agency information technology (e.g., Blackberries, cell phones, computers, laptops), except to the extent that the agency's contingency plan provides for the agency to use such technology to provide non-excepted employees with updates regarding their furlough and return-to-work status. Also, as noted below, there may be circumstances in which certain employees are accessing agency information technology remotely for a brief period to carry out de minimis shutdown related activities.

If there is a lapse in appropriations, during the employee's next scheduled work day (i.e.,
Saturday or Sunday for weekend employees; Monday for all other employees), an agency
shall have its non-excepted employees perform -for up to a half-day (e.g., up to four
hours) -such "orderly shutdown" activities as are needed for the agency's implementation
of its contingency plan (e.g., turning in equipment if required).

Non-excepted employees
who are scheduled to telework on their next scheduled work day may perfonn these
shutdown activities from their telework location, if an existing telework agreement is in
place. In addition, agencies at their discretion may allow other employees to conduct
shutdown activities from a remote location, even without an existing telework agreement,
if the nature of the employees' shutdown activities are de minimis (i.e., can be completed inapproximately 15 minutes). For example, such activities would include receiving and
acknowledging receipt of an electronic furlough notice and adjusting voicemail and email
to reflect current work status. All other non-excepted employees will be expected to
report to work on their next scheduled work day to carry out orderly shutdown activities.
Saturday, April 9/Sunday, April 10/Monday, April 11: During the weekend, we will advise you further, depending on the status of appropriations action, as follows:

Normal Operations: If it is apparent late Friday evening or early Saturday that a new CR is likely to be enacted on Saturday, OMB will instruct agencies to operate in a normal manner (and not engage in shutdown activities).

Shutdown: If no new CR is likely to be enacted on Saturday, OMB will issue
instructions on Saturday for agencies to proceed with their shutdown
implementation, initiating the orderly shutdown by non-excepted employees.
Agencies will need to issue furlough notices to non-excepted employees during the
next scheduled work day (Saturday or Sunday for weekend employees and Monday
for all other employees). Agencies are encouraged to issue furlough notices
electronically to employees where possible. Absent compelling circumstances,
agencies should complete orderly shutdown activities for non-excepted personnel
within the first half-day (i.e., up to four hours) of an employee's nonnal work

senate leaders.jpegDemocratic Senate Leaders Press Conference: Dick Durbin, Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Patty Murray (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--With a government shutdown looming, Democratic Senate leaders said Thursday a "Tea Party extreme social agenda" on abortion and the environment is the real issue in tense budget negotiations with the White House--not getting to an agreement on spending cuts.

The Democratic Senate leadership team--Sen. Harry Reid, (D-Nv.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) at a press conference in the Capitol said Republican riders on the budget legislation--including defunding Planned Parenthood and curbing the authority of the EPA--were over long contentious policy matters that could be debated another time--not when Congress was confronted with a Friday midnight deadline to get a budget deal done.

"This is an extreme agenda," Reid said. "...This is not a women's health bill, or a bill about the environment." With a deadline looming, "we don't have the time" Reid said, to deal with a "Tea Party extreme social agenda."

Durbin said the arguments were "about bumper stickers"--hot button social issues debated constantly. " Save this argument for another day," he said.

Said Schumer, "there will be a chance to vote on these issues another time."

From the Senate floor Reid said in a speech, "If this government shuts down -- and it looks like it's headed in that direction -- it's going to be based on my friends in the House of Representatives, the leadership over there, focusing on ideological matters that have nothing to do with funding this government."

At issue regarding Planned Parenthood: Federal funds for family planning and health services for women, including cancer screenings. Planned Parenthood does not get federal funding for abortions--federal law, under the Hyde amendment--named for the late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) has outlawed federal funding for abortion for years.

Reid and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) are meeting at the White House starting at 1 p.m. est with President Obama and Vice President Biden to try to break the deadlock over funding for the about six months left on the fy2011 budget. Congress has passed a series of temporary measures to keep government running while negotiations drag on. The wrangling over the fy2011 budget started before the November mid-term elections when the Democrats held the House and Senate.

From the Senate floor Durbin said in a Thursday morning speech, it is "ridiculous" that Planned Parenthood "should be an obstacle to an agreement."

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told me Thursday morning he does not support defunding Planned Parenthood, though the organization should take a budget cut--along with others. "I think everybody should be part of shared sacrifice for budget reduction, but not to be zeroed out."

The fight over Planned Parenthood is almost entirely among House Republicans. "I think there was some national attention to it, but cooler heads are prevailing in the Senate," Kirk told me.

WASHINGTON--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.), speaking from the Senate floor on Thursday morning, was gloomy about the prospects of striking a budget deal by midnight Friday to avoid a federal government shutdown. Meanwhile, Reid and House Speaker John Boehner have been called to the White House this morning for a meeting with President Obama and Vice President Biden at 1 p.m. est.

"The numbers are basically there," Reid said. "But I'm not nearly as optimistic, and that's an understatement, as I was 11 hours ago. The numbers are extremely close. Our difference are no longer over how much savings we get on government spending.

"The only thing holding up an agreement is an ideology," Reid said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) followed Reid on the House floor and in his speech he said, "In other words, if a shutdown does occur, our Democrat friends have no one to blame but themselves -- because they have done nothing whatsoever to prevent it."

The Illinois senators, Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and Mark Kirk, a Republican were optimistic about closing a budget pact while speaking during their joint Illinois breakfast on Thursday morning. Said Kirk, "At the last hour, this will get settled."

WASHINGTON--A federal government shutdown is looming; still no budget deal with a midnight Friday deadline looming; late Wednesday Obama huddled with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) and Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) but could not strike a deal.

At 10:45 p.m. Obama said, "We just had a productive meeting with Speaker Boehner, as well as Majority Leader Reid. We discussed the impasse that we're currently at with respect to the budget, and I thought the meetings were frank, they were constructive, and what they did was narrow the issues and clarify the issues that are still outstanding.

I remain confident that if we're serious about getting something done we should be able to complete a deal and get it passed and avert a shutdown. But it's going to require a sufficient sense of urgency from all parties involved. It means that people have to recognize that a government shutdown has real consequences for real people."

He urged Democratic and GOP staffers to work through the night and regroup in the morning. "I'm absolutely convinced that we can get this done."

Click below for transcript.....

WASHINGTON--Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) covered a range of topics at a Wednesday morning breakfast--from the looming government shutdown, to Libya, to the influence of Facebook, to political baggage plus Snooki and Twitter.

"Americans don't like government, but they don't want it to shutdown," McCain said at the session with reporters, sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, as the Obama White House and congressional leaders look for a deal to avoid the first shutdown since 1995.

McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee on other matters:

THE 1995 SHUTDOWN: "We all know from history it was a disaster for Republicans."

THE 2011 POTENTIAL SHUTDOWN: "The president is going to have to engage and engage seriously with some proposals of his own."

LIBYA: McCain said Obama should not have waited to get the approval of the UN and NATO before launching U.S. military on a mission to create a no-fly zone in Libya. Moammar Gadhafi would be gone now, McCain asserted, if the U.S. acted sooner.

"Unfortunately, this administration felt it was vital to get (UN) Security Council and Arab League and other organizations, everybody but the World Food Organization to approve any action that might be taken, so we lost great opportunity there."

2012 GOP PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY: McCain said he will not endorse.

POLITICAL BAGGAGE: Advice to GOP 2012 presidential candidates--or anyone running for office with some baggage:

"You have to take the issue head on, whatever it is, and try to put it behind you," Do opposition research on yourself and if there is stuff there, "You have got to confront it directly and then when (someone) ask(s) the question again the answer is 'I already addressed that issue' and not keep the story alive."

"As a candidate you have to have some honest observers and task them and say okay, what are my vulnerabilities? What do I have to address and confront thoroughly?"

SEC. OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: "I think the international star is Secretary Clinton." McCain said.

FACEBOOK: On a recent visit to Egypt McCain said he was told about the Facebook founder, "the national hero in Egypt is a guy named Mark Zuckerberg. I called him and told him that." Facebook helped fuel the Egyptian uprising. "Young people want him to visit," McCain added.

TWITTER: When McCain--who said he was on Facebook and Twitter "all the time" wanted to call on Egypt's Hosni Mubarak to step down, he said, "I tweeted it. .....That got me a lot of criticism, an issue that serious. But I was able to immediately reach 1.7 million people, and the press release would have taken a long period of time, and events were transpiring rapidly."

TWITTER AND SNOOKI: "You heard about my Tweet with Snooki?

"...I got more coverage from tweets with Snooki than any foreign-policy or major national-security statement that I have ever made in my life."

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel is tapping Chris Mather to be his City Hall communications director; Mather, an Illinois campaign veteran, will return to Chicago from Washington, where she is the communications director for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Emanuel's press secretary will be Tarrah Cooper, who was the deputy press secretary for the mayoral campaign; before that she was in the Department of Homeland Security press shop in Washington.

Emanuel's press team appointments comes as his campaign communications director, Ben LaBolt is named the Obama 2012 press secretary and former White House press assistant Katie Hogan becomes the Obama 2012 deputy press secretary. (see full story below that was posted earlier)

Mather's return to Chicago is illustrative of the sometimes small world of political operatives. Mather, an Obama administration appointee, was the communications director for Dan Hynes 2004 Democratic Illinois Senate primary bid--the contest Obama won. And in 2002, Mather was the campaign manager for the Democratic U.S. House primary bid of Nancy Kaszak--who was beat by Emanuel in a heated battle.

WASHINGTON--Former White House spokesman Ben LaBolt, the current communications director for Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, will be the press secretary for the Obama 2012 re-election campaign, I've learned.

LaBolt, 29, a LaGrange native, will join the Obama team as its top spokesman at the Chicago national headquarters in mid-May, after the inauguration of Emanuel, President Obama's former White House chief of staff. Joining LaBolt as Obama 2012 deputy press secretary, will be Katie Hogan, a Chicago native who recently stepped down as White House associate director of press advance.

Emanuel's City Hall communications director will be Chris Mather, an Illinois campaign veteran, who will return to Chicago from Washington, where she is the communications director for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Emanuel's press secretary will be
Tarrah Cooper, who was the deputy press secretary for the mayoral campaign; before that she was in the Department of Homeland Security press shop in Washington.

LaBolt, known for his wry humor and an ability to play offense and defense with the press, brings to the Obama 2012 organization experience in the Obama White House as well as the Obama 2008 campaign, where he served as a deputy press secretary.

At the White House, LaBolt juggled a major portfolio of issues--energy, environment, justice and the White House counsel office, where he served as the chief spokesman when Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were Supreme Court nominees.

Before the Obama 2008 campaign, LaBolt served was the press secretary for Sherrod Brown's successful Ohio Democratic Senate race; prior to that, he was the press secretary for Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). LaBolt is a graduate of Lyons Twp. High School and Middlebury College.

Hogan, who grew up in Beverly, was been a fixture with the Obama press corps since the 2008 campaign, where she traveled around the country as the press pool "wrangler," a role she brought with her to the Obama White House. She is a graduate of St. Ignatius High School and George Washington University.

In City Hall, Mather will run overall strategic communications for Emanuel's press office and city departments.

Mather's return to Chicago is illustrative of the sometimes small world of political operatives. Mather, an Obama administration appointee, was the communications director for Dan Hynes 2004 Democratic Illinois Senate primary bid--the contest Obama won. And in 2002, Mather was the campaign manager for the Democratic U.S. House primary bid of Nancy Kaszak--who was beat by Emanuel in a heated battle.

WASHINGTON--Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl.) one of the most articulate spokespeople for Democratic candidates and causes--and a breast cancer survivor--is President Obama's choice to replace Democratic National Committee chair Tim Kaine, who announced Tuesday he will be stepping down to run for a U.S. Senate seat from Virginia.

Wasserman Schultz is well known to political junkies, but extended her reach to a new and different U.S. audience after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Az.) was shot on Jan. 8 and Waserman Schultz, a close friend, rushed to the hospital to be by her side.

Though Wasserman Schultz was a supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, the Obama team admired her for taking on high profile surrogate chores after Obama clinched the nomination.

Wasserman Schultz brings to the DNC a formidable package: she comes from Florida, a 2012 battleground state; a smashing fund-raising track record; an appeal to female voters and strong connections to the U.S. Jewish community.

Former DNC co-chair Lynn Cutler, called the selection of Wasserman Schultz a "brilliant pick! She is a great energetic spokesperson, an effective fund raiser, and a very smart politician."

Vice President Biden made the announcement of Obama's choice in an e-mail to DNC members, whose ratification will be a formality. I'm told that when DNC executive director Patrick Gaspard told the DNC staff about Obama's pick, the place erupted.

Schultz is the first female to chair the DNC as a presidential appointee confirmed by the DNC members; Debra DeLee held the post from 1994 to 1995 on an interim basis. She has three children.

FOOTNOTE: In Washington, Wasserman Schultz lives in the townhouse dubbed the "girls dorm," renting a room in the Capitol Hill home of Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) One of her roommates was former Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.)

ben labolt.JPGBen LaBolt, to be the Obama 2012 press secretary, at his Emanuel mayoral campaign office (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Former White House spokesman Ben LaBolt, the current communications director for Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, will be the press secretary for the Obama 2012 re-election campaign, I've learned.

LaBolt, 29, a LaGrange native, will join the Obama team as its top spokesman at the Chicago national headquarters in mid-May, after the inauguration of Emanuel, President Obama's former White House chief of staff. Joining LaBolt as Obama 2012 deputy press secretary, will be Katie Hogan, a Chicago native who recently stepped down as White House associate director of press advance.

Emanuel's City Hall communications director will be Chris Mather, an Illinois campaign veteran, who will return to Chicago from Washington, where she is the communications director for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Emanuel's press secretary will be
Tarrah Cooper, who was the deputy press secretary for the mayoral campaign; before that she was in the Department of Homeland Security press shop in Washington.

LaBolt, known for his wry humor and an ability to play offense and defense with the press, brings to the Obama 2012 organization experience in the Obama White House as well as the Obama 2008 campaign, where he served as a deputy press secretary.

At the White House, LaBolt juggled a major portfolio of issues--energy, environment, justice and the White House counsel office, where he served as the chief spokesman when Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were Supreme Court nominees.

Before the Obama 2008 campaign, LaBolt served was the press secretary for Sherrod Brown's successful Ohio Democratic Senate race; prior to that, he was the press secretary for Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). LaBolt is a graduate of Lyons Twp. High School and Middlebury College.

Hogan, who grew up in Beverly, was been a fixture with the Obama press corps since the 2008 campaign, where she traveled around the country as the press pool "wrangler," a role she brought with her to the Obama White House. She is a graduate of St. Ignatius High School and George Washington University.

In City Hall, Mather will run overall strategic communications for Emanuel's press office and city departments.

Mather's return to Chicago is illustrative of the sometimes small world of political operatives. Mather, an Obama administration appointee, was the communications director for Dan Hynes 2004 Democratic Illinois Senate primary bid--the contest Obama won. And in 2002, Mather was the campaign manager for the Democratic U.S. House primary bid of Nancy Kaszak--who was beat by Emanuel in a heated battle.

WASHINGTON--Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) is on a 20-city tour to keep pressure up on President Obama and Congress to deal with the rising number of deportations and the failure to enact immigration reform. Gutierrez said in Boston Obama may have trouble with the Hispanic vote in 2012 if he does not deliver on promises for an immigration overhaul

The tour kicked off last week--is run through the Campaign for American Children and Families-- and is intended, Gutierrez said in a statement, to focus on people "whose lives are being turned upside down by deportation."

In Providence, R.I. and Boston, Gutierrez takes on the administration--continuing in his role as a friendly critic of the Obama administration when it comes to immigration.

The Boston Globe reports on Gutierrez's Sunday town hall: A Democratic congressman from President Obama's home state gathered immigrants in East Boston yesterday to draw attention to the plight of families that fear being divided by deportation and to warn that the president risks losing the support of the Latino community if he doesn't deliver on immigration reform.

"We kind of made a covenant. There was a compact. You came to us and you said, 'Elect me president of the United States and I will be your champion for immigration reform,' '' said Representative Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois. "Wherever I go, people say to me, 'Luis, when's he going to keep his promise?' ''

.....Gutierrez said most immigrants still want to support Obama. But after seeing deportations increase under his administration and learning of the Secure Communities program, he said, they will challenge the president to provide more balance through immigration reform.

"We may not get invited to the state dinners anymore,'' he said. "We may not get invited to go watch games at the White House anymore. We might not get to travel on Air Force One.''

According to the Rhode Island Providence Journal-Bulletin, Gutierrez in Providence on Saturday: "In just one year with Barack Obama as president, Gutierrez pointed out, 400,000 people were deported from the United States -- more people than any other president has deported, he asserted. And most of them, Gutierrez said, are not violent criminals, but law-abiding, hard-working people."

WASHINGTON--Charlie Sheen brought his tour to Chicago on Sunday night, getting his act together at the Chicago Theater, and wants to return to the city where the actor got a warmer reception than Detroit, Sun-Times columnist Bill Zwecker reports.

I'm taking a short break from the regular political programming in this blog--because I am fascinated by the entire Sheen saga, only recently becoming a fan of reruns of "Two and a Half Men." (Still sticking with "Scrubs" reruns as my top chill show...) Anyway...Zwecker has the Sheen scoop in his Tuesday column:

Zwecker reports on Sheen building his confidence in Chicago: "As the actor shared with several people Sunday night, Chicago's welcoming mood -- coming on the heels of the disastrous Detroit launch of his live tour -- gave him a huge psychological boost."

WASHINGTON -- The Obama re-election campaign began on Monday near dawn, with an emphasis on re-energizing the grass-and-net roots corps important to his 2008 victory, raising big money and fostering the impression President Obama is too busy on the job to pay much attention to his bid for a second term.

"The president is not focused on elections. He's focused on doing the work that he was elected to do," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday.

Through a variety of social media -- Twitter, Facebook, plain vanilla e-mail -- starting near 4 a.m. Chicago time, Obama 2012 was launched, complete with a revamped website, a video message, a new line of Obama/Biden 2012 campaign goods, from T-shirts to water bottles, and at least one new slogan: "Are you in?"

Later in the day, the Obama team registered with the Federal Election Commission as a 2012 presidential candidate.

The video targeted specific voting groups from battleground states featuring "Ed," a North Carolina white male; "Gladys," a Nevada Hispanic female and "Katherine"; a Colorado white woman, in addition to an African-American woman and a college-aged white male youth.

And as for a detached president "not focused" on elections: Obama was scheduled to host a massive conference call Monday night to jazz up supporters; he launches his joint Obama 2012/DNC fund-raising drive April 14 with three events in Chicago followed by stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles on April 20 and 21.

In Chicago, Obama 2012/DNC is organizing:

♦ A $35,800-per-person dinner at the MK Restaurant.

♦ Another dinner with tickets from $5,000 to $15,000 at N9NE Steakhouse.

♦ A large reception at the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier with tickets as low as $100.

In an e-mail sent to supporters, Obama said, "So even though I'm focused on the job you elected me to do, and the race may not reach full speed for a year or more, the work of laying the foundation for our campaign must start today."

That work starts on two main fronts: raising a record amount of money for a presidential campaign -- more than the $750 million Obama collected in 2008 -- and rebuilding a field organization as an incumbent president with a track record. When Obama started his first run for the White House in 2007, he was a senator from Illinois for only two years. His team crafted an aspirational and generational campaign fueled by youths, African Americans, rank-and-file progressives, very wealthy liberals and an anti-war bloc impressed with Obama's criticism of the Iraq war.

The Obama team through the years has found it a challenge to keep their troops engaged when the battles were legislative and for candidates and causes other than Obama -- perhaps a contributing factor to the low voter turnout in 2010 that allowed GOP wins.

To rally the army, the Obama campaign, in partnership with the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America (the Obama for America 2008 organization absorbed by the DNC) is telling rank-and-file volunteers, "the first step of all this is an unprecedented program to hold one-on-one conversations with millions of supporters about where they want this campaign to go -- look for lots of news about that over the next several weeks as the process unfolds."

The campaign is also working more behind the scenes to repair and bolster relations with key constitutienicies. Today, Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina is holding a conference call with the DNC's gay and lesbian advisory board.

WASHINGTON--The Obama administration on Monday pledged in letters to Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk to not transfer detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba to a prison the federal government is trying to buy in Thomson, Ill., potentially lifting one roadblock to the sale.

The letter, signed by Attorney General Eric Holder, was written in reply to a request from Durbin, a Democrat and Kirk, a Republican, after Republicans demanded a promise that no suspected terrorists end up in Thomson. The State of Illinois is in the process of selling the nearly vacant maximum security prison to the federal government for use as a federal prison. The original plan, now shelved, called for a portion of Thomson to be converted to a military brig run by the Defense Department for Guantanamo detainees.

Holder said in his letter, "While we are confident the Thomson facility would be amply secure enough to house such individuals, Congress has since prohibited the use of funds to transfer such detainees to the United States. The Administration opposed that restriction for the reasons set forth in the letter I sent to Senators Reid and McConnell on December 9, 2010. Nonetheless, consistent with current law, we will not transfer detainees from Guantanamo to Thomson, or otherwise house Guantanamo detainees at Thomson. The Thomson facility would only house federal inmates and would be operated solely by the Bureau of Prisons."

below, Holder letter to Durbin.....

April 4, 2011

The Honorable Richard J. Durbin
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Durbin:

I am writing in response to your letters to me dated February 16 and March 18, 2011 regarding the Thomson Correctional Center in Carroll County, Illinois. I am sending a similar response to Senator Mark Kirk, who joined in your March 18 letter.

As you know, the Department wishes to acquire the Thomson facility in order to provide critically needed high security bed space for the federal Bureau of Prisons. The current population of high security federal penitentiaries is 51 % above rated capacity, and continues to grow. The purchase of an existing state facility such as Thomson would be substantially less expensive than the construction of an equivalent high security facility in the current market, and would expand federal prison capacity much sooner than the three to four years it would take to construct a new prison.

I appreciate your leadership in addressing the dangers of prison overcrowding, and in fostering community support for the federal government's acquisition of this unused state facility.

The President's FY11 budget requested $237 million for the acquisition, renovation, and operation of the Thomson facility. However, under the FY11 Continuing Resolutions, the
Department lacks sufficient money to purchase or activate Thomson using currently available funds. We look forward to working with you to obtain additional appropriated funds for this important and needed project.

You have asked whether detainees currently held in the Department of Defense facility at
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be transferred to or housed at the Thomson Correctional Center.

While we are confident the Thomson facility would be amply secure enough to house such individuals, Congress has since prohibited the use of funds to transfer such detainees to the United States. The Administration opposed that restriction for the reasons set forth in the letter I sent to Senators Reid and McConnell on December 9, 2010. Nonetheless, consistent with current law, we will not transfer detainees from Guantanamo to Thomson, or otherwise house Guantanamo detainees at Thomson. The Thomson facility would only house federal inmates and would be operated solely by the Bureau of Prisons.

Thank you for your continued support of the Department's efforts to relieve overcrowding in federal prisons. I look forward to working with you to secure resources to acquire the Thomson facility.

WASHINGTON--There's an open Senate seat in Hawaii in 2012; Sen. Daniel Akaka, a Democrat is retiring, and among the names being mentioned to run: Tammy Duckworth, the wounded Iraq war vet who is an assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Duckworth grew up in Hawaii--and later moved to the Chicago area--where she ran and narrowly lost a bid for Congress in 2006 for a suburban Chicagp seat. She later became the Director of Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs.

President Obama--from when he was an Illinois senator--as well as Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have bolstered Duckworth's political and government career. She is a major in the Illinois National Guard. (Duckworth's official VA bio is here.)

The Hawaii press is reporting the start of a "Draft Tammy" movement and a "Draft Tammy" website.

WASHINGTON--Education Secretary Arne Duncan, I'm told, will be one of the most sought after Obama administration surrogates to headline megadonor events--with the campaign kicking off with President Obama's re-election announcement on Monday morning. Duncan has a heavy government travel schedule this week--making strategic stops along the way. Click below for Duncan's schedule.

Obama April 4 week ahead

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Obama 2012.jpeg

WASHINGTON--President Obama kicked off his 2012 re-election bid near dawn Monday morning, telling supporters in an e-mail that "lasting change" does not come "quickly or easily" and a 130-second video titled "It Begins With Us."

Obama said in an e-mail sent out near 6 a.m 5 a.m. est, "So even though I'm focused on the job you elected me to do, and the race may not reach full speed for a year or more, the work of laying the foundation for our campaign must start today."

The note to Obama's 18.9 million followers on his Facebook page said, "The 2012 campaign is just getting started -- and it will only succeed if we work together. Help shape it from the very beginning by saying you're in."

"Kind of nervous, here it is, 2012 election," a woman says in the launch video, designed to crank up the grassroots. A young man notes that he was not old enough to vote for Obama the first time around.

Obama's re-election campaign began the way he officially started his 2008 contest, with a launch video---with the difference being that Obama does not appear in it, letting other people make the point they have to get to work on the campaign because he is too busy being president.

The video is designed to recreate the movement that fueled the Obama 2008 campaign with voters from almost every demographic.

The logo on the Obama 2012 website uses the famous 2008 O logo--the one with the strips and semi-circle with the O in 2012 this time around--not Obama.

Obama is expected to host a conference call today with major supporters and the mega donors who will be pressed to help him raise more than the $750 million he collected in 2008. Vice President Biden is in New Hampshire on Monday afternoon, talking to students under the Democratic National Committee's Organizing for America banner, the group spawned from the 2008 "Obama for America" campaign.

Message from the web site: "This campaign is just kicking off. We're opening up offices, unpacking boxes, and starting a conversation with supporters like you to help shape our path to victory. 2012 begins now, and this is where you say you're in."

My column on the challenges facing Obama in 2012 is here.

My March 31 scoop on Obama filing for re-election as early as Monday is here.

My March 30 scoops on Obama 2012 fund-raising and other details is here.

My March 28 scoop on Obama's national headquarters in Chicago's Prudential Building is here.

Obama kicked-off his presidential campaign---exploratory phase--on Jan. 16, 2007; my post from that day and Obama's full statement framing why he wanted to be president is here.

Here's the text of the e-mail the Obama team sent out to backers near 6 a.m est:

Today, we are filing papers to launch our 2012 campaign.

We're doing this now because the politics we believe in does not start with expensive TV ads or extravaganzas, but with you -- with people organizing block-by-block, talking to neighbors, co-workers, and friends. And that kind of campaign takes time to build.

So even though I'm focused on the job you elected me to do, and the race may not reach full speed for a year or more, the work of laying the foundation for our campaign must start today.

We've always known that lasting change wouldn't come quickly or easily. It never does. But as my administration and folks across the country fight to protect the progress we've made -- and make more -- we also need to begin mobilizing for 2012, long before the time comes for me to begin campaigning in earnest.

As we take this step, I'd like to share a video that features some folks like you who are helping to lead the way on this journey. Please take a moment to watch:Obama 2012

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WASHINGTON -- President Obama -- who, as I scooped on Thursday, will register as a 2012 re-election candidate with the Federal Election Commission as early as today -- starts his bid for a second term with a series of challenges -- including finding a theme as authentic as the "Hope" and "Change" that fueled his 2008 presidential contest.

Obama campaign insiders have been targeting an April 4 launch for months -- and if the plan holds, I'm told it is possible that Obama himself will do a 2012 conference call with supporters -- including his best fund-raisers -- with texts and and e-mails also going out to backers. Vice President Biden, in New Hampshire on Monday, is scheduled to do a political event with the Democratic National Committee's grassroots and netroots wing, Organizing for America, spawned from the 2008 Obama for America organization.

After a tough two years -- with Obama battered over a climbing jobless rate -- he officially launches his 2012 drive with unemployment dropping in March to 8.8 percent. The biggest threat to Obama's re-election has always been a lack of jobs -- an issue that transcends ideology, race, sex, gender, religion and every other divide.

I've been interviewing Obama insiders and outside observers about Obama's 2012 challenges and learned:

The Obama 2012 operation has to rebuild Obama's popularity with independents -- without alienating or dispiriting Obama's core Democratic base of union activists and progressives who were crucial to his 2008 win.

Obama has to "reach out to independents, that's the key to winning in 2012," Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile told Candy Crowley Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana state Republicans overplaying their hands with anti-union legislation has been a wake-up call for union members -- and an organizing bonanza for Obama.

Obama's slogan, "Winning the Future" is not going to go away -- but will need to be supplemented or melded with a theme that can energize voters the way "Hope" and "Change" did in 2008. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's 2010 re-election campaign -- faced with the same message challenge -- came up with this: "We worked hard four years ago to change the guard. Now it's time to guard the change." I can see folks chanting "Guard the Change" the same way they did "Yes We Can" four years ago.

Republicans -- from the establishment to the Tea Party wing -- may be hitting Obama, but they then will have to deal with a persistent pessimistic message -- leaving Obama to be relentlessly optimistic that there are better times ahead -- even if the road to get there is tough.

A priority is to re-engage the youth voters who were critical to Obama in 2008. Young voters stayed home in 2010 and there is a new generation of youths who were not old enough to vote in 2008. A poll released Thursday by Harvard's Institute of Politics finds Obama's standing with 18-to-29-year-olds improving, up six points since October to 55 percent. The story for Obama is upbeat on four-year college campuses, according to the IOP survey: Obama has a 60 percent approval rating with this group, up nine points since October.

Obama will start the campaign with a focus on fund-raising, with a goal to raise more than the $750 million collected in 2008. While the $1 billion figure has been tossed around, remember that Obama faces no primary -- and not having to bankroll a run against Hillary Rodham Clinton can save millions upfront.

Obama hits Chicago on April 14 for three fund-raisers -- the biggest on Navy Pier -- with Los Angeles and San Francisco stops on April 20 and 21.

WASHINGTON-- At first, the ad seems an Obama 2012 tout---down to the "yes we can" chant--but the spot, with some wicked visual humor--turns on President Obama; it is a mocking production of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama is going to step up her support for military families, launching a national drive on April 12--along the lines of her "Let's Move" anti-obesity campaign--to highlight her new initiative.

Mrs. Obama is partnering with Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Biden; the two women have been headlining military family events since the beginning of the Obama administration. While assisting military families has long been in Mrs. Obama's portfolio, her speeches and events related to obesity have overshadowed her military work--being done at a time the nations has been in two wars--and now has a third, in Libya.

The anticipated high visibility roll-out, long in the planning, has been delayed a month. "We've got military families. We've been laying the foundation for that. You're going to be watching a pretty big initiative in March," Mrs. Obama told her beat reporters on Feb. 8.

In a statement, the White House said Mrs. Obama's "initiative aims to educate, challenge, and spark action from all sectors of our society -- citizens, communities, businesses, non-profits, faith based institutions, philanthropic organizations, and government -- to ensure military families have the support they have earned.

"In the days following the launch, Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden will travel across the country to highlight the courage and strength of our military families, and the ability of our veterans and military spouses to strengthen our communities. They will also meet with men and women who are taking action, and lending a hand to those that have served our Nation."

As part of the overall push out of Mrs. Obama's enhanced military activities, Mrs. Obama will visit West Point on May 20 to address the 2011 graduating class of the U.S. Military Academy.

On June 3, Mrs. Obama delivers the commencement speech to graduates of Quantico Middle High School, located on the Marine Corps Base at Quantico and serving military children.

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @lynnsweet

WASHINGTON -- President Obama will register with the Federal Election Commission as a 2012 re-election candidate as early as Monday, I've learned, clearing the way for what may be the biggest campaign fund-raising drive in the nation's history -- not counting Obama-allied independent fund-raising in the works.

Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan told me Thursday, "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 kickoff -- via an Obama video and-or text message -- to come later.

The FEC registration means the Obama team may start collecting contributions for the Obama 2012 Victory fund, which is being established.

Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina has been previewing strategies with megadonors in Washington at DNC meetings last month and last Monday night in Chicago, when he headlined an event for Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) donors. The Obama 2012 national headquarters will be in Chicago's Prudential Building.

Messina has been telling the elite donor ranks Obama will have to raise "north of $750 million," a reference to the amount raised for 2008 -- and the $1 billion the Obama money machine may need for 2012.

Messina has been saying he is worried that outside GOP allied groups -- especially ones that GOP strategist Karl Rove advises -- will be running ads early on.

Earlier in March, a Rove-advised group, Crossroads GPS, spent $750,000 in one-week for an anti-union national cable buy slamming Obama. These early spots will be Obama hits masquerading as "issue" ads, trying to soften up Obama while the many GOP presidential contenders fight it out in their primaries.

Because of the outside money threat, the Obama team, which discouraged independent spending for Obama in 2008, is open to it in 2012. Two trusted former White House staffers are exploring creation of such a group to counter Rove: Sean Sweeney, who was chief of staff for Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel when he was Obama's chief of staff, and former deputy press secretary Bill Burton.

As I've reported, Obama will be in Chicago on April 14 for fund-raising launch events; he will hit Los Angeles and San Francisco on April 20-21 and New York at the end of the month. In Chicago, Obama will be joined by other VIPs from his team; there will be lower-dollar events for the DNC's "Gen44" group and a $35,800-a-person dinner, with proceeds shared with the DNC. DNC Finance Chair Rufus Gifford -- to be the Obama 2012 finance chief -- was to hold a "host committee" call on Thursday for the Chicago ramp-up.

West Wing Week, Libya edition

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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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