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December 2011 Archives

santorum pella.jpg
Former Sen. Rick Santorum campaigning in Pella, Iowa on Saturday (photo by Lynn Sweet)

DES MOINES--GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney leads the Des Moines Register final pre-Iowa caucus poll, with rival Rick Santorum rising, according to the poll, released Saturday night in advance of Tuesday's first-in-the-nation vote.

The Des Moines Register poll story is HERE.

The top numbers:
24 percent Mitt Romney
22 percent Ron Paul
15 percent Rick Santorum
12 percent Newt Gingrich
11 percent Rick Perry
7 percent Michele Bachmann

The poll was taken Tuesday through Friday. The Register notes that the results are even more promising for Santorum from the snapshot provided by the last two days of the poll.

Just in the last two days:
24 percent Romney
21 percent Santorum
18 percent Paul

Campaigning in Pella, Iowa on Saturday afternoon outside the library, Santorum told the crowd "don't pay attention to the national polls," surveys where he has barely registered in the months leading up to the Tuesday Iowa caucus.

Without mentioning his rivals, Santorum asked voters to "don't defer. Lead. ....Go out and do what you think is right" in the Tuesday vote, warning against "a pyrrhic victory" that is "not a win."

Asked Santorum, again, "Be Bold. Lead and you will change not only the course of the race but the cause of this country."

The Register shows an electorate so fluid either Romney or Santorum can come in first Tuesday--especially if Gingrich continues to shed support and Bachmann backers want to find a stronger contender. Paul, while doing well in the poll must confront the issue of whether he is a viable national contender--especially as a newsletter he was associated with is becoming controversial because of its racist and anti-Semitic content.

Romney, if he does come in first or second in Iowa will score in a state he spent little time in, especially compared to Santorum and Bachmann. According to the Des Moines Register candidate tracker, Romney spent 16 days in Iowa with 31 events--the least of any major contender except for Jon Huntsman, who is skipping Iowa to focus on New Hampshire--and Santorum spent the most time, 102 days with 303 events.

Romney has held a solid lead in the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary. Romney may be unstoppable if he wins Iowa and New Hampshire--especially since the others do not have organizational strength in other states. Gingrich and Perry failed to get on the Virginia ballot.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama returns home to Chicago on Jan. 11 for high end fund-raisers to bankroll his re-election drive, as he jumps back on the traveling fund-raising circuit after taking a break for a few weeks over the holidays. This will mark Obama's tenth visit back to Chicago since becoming president.

Obama will be hosted at the North Side home of media mogul Fred Eychaner, who is also one of the biggest donors to third-party Democratic "SuperPacs," playing a role in the 2012 campaign.

paragraph below corrected with Stuart Taylor's current employment.

Obama will also a guest at the South Side home of Yvonne and former Bear Stearns executive Stuart Taylor

From Taylor company website: "Stuart Taylor is chief executive officer of Analytic Innovations, a leading provider of data-driven marketing solutions to companies with large customer portfolios, including credit and debit card issuers, retail banks, insurance companies, and others. In his role as CEO, Stuart is responsible for the company's overall management and strategic direction, overseeing general operations, and spearheading organic and acquisition growth initiatives.

"He also is managing partner of The Taylor Group, a private equity firm with investments in a number of operating companies including Analytic Innovations."


Obama kicked off his 2012 re-election campaign in Chicago on April 14 with a series of fund-raisers; he returned on Aug. 3 for fund-raising events pegged to his 50th birthday.

First Lady Michelle Obama was in Chicago Oct. 25 for fund-raisers.

Vice President Joe Biden hit Chicago for fund-raising on Sept. 20.

Biden and Mrs. Obama have both visited the Obama 2012 headquarters in the Prudential Building.

Will Obama visit his national campaign headquarters on this trip?

From the White House:

First Lady Michelle Obama reacts while talking on the phone to children across the country as part of the annual NORAD Tracks Santa program. Mrs. Obama answered the phone calls from Kailua, Hawaii, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

WASHINGTON--Winning a presidential nomination means picking up delegates state-by-state. GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich, whose boomlet is bursting, failed to qualify for the Virginia ballot. He barely has an Illinois operation.

Gingrich spokesman Campaign Director Michael Krull said in a statement they will try to recoup in Virginia with a write-in campaign.

"Only a failed system excludes four out of the six major candidates seeking access to the ballot. Voters deserve the right to vote for any top contender, especially leading candidates. We will work with the Republican Party of Virginia to pursue an aggressive write-in campaign to make sure that all the voters of Virginia are able to vote for the candidate of their choice," Krull said.

WASHINGTON--The tax cut deal done--for now--President Obama departs for his native Hawaii on Friday afternoon. First Lady Michelle and daughters Malia, 13 and Sasha, 10 left a week ago. He arrives in Honolulu 6:25 p.m. local time.

The White House launched a messaging drive this week that $40 dollars a week buys a heck of a lot for a lot of people--and that's what is at stake for a lot of wage earners if the Social Security payroll tax cut was not extended. A small break adds up, that's the message of "Seven and a Half Cents" from the musical "Pajama Game." That's Doris Day (above) in the 1957 movie version. Lyrics below.

WASHINGTON -- President Obama, bothered by comparisons to Star Trek's unemotional Mr. Spock, pushed back on that narrative -- as he scored a win Thursday over Republicans who botched handling one of their core issues -- tax breaks.

Obama told ABC News' Barbara Walters -- in an interview to be broadcast on Friday's "20/20" show -- that the biggest misconception about him is that he is "detached, or Spock-like, or very analytical."

"People who know me know that I am a softie. I mean, stuff can choke me up very easily. The challenge for me is that in this job I think a lot of times the press or how you come off on TV people want you to be very demonstrative in your emotions. And if you're not sort of showing it in a very theatrical way, then somehow it doesn't translate over the screen," Obama said in the interview taped Dec. 15.

So it was something to see Obama lose his Spock on Thursday as he vented at a White House event whipped up to pressure House Republicans over the Social Security payroll tax cuts, due to expire Dec. 31. A few hours later, there was a deal.

Obama wanted House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to persuade his hard-line GOP colleagues to go along with a Senate stopgap measure to extend the Social Security payroll tax cut another two months. This latest episode of Washington gridlock was remarkable because Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were in rare agreement.

Said a frustrated, unusually emotive Obama, "This is an issue where an overwhelming number of people in both parties agree. How can we not get that done? I mean, has this place become so dysfunctional that even when people agree to things we can't do it? It doesn't make any sense."

The Senate on Saturday -- in an 89-10 bipartisan roll call -- passed a compromise bill to extend payroll tax breaks and unemployment benefits and advance the controversial Canada/U.S. Keystone pipeline.

(Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) voted yes on extending the tax break. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) voted no.)

The problem was getting the House Republicans to go along. The White House cranked up a publicity and messaging campaign coordinated with the Democratic National Committee and Democratic lawmakers.

Anyone who receives a paycheck got a break in 2011 by paying less Social Security tax. For someone who earns $106,000, the cut was worth about $2,000; for a $50,000 earner, about $1,000.

In order to make the argument more populist, the White House calculated that the break was worth $40 "for a typical American family." And in doing what they do best, the White House collected stories from thousands of people these past days about what $40 meant to them.

The what-does-$40-buy gambit was evocative of lyrics in a famous song from the 1950s Broadway musical "The Pajama Game," where workers in a pajama factory were seeking a 7.5-cents-an-hour raise:

I figured it out

With a pencil and a pad I figured it out!

Seven and a half cents doesn't buy a hell of a lot,

Seven and a half cents doesn't mean a thing!

But give it to me every hour,

Forty hours every week,

And that's enough for me to be living like a king!

I figured it out

Backed in a corner, the House Republicans finally figured it out.


Obama on the tax cut deal

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WASHINGTON--Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) apologized to First Lady Michelle Obama on Thursday for saying she has a "large posterior." "I regret my inappropriate comment and I have sent a personal note to the First Lady apologizing," Sensenbrenner said in a statement.

Mrs. Obama is vacationing in Hawaii keeping a private schedule. I asked one of her press spokesmen, who is in Hawaii with her, to confirm Mrs. Obama got and or knew of the apology note and will update if there is a response.

Sensenbrenner, Media Bistro reported, was overheard telling a woman the First Lady--who advocates healthy eating-- "she lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself."

Newsradio 620 WTMJ reported earlier Sensenbrenner's spokesman said he will apologize for the comment.

Spokesman Amanda Infield told WTMJ:

Mr. Sensenbrenner was referring to the First Lady's healthy food initiative. He doesn't think the government should be telling Americans what to eat. While he may not agree with all of her initiatives, he plans to contact the First Lady's office to apologize for his comments.

WASHINGTON--Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) will apologize to First Lady Michelle Obama, Milwaukee radio station WTMJ is reporting on Thursday. Sensenbrenner, Media Bistro reported,was overheard telling a woman the First Lady--who advocates health eating-- "she lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself."

Newsradio 620 WTMJ is reporting Sensenbrenner's spokesman said he will apologize for the comment.

Spokesman Amanda Infield told WTMJ:

Mr. Sensenbrenner was referring to the First Lady's healthy food initiative. He doesn't think the government should be telling Americans what to eat. While he may not agree with all of her initiatives, he plans to contact the First Lady's office to apologize for his comments.

Obama says he's no Spock

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WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama does not like being compared to Star Trek's cool and emotionally detached Mr. Spock. First Lady Michelle does not feel confined or trapped in her role. "Couldn't be further from the truth," Mrs. Obama told ABC News Barbara Walters. Walters interviewed the First Couple on Dec. 15 for a show to be broadcast at 10 p.m. Friday on "20/20."

Excerpt, from ABC News....

What's the biggest misconception about you?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Me being detached, or Spock-like, or very analytical. People who know me know that I am a softie. I mean, stuff can choke me up very easily. The challenge for me is that in this job I think a lot of times the press or how you come off on TV people want you to be very demonstrative in your emotions. And if you're not sort of showing it in a very theatrical way, then somehow it doesn't translate over the screen.

MICHELLE OBAMA: Someone said that there's a perception out there that I feel confined or trapped in some way. To the extent that people have that perception, that couldn't be further from the truth. I feel very blessed in this role.

Over at Citizen Jane Politics, site founder Patricia Murphy, a veteran congressional reporter, interviewed Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi about politics and the former House Speaker said women running and in elected office need to know how to throw--as well as take-- a punch. Read the interview HERE.

40 dollars.jpg (White House photo)

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama continues pushing the GOP House on extending his Social Security payroll tax break on Thursday at a White House event. The Obama team is framing the break in terms of what it would mean for a lot of people who get a paycheck, a $40 weekly savings.

Though the event was not on the official schedule issued on Wednesday, Obama previewed it on Twitter Wednesday: "Everyone should see what #40dollars means to folks: groceries, daycare, gas, copays. Keep it going. I'll talk abt this tmrw @ 12:15ET. -bo"

From the White House: "On Thursday at the White House, the President will continue to urge House Republicans to do what's right for the American people by allowing a vote on the short term bipartisan compromise passed by almost the entire Senate, which is the only option to ensure that 160 million Americans don't see a holiday tax hike in just 10 days and to give Congress the time needed to work out a full year extension. If Congress fails to extend the payroll tax cut, the typical family making $50,000 a year will have about $40 less to spend or save with each paycheck. As a part of the President's push to get Congress to act, the White House has launched an effort to have average Americans make their voices heard in this debate by asking them to share what $40 a paycheck means to them on and on Twitter at #40dollars.

"The response has been overwhelming, with more than 25,000 people sending responses from every state in the country so far. At Thursday's event, the President will discuss what's at stake for the American people, and will be joined by Americans who would see their taxes go up if the House Republicans fail to act, including some of those Americans who have responded to this call to illustrate what $40 means to them."

The White House kitchen was koshered for President Obama's Hanukkah party earlier this month, and this White House video takes you behind-the-scenes with White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford and Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who supervised the koshering process.

WASHINGTON--Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh's (R-Ill.) main GOP 8th District primary rival, DuPage Superintendent of Schools Darlene Ruscitti,dropped out Wednesday, leaving Walsh an easy path to win the March contest.

Presuming he wins the nomination, Walsh in November will face a big battle in the north and northwest suburban district--redrawn by Democratic mapmakers to lean Democratic-- against either Tammy Duckworth or Raja Krishnamoorthi who are in their own primary fight.

It appears the Illinois Republican Party assisted in clearing the field for Walsh--who did the party a favor by removing himself from what would have been a contested 14th District GOP primary against fellow freshman Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) on Dec. 8.

By moving over to the 8th, Walsh saved Republican money and gave the GOP a better known and better financed general election contender.

Still, Ruscitti was able to raise her profile in her short bid; in stepping aside for Walsh, she was tapped by Illinois Republican chair Pat Brady to a state party leadership spot.

"My campaign collected over 4,000 petition signatures, signed up hundreds of volunteers and gained the support of dozens of elected officials - but my role as a leader within the Illinois Republican Party and a desire to avoid a costly primary outweigh my personal political aspirations," Ruscitti said in a statement.

WASHINGTON--President Obama tapped Chicago's Beth White for a second time on Wednesday, naming her to the National Capital Planning Commission. In 2010, Obama picked her for a spot on the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. Her connections to the White House reach back to former Mayor Daley's City Hall.

The bio released by the White House on Wednesday made no mention of the 2010 appointment.

After an inquiry, this from a White House official: "Beth White was appointed to and served on the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. However, she will not be serving on both boards at the same time and is resigning from the Committee for Preservation of the White House."

From the White House:

Beth White, Appointee for Member, National Capital Planning Commission
Beth White is the Director of the Chicago Region Office of The Trust for Public Land. Her previous positions include serving as the Managing Director of Communications and Policy for the Chicago Housing Authority, the Chief of Staff for the Chicago Transit Authority's Chicago Transit Board, and the Assistant Commissioner for the City of Chicago's Department of Planning and Development. In addition, Ms. White was the founding executive director of Friends of the Chicago River. She serves on the board of NeighborSpace and is the former Chair of the Lakewood Balmoral National Historic District Committee. Ms. White received a B.Phil. from Northwestern University and M.A. in Urban Studies from Loyola University.

WASHINGTON--The year 2012 will bring publication of two new books about Barack and Michelle Obama, with "The Obamas" by Jodi Kantor published on Jan. 10 and an Obama biography by David Maraniss out around June.

From blurbs on "The Obamas" at Kantor's web site:

"When Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, he also won a long-running debate with his wife Michelle. Contrary to her fears, politics now seemed like a worthwhile, even noble pursuit. Together they planned a White House life that would be as normal and sane as possible.

"Then they moved in."

"In THE OBAMAS, Jodi Kantor takes us deep inside the White House as the president and first lady try to grapple with their new roles, fulfill lofty promises, live inside a monument, raise children in the spotlight, and maintain some semblance of their old lives. Filled with riveting detail and insight into their partnership, personalities, struggles, and successes, THE OBAMAS will surprise readers who thought they knew the president and first lady, give readers a new way of understanding this presidency as the 2012 race unfurls, and show why the lives of the Obamas matter for us all."

New polls show a drop in support for GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich, who is being hit with negative ads bankrolled by the camps of Republican rivals. Gingrich, who lacks a mega Super Pac to help him out, is asking for the attack ads to stop and people not to fund them.

From the Gingrich campaign: "Newt will run no attack ads and has asked his supporters not to donate to any 'Super-Pac' running attack ads."

WASHINGTON--How would you govern?

That's a key question voters, no matter their ideology or party affiliation, should be asking as they consider candidates in the upcoming presidential and congressional primaries and later on for the general election in November.

White House and congressional hopefuls have or will offer their programs, explain deeply held principles and debate. A central element almost always is missing: the game plan for getting it done in a time of increasing polarization and extreme partisanship.

Add to that what Brookings Institution scholars Sarah Binder and Thomas Mann call the "devaluation of compromise" and you have the underpinnings of government dysfunction, an example this week being the wrangling over the extension of the Social Security payroll tax break.

President Barack Obama vaulted to national attention when he was an Illinois senator for blurring the partisan differences in his famous 2004 Democratic convention speech in Boston, where he said there were no red states or blue states. He ran for president in 2008 promising a new kind of post-partisan politics, a goal that has proved elusive or, so far, impossible.

The enormity of "changing Washington" has turned out to be far more difficult for Obama than he ever anticipated. He talked about the challenge while in Richmond, Va. on Sept. 29, 2010.

"I will tell you that changing the culture in Washington is very hard, and I've seen it these last two years, because I think that folks in Washington tend to think about how to stay in power more than they think about how to solve problems," Obama said.

"Well, things don't always get through Congress the way you want them," Obama said at that same Richmond event.

What an understatement.

More than a year later, Obama is grappling with a worse situation, exacerbated by the GOP winning the House in 2010 with Tea Party freshmen, who have pushed Republicans leaders to the right. That has made it harder to work, Mann and Binder note, with a Democratic Senate and White House.

Candidates this election season should be asked what do they value more, the argument or advancing a piece of legislation. Use real pieces of pending legislation to ask what they would do if they tried to amend a bill to their liking -- but failed.

Newt Gingrich's proposal to abolish selected federal courts if he did not like the judges may be your cup of tea. But it is so radical, it's hard to see how lawmakers would ever agree. How would he sell it to a divided Congress? And for all his business experience, Mitt Romney never had to deal with 535 independently elected board of directors.

Freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) made a name for himself in part by being a Tea Party hardliner. Democrats voting in primaries in the 8th and 10th Congressional Districts are arguing amongst themselves over what flavor of Democrat is better, a progressive or centrist.

Of course, candidates should discuss their issues and positions -- but they should also be asked about their views on effective governance and if they believe compromise and consensus are dirty words.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama, Malia, Sasha and Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass, also a White House chef, spent a day of their Hawaii vacation touring the MA'O organic farm. Mrs. Obama was at the farm last month, when she hosted an event there in connection with the APEC conference. Obamafoodorama has the story.

WASHINGTON--Jews around the world light the first candle on the Hanukkah menorah on Tuesday night and President Barack Obama extended the traditional "Chag Sameach" holiday greeting in his holiday message.

From Obama: "Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating Hanukkah around the world.

"This Hanukkah season we remember the powerful story of a band of believers who rose up and freed their people, only to discover that the oil left in their desecrated temple - which should have been enough for only one night - ended up lasting for eight.

"It's a timeless story of right over might and faith over doubt - one that has given hope to Jewish people everywhere for over 2,000 years. And tonight, as families and friends come together to light the menorah, it is a story that reminds us to count our blessings, to honor the sacrifices of our ancestors, and to believe that through faith and determination, we can work together to build a brighter, better world for generations to come.

"From our family to the Jewish Community around the world, Chag Sameach."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's overall job performance rating is improving, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll. Obama's rating is the highest since March in the poll, the paper reports, "excluding a temporary bump after the killing of Osama bin Laden: Forty-nine percent approve, and 47 percent disapprove."

From the Post: "A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that Americans are still broadly disapproving of Obama's handling of the economy and jobs, the top issues, but that views of his overall performance have recovered among key groups, including independents, young adults and seniors."

WASHINGTON--Four years ago at this time Josh Earnest and Tommy Vietor were working Iowa for Barack Obama and Obama's Iowa caucus win helped set him on the road to beat chief rival Hillary Rodham Clinton. Now they are in the White House and in 2010, the attention has been on the GOP rivals since President Obama has no contest for the nomination. On caucus night, Jan. 3, Obama will be calling and livestreaming live in Iowa, to rev up the troops in the critical swing state. The Obama troops have been on the ground there for months, have at least eight offices up and running.

Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said in a statement, "Four years ago Iowans launched President Obama on the path to the White House by standing by him at the Iowa Democratic caucuses. On January 3rd, 2012, Iowans will start the path to his reelection and Democratic victories at all levels. We could not be more excited to welcome his participation in our caucuses."

WASHINGTON--Americans Elect, a new third party group is now on 12 state ballots, adding California on Monday, the group announced.

From Americans Elect: "Ballot access gives Californians an opportunity to use their electoral power by voting in the first ever nonpartisan, nationwide presidential nominating convention in June 2012 at America's choice of a unity presidential ticket will be on the general election ballot in November 2012. "

The Obama team raised a concern last week for the first time over the prospect of a third party contender in November. Obama campaing manager Jim Messina said the drive by a new group called Americans Elect -- bankrolled by millionaire businessman and private equity firm honcho hedge fund manager Peter Ackerman -- may result in a third-party presidential candidate on the ballot "in a lot of states" which will be "something we have to deal with."

WASHINGTON--Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) is asking the House to allow franked mail to include references to Christmas and Hanukkah. He sent a letter to other House member along with Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) asking the rules be changed, according to a story in The Hill. The rules are too politically correct for Walsh. Walsh's office wants to highlight that Tea Party Walsh, who will face a big 2012 re-election battle, in a Democratic district, has reached across the aisle.

WASHINGTON--A CNN poll released Monday shows the Newt Gingrich surge may be over, with the latest results putting him in a tie with chief rival Mitt Romney.

From CNN: "Interviews with 1,015 adult Americans conducted by telephone by ORC International on December 16-18, 2011. The margin of sampling error for results based on the total sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points. The sample also includes 928 interviews among registered voters (plus or minus 3 percentage points)."

The sample includes 814 interviews among landline respondents and 201 interviews among cell phone respondents.

Just among Republicans....


27. Please tell me which candidate you would be most likely to support for the Republican nomination for President. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, or former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (RANDOM ORDER)

Dec. 16-18 Nov. 18-20 Nov. 11-13 Oct. 14-16 Sept. 23-25
2011 2011 2011 2011 2011

Gingrich 28% 24% 22% 8% 11%
Romney 28% 20% 24% 26% 22%
Paul 14% 9% 8% 9% 7%
Bachmann 8% 5% 6% 6% 6%
Perry 7% 11% 12% 13% 30%
Santorum 4% 4% 3% 2% 3%
Huntsman 2% 3% 3% 1% 1%
Cain N/A 17% 14% 25% 9%
Someone else (vol.) * * 1% 1% 3%
None/ No one (vol.) 5% 3% 4% 5% 5%
No opinion 4% 2% 4% 4% 3%

WASHINGTON--GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney and his allies are spending big on Iowa TV this week in advance of the Jan. 3 caucus vote. Surging Newt Gingrich made a tiny buy, all according to the NBC political team.

From NBC's Firstread: "In fact, just look at the expected TV ad spending in Iowa for THIS WEEK: Restore Our Future PAC (pro-Romney) $713,000, Rick Perry $456,000, Mitt Romney, $258,000, Make Us Great Again (pro-Perry) $186,000, Red White and Blue Fund (pro-Santorum) $100,000, Ron Paul $63,000, and Newt Gingrich $21,000."

WASHINGTON--In the wake of a Washington Post story about how GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich sold a mailing list to his presidential campaign for $42,000, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is asking the Federal Election Commission to investigate

CREW wants the FEC "to determine whether Newt Gingrich's production company, Gingrich Productions, Inc., made tens of thousands of dollars in illegal corporate contributions to his presidential campaign."

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said, "Newt Gingrich will do anything to make a buck, even sell his own mailing list to his campaign. He has a long history of playing fast and loose with ethics rules so it should surprise no one to learn he is at it again."


Atlanta, GA - Newt 2012 Spokesperson R.C. Hammond released the following statement today in response to an FEC complaint filed against Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW):

"If the FEC considers the complaint, they will find that the rules are being followed and published regulations are being enforced."


CORRECTION: Bo did not accompany Mrs. Obama and daughters to Hawaii, as incorrectly reported a local Hawaii outlet.

WASHINGTON--While President Obama delayed his departure to wrestle with Congress, First Lady Michelle, daughters Malia, 13, Sasha, 10 and Bo the dog flew to Hawaii for their annual winter vacation. The Hawaii newspapers are keeping tabs on the First Family. They arrived in Hawaii on Saturday. The First Family returned to a rental home in Kailua, Oahu, they have stayed in previous years.

The Hawaii Reporter story is HERE.

The Honolulu Star Advertiser report is HERE.

WASHINGTON--House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants Congress to pass a one-year renewal on the Social Security payroll tax hike and was critical of the Senate bill that punted with just a two month extension.

What will likely happen is the House will pass its version Monday night then go to conference with the Senate to try to hammer out the differences. Time is an issue; the Senators have gone home for winter break and the tax break expires on Dec. 31.

The Senate two-month fixed passed on an 89-10 vote Saturday. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) voted against extending the tax cut and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) voted for it. (post on Kirk vote is HERE)

At a Monday morning press conference, Boehner said, "Americans are tired of Washington's short-term fixes and gimmicks, which are creating uncertainty for job creators at a time when millions of Americans are out of work. Democrats and Republicans agree that the payroll tax cut needs to be extended for a full year. And to provide the kind of relief that Americans need in this struggling economy, the House last week passed a bill to do just that.

"But instead of passing the House bill or another bill which extended the payroll tax credit for a year, the Senate Democratic leaders passed a two-month extension of punting the problem into next year. We opposed the Senate bill because doing a two-month extension instead of a full-year extension causes uncertainty for job creators.

"I used to run a small business. I met a payroll. I hired workers. A two-month extension creates uncertainty, and will cause problems for people who are trying to create jobs in the private sector.

"The idea that tax policy can be done two months at a time is the kind of activity we see here in Washington that's really put our economy off of its tracks. Last week both chambers worked together to pass a full-year bill to fund our government, and I don't think this issue is any different. It's time to -- for Congress to do its work. No more kicking the can down the road.

"Tonight the House will vote on the Senate-passed bill. This is a vote on whether Congress will stay and do its work or go on vacation. I expect that the House will disagree with the Senate amendment and instead vote to formally go to conference, the formal process in which the House and Senate can resolve differences between the two chambers and between our two bills. And I expect the House to take up legislation that reinforces the need to extend the payroll tax relief for a full year rather than just two months, again to provide certainty for job creators.

"And I think the best way to resolve the difference between the two-month extension and a full-year bill is to follow the regular order here in Congress. When there's a disagreement between the two chambers, we sit down at a conference and resolve those differences. And that's exactly what I believe the House will do.

"The president has said repeatedly that no one should be going on vacation until the work is done. Democrat leaders in the House and Senate have said exactly the same thing. So I think it's time for the Senate Democrat leaders to follow the president's example, put their vacations on hold and work in a bipartisan manner to finish the nation's business."

WASHINGTON--President Obama has been issuing a series of executive orders to show his administration is getting things done despite being stymied by Congress on a number of fronts. On Monday, the White House will announce an executive order to create a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

The order seems to follow on a United Nations resolution to ask member nations to develop "National Action Plans & Strategies on Women, Peace and Security." Until today, the U.S. has not had an action plan while other nations have, according to the UN, over at

From a White House Senior Administration Official:

"Later this morning, President Obama will issue an Executive Order and release the United States' first-ever National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. These two new documents lay out the concrete steps the Administration will take to increase our commitment to support women as critical participants in preventing and resolving conflict.

"We know that enabling women to have a voice alongside those of men in matters of international peace and security is the right thing to do. Moreover, we know that including women and their perspectives in our conflict prevention efforts, our efforts to end wars and bring about just and sustainable peace, and our efforts to protect civilian populations and hold abusers accountable -- is essential to international peace and stability, and to our national security.

"This is a simple and powerful concept: that we are all safer, that our efforts at peacebuilding are stronger, and that constitutions and peace agreements are more inclusive, just, and lasting when women--50% of the world's population, and more than 50% of populations in some war-torn areas--have a say in how societies rebuild peace and recover from conflict.

"The documents we are releasing represent a change in how the U.S. will approach its diplomatic, military, and development-based support to women in areas of conflict -- by ensuring that women's perspectives and considerations of gender are woven into the DNA of how the United States approaches peace processes, conflict prevention, the protection of civilians, and humanitarian assistance."

WASHINGTON--North Korean dictator Kim Jong II is dead and it is not clear who will replace him.

From the White House: "At midnight tonight, President Obama spoke with Republic of Korea President Lee Myung-bak to discuss the situation on the Korean Peninsula following the death of Kim Jong Il. The President reaffirmed the United States' strong commitment to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the security of our close ally, the Republic of Korea. The two leaders agreed to stay in close touch as the situation develops and agreed they would direct their national security teams to continue close coordination."

WASHINGTON--The House this week takes up a measure to extend for two months a Social Security payroll tax break that had been set to expire on Dec. 31. The Senate passed the bill on Saturday, with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) one of ten senators to vote against the break that everyone who receives a paycheck gets.

In 2011, for someone who earns $106,000 a year the tax cut was about $2,000; for a $50,000 earner, the break is about $1,000.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) voted for the temporary extension, which passed on an 89-10 roll call on Friday. Kirk backed the tax cut in 2010--proposed as a one-year deal. .

Taxpayers got to keep more of their own money in 2011 because the contribution to Social Security was trimmed. Kirk has a problem with how the Social Security tax break will be paid for.

"It is the right policy because one of the lessons of Europe is that you can't run retirement security programs without contributions to retirement security," Kirk told C-SPAN. "Seniors have enough to worry about as it is without the Congress voting on a bipartisan basis to undermine contributions to Social Security."

NAYs ---10
Corker (R-TN)
DeMint (R-SC)
Johnson (R-WI)
Kirk (R-IL)
Leahy (D-VT)
Manchin (D-WV)
Moran (R-KS)
Sanders (I-VT)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)

Mark Kirk backing Romney

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WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) will endorse GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Chicago on Monday morning, a move that had been expected. Kirk will be joined at a Loop press conference with Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who has been organizing Illinois for Romney.

Romney has the deepest Illinois operation of any of the 2012 Republican rivals. People have already been recruited to run for delegates and major Illinois endorsements have been out for months. In backing Romney, Kirk follows a string of Illinois Republicans: former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Rep. Judy Biggert and Rep. Aaron Schock.

Newt Gingrich is just starting to get an Illinois organization. Delegate slates are due next month for the March Illinois primary. Crain's Chicago Business Greg Hinz is reporting that Gingrich has has conversations with state Sen. Bill Brady.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- President Barack Obama received a rousing reception on Friday at the Union of Reform Judaism conference, whose members make up the backbone of his U.S. Jewish support.

Obama's serial standing ovations came during a speech in this Washington suburb where he talked about his unshakeable support for Israel. "Don't let anybody else tell you otherwise. It is a fact," Obama said.

Obama was alluding to a stepped-up campaign by Republicans, led by the 2012 GOP presidential candidates, to question his backing for Israel -- attacks aimed to drive a wedge between Jewish voters who supported him overwhelmingly in 2008 as well as to appeal to evangelical Christian Zionists.

While the Obama White House has had a few stumbles recently -- Obama was caught on an open microphone with French President Nicolas Sarkozy complaining about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- Republicans have been looking to separate Obama from his Jewish voters for years.

In the speech to thousands of members of the Jewish Reform movement, Obama repeated several times a Hebrew word, "hineni," that was familiar and meaningful to the audience, as it often appears in the Torah. It means, "Here I am."

Obama made references to this week's Torah portion, daughter Malia's attendance at bar and bat mitzvahs, Tikkun Olam (the Jewish concept of repairing the world), and the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis.

In other words, Obama threw in everything but the matzo balls and chicken soup.

The speech was delayed while Obama huddled backstage with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. While the crowd waited, Jewish folk rock singer Josh Nelson filled time with tunes ranging from the Hanukkah standard "Maoz Tsur," also known as "Rock of Ages, to "Great Balls of Fire" to a popular Israeli tune, "Bashana Haba'ah," which means "in the year to come."

The Obama speech-writing team crafted the speech to first address Obama's domestic policies and achievements because the Reform Jewish voter -- which tilts Democratic -- is not just about Israel. Obama talked about the struggles for voting and civil rights the Reform Jewish movement backed to more current-day battles for women's, disabled and gay rights.

In turning to Israel, Obama provided a forceful defense of his policies to the friendly group, seemingly giving them ammunition to go out and help make the case for his re-election.

"As president, I have never wavered in pursuit of a just and lasting peace -- two states for two peoples; an independent Palestine alongside a secure Jewish state of Israel. I have not wavered and will not waver. That is our shared vision," Obama said.

Obama also sided with an Israeli perspective on the peace process: that Israel and the Palestinians have to negotiate and no entity -- especially the United Nations -- can impose a deal.

"There's no question about how lasting peace will be achieved. Peace can't be imposed from the outside. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them," Obama said.

Obama repeated what he has said since he started running for president in 2007: "America's commitment and my commitment to Israel and Israel's security is unshakeable. It is unshakeable. "

On the security side, the Obama administration has bolstered military assistance to Israel. "I am proud to say that no U.S. administration has done more in support of Israel's security than ours. None. Don't let anybody else tell you otherwise. It is a fact."

And on the threat Iran poses to Israel -- an area where the GOP presidential field has suggested Obama is weak -- Obama said he would do what it takes to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

Said Obama, "Rest assured, we will take no options off the table."

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD.--President Obama talked about the Torah portion for this week and daughter Malia's attendance at bar and bat mitzvah's in his speech to the Union for Reform Judaism on Friday.

"Now, since my daughter Malia has reached the age where it seems like there's always a Bar or Bat Mitzvah -- -- every weekend, and there is quite a bit of negotiations around the skirts that she wears at these Bat Mitzvahs -- -- do you guys have these conversations as well? All right. I just wanted to be clear it wasn't just me. What time you get home.

"As a consequence, she's become the family expert on Jewish tradition. And if there's one thing I've learned from her, it's that it never hurts to begin a speech by discussing the Torah portion. It doesn't hurt," Obama said.

For transcript, click here.

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD.--President Barack Obama is delaying a speech at the Union of Reform Judaism Conference here to meet backstage with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. While thousands are waiting for Obama to deliver a major speech on domestic and Israeli issues, Jewish folk rock singer Josh Nelson is filling time--with tunes ranging from the Channukah standard "Rock of Ages" to "Great Balls of Fire" to "Bashana Haba'ah," which means in the year to come.

Obama is also meeting with leaders of the Reform Jewish movement before the speech.

WASHINGTON--While President Obama remains in Washington to deal with Congress, First Lady Michelle and daughters Malia, 13 and Sasha, 10 fly to Hawaii on Friday evening for their annual winter visit to Obama's home state of Hawaii.

On Friday afternoon, Mrs. Obama visits Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling to participate in a Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.

WASHINGTON--A three-judge federal panel in Chicago on Thursday rejected a bid by Illinois Republicans to redraw a congressional map heavily tilted in favor of Democrats. The court turned down arguments that the map, drawn by Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly, was a partisan racial gerrymander that denied Illinois Hispanics a second district.
Read the 55-page opinion....
The judges, John Daniel Tinder, Robert L. Miller, Jr. and Joan Humphrey Lefkow, wrote in their opinion, "As to the partisan gerrymander claims, although we agree with the Committee that the crafting of the Adopted Map was a blatant political move to increase the number of Democratic congressional seats, ultimately we conclude that the Committee failed to present a workable standard by which to evaluate such" a claim.

The Republicans--faced with a map that could hardly be worse for them--hoped that they could get a court to order new lines be drawn based on the argument that the growing number of Hispanics reflected in the 2010 Census merited them a second Illinois district. Even though that district would probably have been Democratic, the Republicans hoped the court would adopt a map they submitted which would have given Republicans a better deal.

The main plaintiffs in the case were all but one of the Illinois House Republicans. They said in a statement, "We are disappointed in the court's ruling today, especially considering the very serious issues we raised in our challenge to the Democrats' map, including discrimination against the state's growing Latino population. We are in the process of reviewing the decision and evaluating our options for future action.

"Regardless of today's decision, we continue to believe that fairness should be the driving principle in the redistricting process. A balanced congressional map is necessary to ensure that the people of Illinois have an opportunity to express their will at the ballot box and elect those representatives who best reflect their shared interests.

"Unfortunately, the Democrats who control state government decided instead to maximize their partisan advantage in the map-making process at the expense of Latino and Republican voters. That kind of selfish approach to governing should never be tolerated.

On the Hispanic district argument, the judges wrote in their opinion, the "vote dilution claims fail because the Committee has not proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the state legislature intentionally discriminated against Latinos in passing the Adopted Map. Again, we acknowledge that Latino ethnicity was a factor in creating District 4 in 1991, but times have changed: the weight of the evidence shows that the predominant intent of the 2011 Illinois legislature in maintaining Adopted District 4 in substantially the same shape as when it was created in 1991 was a desire to enhance Democratic seats in the state as a whole, to keep Democratic incumbents in Districts 3, 4, and 5 with their constituents, to preserve existing district boundaries, and to maintain communities of interest. Because race was not the predominant factor, the Committee failed to meet its burden of proof on its racial gerrymander claims under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution,' the judges ruled.

Read the 55-page opinion....

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's communication chief Chris Mather is moving on, after launching a City Hall press shop yielding Emanuel enormous positive local and national coverage almost every day since he was sworn-in on May 16.

Mather returned to Chicago earlier this year from Washington, where she served in the Obama administration as communications director for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Before that, she was press secretary for Jill Biden during the 2008 presidential campaign. Ironic: When Emanuel made his first run for Congress, Mather was the campaign manager for his chief rival, Nancy Kaszak.

Mather is the first departure of a major Emanuel staffer. No word yet on her next gig; as a veteran of the Obama administration and Emanuel City Hall she is considering a number of options.

"While it was difficult to leave the Obama Administration, I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to come back home and help ensure Mayor Emanuel's smooth transition at a time when Chicago faced enormous challenges," Mather told me on Thursday.

"I am extremely proud of the work we have done in the Mayor's first year for the people of Chicago and I am also proud of the work I was able to do on his behalf. I leave knowing we accomplished what we set out to do in this first year, building a strong communications operation that will serve the Mayor and the City of Chicago well for years to come. As I look back on this first year, I have many fond memories of working with Mayor Emanuel and I will forever be a friend and ally.

"While the press corps might not believe it, I have thoroughly enjoyed working with them and consider many of them my friends. I look forward to continuing those relationships in my next role.

"Helping Mayor Emanuel hit the ground running has been an all-consuming, 24-7 job but one I have truly enjoyed and thoroughly appreciated. I wish the Mayor and his team the best of luck."

P121111PS-0154 (White House photo by Pete Souza)

WASHINGTON--Malia and Sasha Obama are growing up: the new official Obama family portrait was shot Dec. 11 in the Oval Office. Malia is 13 and Sasha is 10.

follow on Twitter: @lynnsweet

WASHINGTON--Chicago's CME Group Executive Chairman Terry Duffy is telling Congress that contrary to MF Global Chairman and CEO Jon Corzine's testimony--Corzine knew CME customer funds were improperly tapped by the now bankrupt MF.

Duffy testifies Thursday afternoon before the House Financial Services Committee.
On Tuesday, Duffy made a bombshell revelation at a hearing of the Senate Agriculture Committee on MF Global. During questioning Duffy said that Corzine knew that CME customer funds were transferred out of segregated accounts that MF was not supposed to touch.

Corzine--a former Senator and Goldman Sachs honcho--told Congress he had no idea how $1.2 billion in customer money disappeared. Duffy disagrees.

Duffy, in written testimony submitted in advance of the House Financial Services hearing, said the CME is cooperating with Justice Department and the Commodities Future Trading Commission investigations of Corzine.

CME sent in auditors to MFG's Chicago offices in the October days before MFG's bankruptcy as rumors swirled about the firm's losses and downgrades.

Duffy states in his House testimony Corzine knew what was going on: "A CME auditor also participated in a phone call with senior MF Global employees wherein one employee indicated that Mr. Corzine knew about loans that had been made from the customer segregated accounts. CME Group has provided this information and the names of these individuals to the Department of Justice and the CFTC who are investigating these matters."

A scandal of this proportion often triggers calls for more crackdowns and regulations. Duffy is telling Congress they can put a lot of rules in place--but can't stop determined people from breaking those rules.

Said Duffy in his prepared testimony: "Some might conclude that the system failed because of this one instance when customers have been injured despite the prescribed system of segregation. Regulatory failures happen, unfortunately.

"Banks fail and the FDIC provides sometimes inadequate protection to depositors. The taxpayers get tapped. Securities firms fail and SIPC is irrelevant to any large account holders. The laws prohibit Ponzi schemes, yet hundreds are detected every year after the public has been robbed and the money evaporated. Insider trading happens every day. Enron explodes, Lehman fails. Insurance companies fail and policy holders lose.

"While it is clear that action is necessary to restore customer confidence and protect against future failures, the fact is that MFG broke rules by moving customer segregated funds out of an account over which it had control.

"A firm failed to comply with applicable rules, but that does not mean the segregation system is a failed system. To be clear, the customer segregation regime in the futures industry was not the cause of the losses that customers are suffering from today."

Read Duffy Thursday prepared testimony HERE

WASHINGTON--Stymied by Congress, President Barack Obama reached into former President Bill Clinton's playback and started issuing a series of executive orders and rules in order to get stuff done. One task for Vice President Biden's chief of staff Bruce Reed--who also served in the Clinton White House--is to help find the rules, regs and orders Obama can act on without Congressional approval. The Obama team has tagged this drive "We Can't Wait."

On Thursday, Obama will, according to the White House, "announce new rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor that would provide minimum wage and overtime protections for nearly two million workers who provide in-home care services for the elderly and infirmed. Many of these workers provide critical in-home health care services such as tube feeding, wound care, or assistance with physical therapy, and deserve the protections provided under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

"Today's announcement is the latest in a series of executive actions the Obama Administration is taking to strengthen the economy and move the country forward because we can't wait for Congress to act."

Romney poking Newt for Pelosi ad

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WASHINGTON--GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney is poking chief rival Newt Gingrich as an "unreliable conservative," offering as proof an ad Gingrich made with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi--part of a 2008 global warming campaign.

Newt's new spot deflects attacks

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WASHINGTON--Keep an eye on Newt, the new front-runner in the Republican 2012 primary contest. The GOP presidential candidates debate for the last time Thursday night before the Jan. 3 Iowa vote at 9 p.m. est on FOX News channel.

The two hour debate in Sioux City--comes just after the Saturday night debate where Mitt Romney made what has been seen as a flub--offering a $10,000 bet to Rick Perry. The FOX News team: Bret Baier anchors. The panelists: Chris Wallace, host of FOX News Sunday, Megyn Kelly, anchor of America Live, and Neil Cavuto of Your World.

The candidates: Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum.

WASHINGTON--Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joins Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday Thursday afternoon to hand out federal funding for public transit at the Logan Square Blue Line stop, 2620 N. Milwaukee Ave.

In October, LaHood was in Chicago with Emanuel and Quinn (plus Democrats Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Bobby Rush and Rep. Dan Lipinski) to launch the "Englewood Flyover" high speed rail project with a $126 million grant from DOT's high-speed intercity passenger rail program.

Gov. Quinn fund-raiser Thursday

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Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's birthday is Dec. 16, a peg for having a "Happy Birthday Gov. Quinn" Thursday in Chicago in the Ballroom at 12 E. Erie. Quinn has about four main fund-raisers a year. Co-chairs are asked to contribute $5,000 to "Taxpayers for Quinn," the governors' main campaign fund; the co-host tab is $2,500; host is $1,000 and a single ticket is $100.

WASHINGTON--Former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean, who backs Ilya Sheyman in the Illinois 10th district House primary, is highlighting rival Brad Schneider's contributions to Republican candidates. Meanwhile, former Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) hosted a fund-raiser for Schneider on Tuesday.

"I want to make one thing clear: we can't send a "Democrat" who supports Republicans to Congress and expect to get better results," Dean wrote in an e-mail.

News from various fronts as the Democratic Illinois House contest for the 10th congressional district heats up with major players Sheyman, Schneider and John Tree competing to face freshman Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) next November:

* Dean, the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate endorsed Sheyman early, last May. The e-mail he sent out Monday goes to what may be an achilles heel for Schneider: political donations to Republicans, most of them to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illl.) when he was running for a 10th District House seat. Schneider's Kirk donations, $3,300 in all, were in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

"He's the proven progressive leader who will beat Republican Bob Dold. But to win in November, he has to get through the democratic primary first. So let me tell you all you need to know about the other self-described "Democrat," wrote Dean.

Besides Kirk, Dean highlighted contributions to Republicans Bob Bennett, Utah and Mike Johanns, Nebraska ($250 each) and $1,000 to Republican Mike Rogers, Michigan.
Schneider does have a long donation history to Democrats.

Eric Adelstein, Schneider's top strategist replied said all the donations to Republicans had to to with their support for Israel.

"Lots of progressives and Dems supported Kirk in the day... Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, etc," Adelstein wrote to me in an e-mail.

"Schneider gave him money because Israel was so important to him but Brad has given 10 times as much to Democrats---Schakowsky, Durbin, Pelosi and others.

"To single out less than 10 per cent of his donations is dishonest distortion of the facts. I guess that's what happens when you are the front runner," wrote Adelstein."

*Sheyman will get a boost tonight from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has potent on-line fund-raising ability. The PCCC will host an "Online Town Hall with Ilya Sheyman."

The progressives are framing Schneider and Sheyman thus: "bold progressive Ilya Sheyman squaring off against a corporate Democrat in Illinois' 10th Congressional District."

* Sheyman picked up the endorsement of Cook County Board Member Larry Suffredin.

* Schneider was endorsed by House Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). The nod came before Tree got in the race.

The White House makes the case for the tax break.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) are at odds over whether a temporary paycheck tax cut due to expire at the end of the year -a break on Social Security payroll taxes--should be extended: Durbin is for continuing the break and Kirk is against it.

Congress is headed to a showdown on the issue. President Barack Obama is pushing for what was originally a one-year break to be continued.

The House, with GOP votes on Tuesday passed a measure to continue the Social Security payroll tax cuts--but only by packaging it with a mandate to build the controversial Keystone Canada-to-Texas pipeline. Senate Democrats are likely to reject the House linkage and Obama has threatened a veto.

Kirk, during a C-SPAN interview on Sunday said he is against using "Social Security as a cash cow for an economic stimulus." He is prepared to let the cuts expire because he does not want the U.S. to issue more debt to replace cash in the Social Security Trust Fund that was lost when folks in 2011 were able to pay less into it.

KEYSTONE: Kirk and Durbin are also potentially split over Keystone. Kirk is for construction of the pipeline because it will produce jobs. Durbin is against Keystone being included in a Social Security payroll tax bill. He backs Obama's position that a review of the pipeline is necessary--and will wait to see what that review concludes.

Everyone who gets a paycheck got to keep more of their own money in 2011 due to Social Security payroll tax cuts Obama pushed through. Those breaks expire at the end of December. Obama earlier this year proposed continuing the paycheck tax cuts and giving a break to employers who have to pay taxes for each employee. Now he has a battle just getting Congress to let the breaks live for another year.

Under a bipartisan deal Obama made with Congress in 2010 and starting in 2011, the deduction on your paycheck for Social Security -- often called a payroll tax -- was cut by 2 percent for a year. The rate workers kicked in dropped to 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent. The employers' contribution stayed the same -- 6.2 percent.

What does this mean to you? If you make $106,800 a year, the maximum saving is $2,136. (Social Security taxes are applied to only the first $106,800 of earnings.)

Let's look at it another way: If you make $500 a week, you get a $10 weekly tax cut. If you make $1,000 each week, your break is $20; a $1,500 weekly salary earner pays $30 less in payroll taxes.

Five paths to an Obama victory

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod, predicted more scrutiny of GOP White House frontrunner Newt Gingrich on Tuesday, citing the "homespun wisdom" of Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) as he compared Gingrich to a monkey on a pole exposing his butt.

Axelrod, campaign manager Jim Messina, press secretary Ben LaBolt and deputy manager Stephanie Cutter briefed reporters on the 2012 campaign at the Democratic National Committee headquarters here.

"This is the most unpredictable Republican race I have seen in my lifetime," Axelrod said.

The Obama team, headquartered in Chicago, for the first time raised a concern about the possibility of a third party -- organized by a new group, Americans Elect -- making it on the ballot in a large number of states.

Highlights from the briefing:

† Axelrod said Gingrich, a former House Speaker, has a long record that will be scrutinized.

"So the question is, can he sustain this over time?" Axelrod said.

"I told my colleagues yesterday a bit of homespun wisdom that I got from an alderman in Chicago some years ago when one of his . . . colleagues wanted to run for higher office and he was really dubious. He said, 'just remember the higher a monkey climbs on a pole, the more you can see his butt.' So, you know, the Speaker is very high on the pole right now and we'll see how people like the view."

Axelrod told me afterwards that the alderman was Mell.

† Messina outlined five swing state paths for Obama to get the 270 electoral votes he needs to win a second term -- assuming he keeps as a base the states Sen. John Kerry won in the 2004 presidential election.

The paths: 1. Win Florida; 2. Win Ohio; 3. Win North Carolina and Virginia; 4. Win Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Iowa and 5. Win Arizona.

† Messina and Axelrod said they visited former President Bill Clinton in his Harlem office about a month ago to discuss his role in the 2012 campaign and to seek his advice.

† They predicted that the GOP primary could go to June and that would work to Obama's advantage because the Republicans will have pulled to the far right. "I think they are mortgaging themselves" for the general election, Axelrod said.

† Messina said the drive by a new group called Americans Elect -- bankrolled by millionaire businessman and hedge fund manager Peter Ackerman -- may result in a third-party presidential candidate on the ballot "in a lot of states" which will be "something we have to deal with." Axelrod mocked the rules of the group for selecting a presidential candidate as "uber democracy meets back-room bosses."

Kahlil Byrd, Chief Executive Officer of Americans Elect, replied, "Washington is failing the American people, and misinformed partisan attacks like these are a key reason why." By trashing Americans Elect, Messina and Axelrod gave the group its biggest shot of publicity yet.

† Messina highlighted two voter groups where Obama 2012 could grow support: Latino voters, who are registering in high numbers and the youth vote, with 8 million new voters between the ages of 18 and 21 eligible to vote in 2012 who were not in 2008. "Their brothers, their sisters, started this thing," Messina said.

WASHINGTON--The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday unanimously voted "for a nationwide ban on the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers."

WASHINGTON--On the day GOP White House front-runner Newt Gingrich called for a positive campaign, his Iowa political director, Craig Bergman resigned in the wake of calling Mormons a "cult."

The Des Moines Register political writer Jennifer Jacobs reported at 3:02 p.m. cst: "The new political director for Newt Gingrich's Iowa campaign thinks that some evangelicals believe God would reject Mitt Romney because of his Mormonism.

"Craig Bergman during a focus group on Wednesday with The Iowa Republican and McClatchy newspapers said he thinks Romney's religion will eventually cost him votes."

About three hours later, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said in a statement, "Craig Bergman agreed to step away from his role with Newt 2012 today. He made a comment to a focus group prior to becoming an employee that is inconsistent with Newt 2012's pledge to run a positive and solutions orientated campaign. "

LaBolt, Axelrod, Messina, Cutter.jpeg
Obama 2012 Press Secretary Ben LaBolt, Strategist David Axelrod, Campaign Manager Jim Messina, Deputy Manager Stephanie Cutter at Tuesday press briefing at the DNC. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod, predicted much more scrutiny of GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich on Tuesday, citing the "homespun wisdom" of Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) as he compared Gingrich to a monkey on a pole exposing his butt.

Axelrod, campaign manager Jim Messina, press secretary Ben LaBolt and deputy manager Stephanie Cutter briefed reporters on the GOP primary and the November general election vote at the Democratic National Committee.

The Obama team has started to pay more attention to the surging Gingrich, who is outpacing chief rival Mitt Romney in polls.

Discussing the GOP primary electorate, Axelrod said, "All the energy is on the side of the Tea Party folks. And Gov. Romney comes from that other tradition of the Republican Party. And ya got to give him credit for trying. He's done everything but light himself on fire for the last eight weeks trying to win."

Then Axelrod turned to Gingrich--who has resurrected his candidacy after nearly tanking earlier in the year.

"Now Newt is back. Last week you all left him for dead at the checkout counter at Tiffany's and now he's back, a lion in winter," Axelrod quipped. "That's L-I-O-N by the way, I don't want to stir up any trouble here."

The Obama team has been tying Gingrich to the Tea Party movement, and Axelrod reinforced this messaging at the briefing.

"In certain ways [Gingrich] fits the role for this, because as we pointed out earlier in the week he is the original tea partier. You know, he brought that kind of politics to Congress in the early 90s, he led three government shut downs in order to try and roll back environmental protection...roll back the Department of Education and education programs, he wanted to cut Medicare, he wanted to give more tax cuts to the wealthy. He was really a forerunner of what we see today."

Axelrod also noted that Gingrich has a long record that will be scrubbed and scrutinized.

"So the question is, can he sustain this over time?," Axelrod said.

"I told my colleagues yesterday a bit of homespun wisdom that I got from an alderman in Chicago some years ago when one of his ...colleagues wanted to run for higher office and he was really dubious. He said, 'just remember the higher a monkey climbs on a pole, the more you can see his butt.' So, you know, the Speaker is very high on the pole right now and we'll see how people like the view."

Axelrod told me afterwards that the alderman offering the wisdom was Mell. (Mell is the father-in-law of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is scheduled to start serving a 14-year prison sentence on federal corruption charges next March.)

U.S. opening new chapter with Iraq

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WASHINGTON--Illinois Democratic House hopeful Tammy Duckworth, locked in a primary battle with Raja Krishnamoorthi, is getting the financial backing of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, even as the House Democratic political operation is officially neutral.

I've been told by the Duckworth campaign Pelosi gave Duckworth, running in the northwest suburban 8th congressional district, two checks on Oct. 19: $5,000 from her leadership political action committee called Pac to the Future and $2,000 from her Pelosi for Congress fund.

Other House leaders have also donated to Duckworth, the wounded Iraq war veteran who ran the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and went on to be appointed by President Barack Obama as Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The battle in the 8th district heated up last week when Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) switched districts and decided to run in the 8th--drawn in the remap to be a Democratic district.

Pelosi's contributions are a boost for Duckworth's national fund-raising efforts because they may generate more donations. Pelosi, by vouching for Duckworth with checks from her warchests sends a signal to Pelosi's extensive network of donors to do the same.

Locally, the Pelosi contributions may contribute to a narrative, promoted by the Krishnamoorthi camp, that Duckworth is a "Washington" candidate--no more true that saying that President Barack Obama is a "Washington" president. Duckworth is running with the endorsement of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) who is also helping with her fund-raising efforts as is Obama's top strategist David Axelrod.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is officially neutral in the 8th district primary.


"While Duckworth may have support from Democratic Party elders in Washington, Raja has amassed the lion's share of support on the ground with local democratic organizations, unions, and community leaders. Today, Raja won the support of the powerful 14,000-strong IBEW Local 134, adding to his long list of local supporters, because Raja's economic message resonates with voters, and they know he has the economic credibility to expose the Tea Party's economic agenda as harmful to middle class prosperity." - Mike Murray Campaign Spokesman


More news on the 8th district House primaries from a post I filed Monday is HERE.

WASHINGTON--News from various fronts as the Illinois House contest for the 8th congressional district heats up with major players Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) and Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Raja Krishnamoorthi:

*It is not true that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised Walsh $3.5 million for an 8th district run. Last week, Walsh switched from the 14th district, where he faced a GOP primary with Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.)

"That number credited to him is not accurate," Cory Fritz, Boehner's political spokesman told me Monday. Duckworth is using the $3.5 million number to help jumpstart her donations, attributing it to a report in a suburban paper.

*It is true that Walsh, as an incumbent, will get the support of Boehner, which could translate into donations, campaign staff or other resources. "Congressman Walsh did discuss his plans with the Speaker. The Speaker believes this move gives Republicans the best opportunity to win the 8th District," Fritz said.

Money could come from Boehner's PAC, the Freedom Project, or from his other warchest, Friends of John Boehner. The National Republican Congressional Committee--the GOP House political operation-- could also be sending help. Though Walsh faces Republican primary opponents, the tradition of the Speaker and NRCC is to back incumbents. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee--the House Democratic political shop--also backs incumbents in primaries. The DCCC will likely provide significant help to the winner of the March 20 Democratic primary.

*Walsh still has to get through a primary and a major GOP rival, Dr. Darlene J. Ruscitti, DuPage County Regional Superintendent of Schools, is endorsed by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.)

*Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), a member of House leadership, says it is premature to back anyone yet because a federal court panel in Chicago has not yet ruled on the legality of the Democratic-drawn congressional map. The map is designed to help Democrats pick up seats.

"We're not even convinced the new 8th District is going to exist. So It is entirely premature to discuss any hypothetical matchup while the map is still with the Courts," Dan Conston, Roskam's spokesman told me.

*Conservative activist Jack Roeser helped promote Walsh switching from the 14th to the 8th. He is a major Boehner donor, giving the Boehner for Speaker committee $50,000 on June 6. That was just about a week after the Democratic Illinois remap surfaced and way before any jockeying had started over who was running for which House seat.

Juan Williams, the Fox News analyst and former NPR commentator just picked Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) as his "congressman of the year" in a column for The Hill. Williams focus is on Gutierrez national work on immigration issues. Read Williams column HERE.

WASHINGTON--President Obama's signature issue when he started his presidential quest in 2007 was his opposition to the authorization of the Iraq war. This week, Obama highlights the withdrawal of most of the U.S. troops by Dec. 31.

Obama met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the Oval Office at the White House on Monday; on Tuesday sits for interviews with local TV anchors about the Iraq war. And on Wednesday, Obama and the first lady travel to Ft. Bragg in North Carolina -- a key swing state -- to deliver an end-of-Iraq war speech to troops.

WASHINGTON-- First Lady Michelle Obama led a Jumping Jacks challenge on the White House south lawn last October as part of her "Let's Move" anti-childhood obesity campaign. The gimmick was to break the world record for number of people doing Jumping Jacks in a 24-hour period. The old record: 20,425 people. The new stat, released in a Monday morning video featuring Mrs. Obama: 300,265 folks jumped on that day.


While Mrs. Obama made the announcement and kicked off the Jumping Jacks challenge on Oct. 11, the project was actually organized and run by National Geographic Kids. Click below for release.

END UPDATE checked out the Saturday night ABC News/Yahoo GOP presidential debate in Des Moines and found lots of, as they say "baloney" coming from the candidates.

Click over to the site for the complete analysis. Here is the summary:

False and misleading claims were flying again at the latest Republican presidential candidates' debate in Iowa.

Romney falsely claimed that no president before Obama had cut Medicare, and that Obama favored pre-1967 borders for Israel.

Gingrich said he opposed cap-and-trade, even though he once spoke favorably of it, if combined with other measures to curtail carbon emissions.

Perry again falsely accused Romney of writing that the Massachusetts health care law should be a model for the nation, and once again made an apples-to-oranges comparison to make his Texas job-creation record look more impressive.

And Bachmann recycled a bogus claim about projected job losses under the new federal health care law.

WASHINGTON--The Obama team is taking notice of surging GOP front-runner Newt Gingrich. Early Sunday morning the Democratic National Committee rolled out its first attack video against Gingrich, playing off the Saturday night Republican presidential debate in Des Moines. The DNC calls Gingrich "the Tea Party front runner." This comes after Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod on Monday dubbed Gingrich the "Godfather of Gridlock." Until this week, the Obama 2012 campaign and the DNC were only focused on Mitt Romney. The new attention on Gingrich--the opening of a second front--signals the Obama team believes that Gingrich could go the distance.

WASHINGTON--Surging GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich will be the man to watch at the Saturday night presidential debate in Des Moines. Gingrich vaulted back from the political dead with the help of strong debate performances, setting up what for now is narrowing to a Gingrich/Mitt Romney contest.

The debate, at Drake University in Des Moines, is at 9 p.m. est and is sponsored by ABC/Yahoo News, ABC5/WOI-DT, The Des Moines Register and Republican Party of Iowa. On the stage will be Gingrich, Romney, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

Rahm's Dec. 10, 2011 public schedule

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WASHINGTON---Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) decided to bypass a potentially tough GOP primary against Rep. Randy Hultgren and run instead in a more Democratic district where next November he will face either Tammy Duckworth or Raja Krishnamoorthi, Walsh announced on Thursday.

WASHINGTON--President Obama welcomed Hanukkah to the White House early on Thursday hosting a holiday reception for some 550 mostly Jewish-Americans. Obama introduced his new Director of Jewish Outreach, Jarrod Bernstein--who replaced Susan Sher after she returned to Chicago.

"This Hanukkah season we remember a story so powerful that we all know it by heart -- even us Gentiles," Obama said.

Among the Chicagoans in the crowd: Nancy Kohn and husband Art Friedson; Marcia and Bruce Balonick, former Amb. Fay and Dan Levin; Dana and Lee Gordon; Lee Rosenberg; David Brown, Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Alan Solow.

But before I write anymore, please, let's eat. The White House kitchen was koshered for the event.

Here's the menu:

Dill and Vodka Scottish Smoked Salmon
Non-Pareil Capers
Chopped Egg Whites
Chopped Egg Yolks
Lemon Wedges

Assorted Fresh Sushi Rolls

Roulade of Chicken Breast
Arugula and Fresh Artichokes
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Fresh Thyme Sauce

Filet of Beef
Caramelized Pearl Onions
Shitake Mushrooms
Au Jus

Pine Nut Herb Crusted Lamb Chops
Mango and Mission Fig Chutney

Homemade Potato with Scallion Pancakes
Apple Sauce

Winter Squash Salad

Assorted Rolls

Dessert Station:
Homemade Soufganyot
Crème Anglaise
Raspberry Jelly

An Assortment of Homemade Desserts

Now, that we've had a nosh, back to the story. Hanukkah starts at sundown on Dec. 20. In 2009 and 2010 Obama and First Lady Michelle threw the Hanukkah party during Hanukkah. Since the 25th of Kislev comes late this year--and the Obamas are scheduled to be in Hawaii at the time--the party was moved up. Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill also were at the reception. The West Point Jewish Chapel Choir,also known as Kol Masoret, the Voice of Tradition, performed.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle host their third Hanukkah reception at the White House. The festival starts sundown on Dec. 20. The White House kitchen is koshered for the event.


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WASHINGTON--The back-to-back NATO/G8 meetings in Chicago will take place in McCormick Place with the dates firmed up on Thursday, between May 19 and 21, NATO, the State Department and the city said.

Planning for the events is ramping up, with logos and a website also unveiled on Thursday. In Brussels, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton--a Chicago native-- and NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen waxed on about coming to Chicago. The G8 summit, hosted by President Barack Obama is on May 19-20; the NATO session, run by Rasmussen is on May 20-21.

"Chicago is city which inspires, and I have seen that with my own eyes when I visit Chicago, meeting its dynamic people, enjoying its magnificent skyline. Chicago is a city where great ideas are born, as well as great diplomats, like you, Madam Secretary," Rasmussen said. Rasmussen offered so much praise for the city Clinton said she was going to call Mayor Rahm Emanuel and tell him.

"And Chicago is a city where many cultures come together, including many cultures of European allies. Chicago is a city built upon diversity and determination. And those values underpin NATO, too. So Chicago is a fitting host for the NATO summit as we endeavor to implement our vision of an alliance ready to tackle the security challenges of the 21st century."

To that Clinton replied, "Well, that was so magnificently said, Secretary General. And you're right, I was born in Chicago. I love the city. I think everyone will not only enjoy being there because of the NATO summit but also the attractions of Chicago. And we are all looking forward to welcoming you. President Obama is very excited about being able to host the NATO summit in Chicago, and I am going to call the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and tell him he has a new slogan for the city: the city of diversity and determination. I'm sure that he will be pleased to hear that you coined that, Secretary General.

"So I join you in warmly inviting everyone to come to Chicago in May, when it is absolutely beautiful, for what will be another very significant NATO summit."

In October, I reported that the McCormick Place complex was the likely venue.The buildings, hugging the Lake Michigan Shore and stretching across Lake Shore Drive, were selected because of the ability to secure the location, the proximity to downtown hotels and the enormous space the venue offered.

The gathering of world leaders, expected to draw some 2,500 journalists to Chicago, will be a chance to throw a global spotlight on the city for visitors and provide historic educational opportunities for students and residents.

NATO unveiled its logo in Brussels on Thursday; the State Department designed the G8 logo. The Chicago G8 NATO host committee's new web site is

"The NATO and G8 summits present an exciting opportunity to showcase our extraordinary city to the world," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. "Hosting these summits puts the spotlight on Chicago as a city on the move and an unparalleled destination for travel, tourism and business."

"The Chicago G8/NATO Host Committee is making plans for a variety of programs to engage and include residents in the historic events," Lori Healey, Executive Director of the Chicago G8 NATO Host Committee said in a statement.

"This is really a tremendous opportunity for Chicagoans to show the world how we can come together in support of major events like we have done in the past."

The Chicago G8/NATO Host Committee, "is working under the auspice of World Business Chicago, a non-for-profit organization focused on economic development which serves as the legal entity leading the private sector G8 and NATO activities and operations."

It is very rare for one city to host both a G8 and a NATO meeting; the last time was more than 30 years ago. This is the first time a NATO summit in the U.S. has been held outside of Washington

The "Group of 8" consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States

clinton NATO logo.jpgSec. of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen unveil the NATO Chicago summit logo, highlighting the city's skyline. (NATO photo)

WASHINGTON--Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn hits Washington Thursday to meet with federal officials and the Illinois congressional delegation.In the morning, Quinn appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" where he said the 14-year sentence for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges was "stern."

"It is a very stern sentence....It is a sad chapter and it is closed, the book is closed. "Illinois has to make sure that the world knows we have a reform governor who believes in honesty and integrity at all times," Quinn told "Morning Joe." Noting that former Gov. George Ryan was also in jail on corruption charges Quinn said, "we want to make sure this never happens again."

The office of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a statement, "during the informal meeting with delegation members, Quinn will discuss various Illinois priorities including the extension of unemployment insurance. Without quick action by Congress federal unemployment insurance will expire at the end of the year."

Earlier in the week, Quinn was in Los Angeles for a meeting of the Democratic Governors Association, where he serves on the leadership team.

logo g8.png

logo NATO.jpg


WASHINGTON--Planning for the NATO/G8 May meeting in Chicago is ramping up, with a web site and logos for the event released on Thursday, as well as the exact days of the back-to-back-sessions, May 19-21.

The gathering of world leaders, expected to draw some 2,500 journalists to Chicago, will be a chance to throw a global spotlight on the city for visitors and provide historic educational opportunities for students and residents.

The G8 summit, hosted by President Barack Obama is on May 19-20; the NATO session, run by Rasmussen is on May 20-21

NATO unveiled its logo in Brussels on Thursday; the State Department designed the G8 logo. The Chicago G8 NATO host committee's new web site is

"The NATO and G8 summits present an exciting opportunity to showcase our extraordinary city to the world," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. "Hosting these summits puts the spotlight on Chicago as a city on the move and an unparalleled destination for travel, tourism and business."

"The Chicago G8/NATO Host Committee is making plans for a variety of programs to engage and include residents in the historic events," Lori Healey, Executive Director of the Chicago G8 NATO Host Committee said in a statement.

"This is really a tremendous opportunity for Chicagoans to show the world how we can come together in support of major events like we have done in the past."

The Chicago G8/NATO Host Committee, "is working under the auspice of World Business Chicago, a non-for-profit organization focused on economic development which serves as the legal entity leading the private sector G8 and NATO activities and operations."

It is very rare for one city to host both a G8 and a NATO meeting; the last time was more than 30 years ago. This is the first time a NATO summit in the U.S. has been held outside of Washington

The "Group of 8" consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States

WASHINGTON--GOP White House hopefuls hit President Obama's Israel policy on Wednesday at a presidential forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition. Michele Bachmann is wrapping up now; Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman all spoke. Check out @lynnsweet for my Twitter stream of the event, #RJC2012. Iran's potential nuclear capability a major concern.

Edwin Eisendrath ran against then Gov. Rod Blagojevich in the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary when Blagojevich was seeking a second term. On Wednesday, after Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years on criminal corruption charges, Eisendrath said in a statement, "We should not be focusing on another governor going to jail. Instead we should be doing all we can to strengthen our democracy. Voters deserve a chance to elect people who will work for us rather than for themselves.

"Money and a lack of political courage reelected Mr. Blagojevich despite knowing at the time he was corrupt: Only strengthening our democracy will afford us the chance to elect the leaders we need and to afford those in office the chance to do what must be done."

Kinzinger on #Blagojevich sentencing

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#Blagojevich sentenced to 14 years

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Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich gets a 14-year sentence on Wednesday on federal criminal corruption charges. Get all the details in the Chicago Sun-Times HERE.

WASHINGTON--The Obama record on Israel is expected to be shredded Wednesday at the Republican Jewish Coalition's 2012 Republican Presidential Candidates Forum.

From the RJC: "What: Day-long event featuring top GOP presidential candidates speaking to the largest-ever gathering of Jewish Republican activists from around the country and taking audience questions.

"Who (confirmed): Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Jr., Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum. (Herman Cain has withdrawn from this event.)

Luncheon keynote by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie."

Pearl Harbor, remembered

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Seventy years ago today....

From the White House: "On a serene Sunday morning 70 years ago, the skies above Pearl Harbor were darkened by the bombs of Japanese forces in a surprise attack that tested the resilience of our Armed Forces and the will of our Nation. As explosions sounded and battleships burned, brave service members fought back fiercely with everything they could find. Unbeknownst to these selfless individuals, the sacrifices endured on that infamous day would galvanize America and come to symbolize the mettle of a generation."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel tapped Cynthia Canary, the founder of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, to chair a city ethics task force.

Blagojevich sentencing today

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A day short of three years to the day of his arrest, ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will be sentenced Wednesday for his public corruption convictions, including schemes to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he was elected president. His daughter, Amy pleaded for mercy during a Tuesday hearing. Click HERE for the complete Sun-Tiimes coverage package.

Romney Americans United for Change.jpg

WASHINGTON--It's the Romney/Gekko ticket. No matter the surge for GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich, a Democratic allied group, the labor-backed Americans United for Change go after Mitt Romney on corporate greed charges, likening him to the greedy corporate raider in the movies, Gordan Gekko.

WASHINGTON--White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett met with Lady Gaga at the White House and other administration staffers on Tuesday to discuss ways to prevent bullying, including a project funded by the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation.

Writing afterwards in a White House blog Jarrett said,
"Today, I had the opportunity to welcome her to the White House, where we discussed ways we could work together to make sure that no child comes under attack, regardless of his or her race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other factor.

"One of Lady Gaga's newest projects is joining together with the MacArthur Foundation and Harvard University to launch the Born This Way Foundation, which will explore ways to help change the culture, the policies, and the curriculum surrounding the safety of our children in school.

"Lady Gaga has described this cause as a personal one - she has said that as a child, she was often picked on for being different. I am deeply moved by the way she has used her story, and her success, to inspire young people, and shine the spotlight on important issues

obama store 1.jpg
Obama 2012 National Finance Director Rufus Gifford is the cover model on the official Obama gear product catalog (photos by Lynn Sweet)

obama store 2.jpg

obama store 3.jpg

WASHINGTON--Yoga pants. Hoodies. Wine and Martini glasses. Kids apparel. Cat and dog collars. Basketball shirts. Spatulas. An apron that says "Fired up and ready to grill," a wry reference to the famous Barack Obama campaign slogan.

When it comes to raising money off of campaign merchandise, President Obama's team is taking its cues from top marketers, outflanking the GOP competition with a wide variety of innovative branded products. While all the 2012 White House hopefuls sell "official" t-shirts, mugs and buttons, neither Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachman nor Ron Paul in their on-line shops offer the variety of merchandise stocked in the Obama store.

And new for the 2012 campaign, the Obama team is not only selling stuff --all made in the U.S.-- on-line, the team also produced a print catalog that could rival Lands' End or J. Crew. The smiling model on the catalog cover wearing 2012 Obama gear is Rufus Gifford, Obama's National Finance Director.

Political fund-raising comes in many forms--exclusive dinners with a candidate or a top surrogate for major donors, direct mail and on-line appeals, lower cost rallies and receptions and the sale of merchandise. Each merchandise "sale" is a campaign donation with the product really a premium for the contributor.

The stainless steel spatula with the iconic Obama rising sun logo is $40; the apron, $45; martini glass set $30; the baby onesie, $20; cat and dog collars $12; kids for Obama t-shirt $25; hoodie, $55 and yoga pants, $35 and the Obama 44 basketball jersey, $95.

Paul's unique offerings are branded Doodle MP3 speakers for $42.80 and Hi-Top Pro-Keds for $69.90.

And taking a cue from Christmas merchandisers who know how to move product, the Obama store is offering a 20 percent off deal until Dec. 17.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama's Chief of Staff Tina Tchen hits Chicago Wednesday for fund-raisers benefiting the Obama re-election drive at her former law firm and at the home of long-time friend and early Obama backer Marilyn Katz.

Tchen appears at Skadden Arps--where she had been a partner-- in the afternoon and then heads over to Lincoln Park for the event co-hosted by Katz, Bettylu Saltzman who holds an important place in Obama history, attorney Paul Levy and Steven Koch, a vice-chairman and co-chairman of Credit Suisse's Merger and Acquisitions Group.

Saltzman is the Democratic activist who years ago spotted a young Barack Obama as a comer and told political consultant David Axelrod he should meet with Obama. In March, 2010, Obama appointed Koch a member of the Recovery Independent advisory board.

Donations for the Katz event range from $500 to $5,000.

Tchen makes her second visit to Chicago in two weeks. Last week, she returned home for the memorial service at the University of Chicago honoring the late Dr. James Bowman, the father of White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett.

Tchen, I'm told is doing the fund-raisers on personal time. In the 2008 campaign, Tchen was a "superbundler" who raised at least $200,000 for the campaign.

WASHINGTON--Rep. Joe Walsh will announce plans for his political future on Thursday night at a Tea Party meeting in Chicago, his campaign announced on Tuesday.

Walsh said in a relase "After spending the last week discussing his options with family, supporters, and party officials, Congressman Walsh believes the choice is clear."

Monday came and went with no word from Walsh over whether he would he make a 2012 re-election bid from the new 14th district, which he had announced he was going to do--thrusting him in a GOP primary with Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) or run from the new 8th district, a move he has been exploring. The 8th, drawn in the new map to be a Democratic district, has no well known Republican running. Democrats Raja Krishnamoorthi and Tammy Duckworth are locked in an 8th district Democratic primary battle.

Walsh signaled on Saturday he would have an announcement on Monday, but he did not. Perhaps Walsh has a third option in mind--his statement leaves open the possibility of another move. What is unusual is the venue Walsh is choosing, a Chicago Tea Party meeting in Wrigleyville, at The Cubby Bear, 1059 W. Addison St. Walsh has always identified more with the Tea Party movement than with the GOP establishment.

In his release Walsh said, "During my first year in office I upheld my campaign promise to do everything I could to rein in the mistakes that were made by the Obama Administration. From voting to repeal Obamacare, cutting spending, cutting taxes, and cutting the size of government, I have made it my mission to stop and roll back the damage that President Obama and Nancy Pelosi created. At the same time, I have also challenged my own party leadership when I think they did not go far enough. It is for that reason that I was one of only 22 Republicans who opposed the compromise that created the failed Super Committee.

"I did not run for Congress to become part of Washington, I went to Washington to change the way Washington worked. It is why I have pledged to only serve three terms, it is why I turned down my health care and pension, it is why I sleep on my couch, and it is why I come home every single week and have hosted close to one hundred town halls.

"During those numerous town halls I have heard from Republicans, Democrats, and Independents who feel as if both parties have failed them, and that Washington is out of control. Like me they feel as though their country is being taken away from them, and that it is time to be bold. Whether you call them tea party members or just frustrated, patriotic Americans, this group of individuals is growing. They are fed up and want change now. I can think of no better place to announce important news concerning my re-election than in front of these folks at the Chicago Tea Party meeting."

Updates with Walsh chief of staff comment about White House party and Walsh Thursday announcement about his political future....

WASHINGTON--Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.)-- who boycotted President Obama's jobs speech, said Obama should "quit lying" and that the president "got no shame," attended a White House Holiday party Monday hosted by President Obama and First Lady Michelle with his wife Helene. waited in line with his wife Monday at the White House for a photo with Obama and First Lady Michelle.

The Obamas are hosting a series of holiday parties and Monday was the night where members of Congress were invited to welcome the holiday season.

Someone who was at the party tipped me that Walsh was there and was in the photo line.

Update 1 regarding the photo line: Justin Roth, Walsh's chief of staff told me Walsh was at the White House holiday party but was not in the photo line and "most definitely" did "not take a picture with the president...did not meet him." End Update 1

Monday came and went with no word from Walsh over whether he would he make a 2012 re-election bid from the new 14th district, which he had announced he was going to do--thrusting him in a GOP primary with Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) or run from the new 8th, a move he has been exploring. The 8th, drawn in the new map to be a Democratic district, has no well known Republican running. Democrats Raja Krishnamoorthi and Tammy Duckworth are locked in a primary battle.

Walsh signaled on Saturday he would have an announcement on Monday, but he did not. Maybe he is weighing a third option.

Update 2 Walsh's campaign on Tuesday afternoon said in release Walsh will announce his political plans Thursday night at a Tea Party meeting in Chicago. Click HERE for my post on the Thursday announcement. End Update 2

President Obama is in Kansas on Tuesday--the state where his mother was born--to pitch his jobs and economy plans and to echo Teddy Roosevelt's call for a square deal.

He will also push Republicans to confirm Richard Cordray as chief of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau--the agency founded with the help of Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic who is running for a Massachusetts Senate seat.

Republicans did not like Warren, don't like the agency and don't want Cordray unless the agency's power is diluted.

Real Clear Politics White House correspondent Alexis Simendinger has a complete over-view story on Obama, Teddy Roosevelt and his populist message.

blagojevich, fitzgerald.jpeg
THEN Dec. 9, 2008: Federal agents arrest Blagojevich at 6 a.m. at his Ravenswood Manor home. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (right) releases a stunning criminal complaint where Blagojevich is on tape calling his power to appoint to Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat "f---ing golden." Fitzgerald famously describes the sitting governor's conduct as a political corruption "crime spree" that would have "Lincoln rolling over in his grave."

TODAY Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will be sentenced on federal corruption charges on Wednesday, with a hearing set for Tuesday for Blagojevich to make the case for mercy and prosecutors to ask U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel for at least ten years.

The Sun-Times Federal Court Reporter Natasha Korecki story on Zagel is HERE.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: HASHTAG ALERT #Blagojevich sentencing live tweeting from @natashakorecki

Click over to Korecki's Blago Blog for the latest LIVE from inside the courtroom with Korecki and Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallasch.

Sun-Times City Hall Reporter Fran Spielman story on Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), Blagojevich's father-in-law and one-time political patron is HERE.

For complete Blagojevich coverage during the day:

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) spent 14 minutes on the Senate floor on Nov. 29 reviewing his first Senate year.

The Obama team is taking aim at GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich for the first time, with Obama strategist David Axelrod on Monday calling the former House Speaker the "godfather of gridlock."

Until Monday, the Obama 2012 re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee has focused only on Mitt Romney in statements, releases, websites and videos. Gingrich's surge in Iowa and national polls led Axelrod to preview the case against him.

Gingrich on Monday released his first Iowa television ad, an upbeat spot narrated by Gingrich with a "working together" theme that spoke of his optimism for America: "Some people say the America we know and love is a thing of the past. I don't believe that."

Pivoting off the ad, Axelrod told MSNBC host Chuck Todd on the "Daily Rundown, "I was amused by the Newt Gingrich ad, by the way, because he talked about he's going to bring the country together to solve problems."

"You're talking about the godfather of gridlock here - the guy who two decades ago really invented the kind of tactics that have become commonplace in Washington. So, this is a whole new Newt," Axelrod said.

Axelrod on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" sent out what seemed an invitation to scrub Gingrich's background as he repeated his "godfather of gridlock" soundbite.

"He hasn't really been scrutinized since the spring," Axelrod told Morgan. "He's really the Godfather of gridlock."

Axelrod was referring, I am told, to the partisanship Gingrich ushered in during his speakership and the federal shutdowns that took place on his watch in 1995 and 1996, when former President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans could not agree on continued federal government funding. "Nobody has done more to put partisanship first thing," an Obama team member told me.

Todd asked Axelrod if indeed he was unveiling the case against Gingrich. Said Axelrod, "I think it may be the public's case against him. I don't think people want to go back to that."

Politifact, in its analysis of Axelrod's statement noted areas where Gingrich crossed the aisle, concluding--playing off of Axelrod's quip--Gingrich has been more of a "prince of partisanship" than a godfather. "While Gingrich was sharply partisan, there are solid examples where he short-circuited gridlock to push bills to enactment. On balance, we rate Axelrod's statement Half True."

The point the Obama team is and will be stressing if Gingrich ripens as a likely nominee is that his record for governing is open to criticism with a new generation of voters to be reminded about the shutdown. While former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) never matched Gingrich in the vision or lofty rhetoric department, his staff used to complain to me that Gingrich was more a talker than a doer and they got things done. With Hastert now a Romney backer, the other shoe to watch when it comes to Gingrich-- is Romney's.

Herman Cain suspended his GOP presidential campaign on Saturday, but that does not mean charges of sexual harrassment are behind him. In Chicago on Monday, attorney Gloria Allred and Sharon Bialek, the Chicago woman who says she is a victim of Cain's harrassment, react at a press conference at the Penisula Hotel.

According to a statement from Allred's office, "Sharon Bialek will dispel some of the myths circulated by some Cain supporters and the attacks made on her by Cain. Ms. Allred will also have a very strong reaction to Cain's attacks on all women who made claims against Cain, his claims that the allegations made against him were false, and his decision to "suspend", but not terminate his campaign."

Newt's first Iowa television spot

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Surging GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich on Monday starts running his first television spot in Iowa, a soft upbeat ad narrated by Gingrich himself. The Des Moines Register poll out on Saturday put Gingrich at the top heading into the Jan. 3 kick-off caucus, the first in the nominating process. Still, the Obama team continues to focus on rival Mitt Romney, on Monday releasing two more shots against him.

Ad copy: Gingrich says, "Some people say the America we know and love is a thing of the past. I don't believe that. Because working together I know we can rebuild America. We can revive our economy and create jobs. Shrink government and the regulations that strangle our businesses.

"Throw out the tax and replace it with one that is simple and fair. We can regain the world's respect by standing strong again.

"Being true to our faith and respecting one another. We can return power to the people and the states we live in so we all will have more freedom, opportunity, and control of our lives.
Yes, working together we can and will Rebuild the America we Love.

"I am Newt Gingrich and I approved this message."

While GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich is surging he is not at the point where the Obama re-election team will take any public shots at him; that honor is still rival Mitt Romney, who on Monday is attacked again by the Democratic National Commitee and the Obama 2012 campaign.

The DNC has a new web video mocking Romney's claim he is not a career politician; "but it wasn't for a lack for trying," the DNC spot says, with clips of his bids for senator, governor and president.

Meanwhile, on the disclosure front, the Obama 2012 campaign is highlighting Romney's refusal to disclose his income tax returns, with new ammunition in a Sunday PARADE Magazine interview.

From Obama 2012: "You told PARADE Magazine that your father's tax returns were made public when he ran for President. President Obama, President Bush and Senator McCain released their tax returns, but during your nearly twenty year political career you have resisted calls to release them. Will you follow precedent and release them now?"

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel with wife Amy Rule in background speaks with Itzhak Perlman (seated) before a Kennedy Center Honors reception in the East Room of the White House. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski-Pool/Getty Images)

Over the weekend, Rahm Emanuel and wife Amy Rule returned to Washington to mingle with the stars at the glitzy Kennedy Center Honors program on Sunday. Emanuel, President Obama's former chief of staff and Rule were at the White House for a reception before the show, where actress Meryl Streep, singer Neil Diamond, actress Barbara Cook, musician Yo-Yo Ma, and musician Sonny Rollins were honored. Emanuel's public schedule on Sunday and Monday do not reflect his whereabouts (a White House visit isn't worth noting?) and show the limited use of the schedules for tracking the Emanuel mayoralty.


Mayor Rahm Emanuel and wife Amy Rule popped up at the White House Sunday to attend a glitzy star-filled reception for Kennedy Center honorees. The trip to Washington was not on Emanuel's public schedule, but it should have. David Axelrod, President Obama's top strategist, is also at the reception.

The White House traditionally has the stars being honored at the Kennedy Center over before the event itself. Pool reporter Donovan Slack filed the report from the East Room with hosts Obama and First Lady Michelle:

From the pool report: "Roughly 250 seats set up. Pine garlands draped over windows and doors, dias framed by two Christmas trees.Spotted in audience: Rep Nancy Pelosi, Smokey Robinson(2006 honoree), Vicki Kennedy, Jean Kennedy Smith, Caroline Kennedy, actress Christine Baranski, actor Stanley Tucci (Devil Wears Prada, Julie and Julia), actress Michelle Lee (Knots Landing), Rahm Emanuel and Amy Rule, composer Sir Andre Previn, David Axelrod, Rep John Mica (R-FL), violinist Itzhak Perlman, Robert DeNiro (!!), Sara Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, Diane Sawyer, actor John Krasinski (The Office) and Emily Blunt, john Lithgow (!), CBS' Julie Chen and Les Moonves.

(Honorees entered at 5;25- Barbara Cook, Neil Diamond, Yo Yo Ma, Sonny Rollins, Meryl Streep -see below for more info)POTUS and FLOTUS entered at 5:28pm.POTUS remarks (see transcript for exact quotes) In general he talked about the arts, expressing oneself - he joked about his own dance moves ending up on YouTube.

He spoke about each of the honorees, who he said are "5 giants from the world of the arts" being honored for "a lifetime of greatness." Of Yo Yo Ma he said, "One honoree is something of a regular here at the White House. We need to give him a room." Then POTUS joked that one thing about Yo Yo Ma is that "everybody likes him. "You've got to give me some tips," he said turning to Ma.Remarks ended at 5:44pm, POTUS and FLOTUS (strapless bright blue mermaid- shaped gown) left room. Pool escorted out. Holding.

From the Kennedy Center press release: "Recipients to be honored at the 34th annual national celebration of the arts are: singer Barbara Cook, singer and songwriter Neil Diamond, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins, and actress Meryl Streep."

Surging GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich gets his props from former Obama White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Sunday's CBS' "Face the Nation." "A lot of people in the Beltway and outside the beltway woke up today to a very different political in which Newt Gingrich is very much for real," Gibbs told Bob Schieffer, host of CBS' "Face the Nation."

GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich is leading in Iowa, according to a Des Moines Register poll released on Saturday. The poll was taken before Herman Cain suspended his campaign on Saturday, effectively ending his bid in the wake of accusations about a 13-year affair.

The Des Moines Register top line of likely Republican voters:

25 Newt Gingrich
18 Ron Paul
16 Mitt Romney
8 Bachmann
8 Herman Cain
6 Rick Perry
6 Rich Santorum
2 Jon Huntsman

White House hopeful Rick Perry, on Herman Cain on Saturday suspending his presidential bid: "I know this was a difficult decision for Herman Cain, his family and his supporters. He helped invigorate conservative voters and our nation with a discussion of major tax reform. Anita and I wish him and his entire family all the best."

GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich reacts to Herman Cain suspending his campaign Saturday: "Herman Cain's 999 plan got our country talking about the critical issue of how to reform our tax code and he elevated the dialogue of the Republican presidential primary in the process. I am proud to know Herman Cain and consider him a friend. I know from having worked with him for more than a decade he will continue to be a powerful voice in the conservative movement for years to come."

Embattled Herman Cain suspended his GOP White House presidential campaign on Saturday, saying he is at "peace" with himself as allegations of a 13-year affair forced Cain to fold his bid.

With Cain out, the GOP contest seems headed to a showdown between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

"I am disappointed it came to this point, that I had to make this decision," Cain said in Atlanta, with his wife Gloria standing a few feet away.

Cain, a former CEO of Godfather Pizza, for a short time enjoyed a surge in the polls, only to start to fade when allegations of sexual harrassment surfaced from several women. While Cain thought he could weather that storm, the accusation of an affair was the last straw.

Running for president, Cain said, "is a dirty game." Cain said he move on to "Plan B," pushing for change as an outsider.

Cain denied any wrongdoing. He said he would be making an endorsement --and it would not be President Obama.

"Even though I have suspended my campaign, I have not given up on America," Cain said.

Suspending, rather than folding a campaign means a candidate can still raise and spend campaign donations.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) will continue to have an ethics cloud hanging over his head as the House Ethics Committee on Friday announced it would continue its probe of whether Jackson improperly used House personnel to pursue an appointment from now ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich for Barack Obama's Illinois Senate seat.

Read the 300 page report which includes investigative interviews HERE.

Read Chicago Sun-Times Federal Court Report Natasha Korecki's story HERE.

Jackson Response to the Office of Congressional Ethics Report is HERE

Jackson Statement:

Today the House Ethics Committee, according to the law and their on-going responsibility, released an interim report. For the first time in three years my side of the story will be made public and for that I am grateful.

The Ethics Committee will continue their legal responsibility and I will continue to fully cooperate with them. At the end of the process I still believe I will be vindicated.

I have said from the beginning that I publicly and transparently sought to have the Governor of Illinois appoint me to fulfill the final two years of then-Senator Barack Obama's term in the U.S. Senate. I did nothing illegal, unethical or inappropriate in that pursuit and I believe that is what the Ethics Committee will conclude at the end of this process. I did everything within my power to protect the integrity of my office and the people who elected me to serve them.

Unemployment is the biggest threat to President Obama's re-election and the November jobs report out Friday morning revealed the unemployment rate dropped to 8.6 percent.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported "Employment continued to trend up in retail trade, leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, and health care. Government employment continued to trend down."

More from the Bureau: "In November, the unemployment rate declined by 0.4 percentage point to 8.6 percent. From April through October, the rate held in a narrow range from 9.0 to 9.2 percent. The number of unemployed persons, at 13.3 million, was down by 594,000 in November."

React from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio):

"Any job creation is welcome news, but the jobless rate in this country is still unacceptable. Today marks the 34th consecutive month of unemployment above eight percent. As you may remember, the Obama administration promised unemployment would stay below eight percent if its 'stimulus' was enacted. That promise has gone unfulfilled.

"Because the president's policies have failed, the House has passed a series of bills designed to remove government barriers to private sector job creation. There are now 25 bipartisan jobs bills passed by the House awaiting a vote in the Senate. The key to getting all of these jobs measures enacted is the United States Senate. President Obama should use this opportunity to call on Senate Democrats to immediately give these bipartisan bills the vote they deserve.

"The American people want action on jobs, and the House is listening to the American people."

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) should be hearing from the House Ethics Committee on Friday--the deadline the panel set to determine the next step, if any, of its probe of his official conduct.

In November, the panel voted to end a deferral of an investigation that started in 2009, an outgrowth of the probe surrounding ousted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Among the issues: whether Jackson used his government staff to help him lobby for a Senate seat appointment, to fill the spot vacated by Barack Obama when he was elected president.

"Rep. Jackson may have violated federal law and House rules concerning the proper use of the member's representational allowance," the panel said.

."The Committee will announce its course of action in this matter on or before December 2, 2011," the panel said in a November release.

Rep. Joe Walsh is poised to switch districts for his 2012 re-election bid and apparently throw himself a political lifeline.

Instead of a March Illinois primary showdown with fellow Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren which would end one of their careers, Walsh will run in more Democratic turf, presumably claim the GOP nomination and face either Democrat Tammy Duckworth or Raja Krishnamoorthi next November.

"If he gets the assurances of a big welcome in this thing, Joe will run in the 8th," GOP activist Jack Roeser told me Thursday night. Roeser told me he has been discussing the switch with Walsh and GOP House leaders.

"He's told me he is going to run (in the 8th) and I have a close association with him," Roeser told me.

Walsh is not close to GOP House leaders and he would need their help in the November contest, especially if Duckworth is the Democratic nominee. Duckworth, a wounded Iraq war veteran and former VA official, is close to President Barack Obama and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

A House contest with a Tea Party Republican pitted against an Obama Democrat would be a marquee, expensive race.

All Walsh wants, Roeser said, is a pledge to "treat him like a good acceptable fellow Republican candidate."

I've contacted Walsh's team several times--calls and e-mails--over the past two days and the usually reachable personnel have gone silent. Walsh has a town hall meeting Saturday in St. Charles.

Walsh is the flamboyant freshman and Tea Party movement leader who has carved out a national profile for himself. The attention also drew a spotlight on his life: Chicago Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallasch disclosed that Walsh's former wife was in court over skipped child support payments.

Walsh's path to a second term--as for almost all Illinois House incumbents--was made more difficult because Illinois Democrats drew new congressional districts designed to yield Democratic victories. Republicans are challenging that map in federal court and a decision from a three-judge panel is expected in the coming weeks.

Last September, Walsh said he would run from the new 14th district, setting up a battle with Hultgren. "A blood bath is not what we need," Roeser told me.

Without Walsh, Republicans do not have a major candidate in the new 8th district, with the lesser known Darlene Ruscitti, the DuPage County regional superintendent of education making a bid. Duckworth and Krishnamoorthi are locked in their own big primary contest in the district which has no incumbent.

The potential of Walsh changing districts was first scooped by Roll Call's Shira Toeplitz.

Rick Perry on "The Tonight Show"

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday if called he would appear before a House panel investigating a White House loan to Solyndra, the failed solar company.

Despite what Emanuel said, any decision about congressional testimony would be made by the Obama White House, where Emanuel served as White House chief of staff.

"Listen, if I'm called I will testify," Emanuel said. Emanuel made his comments at a press conference called on an unrelated matter.

Emanuel said, "I spend my time thinking about job creation, I spend my time thinking about how to make our streets safe. I don't spend my time thinking about what happened maybe two years ago," Sun-Times City Hall Reporter Fran Spielman reported.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told Texas radio station WBAP Tuesday Emanuel would "probably" be called, though that was not confirmed by the GOP-led panel.

"Details for future hearings - including the range of potential witnesses - will be announced when they are available," the Associated Press was told in a statement issued by the Republican committee leadership after AP asked about Emanuel.

White House e-mails on the Solyndra loan suggested some involvement by the chief of staff's office. Emanuel told Chicago reporters earlier, "I don't actually remember that or know about it."


First Lady Michelle Obama is ramping for the 2012 re-election drive with Allyson Laackman, a Chicagoan who is the chief financial officer for the president's office, tapped to be her campaign chief of staff.

The building of a political team comes as Mrs. Obama campaign schedule is still a work in progress with the timing to be determined in part when a GOP nominee emerges from the crowded primary field.

The Obama 2012 campaign, headquartered in Chicago's Prudential Building, also is adding a press secretary for Mrs. Obama---Olivia Alair, who is currently the Department of Transportation spokesman.

Mrs. Obama was disappointed in how the Obama 2008 campaign used her and she entered the White House determined to never again be blindsided by a lack of strategy and staff to execute a goal.

Her First Lady ratings are sky high compared to President Obama's, achieved in part by taking on non-controversial issues: childhood obesity and helping military families.

Mrs. Obama hit the road on a limited basis for the 2010 mid-term contests. She jumped on the 2012 trail for the first time in May with an event in Atlanta and so far has focused almost exclusively at headlining high-end fund-raisers across the nation and at donor events targeting females.

Mrs. Obama is slowly expanding her political role, taking on the lead of a "Women for Obama" drive within the campaign last month.

Mrs. Obama will likely be very selective about where she stumps as she revives her 2008 role as "The Closer" with voters.

While she will be needed to help in battleground states, I would not expect her to hit Tea Party pockets. Mrs. Obama's obvious strength is in energizing the Democratic base --youths, women and African Americans.

With Laackman, Mrs. Obama now has Chicagoans as her chief of staff in the campaign and in the East Wing, where Tina Tchen oversees the First Lady operation.

Laackman's husband, Donald, is the president of the Harold Washington College, part of the City Colleges of Chicago. A Lakeview resident, Laackman has been commuting weekends between Chicago and Washington, where she is the chief financial officer for the executive office of the President.

Laackman most recently also helped manage the White House residence staff--putting her in direct regular contact with Mrs. Obama's East Wing team.

Before joining the White House, Laackman was the finance director of the Obama/Biden Transition and served three months as the controller of the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.

She has also held executive positions at French American Securities, IFX and Arthur Andersen. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana campus.

Alair is a veteran of the Obama presidential campaign in Ohio.

First Lady Michelle Obama returned to Chicago for the second time in a week on Thursday, to attend the memorial service for Dr. James Bowman, a physician with a global reach, a Kenwood neighbor and the father of White House Senior Advisor and friend Valerie Jarrett.

Mrs. Obama landed Thursday morning for the memorial and was scheduled to fly back to Washington later in the day.

The First Lady made a day trip to Chicago on Monday to attend the funeral mass for Maggie Daley, the wife of former Mayor Richard Daley.

The Bowman family home is a block north of the Obama's Kenwood residence and the families had close ties--through friends and the University of Chicago.

Dr. Bowman died on Sept. 28 at the age of 88. The memorial service for Bowman, professor emeritus in pathology and medicine at the University of Chicago, was at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the university campus.

Dr. Bowman was a specialist in pathology, inherited blood diseases and population genetics. Bowman was the "first tenured African American professor in the University's Biological Sciences Division. He also was a powerful advocate for minority scholars seeking access to academic medical careers," the university said in a statement.

At the time of his death, Dr. Bowman's pioneering work drew wide praise. "The University of Chicago and the University of Chicago Medical Center have lost one of their most important and eminent citizens," said Kenneth S. Polonsky, dean of the Division of the Biological Sciences and the Pritzker School of Medicine. "Dr. Bowman had an enormous impact in so many areas -- as a physician, scientist, mentor, leader, role model and inspiration to students and faculty. We are indeed fortunate to have benefitted from his many contributions and from knowing a man of such exemplary integrity."

In addition, the university said, "Bowman, a senior scholar for the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics and a member of the committees on genetics and on African and African American Studies at the University, was one of the first to study genetic variation among diverse populations, particularly those of African origin, and the relationship between genetics and minority health. Later in his career, Bowman focused on the ethical, legal and public policy issues raised by human genetics and mandatory screening tests in certain U.S. states."

On Thursday afternoon, the Bowman Society will host "A Night of Remembrance" for Dr. Bowman from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine.

Within the U.S. Jewish community, there is much handwringing over how President Barack Obama has managed the relationship with Israel. Obama at a New York City fund-raiser on Wednesday--in a private home--praised his own record on bolstering Israeli security and said the Israeli government will back him up.

"I try not to pat myself too much on the back, but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration," Obama said.

The differences the Obama administration has had with Israel--the stuff that has drawn enormous criticism, such as calling for a halt to settlements--highlights strategic differences. When it comes to continuing U.S. military assistance and backing Israel at the United Nations, the Obama White House has been front and center and the Israeli government knows it.

Retaining Jewish support for Obama is important and the White House has stepped up Jewish outreach this past year. Obama is speaking later this month before the Reform movement's Union for Reform Judaism's Biennial conference in a Washington suburb. Reform Jews are the backbone of Obama's Jewish American base. The Obama White House and Obama 2012 campaign has personnel dedicated to Jewish outreach and fund-raising.

Here are two key excerpts from Obama's remarks...

"Internationally, we've been managing I think an extraordinary period not just of two wars, which we're now winding down, but, as Jack alluded to, enormous tumult in the Middle East. And so far, at least, what we've been able to do is manage it in a way that positions America to stand on the side of democracy, but also be very firm with respect to the security of our allies. And obviously, no ally is more important than the state of Israel.

"And as Jack alluded to, this administration -- I try not to pat myself too much on the back, but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration.

"And that's not just our opinion, that's the opinion of the Israeli government. Whether it's making sure that our intelligence cooperation is effective, to making sure that we're able to construct something like an Iron Dome so that we don't have missiles raining down on Tel Aviv, we have been consistent in insisting that we don't compromise when it comes to Israel's security. And that's not just something I say privately, that's something that I said in the U.N. General Assembly. And that will continue."

Click below for full transcript....

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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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