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December 2012 Archives

WASHINGTON -- "Happy New Year!" Vice President Joe Biden said cheerfully as he arrived at the Capitol to huddle with Senate Democrats, with less than three hours to go before the fiscal cliff deadline.

Biden negotiated a tentative deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that will raise tax rates on household incomes of $450,000, keep tax breaks for those making less than that and extend unemployment benefits while at the same time kick decisions over spending cuts down the road a bit.

While President Barack Obama got the wealthy to pay more -- it was not at the $250,000 household income level he called for during the campaign. But during these weeks of negotiations Obama said he could go higher.

The two biggest sticking points were over the estate tax and the automatic spending cuts due to sock the Pentagon and other domestic programs starting on Tuesday with the full impact spread over years.

Republicans compromised by agreeing to delay those automatic cuts for two months. Democrats yielded on the estate tax rates.

The vice president rushed to the Capitol for the meeting because some Democrats were worried he gave up too much ground.

"Don't you all enjoy being here New Year's Eve?" Biden said to the throng of reporters spending New Year's Eve covering the unfolding fiscal cliff drama in the Capitol.

Biden tossed out the chipper greeting at 9:18 p.m. Eastern time as he went into a meeting that lasted for about 45 minutes.

Even if the Senate voted before midnight Congress is going over the fiscal cliff.

The GOP controlled House -- waiting for the Senate to act first -- returns to work on Tuesday, adjourning Monday when it was obvious the Senate vote would be coming late.

While lawmakers missed their self-imposed deadline, any deep damage to the economy will be minimal if the House and Senate reach a tax and budget deal before the new Congress is sworn in at noon Thursday.

McConnell implored Biden on Sunday to take over direct negotiations, with McConnell preferring his former Senate colleague to Senate Minority Harry Reid (D-Nev.), thinking, I was told by an informed observer, that he could get a better deal.

"I needed a dance partner, so I reached out to the vice president in an effort to get things done," an upbeat McConnell said from the Senate floor on Monday. "And I'm happy to report that the effort has been a successful one."

The House is another matter. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has officially kept a distance from the Senate dealings. "This is all about McConnell and the Democrats," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck told me earlier Monday.

The House is poised to deal with the Senate legislation with expedited procedures. But it's not clear at all that House Republicans will go along with the Senate.

"We made one commitment," Buck reminded me. "Once the Senate passes something, then we will take action."

None of this last-minute stuff speaks well of Congress. This historic New Year's Eve session is not a proud night under the dome.

I asked Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) what she thought of this deadline wrangling as she entered the meeting with Biden.

"I'm speechless," she said. "We could have done this a long time ago."

WASHINGTON--Vice President Joe Biden--trying to sell a deal--with less than three hours left to the fiscal cliff deadline--just entered a meeting with Senate Democrats. Walking in with him to the closed-door session was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the number two leader in the Senate.

"Happy New Year," Biden said three times to the throng of reporters staking out the Democratic caucus. "Don't you all enjoy being here New Year's Eve?"

Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spent much of the last 24 hours negotiating the deal. Biden is making this visit--in a historic New Year's Eve session--because some Democrats worried that Biden gave away too much.

WASHINGTON--Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is being treated for a blood clot in her brain, her doctors said Monday.

The State Department issued a statement by her doctors, Dr. Lisa Bardack and Dr. Gigi El-Bayoumi who said Clinton did not suffer from a stroke and is being treated with blood thinners.

"This is a clot in the vein that is situated in the space between the brain and the skull behind the right ear," the doctors said.

The blood clot was discovered on Sunday, but the State Department did not reveal the location or other detailed information about the diagnosis.

Clinton remains hospitalized at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Here is the full statement from Clinton's doctors:

"In the course of a routine follow-up MRI on Sunday, the scan revealed that a right transverse sinus venous thrombosis had formed. This is a clot in the vein that is situated in the space between the brain and the skull behind the right ear. It did not result in a stroke, or neurological damage.

"To help dissolve this clot, her medical team began treating the Secretary with blood thinners.

"She will be released once the medication dose has been established. In all other aspects of her recovery, the Secretary is making excellent progress and we are confident she will make a full recovery. She is in good spirits, engaging with her doctors, her family, and her staff."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama--joined by people who will be socked by federal tax increases if Congress fails to retain tax breaks expiring at midnight--makes another appeal for lawmakers to make a deal in a just announced 1:30 p.m. ET event.

Obama will deliver remarks about the fiscal cliff in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus. He will be joined by "middle class Americans."




Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 31, 2012
Fiscal Cliff Deadline Day


FISCAL CLIFF NEW YEAR'S EVE AT THE CAPITOL

With fiscal cliff negotiating continuing on Monday, with just hours left to 2012, the Senate convenes at 11 a.m. ET and the House opens for legislative business at 10 a.m. ET.

A note from the GOP House leadership to members sent Monday morning sums up the potentially chaotic nature of the day ahead:


"IMPORTANT SCHEDULER NOTE: Today's schedule remains VERY fluid. Members are
advised to remain close to the Capitol as additional legislation and votes are
possible pending action from the Senate. Please stay as flexible as possible as
we move through the day."

CAN BIDEN SAVE THE DAY?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) asked his former Senate colleague, Vice President Joe Biden, to intervene to help jumpstart stalled negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Biden and McConnell--but the White House is doing so in close coordination with Reid. Reid and Biden are on the same page, but if it is easier for McConnell and Biden to talk, so be it. Never underestimate the power of personal relationships in understanding Congressional deal-making. The communication is better when people who get along are talking.

WHAT'S HAPPENING TODAY

The latest Associated Press story is HERE.

My Monday column lays out the Sunday bargaining in the Senate and what is unrolling for Monday, in this rare, historic New Year's session of Congress. Read my column HERE.

Excerpt:

Will Congress go over the fiscal cliff? Maybe. I lean to the highly likely. But there are degrees of going over. If there is a deal and lawmakers need a bit more time to conclude the paperwork and vote, then the impact of finishing up on Tuesday or Wednesday is minimal; the legislation can be retroactive to Jan. 1. A more pressing deadline is noon Thursday, when the new Congress is sworn in.

DURBIN ON THE FISCAL CLIFF DEADLINE CRUNCH

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), appearing Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation," explained that deadlines force Congressional action. Said Durbin, "I've been around Washington long enough to know that it takes a deadline, it takes a lot of sweat and a lot of worry, and people reach a point where they finally say, "All right, let's try to find a way through this. It's happened before. It could happen again."


WASHINGTON -- Congress returns to work Monday -- with only hours to go until the looming year-end "fiscal cliff" deadline -- with some progress Sunday, but no promise of a deal that could pass the House and Senate.

Almost all of the action Sunday was in the Senate -- behind the scenes, on the Senate floor and in closed-door separate meetings for Democratic and GOP senators.

After negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stalled, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at one point took to the Senate floor to implore Vice President Joe Biden to intervene "to help jump start the negotiations on his side."

By nightfall, Biden and McConnell, I was told, ended up talking at least three times.

I was with a group of reporters who talked to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) after she emerged from the Democratic meeting, where she called the mood "grim."

There are many moving parts to the revenue and spending negotiations.

"It's not like a deal where you pull one lever," Mikulski said. "It's more like a kaleidoscope," where the pieces keep re-arranging themselves.

At this stage, much of the drama in the fiscal cliff negotiations is over the extension of the tax breaks put in place under former President George W. Bush, starting in 2001. Everyone in the nation will pay more if Congress does nothing. The wallet hit for consumers is why the last-ditch talks have more to do taxes than with the far more difficult job of cutting massive long-term government spending.

Here's the latest:

Will Congress go over the fiscal cliff? Maybe. I lean to the highly likely. But there are degrees of going over. If there is a deal and lawmakers need a bit more time to conclude the paperwork and vote, then the impact of finishing up on Tuesday or Wednesday is minimal; the legislation can be retroactive to Jan. 1. A more pressing deadline is noon Thursday, when the new Congress is sworn in.

What happens Monday? The House and the Senate are in session starting Monday morning. Whether they are in the Capitol through New Year's Eve is anybody's guess.

†What happens Tuesday? Well, if taxes go up for everyone at midnight, a Tuesday or Wednesday vote will be a vote for cutting taxes. That may give some members political cover.

What are some of the revenue sticking points? Tax rates: President Barack Obama campaigned for re-election calling for letting taxes rise for households with income above $250,000. He is open to a higher number. Senate Republicans were in the $450,000 to $550,000 income range on Sunday; Democrats countered with $360,000 to $450,000. There was some talk of a surtax for those who earn more than $1 million, said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). The estate tax: Democrats are resisting giving estate tax breaks to about 6,000 people "from the wealthiest families," in the nation, said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

What about the payroll tax break? Under Obama, everyone who has earned income has paid less Social Security tax for the past two years. No one is talking about extending that tax break, so every paycheck in 2013 will be less.

Why did the GOP take Social Security cuts off the table? GOP senators, at their meeting, decided to drop a very contentious proposal, to curb the growth of Social Security by basing cost-of-living boosts to an index called the "chained CPI."

Messing with Social Security at the same time as Republicans were trying to preserve tax breaks for high earners was asking for trouble. Emerging from the meeting, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters, "We cannot win a PR battle where we are holding fast on tax breaks for the wealthiest people versus the chained CPI. It's not a winning hand."

What happens next in the Senate? If Reid and McConnell do not get a compromise on Monday, Reid will try to move a barebones bill to preserve unemployment benefiits and tax breaks for households below $250,000.

What happens next in the House? If the Senate passes a bill, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he will have the House consider it. However, the Senate bill would be subject to amendments -- which means elements could change.

House and Senate Democrats and Republicans held their own meetings on Sunday.

"The House is waiting for the Senate to act," Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) told me as he emerged from his meeting. Boehner declined any comment when he walked out.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) told me, "Right now everything is on hold."

Why is all of this being done on deadline?

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) who ends her Senate career on Thursday, said the 11th-hour negotiations show how dysfunctional Congress is.

"Just when you think it couldn't get much worse, it does. . . . More than anything else, I think it suggests a detachment from the real world. . . . This could all have been avoided," she said.

The Senate had plenty of time to work this out, she said. It's not because "we had so much on our agenda we just couldn't possibly fit this in. That's the travesty. This is a failure of historic proportions.

". . . We have to go back to the art of legislating, governing, compromising, consensus building. It truly is a lost art."

kirk_blog_dec30.jpeg

Above: Sen. Mark Kirk, pre-stroke; Photo by Rich Hein // Sun-Times

Updated....

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), absent from the Senate almost a year because of a stroke, plans a triumphant return next Thursday, walking up the steps of the Senate to be greeted by Vice President Joe Biden, the Sun-Times has learned.

Unless there is a change, Kirk, 53, will make his homecoming on the opening day of the new Congress, when the vice president presides and swears in new members.

Kirk's return to the chamber comes after months of intense rehabilitation following the stroke symptoms on Jan. 21 that were followed by three brain surgeries.

In the past year, Kirk has been seen in public only once --on Nov. 4, when, wearing a brace on his left leg, he climbed 37 flights of stairs at the Willis Tower in downtown Chicago.

Kirk's Senate stair-climb will be a highly symbolic statement of his recovery -- and part of the orchestrated rollout of his return being planned by his office.

(It is possible to avoid most stairs by taking the Senate subway, which connects the Senate office buildings to the Capitol.)

The Associated Press reported that Kirk visited his Senate office for about 30 minutes on Dec. 20 to prepare for his return to active duty.

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who suffered a stroke on Dec. 13, 2006, returning fully to the Senate on Sept. 5, 2007, often uses a scooter to get around.

In February, Kirk started in-patient treatment at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to regain walking and speaking skills. Kirk started out-patient treatment in May, eventually returning to his home in the Fort Sheridan neighborhood of Highland Park.

Kirk has kept a very low profile while in recovery. He has appeared in several videos released by his office providing updates on his condition and videos to back the re-election campaigns of Rep. Bob Dold and Rep. Judy Biggert, both of whom were defeated in November.

In an August video, Kirk appeared to have some partial paralysis of his left side.

Throughout the past year, Kirk has continued to be briefed on Senate business by his staff while working with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on a variety of Illinois issues, including recommendations for a new Chicago-based U.S. attorney.

Last week, the Senate approved a measure, co-sponsored by Kirk, toughening sanctions against Iran in order to deny the nation the ability to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran and Israel have long been a major agenda items for Kirk. He has been silent over the potential nomination by President Barack Obama of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to be Defense secretary; Hagel's opposition to Iran sanctions -- and his positions on Israel and Middle East issues -- are seen as major roadblocks to Senate confirmation.

Kirk defeated then-Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias to be elected to the Senate on Nov. 3, 2010, in unusual balloting where he was up for two spots: to fill the unexpired term of President Barack Obama and for his own six-year term. Kirk was sworn in on Nov. 29, 2010, for the Obama slot and on Jan. 5, 2011, for his complete term.

The vice president's office declined comment.


Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 30, 2012
1 day to the fiscal cliff

BREAKING NEWS: OBAMA ON NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS" SAYS FISCAL CLIFF OFFERS TO GOP "FAIR"

President Barack Obama is making a very rare Sunday talk show stop Sunday morning in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press" host David Gregory. MTP executive producer Betsy Fischer Martin ‏@BetsyMTP is giving us a sneak peak at the news with her tweets:

"Obama says his offers to Republicans "have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me."

"It's been very hard for Boehner & McConnell to accept the fact that taxes on wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit."

"I was modestly optimistic ... but we don't yet see an agreement. Now the pressure's on Congress to produce."

HOUSE, SENATE IN RARE SUNDAY SESSION

The House and Senate are in session on Sunday. It's rare to meet on a Sunday--even rarer on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year's.

COULD THERE BE A FISCAL CLIFF VOTE ON SUNDAY?

Yes, if there is a deal. So far there is no deal.

WILL THE SENATE VOTE EVEN IF THERE IS NO DEAL?

Yes, unless there is a change in the game plan. That's because Obama has called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) to hold an-up-or-down vote in the Senate even if there is no filibuster-proof compromise with the Republicans. Obama is daring the GOP to block a measure to prevent tax hikes for most people in order to preserve tax hikes for the top earners. The Senate Democrats hold the majority, so they have enough votes to push a bill through. Would that result in a bill Obama could sign on Jan. 1? Maybe not, because getting a bill passed only on Democratic Senate voters through the House will be very tough.

My column on Obama's dare is HERE.

Excerpt: "In the event Senate leaders can't cut a deal, Obama called on Reid to ask for an up-or-down vote on a bare-bones package that would avoid tax hikes that would impact almost everyone."


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AP Photo

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama is urging the Illinois General Assembly to legalize gay marriage in his home state as lawmakers are poised to take up the measure as early as this week in Springfield.

"While the president does not weigh in on every measure being considered by state legislatures, he believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect," White House spokesman Shin Inouye told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday.

"As he has said, his personal view is that it's wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships, and want to marry, from doing so. Were the President still in the Illinois State Legislature, he would support this measure that would treat all Illinois couples equally," Inouye said.

The lead sponsors of the "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act," state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), intend to put the measure up for a vote during the upcoming January lame-duck session.

The toughest challenge for gay marriage backers will be winning passage in the Illinois House. Prospects for approval in the Illinois Senate--where Obama once served--are brighter.

The practical impact of Obama urging his home state to legalize gay marriage is to prod--and give political cover to--reluctant Democrats from conservative suburban and Downstate districts.

Both chambers in Springfield are controlled by Democrats. Republicans cannot be depended on for widespread gay marriage support. Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney has reported that Steans and Harris predicted there would be some Republican backing.

Illinois passed a civil union law effective June 1, 2011. When lawmakers took up civil unions, only one Senate Republican voted for the bill--current Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford.

While Obama rarely gets involved in statehouse battles, he has voiced support for gay marriage measures in the past year, issuing -- through his re-election campaign -- statements of support for gay marriage ballot questions up last November in Maine, Maryland and Washington. Those initiatives won, and a Minnesota referendum to ban gay marriage -- which Obama also publicly opposed -- lost.

Obama himself endorsed gay marriage in May after grappling with the issue for several years. "At a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," Obama told ABC's Robin Roberts.

The leading Democrats in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, are urging lawmakers to send Quinn a gay marriage bill he can sign.



WASHINGTON -- The House and Senate will be in session on Sunday to try to avoid the looming Monday fiscal cliff deadline as President Barack Obama is daring GOP senators to filibuster a Democratic-drafted bill.

Obama said after meeting with the four top congressional leaders on Friday that he was "optimistic we may still be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time."

The last-ditch sprint to avert a fiscal crisis will start in the Senate, possibly on Sunday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and their staffs are working this weekend on a filibuster-proof compromise.

In the event the Senate leaders can't cut a deal, Obama called on Reid to ask for an up-or-down vote on a bare-bones package that would avoid tax hikes that would impact almost everyone in the nation.

Democrats hold the majority in the Senate -- but Republicans have leverage because a supermajority of 60 votes are needed to avoid a filibuster threat.

Obama is betting that Republicans don't want to take the heat for blocking a roll call on a bill -- just because it could win with Democratic votes alone.

The Senate Democrats huddle at 3 p.m. Sunday, with GOP senators likely to hold their own conference.

House members are returning from their Christmas break by 6:30 p.m. on Sunday -- to be on stand-by in case the Senate can send them a bill.

Whether any legislation the Senate sends to the House could survive is compounded by the lack of time for lawmakers to digest details.

"We're dealing with big numbers," Reid said from the Senate floor on Friday. "And some of the stuff we do is somewhat complicated."

Obama makes a rare Sunday morning talk show appearance when he guests on NBC's "Meet the Press," where I expect he will press the case for up-and-down votes in the House and Senate.

I bet that few outside of Washington really care about arcane House and Senate rules that govern how bills get to the floor for a vote and in this context will be utterly unsympathetic to congressional procedures that led to the fiscal cliff crisis.

Obama is confident that there is a majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate who do not want the blame for large tax increases that will sock everyone if Congress does nothing.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) guests Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation" to discuss the fiscal cliff stalemate.

Even if the Senate gets a bill to the House, its fate would be uncertain because House members would be -- though not for certain -- able to offer amendments.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are not involved in any weekend negotiations, waiting for the Senate to send them something. Pelosi, after the Friday White House meeting, was asked if her members would back letting tax hikes rise on households with incomes of $400,000 or $500,000 -- more than the $250,000 Obama had campaigned on.

"It's very hard to answer anything in isolation, it depends on what the package is, it depends on what the package is," Pelosi said.

I've spent most of this column on process, because the policy proposals are informed at this stage by what can pass.

While a lot of mega numbers are under discussion -- the size of the automatic federal spending cuts to be imposed if Congress does nothing is $1.2 trillion over 10 years -- the most important numbers are these:

It takes 217 votes in the House, 60 (or maybe this time 50) votes in the Senate to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff.

WASHINGTON--The Obama team is planning a series of downsized, muted events to celebrate the second inauguration of President Barack Obama; the Inaugural Balls--in the past staged in venues across the city--will all be held at the city's massive convention center.

Obama's Jan. 2009 inauguration drew the largest crowd of any event in the history of Washington and in the history of presidential inaugurations, according to the Joint House and Senate Committee in charge of the Inauguration events that take place in the Capitol.

Obama will be sworn-in twice: On Sunday, Jan. 20, because that's the day the Constitution says it has to take place and Monday, a symbolic swearing in for the public.

The 2013 Inauguration is the seventh time the mandated Inauguration date has fallen on a Sunday. Tradition has been each time to hold the celebrations the next day.

As for the downsizing, an Inaugural source told me, "As we plan this year's Inaugural, we are working to create an event that is both celebratory and appropriate given the nation's ongoing economic recovery. This year, by holding a smaller number of Inaugural balls in a centralized location, we'll be able to continue a more than 200-year-old tradition while reducing the burden on local law enforcement and security personnel, as well as on DC residents."

The second inauguration will also be less dramatic because there is no turn-over in the White House and no coverage of a departing president.

Events are planned by the Joint Congressional Committee and the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee, run by the Obama team that managed his campaign. There will also be many private parties, large and small, hosted by special interests who do business in Washington.

As happened in 2009, the Obama team is putting together a VIP package for major donors.

Here's a guide to the major events:


Jan 19th:
National Day of Service
Children's Concert at Convention Center

From Inaugural planners: "Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden will host a concert for America's children and families as part of President Obama's second Inaugural. The concert will take place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on January 19th, the Saturday before the Inauguration. As part of the First Lady and Dr. Biden's ongoing commitment to our military families, the concert will highlight support for military spouses and children, honoring and celebrating their service and sacrifice. ...The concert will once again feature popular young artists. This year's talent and additional details about the concert will be announced in the coming weeks."

Illinois State Society 2013 Inauguration Gala

From the society, founded in 1854: "Once again we will be highlighting our great state, and you will be able to do it all!! Everywhere you go, you will find the sights, sounds, and foods of Illinois. Eight different musical groups, including groups from Chicago, will provide continuous entertainment throughout the evening."

The heavily Illinois-themed event "features multiple open bars, heavy hors d'oeuvres and buffet stations, continuous live music and dancing from 8:30 PM until 1:30 AM."

Jan 20th:
Official Swearing-In Ceremony at the White House.
Press pool coverage


Jan 21st:
Worship Service
Procession to Capitol
Public Swearing-In Ceremony
Inaugural Address
Inaugural luncheon in the Capitol
Parade
Commander-in-Chief's Ball
Inaugural Ball

On the balls, from Inaugural planers: "Though there will be fewer official Inaugural balls than in years past, capacity for this event will be significantly increased--every Hall in the Convention Center will be used."

Jan 22nd:
National Prayer Service


Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 29, 2012
2 days to the fiscal cliff


SPOTLIGHT ON REID AND MCCONNELL

The fiscal cliff ball Saturday is in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who are trying to work out a compromise they can present to their members on Sunday.

It's Saturday and the Senate is at rest and House members are traveling back to Washington in order to be on the job by 6:30 p.m.Sunday.

From McConnell spokesman Don Stewart: "While the House already passed legislation in August to prevent tax hikes (a proposal Sen. McConnell supports), the President and Congressional leaders (Friday) agreed that the Senate must now act. This will require a bipartisan approach. Members of the Senate will continue to work toward producing a bipartisan package in a timely manner to protect American taxpayers and jobs from a massive tax hike in January."


Weather report: Overcast and rainy today, Sunny Sunday. An omen?

On CNN Saturday morning, former FDIC chair Shelia Blair is predicting a deal--with a heavy dose of kicking the can down the road when it comes to meaningful tax reform and deficit reduction. She also predicts Congress will mothball the payroll tax break all earners have been getting for the last two years but will make permanent the tax breaks. The breaks Congress are wrestling with now were put in place starting in 2001 under former President George W. Bush--and reluctantly extended by President Barack Obama in 2010.


As I wrote in my Friday column about the payroll tax:

"If Congress does nothing by Dec. 31, then everyone faces federal income tax hikes in 2013 and a series of spending cuts -- spread over 10 years -- kicks in. Even with a deal, by the way, paychecks will be smaller in 2013 because no one in Congress or the Obama White House is talking about extending the payroll tax cuts in place for the past two years, letting you keep more of your money because of reduced payments for Social Security."

OBAMA SATURDAY ADDRESS: MEET THE DEADLINE

Obama's Saturday address is a rewrite of the Friday statement he made after meeting with the four leaders at the White House. (click below for the entire transcript)

Excerpt:

"We just can't afford a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy. The economy is growing, but keeping it that way means that the folks you sent to Washington have to do their jobs. The housing market is healing, but that could stall if folks are seeing smaller paychecks. The unemployment rate is the lowest it's been since 2008, but already, families and businesses are starting to hold back because of the dysfunction they see in Washington.

"You meet your deadlines and your responsibilities every day. The folks you sent here to serve should do the same. We cannot let Washington politics get in the way of America's progress. We've got to do what it takes to protect the middle class, grow this economy, and move our country forward."

SEN. ROY BLOUNT DELIVERS GOP SATURDAY ADDRESS: FISCAL CLIFF FALL "AVOIDABLE"

Sen. Roy Blount (R-Mo.) in the GOP Saturday address gets to the heart of the disagreement with Obama. Obama wants to let taxes rise on top earners; Republicans do not.

From Blount: "The President's proposal to raise taxes on the top 2 percent of Americans won't even pay one-third of the annual interest that's now owed on this massive $16 trillion debt. In fact, the President's tax hike would only fund the government for eight days. Americans deserve to know: What does the President propose we do for the other 357 days of the year?

"Inaction shouldn't be an option. The problems facing our country are big, but they're not necessarily all that complicated. The President will never have more political capital than he does right now, and the next few days will begin to define his second term. He was elected to lead.

"We still can avoid going over the fiscal cliff if the President and the Democrat-controlled Senate step forward this week and work with Republicans to solve this problem and solve it now."

Click below for Blount transcript.

Senate key to fiscal cliff solution

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WASHINGTON -- After meeting with the four top congressional leaders, President Barack Obama said Friday he was "modestly optimistic" a deal could be made to avoid the looming Monday -- New Year's Eve -- fiscal cliff deadline.

"The American people are watching what we do here," Obama said in the White House briefing room statement, taking no questions after the meeting.

Obama, sounding frustrated, said, "Obviously, their patience is already thin. This is déjà vu all over again. America wonders why it is that in this town, for some reason, you can't get stuff done in an organized timetable; why everything always has to wait until the last minute. Well, we're now at the last minute, and the American people are not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy. Not right now."

With Congress poised to miss the deadline, everyone in the nation who makes any money -- whether earned income or through investments -- will face tax hikes when tax breaks expire Dec. 31. About 2 million will see unemployment benefits end. Some taxes businesses pay will rise.

Also, a series of spending cuts will start to be automatically phased in, about $110 billion a year for 10 years -- that's $1.2 trillion -- with slashes aimed at the Pentagon and almost every federal agency.

Obama announced the framework of how Congress, frozen in inaction, would proceed over the weekend in order to try to get at least a stopgap measure passed.

The contours of such a basic package would probably maintain the tax breaks for 98 percent of earners -- households with incomes below $250,000. Obama had been willing to make the cut-off $400,000 -- but that would only come as part of a bigger, more comprehensive deal.

Obama said legislative action will start in the Senate, where there are better prospects for bipartisan agreement than in the House, where the chances are much lower, partly because of the rules -- formal and informal.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will try again to break the deadlock, negotiating over the weekend.

"But if an agreement isn't reached in time between Senator Reid and Senator McConnell," Obama said, "then I will urge Senator Reid to bring to the floor a basic package for an up-or-down vote -- one that protects the middle class from an income tax hike, extends the vital lifeline of unemployment insurance to 2 million Americans looking for a job, and lays the groundwork for future cooperation on more economic growth and deficit reduction.

"I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities as long as those leaders allow it to actually come to a vote. If members of the House or the Senate want to vote no, they can -- but we should let everybody vote. That's the way this is supposed to work. If you can get a majority in the House and you can get a majority in the Senate, then we should be able to pass a bill."

Obama's plea for that up-or-down vote is not that simple to execute and is a major reason for the congressional impasse.

The House and Senate rarely have an up-or-down vote on any measure.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) governs under the "Hastert Rule," named for former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), which calls for no bill to be called for a vote unless the majority party wants it passed.

The Senate, for practical purposes, does not operate under majority rule. That's because any member can threaten a filibuster. It just takes one. In order to avert a filibuster threat, a measure must have a supermajority -- 60 votes. Democrats hold the majority in the Senate but need GOP votes to get to 60.

For Obama, saying Reid will bring the basic package to the Senate floor for a vote even without a probable 60 votes, the president is daring the Republicans to filibuster the fiscal cliff legislation.

"We've had a constructive meeting," Reid said from the Senate floor. "We certainly hope that something positive will come from that."


THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

_________________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release December 28, 2012

STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

5:52 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. For the past couple of months, I've been working with leaders of both parties to try and forge an agreement that would grow our economy and shrink the deficit -- a balanced plan that would cut spending in a responsible way but also ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more, and, above all, protect our middle class and everybody who is striving to get into the middle class.

I still want to get this done. It's the right thing to do for our families, for our businesses, and for our entire economy. But the hour for immediate action is here. It is now.

We're now at the point where, in just four days, every American's tax rates are scheduled to go up by law. Every American's paycheck will get considerably smaller. And that would be the wrong thing to do for our economy, it would be bad for middle-class families, and it would be bad for businesses that depend on family spending. Fortunately, Congress can prevent it from happening if they act right now.

I just had a good and constructive discussion here at the White House with Senate and House leadership about how to prevent this tax hike on the middle class, and I'm optimistic we may still be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time. Senators Reid and McConnell are working on such an agreement as we speak.

But if an agreement isn't reached in time between Senator Reid and Senator McConnell, then I will urge Senator Reid to bring to the floor a basic package for an up-or-down vote -- one that protects the middle class from an income tax hike, extends the vital lifeline of unemployment insurance to two million Americans looking for a job, and lays the groundwork for future cooperation on more economic growth and deficit reduction.

I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities as long as those leaders allow it to actually come to a vote. If members of the House or the Senate want to vote no, they can -- but we should let everybody vote. That's the way this is supposed to work. If you can get a majority in the House and you can get a majority in the Senate, then we should be able to pass a bill.

So the American people are watching what we do here. Obviously, their patience is already thin. This is déjà vu all over again. America wonders why it is that in this town, for some reason, you can't get stuff done in an organized timetable; why everything always has to wait until the last minute. Well, we're now at the last minute, and the American people are not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy. Not right now.

The economy is growing, but sustaining that trend is going to require elected officials to do their jobs. The housing market is recovering, but that could be impacted if folks are seeing smaller paychecks. The unemployment rate is the lowest it's been since 2008, but already you're seeing businesses and consumers starting to hold back because of the dysfunction that they see in Washington.

Economists, business leaders all think that we're poised to grow in 2013 -- as long as politics in Washington don't get in the way of America's progress.

So we've got to get this done. I just want to repeat -- we had a constructive meeting today. Senators Reid and McConnell are discussing a potential agreement where we can get a bipartisan bill out of the Senate, over to the House and done in a timely fashion so that we've met the December 31st deadline. But given how things have been working in this town, we always have to wait and see until it actually happens. The one thing that the American people should not have to wait and see is some sort of action.

So if we don't see an agreement between the two leaders in the Senate, I expect a bill to go on the floor -- and I've asked Senator Reid to do this -- put a bill on the floor that makes sure that taxes on middle-class families don't go up, that unemployment insurance is still available for two million people, and that lays the groundwork, then, for additional deficit reduction and economic growth steps that we can take in the New Year.

But let's not miss this deadline. That's the bare minimum that we should be able to get done, and it shouldn't be that hard since Democrats and Republicans both say they don't want to see taxes go up on middle-class families.

I just have to repeat -- outside of Washington, nobody understands how it is that this seems to be a repeat pattern over and over again. Ordinary folks, they do their jobs. They meet deadlines. They sit down and they discuss things, and then things happen. If there are disagreements, they sort through the disagreements. The notion that our elected leadership can't do the same thing is mind-boggling to them. It needs to stop.

So I'm modestly optimistic that an agreement can be achieved. Nobody is going to get 100 percent of what they want, but let's make sure that middle-class families and the American economy -- and, in fact, the world economy -- aren't adversely impacted because people can't do their jobs.

Thank you very much, everybody.

END 5:57 P.M. EST

rahm sun-times cover.jpg
Chicago Sun-Times front page, Dec. 28, 2012.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2012 year-in-review is analyzed by Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman in a story highlighted on the front page with featuring a graphic of Emanuel posed as a gladiator--or is it an emperor?

The Spielman lede: "Mayor Rahm Emanuel fell off his political pedestal in 2012, but he dusted himself off, kept moving forward and managed to avoid the sophomore jinx." Read the entire story HERE.


WASHINGTON -- With Congress poised to miss the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff deadline -- and no viable compromise on the table -- President Barack Obama is meeting Friday with the four top congressional leaders.

There are only hours left to make a deal.

While the Senate was at work Thursday, the House was not. Members were told on Thursday afternoon to return to Washington for votes that could start at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Between Sunday night and midnight Monday -- which would make for a historic New Year's Eve session -- is a small amount of time to finalize legislation and have votes -- even for some stopgap measure -- if by chance there was a deal to be made. And nothing was shaping up as promising on Thursday night.

"I don't know time-wise how it could happen now," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) from the Senate floor.

So be braced for going over that fiscal cliff unless some pathways toward a deal are developed over the weekend. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are huddling at 3 p.m. in the Oval Office with Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Reid meets up with Boehner after he peppered him with insults on Thursday in a floor speech, with his comments getting personal. Reid accused Boehner of running a "dictatorship" in the House with Boehner caring "more about keeping his speakership than about keeping the nation on a firm financial footing."

To which Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck replied, Reid "should talk less and legislate more."

The political and policy problem is that there are no legislative proposals that could win approval in both chambers.

Boehner is governing under the "Hastert Rule," named for former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), which means a piece of legislation gets called for a vote only if the ruling party wants it passed. With the rule, Boehner is hostage to about 20 hard-core anti-tax Republicans -- a few of whom won't be around after next Thursday, when the new Congress gets sworn in.

Reid is bound by a Senate rule mandating 60 votes for passage, forcing him to work with Republicans to get that supermajority. That's why if a deal is to be made, it will probably start in the Senate.

Prospects are not promising. A spokesman for Boehner said, "Tomorrow, Speaker Boehner will attend a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House, where he will continue to stress that the House has already passed legislation to avert the entire fiscal cliff, and now the Senate must act." However, that measure passed with only GOP votes.

A spokesman for McConnell said, "Sen. McConnell has been invited to the White House tomorrow to further discuss the president's proposals on the fiscal cliff. He is eager to hear from the president."

Going over the cliff may make it easier to forge a deal -- which may end up more of a short-term Band-Aid than a long-term solution tackling serious cuts in spending.

If Congress does nothing by Dec. 31, then everyone faces federal income tax hikes in 2013 and a series of spending cuts -- spread over 10 years -- kicks in. Even with a deal, by the way, paychecks will be smaller in 2013 because no one in Congress or the Obama White House is talking about extending the payroll tax cuts in place for the past two years, letting you keep more of your money because of reduced payments for Social Security.

Why easier?

While bargaining continues over the income cut-off: $250,000, or $400,000 or $1 million, a vote before Dec. 31 would raise taxes for some top earners. Once the automatic hikes occur, a January vote, whether in the current or new Congress, would be for a tax cut for most people -- which for some Republicans would be easier to do politically.

Another reason: The first thing the new Congress does on Jan. 3 is elect a new Speaker. Boehner may have an easier negotiating hand in this fiscal cliffhanger once he is re-elected.


Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 28, 2012
3 days to the fiscal cliff


BREAKING NEWS: GOP HOUSE MEMBERS MEETING FRIDAY MORNING IN ADVANCE OF OVAL OFFICE HUDDLE

The four top congressional leaders head over to the Oval Office for a 3 p.m. meeting Friday with President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden--in what will be a series of last-ditch efforts to avoid going over the fiscal cliff on Dec. 31--which is increasingly likely.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the meeting very public "political theater" Thursday night over at Fox News "On the Record" hosted by Greta Van Susteren.

By that he means the huddle may be more show than go.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill today:

at 9 a.m., the GOP House members meet in the Capitol.

at 11:30 a.m. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and a group described as "working people" hold a New Year's Eve countdown style press event--yes, with a disco ball--to pressure Republicans to not let tax rates rise for most people in order to preserve tax breaks due to expire Dec. 31 for the top earners.

POISED TO GO OVER THE FISCAL CLIFF

Not many pathways to avoid going over the cliff; it may be easier to make a deal after the fall. My Friday column on this point and more is HERE.

My argument:

Why easier?

While bargaining continues over the income cut-off: $250,000, or $400,000 or $1 million, a vote before Dec. 31 would raise taxes for some top earners. Once the automatic hikes occur, a January vote, whether in the current or new Congress, would be for a tax cut for most people -- which for some Republicans would be easier to do politically.

Another reason: The first thing the new Congress does on Jan. 3 is elect a new Speaker. Boehner may have an easier negotiating hand in this fiscal cliffhanger once he is re-elected.

AN ELEMENT IN A SENATE COMPROMISE

Since it takes a supermajority to pass a measure in the Senate, the majority Democrats have more incentive to negotiate with the minority Republicans. The Hill story is HERE about elements--including over the estate tax--that could woo GOP Senate votes on compromise fiscal cliff legislation.



REFRESHER COURSE: FAQ'S ON THE FISCAL CLIFF

The Washington Post Fiscal Cliff 101 short course is HERE.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama will meet with the four congressional leaders on Friday as Congress on Thursday was poised to miss the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff deadline.

The White House meeting is with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio); House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)


Getting to a deal will be difficult, even with the meeting. A spokesman for Boehner said, "Tomorrow, Speaker Boehner will attend a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House, where he will continue to stress that the House has already passed legislation to avert the entire fiscal cliff and now the Senate must act."

A spokesman for McConnell said, "Sen. McConnell has been invited to the White House tomorrow to further discuss the President's proposals on the fiscal cliff. He is eager to hear from the President."

The Senate is in session this week. House members were told Thursday to return to Washington by 6:30 p.m. Sunday night.


WASHINGTON--House members were told Thursday to return to Washington Sunday night--with only hours remaining to avoid the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff deadline.

House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), via Twitter said "The House will return for legislative business on Sunday, December 30. First votes are expected at 6:30 p.m."

GOP House members learned about the last minute effort to avoid the fiscal cliff during a 2:30 p.m. conference call.


WASHINGTON -- With President Barack Obama back in Washington on Thursday, cutting short his Hawaii vacation to deal with the looming fiscal cliff crisis, the most important question is not over taxes and spending.

The first and most important hurdle: Is House Speaker John Boehner willing to call a vote on a deal negotiated between House and Senate GOP and Democratic leaders and Obama -- a deal that does not have the majority support of the GOP members of the House?

The House speaker has the power to call bills for a vote. Boehner -- with a few exceptions -- operates by what is known here as the "Hastert Rule," named for former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, the Illinois Republican who ran the House between 1999 and 2007.

Under the "Hastert Rule," in order for a measure to advance, it must have the support of the majority of the majority of the members of the House. Hastert discussed his governing principles in a Nov. 12, 2003, speech at the Library of Congress.

"My fifth principle is to please the majority of the majority," Hastert said. "The job of speaker is not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority. . . . On each piece of legislation, I actively seek to bring our party together. I do not feel comfortable scheduling any controversial legislation unless I know we have the votes on our side first."

Boehner last week violated the Hastert Rule when he announced a vote for his "Plan B" fiscal cliff backup plan. He never brought his legislation to the floor for a vote because a rump group of about 20 hard-core anti-tax GOP lawmakers would not back his proposal, which would have let tax rates rise on the few hundred thousand earners in the U.S. with household income over $1 million.

Under a deadline imposed by Congress, a series of tax hikes and spending cuts starts to kick in if lawmakers do not act by Dec. 31. Obama campaigned on letting taxes go up for households making more than $250,000; he said he could go with a $400,000 level.

This lame-duck session of Congress has 241 Republicans and 191 Democrats with three vacancies, including the seat of former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Under this configuration, it takes 217 votes to get a measure passed. The House has passed two bills to avoid the fiscal cliff -- they were with GOP votes only -- but they had no chance of getting Senate approval.

The Senate -- under rules that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to change -- needs a supermajority of 60 votes to pass anything, which means the majority Democrats have to woo some GOP support to get anything done.

With only a few days left, Boehner's threshold decision is whether to allow House members to vote on a measure negotiated between all the parties -- but would only pass with the help of Democratic votes. That decision trumps everything else on the table right now.

The Senate is back from Christmas break on Thursday. Boehner told members he would give them a 48-hour notice to return, which means the earliest anything can happen is Saturday.

On Wednesday afternoon, Boehner and the other GOP House leaders said in a statement that the "Senate first must act" even as the lines of communication remain open."

Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley told me Wednesday that for the first time, he can see Congress so frozen lawmakers run out the clock, "and I never would have said that before."

A new survey by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, found that 79 percent of those polled want lawmakers in Congress to work together to get things done.

That's the majority of the majority.


Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 27, 2012
4 days to the fiscal cliff


BREAKING NEWS SCOOP: GOP CONFERENCE CALL THURSDAY AFTERNOON

Republican House leaders are holding a "members only" conference call at 2:30 p.m. Thursday as the path is not clear to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff by the Dec. 31 deadline. President Barack Obama gets back to the White House at 11:45 a.m. in order to deal with the stalemate.

BOEHNER AND THE HASTERT RULE

Policy and Pragmatism 101: Making the deal means constant tending to the question of whether a negotiated package can make it to the floors of the House and Senate for a vote. The Democrats control the Senate--which means Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) can call a vote--even if he needs GOP support to build a supermajority. In the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has a crucial decision--does he call a bill even if it fails to have support of the majority of his GOP colleagues--which means it would take Democratic votes to pass.

I write about this--and the governing principle named after former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) in my Thursday column; read it HERE.

Excerpt: The Senate -- under rules that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to change -- needs a supermajority of 60 votes to pass anything, which means the majority Democrats have to woo some GOP support to get anything done.

With only a few days left, Boehner's threshold decision is whether to allow House members to vote on a measure negotiated between all the parties -- but would only pass with the help of Democratic votes. That decision trumps everything else on the table right now.

The Senate is back from Christmas break on Thursday. Boehner told members he would give them a 48-hour notice to return, which means the earliest anything can happen is Saturday.

SUN-TIMES DAVID ROEDER: MARKETS AND THE FISCAL CLIFF

Business write David Roeder reports that the markets are braced for Congress going over the fiscal cliff. Read his story HERE.

AT-A-GLANCE: WHAT IF THERE IS NO DEAL

CBS explains some of the consequences if Congress does not act on the fiscal cliff by Dec. 31: Automatic tax hikes and federal government cuts--about $110 billion a year for 10 years in an article HERE.

COMPLICATING MATTERS: HITTING THE DEBT CEILING

Obama threw in the fiscal cliff discussions lifting the debt ceiling, giving him a long-term solution to not being held hostage to the periodic need to raise the debt ceiling--since default is not an option. Now in the mix is the notice Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner gave Congress on Wednesday--that the statutory debt limit will be reached on Dec. 31, 2012.

From the Geithner letter to Congress: "the Treasury Department will shortly begin taking certain extraordinary measures authorized by law to temporarily postpone the date that the United States would otherwise default on its legal obligations.

"These extraordinary measures, which are explained in detail in an appendix​ to this letter, can create approximately $200 billion in headroom under the debt limit. Under normal circumstances, that amount of headroom would last approximately two months. However, given the significant uncertainty that now exists with regard to unresolved tax and spending policies for 2013, it is not possible to predict the effective duration of these measures. At this time, the extent to which the upcoming tax filing season will be delayed as a result of these unresolved policy questions is also uncertain. If left unresolved, the expiring tax provisions and automatic spending cuts, as well as the attendant delays in filing of tax returns, would have the effect of adding some additional time to the duration of the extraordinary measures. Treasury will provide more guidance regarding the expected duration of these measures when the policy outlook becomes clearer."


WASHINGTON--While Congress is deadlocked over solving the looming fiscal cliff crisis, a new survey by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, found that 79 percent of those polled want lawmakers in Congress to work together to get things done.

"As the 2012 presidential election campaign reached its final weeks, we designed this survey to find out what Americans think about the policy issues that the president and new Congress will face, including the fiscal cliff, and what course of action they think we should take to deal with it," said Kirk Wolter, Senior Fellow and Executive Vice President, Survey Research with NORC at the University of Chicago. "We found that a majority of Americans overwhelmingly prefer that their own representatives in D.C. work with others and make compromises, even compromises that include policies that they dislike."

From NORC: The public did not see the budget deficit as the most important problem facing the U.S. right now. According to the survey, when asked about problems facing our country:

- 91.8 percent of respondents said that unemployment is a very important problem

- 74.1 percent of respondents said that the budget deficit is a very important problem

- 55.8 percent of respondents said that inflation is a very important problem

An interesting find: the amount of support to cut defense spending.

According to the survey:

- 35.1 percent said it was ok to increase taxes to cut the federal budget deficit

- 28.5 percent said it was ok to cut spending on domestic programs to cut the budget deficit

- 51.5 percent said it was ok to cut spending on national defense to cut the budget deficit

And there is support for letting taxes rise on the top earners, according to the survey: "While 35.1 percent of respondents support a general increase in taxes to cut the federal budget deficit, 60 percent of our respondents favor increasing the income tax rates for households with more than $250,000 in annual income. A scant six percent propose to reduce the top tax rates."

Surveyed: 1,125 adults was conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago conducted by

- Professor Mark Hansen, University of Chicago

- Professor Andrea Campbell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

- Professor Stephen Ansolabehere, Harvard University

- Professor Benjamin Page, Northwestern University


WASHINGTON -- Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) is quietly building bridges with two key Republicans who may run for president in 2016 -- Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan -- to forge bipartisan immigration reform legislation.

While Congress is consumed with highly partisan fiscal cliff negotiations -- and with the ever-polarizing gun control debate revived in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre -- immigration issues have dropped back for now. But after the new Congress convenes in January, that's expected to change.

I've learned that Gutierrez met Thursday with Rubio, the Florida Republican -- and son of Cuban immigrants -- in his Senate office here. On Dec. 12, Gutierrez huddled with Ryan -- the Wisconsin Republican who was Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate -- at his House office.

"What we did was just kind of catch up," Gutierrez told me. Ryan and Gutierrez decided they want to "explore opportunities to work together." Gutierrez, one of the House leaders on immigration issues -- who has kept constant pressure on President Barack Obama to do more -- is crossing the aisle as Republicans need very much to woo the fast growing number of Hispanic voters -- who in large part rejected the Romney/Ryan ticket.

After the election, Gutierrez saw Ryan at the House gym and suggested they get together. Gutierrez did not pump iron with Ryan, who has an intense workout regime. "I was going to the less physical, less ardous workout," Gutierrez told me.

Despite campaigning against Ryan, Gutierrez has a personal relationship with him and when it comes to immigration, Gutierrez says Ryan "wants to do the right thing."

That Romney talked about "self-deportation" -- and Ryan was part of that ticket -- is not an issue for Gutierrez.

Not well known, Gutierrez noted, is that he and Ryan share some history: In 2005, Ryan was a co-sponsor of bipartisan and bi-cameral comprehensive immigration reform legislation carried in the House by Gutierrez and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). "It wasn't like it was a long line of Republicans supporting it. He's always supported immigration reform," Gutierrez said.

The measure was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). That was the last time lawmakers crossed the aisle to work meaningfully together on immigration reform -- and that mighty effort failed.

Ryan's spokesman, Kevin Selfert, told me Ryan has worked with Gutierrez "in the past to develop bipartisan solutions that would address our broken immigration system. Among the topics discussed during their meeting was how best to build on these past efforts in the 113th Congress."

Gutierrez declined to provide details on the Ryan and Rubio meetings.

"I had a good meeting with Sen. Rubio and I look forward to talking to him against early and often in the New Year. As I have said, he can play a very important role on the immigration issue and will help the Republican Party address the immigration issue in a productive way, in a way that resonates both with Latinos and the rest of America," Gutierrez said.

Alex Conant, Rubio's spokesman confirmed but declined to elaborate on the private meeting. Rubio is deeply engaged in immigration issues and "he really wants to be part of the solution here," Conant said. Besides meeting with Gutierrez , Rubio has also talked with Ryan about immigration issues.

FOOTNOTE: Gutierrez -- who stumped for Obama and spoke at the Democratic National Convention -- is concerned that Obama has not met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus since May 2011.

While Obama last June issued a much welcomed executive order allowing many youths in the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own to stay here -- Gutierrez is speaking out as many of their parents are being deported under the Obama administration. Rubio -- who was working on his own immigration proposals -- was "disappointed" that the Obama White House did not "seek out his advice" before issuing that executive order, Conant said.


Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 2, 2012
5 days to the fiscal cliff

For the latest on the stalled fiscal cliff deal-making, click over to my latest post at the Sun-Times political blog HERE.

Sneak peak: Starbucks is urging workers at the 120-area Washington D.C. shops to write "Come Together" on customer cups on Thursday and Friday.

6 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 25, 2012
6 days to the fiscal cliff

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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, Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2012."
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Click below for transcript

7 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 24, 2012
7 days to the fiscal cliff

One week to go....and on this day before Christmas, with Washington quiet, there is no clear path to avoid the looming Dec. 31 fiscal cliff. Congressional leaders and President Barack Obama will likely return to Washington later this week. Click over to the Sun-Times political blog HERE for my latest fiscal cliff post.

8 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 23, 2012
8 days to the fiscal cliff

Going over the fiscal cliff? For my latest post, click over to the Sun-Times political blog HERE.

9 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 22, 2012
9 days to the fiscal cliff

Washington has emptied out: Congress and President Barack Obama are gone for the Christmas holiday. They may have their vacation cut short to return to deal with the looming fiscal cliff. For my latest post, click over to the Sun-Times political blog HERE.



click below for the transcript

WASHINGTON -- A week after the Sandy Hook school massacre, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre's answer to the latest gun tragedy in the nation was a call to arms.

At a press conference on Friday, LaPierre, who runs the powerful gun rights lobby, urged Congress to pay for armed guards in every school. He blamed the media and the video game industry for gun violence and did not call for any new restrictions on gun owners or buyers.

"The only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said.

The next mass killer is already "waiting in the wings" with an attack on a school already planned, LaPierre said, condemning "gun-free school zones" as magnets for "every insane killer in America."

LaPierre's performance at his press conference was cringe-worthy, with his belligerence remarkable in the wake of the slaughter in Newtown, Conn., which left 27 victims, plus the shooter.

The NRA had pitched the press conference as its opportunity to make a "meaningful contribution" to curb gun violence. "Anyone who thought the NRA was going to come out today and make a commonsense statement about meaningful reform and safety was kidding themselves," said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.).

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a national crusader in curbing gun violence, summed up LaPierre's strange approach well: "Instead of offering solutions to a problem they have helped create, they offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe," Bloomberg said.

Beefing up school security might be a good idea -- but does anyone think Congress is going to bankroll more armed guards?

As Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) noted after LaPierre spoke, there were two armed guards who tried to stop the shooters at Columbine who could not prevent 15 people killed and 23 wounded.

Sad to say -- and LaPierre ignored this -- shooters have killed and wounded people in a lot more places than elementary schools, gunning down in recent years victims at high schools, sprawling college campuses, outside a supermarket, a Sikh temple and in a theater.

LaPierre was critical that there has been no national move to create "an active national database of the mentally ill" given that "the truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters, people that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can ever possibly comprehend them," he said.

But even if we as a society decided to take him up on that suggestion, what good would that database do without more background checks on gun buyers and closing the gun show loophole which allows purchasers to avoid any background checks.

"The NRA's blanket call to arm our schools is really nothing more than a distraction. It's a delay tactic. It's a distraction from the availability of military-style assault weapons on our streets, in our schools, used at malls, used at workplaces, used in movie theaters," Feinstein said.

Vice President Joe Biden is leading an Obama administration task force to come up with proposals -- in just a few weeks -- to curb gun violence. Perhaps a suggestion should be to deal with violent video games manufacturers and with this LaPierre and the Biden team may find some common ground.

Seeking to spread the blame -- and take attention away from the NRA -- LaPierre said the "dirty little truth that the media try the best to conceal" is the violent video game industry exists.

As for the distraction Feinstein mentioned, an example is this: At a time people want to hear about how to stop gun violence, LaPierre beat up on the press. "Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize lawful gun owners."

A strong voice of sanity belongs to Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), whose husband was killed and son wounded by a crazed gunman on a Long Island commuter train -- who with Feinstein is sponsoring assault weapons ban legislation.

Said McCarthy, "the NRA's leadership had an opportunity to help unite the nation behind efforts to reduce gun violence and avert massacres . . . but it instead showed a disconnect between it and the majority of the American people."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama appointed Friday Chicagoan Andrea Lavin Solow to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. She is the wife of Alan Solow, who supported Obama at the start of his political career in Hyde Park and who went on to be a major fund-raiser for his presidential bids.

The Council serves as the governing body of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum here. The museum marks it 20th anniversary in 2013.

From the White House:

Andrea Lavin Solow, Appointee for Member, United States Holocaust Memorial Council

Andrea Lavin Solow serves on the Governing Board of the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center. She is also on the boards of the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers and the Interfaith Youth Core. She is a former member of the Women's Board of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and the Board of Project Interchange. She previously served as Chair of Partnership 2Gether and Vice President of the Hyde Park Jewish Community Center. Ms. Solow received a B.A. from the University of Illinois.

WASHINGTON--The National Rifle Association, breaking its silence Friday in the wake of the Sandy Hook gun massacre in Newtown, Ct., called for armed guards in every school--and less video game violence--and no other proposals dealing with gun control. More gun laws will not "stop a bad guy with a gun." The only thing that will do that, he said, "is a good guy with a gun."

In a press conference lasting about 30 minutes--disrupted twice by anti-NRA demonstrators--NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said the creation by "politicians" of "gun-free school zones" only sends the message to "every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk."

LaPierre said the NRA would assist in training for these school guards and asked Congress to help in funding these positions.

These proposals are probably not what the Obama White House has in mind when it comes to the task force President Barack Obama created--led by Vice President Biden--to come up with proposals in a few weeks to curb gun violence.

Democrats in Congress would not go along with funding an armed-guard at schools only program if it were not coupled with other measures to curb gun violence: more safety checks, closing gun show loopholes, limited the number of bullets in clips.

More from LaPierrre:

"How have our nation's priorities gotten so far out of order? Think about it. We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards. American airports, office buildings, power plants, courthouses, even sports stadiums are all protected by armed security.

"We care about our president, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents. Members of Congress work in offices surrounded by Capitol police officers. Yet when it comes to our most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family, our children, we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless. And the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it. That must change now."

"...The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters, people that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can ever possibly comprehend them.

"They walk among us every single day.

"And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn't planning his attack on a school he's already identified at this very moment? How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave while provoking others to try to make their mark? A dozen more killers? A hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?

"The fact is this. That wouldn't even begin to address the much larger, more lethal criminal class, killers, robbers, rapists, gang members who spread like cancer in every community across our nation. Meanwhile, while that happens, federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40 percent to the lowest levels in a decade.

"So now, due to declined willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals, violent crime is increasing again for the first time in 19 years.

Add another hurricane, terrorist attack or some other natural or man- made disaster, and you've got a recipe for a national nightmare of violence and victimization.

"And here's another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal. There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people through vicious, violent video games with names like "Bulletstorm," "Grand Theft Auto," "Mortal Kombat" and "Splatterhouse." And here's one --it's called "Kindergarten Killers" (sic/Killer). It's been online for 10 years. How come my research staff can find it and all of yours couldn't or didn't want anyone to know you had found it?

Add another hurricane, add another natural disaster, I mean, we have blood-soaked films out there like "American Psycho," "Natural Born Killers." They're aired like propaganda loops on "Splatterdays" and every single day. A thousand music videos -- and you all know this -- portray life as a joke, and they play murder -- portray murder as a way of life. And then they all have the nerve to call it entertainment.

"But is that what it really is? Isn't fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography? In a race to the bottom, media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an even more toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty right into our homes every minute, every day, every hour of every single year.

"A child growing up in America today witnesses 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he or she reaches the ripe old age of 18. And throughout it all, too many in the national media, their corporate owners and their stockholders act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators. Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonized gun owners.


"...Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize lawful gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws and build a national -- (audio break) -- the media calls semiautomatic firearms "machine guns."

"They claim these civilian semiautomatic firearms are used by the military, they tell us that the 223 round is one of the most powerful rifle calibers, when all of these claims are factually untrue. They don't know what they're talking about. Worse, they perpertuate -- perpetuate the dangerous notion that one more gun ban or one more law imposed on peaceful -- peaceable, lawful people will protect us, where 20,000 other laws have failed.

"As brave and heroic and as self-sacrificing as those teachers were in those classrooms, and as prompt and professional and well- trained as those police were when they responded, they were unable, through no fault of their own, unable to stop it.

"As parents, we do everything we can to keep our children safe. It's now time for us to assume responsibility for our schools.

"The only way -- they only way -- to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away or from a minute away?

"Now I can imagine the headlines -- the shocking headlines you'll print tomorrow.

"More guns, you'll claim, are the NRA's answer to everything. Your implication will be that guns are evil and have no place in society, much less in our schools.

"But since when did the gun automatically become a bad word? A gun in the hands of a Secret Service agent protecting our president isn't a bad word. A gun in the hands of a soldier protecting the United States of America isn't a bad word. And when you hear your glass breaking at 3 a.m. and you call 911, you won't be able to pray hard enough for a gun in the hands of a good guy to get there fast enough to protect you.

"So why is the idea of a gun good when it's used to protect the president of our country or our police but bad when it's used to protect our children in our schools? They're our kids. They're our responsibility. And it's not just our duty to protect them; it's our right to protect them.

"You know, five years ago, after the Virginia Tech tragedy, when I said we should put armed security in every school, the media called me crazy. But what if, what if when Adam Lanza started shooting his way in the Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, he'd been confronted by qualified armed security? Will you at least admit it's possible that 26 little kids -- that 26 innocent lives might have been spared that day?

"Is it so important to you that you'd rather continue to risk the alternative? Is the press and the political class here in Washington, D.C. so consumed by fear and hatred of the NRA and American gun owners that you're willing to accept a world where real resistance to evil monsters is a lone, unarmed school principal left to surrender her life -- her life -- to shield those children in her care? No one -- no one -- regardless of personal political prejudice, has the right to impose that sacrifice.

"Ladies and gentlemen, there's no national one-size-fits-all solution to protecting our children. But do know this president zeroed out school emergency planning grants in last year's budget and scrapped Secure Our Schools policing grants in next year's budget. With all the foreign aid the United States does, with all the money in the federal budget, can't we afford to put a police officer in every single school?

"Even if they did that, politicians have no business and no authority denying us the right, the ability and the moral imperative to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm.

"Now, the National Rifle Association knows there are millions of qualified active and retired police, active reserve and retired military, security professionals, certified firefighters, security professionals, rescue personnel, an extraordinary (core/corps ?) of patriotic, trained, qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every single school.

"We can deploy them to protect our kids now. We can immediately make America's schools safer relying on the brave men and women in America's police forces. The budgets -- and you all know this, everyone in the country knows this -- of our local police departments are strained, and the resources are severely limited. But their dedication and courage is second to none, and they can be deployed right now.

"I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation, and to do it now, to make sure that blanket safety is in place when our kids return to school in January.

"Before Congress reconvenes, before we engage in any lengthy debate over legislation, regulation or anything else, as soon as our kids return to school after the holiday break, we need to have every single school in America immediately deploy a protection program proven to work, and by that I mean armed security.

"Right now, today, every school in the United States should plan meetings with parents, school administrators, teachers, local authorities, and draw upon every resource that's out there and available to erect a cordon of protection around our kids right now. Every school is going to have a different solution based on its own unique situation. Every school in America needs to immediately identify, dedicate and deploy the resources necessary to put these security forces in place, though, right now.

"And the National Rifle Association, as America's preeminent trainer of law enforcement and security personnel for the past 50 years -- we have 11,000 police training instructors in the NRA -- is ready, willing and uniquely qualified to help. Our training programs are the most advanced in the world. That expertise must be brought to bear to protect our schools and our children now. We did it for our nation's defense industries and military installations during World War II. We did it for very young kids with our Eddie Eagle child safety program that is throughout the country in schools right now. And we'll do it again today.

"The NRA is going to bring all its knowledge, all its dedication and all its resources to develop a model national school shield emergency response program for every single school in America that wants it.

"From armed security to building design and access control to information technology to student and teacher training, this multifaceted program will be developed by the very best experts in the field," LaPierre said.

WASHINGTON--Sec. of State John Kerry (D-Mass.) will be tapped Friday by President Barack Obama to be the next Secretary of State, the White House confirmed on Friday morning. Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relatons Committee is expected to have an easy Senate confirmation to follow Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is stepping down.

Obama will make the announcement at 1:30 p.m. EST.

The selection of Kerry will trigger a special election in Massachusetts to fill his seat, and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), defeated in the November election by Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) may run again.

The White House--revising an earlier scenario--is not rolling out all the national security second term switches. Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.,) --who surfaced as a front-runner for Secretary of Defense--has had a series of objections floated to his nomination.

WASHINGTON--In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Ct., the National Rifle Association is planning to hold what it is billing as a "major news conference" Friday at 10:45 a.m. ET.

The NRA has basically been silent since the killings last Friday. The NRA said in a statement issued Tuesday, "Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting. The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."


Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 21, 2012
10 days to the fiscal cliff

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) holds a press conference at 10 a.m. est on Friday following his failure last night to get enough GOP votes to pass his fiscal cliff "Plan B." Click HERE for my morning fiscal cliff report over at the Sun-Times politics blog.


FirearmFacts.png

WASHINGTON--A week after the Newtown, Ct. Sandy Hook school massacre--as the nation still mourns--the tragedy is reviving the gun control debate. For a look at the many facts involved, click over to FactCheck.org.


SECOND UPDATE

In the afternoon, the President will deliver a statement on the fiscal cliff in the Brady Press Briefing Room. The President's remarks will be open press.

5:00PM THE PRESIDENT delivers a statement on the fiscal cliff

Brady Press Briefing Room

Open Press


UPDATED:

In the afternoon, the President will make a personnel announcement in the Roosevelt Room. This announcement is pooled press.

1:30PM THE PRESIDENT makes a personnel announcement
Roosevelt Room
Pooled Press (Pre-Set 12:00PM--Final Gather 1:00PM--North Doors of the Palm Room)

WASHINGTON--Such vivid imagery. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) compared House Speaker John Boenher's "Plan B" backup fiscal cliff plan--which the GOP run House is voting on Thursday evening--to the last scene in the movie Thelma and Louise, where they made their suicidal drive off a cliff.

That famous scene--see it here--has outlaws Geena Davis who plays Thelma and Susan Sarandon who is Louise avoiding capture--but at a high cost.

And with that, here's Durbin at a press conference in the Capitol on Thursday:

Said Durbing, "Remember the closing scene in "Thelma & Louise"? Rather than face the reality of what lies ahead, they hit the gas.

"That's what we're hearing from Speaker Boehner now: Hit the gas and go over the cliff. Because what we have are intense negotiations by Speaker Boehner with -- not the president -- his own Republicans, night and day, working to bring over the tea party Republicans to a plan that has no chance, the president has promised to veto. As the majority leader has said, it will not come up for a vote in the Senate.

"It's time for the speaker to wake up to the simple reality that to deal with this national crisis, we have to deal with it on a bipartisan basis. It means that he has to sit down with the president and work out an agreement, not with the tea party Republicans in his caucus. This is a waste of time and tragically unfortunate for this economy, as weak as it is, to be going through these political gyrations a few days before Christmas. This should have been put to bed long ago, but instead what we have from the speaker is a disastrous plan which will hurt working families in Plan B across the country.

"As Chuck Schumer can tell you because he's worked on this, college credit, it's one of the casualties in Plan B. So that working families trying to help their kids get through college aren't going to have that benefit. In addition, the child tax credit, which means so much to low-income working families, is one of the other casualties. And as I understand it, an unrealistic proposal for the estate tax.

"All of these things together tell me that this may be music to the ears -- maybe a Christmas carol to the ears of the tea party Republicans, but it's not good for working families across this country. We really have to say to the speaker, come on, you've got to sit down with your people and tell them it's time to reach an agreement. This idea of passing Plan B is dead on arrival."

WASHINGTON--Democratic Illinois freshmen House members committee assignments were released on Thursday and each of the five newcomers got spots they were seeking: The two military veterans, Reps-elect Tammy Duckworth and Bill Enyart were tapped for the Armed Services panel. Rep.-elect Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) the only GOP Illinois freshman, has been assigned already to two committees.

The rundown:

Agriculture
Congressman-elect Rodney Davis of Illinois

Armed Services

Congresswoman-elect Tammy Duckworth of Illinois
Congressman-elect Bill Enyart of Illinois

Financial Services

Congressman-elect Bill Foster of Illinois

Foreign Affairs

Congressman-elect Brad Schneider of Illinois

Transportation and Infrastructure

Congresswoman-elect Cheri Bustos of Illinois

Congressman-elect Rodney Davis of Illinois

Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley--speaking in Chicago on Thursday--said he was mulling a run for Illinois governor..

AP reported, "Former White House chief of staff Bill Daley says he's seriously thinking about running for Illinois governor.

"The brother of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley spoke Thursday before the civic group City Club of Chicago. In his speech he talked about leadership and his father, former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. Bill Daley also talked about Illinois' fiscal problems including the roughly $95 billion in unfunded pension liability.

"Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has said he'll seek re-election in 2014. The Chicago Democrat says he's ready for any primary challenger."

WASHINGTON--In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, President Barack Obama is saying he wants proposals to curb gun violence by next month: to that end, Vice President Joe Biden--who is leading the task force--on Thursday is meeting with:

"law enforcement leaders from across the country who are on the front lines every day protecting our communities to discuss an effective path forward. The Vice President will be joined by White House officials as well as Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius."


Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 20, 2012
11 days to the fiscal cliff


Obama: I'm Betting The Majority Of Gun Owners Don't Want Weapons Of War On Our Streets


Question to Obama: "Where have you been on gun control?"

WASHINGTON--In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting massacre, President Barack Obama on Wednesday called on Congress to consider measures to curb gun violence in January, creating a working panel--not a commission--led by Vice President Joe Biden to make recommendations.

The Second Amendment right to bear arms, Obama said, does not mean "using a gun" and "common sense" are incompatible ideas.

Speaking in the White House briefing room Obama said his panel--cabinet members and stakeholders "has a very specific task to pull together real reforms right now. I asked Joe to lead this effort in part because he wrote the 1994 crime bill that helped law enforcement bring down the rate of violent crime in this country. That plan -- that bill also included the assault weapons ban that was publicly supported at the time by former presidents, including Ronald Reagan," Obama said.

"The good news is there's already a growing consensus for us to build from. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips. A majority of Americans support laws requiring background checks before all gun purchases so that criminals can't take advantage of legal loopholes to buy a gun from somebody who won't take the responsibility of doing a background check at all.

"I urge the new Congress to hold votes on these measures next year in a timely manner. And considering Congress hasn't confirmed a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in six years, the agency that works most closely with state and local law enforcement to keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals, I'd suggest that they make this a priority early in the year.

Look, like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. This country has a strong tradition of gun ownership that's been handed down from generation to generation. Obviously, across the country there are regional differences. There are differences between how people feel in urban areas and rural areas. And the fact is the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible.

12 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 19, 2012
12 days to the fiscal cliff


SOCIAL SECURITY NOW A FISCAL CLIFF FACTOR: TO DEMOCRATIC IRE

President Barack Obama is drawing fire from his base as Democrats are grappling with lower Social Security cost of living increases Obama is open to as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) on linking Social Security increases to the lower "chained Consumer Price Index" said in a statement, "In order to shield the wealthiest Americans from paying Clinton-era tax rates, Republicans are demanding cuts to programs that benefit the poorest Americans. Inequality in the United States is the worst it has been since the Gilded Age, and their cuts would make it worse, not better.

"One proposal is to reduce Social Security's annual cost-of-living adjustment through the use of the so-called chained CPI. It's a benefit cut - pure and simple - an average earner retiring in 2011 at age 65 would lose $6,000 in benefits over 15 years. It's particularly devastating for women - who live longer, rely more on Social Security, and receive lower benefits.

"At the same time, there are proposals to increase Medicare premium costs - which come directly out of Social Security payments. It's a double hit. With the chained CPI and higher premiums, seniors will have even less for their daily expenses.

"Two out of every three retiree rely on Social Security for the majority of their income, one in three for 90 percent or more. The average monthly benefit is $1,500 ($1,100 for older single women). Every day, I hear from constituents who cannot afford essential items - from hearing aids to food or medicine at the end of the month - because their Social Security check just isn't big enough. For them even a small reduction in their benefits would be devastating.

"If we want to make the Social Security COLA more accurate, we should actually raise it to reflect the increased fixed costs facing seniors, particularly medical costs. We should not put a higher burden on lower-income and middle-class seniors and the millions of American families who depend on their earned benefits. To do so in order to shield the wealthiest Americans from a tax increase is nothing less than immoral."


GOP, DEMOCRATS ARE WORKING OFF DIFFERENT NUMBERS IN FISCAL CLIFF DEBATE

Glenn Kessler, who runs the Washington Post Fact Checker column, runs through the different sets of numbers in play as Democrats and Republicans grapple with fiscal cliff debt, deficit, budget and revenue issues.
Read his column on the "dueling White House and GOP perspectives HERE.

PELOSI, WHITE HOUSE COOL TO BOEHNER "PLAN B" BACKUP PLAN

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to Andrea Mitchell on her MSNBC show after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) unveiled his backup plan, which includes a concession--raising tax rates--albeit on households with income over $1 million. Obama also made a big concession--upping his high earner line to $400,000 from the $250,000 level.

"Speaker Boehner's Plan B does none of the above. Plan B - I would call it "Plan Befuddled." It's really hard to imagine why they even came up with it, unless they just wanted to prove to their Members that unless 218 of them were ready to raise rates, it's not going to pass. The Democrats are not going to give them that success. You can be sure of that.

updated



UPDATED:

At 11:45AM, the President will deliver a statement in the Brady Press Briefing Room about the policy process the Administration will pursue in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. The Vice President will also attend. The President's remarks will be open press.

11:45AM THE PRESIDENT delivers a statement; the VICE PRESIDENT also attends
Brady Press Briefing Room
Open Press

WASHINGTON--Chicago's South Shore Drill team has been selected to march in President Barack Obama's inauguration parade on Jan. 21, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced on Tuesday. More organizations are still being invited to be part of the event. Find out more about the drill team HERE.


Click below for the list of parade participants so far...


WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel defends the gun control record of President Barack Obama in an interview Tuesday with "CBS This Morning" co-host Norah O'Donnell.


"President Obama always stood for the assault weapons ban," said didn't push to renew the ban that expired in 2004 because he was "dealing with a myriad of issues," Emanuel said, interviewed on the set of the show.

Emanuel also did not deny a report by Daniel Klaidman in his book, "Kill or Capture" that he erupted in fury after Attorney General Eric Holder said he would push to reinstate the assault weapon ban.

My column on Emanuel's situational pragmatism on gun control is HERE.

Another example of how limited Mayor Rahm Emanuel's transparency is--for the second time in recent weeks, Emanuel's public schedule does not include out-of-town events--and he is in New York making a major national television appearence.

At issue is not whether these events are open press--but letting the people of Chicago know where the mayor is traveling on non-personal business. On Tuesday morning, Emanuel popped up in New York City, where he appeared on CBS "This Morning" to discuss gun control and defend his own record. For a video clip and story on that, click HERE. A few weeks, ago, Emanuel flew to Washington D.C. to appear at the Saban Forum, another event not on his schedule.


WASHINGTON -- Mayor Rahm Emanuel's call Monday to renew an assault weapons ban in the wake of the Sandy Hook school slaughter demonstrates his situational pragmatism.

In Chicago, Emanuel cited how he stood by the side of former President Bill Clinton when the assault weapons provision was passed and signed into law in 1994, when he was a White House adviser. Attempts to renew the ban -- it expired in September 2004 -- have gotten nowhere in Congress.

The omission here, of course, is a mention from Emanuel of where he stood with President Barack Obama when he was his chief of staff. Or when he was a House member -- and also the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the 2006 cycle.

In January 2010 -- when Emanuel was still Obama's chief of staff -- the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave Obama an "F" on every issue on its gun control scorecard.

Emanuel's personal voting record and legislative initiatives demonstrate a record of being supportive of gun control, but that is only part of his story. The raps on Emanuel and gun control in his leadership positions are multiple: One is that as chair of the DCCC he recruited pro-gun Democrats to run in 2006 -- a decision driven by politics, not policy -- which helped Democrats gain control of the House by winning conservative, pro-gun districts.

Another is that as chief of staff, Emanuel advised the Obama White House to back down from gun issues. Obama called for reinstating the ban during his 2008 presidential campaign, yet it got Attorney General Eric Holder in a jam.


Author Daniel Klaidman wrote in his book "Kill or Capture" that after Holder said he would push for the ban, "Emanuel was furious. He slammed his desk and cursed the attorney general. Holder was only repeating a position Obama had expressed during the campaign, but that was before the White House needed the backing of pro-gun Democrats from red states for their domestic agenda. The chief of staff sent word to Justice that Holder needed to 'shut the ---- up' on guns . . ."

What we don't know yet is what Obama wants to do about curbing gun violence. White House press secretary Jay Carney, who was asked every which way Monday, declined to cite any specific legislative remedies.

In the meantime, Democrats in Congress won't be waiting on Obama, moving ahead on at least an assault weapons ban.

Sen. Dick Durbin announced that he will be holding hearings on Second Amendment gun rights.

"The Supreme Court raised questions about the Second Amendment, what are the protections? What are the responsibilities," Durbin said on Fox News Sunday.

It remains to be seen what Sen. Mark Kirk -- who backed reinstating the assault weapons ban while a House member and took a lead on the issue -- will be doing as one of the few GOP voices for gun control. Kirk is returning to the Senate on Jan. 3, out almost a year after suffering a stroke.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is all over the gun control issue.

What actually will Emanuel -- a master of tactics -- do? Emanuel spokesman Sarah Hamilton told me "he will have targeted public events that educate and stress the importance of passing an assault weapons ban while also working behind the scenes; the same thing he's been doing on gun control bills for the last 20 years."

That's the situation.




Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 18, 2012
13 days to the fiscal cliff


BREAKING NEWS: WHILE SOME PROGRESS WITH WHITE HOUSE, GOP HOUSE DEVELOPING BACKUP PLAN

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is developing a Plan "B" to avoid taxes rising for everyone if Congress does not make a deal by Dec. 31.

MEANWHILE...

President Barack Obama has budged and reportedly is open to having tax rates rise for those with incomes over $400,000--up from the $250,000 he has been talking about. But the GOP and the White House are not in agreement on the balance between raising revenue and cutting spending. Boehner has moved to letting taxes rise for those with income of $1 million and above.

From Boehner spokesman Michael Steel: "Any movement away from the unrealistic offers the President has made previously is a step in the right direction, but a proposal that includes $1.3 trillion in revenue for only $930 billion in spending cuts cannot be considered balanced. We hope to continue discussions with the President so we can reach an agreement that is truly balanced and begins to solve our spending problem."

BOEHNER'S BACKUP PLAN


On Tuesday morning, Boehner is huddling with his Republican House members and will, I am told, "announce that - given the short time before America goes over the 'fiscal cliff' and the White House failure, thus far, to produce a balanced offer - the House will open up a second track and begin work on a 'Plan B' to stop most of the tax hikes on the American people scheduled for January 1.

"The Speaker will continue to work with the president on a broader agreement as he told the president last night in a phone call, but with time running short the House will act as a precautionary measure to ensure taxes don't rise for most Americans on January 1.

"The threat of all current tax rates expiring is too great to not have a backup plan. We're still talking to the White House and are hopeful an agreement will be achieved, but the President must be willing to support a truly balanced approach - his current offer includes $1.3T in revenue and only $850B in net spending cuts."


HERE IS WHAT BOEHNER IS PLANNING TO SAY TO HIS MEMBERS

Excerpt: "Current law has tax rates going up on everyone January 1. The question for us is real simple: How do we stop as many of those rate hikes as possible? And can we ensure the president keeps his promise to the American people to make real spending cuts along with it that will actually address the problem of our debt?

"For weeks, Senate Republicans -- and a growing number of you -- have been pushing for us to pivot to a "Plan B." I think there's a better way. But the White House just can't seem to bring itself to agree to a "balanced" approach, and time is running short. Taxes are going up on EVERYONE on January 1. They're baked into current law. And we have to stop whatever tax rate increases we can. In the absence of an alternative, as of this morning, a "modified Plan B" is the plan.

"At the same time we're moving on "Plan B," we're leaving the door wide open for something better. And I have been clear about that with the president. Plan B is Plan B for a reason. It's a less-than-ideal outcome. I've always believed we can do better.

"During the campaign, the president promised the American people a "balanced" approach to the debt - revenues and spending cuts. And what I offered the president is the definition of balance: a trillion in revenue, and a trillion in spending cuts. Instead of letting tax rates rise on Americans making $250,000 or more, the rates would rise only on those making a million and up. Instead of getting zero spending cuts, we'd get a trillion in spending cuts, mostly from entitlement programs. Most importantly, we'd lock in a process for tax reform and entitlement reform in 2013 - the two big goals we've talked about for years.


"The president hasn't been able to get there. He talked about a "balanced" approach on the campaign trail. What the White House offered yesterday -- $1.3 trillion in revenue for only $850 billion in spending cuts -- cannot be considered balanced. We're going to keep the door open in hopes the president can find a way to support a balanced approach."

NEW POLL: PEOPLE WANT DEAL, DON'T LIKE FISCAL CLIFF OPTIONS

From the Washington Post-ABC News: "Most Americans want President Obama and congressional Republicans to compromise on a budget agreement, though they, too, are unhappy about the options that would avert the "fiscal cliff," according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. For more, click HERE.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), speaking on the Senate floor on Monday on the Sandy Hook school slaughter, said Second Amendment gun rights are not "absolute." In the wake of the latest gun massacre, Durbin announced that he will be holding hearings on the Second Amendment next year.

Durbin Senate speech excerpt: "What will it take for a majority of Americans to speak out for sensible firearms policy in our nation? It will take more than the shootings on streets in Chicago, East St. Louis and cities across the country. And sadly, it will take more than 26 victims, including 20 children, in a Connecticut grade school. The Supreme Court acknowledged that our Second Amendment rights are not absolute. So can we come together and agree that Americans have a right to own and use firearms for sport and self-defense within certain limits?


"Last year it is estimated that 6,000 Americans died because they foolishly were texting while driving. We now have a national campaign to stop texting and driving. To put it in perspective, last year, we also lost 30,000 Americans to guns. It's time for us to view the safety and ownership of guns as seriously as we do the safety and operation of automobiles."

WASHINGTON--House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Barack Obama huddled for 45 minutes Monday at the White House over the looming fiscal cliff deadline.

The meeting, scheduled to start at 11 a.m. est, came after staff for Boehner and Obama met over the weekend.

Boehner has put an important concession on the table: He has proposed allowing tax rates to rise for earners above $1 million. Obama wants the federal income tax rates to rise for those with incomes over $250,000. There is still a wide gap here--but at least there is some movement.


The big question: How welded is each side to their numbers?

A series of automatic tax increases and spending cuts kicks in if Congress does not act by Dec. 31.

WASHINGTON--As mayor of Chicago--where elected officials are expected to embrace gun control measures--Rahm Emanuel is an advocate of gun control. When he was chief of staff for President Barack Obama and the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he saw moving forward on gun legislation as an issue too hot to handle--and made sure Attorney General Eric Holder knew it.

The Emanuel record and the backstory recapped HERE

From Daniel Klaidman's Kill or Capture:

"Now Emanuel had his sights set on Holder. The attorney general had gotten off to a rocky start with the White House with his 'nation of cowards' speech. One week later, Holder stepped into it again. On February 25, (2009) Jim Messina, Emanuel's deputy, walked into his boss's office to inform him of Holder's latest 'gaffe.'At a press conference earlier that day, Holder had told reporters that the administration would push to reinstate the assault-weapons ban, which had expired in 2004. The comments roused the powerful gun lobby and its water carriers on Capitol Hill. 'Senators to Attorney General: Stay Away from Our Guns' read a press release issued by Senator Max Baucus of Montana-a Democrat, no less.

"Emanuel was furious. He slammed his desk and cursed the attorney general. Holder was only repeating a position Obama had expressed during the campaign, but that was before the White House needed the backing of pro-gun Democrats from red states for their domestic agenda. The chief of staff sent word to Justice that Holder needed to 'shut the fuck up' on guns..."

From Jake Tapper
: "The back story on this is important. Emanuel, as a congressman who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (and as such helped recapture the House) came to understand that for many Democratic members of Congress is swing districts, supporting gun control was a liability. The "majority makers," as then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi came to call them, were often from rural or blue collar districts where the NRA was active."

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in the wake of the gun massacre at the Sandy Hook elementary school, we need "a national conversation about safety," gun control and "quiet, calm reflection on the Second Amendment.

"Are there guns that really shouldn't be sold across America? Military assault weapons such as the one involved in this horrific incident in Connecticut?" Durbin said on Fox News Sunday.

Durbin, who backs renewing a ban on assault weapons continued, "Are there high ammunition clips, high capacity ammunition clips that have no value, whatsoever when it comes to sporting and hunting and even self-defense? The person could buy body armor, take that body armor and use it to protect themselves as they kill innocent people.

"Can we have a thoughtful, calm, reflection on these things? And do it in the context of our Second Amendment? I think we need to."

Durbin said he is making an "appeal to the hunters and sportsmen, I know them from Illinois. They are my friends. They are good people. They love their families and hate what they are hearing about Newtown, Connecticut.

"But, they have been largely quiet. This conversation has been dominated in Washington by you know and I know, gun lobbies that have an agenda. We need people, just ordinary Americans, to come together, and speak out, and to sit down and calmly reflect on how far we go. I'm going to be holding a hearing after the first of the year, in about two weeks or so, on this constitutional question. That's the starting point.

"The Supreme Court raised questions about the Second Amendment, what are the protections? What are the responsibilities? Let's spell this out and let's try to do it in a thoughtful way and move forward together. That's what we need."

That the shooter, Adam Lanza, used an assault weapon purchased by his mother--who he shot and killed on Friday--may impact the debate on an assault weapon ban, Durbin said.

"Why in the world would anyone, even Nancy Lanza, need a military assault weapon, designed for the military, that has the capacity to fire off hundreds of rounds? Heartbreaking to hear this coroner speak about these poor little kids, whose bodies were riddled with bullets. For goodness' sakes, can we stop for a moment and reflect on this? I'm all for sport and hunting and self-defense. This goes way beyond that."

"... But I want to sit down and calmly discuss all of the options. I think we need to do this as a nation. That's the only way we can move forward and make sure that there is a lesson to be learned in Newtown, Connecticut."


From Mayor Rahm Emanuel's City Hall: "Chicagoans can now interact with Chicago's 311 system via text message. With this new feature, texting CHICAGO to 311311 allows people to submit a service request, track the progress of the request, and sign-up to receive an email when the issue is resolved. The new system also allows residents to sign up for localized City alerts based on their address."

14 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 17, 2012
14 days to the fiscal cliff


SIGNS OF FISCAL CLIFF MOVEMENT

While the attention of the nation is on the Sandy Hook gun massacre, there are some signs of movement on the looming fiscal cliff deadline. Whether this results in a deal by the Dec. 31 deadline is not clear. The outlines of a deal--dealing with revenues and spending cuts--could still need to be taken in two steps rather than one, with the second coming next year with a new Congress.

Because of the Sandy Hook tragedy, I do not expect much public posturing today--or for the next few days--as the nation mourns with the families in Connecticut. In a strange way, the muted atmosphere may contribute to the debt, deficit and revenue conversation--to get the fiscal cliff matters over with before a renewed debate on gun control begins.

There won't be any campaign-style fiscal cliff events from the White House for a bit.

A SUMMARY OF WHAT A DEAL MAY BE

From the Associated Press: The offer, made Friday after a long impasse between Boehner, R-Ohio, and Obama, calls for about $450 billion in revenue from increasing the top rate on million-dollar-plus income from 35 percent to the Clinton-era rate of 39.6 percent.

The additional revenue required to meet the $1 trillion target would be collected through a rewrite of the tax code next year and by slowing the inflation adjustments made to tax brackets.

In return, Boehner is asking for $1 trillion in spending cuts from government benefit programs like Medicare. Those cuts would defer most of a painful set of across-the-board spending cuts set to slash many domestic programs and the Pentagon budget by 8-9 percent, starting in January.

MOVEMENT ON DEBT LIMIT CEILING?

President Barack Obama is linking resolution of fiscal cliff tax-and-spending measures to his demand for Congress to getting rid of the debt ceiling. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said no way.

On Sunday night, after the Washington Post came out with a story that Boehner would--as part of a deal--suspend it for a year--his office issued an artfully worded statement:

"Folks - I know most of you are rightly covering the Newtown tragedy tonight. For those of you still paying attention to the fiscal cliff, a quick note on the debt limit. The Washington Post has pushed out a highly misleading story tonight. As you all have learned over the last two years, we have a single, simple principle when it comes to the debt limit: increases are tied directly to how much spending the President is willing to cut. This principle remains unchanged and should not surprise anyone who has covered this debate. If you're being asked to look into this - again, highly misleading - story, please feel free to use the quote here, which has been added:

"Our position has not changed," Boehner spokesman Michael S. Steel said Sunday. "Any debt limit increase would require cuts and reforms of a greater amount."


The lead from the Post:

"House Speaker John A. Boehner has offered to push any fight over the federal debt limit off for a year, a concession that would deprive Republicans of leverage in the budget battle but is breathing new life into stalled talks over the year-end "fiscal cliff."


The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 16, 2012
Remarks by the President at Sandy Hook Interfaith Prayer Vigil

Newtown High School

Newtown, Connecticut

8:37 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you, Governor. To all the families, first responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests -- Scripture tells us: "...do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away...inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands."

We gather here in memory of twenty beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school; in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America.

Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts. I can only hope it helps for you to know that you're not alone in your grief; that our world too has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you, we've pulled our children tight. And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide; whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown -- you are not alone.

As these difficult days have unfolded, you've also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice. We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school's staff did not flinch, they did not hesitate. Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy -- they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances -- with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.

We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms, and kept steady through it all, and reassured their students by saying "wait for the good guys, they're coming"; "show me your smile."

And we know that good guys came. The first responders who raced to the scene, helping to guide those in harm's way to safety, and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and trauma because they had a job to do, and others needed them more.

And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren, helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do; one child even trying to encourage a grown-up by saying, "I know karate. So it's okay. I'll lead the way out." (Laughter.)

As a community, you've inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you've looked out for each other, and you've cared for one another, and you've loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered. And with time, and God's grace, that love will see you through.

But we, as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. Someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around. With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves -- our child -- is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice. And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet, we also know that with that child's very first step, and each step after that, they are separating from us; that we won't -- that we can't always be there for them. They'll suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments. And we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear.

And we know we can't do this by ourselves. It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you can't do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation. And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we're counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we're all parents; that they're all our children.

This is our first task -- caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right. That's how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children -- all of them -- safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we're all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I've been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we're honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We're not doing enough. And we will have to change.

Since I've been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we've hugged survivors. The fourth time we've consoled the families of victims. And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America -- victims whose -- much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law -- no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.

But that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that -- then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens -- from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators -- in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

All the world's religions -- so many of them represented here today -- start with a simple question: Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose? We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain; that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it's wealth or power or fame, or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that no matter how good our intentions, we will all stumble sometimes, in some way. We will make mistakes, we will experience hardships. And even when we're trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God's heavenly plans.

There's only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have -- for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child's embrace -- that is true. The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves, and binds us to something larger -- we know that's what matters. We know we're always doing right when we're taking care of them, when we're teaching them well, when we're showing acts of kindness. We don't go wrong when we do that.

That's what we can be sure of. And that's what you, the people of Newtown, have reminded us. That's how you've inspired us. You remind us what matters. And that's what should drive us forward in everything we do, for as long as God sees fit to keep us on this Earth.

"Let the little children come to me," Jesus said, "and do not hinder them -- for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven."

Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Allison.

God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on, and make our country worthy of their memory.

May God bless and keep those we've lost in His heavenly place. May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort. And may He bless and watch over this community, and the United States of America. (Applause.)

END 8:55 P.M. EST

Below, Obama statement Friday from the White House briefing room

WASHINGTON--Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), a leading congressional gun control advocate, is urging President Barack Obama to use his executive power--and his bully pulpit--to curb gun violence. On CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, McCarthy told Candy Crowley Obama needs to issue an"executive order to tighten up the laws that are out there."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), another leader in movement to curb gun violence, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" "I'm going to introduce in the Senate, and the same bill will be introduced in the House -- a bill to ban assault weapons."

McCarthy said she will be working with Feinstein on the legislation. After the 1994 ban expired ten years after it became law, Congress has refused to renew the assault weapon ban.

My column on Obama's reluctance to deal with gun control issues is HERE

WASHINGTON--New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg --a leader in the national gun control movement--on Sunday summed up the ongoing incapability of the U.S. to stop gun violence"

Bloomberg on NBC's "Meet the Press:" "It's so unbelievable, and it only happens in America, and it happens again and again. There was another shooting yesterday, three people killed, I think, in a hospital. We kill people in schools, we kill them in hospitals, we kill them in religious organizations, we kill them when they're young, we kill them when they're old, and we've just got to stop this."

15 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 16, 2012
15 days to the fiscal cliff

My latest on fiscal cliff wrangling is over at the Sun-Times political blog HERE


WASHINGTON--A House ethics probe of Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.)--who is mulling a GOP primary bid for governor in 2013--advanced on Friday over whether Schock improperly solicited a SuperPac donation.

The House Committee on Ethics said in a statement Friday that it would decide its "course of action" with Schock by Jan. 28, 2013.

Schock told the Peoria Journal-Star on Friday that "we feel confident that I didn't do anything wrong," with the first phase of the probe dating back to the summer.

While the panel did not disclose what was at issue, Schock told the paper--and other outlets since the inquiry started earlier this year--that at issue is whether any campaign finance rules were violated when he asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) for a $25,000 donation to the Campaign for Primary Accountability SuperPac.
That SuperPac was backing Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) against Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) in the March Illinois primary which Kinzinger won.

Will Obama lead on guns?

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WASHINGTON -- There is no way that I am going to predict that outrage over the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School will lead to more gun control -- even as President Barack Obama on Friday pledged "meaningful action" in the wake of another tragedy.

What does it take? So far, not Columbine, Colo., in 1999. Not the Washington, D.C., snipers in 2002. Not Virginia Tech in 2007. Not Northern Illinois University in 2008. Not former Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011. Not Aurora, Colo., last July. Not the Sikh Temple near Milwaukee last August. Not the ongoing gun violence back home in Chicago.

If a lawmaker getting shot in the head does not prompt the White House and Congress to act, what will?

You see, Obama has never been a leader when it comes to gun control. Not while a state senator, or U.S. senator from Illinois, as president and candidate for a second term. Gun control -- ever contentious, divisive and polarizing -- was never an issue Obama wanted to embrace.

That's why Obama's call to take "meaningful action" may have some significance -- now that Obama never has to stand for election again.

Gun control foes know that the attention moves on after people are gunned down and all they have to do is wait.

As the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence noted Friday, "If the pattern holds," elected officials, soon after offering sympathies, "will immediately retreat into silence and refuse to engage in any meaningful debate about America's catastrophically flawed gun laws, which directly facilitate one gun massacre after the next."

The group called on Obama "to be a leader in this process and to speak out boldly and directly."

Obama rarely has made gun control any priority. Last October, during the second presidential debate, the one with the town hall format, Obama was asked by a woman, "during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, you stated you wanted to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. What has your administration done or planned to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?"

Obama did not have much to offer in reply at that debate because he never pushed hard to renew a federal assault weapons ban. At that debate, Obama called for doing more to enforce the laws on the books, said background checks have improved and offered that in the future, he would like an assault weapons ban.

"And so what I'm trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally. Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced. But part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence. Because frankly, in my hometown of Chicago, there's an awful lot of violence and they're not using AK-47s. They're using cheap handguns," Obama told the woman.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said "we were moved by President Obama's raw emotion during his remarks today. We are committed to working with him to channel it into the change that is too long overdue."

Obama is going to be pressured mainly by his fellow Democrats, since, the reality is, gun control is more of an issue for Democrats than Republicans.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) is one of the top gun control advocates in Congress, running after her husband was murdered and son injured when a shooter opened fire on a Long Island Rail Road commuter train in 1993.

"Leaders in Washington from both parties, and groups like the NRA, all say that now is not the time to talk about how gun safety laws can save lives in America. I agree, now is not the time to talk about gun laws -- the time for that conversation was long before all those kids in Connecticut died today," McCarthy said in a statement.

McCarthy said she and others will seek to hold Obama to his pledge. "I hope the President's words about taking 'meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this regardless of the politics' stay true as we continue down this road again."

16 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 15, 2012
16 days to the fiscal cliff

For my latest post on the fiscal cliff click over to the Sun-Times political blog HERE.

WASHINGTON--In the wake of the tragic shooting at a Connecticut school, President Barack Obama said Friday,
"As a country, we've been through this too many times, and we're going to have to take meaningful action, regardless of the politics."

Obama, who spoke with emotional pauses--at times dabbing his eyes-- said, "We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years, and each time I learn the news, I react the not as a president but as anybody would, as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there's not a parent in America who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.

"The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.

"Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.

"So our hearts are broken today -- for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost," he said,

Obama said he spoke with Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy about the shootings. Connecticut police said in all 27 people died: 20 children, six adults and the shooter.

Obama also talked to FBI Director Robert Mueller.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama in the Oval Office at 10:30 a.m. when he was notified by Homeland Security adviser, John Brennan about the killings in shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

wh hanukkah 2013.jpeg
Marcia Balonick, Susan Berk, Jill Zipin, Dana Gordon

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House hosted a large Hanukkah party on Thursday for some 600 on the sixth night of the festival. As is the custom, the White House kitchen was koshered for the event. And the crowd sang the brachas, the blessings, as Rabbi Larry Bazer, the Joint Forces Chaplain for the Massachusetts National Guard lit the menorah--damaged during Hurricane Sandy.

Among those attending from Chicago:

Alan and Andrea Solow
Susan Berk
Marcia Balonick
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)
Gerry Newton
Linda Meyer
Dana Gordon
Judd and Linda Miner
Marilyn Katz

Said Obama: "So tonight, as we gather to light the sixth candle of Hanukkah, we remember an enduring story of resilience and optimism. Over 2,000 years ago, a tyrant forbade the Israelites from practicing their religion and his forces desecrated the Holy Temple. So Judah Maccabee gathered a small band of believers to fight this oppression, and against all odds, they prevailed. And the Maccabees liberated Jerusalem and restored the faith of its people. And when they went to reclaim the Temple, the people of Jerusalem received another gift from God -- the oil that should have lasted only one night burned for eight. That miraculous flame brought hope and it sustained the faithful."

And about the menorah:

Said Obama, "The menorah that we're using tonight and the man who will light it are both powerful symbols of that spirit. Six weeks ago, the Temple Israel Synagogue in Long Beach, New York, was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy. But this 90-year-old menorah survived, and I am willing to bet it will survive another 90 years, and another 90 years after that. So tonight, it shines as a symbol of perseverance, and as a reminder of those who are still recovering from Sandy's destruction -- a reminder of resilience and hope and the fact that we will be there for them as they recover."


Click below for the complete transcript.

A White House spokesman told me 600 people were invited for the 2012 Hanukkah reception; in 2011 there were 550 invitees and 550 for 2009.

During the Bush years, there were 265 invitees in 2001; 373 in 2002; 500 in 2003; 387 in 2004; 427 in 2005; 477 in 2006; 584 in 2007; and 520 in 2008.


Rock of Ages Department

My 2011 Hanukkah party report is HERE

My 2010 Hanukkah party report is HERE

My 2009 Hanukkah party report is HERE

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle sat for an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters--televised Friday night (9 p.m. Chicago time, 10 p.m. set) and in excerpts already released, we learned that Malia and Sasha Obama asked their folks what would happen to them if "dad" lost the November election. Malia, a high school freshman, now has a cell phone. The Obamas' also talk about their 20-year marriage. Click HERE for details from ABC.


WASHINGTON -- Embattled U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice took the hit on Thursday, asking President Barack Obama to not nominate her for secretary of state because she would face a bruising confirmation fight -- a headache Obama did not need.

Rice phoned Obama before sending him a letter on Thursday requesting he not consider her to replace departing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The White House confirmed that Rice will be meeting with Obama on Friday afternoon.

The episode represents a win for Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who vowed during the presidential campaign and after that they would block her confirmation if Obama tapped her for the post.

Rice, who is close to the president -- she backed Obama early in his 2008 Democratic primary bid against Clinton, even though she was part of the Bill Clinton White House -- was seen as one of Obama's top choices to replace Clinton.

With Rice out of the picture, the front-runner is seen as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who would be confirmed in an instant.

Rice, wildly popular within the Obama White House, got into trouble with McCain and Graham in the heat of Obama's campaign against Mitt Romney because her initial explanations about the Sept. 11 raid on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where a U.S. ambassador and three other diplomats were murdered, turned out to be incorrect. McCain and Graham were outraged.

After a meeting intended to smooth relations with GOP senators between Rice and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) went poorly, Rice's fate was sealed.

In her letter to Obama, Rice wrote, "If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly -- to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities. That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country.

... Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time."

Obama, in turn, said in a statement, "I have every confidence that Susan has limitless capability to serve our country now and in the years to come, and know that I will continue to rely on her as an adviser and friend.

"While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first."

Obama said at a press conference in November, just after his reelection, that if McCain and Graham have a problem with Rice, "they should go after me."

They did -- through Rice.


17 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 14, 2012
17 days to the fiscal cliff

Still no deal: For my latest post on the looming fiscal cliff deadline, click over to my post at the Sun-Times political blog HERE.

NO SPOILER ALERT. Still no deal.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Thursday the White House has taken off the fiscal cliff negotiating table raising the eligibility age for Medicare--which covers every senior in the nation.

"It's no longer one of the the items being considered by the White House," Durbin said in the Capitol on Thursday.

Seniors in the U.S. get their health insurance through the federal Medicare program starting at age 65.

The White House did not include raising the Medicare age in these current fiscal cliff talks; the notion was floated during the debt ceiling talks of 2011. Congressional Republicans had floated raising the age to get coverage as a way of curbing costs of the program as Congress and the White House wrangle over spending reductions and tax revenues.

Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said raising the Medicare age would not provide significant cost savings, would force many people impacted to pay more out-of-pocket for health insurance for those gap years--if they are not employed--and would merely be a "trophy" for Republicans.

WASHINGTON--House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is heading to the White House on Thursday afternoon for a meeting with President Barack Obama as the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff deadline looms and no progress is being made in negotiations.

Just minutes before Boehner's office confirmed the meeting, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney talked down the tactical importance of face-to-face meetings at the Thursday briefing.

"Every time that you guys seem to think that a physical meeting is the elixir to all our ills, I think it would behoove you to ask the speaker if he believes that or ask the House majority leader if he believes that."

Boehner and Obama met in person last Sunday and talked on the phone at least once this week--on Tuesday.

Susan Rice's letter to President Barack Obama

Updated 5:50 p.m. est

WASHINGTON--Embattled UN Ambassador Susan Rice asked President Barack Obama not to consider her for Secretary of State on Thursday, sparring the president a confirmation fight with GOP senators determined to block her promotion.

Obama said Rice--an early supporter of his presidential bid, where she served as his foreign policy advisor--will continue to serve as UN Ambassador as he heads into a second term.

In a letter to the president Rice wrote, "If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly - to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities. That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country. ... Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time."

Rice was seen to be one of Obama's top choices to replace departing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton--but her explanations about the Sept. 11 raid on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya where four U.S. diplomats died--which proved not to be right--created a confirmation battle with GOP senators.

With Rice out of the picture, a top Obama pick could be Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In a statement Obama deplored the criticism lobbed at Rice.

"I have every confidence that Susan has limitless capability to serve our country now and in the years to come, and know that I will continue to rely on her as an advisor and friend. While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first. The American people can be proud to have a public servant of her caliber and character representing our country," Obama said.

After Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) vowed to block Rice if she was nominated, Obama said in his first press conference after winning re-election "They should go after me."

Five days after the raid, Rice was on five Sunday shows where she said the Benghazi attacks were triggered by an anti-Muslim movie--when not the work of terrorists.

"What happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video," Rice said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Obama asked his cabinet members to remain in place until the looming fiscal cliff crisis is resolved, no wanting to make switches while consumed with negotiations with Congress. Tapping Kerry for Secretary of State means Massachusetts would hold a special election to fill his seat--and potentially give Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who lost his November re-election bid to Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) a chance to run again.

Kerry said in a statement, "I've known and worked closely with Susan Rice not just at the UN, but in my own campaign for President. I've defended her publicly and wouldn't hesitate to do so again because I know her character and I know her commitment.

"She's an extraordinarily capable and dedicated public servant. Today's announcement doesn't change any of that. We should all be grateful that she will continue to serve and contribute at the highest level. As someone who has weathered my share of political attacks and understands on a personal level just how difficult politics can be, I've felt for her throughout these last difficult weeks, but I also know that she will continue to serve with great passion and distinction."


Obama's statement:

"Today, I spoke to Ambassador Susan Rice, and accepted her decision to remove her name from consideration for Secretary of State. For two decades, Susan has proven to be an extraordinarily capable, patriotic, and passionate public servant.

"As my Ambassador to the United Nations, she plays an indispensable role in advancing America's interests. Already, she has secured international support for sanctions against Iran and North Korea, worked to protect the people of Libya, helped achieve an independent South Sudan, stood up for Israel's security and legitimacy, and served as an advocate for UN reform and the human rights of all people. I am grateful that Susan will continue to serve as our Ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my cabinet and national security team, carrying her work forward on all of these and other issues.

"I have every confidence that Susan has limitless capability to serve our country now and in the years to come, and know that I will continue to rely on her as an advisor and friend. While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first. The American people can be proud to have a public servant of her caliber and character representing our country."

Gov. Pat Quinn hosts a fund-raiser from 5:30 - 7:30 Thursday evening at
the Chicago Cultural Center 78 E. Washington St. for an event billed as "a birthday celebration fundraiser in honor of Governor Pat Quinn." Tickets start at $100.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel hits Manny's Deli, 1141S. Jefferson in Chicago sometime between 5:30 - 7:30 pm for "a Holiday Reception in honor of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White" where the mayor is a "special guest."

WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) reactivated on Thursday a statewide panel to screen potential federal judicial candidates.

Kirk and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)--who also has a screening committee--work together on sending recommendations to the White House for nomination. Federal judges also must be confirmed by the Senate.

Kirk's 14 member screening committee is chaired by Peter Baugher of Schopf & Weiss, a Chicago law firm.

Other members:

U.S. Congresswoman Judy Biggert; Former Federal Court Judge Wayne Andersen of JAMS Arbitration, Mediation, and ADR Services; Keith Beyler of the Southern Illinois University School of Law; Roxane Busey of Baker & McKenzie LLP; James Figliulo of Figliulo & Silverman, P.C.; Victor Henderson of Henderson Adam LLC; Larry Kuster of Rammelkamp Bradney P.C.; Lynn Mirabella of Mirabella, Kincaid, Frederick & Mirabella, LLC; James Montana of Vedder Price P.C.; Jennifer Nijman of Nijman Franzetti LLP; Richard Porter of Kirkland & Ellis LLP; Ronald Safer of Schiff Hardin LLP; and Marschall Smith, General Counsel at Archer Daniels Midland Company.

No Deal yet: 18 days to fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 13, 2012
18 days to the fiscal cliff


STILL HEADING TOWARDS THE CLIFF

For my latest post on the fiscal cliff wranglings click over to the Sun-Times HERE

UPDATED:

CORRECTED:

UPDATE:

In the afternoon, the President will do a round of regional interviews with anchors from WPVI, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; WSCV WLTV Univision 23, Miami, Florida; WCCO, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and KCRA, Sacramento, California. These interviews are embargoed until 5PM EST. The interviews, in the Diplomatic Room, are closed press.

3:05PM THE PRESIDENT is interviewed by regional television outlets

Diplomatic Room

Closed Press



WASHINGTON--The American public will be able to witness President Barack Obama getting sworn in for a second term; the Presidential Inaugural Committee said Wednesday the unusual Sunday ceremony will be open to media coverage.

This should not even have been a question--but it was, because the White House would not say--as recently as Tuesday--whether the event could be covered.

"The official swearing-in on Sunday will be open to media coverage," Addie Whisenant, the national spokesman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee told me after I asked her Wednesday about the status of coverage for the historic event.

"We are still working out additional details and logistics and expect to be able to share more about media coverage plans for that ceremony and other Inaugural events soon," she said.

Congress set noon on Jan. 20 as the date terms end for the president and vice president with the switch from March 4 made in the 20th amendment to the Constitution--passed by Congress on March 2, 1932 and ratified on Jan. 23, 1933.

In 2013, Jan. 20 falls on a Sunday--which is why--as per custom--the public festivities--the parade, balls, etc.--are taking place on Monday, Jan. 21, with the swearing-in on the Capitol steps a ceremonial re-enactment.

That's because the Constitution can't be ignored--so the White House is planning for Obama to be sworn-in for his second term on Sunday, Jan. 20.

Questions about whether the press would be able to witness the event were prompted in part by the White House declining to say for days if the event would be open or closed to coverage.

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney dodged the question at the briefing when he was asked, "Can you tell us and the public what the coverage will be of the swearing-in for the President on Sunday for the inauguration?

"I don't believe those decisions have been made," he said.

Ed Henry, the Fox News White House correspondent who is the president of the White House Correspondents Association said in a statement last Friday, "Mindful of the historic nature of this occasion, we expect the White House will continue the long tradition of opening the President's official swearing-in to full press access, and we as an organization are looking forward to working with the administration to make that happen."

According to the House/Senate committee handling inauguration ceremonies, the 2013 inauguration marks the seventh time since 1933 that Jan. 20 in an inauguration year has landed on a Sunday.


WASHINGTON--Take a listen to the video above to get in the holiday spirit with "The President's Own Marine Corps Orchestra" performing on the David Letterman show, led by Colonel Michael J. Colburn, the Director of the Marine Band and Marine Chamber Orchestra




Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 12, 2012
19 days to the fiscal cliff

For the latest on fiscal cliff wrangling, click over to the Sun-Times political blog for my Wednesday post HERE.


Below, Chief Deputy Whip Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) on The Kudlow Report to discuss the looming fiscal cliff crisis. President Barack Obama's world view, said Roskam, "has been created in the state of Illinois, which is a fiscal basket-case today." (1:56 in on the tape)


WASHINGTON -- Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., denied Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu favored Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama, with his comment coming after I asked him about Mayor Rahm Emanuel's criticism of Netanyahu on that very point at a forum here earlier this month.

Relations between Netanyahu and Obama have been strained, and Netanyahu was seen as preferring Romney and meddling in the U.S. presidential election where the Jewish vote was especially important in the battleground states of Ohio and Florida.

Did Netanyahu support Romney? "Categorically no," Oren said.

I questioned Oren about the November election, Netanyahu and Emanuel -- Obama's former chief of staff -- at a reporters lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Emanuel appeared Dec. 1 at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy's annual Saban Forum here, and though Emanuel's comments were off the record, he was outed by the Washington Post's David Ignatius and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Ignatius, at an on-the-record Saban Forum panel later that day -- videotaped and posted at the Brookings website -- asked Olmert about Emanuel's lunchtime remarks, which both men agreed were very "explicit."

Emanuel said, according to Ignatius, "that when Prime Minister Netanyahu came to the Oval Office, he did something that no visitor should ever do, and then he said that Prime Minister Netanyahu had bet on this election, this American election, and had lost."

Olmert, who may challenge Netanyahu in the upcoming Israeli election, also said Netanyahu intervened "into the political process of America."

The Dec. 3 front page of the Israeli paper Yediot Aharonot featured pictures of Netanyahu, Obama and Emanuel -- the son of an Israeli -- and was headlined "Netanyahu bet and lost."

More on that below.

Now let's hear from Oren, who, after I asked, presented a very different perspective on Netanyahu and the U.S. presidential contest.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu went to extraordinary lengths not to be dragged into the U.S. political elections," Oren said. "And here, both parties put out film clips on YouTube that attempted to harness Israel and Israeli leaders into the political situation here. We went to great lengths to keep out of it.

"One of the great challenges we faced was that everything in this country was seen through the prism of election, whereas everything in Israel was seen through the prism of an Iranian nuclear threat. So every time there was some statement here made about the nature of the Iranian nuclear threat, and the prime minister responded and expressed Israel's interest and Israel's perspective, it was immediately misinterpreted here as sort of an illicit attempt to interfere in American political politics, and it wasn't true, it wasn't true."

Oren -- who was present when Emanuel spoke -- said he would not comment about the mayor's remarks because that panel was off the record.

Emanuel's Oval Office reference was probably about a "lecture" on Israel's borders that Netanyahu gave Obama during a joint White House session in 2011.

Later on Tuesday, I talked to someone close to Emanuel about what he said at the forum who told me Emanuel was speaking for himself, not the Obama administration. He stressed that a putdown in the Oval Office -- no matter who is president -- impacts Israel's own security. Israeli prime ministers don't typically play in U.S. politics, and Emanuel hoped for "all his Israeli friends in the room, that their understanding of defense policy and national security capacity is better than their understanding of American politics."

20 days to fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 11, 2012
20 days to the fiscal cliff


For the latest on fiscal cliff negotiations--and on Tuesday the players are talking--see my post at the Sun-Times politics blog HERE.

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WASHINGTON--Almost four years to the day Rod Blagojevich was busted, Chicago Sun-Times political writer Natasha Korecki headlines the City Club of Chicago luncheon on Tuesday to discuss her book about the arrest and two trials of the imprisoned former governor of Illinois--and the related stories the scandal spawned.

Korecki--then the Sun-Times federal court reporter--was on the story from the early morning arrest of Blagojevich on Dec. 9, 2008. Her Agate Publishing book is "Only in Chicago: How the Rod Blagojevich Scandal Engulfed Illinois; Embroiled Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, and Jesse Jackson, Jr.; and Enthralled the Nation."

The City Club lunches are at Maggiano's at 111 W. Grand.


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2010 OBAMA WHITE HOUSE HANUKKAH PARTY FLASHBACK At the White House Hanukkah party: Chicagoans Rabbi Capers C. Funnye, Jr., Marcia Balonick and Jane Ramsey (photo by Lynn Sweet)


WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle are hosting 24 holiday parties this season--with a distinct Christmas theme. On Thursday--on the sixth night of Hanukkah--the Obama White House hosts a festival reception with the invitee list mainly Jewish Americans. Expect little latkes to be served.

Hanukkah messages from the Obama White House 2009-2012 are HERE.

The Obama 2012 Hanukkah message:


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

This Hanukkah season we remember the powerful story of the Maccabees who rose up to liberate their people from oppression. Upon discovering the desecration of their Temple, the believers found only enough oil to light the lamp for one night. And yet it lasted for eight.

Hanukkah is a time to celebrate the faith and customs of the Jewish people, but it is also an opportunity for people of all faiths to recognize the common aspirations we share. This holiday season, let us give thanks for the blessings we enjoy, and remain mindful of those who are suffering. And let us reaffirm our commitment to building a better, more complete world for all.

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

WASHINGTON---State Sen Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields)--running to replace now former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.--has put together a campaign team with a lot of experience running Illinois congressional races. This means a very serious bid is in the works--no matter who is slated by Democratic party bosses.

The field for the special primary election in the 2nd congressional district of Illinois is still taking shape. Whoever is the victor in the February Democratic primary will win the seat in the district so heavily Democratic Jackson easily won re-election even after disappearing last June.

Here is team Hutchinson, from the campaign...

"Polling: Jill Normington of Normington, Petts and Associates. Jill, based in Washington DC is a nationally respected pollster. Her recent Illinois clients include Congressman-elect Brad Schneider, Congresswoman-elect Tammy Duckworth and former Congresswoman Mellissa Bean.

"Direct Mail: Terry Walsh and Pete Giangreco of The Strategy Group. Terry and Pete, based in Evanston, have worked for the past four Democratic nominees for President of the United States including as top advisors to Barack Obama. Their recent Illinois clients include Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Congressman Mike Quigley, Congressman-elect Bill Foster and Congresswoman-elect Tammy Duckworth.

"Media: Ken Snyder and Terrie Pickerill of SP Media Group. Ken and Terrie, based in Chicago, are national media consultants. Their recent Illinois clients include Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Congresswoman-elect Tammy Duckworth, Congressman-elect Bill Enyart and the Illinois Senate Democrats.

"New Media: Mark Nevins, Allison Osborne, and Aaron Hunter of the Dover Group. With offices in Chicago, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Las Vegas the Dover Group is among the biggest names in managing social media and web based campaigns in Democratic politics. They've built award-winning online programs for candidates and campaigns across the country.

"Research: Will Caskey of Third Coast. Will, based in Chicago, is a national opposition researcher. His Illinois clients include the successful special elections of Congressman Mike Quigley and Congressman-Elect Bill Foster, as well as Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle.

"Campaign Manager: Vlad Gutman

"Finance Director: Devin Rankin, a veteran of several congressional and statewide races

"Deputy Finance Director: Sharon Weber, on leave from Nancy Kohn Consulting

"Field Director: Maura Tracy, most recently Brad Schneider's Field Director"


CALLING ALL SECOND DISTRICT CANDIDATES: Send in your staff and consultant team and we'll be glad to post your vitals.

21 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 10, 2012
21 days to the fiscal cliff

President Barack Obama is off to a Detroit car maker on Monday to push tax cuts for the 98 percenters while Washington is looking for positive signs to avoid the fiscal cliff in the wake of an Obama meeting with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Sunday. For this and more, check out my post at the Sun-Times political blog HERE.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

22 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 9, 2012
22 days to the fiscal cliff


Good morning....

The good folks at Saturday Night Live solved the fiscal cliff crisis for us: for that and the latest click over to the Sun-Times political blog HERE for my latest post.

Fiscal cliff count down: 23 days

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 8, 2012
23 days to the fiscal cliff

President Barack Obama and Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio use the Saturday weekly address forum to talk about fiscal cliff issues, as all the players head into the weekend with nothing resolved and the Dec. 31 deadline looming. Watch the videos over at my Fiscal Cliff Notes post at the Sun-Times Political Blog HERE.

Only 24 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 7, 2012
24 days to the fiscal cliff

For the latest on fiscal cliff wrangling and positioning--Vice President Joe Biden lunching with middle class earners on Friday--check out my post at the Sun-Times political blog HERE.

As 2012 winds down...the White House beer brewing video featuring Sam Kass, White House chef, Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives and University of Chicago Lab school alum is the top food video, according to Obamafoodorama, the website of record for food and food policy in the Obama White House. So far, this video has had 511,824 views


(Video by Lynn Sweet)


(Video by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle are hosting 24 parties at the White House through the holiday season. On Wednesday night, I attended the party for print and radio press. Take a look...


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White House Holiday Party for print and radio press, Dec. 5, 2012
(Photos by Lynn Sweet)

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Fiscal cliff count down: 25 days

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 6, 2012
25 days to the fiscal cliff

Still no fiscal cliff deal....(but did you expect one so soon?)

My latest post on fiscal cliff wrangling is over at the Sun-Times political blog HERE.

WASHINGTON--The only thing we know for certain about the future of First Lady Michelle Obama is when she has to move her family out of the White House in January, 2017.

Mrs. Obama has never expressed any interest in running for office--she has signaled quite the opposite--but Public Policy Polling ran a survey pitting Mrs. Obama against Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in a hypothetical match--and Mrs. Obama came out ahead.

From PPP:

- If Michelle Obama decided she wanted to follow the Hillary Clinton route once her husband leaves office in 2016 and go to the Senate, she'd have the upper hand on Mark Kirk. She leads him 51/40 in a hypothetical head to head. Kirk's approval numbers are ok with 34% of voters approving of him to 19% who disapprove. But those numbers are no match for the first lady, who's seen positively by 60% of voters to 33% with a negative one.

-President Obama's home state approval rating is 57% with 41% of voters disapproving- those are solid numbers but he can't match Michelle's popularity.


WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama hosted an exclusive White House dinner on Friday for some of his most elite fund-raisers, including a group from Chicago.

A White House aide confirming the event told me, "As is commonplace with past administrations of both parties, the president hosted a holiday party with supporters Friday evening in the residence. The event was paid for by the Democratic National Committee."

It's the holiday season and Obama and first lady Michelle -- as is routine in prior administrations -- are hosting many holiday receptions at the White House each night for hundreds of attendees. These events are paid for by the DNC and are thrown for members of Congress, for print and broadcast press, for military members, major contributors, stakeholder groups, etc.

The Friday event was much smaller -- for about 200 who were part of the Obama campaign National Finance Committee.

The Chicago group included Vicki Heyman, a co-chair of the Illinois Finance Committee and her husband, Bruce; another Illinois co-chair, Ariel Investments founder John Rogers; Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts; business executives James Crown and Penny Pritzker; and Michael Sacks, CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management and an investor and board member for Wrapports LLC, the owner of Sun-Times Media, publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, top strategist David Axelrod and deputy campaign managers Stephanie Cutter and Julianna Smoot dropped by the event along with White House adviser David Plouffe.

WASHINGTON--Could it be donor fatigue? I've learned the Obama 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee is poised to take corporate money--reversing its self-imposed 2008 ban. The second Obama inauguration--on Jan 21-- will be smaller and far more modest than the first, I am told.

On Nov. 25, 2008, the Obama team announced: "The Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) announced today that it will abide by an unprecedented set of limitations on fundraising as part of President-elect Obama's pledge to put the country on a new path. Unlike previous inaugural committees, the PIC will not accept contributions from corporations, political action committees, current federally-registered lobbyists, non-U.S. citizens and registered foreign agents. The PIC will not accept individual contributions in excess of $50,000. Current law does not restrict the size of donations. In past inaugurations, contribution limits have run as high as $250,000."

26 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 5, 2012
26 days to the fiscal cliff

My latest on fiscal cliff wrangling is over on the Sun-Times political blog HERE.


(Video by Lynn Sweet)


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate "was not a political choice"; his warm personal chemistry with Ryan made it more like a "bromance."

A major mistake by President Barack Obama's team was waiting too long to give fund-raising assistance to the main SuperPAC bolstering Obama's re-election bid.

Those insights came during a conference on the 2012 presidential campaign hosted by Harvard's Institute of Politics, which included the key operatives from the Obama and Romney operations, Romney's GOP primary challengers and strategists who ran SuperPACs.

The "Decision Makers Conference" took place last Wednesday and Thursday with the remarks embargoed until Monday.

Among the findings for the historic record:

♦ Right before Clint Eastwood spoke at the GOP convention -- where he became the story of the night with his surprise talk to an empty chair -- Romney strategist Russ Schreifer asked the actor if indeed he was going to deliver the same remarks he did twice before at fund-raisers. Schreifer said Eastwood "looked at me and said 'yup.' "

♦ While the Obama team saw the selection of Ryan as a gift -- turning the conversation from Obama's record to Ryan's proposals on Medicare and other social safety net programs -- another Romney strategist, Stuart Stevens, said his selection did not reflect some changing theory about the race.

"It was not a political choice," Stevens said. It was "never discussed as such."

Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said as soon as Ryan and Romney started campaigning together, during his daily calls with Romney "it was like talking to your buddy who just met a girl and is giddy." Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said when he saw the chemistry of Ryan and Romney together, he thought, "it was like a bromance."

♦ Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said one of his mistakes -- and a chief regret -- was waiting too long to prod Obama donors to contribute to the main SuperPAC helping the president. And given the Obama campaign's initial reluctance to deal with SuperPACs, when they jumped in, it "looked like a flip flop."

♦ Regarding that damaging video -- where Romney, at a fund-raiser, said 47 percent of Americans were dependent on government -- Rhoades said no one on his side "knew it existed." Romney took the blame for what he said, Rhoades said.

Teddy Goff, Obama's digital director, said there was a downside to the 47 percent tape for his troops: to the extent Obama backers thought the president was becoming a favorite, well, that was "not helpful to us at all."

♦ Romney senior adviser Beth Myers said Romney started debate prep in June -- with the first debate Oct. 3. "He wanted this to be the Manhattan Project" of the campaign, she said. In all, Romney held 16 mock debates.

♦ David Simas, Obama's director of opinion research, said they were confident of the Obama lead in battleground states in part because they had massive samplings -- 9,000 telephone interviews across 10 states most nights.

♦ Brian Baker, the president and general counsel for the Ending Spending Action Fund -- bankrolled by Joe Ricketts, the father of Cubs executives Tom and Laura -- said the SuperPAC never considered funding ads featuring the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Obamas' former pastor -- even through a consultant pitched them on the idea.

Baker said he did not pull the plug because the story leaked to the New York Times. Rather there was no plug to pull; the proposal "was never going to be greenlighted" because there was no "research" showing it would work -- and there was a backfire potential that it would fire up Obama supporters.

27 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 4, 2012
27 days to the fiscal cliff

The latest fiscal cliff wrangling: Click HERE for my post at the Sun-Times politics blog.


WASHINGTON--Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk are sending four names to President Barack Obama on Monday to replace Patrick Fitzgerald as the U.S. attorney in Chicago.

The four --Jonathan Bunge, Zachary Fardon, Lori Lightfoot and Gil Soffer--are all partners in Chicago law firms with experience as federal prosecutors in Chicago.

Neither Durbin, a Democrat, nor Kirk, a Republican are signaling a preference within this group to Obama, Durbin told me when we talked on Monday.

Durbin stressed that he and Kirk worked to make the finalist list a bi-partisan effort, so the same names would be sent to the White House no matter who won the November election.

"We tried to play this right down the middle," Durbin told me.

The names of the finalists were reported Oct. 30 in the Chicago Sun-Times, with their selection the result of a search and evaluation by a nonpartisan committee appointed by Durbin an Kirk and chaired by lawyers Mark Filip and David Coar.

That all the finalists are from Chicago represents a change of direction. Patrick Fitzgerald's selection was fueled in large part by the insistence of former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) for an outsider to get the job.

I asked Durbin about this and he said, "a person's zipcode should not decide the qualifications for this important job. The process was open to people from all over the United States to apply. I think we have four outstanding individuals. The fact that they all have solid roots in Illinois is a plus, not a minus as far as I am concerned."

The search was started last July. The timing of the next phase is up to the White House, which will then vet, or investigate the prospects before Obama taps a nominee. The next step is for the nomination to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee--of which Durbin is a member. From the time Obama sends a nominee to the committee to confirmation could take between two and four months.

Durbin and Kirk agreed in advance that the process would be bi-partisan. The two senators interviewed each prospect individually. Durbin did the interviews in person. Kirk, who is recovering from a stroke and working mainly out of his home near Highland Park is believed to have done the interviews over the phone.

Filip and Coar called their picks a "consensus" decision in an Oct. 9 letter to Durbin and Kirk.

"All have federal prosecutorial experience. None is a career prosecutor only -each has done criminal defense work after having served as a prosecutor. It was the committee's view that the broad range of practical legal experiences of each applicant represented an important asset for a U.S. attorney," the letter said.

"All have good reputations in the legal community. All share the believe (though with slightly differing ordering) that the primary subject matter concerns of the office" should be, the letter said-- ranking them-- violence and drugs followed by public corruption, financial crimes and terrorism.

The contenders:

Bunge is a former deputy chief of the U.S. attorney's general crimes section in Chicago. He now is a partner with Kirkland & Ellis in the law firm's Chicago office. Bunge attended Princeton and the University of Chicago Law School.

Fardon specialized in public corruption cases as federal prosecutor in Chicago and Tennessee. His prosecuted former Illinois Gov. George Ryan and his chief of staff, Scott Fawell. He is now a partner with the Chicago law firm of Latham & Watkins in Chicago. He received his undergraduate and law degree from Vanderbilt University.

Lightfoot is a former federal prosecutor in Chicago and former chief administrator at the Chicago Police Department's Office of Professional Standards. Lightfoot is a partner with the Chicago law firm with the Mayer Brown. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and her law degree from the University of Chicago Law School. She is the only woman and minority on the list.

Soffer is a former federal prosecutor in Chicago who moved on the Justice Department in Washington, where he was an Associate Deputy Attorney General--working for Filip. Gov. Pat Quinn tapped Sofer to serve as a commissioner on the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission. He received his undergraduate degree from Brown and his law degree from Harvard Law School.

Since Fitzgerald's departure this summer, the interim U.S. attorney has been Gary Shapiro, who was Fitzgerald's second-in-command.

28 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 3, 2012
28 days to the fiscal cliff

For what's up in the fiscal cliff dramas, click over to my post at the Sun-Times politics blog.

Obama Dec. 3, 2012 week ahead

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WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama honored Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy at the White House on Sunday night--along with other Kennedy Center honorees--recalling how he played "Sweet Home Chicago" at a previous visit to the White House.

"Today, Buddy is still going strong -- one of the last guardians of the great American blues. And on a personal note, I will never forget Buddy playing "Sweet Home Chicago" in this very room back in February and him, and a few others, forcing me to sing along - -- which was just okay. There aren't too many people who can get me to sing, but Buddy was one of them. And so we are so glad that we can honor him tonight. Congratulations, Buddy Guy," Obama said.

Others honored are: Late Show host David Letterman, actor Dustin Hoffman, dancer Natalia Makarova and
the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin--keyboardist and bassist John Paul Jones, guitarist Jimmy Page, and singer Robert Plant.

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel buys full page Washington Post ad to congratulate Buddy Guy, tout Chicago blues tourism
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Celebs at the White House reception from the pool report: Alex Baldwin, Jack Black, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Richard Goodwin, Itzhak Perlman, Lenny Kravitz, Ray Romano, Aretha Franklin (in stunning pink chiffon ) cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Jimmy Kimmel, Morgan Freeman (in large-brimmed black hat) Kathleen Sebelius, Robert De Niro, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (in light blue dress with lotus print wrap over, choker and chandler earnings) Sen Thad Cochran, rocker Jeff Beck, Sen Kent Conrad in red and black bow tie, Rep John Mica, Jack Lew.

Here's Obama's riff on Buddy Guy: "Growing up as the son of a sharecropper in Louisiana, Buddy Guy made his first guitar out of wires from a window screen -- that worked until his parents started wondering how all the mosquitos were getting in. But Buddy was hooked, and a few years later, he bought a one-way ticket to Chicago to find his heroes -- Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Pretty soon he was broke, hungry and ready to head home. And then, one night outside a blues club, a man pulled up and handed Buddy a salami sandwich and said, "I'm Mud," and "you ain't goin' nowhere." And that was the start of something special.

"Of course, success hasn't changed the humble country boy who used to milk cows on a farm outside Baton Rouge. Buddy tells a story about his son Greg wanting to learn to play the guitar like Prince. Buddy told him he'd better learn some Jimi Hendrix first. It was only after watching a TV special on Hendrix that Greg found out Jimi had borrowed some licks from his dad. So Greg said, "I didn't know you could play like that." And Buddy said, "You never asked."

"Today, Buddy is still going strong -- one of the last guardians of the great American blues. And on a personal note, I will never forget Buddy playing "Sweet Home Chicago" in this very room back in February and him, and a few others, forcing me to sing along - -- which was just okay. There aren't too many people who can get me to sing, but Buddy was one of them. And so we are so glad that we can honor him tonight. Congratulations, Buddy Guy."

Click below for Obama's comments about the other honorees.

WASHINGTON -- The University of Chicago is quietly stepping up its push to land President Barack Obama's presidential library, I was told Saturday.

Top U. of C. honchos are "trying to figure out how to encourage the president and first lady to make the University of Chicago a serious contender," I was told by a source who is knowledgeable about developments to win the library for the U. of C.


University President Robert Zimmer is very interested in securing the library, I was told. Susan Sher, a senior adviser to Zimmer and former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, "has been traveling and looking at other [presidential] libraries," I was told. Sher, who is also an executive vice president for corporate strategy and public affairs at the U. of C. Medical Center, declined comment when I contacted her on Saturday.

The university has been making a below-the-radar play for the library for years -- self-imposing a muzzle for fear of angering the Obama White House and re-election team that did not want to jeopardize his campaign by looking presumptuous.

With the election over -- and a timetable in place for Obama to leave office -- jockeying for the library is expected to break out in the open. Politico's Jennifer Epstein reported about Sher's involvement in the U. of C. library drive on Saturday.

The Obama family and many in their personal, political and donor orbit have close ties to the U. of C.

Obama was a lecturer at the law school; Mrs. Obama was an executive at the U. of C. Medical Center, and their daughters attended the Lab School. Close friend and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett is a former chair of the U. of C. Board of Trustees.

Last July, the Sun-Times reported on concerns raised by U. of C. political science professor Charles Lipson, who worried that a presidential library "would not be a disinterested, scholarly institution," instead advancing a political agenda. U. of C. officials tapped law school Professor Geoffrey Stone to consider Lipson's concerns.

Presidential libraries -- part museum, part archive -- have evolved through the years; there are now 13 of them in the system overseen by the National Archives and Records Administration. The libraries are in essence public-private partnerships with massive private fund-raising needed to bankroll construction. Obama is said to not relish the prospect of having to raise money for a presidential library.

Journalist Jonathan Alter -- a Chicago native -- in his book "The Promise," about Obama's first year, revealed that Obama was mulling an "online library."

Wrote Alter, "In the fall of 2009 University of Chicago officials approached the White House about housing Obama's presidential library. They were told it was too early. To the extent that he had thought about a library, he mused to a friend that maybe it should be an "online library," not bricks-and-mortar. This almost certainly won't happen; the demand for a splashy museum will likely be too great. But it said something about his state of mind."

Obama was born in Hawaii, was partly raised there and the University of Hawaii has been campaigning for the library openly for years.

Where would an Obama library be located? Locations I hear mentioned are west of the U. of C. campus near Washington Park and at the old Michael Reese Hospital compound.

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Washington Post ad, Dec. 2, 2012 (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy, honored Sunday night as a 2012 Kennedy Center honoree, is the subject of a full page ad in the Sunday Washington Post, paid for by the City of Chicago.

Before the show at the Kennedy Center tonight, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle are hosting the seven 2012 honorees at the White House for a reception--full of show biz celebrities.

"From America's blues capital to America's Capitol, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City of Chicago congratulates Buddy Guy," the headline reads.

The ad copy continues, beneath a big picture of Guy by Chicago photographer Paul Natkin, "We are proud that the Kennedy Center and President Barack Obama will pay tribute to Chicago's very own blues pioneer and hometown legend, Buddy Guy."

The ad touts the upcoming 30th annual Chicago Blues Fest, June 6-9 next year and plugs Chicago for blues fans tourists with this: "Visit Chicago - The Blues Capital of the World!"

The ad is sponsored by the City of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

For a quick summary of recent Middle East events: the UN vote on a Palestinian state; Iran, Israel, the rockets hitting Israel and the Iron Dome defenses--Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton comments on them all at a recent speech at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, including her own shuttle diplomacy between Egypt, Israel and the West Bank. Madame Secretary also looks ahead to returning to private life and tells the audience, "one day, I hope to take my grandchildren to visit Israel."

No pressure, Chelsea....



Click below for the transcript

29 days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 2, 2012
29 days to the fiscal cliff

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner dominates the Sunday shows to push the Obama fiscal cliff agenda; Lynn Sweet post on the latest is at the Sun-Times political blog HERE.

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David Axelrod interviewed by Steve Edwards, University of Chicago Institute of Politics Deputy Director for Programming. (photo courtesy of the University of Chicago)


WASHINGTON -- While President Barack Obama's campaign team is doing massive research to figure out how to keep together and re-deploy his volunteer political army, top figures are assessing what they did right -- and where Mitt Romney went wrong.

Here's the latest:

In the short term, it looks like the Obama army is already being prompted to mobilize to help Obama pressure congressional Republicans on "fiscal cliff" issues via the Obama for America website and Twitter feed.

Obama national field director Jeremy Bird said in a Wednesday email more than 1 million campaign supporters answered a survey sent out after the election about what they wanted to do next -- as the data-driven campaign is documenting and analyzing "the work we did over the past 19 months."

Meanwhile, campaign manager Jim Messina and chief strategist David Axelrod are drilling down into the Obama win. Messina has packed up his Chicago apartment -- put everything in storage -- as he spends some time in Tuscany and Montana while he ponders his next move.

Axelrod's next chapter is at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics he is launching; he will serve as its inaugural director. It is patterned after Harvard's Institute of Politics -- where both men were part of a conference on the campaign a few days ago.

At a U. of C. IOP forum last Monday, Axelrod said Romney, by going hard right in the GOP primary, "made a series of Faustian bargains" that helped him clinch the nomination -- but made it harder to win the November election.

Axelrod revealed several developments that surprised him during the campaign:

† The pro-Romney SuperPACs did not hit Obama early by airing attack ads. They "spent an unbelievable amount of money in this race" but "didn't go on the air until May against us. Our greatest fear, frankly, was that they would go up and use their money to attack us in the first three months of the year when we really weren't fortified to respond. I mean, our air defenses were not ready, we just did not have the resources to do that. They gave us a pass."

† The Romney campaign "did not flesh him out in a more substantial way when they had the opportunity to do so," leaving an opening for Obama's team to define his Bain Capital "business practices" as good for Romney and his investors -- but not for most voters.

† Axelrod did not expect Romney to tap Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate. "For the longest time I thought
he might pick Tim Pawlenty," he said of the former Minnesota governor. Or Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, to help in that battleground state. The selection of Ryan "played very much to the base of the party at a time he needed to broaden his appeal."

Messina, at a breakfast session hosted by Politico last week and Axelrod at the U. of C. slammed public polling in the 2012 presidential contest for, among other methodological lapses, not capturing enough cellphone users -- which means missing a lot of young voters who do not have land lines.

Said Axelrod, "Any two kids with an abacus can do a poll at the corner grocery store and some national news organization will cover it as if it's news."

30 Days to the fiscal cliff

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Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 1, 2012
30 days to the fiscal cliff

Lynn Sweet post on the day ahead in the looming fiscal cliff battles is at the Sun-Times politics blog HERE.

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 30, 2012

WEEKEND GUIDANCE AND PRESS SCHEDULE FOR

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2012 AND SUNDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2012

On Saturday, the President has no public events scheduled.

On Sunday, the President and the First Lady will host the Kennedy Center Honorees Reception in the East Room. The President will deliver remarks. The President's remarks are pooled press. Later, the President and the First Lady will attend the Kennedy Center Honors at the Kennedy Center. There will be travel pool coverage.

Saturday's In-Town Travel Pool

Wires: AP, Reuters, Bloomberg

Wire Photos: AP, Reuters, AFP

TV Corr & Crew: ABC

Print: Hearst Newspapers

Radio: ABC

Sunday's In-Town Travel Pool

Wires: AP, Reuters, Bloomberg

Wire Photos: AP, Reuters, AFP

TV Corr & Crew: CBS

Print: The Hill

Radio: AP

Saturday, December 1, 2012

EST

11:00AM Pool Call Time

Sunday, December 2, 2012

EST

9:45AM Pool Call Time

5:20PM THE PRESIDENT delivers remarks at the Kennedy Center Honors Reception

East Room

Pooled Press (Pre-set 3:00PM - Final Gather 4:30PM - North Doors of the Palm Room)

7:30PM THE PRESIDENT and FIRST LADY attend the Kennedy Center Honors

Kennedy Center

Travel Pool Coverage (Gather Time 6:55PM - North Doors of the Palm Room)

**Travel pool should dress in dark suits for this formal event**

Schedule for the Week of December 3, 2012

On Monday, the President will host Prime Minister Boyko Borissov of Bulgaria at the White House. The President welcomes the opportunity to discuss a broad range of bilateral and regional issues during their Oval Office meeting, including Bulgaria's leadership in NATO and its valuable contributions to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The President also looks forward to receiving updates on Bulgaria's investigation into the July 18, 2012 terrorist attack in Burgas and ongoing rule of law and judicial reforms. Then the President will deliver remarks to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) symposium being held at the National Defense University. On the 20th anniversary of the CTR program, the President will note the extraordinary progress that's been made in securing nuclear material, and thank Senators Nunn and Lugar for their longstanding leadership on these issues.

On Tuesday, the President will meet with governors at the White House to discuss the actions we need to take to keep our economy growing and find a balanced approach to reduce our deficit.

On Wednesday, the President will deliver remarks to members of the Business Roundtable. Then the President will deliver remarks at the 2012 Tribal Nations Conference.

On Thursday, the President and the First Family will attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting on the Ellipse.

On Friday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.

###

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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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