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January 2013 Archives

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My post on Ezekiel Emanuel's memoir about growing up in Chicago and Wilmette with his brothers Rahm and Ari is HERE.

Zeke will be on a book tour for his book and hits Chicago on April 5 at the Union League Club, 65 W Jackson Blvd.

Watch the Senate Judiciary Committee gun control hearings live via C-SPAN HERE.



Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) video about their gun trafficking bill, introduced on Wednesday, aimed at reducing straw purchasers--a proposal that could impact gang violence in Chicago, Kirk said in the video. As Congress takes up the debate over measures to curb gun violence, the Kirk-Gillibrand measure is the first bi-partisan bill.

Kirk is also part of a bi-partisan group, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), drafting a measure to expand gun background checks.


Click below for details...


WASHINGTON -- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in an interview Tuesday, defended his handling of the battery failures leading to the grounding of the new Boeing Dreamliner 787 fleet.

LaHood said he made no mistakes -- including on Jan. 11 vouching for the safety of Dreamliners after a fire broke out Jan. 7 in a lithium-ion battery in a JAL 787 parked at Boston's Logan Airport.

On Jan. 16, a 787 made an emergency landing in Japan after a similar battery was smoking, leading to the FAA grounding order the same day.

"People know that I get up every day and think about safety and I think my record over four years shows that," he told me.

LaHood on Tuesday announced his departure, saying he will serve until his successor is confirmed.

The former Peoria lawmaker, a buddy of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was the only Republican in President Barack Obama's Cabinet. Emanuel cleared the way for the appointment when he was Obama's chief of staff. LaHood and Emanuel talk two or three times a week, LaHood told me.

The Dreamliner battery failure is one of the most serious safety issues occurring on LaHood's watch.

Last week, Deborah Hersman, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said "the expectation in aviation is to never experience a fire on board an aircraft. In two weeks' time, we saw two cases of battery failures on the 787 and the grounding of the entire fleet by the FAA. The significance of these events cannot be understated."

I asked LaHood why he vouched for the Dreamliners on Jan. 11 and he said that on that day, "it was safe to fly." After the second battery failed, "it was time for us to say to Boeing, 'Ground those planes, let's do a top to bottom review,' so look it, I have no regrets about any of that."

LaHood said he's had no pressure from Boeing -- headquartered in Chicago -- to try to speed up the various investigations.

"They got to get this right and we want them to get it right," he said.

Would Boeing be crippled if the groundings went on for some time? "No, not at all," LaHood said. "Boeing is a great company. They know how to make airplanes. They will fix this."

I asked LaHood about Hersman's strong remarks.

"It's a completely new plane," LaHood said, commenting on the Dreamliner design. "It's an electronic plane using lithium batteries.

"So the idea that when you develop new technology and you develop a new product, you're not going to have bugs, it's just the way things work."

The prospect of having a battery on fire or smoking on an airplane was horrifying, I said to LaHood.
"That's why we grounded them. . . . All the smartest people in the world are trying to figure out what the fix is here and what went wrong and eventually they will."

On his departure, LaHood told me he met with President Barack Obama about 10 days after the election and told him he was "really conflicted" over whether he wanted to stay for a second term because he loved the job.

Obama "asked me to think about it for a while, which I did," but his wife of 45 years, Kathy, was "ready for me to move on," so LaHood, 67, will soon start the next chapter of his life.

LaHood will still call Peoria home, but will be anchored in D.C. as he scouts out business opportunities, perhaps serving on corporate boards. One of his sons, Darin, is a GOP state senator from a central Illinois district.

Through his tenure, LaHood has done very well for Illinois, sending federal dollars home for high-speed rail, O'Hare Airport modernization, Emanuel's river walk and last week granting final federal approval of the Elgin-O'Hare toll road.

And if you are wondering: Last March, LaHood pulled a GOP Illinois primary ballot -- voting for his son, but not a GOP presidential candidate. In November, LaHood voted for Obama.

WASHINGTON--Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle hits Washington on Wednesday for a Governing Magazine panel on "How to Build the Good Life - A conversation with local government leaders on how to fashion livable, viable communities."

Others on the panel:
Bob Buckhorn, Mayor, Tampa, Florida
Lisa Wong, Mayor, Fitchburg, Massachusetts
Mark Funkhouser, Ph.D., Director, The Governing Institute, former mayor, Kansas City, Missouri

The event is being held at the National Press Club.

Presckwinkle was in Washington over for the Jan. 21 inauguration of President Barack Obama and associated events.

WASHINGTON--A group of Chicagoans who are protesting closings of Chicago Public Schools are trying to prod Education Secretary Arne Duncan to intervene, appearing Tuesday at a meeting at the department here. Duncan is the former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.

The Chicagoans making the trip were organized by the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), a South Side group and Action Now, a community organization based on the near West Side. Activists from 18 cities in all are expected to be at the afternoon meeting.

The Chicago group is using several strategies to address the closings, including raising questions over whether shuttering neighborhood schools violate the civil rights of the minority communities impacted.

"It is crucial that policymakers hear the issues, recognize the discriminatory and destabilizing impact these closings and turnarounds have brought about and take immediate steps to put a moratorium on school closings to stop the divestment in our youth," the Rev. Krista Alston, a KOCO leader said in a statement.

An Education Department spokesman told me Monday Duncan is expected to stop by the meeting and that federal options to prevent local school closings were limited.

WASHINGTON--Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told his staff Tuesday that he was stepping down, staying until his President Barack Obama's replacement is confirmed. LaHood, from Peoria, is a former Illinois lawmaker--who grew close to Mayor Rahm Emanuel when they both served in the House. LaHood was a champion of high-speed rail and led a campaign against Distracted Driving.

Obama, who got to know LaHood when he was an Illinois senator, said in a statement, "I want to thank Secretary LaHood for his dedication, his hard work, and his years of service to the American people - including the outstanding work he's done over the last four years as Secretary of Transportation. I also want to thank Ray for his friendship.

"Years ago, we were drawn together by a shared belief that those of us in public service owe an allegiance not to party or faction, but to the people we were elected to represent. And Ray has never wavered in that belief. As Secretary of Transportation, he has fought to create jobs and grow our economy by rebuilding our roads, bridges and transit systems. Under his leadership, we have made significant investments in our passenger rail system and laid the groundwork for the high-speed rail network of the future.

"And every American who travels by air, rail or highway can thank Ray for his commitment to making our entire transportation system safer and stronger. I am grateful to Ray for everything he's done, and I wish him only the best going forward.

Obama tapped another Republican, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to be his Defense Secretary in his second term; his confirmation hearing is Thursday.

One of LaHood's sons, Darin, is a GOP state senator, representing a Central Illinois district.

Below, the e-mail LaHood sent Tuesday morning, announcing his departure:


From: Message From The Secretary (OST)
Sent: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 9:36 AM
Subject: Second Term Announcement - Thank You for Four Extraordinary Years

TO: All DOT Employees and Contractors

FROM: Ray LaHood

I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the Department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity. I plan to stay on until my successor is confirmed to ensure a smooth transition for the Department and all the important work we still have to do.

As I look back on the past four years, I am proud of what we have accomplished together in so many important areas. But what I am most proud of is the DOT team. You exemplify the best of public service, and I truly appreciate all that you have done to make America better, to make your communities better, and to make DOT better.

Our achievements are significant. We have put safety front and center with the Distracted Driving Initiative and a rule to combat pilot fatigue that was decades in the making. We have made great progress in improving the safety of our transit systems, pipelines, and highways, and in reducing roadway fatalities to historic lows. We have strengthened consumer protections with new regulations on buses, trucks, and airlines.

We helped jumpstart the economy and put our fellow Americans back to work with $48 billion in transportation funding from the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009, and awarded over $2.7 billion in TIGER grants to 130 transportation projects across the Nation. We have made unprecedented investments in our nation's ports. And we have put aviation on a sounder footing with the FAA reauthorization, and secured funding in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act to help States build and repair their roads, bridges and transit systems.

And to further secure our future, we have taken transportation into the 21st century with CAFE Standards, NextGen, and our investments in passenger and High-Speed Rail. What's more, we have provided the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with the funding and leadership it needs to prepare a new generation of midshipmen to meet our country's rapidly-evolving defense and maritime transportation needs.

Closer to home, we also have made great strides. In December, the DOT was recognized as the most improved agency in the entire Federal government in the 2012 "Best Places to Work" rankings published by the Partnership of Public Service. Even more impressive, DOT was ranked 9th out of the 19 largest agencies in the government.

Each of these remarkable accomplishments is a tribute your hard work, creativity, commitment to excellence, and most of all, your dedication to our country. DOT is fortunate to have such an extraordinary group of public servants. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you as the selection and confirmation process of the next transportation secretary moves forward. Now is not the time to let up - we still have a number of critical safety goals to accomplish and still more work to do on the implementation of MAP-21.

I've told President Obama, and I've told many of you, that this is the best job I've ever had. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to work with all of you and I'm confident that DOT will continue to achieve great things in the future.

Thank you, and God bless you.


WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain is back on board when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform, though he may argue he never really strayed. That's what I was thinking as I watched Monday what has become the rarest of events on Capitol Hill: a bipartisan group of senators actually agreeing to something major.

"We've been down this road before, but I feel very good about our chances this time," Sen. Dick Durbin said at a press conference called to highlight the bipartisan "framework" of an immigration deal reached between eight senators -- four Democrats and four Republicans, including Durbin and McCain.

After years of false starts, the 2012 election results -- where Hispanics overwhelming voted for President Barack Obama -- are bringing Republicans to the bargaining table. Obama delivers a speech Tuesday in Las Vegas outlining his comprehensive immigration plans, expected to be close to what the senators are proposing.

There is a deep sense of urgency fueling the push for Congress to pass immigration reform, with Obama and backers wanting to move fast, before Republicans forget that key lesson of the 2012 presidential election.

"We still have a long way to go, but this bipartisan blueprint is a major breakthrough," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Schumer said it would take into March to draft legislation based on the broad outline released on Monday.

McCain in 2006 teamed up with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy to champion a bipartisan immigration plan -- which went nowhere even with the support of then President George W. Bush in a Congress where both chambers were controlled by Republicans. Running for president in 2008, McCain's GOP primary rivals beat him up over immigration, especially his alliance with the liberal Kennedy. Up for re-election in Arizona in 2010, McCain became an immigration hard liner.


He even walked away from the DREAM Act, Durbin's quest of more than a dozen years, to allow youths in the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own to stay.

But that's old news. On Monday, McCain was back on the ground floor, invested in pushing a plan that included a path to citizenship for the 11.5 million people living in the U.S. illegally.

McCain called the legislative framework "a first step in what will continue to be difficult but achievable. And I don't think I have to remind anyone the last major attempt was over six years ago. Now we will again attempt to commit the remaining resources needed to secure the border, modernize and streamline our current immigration system and create a tough but fair path to citizenship for those here illegally."

A key element of the bipartisan pact -- and what may end up being very contentious -- is making the "tough but fair" path to citizenship contingent on securing the borders. Who would decide when this mission is complete? A commission of Southwest border state governors, attorney generals and civic leaders.

Durbin and Schumer briefed Obama on the Senate plan on Sunday. I asked Durbin if Obama will have some differences with the bipartisan blueprint and he told me that Obama "believes that we have invested dramatically in border security and that I think he is skeptical there is much return on additional investment."

Missing from the bipartisan framework are provisions for uniting gay partners and families. Durbin told me that was a "a tactical decision." All the Democrats support the concept and if it is not part of the base bill, an amendment may be offered later on.

FOOTNOTE: The immigration gang of eight also includes GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez (N.J.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.).

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Senators at Immigration Press Conference in the Capitol, Jan. 28, 2013, from left: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.); Sen. John McCain (R-Az.); Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.); Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) (photo by Lynn Sweet)


Sen. Dick Durbin, on the bi-partisan immigration proposals. (video by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--A bi-partisan group of Senators, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) unveiled a comprehensive immigration reform plan on Monday, with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) optimistic that "this will be the year Congress finally gets it done."

"We've been down this road before, but I feel very good about our chances this time," Durbin said at a press conference in the Capitol.

After years of false starts, the 2012 election results--where Hispanics overwhelming voted for President Barack Obama--are bringing Republicans to the bargaining table. Obama delivers a speech Tuesday in Las Vegas outlining his comprehensive immigration plan--which is expected to be close to what the senators are proposing.

"We still have a long way to go, but this bipartisan blueprint is a major breakthrough. It's our hope that these principles can be turned into legislation by March and have a markup by Chairman Leahy's committee with the goal of passage out of the Senate by late spring or summer,'" Schumer said.

"Senator Durbin and I spoke to the president yesterday to update him on this group's progress, and he couldn't be more pleased. He strongly supports this effort. The key to our compromise is to recognize that Americans overwhelmingly oppose illegal immigration and support legal immigration.

"...Other bipartisan groups of senators have stood in the same spot before, trumpeting similar proposals. But we believe this will be the year Congress finally gets it done," Schumer said.

McCain, who in 2006 worked with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) to pass a bi-partisan plan which had the support of former President George W. Bush--called the plan "a first step in what will continue to be difficult but achievable. And I don't think I have to remind anyone the last major attempt was over six years ago. Now we will again attempt to commit the remaining resources needed to secure the border, modernize and streamline our current immigration system and create a tough but fair path to citizenship for those here illegally."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel hit the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on Friday and stayed for part of the weekend. City Hall spokesman Sarah Hamilton told me it was a "personal trip with friends" and without wife Amy Rule.

"Just had one of my stranger experiences at ‪@sundancefest: seeing Rahm Emanuel," Jeremy Scahill wrote Friday on his Twitter feed.


Just shook the mighty hand of RAHM EMANUEL," Holly Vandervoorde wrote on her Twitter feed.

WASHINGTON--A bi-partisan group of senators, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) unveil their comprehensive immigration reform plan at 2:30 p.m. Monday. Click below for the details.

My Monday column on challenges the group faces to getting this passed is HERE.

Updated....

WASHINGTON -- Prospects for immigration reform are improving: A bipartisan group of senators -- including Illinois' Dick Durbin -- will announce the broad outlines of a deal Monday as President Barack Obama on Tuesday kicks off his push for a comprehensive plan.
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FOR DETAILS OF THE SENATE PLAN CLICK HERE


TO WATCH C-SPAN'S FEED OF SENATE IMMIGRATION PRESS CONFERENCE AT 2:30 P.M. ET CLICK HERE

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"We are committed to a comprehensive approach to finally, in this country, have an immigration law we can live with," Durbin said on "Fox News Sunday."

"We've still got a lot of hard work ahead, but I'm very pleased with the progress," Sen. John McCain said on ABC's "This Week." An agreement could be announced this week, he said.

After the November election three Democrats -- Durbin, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Bob Menendez -- teamed up with three Republicans -- McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Marco Rubio -- to try to fashion legislation that could pass the GOP-run House and the Democratic-controlled Senate. Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Col.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) are also part of the group.

McCain tried to forge immigration reform deals in 2005 and 2006, working with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, only to have hardline activists block any potential of compromise. In 2007, Obama, then an Illinois senator, and McCain backed a measure that failed. Against that dismal history is a major reason for optimism this time around: The November election results, where Obama won in part because of the growing Hispanic vote.

"What's changed is, honestly, is that there is a new, I think, appreciation on both sides of the aisle -- including maybe more importantly on the Republican side of the aisle -- that we have to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill," McCain said.

Both Durbin and McCain said their package would include a path to citizenship for the more than 10 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally -- one of the most contentious issues for Republicans.

"That has to be, also, part of it," McCain said.

"Well, I'll give you a little straight talk," McCain said after being asked how Republicans could be sold on the citizenship plank of the plan. "Look at the last election. We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote which we think should be ours for a variety of reasons. And we've got to understand that.

"Second of all, this -- we can't go on forever with 11 million people living in this country in the shadows in an illegal status. We cannot forever have children who were born here -- who were brought here by their parents when they were small children to live in the shadows as well.

"So I think the time is right."

Durbin said the proposal would have as a "high priority the unification of families" and DREAM Act language -- to allow youths in the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own a change to legally stay. Durbin first proposed a DREAM Act more than a dozen years ago.

Since the election Rep. Paul Ryan -- Mitt Romney' running mate -- has also been working on bipartisan deals. I reported last month how Ryan, Rubio and Rep. Luis Gutierrez -- a House leader on immigration issues -- had been meeting to determine where they could forge agreements.

"I think that there are Republicans and Democrats, many of us are talking to each other, that can come together with a good solution to make sure that this problem is fixed once and for all," Ryan said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Obama on Friday met with Gutierrez and other leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the White House to discuss immigration. Gutierrez -- who has been concerned about the growing number of deportations -- told me Sunday that Obama told the group that immigration reform "was his number one priority."

Obama Jan. 28, 2013 week ahead

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President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, complete CBS "60 Minutes" interview

WASHINGTON--If he had a son, President Barack Obama would not allow him to play football--the sport is too violent and need to change to protect the players, even if it makes the game "less exciting," he told The New Republic.

He said the NCAA needs to "think about" college players who suffer from concussions with the president less worried about NFL players because they are "grown men" who can make decisions about what they want to do.

Obama was asked about watching football, "knowing the impact that the game takes on its players."

Responded Obama, "I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football. And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much.

"I tend to be more worried about college players than NFL players in the sense that the NFL players have a union, they're grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies. You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That's something that I'd like to see the NCAA think about."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama is a skeet shooter, he discloses in an interview The New Republic, commenting as he is pressing Congress to pass a variety of measures to curb gun violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre and other shootings.

Asked if he ever fired a gun, Obama said "Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time," but not with his daughters.

"Not the girls, but oftentimes guests of mine go up there. And I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations. And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake.

"Part of being able to move this forward is understanding the reality of guns in urban areas are very different from the realities of guns in rural areas. And if you grew up and your dad gave you a hunting rifle when you were ten, and you went out and spent the day with him and your uncles, and that became part of your family's traditions, you can see why you'd be pretty protective of that.

"So it's trying to bridge those gaps that I think is going to be part of the biggest task over the next several months. And that means that advocates of gun control have to do a little more listening than they do sometimes."

UPDATED...

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama will speak on the need for comprehensive immigration reform in Nevada next week, White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Friday. Obama will urge "working with Republicans and Democrats to get it done." Earlier Friday, Obama met with Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and other Hispanic lawmakers to discuss immigration reform in a meeting that was not on Obama's public schedule.

Gutierrez said that Obama told the delegation from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that immigration reform would be a top priority.

Besides Gutierrez, the Caucus Immigration Task Force chair, attendees included CHC Chairman Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX); Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA).

Gutierrez has also been meeting with Republicans, including Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) to try to build bi-partisan support for immigration reform. My column on those meetings is HERE.

After the Obama meeting Gutierrez said in a statement, "The President is the quarterback and he will direct the team, call the play, and be pivotal if we succeed. I am very optimistic based on conversations with Republicans in the House and Senate that we will do more than just talk about the immigration issue this year. The President putting his full weight and attention behind getting a bill signed into law is tremendously helpful. We need the President and the American people all putting pressure on the Congress to act because nothing happens in the Capitol without people pushing from the outside.

"For my community in Chicago, the biggest issue is the deportations and keeping families together, not putting kids in foster care or uprooting them when parents are deported. Family unity is the urgency behind reforming our immigration system. Every day that passes, another 1,000 people are deported and hundreds of kids, U.S. citizen kids, lose a parent to deportation. We have got to act and act quickly."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton do their first joint interview on Friday for CBS' "60 Minutes." The interview will be broadcast on Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. Chicago time.

CBS said Friday this is the first joint interview Obama has done with anyone--except First Lady Michelle.

The joint interview, the first the president has ever done with anyone other than First Lady Michelle Obama.

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Denis McDonough during the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON-President Barack Obama will tap long-time advisor Denis McDonough as the new White House chief of staff on Friday, a White House official said.

McDonough will become Obama's fifth top chief of staff, following Rahm Emanuel, interim chief of staff Pete Rouse, Bill Daley and Jack Lew.

David Simas is returning to the White House after departing for the Obama campaign in Chicago. Simas, who had worked closely with Obama top strategist David Axelrod, returns as the Deputy Senior Advisor for Communications and Strategy.

The official said, "Denis has been one of the President's closest and most trusted advisors for nearly a decade, dating back to when he helped set up then Senator's Barack Obama's Senator office. He has relied on his intellect and good judgment ever since-- most recently as a member of the President's national security team. In that capacity, Denis has played a key role in all of the major national security decisions -- from ending the war in Iraq to winding down the war in Afghanistan; from our response to natural disasters in Haiti and Japan; to the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'

"As a veteran of Capitol Hill, Denis understands the importance of reaching across the aisle to make progress for the American people --whether it's on jobs and economy, health care or education, reducing the deficit or addressing climate change."

White House top staffers are also being reshuffled:

Rob Nabors - Assistant to the President and Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Policy
Tony Blinken - Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor
Danielle Gray - Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary
Katy Kale - Assistant to the President for Management and Administration
Lisa Monaco - Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (upon confirmation of John Brennan as DCIA)
Jennifer Palmieri - Assistant to the President and Communications Director
Dan Pfeiffer - Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor
Miguel Rodriguez -Assistant to the President and Director of Legislative Affairs
David Simas - Assistant to the President and Deputy Senior Advisor for Communications and Strategy


WASHINGTON--Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) are joining forces to sponsor a gun-trafficking bill, Gillibrand announced Thursday during an interview with Andrea Mitchell on her MSNBC show.

"So Senator Mark Kirk and I sat down yesterday, talked about our bill. And we decided we're going to introduce this bipartisan bill next week. And I think it's something that can really make a difference because we have to stop the flow of illegal guns going straight to the hands of the criminals," Gillibrand said.

"And that will be a great complement to what Senator Feinstein and Senator Schumer and others are working on because it's the complement of these types of changes to be able to keep these guns out of the hands of the gravely mentally ill and the criminal minds."

One of the biggest loopholes in the background check system is that there is no penalty for being a "straw purchasers," people with clean backgrounds who resell the guns they legally buy. On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) proposed a ban on some assault weapons. She was the chief sponsor of the assault weapon ban in place between 1994 and 2004.

Kirk could well end up the lead Republican on gun control issues.

Mitchell asked how the Gillibrand/Kirk proposals "work to prevent people who should not have guns from getting guns?"

Gillibrand said, "Well, one of the things is there's no federal law that makes gun trafficking illegal. There's no crime to be a straw purchaser and to take weapons from a state like -- a Southern state and bring it straight up to New York and sell it out of the back of your truck directly to criminals. There's no law that says you can't do that.

"And so, now, we're giving law enforcement the tools they need to actually go after these criminals and these criminal networks to make sure they can't be just selling the guns right out of the back of a truck.

".....Today, about 40 percent of guns are purchased without a background check. So that means, if you've been convicted of domestic violence or are gravely mentally ill or have a criminal record of violence, you could buy a gun off the Internet. You can buy a gun at a gun show.

"It's a vast loophole that needs to be closed, and I know that that's something we're going to work on very hard and try to get passed as well.

"And I think the two bills -- having the anti-trafficking and closing the background check loopholes is going to make a huge difference because, once everyone has to get a background check, you want to make sure it then just doesn't start to have an underground market. You don't want to -- you don't want to increase the amount of trafficking."


(Video by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board laboratory here are testing the battery of the Boeing Dreamliner that burned on Jan. 7.

John Kerry's Chicago Jewish roots

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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a Secretary of State confirmation hearing for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) on Thursday. When Kerry ran for president in 2003, I wrote a story about the Chicago roots of Kerry's Jewish paternal grandfather--born Fritz Kohn. Here is the report:

February 10, 2003 Monday

Kerry's Jewish grandfather found success here

By Lynn Sweet


The maternal roots of presidential hopeful Sen. John Forbes Kerry (D-Mass.) go back to colonial Massachusetts.

What Kerry did not know was that his paternal grandfather, born Fritz Kohn, came to Chicago from Europe and quickly became a successful businessman.

The story of Frederick Kerry intersects with that of prominent Chicago merchant prince George Lytton, son of Henry C. Lytton, a famed State Street retailer.

More details about Kerry's roots are coming to light and are of interest because Kerry is most often taken as a Boston Brahmin. People who are close to him have assumed--in error--that Kerry, a Catholic, is Irish-American.

The Chicago chapter was uncovered by the Sun-Times with the assistance of Charles B. Bernstein, a lawyer and well-known genealogist of the Chicago Jewish community, who searched naturalization records at the Daley Center and old Chicago directories.

Kerry only learned last month from a Boston Globe reporter that his grandfather was Jewish and that he committed suicide in 1921 in a Boston hotel washroom.

Kerry learned about 15 years ago that his paternal grandmother, Ida Lowe, a Catholic convert, was born Jewish. Kerry did not know that his grandfather, from an Austrian town now in the Czech Republic, started his U.S. life in Chicago, spokesman David Wade said Sunday.

Frederick Kerry--who changed his name from Kohn while in Europe-- probably came to Chicago shortly after landing in the United States on Dec. 21, 1905. The two witnesses on his naturalization petition, George Lytton, who said he was a merchant, and Frank Case, listed as a manager, swore he lived in Illinois since January 1906.

Lytton lived on Prairie Avenue, then the home of the city's elites. Records show that Case worked at Sears and was socially prominent. The senator knew that his granfather had some connection with Sears, Wade said.
Kerry's emigrant saga is unusual because "he immediately is residing in a middle-class neighborhood and has a white-collar occupation," said Bernstein.

Kerry filed his initial citizenship papers in Cook County Circuit Court on June 21, 1907. At the time Lytton and Case witnessed Kerry's naturalization petition, on Feb. 6, 1911, he was living at 4868 Sheridan, then part of upscale Uptown.

Frederick Kerry was listed in a 1908 directory with an office on Dearborn in the Loop, and by 1912, he even ran an ad in a directory billing his firm as "Fred A. Kerry & Staff" under the heading "Business counsellors." By 1910, Kerry was listed in the Chicago Blue Book, a listing of prominent Chicagoans.

The Chicago paper trail ends in 1912. The senator's father, Richard, was born in Brookline, Mass., in 1915.
Bernstein said Kerry and the Lyttons had something in common. According to research by Norman Schwartz of the Chicago Jewish Historical Society, Henry Lytton was originally Henry Levi.


Copyright 2003 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.

WASHINGTON--Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) clashed during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday, one of the most heated exchanges in the inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi, Libya where four U.S. diplomats were killled.

Johnson was pressing Clinton over UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who went on Sunday talk shows after the attacks and said the attacks were conducted by protestors, not terrorists when she told him, "what difference at this point does it make?"

Below, what they said:

Johnson : No, again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and that something sprang out of that - an assault sprang out of that - and that was easily ascertained that was not the fact, and the American people could have known that within days and they didn't know that.

Clinton : With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they'd they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again Senator. Now honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The IC has a process I understand going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. But you know, to be clear it is from my perspective less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we'll figure out what was going on the meantime.

WASHINGTON--The House voted Wednesday to lift the debt-ceiling to pay federal government bills until May 19 on a 285-144 mainly party line roll call. All six Illinois freshmen--five Democrats and one Republican--voted for the deal.

President Barack Obama had wanted a long term extension of the ceiling and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urged a no vote.

After the vote, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) said, "With the passage of this bill today it's pretty clear that we're sending a message to the Democrat-controlled Senate: It's time to do your job. The simple -- the principle, I think, is pretty simple -- no budget, no pay. American families have to do a budget. They understand you can't continue to spend money that you don't have. We're committed to doing a budget on the House side, a budget that'll balance over the next 10 years. It's time for the Senate and the president to show the American people how they're willing to balance the budget over the next 10 years."

Pelosi said from the House floor, "Again, this proposal is a missed opportunity. It does not relieve the uncertainty faced by small businesses, the markets and the middle class. It is a gimmick unworthy of the fiscal and economic challenges that we face. This proposal does not have certainty. It does not have growth. And it does not have my support. I urge a 'no' vote."

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), a freshman said in a statement, "Today's legislation is another in a long line of short-term fixes that unfortunately doesn't address our looming long-term fiscal challenges. However, like working families do across our region, I believe the United States has an obligation to pay its bills. I also believe that, like those same families, Congress needs to do its job by passing a budget that reflects the right priorities and live within it."

All the Illinois GOP House members voted for the measure, to be expected, since it was a Republican leadership bill that gives the GOP leverage over the White House in kicking the debt ceiling can down the road for the short-term.

Some of most progressive members from Illinois, Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Danny Davis and Luis Gutierrez voted against the bill.

Another Democrat, Rep. Mike Quigley who comes from the progress wing, voted yes, as did one of the most conservative Democrats from Illinois, Rep. Dan Lipinski.

The five Democratic freshmen--who all survived tough races in November--voted yes: That's Reps. Tammy Duckworth, Cheri Bustos, Bill Enyart, Brad Schneider and Bill Foster.

Voting yes were all Illinois GOP members: freshman Rep. Rodney Davis and Reps. Randy Hultgren, Adam Kinzinger, Aaron Schock and John Shimkus.

Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush did not vote.

My Sunday column on the debt-ceiling debate and kicking budget and spending plans down the road is HERE.

First posted on Suntimes.com January 19, 2013..

WASHINGTON -- In the wake of the FAA grounding Boeing Dreamliners, the Senate panel overseeing aviation safety is planning "aggressive oversight" with the new plane to be a focus of a hearing, the Sun-Times has learned.

Here is the latest, as Boeing announced Friday no Dreamliner 787 will be delivered until the FAA probe is complete:

House, Senate oversight

"This issue will obviously be addressed during our work," a spokesman for the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee told the Sun-Times. The committee is chaired by Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and he "is following the situation closely," the spokesman said.

The Dreamliner now will be a "priority" in an aviation safety hearing already in the planning stages when the FAA Wednesday started to investigate failures of lithium ion batteries in two of the aircraft.

The House Transportation Committee, chaired by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is "closely monitoring the recent events involving the 787 Dreamliner and has been receiving updates" from the FAA, Boeing and the National Transportation Safety Board, a spokesman said.

Boeing on Capitol Hill

Boeing launched a blitz to brief its natural allies, senators from Boeing states and potential less friendly lawmakers on House and Senate aviation safety panels. With Boeing key to the Washington State economy, Murray and Cantwell have the most intense interest in Boeing issues.

"Consistent with our overall approach to recent incidents involving the 787, we are being as open and direct as possible on recent events with congressional aviation committees of jurisdiction and interested offices from some states with Boeing manufacturing presences," Boeing spokesman Sean McCormick told the Sun-Times.

"We made our technical experts available to answer staff questions so they would have a better understanding of our overall commitment to safety and our confidence in the 787 program. Our discussions centered on data about 787 reliability and the redundant safety systems. Our conversations did not speculate -- given ongoing NTSB analysis -- on the nature or cause of the recent 787 in-service incidents.

". . . We did not ask for any action from Congress and none was offered; these were explanatory meetings."

Murray and Cantwell also discussed the Dreamliner grounding with FAA administrator Michael Huerta, their offices confirmed to the Sun-Times. Murray spokesman Matt McAlvanah said she "stressed the need to complete a thorough review that ensures the safety of the airplanes and passengers."

On another front, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), whose Appropriations subcommittee oversees the Argonne National Laboratory in west suburban Lemont, asked the lab -- which is a leader in battery research -- to help figure out the problems with the lithium battery.


WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dick Durbin told me Tuesday that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is "seriously thinking" about running for governor.

I talked to Madigan about a gubernatorial bid on Saturday night -- she was here for President Barack Obama's Inauguration festivities -- and my takeaway from the conversation is she wants to run whether or not Bill Daley also gets in a Democratic primary to challenge Gov. Pat Quinn.

The main consequence of Madigan, 46, inching toward a bid is this: We now know the politically vulnerable Quinn is heading toward a colossal primary fight because he is going to be facing strong opponents, either Madigan, Daley or both in the March 18, 2014, balloting.

"She had made special outreach to labor and they know it, they've noticed in terms of her showing up at events and the like," Durbin told me. "I don't think she has made a final decision. I know she is in the process of making a decision."

When Madigan mulled a Senate run in 2009, she mustered little enthusiasm when we talked about the prospect of what would have been a Democratic primary contest and taking a job where she would have to commute between Chicago and Washington.

That was not the case when we chatted about a 2014 Democratic primary for governor at the Illinois Inaugural Gala. This time, she's hungry.

As we talked, with her husband, Pat Byrnes by her side, Madigan, was the one who reminded me that her kids were older now and more independent: Rebecca is 8 and Lucy turns 5 next month.

Durbin told me he assumes Quinn is running for re-election. As for getting involved in a primary, Durbin, who is up for re-election in 2014, said, "My plan is to stay out."

When Daley was considering running for governor in August, 2001, I asked him if he had "the fire in his belly" to make the race. Turned out back then, he did not. When I've talked to Daley, 64, about running this time, well, I sense he's fired up.

Conventional wisdom has it that Madigan, attorney general since 2003, and Daley, a former Commerce secretary, business executive and Obama's former chief of staff, should not run against each other because it would make it easier for Quinn to win.

After all, the reason Madigan and Daley have for running is the same: They have the experience to run the state better than Quinn, 64.

There is another conventional wisdom at work here: Having Quinn and Daley in the contest gives Madigan an advantage in a three-way battle because she is the only woman.

So where do things stand?

♦ Quinn has $1.06 million in his political warchest to Madigan's $3.6 million. Daley hasn't opened a campaign fund yet, but with his extensive national network, he could pump out millions in contributions within a short time.

♦ Daley can't slow down his planning to wait for Madigan. Why should he? He can always reassess if she jumps in.

♦ How big a problem would Madigan's father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, be for her? The senior Madigan, who is also the chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, was the target of a "Fire Madigan" campaign Illinois Republicans cranked up against him in advance of the November elections.

All that did for the Republicans was nothing; Democrats won veto-proof majorities in the General Assembly. But that doesn't mean Michael Madigan could not surface again as an issue in a primary where more skilled political operatives take him on.

How can Lisa Madigan be governor if her dad is the speaker?

♦ How big a problem is it that Daley is the son and brother of Chicago mayors? Downstate reaction to a Daley is not as big a problem in a primary -- where most Democratic votes are in Cook, Lake and DuPage Counties.

♦ It's premature for either Daley or Madigan to concede anything. This drama will play out in several acts.

And I don't know the ending.


WASHINGTON--After President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle danced at an Inaugural Ball as Jennifer Hudson crooned "Let's Stay Together," Monday night, they zipped back to the White House at 10:12 p.m. ET where they partied with friends and family until the wee hours.

The Obama late-night filled the East and State rooms at the White House and featured a lot of dancing, including at one point the president taking over as "Soul Train" was playing.

Who was the engine on that train? "The commander-in-chief," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said while describing the party at a coffee Tuesday morning at a breakfast for Illinois residents.

Afterwards, I asked for more details. "What a party," Durbin said. The president and first lady were still dancing away when he and his wife, Loretta, left near 1 a.m. The party lasted past 3 a.m.

Singer John Legend sent a Tweet, "2:30am at the White House. It's a celebration!"

Another singer, Katy Perry said in her Tweet, "Just left the White House. All other parties from here on out will be judged unless they take place at the White House."

And Kelly Clarkson, who sang at the Inagural said in her Tweet, "Just partied at the White House ....I kid you not, Michelle Obama stood up and got the party started ....seriously cool First Lady :)"

Obama was dancing with his coat off still with white tie; Mrs. Obama was still wearing her Jason Wu gown.
Durbin said Janelle Monae performed. Around midnight a D.J. kicked in and tables were pushed aside in the East Room to make a bigger dance floor.

Among the Chicagoans present: Obama's two Chicago former chiefs of staff: Mayor Rahm Emanuel who later hosted his own late night and wife Amy Rule; Bill Daley and wife Bernadette Keller; Penny Pritzker, David Axelrod and wife Susan; John Rogers and daughter Victoria.

There were only two other senators, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Col.) and Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.), two swing-state lawmakers who gave crucial political support to Obama.

Malia and Sasha, said Durbin, "were dancing with their mom and dad."


WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the number two leader in the Senate, told me Tuesday a suggestion he was looking for a spot in President Barack Obama's cabinet was "totally untrue."

I asked Durbin if he was interested in a cabinet position and he told me, he has "never been approached and I've never approached them."

As for his interest in a cabinet job, Durbin told me, "Let me tell you there are very few spots in the cabinet that are worth a Senate seat from Illinois."

One logical spot would be Transportation, with Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Illinois lawmaker, expected to step down in the coming months or sooner. While an offer to run the Transportation Department would be a "tough call," Durbin said "I like being a senator from Illinois."

Durbin is very close to Obama, being one of the first people to suggest he run for the White House when they were both Illinois senators. Durbin is also in a powerful position in the Senate. He is particularly close with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) "If you ask Harry who his closest friends are in the Senate, I think I would be in the top five," Durbin told me.

Durbin is up for re-election in 2014. During a coffee with Illinois residents visiting Washington on Tuesday, Durbin was asked if he was running for another term. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, in the audience, shouted out Durbin had her endorsement.

Said Durbin, "I will make that decision soon."

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama would not be starting his second term if it were not for his major donors, and they were here en masse -- to map strategy to advance Obama's agenda and to take in a few of the VIP perks, including--for some--a coveted invite to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's late-night party.

Chicagoans from the beginning have played key roles in bankrolling the Obama political operation. One of them Alan Solow, was a national campaign co-chair.

Solow -- and other top fund-raisers -- viewed the inauguration from seats close to the stage, reserved for members of Obama's National Finance Committee. Other Chicagoans nearby were Obama 2012 Illinois Finance Co-Chair Vicki Heymann and her husband, Bruce; Wally Brewster and his partner, Bobby Satawake; and William Mahoney and his wife, Amalia.

"There is a lot of work yet to be done," Solow said. "And I think part of it will be to build on the success we have had in the first term."

Toward that end, there was a daylong "road ahead" meeting Saturday with briefings on the Obama team's new political operation: the non-profit Organizing for Action, based in Chicago with offices in Washington, is sure to be another ask from the Obama fund-raisers.

Obama's National Finance Committee members were hosted at White House receptions on Thursday and Friday and had access to a variety of other VIP inauguration events.

Obama 2012 campaign Illinois finance co-chair John Rogers -- who was also a donor to the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) -- was at one of the White House receptions.

Chicago business executive Fred Eychaner was one of the very top Obama campaign donors, also boosting the Obama-allied SuperPAC (as did Rogers) and donating to the PIC. Other Chicago area PIC donors included Penny Pritzker, Obama's 2008 finance chair, Laura Ricketts and Michael Sacks.

Emanuel's longtime fund-raiser, Anne Olaimey, helped raise corporate money for the PIC; veteran Obama fund-raiser Jordan Kaplan handled the Chicago-area contributors -- some of whom he has been dealing with since Obama was a senator.

The PIC organizers put together perk "packages" for their donors, including invites to a reception at the National Building Museum and reserved seats on the parade routes. The "Premium Partner Access" package was priced at $250,000 for an individual and $1 million for an institution --such as a corporation or labor union.

David Rosen runs a Chicago events company where he has carved out a particular niche for Democratic political causes: "I help VIP hospitality," Rosen told me on Monday.

Part of his role as a faciliator is to also score invites for donors to one of the very many other elite parties -- none part of the official PIC -- taking place these past days.

One of those hot tickets was for Emanuel's late night party -- 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. at a downtown club here.

Emanuel's party is underwritten by donors, whose identities have not been disclosed. Rosen said he was one of the contributors.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's inaugural address Monday saluted the ideals of liberalism and the minorities whose votes were critical to his winning a second term.

The speech, to sum up, was an ode to progressive politics in the United States. Never having to stand for election again has freed Obama, and it was the voice of that unencumbered Obama we heard.

"We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths -- that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall," Obama said, naming the battlegrounds of struggles for the civil rights of women, blacks and gays.

He was assertive in defending the expensive social safety net programs as essential elements of our civil society.

"We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm," Obama said.

"The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great."

Obama's own remarkable political journey -- from an Illinois state senator to the White House in just four years -- ends on Jan. 20, 2017.

But the collective journey, he said " is not complete" until women get equal pay for equal work, gay Americans are treated "like anyone else under the law," schemes to suppress the votes of minorities are reversed, young illegal immigrants in the U.S. get a chance to stay, and children are safe from violence.

At times during the first-term journey, progressives felt ignored and unloved as the Obama team took them for granted as they tried to woo congressional Republicans -- only to find compromise rare to impossible.

With Congress gridlocked and unpopular, Obama, emboldened with a strong November win starts his second term very aware his legacy depends on removing these roadblocks.

Obama painted his picture of what compromise and common ground looks like to him in his speech:

"Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.

"For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect," he said.

What can Obama do different the second time around to get action? I discussed this with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett in an interview Monday.

It's becoming clearer that a massive role awaits the newly launched Organizing for Action -- the Obama campaign reformulated into a non-profit based in Chicago with offices in Washington. Jarrett's key aide, Jon Carson, just left the White House and will move back to Chicago -- to be the executive director of the group.

Obama has noted that in the beginning of the first term, Jarrett said, "he was so concerned with getting the policy right, we did not spend enough time engaging the American people in the process."

Among the first-term lessons learned, Jarrett told me, is that Republicans compromised when "people got engaged and put pressure on Congress," with Jarrett citing as a recent example Obama's push to extend the Bush-era tax cuts.

The new OFA will be working to support the president's agenda by generating that outside-in pressure -- with some big assists.

The drive, said Jarrett, "will involve the president, it will involve the first lady with a goal to "engage the American people directly in making sure the president's agenda which they support" gets done.

Said Jarrett, the "hope would be in the second term there is some momentum generated by the American people [so that] the Republicans in Congress would be more willing to engage with us."


WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama wore a striking outfit to Monday's Inaugural ceremonies, with her ensemble the work of several designers.

Mrs Obama is wearing a navy Thom Browne coat and dress, her spokesman Semonti Stephens said.

"The fabric was developed based on the style of a man's silk tie. The belt and gloves she is wearing are from J.Crew and her earrings are designed by Cathy Waterman. She is also wearing Reed Krakoff boots and cardigan," At the end of the Inaugural festivities, the outfit and accompanying accessories will go to the National Archives," she said.

The "President's Own" Marine band, directed by Col. Michael Colburn plays a march at President Barack Obama's second Inaugural on Monday. (video by Lynn Sweet)

inauguration 1.jpg
Obama delivering his second Inaugural address(photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Bill Daley, President Barack Obama's former Chief of Staffs had prime seats for Obama's second inaugural, as did Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod. The Chicagoans were on the platform with Members of Congress, family members and other dignitaries.


WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama launches his second term determined, top adviser David Plouffe said Sunday, to try to change the highly partisan tone in Washington and seek out "common ground." Sound familiar?

Obama's vault to the White House started with his "No Red State, No Blue State" speech at the 2004 Boston Democratic convention. He campaigned for his first term in the White House in 2008 promising to usher in a post-partisan era.

That's a pledge he failed to keep.

Obama's second inaugural address on Monday, delivered from the west steps of the U.S. Capitol, will contain as one of its central themes a call for finding the elusive common ground.

This comes as congressional Republicans -- down but not out in the wake of Obama's strong November victory -- present an obstacle to the opening chapters of Obama's second term agenda. In the coming months, that's immigration reform, dealing with the debt ceiling and related federal budget and spending issues, and the newest priority, measures to curb gun violence.

Obama's speech will present the big picture, his vision, his over-arching themes and policy aspirations for his second term. Obama's State of the Union Address on Feb. 12 -- Lincoln's Birthday -- will fill in the details.


"He is going to say that our political system does not require us to resolve all of our differences... but it is absolutely imperative that our leaders try and seek common ground when it can and should expect. That's going to be a very important part of the speech," Plouffe said on ABC's "This Week" hosted by George Stephanopoulos.

Obama is "going to make that point very strongly that people here in Washington need to seek common ground," Plouffe told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday."

Obama is doing this as he has practical time constraints to consider.

I talked about Obama's second term challenges with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff who also served under former two-term President Bill Clinton. He's seen up close how Clinton transitioned from one term to another.

"Second terms, if you look at Reagan, Clinton and Bush 43, all have a rhythm, which is the first 14 to 18 months are crucial periods of time to move on something significant," Emanuel told me.

"The middle period is hit usually with a scandal, Iran Contra, there was Monica Lewinsky, there was even Scooter Libby.

"And then you are very productive at the end. Reagan got welfare reform and toward the end, immigration reform. Bill Clinton got the Kosovo War prosecuted and China into the WTO, George Bush got the [Iraq] surge."

Each of those two-term presidents made big plays early on in their second terms: Ronald Reagan got tax reform; Bill Clinton won a balanced budget and NATO expansion; George Bush tried to overhaul Social Security and failed.

"What I used to say in the Clinton White House ... if we knew in the first year of the first term what we knew by the first year of the second term, we'd all be geniuses. Anybody involved, not just the president and vice president, you all are smarter, brighter, more informed of the apparatus," the second time around.

"From the moment you get in there, the sand is dropping through the clock and time is your most important element to decide what are your priorities, what do you need to push," Emanuel said.

While Plouffe talked about finding common ground with Republicans, Obama's new political organization, Organizing for Action, was kicking off with a conference for campaign volunteers and staffers at the Washington Hilton here.

The group, a nonprofit, will be based in Chicago with offices in Washington. The executive director is Jon Carson, who, under Obama top adviser Valerie Jarrett, ran the White House Office of Public Engagement. Carson is a former Illinois political operative who managed Rep. Tammy Duckworth's 2006 House campaign.

The campaign-like group will be devoted to building support for Obama's second term goals. Insurance, in case the road through Congress does not lead to common ground.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama was officially sworn in to his second term Sunday -- the Monday celebration is a re-enactment -- and after the festivities are over, his second term starts where the first term ended: With Republicans trying to leverage the looming debt ceiling to their advantage.

On Friday, House Republicans offered to lift the debt ceiling for three months but the deal had a few catches: Senate Democrats had to pass a budget and if they did not, lawmakers in both chambers would not be paid.

Democrats control the Senate and they have not approved a budget in four years.

Or as Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) dramatically put it in the GOP Saturday address, it's been 1,361 days without a Senate budget to be exact. The GOP controls the House -- where budgets have been passed the past two years -- but only on the strength of GOP votes, so the spending plan had no chance in the Senate.

Moreover, the seemingly gracious GOP gesture to delay another fight over spending and possibly avert a fiscal crisis right away also conveniently kicks the can down the road to a time where Republicans hope to have even more advantage.

In a few weeks, Obama is supposed to propose a new budget. Added to that: the New Year's Eve deal that avoided the fiscal cliff left a lot of unfinished business, putting off for two months $1.2 trillion across-the-board automatic spending cuts (sometimes called the "sequester") unless Congress and Obama act.

Obama has been pushing very hard for a long-term lifting of the debt ceiling -- or in the alternative, stripping Congress of the chore. Republicans declined both offers.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday, "I think the president made clear the other day that he would happily take on the responsibility himself if Congress can't handle it. So the fact is, Congress should simply extend the debt ceiling, and do so in a manner that causes no concern to the economy and to global markets, that does not in any way suggest that Washington is about to engage in another process that results in a self-inflicted wound to the economy."

The debt limit could be reached as early as late February or early March. A three-month reprieve gives Obama breathing room to move on to other issues -- most centrally prodding Congress on gun violence and immigration, major second-term agenda items.

"With the swearing-in of a new Congress and the inauguration of President Obama, this is an opportunity for a fresh start," Lankford said.

"But because government debt really does affect all of us, Republicans will NOT simply provide a blank check for uncontrolled spending, irrational borrowing and constant nickel and dime tax increases."

The GOP-run House could vote on the three-month plan this week. Their aim to gain an upper hand by switching around the time table tells us this: Republicans believe they do better with the public hardlining spending and budget issues than with messing with worldwide financial markets over the debt ceiling.

WASHINGTON--After President Barack Obama took his second oath of office on Sunday, youngest daughter Sasha said"Good job dad."

"I did it," he said.

"You didn't mess up," she said.

This perhaps a reference to how Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts botched administering the oath in 2009. On Sunday, Roberts read from a card.


A backstage look at the Presidential Inaugural Parade Viewing Stand. (video by Lynn Sweet)



The Presidential Inaugural Parade Viewing Stand in front of White House. (video by Lynn Sweet)

Obama sworn-in to second term

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WASHINGTON--In a ceremony lasting about a minute, President Barack Obama on Sunday was sworn into a second term by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

"Thank you everybody," Obama said after making a quick exit from the White House Blue room with First Lady Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia.

Obama took the oath on a family bible held that belonged to Mrs. Obama's grandmother, who worked for Chicago's Moody Bible Institute. Mrs. Obama, wearing a dress by Reed Krakoff, held the bible while Obama took the oath as their daughters watched.

Roberts read from a card in order to not repeat his 2009 glitch when he bungled the oath.

Vice President Joe Biden earlier took an oath for a second term administered by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at his Naval Observatory residence.

The 20th Amendment to the Constitution starts presidential terms at noon on Jan. 20.

By tradition, public inaugurations are not held when Jan. 20 falls on a Sunday. The massive public ceremony on the West Steps of the Capitol takes place Monday.

The Sunday ceremony included a dozen of Obama family members and two close friends from Chicago, Kaye and Wellington Wilson. Mrs. Wilson is godmother to the Obama daughters. Also included, Marian Robinson, Mrs. Obama's mother; her brother, Craig Robinson, his wife, Leslie and son Avery; Obama half-sister Auma Obama; Obama half sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, her husband Konrad Ng and their children.

Before the swearing-in Obama and Biden traveled to Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony.

After that, the First Family attended church services at Metropolitan African Methodist Church to celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday, when Obama takes the oath again in a public ceremony, is also the national King Day holiday.

On the bible: Mrs. Obama's father, Fraser Robinson III, gave a bible to his mother, LaVaughn Delores Robinson in 1958, on Mother's Day; on Sunday, in the Blue Room, the bible becomes part of national--as well as Robinson family--presidential history.

During her time at Moody Bible Institute Mrs. Robinson held several positions at the school, where the main campus is at 820 N. LaSalle.

A Moody spokesman told the Sun-Times her last position was as the store manager for one of Moody's book stores on the South Side. She was promoted to that job in 1976. Mrs. Robinson retired from Moody in 1980; she died in 2002.

WASHINGTON--Vice President Joe Biden was sworn-in on Sunday morning for the second term of the Obama administration, taking the oath at his Naval Observatory residence surrounded by his family and guests, including David Axelrod and Bill Daley. Biden took the oath with his hand on a family bible he has used for these occasions through-out his career as an elected official.

Biden was sworn-in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the small ceremony.

WHY TODAY

President Barack Obama is sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. at 11:55 a.m. ET (10:55 a.m. Chicago time) Sunday at a small White House ceremony. The Sunday swearing-in will be televised live on most networks and news outlets.

The 20th Amendment to the Constitution starts presidential terms on Jan. 20. By tradition, public inaugurations are not held when Jan. 20 falls on a Sunday. The massive public ceremony on the West Steps of the Capitol takes place Monday.

Illinois State Society.jpeg
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--In this Inaugural weekend where Democrats are celebrating President Barack Obama's second term and Republicans are nearly invisible, a bi-partisan exception was the Saturday night Illinois Inaugural Gala sponsored by the Illinois State Society.

Seen on the scene:

Gov. Pat Quinn and two potential rivals if, as expected, he runs for re-election: Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Bill Daley.

Cabinet: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

Chicago City Hall: Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Ed Burke and Will Burns.

Senator, Democratic: Dick Durbin

House members, Republican: Rodney Davis, Aaron Schock

House members, Democrats: Jan Schakowsky, Tammy Duckworth, Brad Schneider, Bill Enyart, Cherri Bustos, Danny Davis, Mike Quigley, Bobby Rush, Bill Foster

House candidate, Democratic primary 2nd congressional district, Robin Kelly

Former Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias

Illinois State Senate: John Cullerton, Kwame Raoul

Illinois State House: Barbara Flynn Currie, Lou Lang.

A variety of Illinois companies helped underwrite the event with the top giver Motorola Solutions followed by Archer Daniels Midland, Caterpillar and Health Care Services Corp. Photo below, with names of all sponsors:

Ill. gala.jpeg
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

By Mary Mitchell
Chicago Sun-Times Columnist

WASHINGTON--Went to the Kid's Inaugural at Washington Convention Center on Sunday night and I hate to say this, but I didn't get it.

There were a lot of young kids who were still riding on their father's shoulders, but the music was way over their heads.

After all, Usher, in his black leather jacket and pants, not to mention the bright red athletic shoes, isn't "Gabba Gabba."

He's the kind of performer who can make young teens like Malia swoon, but young kids are likely want to check out the restrooms.

Also on the bill: Katy Perry, Glee Cast Members and the Walt Whitman Soul Children of Chicago.

Inauguration Weather History

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WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former chief of staff, spoke Saturday at the U.S. Conference of Mayors and is also scheduled to meet with Denis McDonough, who Obama is most likely to tap as his new chief of staff. City Hall confirmed that Emanuel had a meeting set up with McDonough.

At the mayoral conference, Emanuel asked the mayors to scrub their pension funds to divest any investments from gun manufacturers.

Here are updates from Lynn Sweet and a few others on Rahm Emanuel at the U.S. Conference of Mayors

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama officially gets sworn into a second term at 11:55 a.m. ET on Sunday at the White House, using a bible belonging to First Lady Michelle Obama's grandmother--the first female manager of a Moody Bible Institute bookstore.

Fraser Robinson III gave a bible to his mother, LaVaughn Delores Robinson in 1958, on Mother's Day; on Sunday, in the Blue Room, the bible becomes part of national--as well as Robinson family--presidential history.

I asked the Moody Bible Institute for some background on Mrs. Robinson and this is what I was told: During her time at Moody Bible Institute Mrs. Robinson held several positions at the school, where the main campus is at 820 N. LaSalle.

Her last position was as the store manager for one of Moody's book stores on the South Side. She was promoted to that job in 1976. Mrs. Robinson retired from Moody in 1980; she died in 2002.

Moody Bible Institute sold its retail stores in 2003.




WASHINGTON--Inauguration festivities started Friday here with President Barack Obama Chicago inner circle pals Eric and Cheryl Whitaker holding forth with a gang at the W Hotel, just down the street from the White House.

Spotted in that crowd: Kurt Summers Jr., former chief of staff to Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, now an executive at Grosvenor Capital Management.

Departing White House Senior Staffer David Plouffe was being feted by friends at the same hotel, including David Axelrod, Stephanie Cutter and Robert Gibbs.

Bill Daley, mulling a run for governor is back in Washington for Inauguration events.

Obama's very top donors, members of the National Finance Committee, were hosted at White House receptions and Thursday and Friday and have access to a variety of other VIP Inauguration events.

Attendees included Obama 2012 campaign Illinois Finance co-chairs John Rogers and Vicki Heyman, with her husband, Bruce.


WASHINGTON--Chicago donors to the Presidential Inaugural Committee include Penny Pritzker, Fred Eychaner, Michael Sacks and John Rogers' Ariel Investments.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's fund-raiser, Anne Olaimey, helped raise corporate money for the PIC; longtime Obama fund-raiser Jordan Kaplan handled the Chicago-area contributors.

The 2013 PIC only provided the names of donors, with no other information--hardly a high standard of transparency. For the 2009 inaugural, the PIC released information so a contributor would be identified because employer and city and state were disclosed as well as the amount.

The Center for Responsive Politics researched the donor list to add cities and states saying they are "reasonably sure" their matches are right.

According to the Center, here are some Chicago and suburban donors: Jeffrey Kang, Susan Canter, Evanston; Susan Berghoef, Stephen Ondra, Wilmette; Charles Smith and Dania Leemputte, Winnetka; Pamela Buffett, Highland Park; Azieb Gebrehiiwet, Lincolnwood.

From Chicago: Tracey Patterson, Barbara Manilow, Fernando Rajiv, Twana Edwards, Christopher Kriva, Gail Morse, Julie Smolyansky, David Cihla and Young-Kee Kim.


Obama Inauguration Store, Washington Convention Center. (Video by Lynn Sweet)


WASHINGTON--There are a lot of stores selling Obama Inauguration souvenirs; the merchandise being sold by the Presidential Inaugural Committee are really premiums offered in return for donations. That's right--the prices for buttons, sweatshirts, pins, etc. you see in the video I shot at the Washington Convention Center "store" are really donations to PIC.

Obama Inauguration Video

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WASHINGTON--What is the future of the Democratic party? Towards Mayor Rahm Emanuel's centrist moves or the populism of freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) That's the question Politico addresses in a Friday story pitting two of the nation's highest profile Democrats against each other.

"Will Democrats "become a center-left, DLC-by-a-different-name party or return to a populist, left-leaning approach that mirrors their electoral coalition," writes Politico's Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman.

"...As 2016 grows nearer, and their presidential hopefuls begin openly maneuvering, Democrats must decide whether they want to be principally known as the party of Rahm Emanuel or the party of Elizabeth Warren," they conclude.


Read the story HERE.

WASHINGTON--Gov. Pat Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a contingent from the Illinois General Assembly are expected here this weekend for President Barack Obama's second inauguration. That's in addition to the Illinois congressional delegation.

Quinn on Saturday will attend the Illinois State Society Inaugural gala--he is an honorary chair of the event--and then moves on to the "Hard Hat Inaugural Ball."

On Monday, he attends a National Governors' Association breakfast before the inauguration, which he gets to watch with other governors from a spot on the platform in front of the Capitol. On Monday evening, Quinn will attend an Inaugural Ball.

Emanuel is hosting an after-party on Monday night at a downtown club; see details HERE.



Michelle Obama talks about the new "Organizing for Action" Obama organization

WASHINGTON--The Chicago-based Obama campaign will transform into a permanent non-profit political organization with offices in Chicago and Washington.

In an e-mail sent Friday to supporters, Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager--who will chair the new group, to be named "Organizing for Action" said the organization is "the next phase of this movement.

"It will be a supporter-driven organization, as we've always been, staying true to our core principles: "respect, empower, include." We'll work on the key battles of our generation, train the next generation of grassroots organizers and leaders, and organize around local issues in our own communities. We'll continue to support the President in creating jobs and growing the economy from the middle out, and in fighting for issues like immigration reform, climate change, balanced deficit reduction, and reducing gun violence.

"We have a remarkable opportunity right now to change our country, and if we can take the enthusiasm and passion that people showed throughout the campaign and channel it into the work ahead of us, we will be unstoppable.

"As the chair of Organizing for Action, I will be deeply involved in this new organization, but it will be organizers like you who will determine where it goes. I have no doubt we can take this grassroots movement to new and extraordinary heights."

Messina will discuss the new group at a meeting called The Legacy Conference--Sunday at the Washington Hilton and on-line for broader participation--consisting mainly of Obama campaign staffers and volunteers.

The new group is the result of a desire by the Obama team to create a group separate from the Democratic National Committee--one devoted to Obama's second term goals.

The group will be organized as a 501 (c4) under the IRS code which covers advocacy group.

Obama's biggest donors--his National Finance Committee--will be briefed on the new group during a day long "Going Forward" conference at the Newseum on Saturday, which is to include conversations on "what to do next next," a source told the Sun-Times.

Looking ahead, it is not a leap to see that this group becomes through the years the backbone of Obama's post-presidency--including his presidential library.

The Los Angeles Times first reported that the new group will be led by Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager and Chicago political veteran Jon Carson, who currently runs the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Michelle Obama turns 49 today

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WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama turned 49 on Thursday and she marked the day in part by opening another Twitter account.

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Denis McDonough on Obama international campaign swing, 2008. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON-- President Barack Obama is likely to tap deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough his next chief of staff, a source told the Sun-Times and multiple outlets are reporting.

McDonough and Obama have a strong personal relationship with ties going back to the 2008 presidential campaign where McDonough was a foreign policy advisor.

The new chief of staff follows Jack Lew, who Obama has nominated to be Treasury Secretary. Lew replaced Bill Daley; before Daley advisor Pete Rouse was interim chief of staff, taking over after first chief of staff Rahm Emanuel departed to run for mayor of Chicago.

WASHINGTON--Vice President Joe Biden rallies support for curbs on gun violence during a speech on Thursday at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors here. Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to the groups on Saturday.


From the U.S. Conference of Mayors: Other confirmed speakers include:

Thursday, Jan 17: HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, MA Congressman James McGovern, John Zogby of Zogby Analytics, Rapper "MC Hammer"

Friday, Jan 18: Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk, CA Senator Diane Feinstein AK Senator Mark Begich, CDF Founder and Pres. Marian Wright Edelman, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert Lynch, Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers, R&B singer "MARIO," Music group "The Roots"

Saturday, Jan 19: EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, CT Gov. Dannel Malloy, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Export-Import Bank President and Chairman Fred Hochberg, Army Corps of Engineers Dir. Steven Stockton, National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, USICH Ex. Dir. Barbara Poppe, Soul singer John Legend


Annette Nance-Holt talks about President Barack Obama's proposals to curb gun violence outside the White House West Wing. (video by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Victims of gun violence and family members touched by it, including Chicago's Annette Nance-Holt, were in the audience on Wednesday when President Barack Obama unveiled his comprehensive package of proposals to curb gun violence.

Blair Holt was 16 and a student at Julian High School in Chicago when he was gunned down by a reputed gang member while on his way home from school in 2007.

The tragedy transformed Nance-Holt, a captain in the Chicago Fire Department--assigned to Engine Company 120 in Morgan Park--to an activist trying to curb gun violence.

I caught up with Nance-Hold outside the West Wing of the White House after Obama announced his plans and asked her what could help the most in Chicago. The universal background checks, she said, would help "tremendously" because of the number of illegal guns in the city as well as funding for more police.

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel embraced President Barack Obama's gun proposals on Wednesday--even though, as chief of staff to the president early in the first term he urged putting the contentious matter on a back burner. Emanuel will be in Washington on Saturday for a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting--where curbing gun violence is a top issue.

On Monday, Emanuel was here for a gun panel at the Center for American Progress where he said Chicago pension funds should divest from any gun-related assets.

On the Obama package Emanuel said in a statement, "The President has proposed a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to gun-safety rules, and these are exactly the common sense laws that we need as a city and a nation to help prevent the gun violence that too often plagues our communities. People throughout the country are supportive of common sense laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and give law enforcement officials the tools they need to protect our children, our families and our neighborhoods."

Obama gun proposals. Transcript

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Updated...


WASHINGTON--In the wake of unending gun violence, from massacres to murders in the Chicago streets, President Barack Obama unveiled sweeping plans Wednesday to curb gun violence, including actions he is taking right away and others that need Congressional approval.

"A majority of Americans agree with us on this," Obama said in urging Congress to act and anticipating opposition from the gun lobby. "And by the way, so did Ronald Reagan, one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment, who wrote to Congress in 1994 urging them -- this is Ronald Reagan speaking -- urging them to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of military-style assault weapons."

"And finally, Congress needs to help rather than hinder law enforcement as it does its job. We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this," Obama said.

Obama's proposals--from legislative to executive orders to long term research--mark the first time Obama has tackled gun control, one of the most polarizing issues in U.S. politics. His hand was finally forced after the shootings in Newtown, Ct. last month which 20 students, six educators and the gunman's mother.

The Sandy Hook school tragedy was only the latest massacre on Obama's watch, coming after shootings in Oak Creek Wisc., Aurora, Col. and Tucson, Ariz. and other places.

After Newtown, Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead a task force to address gun violence after Sandy Hook with orders to come up with proposals by the end of January. The Biden group held 22 meetings with 220 organizations in the past month.

"The world has changed and demanded action," Biden said at the White House announcement of the recommendations.

The most controversial elements for Congress will likely be banning military-style assault weapons and limiting ammunition magazines to ten bullets. A area where gun rights advocates and anti-gun activists may find agreement is in requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales--including weapons sold at gun shows.

The push for tougher gun curbs will start in the Democratic-controlled Senate with any measure that passes meeting an uncertain fate in the House. Senate Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the panel will hold its first hearing on gun control measures on Jan. 30.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave a very cool reception to the Obama package through a spokesman, Michael Steel who said in a statement, "House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations. And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at it."

The National Rifle Association, the major gun lobby in the U.S. found nothing in the Obama package to support outright, even his call to increase access to mental health services. The NRA said in a statement, "Throughout its history, the National Rifle Association has led efforts to promote safety and responsible gun ownership. Keeping our children and society safe remains our top priority.

"The NRA will continue to focus on keeping our children safe and securing our schools, fixing our broken mental health system, and prosecuting violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law. We look forward to working with Congress on a bi-partisan basis to find real solutions to protecting America's most valuable asset - our children.

"Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy."

A senior administration official, in a briefing call with reporters on Wednesday morning said the broad intent of the gun package is to provide a comprehensive approach to deal with everything "from massacres to everyday gun violence."

Since passing significant gun measures in Congress will pose a challenge, especially in the GOP-controlled House, the Obama package includes 23 actions Obama is taking on his own, including a new nominee for the director of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms administration, a post left unfilled for years as Obama's original nominee was stalled in Congress and never confirmed.

The Obama White House is launching an extensive, campaign-style drive to build support for Congress to act. A White House official told the Sun-Times that will include "outreach to a variety of stakeholder groups. We'll continue to engage in coming weeks, months." Obama and Biden "get out of Washington to talk about this. Social media will continue." There will be continuing work with mayors, governors, law enforcement, parent and other groups, other groups we've been working with."

Further evidence of the hurdles the Obama proposals face comes from chilly reception from House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.); his panel would handle much of the proposed legislation and would be ground zero for the gun battles to come.

"House Republicans welcome the recommendations of this task force and will consider them as the House continues to examine ways to prevent tragedies like the one in Newtown. However, good intentions do not necessarily make good laws, so as we investigate the causes and search for solutions, we must ensure that any proposed solutions will actually be meaningful in preventing the taking of innocent life and that they do not trample on the rights of law-abiding citizens to exercise their Constitutionally-guaranteed rights. We will take these recommendations into consideration as we continue to conduct our own inquiries into how to prevent these tragedies from happening," Goodlatte said.

Highlights of the proposals include:

*Reinstating the assault weapons ban; the nation had one in place between 1994 and 2004.
*Mandating background checks on all gun sales.
*Limiting high capacity magazines to 10 bullets.
*Banning armor-piercing bullets.
*Ending the freeze on gun violence research.
*Bolstering mental health coverage for youths.

WASHINGTON--Hours before President Barack Obama unveils his plans to curb gun violence, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) told CNN's Soledad O'Brien that a National Rifle Association ad noting that the Obama daughters have security protecting them is unduly provocative with a goal only to "ratchet up the rhetoric."

The freshman lawmaker, a wounded Iraq war vet, said she was not ready to sign on to ban Obama will proposal on assault weapons until she sees the details such as how an assault weapon is defined.

The NRA spot calls Obama a hypocrite as the association, in response to the Sandy Hook school massacre last month, had as its main response the creation of a program to put more armed guards in schools.

"Are the president's kids more important than yours?" the voiceover states. "Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he's just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security."

Duckworth said, "Well, I think that, you know, we need to remind people that the majority of Americans are not on those extreme ends. And let's start off by saying that we all want our children protected. You know, those NRA ads saying that, you know, the president's children, his daughters are protected, don't you want yours protected -- really, you know, their main -- their whole goal is to ratchet up the rhetoric.

"Let's stay calm. Let's look at the function of these weapons, make sure that we -- you know, marksmen can continue to have their weapons that they use for marksmanship. But we need to ban those weapons that have the functionality that can kill a whole bunch of folks in just a few seconds, and be very careful about how we go about this."

Asked about an assault weapon ban, Duckworth said "Well, you know, I'm going to look and see what the proposal is. I'm interested in the definition of what an assault weapon is more than I am interested in what it looks like.

"We also need to take a look at the things that we should pass right away -- the background checks. You know, people should not be able to buy weapons at gun shows without background checks. We need to do a much better job of that. Nobody needs a 30-round magazine to go hunting, because if you're using a 30-round magazine to go hunting, you are a very bad shot, and your fellow hunters..."


Duckworth later added, "I like target practice as well. You don't need to rely on an AR-15 for target practice. And isn't the protection of our most vulnerable the most important priority here, you know, to make sure that our kids are protected, to make sure that masses of people are not easily killed, but also maintaining the right of people to go to target practice? You don't need an AR-15 to go to target practice. And if you enjoy firing an AR-15 for target practice, you're going to enjoy learning to fire some other weapon as well."


Duckworth bottom line: "So let's bring down the rhetoric, talk about it. And I'm going to be very -- you know, looking very carefully at what the president presents. I may not agree with him on everything, but we're going to take a look and make sure that those things that we can pass, let's pass first."

By Max Gilmer
Chicago Sun-Times

As President Obama prepares to unveil his new plans for curbing gun violence later today, we take a look back at the story of this latest surge in gun control over the last month. (For more info, check out Max Rust's graphs.)

The City of Chicago
Dec. 18, 2012: Mayor Rahm Emanuel defends Pres. Obama's stance on guns.
Dec. 20, 2012: Mayor Emanuel and a host of other local mayors call for action to curb gun violence.
Dec. 27, 2012: Chicago records its 500th murder of the year
Dec. 31, 2012: Parents join call for tougher gun control laws
Jan.1, 2013: As violent 2012 comes to a close, CPD reports 506 murders for the year
Jan. 9, 2013: A student at Marsh Elementary School is charged after bring a .22 revolver, 33 bullets, and a 3-inch knife to school.
Jan. 10, 2013: Mayor Emanuel promises to pursue new gun control for city
Jan 11, 2013: Durbin, McCarthy meet to work on gun violence solution
Jan. 12, 2013: Cook Co. Board President Toni Preckwinkle joins forces with Mayor Emanuel
Jan. 14, 2013: Mayor Emanuel says he wants Chicago pension funds to divest if own gun investments
Jan. 15, 2013: 2013 opens on bloody note, recording at least 24 homicides in the first 15 days, 21 of those shootings.

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The State of Illinois
Dec. 5, 2012: State Sen. Donne Trotter is charged for trying to carry a concealed weapon through a checkpoint at O'Hare.
Dec. 11, 2012: A federal appeals court overturns Illinois' concealed weapons ban
Dec. 29, 2012: State Sen. Trotter, previously a candidate for the Congressional seat vacated by Jesse Jackson, Jr., drops out of the race but declines to blame his gun arrest.
Jan. 6, 2013: State legislature ends lame-duck session without voting on new gun control measures.
Jan. 8, 2013: Gun violence becomes a key issue in the race for the Congressional seat vacated by Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Across The Nation
Dec. 14, 2012: 27 people - 20 of them young schoolchildren - are killed during a mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The alleged gunman also dies when he kills himself.
Dec. 16, 2012: A man is arrested after allegedly firing off 20 rounds in a California mall parking lot.
Dec. 19, 2012: Pres. Obama appoints Vice President Joe Biden to head task force that will propose new gun control legislation
Dec. 21, 2012: NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre gives a disjointed, heavily pro-gun press conference
Dec. 21, 2012: The newest gun control debate picks up steam
Dec. 22, 2012: One New York newspaper caused an outcry when it published a map showing the addresses of all registered gun permit holders. (It's been blamed for at least one burglary.) On January 8, 2013, popular news and gossip blog Gawker published a similar list for gun owners in New York City to great controversy.
January 2013: Towns across the nation, including in Pennsylvania, Alabama, and New Jersey, put armed guards in schools as a result of the Newtown shootings.
Jan. 9, 2013: VP Biden meets with the NRA to discuss new gun law proposals
Jan. 10, 2013: One student is injured in a shooting at a California High School.
Jan. 11, 2013: Members of the far right stoke hysteria over gun rights
Jan. 11, 2013: A judge rules James Holmes, the suspect in the July 2012 Aurora, CO mass shooting, will stand trial on all counts against him.
Jan. 14. 2013: Where each state stands on gun control
Jan. 14, 2013: Pres. Obama endorses bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines
Jan. 14, 2013: Delaware begins looking into new gun control laws.
Jan. 15, 2013: New York becomes the first state to approve new gun control legislation, the first state to do so since the Newtown shootings
Jan. 15, 2013: Pres. Obama prepares to present his new package of gun laws
Jan. 15, 2013: On the eve of Pres. Obama's announcement, there are at least two shootings at university locations.
Jan. 15, 2013: The NRA releases an ad calling Pres. Obama an "elitist hypocrite" due to the armed protection for his daughters.

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WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday morning will unveil a "package of concrete proposals" to curb gun violence, with the proposals coming in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Mass. a month ago.

Obama and Biden, who led a task force this past month, will announce a combination of proposed changes in laws and actions Obama could take on his own through executive orders at an event set for 11:45 a.m. ET (10:45 a.m. Chicago time.

In order to head off anticipated opposition and to build public support, Obama and Biden at the morning event will be flanked "by children from around the country who wrote the President letters in the wake of that tragedy expressing their concerns about gun violence and school safety, along with their parents," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday.

The package, described by Carney as "comprehensive," includes, he said:

*Asking Congress to reinstate an assault weapons ban.

*Asking Congress to ban high-capacity magazine clips.

*Asking Congress to close loopholes in the background check system in our country.

Carney was asked to address "some fears among gun owners that the President might unilaterally try to restrict their right to bear arms or access to weapons" and if Obama will use "his executive powers give him the authority to restrict someone's right to access certain weapons or ammunition."


Carney replied, "Well, let's be clear. The President, as he has said often and said yesterday, believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. He believes and knows that most all gun owners are highly responsible; they buy their guns legally and they use them safely. He also has seen and believes that most gun owners support the idea of common-sense measures to prevent people who shouldn't have guns from getting them. And that includes closing loopholes in our background check system, for example.


"But when it comes to -- the President will take a comprehensive approach. But it is a simple fact that there are limits on what can be done within existing law. And Congress has to act on the kinds of measures that we've already mentioned because the power to do that is reserved by Congress and to Congress."

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By Miriam Di Nunzio

The Chicago Public Library today unveiled artist Steve Musgrave's new portrait of President Obama to celebrate the upcoming inauguration. The event took place at the West Pullman Branch on West 119th Street.

According to a statement, the portrait reflects Obama's efforts as a community organizer in the South Side Chicago neighborhood prior to seeking public office.

In addition to the likeness of Obama, who is depicted holding a copy of his memoir, "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance," the portrait features images of people who have influenced the president's life including his First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia, his mother and grandmother, Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Harold Washington, David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, among others.

WASHINGTON--Chelsea Clinton continues to step up to the spotlight--for what purpose is not yet clear--accepting the appointment of being "honorary chair" of the Obama inauguration-related Day of Service on Saturday. Freshman Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is also one of the Saturday speakers.


Other big names to be part of the program on the National Mall:

From the Presidential Inaugural Committee: "Speaking and performing at the Service Summit will be National Day of Service Honorary Chair Chelsea Clinton, PIC Co-Chair Eva Longoria, singer-songwriter Ben Folds, Iraq war veteran and Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, American Heart Association spokesperson and television personality Star Jones, actress Angela Bassett, gospel singer Yolanda Adams, U.S. Rep and Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, and the Washington Children's Choir. The event will be emceed by 94.7 Fresh FM host Tommy McFly."

WASHINGTON--The National Park Service on Monday asked for public comment on adding to the National Register of Historic Places three Chicago landmarks:

* The 42nd Precinct Police Station, 3600 N. Halsted St., known as the Town Hall Station.

*The Strand Hotel, 6315-6323 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

*The West Loop--LaSalle Street Historic District, Roughly bounded by Wacker Dr., Wells, Van Buren & Clark Sts.

Link for comments is HERE.


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Jan. 14, 2013: Center for American Progress Chief Neera Tanden, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), chair of House Democratic Gun Violence task force, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (photo by Lynn Sweet)

Updated.

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday he will ask the city pension funds to divest from any gun-related holdings, speaking at a Center for American Progress panel on proposals to curb gun violence.

Emanuel also said that any gun measures in Congress should start in the Democratic-controlled Senate and be focused on criminal access in order to increase leverage in the GOP-run House.

"I've ordered all the Chicago pension funds to check any of their investments, and we're going to -- if they have it, we're going to divest of any investments they have in any gun manufacturer," Emanuel said. He added that he wanted to "lead a charge also among mayors" towards divestment.

Following the event, the mayor was asked if he knew how much the pension funds had in any gun-related investment. "Ya never know until you check," Emanuel said.

Emanuel is asking City of Chicago Comptroller Amer Ahmad to scrub the portfolios of the five pension and retirement funds covering city workers to determine if they have any kind of holdings--direct, debt or other type of financing--related to gun manufacturers. And if they do, Emanuel wants the funds to drop the holdings.


Ahmad spokesman Kathleen Strand said, "The audit process will take a short amount of time, but we know that there are investments in companies that manufacture or sell assault weapons."

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel will be hosting the late-night post-inagural party on Jan. 21 in one of Washington's newest venues, the Hamilton, just down the block from the White House. How late? Runs from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. in an event billed as a "Chicago-Style after hours."

The invite is from Emanuel and the Presidential Inaugural Committee co-chairs, Matthew Barzun, Eva Longoria, Jane Stetson, Frank White, Stephanie Cutter, Jen O'Malley Dixon, Patrick Gaspard, Rufus Gifford, Jim Messina and Julianna Smoot.

Emanuel's late-night party at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. was a sought-after ticket and jammed.

Ald. Sandi Jackson-the wife of and campaign manager for former Rep. Jesse L. Jackson (D-Ill.)--the subject of federal probes--resigned on Friday effective Jan. 15.

In a statement Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, "This afternoon I received a letter from Alderman Sandi Jackson tendering her resignation from City Council, effective January 15th.

"As Sandi takes this time to focus on her family, we give her our deepest thanks and support for her service to our City and the residents of her ward. Her leadership has been greatly appreciated in the Chicago City Council.

"The process to identify a replacement for Alderman Jackson to serve and represent the residents of Chicago's 7th ward will be announced early next week."

The Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Friday some of the talent performing at events from the Kid's concert on Jan. 19 to the balls on Jan. 21 and the roster includes: Alicia Keys, Brad Paisley, Far East Movement, fun., members of the cast of Glee, John Legend, Katy Perry, Marc Anthony, Mindless Behavior, Nick Cannon, Smokey Robinson, Soul Children of Chicago, Stevie Wonder, and Usher.

More names to come

President Barack Obama will use bibles with links to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and First Lady Michelle's grandmother--who was the first African-American manager at Chicago's Moody Bible Institute bookstore.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will be sworn-in twice because the Jan. 20 official date falls on a Sunday. At the official swearing-in at the White House, Obama will use a bible that has been in Mrs. Robinson's family for decades.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee said in a statement, "the Robinson Family Bible was selected specifically for the occasion. The bible was a gift from the First Lady's father, Fraser Robinson III, to his mother, LaVaughn Delores Robinson on Mother's Day in 1958. Mrs. Robinson was the first African-American woman manager of a Moody Bible Institute's bookstore and she used the Bible regularly."

At the ceremonial swearing-in on Jan. 21, on the West Steps of the Capitol, Obama will use two bibles: "the Bible used by President Lincoln at his first Inauguration, which the President used in 2009, and a Bible used by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."

Jan. 21 is the national King Day holiday.

"President Obama is honored to use these Bibles at the swearing-in ceremonies," said Steve Kerrigan, President and CEO of the PIC. "On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, this historic moment is a reflection of the extraordinary progress we've made as a nation."

The Rev. Louis Gigilio, who was to deliver the benediction at President Barack Obama's inauguration, pulled out Thursday after an anti-gay sermon created a firestorm the Presidential Inaugural Committee wanted to swiftly extinguish.

"We were not aware of Pastor Giglio's past comments at the time of his selection and they don't reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural," said Addie Whisenant, a spokesperson for the committee.

"Pastor Giglio was asked to deliver the benediction in large part for his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world. As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration's vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans," she said.

Giglio withdrew a day after his name was announced as part of the inauguration ceremonies, telling the White House and the Presidential Inaugural Committee in a statement released Thursday morning that whatever message he offered would be drowned out by his remarks from the 1990s.

"I am honored to be invited by the President to give the benediction at the upcoming inaugural on January 21. Though the President and I do not agree on every issue, we have fashioned a friendship around common goals and ideals, most notably, ending slavery in all its forms," Giglio said in his statement.

"Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration. Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.

"Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President's invitation. I will continue to pray regularly for the President, and urge the nation to do so. I will most certainly pray for him on Inauguration Day.

"Our nation is deeply divided and hurting, and more than ever need God's grace and mercy in our time of need."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama taps White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew as Treasury Secretary on Thursday with the announcement planned for 1:30 p.m. ET in the East Room. Lew will replace Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who has been anxious to step down.

Lew was Obama's third chief of staff, following Rahm Emanuel and Bill Daley.

Emanuel, who has worked closely with Lew told the Sun-Times, "Jack Lew is the right choice for Treasury Secretary. Whether negotiating a bipartisan solution to reform Social Security as liaison to House Speaker Tip O'Neill, producing a budget with a surplus for three consecutive years in the Clinton Administration, or helping President Obama reach agreements to reduce our deficit and extend middle class tax cuts, Jack has the experience and judgment to lead the Treasury during this critical time for our nation's economy."

In anticipation of the appointment a White House official said in a statement:

"Jack Lew will bring an impressive record of service in both the public and private sectors for over three decades and economic expertise to this important role, and his deep knowledge of domestic and international economic issues will enable him to take on the challenges facing our economy at home and abroad on day one. Throughout his career, Jack Lew has proven a successful and effective advocate for middle class families who can build bipartisan consensus to implement proven economic policies.

"As White House Chief of Staff, Jack Lew led the President's team in tackling some of the toughest domestic and international economic challenges facing our nation in decades. That included strengthening our nation's recovery from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression to dealing with serious fiscal matters and challenges in the global economy. He also led the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton and President Obama, negotiating a historic agreement with Congress during the Clinton administration to balance the federal budget and leading the negotiations of the bipartisan Budget Control Act in 2011, which brought discretionary spending to historically low levels."


"As Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, in addition to managing the day-to-day operations of the Department, Jack Lew managed the State Department's international economic policy portfolio and traveled the world to advance our nation's interest. He also has a distinguished record leading private and public sector institutions and will bring strong relationships in the business community to his new role. At Citi, he was part of the senior internal management team of this global financial institution, serving as Managing Director and COO of Citi Global Wealth Management and then as Managing Director and COO of Citi Alternative Investments. As Chief Operating Officer at New York University, he was responsible for budget, finance, and operations, and was a professor of public administration."


Note: The White House will likely update the official schedule to reflect the appointment of Jack Lew as Treasury Secretary at 1:30 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON--Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will not be sticking around for a second term, with her departure announced just as stories are running about the number of top female appointees in the Obama White House.

Obama statement: "Over her long career in public service - as an advocate for environmental justice in California, state legislator, member of Congress and Secretary of Labor - Hilda Solis has been a tireless champion for working families. Over the last four years, Secretary Solis has been a critical member of my economic team as we have worked to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and strengthen the economy for the middle class. Her efforts have helped train workers for the jobs of the future, protect workers' health and safety and put millions of Americans back to work. I am grateful to Secretary Solis for her steadfast commitment and service not only to the Administration, but on behalf of the American people. I wish her all the best in her future endeavors."


UPDATED

WASHINGTON--Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday said when it comes to curbing gun violence, "this is a moral issue" and President Barack Obama may consider issuing executive orders, taking actions that do not require Congressional approvals.

It is not all-or-nothing when it comes to action, Biden said.

"I want to make it clear that we are not going to get caught up in the notion, unless we can do everything, we're going to do nothing. It's critically important we act. And there certain things I -- I know a great deal about almost all of your organizations. I have read what you have published and spoken to. And there is a pretty wide consensus on three or four or five things in the gun safety area that could and should be done around this table," Biden said.

"You should know that tomorrow I've also invited the gun owners and the -- and -- and the NRA to come and make their case as well before us. I -- I -- I want it clear to the American public that on behalf of the president, we're reaching out to all -- all parties on whatever side of this debate you fall.

"But the president is going to act. There are executive orders -- executive action that can be taken. We haven't decided what that is yet, but we're compiling it all with the help the attorney general and -- and all the rest of the Cabinet members -- as well as legislative action, we believe, is required."


Biden spoke at the beginning of one of a series of meetings he is holding as the chief of President Barack Obama's gun task force, created in the wake of the Sandy Hook School massacre.

On Wednesday, Biden is meeting with victim's groups and gun safety organizations including the Illinois Coalition Against Handgun Violence. Attorney General Eric Holder is also at the meeting.

On Thursday, Biden's meetings will include one with a representative of the National Rifle Association in a day that will take in "advocates for sportsmen and women" as well as gun ownership groups.

The NRA in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings created a program to put armed guards in the nation's schools. NRA chief Wayne LaPierre said in December, "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

The Biden group will also meet this week with representatives of the entertainment and video game industries.

From White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: " Secretary Duncan will meet with representatives from parent, teacher, and education groups. Secretary Sebelius will meet with mental health and disability advocates. And senior White House staff have also held and will continue to hold meetings with a variety of stakeholders, including medical groups, community organizations, child and family advocates, business owners, faith leaders, and others."

WASHINGTON--Performers at President Barack Obama's second inauguration: "Beyoncé will sing the National Anthem, Kelly Clarkson will perform "My Country Tis of Thee," and James Taylor will sing "America the Beautiful," according to the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

WASHINGTON--U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor hits Chicago on Jan. 30 for a stop on her book tour for her new memoir, "My Beloved World." The book records her youth in the Bronx up to President Barack Obama appointing her to the nation's highest court.

Sotomayor will talk about her book 6 p.m. Jan. 30 in the 9th Floor Winter Garden at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St.

She is the first Hispanic and third woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's inauguration committee in naming Richard Blanco the "Inaugural Poet," is highlighting that he is Latino, gay and younger than the other poets who have served in that role.

Blanco will write a poem for the Jan. 21 public inauguration ceremony at the West Steps of the Capitol. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will sworn-in on Jan. 20 at the White House.


From the Presidential Inaugural Committee "Blanco will be the youngest-ever Inaugural poet and the first Hispanic or LGBT person to recite a poem at the swearing-in ceremony.

...Born in Spain to Cuban exiles, Blanco's parents emigrated to New York City days after his birth and eventually settled in Miami. Blanco began his career as a consultant engineer. Writing about abstract concepts and preparing arguments on behalf of his clients helped Blanco think about the "engineering" of language, and he left his job in 1999 for the creative writing faculty at Central Connecticut State University until 2001. Thereafter he served as instructor at various universities throughout the country, including American and Georgetown universities, all the while maintaining his career in consulting engineer.

...As a writer, Blanco explores the collective American experience of cultural negotiation through the lens of family and love, particularly his mother's life shaped by exile, his relationship with his father, and the passing of a generation of relatives. His work also explores the intersection of his cultural identities as a Cuban-American gay man.

...The first inaugural poet was Robert Frost at President Kennedy's 1961 inauguration. In 1993, at the inauguration of President Clinton, Maya Angelou became the second inaugural poet and the first to read an original poem at an inauguration. She was followed by Miller Williams in 1997 and Elizabeth Alexander in 2009.

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WASHINGTON--As Vice President Joe Biden leads the White House task force to curb gun violence, created in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre, the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics kicks off the winter quarter hosting a Jan. 15 discussion on "The Politics of Guns in America."

The panel will be moderated by former NBC anchor and author Tom Brokaw with Mayor Rahm Emanuel; former Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Oh.); his last day in Congress was last week; Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman and the University of Chicago Crime Lab Director Jens Ludwig.

The U. of Chicago IOP, founded by David Axelrod, President Barack Obama's senior strategist, is kicking into higher gear this month. With the Obama re-election campaign over, Axelrod is now the executive director of the IOP.

The session next Tuesday takes place from 7:00 p.m. through 8:30 p.m. at the University's Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.


WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) released a video on Tuesday highlighting his return to the Senate last Thursday, after his nearly year-long absence following his stroke.

WASHINGTON--The Illinois Board of Elections holds a lottery on Tuesday to determine ballot positions for the Feb. 26 primaries to fill the seat left vacant with the resignation of former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.)

The filing period with the Illinois Board of Elections closed Tuesday and the field is big: 17 Democrats and 5 Republicans. The district is so heavily Democratic that the winner of the Feb. 26 primary has little to worry about in the general. Early voting starts Feb. 11, so the campaign time is short.


Web video from Democratic candidate Robin Kelly

WASHINGTON--Whoever replaces former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) takes office at a time when proposals to curb gun violence are expected to land in Congress. Democrat Robin Kelly's campaign on Tuesday released a web video that ties together the national gun massacres with the ongoing gun violence in Chicago, violence that touches lives in the Second Congressional District.

The filing period with the Illinois Board of Elections closed Tuesday and the field is big: 17 Democrats and 5 Republicans. The district is so heavily Democratic that the winner of the Feb. 26 primary has little to worry about in the April 9 general election. Early voting starts Feb. 11, so the campaign time is short.

WASHINGTON--Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers will deliver the invocation at President Barack Obama's Jan. 21 inaugural swearing in ceremony. Megar Evers was shot to death in front of his home in Jackson, Mississippi in 1963.

The Rev. Louie Giglio, the pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and the founder of Passion Conferences, has been tapped to deliver the benediction.

President Barack Obama had a hand in both selections, according to the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will be officially sworn-in on Sunday, Jan. 20 at the White House. As has been tradition, when the Constitution-mandated Jan. 20 swearing-in date falls on a Sunday, the public ceremonies take place on Jan. 21 with the President and Vice President taking a second, symbolic oath at the West Front of the Capitol. Workers have been at work constructing the stage and the viewing stands.

"Vice President Biden and I are honored that Myrlie Evers-Williams and Rev. Louie Giglio will participate in the Inaugural ceremony," Obama said in a statement. "Their voices have inspired many people across this great nation within the faith community and beyond. Their careers reflect the ideals that the Vice President and I continue to pursue for all Americans - justice, equality, and opportunity."

"I am humbled to have been asked to deliver the invocation for the 57th inauguration of the President of the United States--especially in light of this historical time in America when we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement," Myrlie Evers-Williams said in a statement. "It is indeed an exhilarating experience to have the distinct honor of representing that era."

Hillary Clinton back on the job

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Secretary Clinton Meets With State Department Senior Leadership
From the State Department:
Secretary Clinton Meets With State Department Senior Leadership

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, returning to work, meets with the State Department's senior leadership in Washington, D.C., January 7, 2013. [State Department photo by Nick Merrill/ Public Domain]


Secretary Clinton Is Presented With a Football Helmet

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$7,500 gold, bronze, silver medallions
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$165 cotton throw blanket
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$15 pin
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$5 button


WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's inauguration committee opened a store to sell all kinds of merchandise, including a medallion set for $7,500 in order to help fund festivities later this month. Tickets for the Jan. 21 inaugural balls already sold out.

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July 22, 2008: Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) at a press conference in Amman, Jordan with Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) (Photo by Lynn Sweet)


WASHINGTON--Despite an almost certain confirmation battle, President Barack Obama taps a friend, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), to be Defense Secretary on Monday.

Hagel gave Obama a boost--helping him burnish his foreign relations and defense credentials-- when he was running for his first term in 2008. Hagel, along with Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) accompanied Obama to Iraq and Afghanistan, kicking off the first leg--the official government part--of Obama's Mideast and European campaign swing.

After landing in Amman, Jordan after the Iraq and Afghanistan visits, Hagel stuck around for a press conference at the Temple of Hercules in Amman, letting Obama start the next phase of his trip--a pure campaign swing--with an "official" bi-partisan report on the two wars.


Read my report on Hagel and Obama at the Temple of Hercules HERE.

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel is beefing up his communications team, adding Obama campaign veteran Clo Ewing to work on "strategic planning" to further bolster his public relations initiatives.

Ewing was director of constituency press for the Obama campaign, handling media reporting on Jews, gays, women and other niche groups. She is a former producer at Harpo Productions.

Emanuel appears to be taking an organization cue from the White House, where the strategic planning operation works on longer term message management and story placement, not involved so much in dealing with daily press issues.

Sarah Hamilton is City Hall's Director of Communications.

UPDATE from Hamilton

"She is joining the Emanuel Administration as Chief of Strategic Planning on the policy team (not the communications team)."

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Sunday former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) is a "serious candidate" if President Barack Obama nominates him for Defense Secretary--and what is shaping up as a controversial pick.

On Saturday, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said he was "concerned" over Hagel's record on Iran and Israel; my post with Kirk's statement is HERE.

Durbin, spoke to CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union" about Obama and the Hagel selection--which could come this week.

"It tells me that he not only won the election but he wants to lead this country. You know, sitting back here and avoiding any confrontation and any controversy is going to make a weakened presidency. He needs to lead for the good of this nation, and we need to work together and find compromise and consensus in both political parties.

"Chuck Hagel was a Republican Senator from Nebraska, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam war, a person who has a resume that includes service on the foreign relations committee as well as the intelligence committee. Yes, he is a serious candidate if the president chooses to name him.

"And when it comes to the debt ceiling, the more often we have confrontation, the more uncertainty there is in this economy. We need the certainty to move forward so that businesses will invest and jobs can be created."


WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) on Saturday raised concerns over former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) record on Iran and Israel as it appears more likely President Barack Obama will nominate him for Defense Secretary.

A variety of outlets are reporting that Obama is close to announcing Hagel to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, with an announcement as early as next week.

Hagel's record on Israel and Iran has already set the stage for a likely confirmation battle if Obama goes ahead with the nomination.

"I appreciate and respect Senator Hagel's record of service to our country, especially as a decorated combat veteran," Kirk said in a statement to Foreign Policy's "The Cable" column, adding his voice to a growing number of detractors.

"While he has not yet been nominated, I am concerned about his past record and statements, particularly with regard to Iran and the U.S.-Israel relationship. Should he be nominated to serve as Secretary of Defense, I will join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in a rigorous examination of these and other issues of concern," Kirk said.


Kirk, who returned to the Senate Thursday after an almost year-long absence because of his stroke, has been a leader in calling for tougher sanctions against Iran in order to prevent the nation hostile to Israel from gaining nuclear weapon capability. Last month, legislation by Kirk along with now former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) added additional sanctions against Iran.

Last Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said if Hagel is nominated, "I don't think he's going to get many Republican votes."

WASHINGTON--So far, nine candidates--all Democratic--have filed with Illinois State Board of Elections for the seat vacated by former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.). The special primary in Feb. 26, and the winner in the heavily Democratic district essentially clinches the seat.

THE ROSTER SO FAR, ACCORDING TO ILLINOIS BOARD OF ELECTIONS FILINGS:

RAYBURN, CHARLES
721 EAST 152ND STREET
DOLTON, IL 60419 2ND CONGRESS
DEMOCRATIC

HAYNES, GREGORY
2660 EAST 200TH STREET
LYNWOOD, IL 60411 2ND CONGRESS
DEMOCRATIC


JONATHAN, VICTOR
formerly known as
VICTOR ONAFUYE until name changed on Oct 18, 2010
3580 SCHOOL DRIVE
COUNTRY CLUB HILLS, IL 60478 2ND CONGRESS
DEMOCRATIC

REYNOLDS, MEL "MR"
221 EAST 138TH STREET
DOLTON, IL 60419 2ND CONGRESS
DEMOCRATIC


HARRIS, NAPOLEON
1405 DUNFRIES STREET
FLOSSMOOR, IL 60422 2ND CONGRESS
DEMOCRATIC


BEALE, ANTHONY A.
10005 SOUTH PRAIRIE
CHICAGO, IL 60628 2ND CONGRESS
DEMOCRATIC

KELLY, ROBIN
4203 CEDARWOOD LANE
MATTESON, IL 60443 2ND CONGRESS
DEMOCRATIC

HUTCHINSON, TOI W.
115 GRAYMOOR LANE
OLYMPIA FIELDS, IL 60461 2ND CONGRESS
DEMOCRATIC

EAGLETON, CLIFFORD J.
174 EAST 153RD STREET
HARVEY, IL 60426 2ND CONGRESS
DEMOCRATIC

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House Speaker John Boehner greets Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) prior to the start of a Joint Session of Congress. January 4, 2013. (Official Photo by Bryant Avondoglio)


WASHINGTON-- Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) was greeted by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) near the House chamber on Friday, before Congress met in a joint session to officially count the electoral votes. Kirk returned to the Senate on Thursday following nearly a year absence due to his stroke.

I watched some of the joint session from the House Gallery on Friday and was struck that in this era of e-mail, the official proclamations from each state were printed certificates of electoral votes on legal blue backs. It took only about 30 minutes for the tally, with 270 to win.

President Barack Obama of the State of Illinois and Vice President Joe Biden 332 electoral votes.

Republicans Mitt Romney of the State of Massachusett and his running mate Paul Ryan 206 votes.

Spotted on the House floor: Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), sworn-in on Thursday.

WASHINGTON--Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) switched to the House Judiciary Committee in order to push immigration reform, with Democratic House leadership in Friday finalizing appointments for the new Congressional session that started on Thursday. The House Judiciary Committee handles most of the key immigration legislation.

Last month, I wrote how Gutierrez has quietly been alliances with Republicans to work on immigration reform, meeting with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) both potential 2016 GOP presidential contenders.

In making the move, Gutierrez gave up considerable seniority on the House Financial Services panel, where he would have been the third ranking Democratic. Under House Democratic rules, Gutierrez can take a "leave" from the committee, preserving his ability to return at another time.

"Giving up 20-plus years of seniority on Financial Services, even temporarily, is not easy, but passing comprehensive immigration reform is my passion and my commitment to my constituents and immigrants all across our country," Gutierrez said.

"All of the road signs are pointed in the right direction, and I felt I must be on the Judiciary Committee during this Congress to help the others on the Committee get immigration reform to the finish line. We are poised for serious action to fix our broken immigration system, a top priority for Democrats, for the Democratic Leadership, and for the President, and I have spoken to numerous Republicans in the House and Senate who want to get it done.


"We have record levels of deportations and millions of families separated by borders and out-of-date laws. We can't wait and wait and wait for immigration reform, and I am finding an enthusiasm for action that I have not seen on Capitol Hill for years.


"One of the main obstacles to a serious conversation on immigration reform was the small group of people holding the issue hostage to the notion that 12 million people had to leave the country and no new legal immigrants could be added. That argument is dead and the funeral was on Election Night when Gov. Romney and his hard line approach fell in stunning defeat and the overwhelming majority of Latino voters rejected the Republican approach.


"Now we need all hands on deck to make sure that legislation moves and that it makes our immigration system work for the American people first and foremost and for both new immigrants and those who are already here. We need an immigration system that is as smart and generous as the American people and that serves the needs of our 21st Century economy. What we have now is two- or three-decades out of date and separates families, keeps people locked in the underground, and does not live up to the expectations the American people have for an immigration system that has always been such a crucial aspect of our nation's identity.

"I appreciate the seriousness with which the Democratic Leadership and my Democratic colleagues are taking with this issue and for allowing me to adjust my committee assignments so that I could continue to lead on the immigration issue. I look forward to working with the Chairman and the Subcommittee Chairmen and the Ranking Member, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), and the Immigration Subcommittee Ranking Leader, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), in crafting bipartisan immigration reform that fixes our broken immigration system."


WASHINGTON--Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) snagged a coveted seat on the House Appropriations Committee on Friday. If Quigley had not been tapped, Illinois otherwise would have lost representation on the influential panel--where now former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) served before his resignation.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Friday the final round of appointments for the new Congress that started on Thursday.

Pelosi told the Sun-Times, "Quigley will bring the values of his district, the aspirations of his constituents, and a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility and job creation to his work on the Appropriations Committee.

"Ever since coming to Congress, he has proven himself a dedicated fighter for middle class families in Chicago and across the country, and he will contribute that same energy, passion, and perseverance to the task of determining where and how we invest public funds to strengthen our economy."

Quigley had been lobbying to get the seat.

"This new role is an incredible opportunity to advocate for important projects that encourage economic development in the Chicago area," said Quigley. "As the Appropriations Committee focuses on deficit reduction, creating American jobs and strengthening our economy, I am humbled to have the privilege of ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly."

Since joining Congress, Quigley has been a member of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform Committees.

Quigley was first elected to Congress in April, 2009 in a special election to replace then Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) who was stepping down to serve as chief of staff for President Barack Obama.

WASHINGTON -- With much tenderness, Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin helped Sen. Mark Kirk take off his coat, no easy task for a recovering stroke victim, much less one coming back to work Thursday for the first time in almost a year.

Kirk walked into the Capitol after climbing the Senate steps as Biden and Manchin (D-W.Va.) gripped his arms -- into the next phase of his Senate career.

I watched a few feet away as Biden, 70, in a fatherly manner, fussed to make sure that Kirk, 53, was comfortable.

After all, Biden has been there himself. He had a brush with death in 1988, when he was felled by a brain aneurysm.

Thursday was a day of celebrating Kirk's comeback as the 113th Congress convened.

After covering the bitter, partisan, almost round-the-clock fiscal cliff battles of the past week, I saw everybody put acrimony aside and hit the pause button on Thursday with swearing-in festivities filling the Capitol. The return of Kirk, a Republican from Highland Park, added to the upbeat mood on the Senate side.

Senate Chaplain Barry Black talked about Kirk's homecoming in his opening prayer. "We praise you that today your conquering spirit has brought our beloved Senator Mark Kirk back to work in these hallowed halls," he said.

The bipartisan show of support for Kirk, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), said the bipartisan show of support for Kirk was "evidence that a lot of us, regardless of party affiliation, can come together to show the human side of politics."

Kirk's re-emergence -- the public Senate stair-climbing especially -- marked a personal triumph of grit and determination to relearn how to speak and walk after he suffered a stroke on Jan. 21, the day froze his Senate career, which had been a work-in-progress. Kirk joined the Senate in November, 2010 after serving five terms in the House of Representatives.

Kirk resumes a Senate course that will depend, I suspect, on how fast he continues to gain strength and endurance. For all the inspirational photos and video of Kirk climbing the Senate steps to walk in the chamber with the Capitol dome in the background, he left in a wheelchair.

Most of the photos and video of Kirk taken on Wednesday, when he did a round of one-on-one interviews with Chicago outlets in the Capitol, showed him sitting in a chair looking very senatorial. When by chance I ran into him after he wrapped up with the other reporters -- he was in a wheelchair, getting around with the assistance of his devoted, protective staffers and looking dog-tired. He struggled with the few words we exchanged as he was gracious enough to make the effort to greet me.

In the new Congress, Kirk is retaining his committee assignments: Appropriations, Banking, Housing and Urban Development, Aging and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Now that he's back, there are three issues where Kirk can make a difference: Two may be coming up soon and another is more long-term.

The horrible massacre at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Conn., has revived the congressional gun-control debate. Biden is leading the Obama administration task force to figure out ways to curb gun violence. Kirk, in his House career, was a leading Republican on gun-control issues. Will Kirk take the GOP Senate lead?

Will Kirk join in efforts to scuttle the potential nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) as Defense secretary? Kirk has long focused on defending Israel and toughening sanctions on Iran. Hagel is at odds with Kirk's positions on both fronts.

For the lousy luck of getting hit with a stroke, a good place to be living if it happens is in the Chicago area. Kirk was an in-patient at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, landing there in February, a month after the opening of the institute's new experimental Patient Recovery Unit and Ability Lab. Kirk was the first patient to serve as a lab rat for the institute's post-stroke walking research -- all federally funded.

After three months, Kirk returned home to Highland Park, where he continued outpatient treatment either at the hospital downtown or at its suburban Wheeling facility.

Kirk's office organized a news conference with his Rehab Institute medical team at the Capitol on Thursday to highlight the institute's great accomplishments. Kirk's doctors and physical therapist said that over the past 11 months Kirk has received hundreds of sessions of occupational, physical and speech therapy.

That's vastly more treatments than any insurance provides, whether private or Medicaid, the federal-state program for the needy. While the RIC is a Chicago treasure, the answer, however charitable, seems not just a fund-raising drive to help one institution.

Expanding Medicaid treatments for stroke victims could be a goal -- but Congress, post-fiscal cliff, in a few weeks will be grappling again with cutting federal spending. Kirk has a newfound interest on helping people get coverage for more treatments. How he leads on this will matter.

WASHINGTON--A year after a stroke, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) made a triumphant return to the Senate on Thursday, climbing the stairs to the chamber with Vice President Joe Biden and others as his colleagues applauded his come back. Sun-Times photographer Jon Sall captured the climb.

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Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) climbed the Senate steps on Thursday to return to the chamber after a year absence following his stroke. Sun-Times videographer Jon Sall captured Kirk's momentous return.

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Sen. Dick Durbin // Drew Angerer by Getty

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Thursday urged members of the Illinois General Assembly to legalize gay marriage in Illinois as the measure faced an unexpected roadblock in the Illinois State Senate on Wednesday.

In a letter to state lawmakers sent Thursday Durbin said he rarely intervenes in measures pending in Springfield "But as a citizen of this Land of Lincoln I want to be clearly on record in regard to an issue of historic importance.

"I believe those whom God has brought to this Earth with a different sexual orientation and who seek a loving relationship in the eyes of the law should be given that opportunity.

"I urge you to vote for Marriage Equality in Illinois so that our state can be part of the emerging national consensus on this issue of justice.

(Complete text of the letter is below.)

Chicago Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney is reporting the measure "suffered an unexpected setback Wednesday when supporters fell two votes shy of getting the legislative hearing they wanted, meaning no Senate vote on the measure until Thursday at the earliest.The 28-24 procedural vote showed the razor-thin margins surrounding the contentious issue and clearly caught backers off-guard, thwarting their plan to advance the measure to the Senate floor Wednesday night."

Durbin's letter is the latest push from key Democratic elected officials urging the state legislature to pass the gay marriage bill. Earlier, President Barack Obama also issued a state urging his former colleagues to vote yes.

LETTER FROM SEN. DICK DURBIN TO MEMBERS OF THE ILLINOIS GENERAL ASSEMBLY

January 3, 2013

Dear Friend,

I don't often write to express my position on issues before the General Assembly.

But as a citizen of this Land of Lincoln I want to be clearly on record in regard to an issue of historic importance.

I believe those whom God has brought to this Earth with a different sexual orientation and who seek a loving relationship in the eyes of the law should be given that opportunity.

I urge you to vote for Marriage Equality in Illinois so that our state can be part of the emerging national consensus on this issue of justice.

In America every religion has a right to establish standards for its members and to express its position on moral issues for consideration by its faithful and others.

This law would not change that and no religion, including my own Catholic faith, would be mandated to bless same-sex marriages.

Two years ago at the ceremony when President Obama signed the law repealing "Don't ask, don't tell", a Jewish Rabbi gave a memorable invocation.

He said when you look into the eyes of another if you don't see the face of God at least see the face of another human being.

Every generation is given a chance to put an end to some form of discrimination in America. As you consider this historic vote, I hope you will reflect on those you will meet after it is cast.

An affirmative vote will give you a chance to look into the eyes of those who have faced discrimination throughout their lives and tell them that you voted to affirm their rights under the law.

My own views on this issue have evolved over the years and as I reflect on my support for marriage equality, I have concluded that ending this discrimination is consistent with the evolution of civil rights in our democracy - a process served so nobly by a former member of the Illinois General Assembly, Abraham Lincoln.

Thank you for your service to our state.

- United States Senator Dick Durbin

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Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) escorted up Senate steps Thursday with Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va. and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) (photo by Jon Sall)

WASHINGTON--After climbing the steps to the Senate, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), arms held by Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W-Va.) entered the chamber Tuesday morning to a burst of applause, returning a year after he suffered a stroke.

Once in, Biden--a former Senator-- lingered by Kirk's desk as did Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). As Sen. John McCain (R-Az.)approached, the two men hugged and Kirk snapped off a salute.

A few minutes earlier, Kirk climbed up the Senate steps to mark his return, using a leg brace and a cane with four prongs--and mainly with the help of Biden and Manchin, his closest friend in the Senate.

Biden, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nv.) and many lawmakers-including from the Illinois House delegation--turned out to pay tribute to Kirk, lining the steps at the Capitol leading to the Senate chamber.

The lawmakers applauded as Kirk counted off the steps.

Reid shared what he told Kirk: "I just told him he looks so good and it is an act of courage I admire so very, very much.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said "It's a great personal triumph. It's very moving. It is great to see a courageous guy fight back and come back."

Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) who has known Kirk since he first ran for an Illinois House seat said, "we are all very happy and we are joyful that he is doing so well. It is a wonderful thing to have him back."

"Nice to see you guys," Kirk said to the press waiting outside the Senate chamber doors.

What is is like to be back?

"Feels great," Kirk said.

What does he return represent"

Quipped Kirk, "for Joe and I to be a dynamic duo."

Kirk's comeback almost a year after his Jan. 21 stroke, followed by three brain surgeries and months of intensive rehabilitation.

As the Senate launched a new session near noon, Senate Chaplain Barry Black took note of Kirk's return in his opening prayer. "We praise you that today your conquering spirit has brought our beloved Senator Mark KIrk back to work in these hallowed halls," he said.

McConnell and Reid applauded Kirk from the Senate floor.

"The fact that Mark's here today says a lot about his tenacity, his dedication, and his commitment to the people of Illinois. I'm told that about two-thirds of the patients in the facility where he's been recovering over the past year don't return to work; but true to form, Mark opted for an experimental rehabilitation program so grueling it's been compared to military boot camp," McConnell said, referring to Kirk's treatment at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Continued McConnell, "His staff counted 45 steps from the parking lot to the front door of the Senate, and during his treatment, he made walking those steps his goal. Today, he did it. So we admire him for his spirit, and we applaud his achievement. It's wonderful to have him back, ready to work."

Said Reid, "Senator Kirk, you have been missed."

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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) (photo by Jon Sall)

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Rep.-elect William Enyart, (D-Ill.), Rep.-elect Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) (photo by Jon Sall)

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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) (Photo by Jon Sall)

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Rep.-elect Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), rock singer Joe Walsh, Rep.-elect Cheri Bustos (Photo by Jon Sall)

WASHINGTON--The new Congress gets sworn in at noon Thursday. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ill.) is expected to be re-elected Speaker. When the new House members take their oath of office, Illinois will have six freshmen, a Republican, Rodney Davis and five Democrats, Tammy Duckworth, Cheri Bustros, Brad Schneider, Bill Foster and William Enyart.

On Wednesday evening, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) hosted a reception attended by the new members.

My post on the new committee assignments for the freshmen is HERE.

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WASHINGTON--More details are emerging on the return of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to the Senate chamber on Thursday after being absent nearly a year because of a stroke. On Sunday, I reported that if all goes as planned, Kirk plans to walk up the Senate steps to be greeted by Vice President Joe Biden.

It turns out that in addition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sent a "Dear Colleague" letter on Monday inviting the entire Senate to also hail his return on the steps.

"As you know, Senator Mark Kirk has been working very hard to return to the Senate after suffering a serious stroke," the letter says. "He has spent many months in intensive therapy in order to walk again. On January 3, he will return to the Capitol.

"Many members, from both sides of the aisle, have been a real encouragement to Senator Kirk during this time. We intend to welcome him back to his duties in the Senate at 11:30 a.m. on January 3. Please join us in welcoming him back to the chamber. We will gather on the East Front steps of the Senate at 11:25 a.m. to demonstrate our support as Senator Kirk returns to the Senate."

Members of the Illinois House delegation are also expected at the event.

Thursday is the return of Kirk to the Senate chamber; he has been at his Senate office.

My column on Kirk's Senate homecoming is HERE.

WASHINGTON -- The drawn-out fiscal cliff drama ended Tuesday night with the House sending President Barack Obama legislation averting tax hikes that would have socked every earner in the nation.

The bill, meeting on New Year's Day, passed the House on a 257-167 bipartisan vote, coming with only hours to spare since the new Congress is being sworn-in at noon Thursday.

Shortly after the bill was passed, Obama talked about the "messy nature of the process" of the past few weeks that led to the compromise. Minutes later, he departed to fly back to Hawaii to resume his holiday vacation with his family.

"The fact is the deficit is still too high and we are still investing too little in the things that we need for the economy to grow as fast as it should," said Obama.

He noted that at earlier stages, he tried with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for a bigger deal. "Unfortunately, there just wasn't enough support or time for that kind of large agreement in a lame duck session of Congress."

Obama also dared Republicans to trigger another battle over the looming need to raise the debt ceiling. Congressional Republicans are already planning to do this to try to dictate spending cuts.


"I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they have already racked up through the laws they have passed," said Obama.

The president had yet to set a date to sign Tuesday's bill.

Highlights of the deal call for income-tax rates to rise for individuals with incomes above $400,000 and married couples who earn above $450,000 -- a level that represents a Democratic concession -- since Obama had campaigned on boosting taxes on households making more than $250,000. Capital gains taxes would also rise for these higher-income earners.

Estates above $5 million would be taxed more -- from 35 percent to 40 percent, despite efforts by the GOP for no increase. Unemployment benefits set to expire would be extended for one more year.

Had Congress taken no action, federal tax hikes and a series of deep cuts in Pentagon and domestic spending would have started to be implemented starting Wednesday. Under the deal, those cuts will be postponed for two months.

And while Obama prevailed in his quest to have the wealthy pay more, the price he paid is another exhausting battle in a few weeks over spending cuts, this time linked to raising the nation's debt ceiling.

The vote came after a chaotic and historic 24 hours on Capitol Hill, starting at about 2 a.m. Eastern time Tuesday when the Senate approved -- on a 89-8 bipartisan roll call -- a fiscal cliff deal negotiated between Vice President Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Less than 12 hours later, the deal almost unraveled when conservative GOP House members -- some with roots in the Tea Party movement -- led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said at a closed-door meeting they would not support the Senate bill because it did not cut spending enough.

The internal GOP wrangling magnified festering divisions between Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). If the House GOP derailed the bipartisan Senate deal, House Republicans were exposed to the very real political possibility that they would be blamed for saddling everyone with tax hikes in order to preserve tax breaks for top earners.

At a second closed-door meeting of GOP House members on Tuesday afternoon, moderate members who spoke out, including Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), urged colleagues to take a reality check and not throw out the tax package.

The breakthrough came when Boehner made two key decisions. In order to address the concerns of the conservatives, he whipped, or polled, GOP members, asking them if they would support an amendment with deeper spending cuts. It failed to win support.

Next -- and most crucial -- Boehner allowed an up-or-down vote, putting aside Tuesday night governing through the "Hastert Rule," named for former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) whereby no legislation gets to the floor not supported by the party in power.

Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had been urging the up-or-down vote knowing that there would be enough Democratic votes to get to the 217 needed for passage. While there was some angst among Democratic progressives, there was no serious threat of Democratic defections.

The House vote ended a showdown that was entirely self-inflicted because of the congressionally imposed Dec. 31 fiscal cliff deadline installed in order to force members to act on the growing debt and deficit. Those harder questions, for now, will be left for another day.

In interviews, Democrats and GOP lawmakers from Illinois said each side gained in the compromise.

Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) called the measure a "good deal," noting that "we are keeping rates low" for most U.S. workers.

"I do hope that there are going to be other opportunities to talk about reining in spending because we have to do that," Dold said.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said while Obama got his higher taxes on the wealthy, "in the long run, we do have to have a spending fight in this country."

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said, "we stopped taxes going up for 98 percent of Americans. We asked the rich to pay more. For the first time in 20 years, Republicans are being force to vote for higher taxes. This is a good deal."

Said Kinzinger of the next round of fiscal fights, within a few months, "this is all going to be down-to-the-wire stuff again."

WASHINGTON--Here is a breakdown on the House fiscal cliff roll call and how Illinois members voted. The measure was sent to President Barack Obama to sign on a 257-167 roll call. All Illinois House Democrats voted yes as did Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in the Senate.

REPUBLICANS
85 yes
151 no

DEMOCRATS
172 yes
16 no

ILLINOIS LAWMAKERS

no Republicans

Randy Hultgren
Peter Roskam
Bobby Schilling
Joe Walsh


yes Democrats

Jerry Costello
Danny Davis
Luis Gutierrez
Dan Lipinski
Mike Quigley
Bobby Rush
Jan Schakowsky

yes Republicans

Judy Biggert
Tim Johnson
Adam Kinzinger
Don Manzullo
Aaron Schock
John Shimkus
Bob Dold


WASHINGTON--The House was headed Tuesday night to vote on the fiscal cliff bill passed by the Senate setting the stage for President Barack Obama to sign legislation making permanent tax cuts for households with incomes below $450,000. The vote comes with only hours to spare, as the new Congress gets sworn in at noon Thursday.

The final vote was expected sometime after 11 p.m. ET.

The expected roll call comes after a hectic day of closed door meetings among House members, highlighted by internal GOP wrangling over whether to try to amend the bill passed early Tuesday morning in the Senate on an overwhelmingly bi-partisan 89-8 roll call.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) cleared the way for the anticipated vote when the decision was made by GOP House leadership for an up-or-down vote--a procedure that is not routine.

The Senate legislation was crafted through negotiations between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Biden traveled to Capitol Hill Tuesday--his second visit in less than 24 hours-- to spend several hours briefing Democratic House members.

Meanwhile--at about the same time--the deal was close to unraveling when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House--told his colleagues at their closed door meeting that he opposed the Senate bill.

This set in motion a flurry of GOP House temperature taking --that ended up going nowhere--to see if there were enough House members who wanted to amend the Senate bill in order to install more cuts. One Boehner demonstrated to his hard-liners there just were not enough Republican votes--his lieutenants whipped, or polled the matter--the way was cleared for the up-or-down vote.

The House is expected to approve the tax-and-spending measure on a robust bi-partisan roll call.

The no votes are expected from conservative GOP members who saw the Senate measure as not including enough spending cuts and from the most liberal Democrats who were unhappy that in the bargaining, the income threshold for raising tax rates went to $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for joint filers--up from the $250,000 level Obama campaigned on.


WASHINGTON--House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joined other Democratic House leaders on Tuesday to pressure House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to have an up-or-down vote on the Senate fiscal cliff bill that passed 89-8. It's rare for the House to have a straight majority vote.

Click below for the entire transcript

Sun-Times Lynn Sweet to Pelosi: "Madam Leader, if there is an up or down vote, how many Democratic votes would you have, would you be able to deliver?"

Pelosi reply: "That isn't a subject that I will be talking about right now."

WASHINGTON--Vice President Joe Biden heads to Capitol Hill for the second time in less than 24 hours to broker deals for Congress to pass fiscal cliff legislation. Biden, the key White House negotiator with Senate Republicans, briefs House Democrats on the fiscal cliff deal at 12:15 p.m. ET.

House Republican members hold their own huddle at 1 p.m.

Other details on how the House will proceed are developing. There is no guarantee of a vote. The Senate passed their fiscal cliff bill a little after 2 a.m. on Tuesday after a rare New Year's Even session.

Click HERE to read the White House face sheet on the fiscal cliff legislation--which includes extending the farm bill for a year--which will prevent a spike in milk prices.

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Reporters working the fiscal cliff story on New Year's Eve at the Senate Press Gallery in the Capitol took a short break to toast 2013 at the stroke of midnight. The Senate finished voting on the fiscal cliff deal a few minutes after 2 a.m. ET
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--The House takes up the Senate passed fiscal cliff legislation on Tuesday, with the measure arriving in the chamber on an 89-8 bi-partisan roll call. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the House will consider the legislation--and offer amendments. While there members on the left and the right have issues with the tax and spending deal forged in the Senate, there are plenty of votes for the bill to pass in the House--if Boehner calls it--and if it remains basically the same as the Senate version.

The agreement also extends the farm bill for a year--avoiding a jump in milk prices.


Click below for the White House fact sheet with details of the bill, which runs more than 150 pages...

The Senate fiscal cliff no votes

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Voting no on the Senate fiscal cliff deal were senators Tom Harkin (D-Ia.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Mike Lee (R-Ut), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Ron Paul (R-Ky.), Michael Bennet (D-Col.) , Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fl.)

WASHINGTON--The Senate voted 89-9 on a fiscal cliff deal early Tuesday morning in an unusual New Year's Eve session, sending the measure to an uncertain fate in the House.

"This historic vote protects working families from an income tax increase and spares our economy from a devastating political disaster," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said.

"We now turn to the House and ask them to act with dispatch to prove our government can truly respond in a bipartisan way in the best interests of the people we represent."

The Senate voted just before 2 a.m. ET as Congress missed the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff deadline.

"This shouldn't be the model for how to do things around here," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) from the Senate floor after a marathon series of negotiations. "But I think we can say we've done some good for the country. We've taken care of the revenue side of this debate.

"Now it's time to get serious about reducing Washington's out-of-control spending. That's a debate the American people want. It's the debate we'll have next. And it's a debate Republicans are ready for."

President Barack Obama said in a statement, "Leaders from both parties in the Senate came together to reach an agreement that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support today that protects 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small business owners from a middle class tax hike. While neither Democrats nor Republicans got everything they wanted, this agreement is the right thing to do for our country and the House should pass it without delay.

"...There's more work to do to reduce our deficits, and I'm willing to do it. But tonight's agreement ensures that, going forward, we will continue to reduce the deficit through a combination of new spending cuts and new revenues from the wealthiest Americans.

Voting no were senators Tom Harkin (D-Ia.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Mike Lee (R-Ut), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Ron Paul (R-Ky.), Michael Bennet (D-Col.) , Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fl.)

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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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