Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

March 2013 Archives

Easter 2013 Obama family .jpg

From the White House: "President Barack Obama walks with daughter Sasha as First Lady Michelle Obama walks with daughter Malia as they arrive at St. John's Church in Washington, D.C. where they attend Easter Service, Sunday, March 31, 2013." (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama wants to sign an immigration reform bill--and sees it as a "legacy item," David Axelrod said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Axelrod, a former Obama top advisor who is a NBC News analyst, told guest host Chuck Todd Republicans are wrong if they suspect that Obama wants the issue more than the accomplishment.

"Well, I understand their paranoia because it was a terribly difficult issue for them and continues to be. He wants this accomplishment. This is a legacy item for him. There is no doubt in my mind that he wants to pass comprehensive immigration reform," Axelrod said.

A bi-partisan group of eight senators--including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are negotiating a measure they hope to present to their colleagues in the coming weeks with the broad strokes to be ready as early as next week. The GOP-controlled House is waiting for the Democratic-run Senate to act first on immigration.

"I think we've got a deal," Sen. Lindsey Grahman (R-S.C.) one of the eight, told CNN's Candy Crowley, host of "State of the Union." Not all eight have signed off yet -- but a big hurdle has been crossed, getting business and labor agreement.

Pres. Obama at a Wizards-Bulls game in 2009; AP Photo/Evan Vucci

A Chicago Bulls fan, President Barack Obama noted with polite glee his team beat the Miami Heat at the top of a speech he delivered Friday in Miami--as he paid the Heat a compliment, that "they are playing basketball the right way."

The Bulls outplayed the Heat Wednesday night at Chicago's United Center, beating them 101 to 97. The teams meet again on April 14.

In Miami for a speech about infrastructure investment, Obama consoled the Heat for the loss.

"I've got to get into a sticky subject right off the bat," Obama said.

"I -- I know you guys aren't happy with my Chicago Bulls," he said to boos. "But I just want you to know the Heat are going to be just fine. They're going to be OK. They -- they -- they are -- they are playing basketball the right way.

"The Hurricanes, they had a great season. No, no, they deserve a big round of applause.

"Tonight you've got Florida and Florida Gulf Coast going at it. One of them will go to the Elite Eight.So -- so let's face it: Florida is the center of basketball right now."

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Obama's 2013 Easter message

| No Comments

Waukegan Harbor--one of the most underused assets in the Chicago area--will get a boost, some $990,000 in federal funding for dredging to clean up damage caused last year by Hurricane Sandy, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) announced on Friday.

Where the money comes from and background, according to Durbin and Schneider release: "The funding was awarded as part of the $821 million approved for the Army Corps of Engineers in the supplemental appropriations bill to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy and to rebuild the areas that were impacted.

"For many years, Waukegan Harbor and the entire Great Lakes navigation system have been threatened due to underfunding which was worsened last year by record low lake levels and damage from Hurricane Sandy," said Durbin. "While more work needs to be done, this funding will restore navigation and keep goods moving this shipping season. It will also help protect the Illinois jobs and economic development that depend on reliable access to the harbor."

"Waukegan Harbor has been closed to commercial navigation for far too long, and this is an encouraging development in what will be a long-term project to restore the harbor," Schneider said. "Fostering economic growth and helping create new jobs in the region, this investment will pay great dividends and promote development in the area."

"In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the United States covering 900 miles and impacting 24 states, including the states surrounding the Great Lakes where gale force winds caused damage to breakwaters and silted in harbors and channels. The storm left Waukegan Harbor with only a 12 foot draft in its approach channel where there should be 22 feet of clearance forcing the closure of the harbor to all commercial traffic. The harbor's commercial interests support over 100 jobs and millions of dollars of personal income for the local community."

Chicago's Jordan Kaplan, who started political fund-raising for then Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama in 2004, has been tapped to be the new Finance Director for the Democratic National Committee, chaired by Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fl.). He also was finance director for Rahm Emanuel's mayoral campaign and political action committee and the Illinois Finance Director for Obama's 2012 and 2008 presidential campaigns.

First Lady Michelle Obama comes home on April 10 to address youth violence in her city -- and bolster Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new $50 million fund to help at-risk kids.

I'm told that Mrs. Obama's White House team reached out to Emanuel's City Hall -- asking how she can be helpful -- after she attended the Feb. 9 funeral in Chicago for Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old shot to death Jan. 29 about a mile from the Obamas' Kenwood home.

Out of that call came the idea for Mrs. Obama to headline the first major event for Emanuel's "Chicago Public Safety Action Community Fund," launched last month and tasked with raising $50 million over five years to bankroll a variety of programs aimed at reducing youth violence.

That Mrs. Obama is lending her support to the initiative is significant in particular because -- campaigns aside -- she rarely makes public appearances not connected to her signature issues of combating childhood obesity and helping military families. This will also mark the first time that Mrs. Obama is making a visit home to help a Chicago charity.

Mrs. Obama was last in Chicago on Feb. 28 to mark the third anniversary of her signature "Let's Move!" anti-obesity drive with a massive event at McCormick Place.

The Pendleton murder deeply touched Mrs. Obama, who attended Pendleton's funeral with her fellow South Siders, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Mrs. Obama also hosted Hadiya's parents in her box for President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. Obama, speaking at the Hyde Park Academy on Feb. 15, in a post-State of the Union swing, highlighted the city's soaring number of shooting deaths. Said Obama: "Last year there were 443 murders with a firearm on the streets of this city, and 65 of those victims were 18 and under. So that's the equivalent of a Newtown every four months."

Leading the fund-raising drive are Loop Capital CEO Jim Reynolds and Allstate CEO Tom Wilson. Reynolds was an early and major fund-raiser for Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

Mrs. Obama will speak at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan, at a lunch hosted by Emanuel, Obama's former White House chief of staff. The theme is "Working Together to Address Youth Violence in Chicago."

The audience will include civic, business and philanthropic leaders. Some of the guests will have already donated to the fund; others are potential donors who need more prodding.

To date, according to Emanuel's press office, some $25 million has been raised.

Mrs. Obama will press for more.

Said the White House in announcing her visit, "Mrs. Obama will be urging Chicago's business leaders to invest in expanded opportunities for youth across Chicago's neighborhoods."


Office of the Press Secretary



March 27, 2013

Statement by the Press Secretary on the President's Trip to Mexico and Costa Rica

President Obama will travel to Mexico and Costa Rica May 2-4. This trip is an important opportunity to reinforce the deep cultural, familial, and economic ties that so many Americans share with Mexico and Central America.

In Mexico, the President looks forward to meeting with President Peña Nieto, with whom he spoke by telephone today. The President welcomes the opportunity to discuss ways to deepen our economic and commercial partnership and further our engagement on the broad array of bilateral, regional, and global issues that connect our two countries. In Costa Rica, the President looks forward to the opportunity to meet with President Chinchilla as well as heads of state of the other Central American countries and the Dominican Republic, whom President Chinchilla has graciously offered to host. The trip will be an important chance to discuss our collective efforts to promote economic growth and development in Central America and our ongoing collaboration on citizen security.


First Lady Michelle Obama returns home to Chicago on April 10 to address youth violence in Chicago, marking her first local move to deal with reducing crime in her city.

According to the White House, Mrs. Obama will speak at a "Joint Luncheon Meeting: Working Together to Address Youth Violence in Chicago," hosted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which will include members of Chicago's leading civic organizations: the Commercial Club, the Economic Club, the Executives' Club, and World Business Chicago.

"Mrs. Obama will be urging Chicago's business leaders to invest in expanded opportunities for youth across Chicago's neighborhoods."

Mrs. Obama returned to Chicago with White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett to attend the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old shot in a park about a mile from the Obama Kenwood home. Her parents sat in Mrs. Obama's box during President Barack Obama's State of the Union address last month.

A few weeks later, another horrific shooting occurred, where six-month old Jonylah Watkins was shot to death while her father was changing her diaper in his van.

Other business leaders part of the event, at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave., are Thomas J. Wilson, Chairman, President, & CEO The Allstate Corporation and James Reynolds, Jr., Founder, Chairman, & CEO Loop Capital. The two men are leading a drive to raise $50 million for, according to a City Hall release, "support of proven programs that serve at risk youth across the city."

"The greatest thing we can do as a city is give our children the support they need to build a successful life. There are proven and successful programs that are creating a brighter future for some of our most vulnerable children in every neighborhood, and people from all corners of our city are stepping up to invest in them," said Mayor Emanuel in a release. "We are honored to have the First Lady's support in this effort. I will work tirelessly to provide safe alternatives that reduce the risk of our kids getting involved with drugs, gangs, and violence."

Mrs. Obama was last in Chicago on Feb. 28 for a massive event at McCormick Place to mark the third anniversary of her signature "Let's Move!" anti-obesity campaign; at the convention center she rolled out a new initiative, "Let's Move! Active Schools."

Click below for City Hall release....

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in the first of two gay marriage cases it is considering: The link to the audio of the arguments is HERE.

Read the transcript of the session over Hollingsworth v. Perry here:

Transcript: Supreme Court on Hollingsworth v. Perry

The Supreme Court of the United States--nicknamed SCOTUS-- is hearing oral arguments on two gay marriage cases on Tuesday and Wednesday. You can listen to the oral arguments starting at 1 p.m. ET; the link to the Supreme Court website is HERE.

UPDATE: The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in the first of two gay marriage cases it is considering. Read the transcript of the session over Hollingsworth v. Perry (California Prop 8) HERE.

The link to the audio of the argument is HERE.


Early sounding from the Washington Post: "Tough questions from Supreme Court on law barring gay marriage"

From the Washington Post story: "The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a landmark case about same-sex marriage, with several justices on both sides of the issue asking sharp questions about California's law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Defending the 2008 law that effectively banned same-sex marriage in California, Washington lawyer Charles J. Cooper encountered skeptical questions from at least four justices, including Anthony M. Kennedy, who is considered a potential swing vote in the case."

From SCOTUS: "The Court will provide the audio recordings and transcripts of the oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, March 26, and United States v. Windsor, scheduled to be heard on Wednesday, March 27, on an expedited basis through the Court's Website.

"The Court will post the audio recordings and unofficial transcripts as soon as the digital files are available for uploading to the Website. The audio recordings and transcripts should be available no later than 1 p.m. on March 26 and no later than 2 p.m. on March 27.

"Anyone interested in the proceedings will be able to access the recordings and transcripts directly through links on the homepage of the Court's Website. The homepage currently provides links to the orders, briefs, and other information about the cases. The Court's Website address is"

Obama 2013 Passover Seder: Photos

| No Comments

First Lady Michelle Obama lights the Passover candles at the beginning of the White House 2013 seder. To her left, standing, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil Cohen, husband of Mrs. Obama's former chief of staff Susan Sher.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama White House Seder, March 25, 2013.
At far left, Susan and David Axelrod
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

working on more ID's...

Obamafoodorama,, the site of record for food and entertaining in the Obama White House, has a report on Obama Seder 2013: Click HERE for the story.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) tells the City Club of Chicago on Monday, March 25, 2013 that the federal government cannot--and should not-- help Illinois solve its unfunded pension mess. ""I don't think there is a federal bailout anytime soon," she said. "And we need to fix this in our own state." (video by Lynn Sweet)

CHICAGO--Freshman Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.)--providing examples of congressional cooperation in an otherwise highly charged partisan House environment-- praised House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) twice during an appearance at the City Club of Chicago on Monday.

Duckworth, as is well known, is a wounded Iraq war vet, who lost her legs and mangled an arm when her helicopter was shot down. When she arrived in Washington three months ago to get an office assignment, she asked Boehner to be exempted from the usual freshman lottery for office space because not all offices where freshmen often end up are wheelchair accessible.

She got that and more, Duckworth told the audience at Maggiano's on Grand.

"I reached out to the Speakers' office because of my wheelchair and my needs. I requested I not go in the lottery," she said.

"...Speaker Boehner could not have been more gracious or accommodating." Not only did Boehner make sure she got an office that was accessible, "he proceeded to make sure they made bathrooms wheel chair accessible for me, that they made the gym accessible. He did this all under the House Administrative budget. And then he assigned, provided me with a full time ADA assistant," she said, using the initials for the Americans with Disability Act.

So there are, Duckworth said, "signs of hope."

The assistant helps Duckworth "with accessibility and traveling for official duties in Washington, DC and in the 8th Congressional District," Duckworth press secretary Anton Becker told me.

In addition, Duckworth thanked Boehner--who controls what gets voted on on the House floor--for allowing votes on measures Democrats wanted more than Republicans including votes on relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy and the fiscal cliff deal.

The White House on Tuesday will honor two Illinois men--Matthew Soerens of Glen Ellyn and Lawrence Benito of Chicago-- at a "Champion of Change" event named for farm labor organizer Cesar Chavez. They are two of eleven honored at the event, "A Legacy of Service: Organizing for Immigration Reform."

The White House said the eleven to be honored: "those who embody the spirit of Cesar Chavez's legacy and commit themselves to working in their communities to advocate and organize around immigration-related issues. Though the honorees come from vastly different backgrounds, they all share a commitment to realizing Chavez's core values and the dream of a more just tomorrow."

The Obama 2012 White House seder.
ID's for those facing the camera in the picture: At the far head of the table Eric Whitaker, Alison Silber, Eric Lesser, Neil Cohen, Susan Sher, President Barack Obama, Arun Chaudhary, Laura Moser, Jarrod Bernstein, Herbie Ziskend, empty chair for Elijah, and Hildy Kuryk on the far right head of the table.
(White House photo)

President Barack Obama's White House Passover seder on Monday night will be using the seder plate given to him last week when he was in Israel by Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Once again, the Obama seder will be using the Maxwell House Hagaddah.

Hopefully I'll have a complete menu later, but for those who want a sneak peak...I'm told the menu will feature brisket, kugel, matzah ball soup, haroset, raspberry ganache, meringue.

The guests will be largely the same as in 2012 and years prior, names in photo above--with the core group Obama 2008 campaign staffers who improvised a seder in Pennsylvania during the primary.

The U.S. Supreme Court takes up gay marriage this week, holding two days of oral arguments over the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8. Read all the Supreme Court filings and briefs HERE.

WASHINGTON--Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn made a quick trip to Los Angeles Friday for a fund-raiser, aiming at Hollywood cash. A Quinn operative told me he was in Los Angeles for about 24 hours for the funder at the home of producer Bob Teitel. About 100 folks attended the event, including Glee star--and Dolton native--Jane Lynch.

To note: Quinn has been a lackluster fund-raiser and is bolstering his war chest as he heads into re-election facing an almost certain 2014 Democratic primary battle with either Attorney General Lisa Madigan or former White House chief of staff Bill Daley. I posted earlier: on Thursday, Quinn headlines a fund-raiser at Loft 644, 644 N. Orleans in Chicago. The tickets for the Quinn Thursday event range from $100 to $1,000. Madigan holds a 3-to-1 fundraising lead over Quinn. Hollywood hat tips: Reel Chicago, Crain's Greg Hinz

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

WASHINGTON--The brothers Emanuel--Mayor Rahm, doctor Zeke and agent Ari--sat for a joint interview with NBC's Brian Williams--broadcast Friday night--to publicize Zeke's memoir, "Growing Up Emanuel," about their lives growing up on the North Side of Chicago, Wilmette and beyond.


The segment was taped March 8 in a New York bar--with a Chicago flag as a backdrop. No new facts revealed, interesting still photos of the brothers as kids. Williams said they may be America's "Jewish Kennedys.'"

WASHINGTON--Chicago's Louis Susman, the Ambassador to the United Kingdom--a post also called the United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James'--is stepping down next month, with speculation centering on other big fund-raisers for President Barack Obama to take his place. Susman took up the post in July, 2009, after raising major money for Obama's 2008 presidential bid.

WASHINGTON--Forced federal spending cuts will close air traffic towers in Waukegan, Kenosha, Wisc. and Gary, Ind. starting April 7--victims of the process called "sequestration"-- the Federal Aviation Administration announced on Friday.

Release from the FAA: "Today, the Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reached the decision that 149 federal contract towers will close beginning April 7 as part of the agency's sequestration implementation plan. The agency has made the decision to keep 24 federal contract towers open that had been previously proposed for closure because doing so would have a negative impact on the national interest.

"...We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration."

"We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta."

Full details from the FAA: HERE.

king abdullah, obama 2008.JPG
King Abdullah, then Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) at Amman, Jordan Airport. July 22, 2008. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama at his press conference in Amman, Jordan on Friday with Jordan King Abdullah recalled how the king personally drove him to the airport when he visited in July, 2008. I was on that trip and saw the king drive his Mercedes 600 right on the tarmac next to our charter after a high-speed ride.

What Obama said on Friday: "The thing I mainly remember when I came here was that His Majesty was kind enough to personally drive me to the airport. I won't tell you how fast he was going, but Secret Service I don't think could keep up. So nevertheless, we're very much appreciative for you welcoming me and my delegation."

My post from that night is HERE. I took the photo above from the stairs of the plane just as King Abdullah pulled up and dropped Obama off.


AMMAN, Jordan--Just like any cordial host, King Abdullah drove his guest, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) to the airport.

Abdullah drove a Mercedes 600 from his residence to the tarmac where Obama's "change we can believe in" charter was parked. The two chatted briefly, shook hands and His Royal Highness watched as Obama climbed the stairs to the Israel-bound aircraft.

obama 2013 yad vashem.jpeg
(AP photo) Obama at Yad Vashem

Obama remarks to Israeli students: Text

| No Comments

Office of the Press Secretary
March 21, 2013

Remarks of President Barack Obama

To the People of Israel

Jerusalem Convention Center

March 21, 2013

As Prepared for Delivery -

Shalom. It is an honor to be here with you in Jerusalem, and I am so grateful for the welcome that I have received from the people of Israel. I bring with me the support of the American people, and the friendship that binds us together.

Over the last two days, I have reaffirmed the bonds between our countries with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres. I have borne witness to the ancient history of the Jewish people at the Shrine of the Book, and I have seen Israel's shining future in your scientists and entrepreneurs. This is a nation of museums and patents, timeless holy sites and ground-breaking innovation. Only in Israel could you see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the place where the technology on board the Mars Rover originated. But what I've looked forward to the most is the ability to speak directly to you, the Israeli people - especially so many young people - about the history that brought us here today, and the future that you will make in the years to come.


President Barack Obama has Louisville, Ohio State, Florida, and Indiana headed to Atlanta for NCAA Final Four, with Indiana the national champion. As in past years, Obama revealed his picks on ESPN.

WASHINGTON--If Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is to "merit" re-election, he "needs to show leadership and produce results," fellow Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin said Wednesday, with the senator seeming to prod Attorney General Lisa Madigan to get in the race.

Bill Daley, former White House chief of staff and former Commerce Secretary--and brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley--is mulling a run for governor but is likely not to challenge Quinn in a Democratic primary if Madigan is in the race.

Durbin, speaking to reporters at a session hosted by the Wall Street Journal, said, "I don't think Bill Daley will get in the race. But I leave that up to him. I mean, that's really ultimately his decision."

"Illinois is going through a period here," Durbin said, "as I mentioned earlier, with our legislature in Springfield and our governor that's as hard a political assignment as I've ever seen, dealing with this pension problem. And it's - it is awful, as you can imagine. And all the choices are bad. And there's a feeling that the governor needs to show leadership and produce results in order to merit renomination and re-election.

"There are people looking at running against him. They include Lisa Madigan, the attorney general, and Bill Daley, who's known to everyone here in the room. I don't believe - I don't know that Lisa has made a decision. I think she's going to make one soon. If she gets in the race, she is likely to be the only challenger. I don't think Bill Daley will get in the race. But I leave that up to him. I mean, that's really ultimately his decision."

One of Lisa Madigan's potential main liabilities in a statewide run is her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), the state Democratic Party chairman.

Durbin, asked if Speaker Madigan could stay on if his daughter runs for governor, said "That's a hard question.

"He's been around for many years, not only the most powerful person in the state capital as speaker - and she has - she has really earned her stripes as an individual, not as his daughter. I mean, she won a tough primary for attorney general. She has served well and has high approval ratings, one of the highest approval rating of any state official. So the relationship with her father and her possible future run - I'm not going to speculate on that."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama can invoke a retooled version of the traditional "next year in Jerusalem" recited at the end of the Passover Seder. When he holds his traditional White House seder at the White House on Monday---the night of the first seder--he can say "last week in Jerusalem."

Obama on Wednesday was on his first trip to Israel as president. See other posts in this blog for information on the unfolding trip.

Background: Obama's Passover Seder tradition started during the 2008 presidential campaign by a group of staffers who found themselves in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for the primary as the first seder loomed.

My post on the 2012 Obama seder is HERE.
My 2012 Obama seder preview is HERE.

My post on the Obama 2011 Passover Seder is HERE.

My post on the Obama 2010 Passover Seder is HERE.

My post on the Obama 2009 Seder is HERE.

Obama White House 2012 Passover recipes post is HERE.

WASHINGTON--The first night of Passover is Monday and Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu is sending back to the U.S. with President Barack Obama--who landed in Israel Wednesday morning-- a gift of a silver Passover Seder plate.

Obama has held a seder at the White House every year that he has been president.

From the foreign pool report:

After hundreds of suggestions were received on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Facebook page, Sara Netanyahu chose the gifts that she will give to U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, to Sasha and Malia Obama, and even to the presidential dog, Bo.

Information received from the Israeli press office:
"Ms. Netanyahu will give Michelle Obama a silver Passover Seder plate that could be used atthe traditional Passover Seder that is held at the White House annually. To Sasha and Malia Obama, Ms. Netanyahu will give chains with silver medallions in the form of David's harp set with Roman glass. Ms. Netanyahu will give Bo a rubber hamburger toy."

WASHINGTON--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) sidelined the assault weapons ban sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on the grounds, he said Tuesday, that he did not have the 60 votes needed to get it passed. Feinstein has vowed to get a vote on the measure--and wants to eventually offer it as an amendment on the Senate floor. I can understand Reid's move--he didn't want the assault ban--the most contentious in a package of proposals to curb gun violence--to poison everything. Still, it looks like he waved the white flag too early--and let fence-sitting senators off the hook too early on--because now they know there will not be a roll call vote to mark their support--or lack of--for reinstating the ban, which expired in 2004.

Reid explained his move: "I have said time and time again that I want people to have the ability to vote on assault weapons, mental health, safety in schools, federal trafficking, clips, everything, but I cannot do that until I get a bill on the floor. And it's been very clear that Republicans want us to have bills coming to the floor that have gone through committee. The Judiciary Committee has held hearings, and they've held hearings on a number of different pieces of legislation. My job is to find one of those that I can bring to the floor, or two of them, but at least have been through the committee and that I can get 60 votes to proceed to that. We cannot have votes on everything unless I get something on the floor. It's a legislative impossibility.

"Dianne has worked so hard on this. She understands, going back to the day she found the mayor dead in his office, having been killed, how strongly she feels about that. I know that. But right now her amendment, using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes. I -- that's not 60. I have to get something on the floor so we can have votes on that issue and the other issues that I've talked about. And that's what I'm going to try to do."

Corrected to reflect today's hearing is Sen. Leahy's...

WASHINGTON--Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing today on "The future of drones in America: law enforcement and privacy concerns." The domestic use of drones is a concern that crosses partisan lines. The hearing starts at 10:30 a.m. ET and you can listen to a webcast HERE. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is holding a hearing on drones next month.

Below, the witness list....

Benjamin Miller
Unmanned Aircraft Program Manager, Mesa County Sheriff's Office
Representative, Airborne Law Enforcement Association
Mesa County, CO

Amie Stepanovich
Director of the Domestic Surveillance Project
Electronic Privacy Information Center
Washington, DC

Michael Toscano
President & CEO
Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International
Arlington, VA

Ryan Calo
Assistant Professor
University of Washington School of Law
Seattle, WA

Sun-Times graphic by Max Root

Video by Lynn Sweet

WASHINGTON--Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon is here for a series of profile-raising interviews with state and national media and meetings with the National Lieutenant Governors Association and the Democratic Lieutenant Governors Association as she is putting together a political team for her anticipated 2014 statewide run.

The office Simon is to run for is to be determined. She's waiting to see if Attorney General Lisa Madigan vacates her spot to challenge Gov. Pat Quinn in a Democratic primary for governor. She's also mulling comptroller. Simon was tapped by Quinn for her spot.

Simon was re-elected chairman of the DLGA on Tuesday. That makes her the chief fund-raiser for the group.

I caught up with her at the IBEW headquarters--the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers--where she was attending a reception for the DLGA.

She arrive her on Monday. On Tuesday, she spoke at a class taught by Terry Michael--onetime press secretary for her father, the late Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) Michael directs the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism.

Besides interviews with reporters for Illinois outlets, Simon talked to reporters with the National Journal, Daily Beast/Newseek and PBS Newshour. On Wednesday morning, she's on MSNBC's Chuck Todd show.

She told me she is talking to political consultants and groups as she puts together an organization for her statewide run.

Simon is here through Thursday.

Graphic by U.S. Embassy in Israel

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama touched down in Israel early Wednesday morning, (U.S. time) on a trip to include stops in the West Back cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem and Jordan.

Here is Obama's day-by-day schedule:


1. At Ben Gurion Airport, arrival ceremony with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
2. At the airport, viewing of an Iron Dome missile defense battery.

Background, from the U.S.:

"Following the official arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport, President Obama will view an Iron Dome battery in Tel Aviv. Iron Dome is a short range rocket and mortar defense system, which was developed by Israel and produced with U.S. assistance. Iron Dome is part of a multi-tier missile defense architecture developed as a counter measure to the rocket threat against Israel's civilian population. The United States has provided $275 million in Iron Dome funding since it's inception, and will provide an additional $211 million in funding in FY 2013. Iron Dome has saved countless Israeli lives, most recently during Operation Pillar of Defense, during the November 2012 Gaza conflict. The development of Israel's defense architecture demonstrates the strength of the U.S.-Israel mutual defense relationship and exemplifies the United States' commitment to Israel's security."

3. To Jerusalem for meeting with Peres at his residence.
4. Meeting with Netanyahu at his residence, joint press conference, working dinner.
5. Overnight in Jerusalem.


1. Israel Museum: The Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and a visit to a technology exhibit at the museum.
2. To Ramallah in the West Bank. Meeting with Palestinian Authority President Abbas, press conference, working lunch.
3. Visit at the Al-Bireh Youth Center, Ramallah, with Palestinian Authority Prime Mininster Fayyad.
4. To Jerusalem for speech at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.
5. In Jerusalem at Peres residence, State Dinner for Obama.
6. Overnight in Jerusalem.


1. In Jerusalem, visit to Mt. Herzl National Cemetery for wreath laying at tombs of Theodor Herzl, the founder of the modern Zionist movement and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
2. In Jerusalem, visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum.
3. To Bethlehem, in the West Bank. Tour the Church of the Nativity
4. To Amman, Jordan. Arrival ceremony at airport.
5. Meeting with King Abdullah II, joint press conference. The two leaders will have a joint press conference, dinner hosted by the King.
6. Overnight in Amman.


1. To Petra, to tour historic area of Jordan.
2. Return to the U.S.

WASHINGTON--Tuesday marks the 10th Anniversary of the Iraq War--the war then Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama opposed--with the impact very personal to Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.)--the war cost her both legs and mangled an arm.

Duckworth--when she ran for Congress the first time, in 2005--told me then the decision of now former President George W. Bush to launch a war against Iraq was a "bad one." Still, Duckworth, an Army helicopter pilot said she was "proud to serve.

Elected to Congress last November, Duckworth said in a statement, "On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War the once unimaginable costs have become clear. Over 4,000 of our brave men and women have given their lives, more than 32,000 have been wounded, and the scourge of suicides and untreated mental health and brain injuries claim more lives each day. More than $1 trillion of our national treasure has been spent, not to mention the $8 billion a year we will spend for decades to care for our Iraq War Veterans.

"Military force must always be an option, but never again can we fool ourselves into thinking that war will be easy -- or quick.

"It is families like mine, the ones whose spouses, siblings, parents and children continue to serve in uniform who will pay when we wage war. We owe these families a responsible, honest discussion before waging the next conflict.

"We owe it to those who served in Iraq to move past the bitter divisiveness that began 10 years ago. We must get past our divisions and use the war not as a wedge, but as a shared experience that makes us wiser in future decisions. We must use it as something that can once again unite us as a nation."

WASHINGTON--Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus hits Chicago today--mainly to prospect for campaign cash--and to brief major donors about his plan--released on Monday--to retool the party in the wake of the 2012 election loss.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's Organizing for Action--the outgrowth of his re-election campaign--is jumping in the fight to legalize gay marriage in Illinois, on Tuesday sending an e-mail to Obama's Illinois activists and supporters asking them to lobby Illinois House members to vote yes on the marriage bill, already passed by the Illinois Senate.

Obama already has urged the Illinois General Assembly to legalize gay marriage. Gov. Pat Quinn wants to sign a bill making Illinois the tenth state with gay marriage.

Last month, an Illinois House Committee advanced the bill to the full House floor, but so far the measure lacks the votes to pass the chamber, Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney reports.

This is the first attempt by OFA to get involved in an Illinois issue. The OFA, to have offices in Chicago and Washington was created to support the Obama agenda--and local issues that activists might want to work on.

Below, the text of the e-mail from Organizing for Action.....

If you care about marriage equality, here's something really important you can do right now.

As early as this week, the Illinois State House could vote on a bill -- already passed by the state Senate -- that will give all couples the legal right to marry. If it passes, Governor Quinn says he'll sign it into law. That's huge for all of us in the OFA family who care about this issue.

Right now, reports say the bill is short of the votes it needs to pass, so these calls matter.

Take two minutes and look up your state representative right now -- then give them a call to let them know that you want them to vote YES on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.

It's really easy: Just use that website to look up your address, click "confirm your address," then scroll down to find your state representative's information.

Like President Obama said last year, he believes that marriage equality is a question of fairness -- of treating others the way you want to be treated.

Right now, his home state is just one step away from becoming the 10th state in the nation to approve same-sex marriage -- and making sure that gay and lesbian families in Illinois are treated equally in the eyes of the law.

We've heard from OFA supporters here in Illinois that this issue matters to you, and that's why we're teaming up with Illinois Unites for Marriage -- a joint project of ACLU Illinois, Equality Illinois, and Lambda Legal -- to add our voices to this fight.

This House vote is the final hurdle to making sure this historic legislation becomes the law of the land. Right now, a number of state representatives are still undecided, and we know this vote's going to be close.

Take a few minutes to look up your state representative today and urge them to vote YES in allowing all loving couples to share in the freedom to marry:

quinn funder.png

WASHINGTON--Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, up for re-election in 2014--and facing a potential Democratic primary fight with Attorney General Lisa Madigan-- is throwing a fund-raiser March 28 at Loft 644, 644 N. Orleans in Chicago.

The tickets for the Quinn event range from $100 to $1,000--modest compared to Madigan's ask for a fund-raiser Monday night at Wildfire, 159 W. Erie. The price tiers run from $1,000 to $5,000. The theme is to mark Madigan's 10 years as Illinois' attorney general.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) hit two fund-raisers on Sunday, stockpiling cash for his 2014 re-election bid with events at the homes of two of his major supporters, Susan and Lew Manilow in Chicago and Dan and Fay Levin in Winnetka.

The events at the Manilow and Levin homes were attended by Durbin's circle of longtime donors.

Susan Manilow, a long-time Democratic activist, is the finance chair of Durbin's campaign. Lew Manilow, a real estate developer, is also a long-time Democratic activist who, in 1992, was President Bill Clinton's national vice-chair and Illinois Finance Chair.

Dan Levin is the founder and chairman of The Habitat Company. Fay Levin is the former United States Ambassador to the Netherlands, tapped by President Barack Obama. She served between 2009 and 2011.

Durbin's fundraising has been and continues to be handled by the Chicago-based Nancy Kohn.

WASHINGTON--Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her support for gay marriage in a video released Monday by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's major lobbying group for gay rights.

In the video--sure to take up a notch talk about Clinton running for president in 2016--Clinton talks about why she backs "marriage equality." She repeats an oft-quoted line--that "gay rights are human rights"--and recounts how she used it in 2011 at an international conference in Geneva, Switzerland where she said the U.S. stands for defending those rights.

Now out of office, Clinton went public with her position.

"I support marriage for lesbian and gay couples," Clinton says in the video, which runs almost six minutes. "I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law."

The HRC in a statement on the groups' website said, "Now that she has left office and can speak publicly about the issue that is so important to all of us, Hillary shares her experience as Secretary and what she learned while representing our country around the world, and what she has come to believe."

Earlier this month, former President Bill Clinton called for the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)--a law he signed in 1996. Bill Clinton also supports gay marriage.

WASHINGTON--Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus wants to take the "old" out of the Grand Old Party--with a $10 million investment to position the party to win the presidency in 2016.

Priebus is unveiling a wide-ranging plan to rebrand the GOP as the "Growth and Opportunity Party" on Monday--everything from a massive focus on political technology, working with female, Hispanic and African-American groups and having fewer often divisive primary debates and an earlier convention.

After President Barack Obama won a second term, Priebus commissioned an extensive review, with the 100-page report released on Monday. Read the report: RNC_Growth_Opportunity_Book_2013.pdf

Some of the most significant proposals are structural: changing the campaign calendar, with the review concluding, "we believe it is better for the Party to have a nominee selected earlier in the 2016 cycle rather than later. We also believe it is advantageous to move quickly into the general election phase of the campaign, allowing the nominee to spend general election money sooner.

Key recommendations include:

*Moving the GOP convention to June or July to begin the general election earlier.

*Shortening the primary campaign season, with the last primary no later than May 15.

*The current system state-by-state-primary "makes little sense," and consideration should be given to a regional approach--while preserving the role of the early primary and caucus states.

*The number of primary debates--20 in the 2012 cycle--should be cut to 10 or 12.

In prepared remarks provided to the Sun-Times in advance of his press conference, Priebus will say, "there's no one reason we lost. Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren't inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; our primary and debate process needed improvement. ....So, there's no one solution: There's a long list of them."

Researchers working on the post-election review held focus groups in Columbus, Ohio and Des Moines, Iowa--swing states in the 2012 contest Obama won--and heard the GOP describes as "scary," "narrow minded," "out-of-touch" and full of "stuffy old men."

Among the findings: while the GOP lost the presidency, at a state level the party hold 30 governorships--the most since a high of 34 states in the 1920s, leading to the conclusion the national party could take more cues from the states.

The Obama campaign had an enormous investment in digital technology--assisting in voter participation research, predictive voting behavior modeling, straight up polling, other targeting and fund-raising.

Priebus is calling for an increased emphasis in political digital technology, including creating a "fellows" program for college students and establishing "Digital Campaign Colleges in New York, San Francisco, Austin and Denver.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama on Monday will nominate Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez to be his next Secretary of Labor, a White House official said Sunday night--a Hispanic, who, if confirmed, will replace another Hispanic, former Labor Sec.Hilda Solis, who resigned on Jan. 22.

The Perez appointment was expected, reported last week in the Washington Post.

At one point, some administration officials were seen as considering pairing the Labor appointment announcement with the new Commerce Secretary choice---expected to be Chicago's Penny Pritzker, as scooped in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Perez was described by the White House officials as "a dedicated public servant who has spent his career fighting to keep the American dream within reach for hardworking middle class families and those striving to get into the middle class.

"Known throughout his career as a pragmatic leader and a consensus builder, Tom has served as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, since October 8, 2009. In that time, he has fought to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans," the official said.

Perez is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic who lives in suburban in Washington in Montgomery County, Md. and is a former member of the Montgomery County Council.

WASHINGTON--Zachary Fardon is emerging as the likely nominee for U.S. attorney in Chicago, with his main rival for the pick, Lori Lightfoot, telling people she got a White House call a few days ago telling her she is out of the running, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Fox 32 News reporter Larry Yellen is reporting that Fardon will get the nomination for the Northern District of Illinois spot.

President Barack Obama's team has been vetting potential contenders for the job, vacated by former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald last summer.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) ran a bi-partisan search committee and sent the White House four names for consideration last September, since whittled to two, Lightfoot and Fardon. The four --Fardon, Lightfoot, Jonathan Bunge and Gil Soffer--are all partners in Chicago law firms with experience as federal prosecutors in Chicago.

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

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

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

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

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) a member of a bi-partisan Senate group drafting immigration reform legislation, told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday" he sees a deal getting done.

"We are working, literally, hours every week, four Democrats, four Republicans. And, we're making progress. There are still some tough, tough issues out there. But I feel good about it.

"There is a feeling in the room we have a responsibility to this nation after 25 years to write an immigration law, that we can live with for generations to come.

Wallace asked Durbin, "What's the biggest problem?"

Replied Durbin, "Well, there are several problems. You know, we are dealing with border enforcement, which is very important on the Republican side of the table. We are dealing with the question of the 11 million people paying their taxes, having a path to legalization and, then, ultimately, to citizenship.

"Tough issues but we are coming together and I think we can do it. I have a positive feeling."

Over in the House, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) is working with a bi-partisan group also trying to forge a deal.

WASHINGTON--Chicago's Cardinal Francis George , appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday said the appointment of Pope Francis--the first pope from the Americas--means the Catholic Church is "global, truly, in fact as well as in intentionality."

George spoke to "Meet the Press" host David Gregory from Rome, where he has been for the election of the Pope and where he remains in advance of the inaugural mass Tuesday for Pope Francis. Vice President Joe Biden, leading the presidential delegation, departed Sunday for Rome.

Gregory asked George about support for gay marriage, a greater role for women in the church and less opposition to abortion and contraception--and how Pope Francis can "resolve that tension."

The cardinal said there may not be a resolution--and wondered why the issues are so prominent now.

"Well, I'm not sure you can resolve it as a matter of principle. All those issues weren't around 50 years ago. What has happened to our culture that suddenly these become cultural imperatives? And in history, when you take a look at the societies that come and go, and countries come and go, when the chips are down people will always go with their society..... And those that don't are the minority, very often.

On the sexual abuse scandal, George was asked what Pope Francis will do to "come to terms with sexual abuse in the church, that begins to close the chapter for the church?"

George said there is some difficulty in writing the final chapter.

"As far as the scandal itself, everyone that we know of who has done this, whether bishop or priest, is out of public ministry and will remain out. That was because we had to change the law to do that, and it took some time. He supports that. And then we have to be sure that it won't happen again, as much as we possibly can, and then stay with the victims. But the structures are in place now.

"The code of canon law has been changed. The thing is that every time there's a new report, then everything happens "yesterday" instead of 20 or 30 years ago, which is often the case now," Francis said.


WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama taped his weekly address--released Saturday--during his Friday visit to Argonne National Lab in the Chicago suburb of Lemont where he outlined a ten year, $2 billion research and development plan to wean the nation's vehicles from oil and gas.

In his Saturday address, Obama recaps his Argonne speech and summarizes how it would be paid for.

"Here's how it would work. Much of our energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So I'm proposing that we take some of our oil and gas revenues from public lands and put it towards research that will benefit the public, so that we can support American ingenuity without adding a dime to our deficit," Obama said.

"We can support scientists who are designing new engines that are more energy efficient; developing cheaper batteries that go farther on a single charge; and devising new ways to fuel our cars and trucks with new sources of clean energy - like advanced biofuels and natural gas - so drivers can one day go coast-to-coast without using a drop of oil."

My column on Obama visiting Argonne Lab to push Congress to create an Energy Security Trust to wean the nation off oil and gas--and avoid spikes in gas prices--and dependence on foreign oil--is HERE.

My post on why Obama picked Argonne for his speech is HERE.

Obama Argonne speech transcript is HERE.

White House fact sheets on Obama's proposed Energy Security Trust is HERE.

Click below for transcript of Obama weekly address.

WASHINGTON--Chicago's Cardinal Francis George, fresh from the election of Pope Francis guests on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday while Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) hits "Fox News Sunday."

WASHINGTON--Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who has been traveling the nation to push immigration reform at a variety of forums, Tuesday is the newsmaker at the high-profile breakfast the Christian Science Monitor hosts for reporters here.

Gutierrez is a member of a bi-partisan House group trying to forge compromises on contentious immigration issues. To that end, Gutierrez is booked with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) for an April 22 appearance on immigration at the City Club of Chicago.

On Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Gutierrez is in California rallying support for immigration legislation working its way through the House and Senate.

Click below for details on Gutierrez recent travels provided by his office:

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama on Friday praised the research and discoveries at Argonne National Lab in the Chicago suburb of Lemont--in particular the ability of the "outstanding scientists like so many of you, entrepreneurs, innovators; all of you were working together to take your discoveries and turn them into a business.

"So think about this: Just a few years ago, the American auto industry was flatlining. Today, thanks in part to discoveries made right here at Argonne, some of the most high-tech fuel-efficient pretty spiffy cars in the world are once again designed, engineered and built here in the United States.

"And that's why we have to keep investing in scientific research. It's why I need -- we have to maintain our edge because the work you're doing today will end up in the product that we make and sell tomorrow. You're helping to secure our energy future."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama is touring an Argonne Lab right now in advance of his energy speech at 1:30 p.m. Chicago time. Here's the latest from the national pool report....

"President Obama will be led on a tour of the active research taking place in the Center for Transportation Research by Argonne National Lab Director Dr. Eric Isaacs, Joint Center for Energy Storage Research Director Dr. George Crabtree and Center for Transportation Research Director Ann Schlenker.

"Following the tour, the President will deliver remarks in the nearby Nanoscale Materials Center to Argonne employees and representatives from leading companies, universities and organizations in the energy field. He will be introduced by Ann Schlenker."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's team picked Argonne National Lab --in the Chicago suburb of Lemont--for his Friday energy speech because of its research leading to commercial applications for weaning vehicles from oil and gas.

Argonne is one of the Department of Energy's biggest national laboratories, managed by the University of Chicago.

A White House official who briefed reporters on Thursday here said Argonne was chosen for the visit to showcase Obama's package of energy proposals because the scope of the research at the lab "is incredibly wide ranging but for decades now, they have been at the forefront of research focused on high-tech vehicle technology."

Specifically, the official spotlighted Argonne's battery research that started in the early 1990s--at a time when the private sector could not handle the load--that led to advanced battery technology that years later had commercial applications for vehicles in the U.S.

Last November, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Energy Secretary Steven Chu--who is with Obama at Argonne today--and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced "that a multi-partner team led by Argonne National Laboratory has been selected for an award of up to $120 million over five years to establish a new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub. The Hub, to be known as the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), will combine the R&D firepower of five DOE national laboratories, five universities, and four private firms in an effort aimed at achieving revolutionary advances in battery performance. Advancing next generation battery and energy storage technologies for electric and hybrid cars and the electricity grid are a critical part of President Obama's all-of-the-above energy strategy to reduce America's reliance on foreign oil and lower energy costs for U.S. consumers.

"The JCESR batteries and energy storage hub gives us a new collaborative, inter-institutional R&D paradigm in which to develop the energy storage technologies that transform both the electricity grid and transportation and so reduce our dependence on foreign oil,' said Eric Isaacs, Director of Argonne National Laboratory.

"The Hub will bring together some of the most advanced energy storage research programs in the U.S. today. Other national labs partnering with Argonne include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. University partners include Northwestern University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois-Chicago, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, and University of Michigan. Four industrial partners have also joined to help clear a path to the marketplace for the advances developed at JCESR, including Dow Chemical Company; Applied Materials, Inc.; Johnson Controls, Inc.; and Clean Energy Trust."

WASHINGTON--Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) was tapped by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to be part of a congressional delegation flying to Rome for the investiture of Pope Francis next week.

Vice President Joe Biden will lead the U.S. presidential delegation to Rome for the Inaugural mass for Pope Francis on Tuesday.

Others in the Biden delegation to honor the world's first Hispanic pope--with Italian roots-- include New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez; House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia. President Barack Obama had asked Boehner to be part of the presidential delegation and he declined.

"The installation of Pope Francis, the first Holy Father ever to hail from the Americas, is a milestone in world history and an event of monumental significance to the millions of Americans who share in the Catholic faith," Boehner said in a statement.

The House delegation to the Vatican will also include, besides Lipinski, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Sean Duffy (R-WI), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), Jim Langevin (D-RI), and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Father Patrick Conroy, S.J., the chaplain of the House of Representatives.

Boehner's office said, "the House delegation will fly to Rome on commercial air flights, in compliance with the Speaker's directive that Member use of military air transportation be suspended with sequestration in effect."


WASHINGTON-Vice President Joe Biden will lead the U.S. presidential delegation to Rome for the Inaugural mass for Pope Francis next Tuesday.

Others in the Biden delegation to honor the world's first Hispanic pope--with Italian roots-- include New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez; House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the House delegation to the Vatican: Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Sean Duffy (R-WI), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Father Patrick Conroy, S.J., the chaplain of the House of Representatives.

President Barack Obama had asked Boehner to be part of the presidential delegation and he declined.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama is flying now to Chicago's O'Hare Airport, en route to Argonne Lab in suburban Lemont to push Congress to approve his package of energy plans. According to the pool reports, among those boarding the plane with Obama were Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser; Rob Nabors, deputy chief of staff; Josh Earnest, deputy press secretary; Marvin Nicholson, trip director and Pete Souza, White House photographer.

For background on the Obama Argonne visit and details on his plans click HERE

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama visits the Argonne National Lab in the Chicago suburb of Lemont on Friday to push Congress to approve his wide-ranging package of plans to wean the U.S. off oil and gas. See below for complete details from the White House on the Obama energy proposals.

Obama Energy Fact Sheet

WASHINGTON--As the Illinois General Assembly wrestles with legalizing gay marriage, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced on Friday his support for gay marriage--with his switch on the issue prompted by his son, Will, who told him two years ago he was gay.

Portman writes about how he came to the decision to back gay marriage in a column in the Columbus Dispatch you can read HERE.

President Obama discussing climate change, the Clean Energy Market, solar and wind energy, the natural gas boom and his proposal to create an Energy Security Trust at his Feb. 13, 2013 State of the Union Address

WASHINGTON-- President Barack Obama visits Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Lemont on Friday to deliver a speech on weaning the nation from oil and gas, following up on an energy plan unveiled in his State of the Union address to ask Congress to create an Energy Security Trust.

He will speak at 1:30 p.m. Chicago time, after a tour of the lab.

The goal of the trust, the White House said, is to "invest in breakthrough research that will make the technologies of the future cheaper and better - technologies that will protect American families from spikes in gas prices and allow us to run our cars and trucks on electricity or homegrown fuels."

Congress will be asked for $2 billion, spread over 10 years, starting with the next budget.

The Obama administration has already made progress in lessening the nation's dependence on foreign oil, with imports, according to the White House, at a 20-year low with growing use of alternative sources--such as geothermal, solar and wind.

In his State of the Union speech, Obama said "I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.

"If a nonpartisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let's take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we've put up with for far too long," Obama said in the Feb. 12 address.

The coalition Obama referred to which developed the trust concept is named "SAFE" -- Securing America's Future Energy -- co-chaired by FedEx CEO Frederick W. Smith and former Marine Corps Commandant General P.X. Kelley. SAFE CEO and president Robbie Diamond said he will be at Argonne on Friday for the speech, where he expects to hear how Obama will implement an energy trust.

"There is no greater economic and national security threat than our dependence on oil," Diamond said. The nation needs to develop "alternatives to oil to power our cars and trucks."

Obama was last in Chicago on Feb. 15 for a speech at the Hyde Park Academy following up on economic plans outlined in his State of the Union address as well as measures to curb gun violence.

Argonne is one of the Department of Energy's biggest national laboratories, managed by the University of Chicago.

A White House official said Argonne Labs was selected for the visit to showcase Obama's package of energy proposals because the scope of the research at the lab "is incredibly wide ranging but for decades now, they have been at the forefront of research focused on high-tech vehicle technology."

Specifically, the official spotlighted Argonne's battery research that started in the early 1990s--at a time when the private sector could not handle the load--that led to advanced battery technology that years later had commercial applications for vehicles in the U.S.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) will accompany Obama to the speech, flying with him on Air Force One to O'Hare Airport. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) whose district includes Argonne, plans on attending the speech. Obama will be returning to Washington after the Argonne speech.

Obama's speech will be streamed live at:

WASHINGTON--Business executive Penny Pritzker, expected to be tapped by President Barack Obama to be Commerce Secretary, on Thursday quit her seat on the Chicago School Board.

Pritzker was the finance chair for Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and an early supporter of his political career. Pritzker's ability to raise early major money for Obama's White House run--when he was locked in a battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton--made his candidacy viable.

Sun-Times City Hall Reporter Fran Spielman has the story HERE.

She submitted her resignation in a brief letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff. Quitting governmental boards --and severing ties to business enterprises --are necessary for a cabinet appointee. Pritzker would have to be confirmed by the Senate.

WASHINGTON--Chris Hayes, tapped Thursday to host a prime time MSNBC show, has strong Chicago connections; his father-in-law is Andy Shaw, the President and CEO of the Better Government Association and longtime Chicago print and television reporter.

Hayes started his writing career in Chicago--the path that eventually led him to The Nation and MSNBC, where he has been hosting "Up w/Chris Hayes" on the weekend. Hayes will take over the 8 p.m. hour on MSNBC on April 1.

Hayes is married to Shaw's daughter, Kate. The couple met while students at Brown University and moved to Chicago, where Kate attended Northwestern Law School.

At that time, Hayes was not yet a journalist. He was "more of a theater rat," Shaw told me on Thursday.

When Hayes wanted to launch a writing career, Shaw connected him to the Chicago Reader, where he started as a freelancer. He began to get more interested in politics and went on to write for an assortment of liberal publications, Shaw said, including "Mother Jones" and "In These Times." The couple lived in Humboldt Park and Ukrainian Village.

After Kate Shaw finished law school, the couple moved to Washington when she served as a law clerk to now former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. After the election of President Barack Obama, she served two years in the White House as an associate counsel.

Hayes starting working for "The Nation" in Washington, giving him a platform for television guest hits. Over at MSNBC, "he and Rachel Maddow really hit it off," Shaw said, "and Rachel became his mentor."

After guest shots and guest host stints, Hayes landed his weekend gig--and now is promoted to prime time.

WASHINGTON--As the Illinois House in Springfield nears a vote on gay marriage, seven Illinois members of Congress--all Democrats from the Chicago area-- urged passage of the "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act."

Signing the letter were Reps. Danny Davis, Luis Gutierrez, Mike Quigley, Jan Schakowsky, Tammy Duckworth, Brad Schneider and Bill Foster.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Above, MSNBC's Ed Schultz's Scott Prouty exclusive

WASHINGTON--Scott Prouty--that's the name of the Florida bartender who made the Mitt Romney 47 percent video. He's finally decided to go public, starting with an interview with MSNBC's Ed Schultz and later with Huffington Post Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim. All along, he's been talking to David Corn, the Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief who broke the 47 percent story.

Corn writes about Prouty's saga in his article headlined, "Meet Scott Prouty, the 47 Percent Video Source."

From Corn: "For months, he and I shared a big secret and repeatedly discussed whether he should go public or stay hidden."

Read Corn's article HERE.

Huffington Post Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim, Scott Prouty/ Huffington Post Live

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama invited House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to join Vice President Joe Biden in traveling to Rome to be at the Inaugural Mass for Pope Francis.

The invite came after Obama talked to GOP House members on Wednesday. Boehner cannot attend because of the press of congressional business. His statement below.

From Boehner: "I am grateful for the invitation to attend the papal investiture in Rome with Vice President Biden, and would like to be able to join the trip. Unfortunately, my duties in the House next week - including hosting President Obama and the Prime Minister of Ireland at the Capitol on Tuesday, and the debate on the budget - make that impossible. I wish the Vice President all the best in his journey, and hope he communicates the prayers and warm regards of every American, especially Catholics, to the first pope from the Americas."

WASHINGTON--The American Conservative Union kicks off a three day conference on Thursday here, with the future of the conservative movement a major part of the conversation. Mitt Romney surfaces to deliver a keynote to the group. Much noted who was not invited: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. For schedules, speakers, click HERE.

From ABC's Rick Klein on CPAC: "There they will all be (mostly) in one place, several generations lost about the next race. Perhaps the only thing attendees at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference can agree on is the "conservative" label. Beyond that, question about who's not there (Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, GOP gay-rights groups) are competing with questions about who is (lots of future stars, sure, though nobody figures to get more coverage than Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin). Attention and talk will turn to 2016, including the straw poll winner who almost certainly won't be the party nominee. But of more immediate concern to the gathered conservative flock is how attendees interact with their allies on Capitol Hill. The red meat is set to be served at the first time in the Obama presidency that Republicans are breaking bread with the president. The message coming from CPAC is highly unlikely to involve bargains with President Obama, grand or otherwise.

More from ABC's Political Unit: "CPAC PRIMER: Today marks the start of a three-day gathering of conservative leaders and activists from around the country. The Conservative Political Action Conference - CPAC, for short - is organized by the American Conservative Union and has become an annual focal point bringing together establishment figures, new leaders, grassroots types and, in particular, the younger generation of conservatives. It kicks off this morning at the Gaylord National Hotel in National Harbor, Md. just outside Washington, DC.

More from ABC's Political Unit: WHO'S GOING: A whole lot of big-name speakers like Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Paul Ryan Rand Paul and many more. Numerous other lawmakers from Capitol Hill will also address the gathering and attendees will also have a chance to hear from a host of unelected officials who have a prominent role on policy and other matters within the conservative orbit: the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre, American Crossroads head Steven Law, American Conservative Union chairman Al Cardenas, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist and Heritage Foundation president and former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.

WASHINGTON -- A highlight of President Barack Obama's visit to Israel next week will be a major speech in Jerusalem -- with an audience full of students -- where he will speak directly to Israelis for the first time.

That's just one stop of Obama's first foreign trip of his second term, designed to show -- through substance and symbolism -- the ironclad U.S. commitment to Israel, as the nation faces a potential nuclear threat from Iran and conflicts in Egypt and Syria threaten Israeli security.

The speech will give Obama an opportunity to bypass often critical Israeli media and hostile political figures during his first trip to Israel as president.

The U.S. Embassy in Israel is running an essay contest on Facebook, with up to 20 winners "who submit the most original and creative responses" to be invited to the speech, the embassy website said.

I wrote earlier this month how the visit -- coming after Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's re-election victories -- give the leaders a chance to reset their strained relationship. Netanyahu was seen as a Mitt Romney supporter while Obama had to continuously prove his pro-Israel credentials during his campaign.

Obama's swing includes Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. Obama has met with U.S. Arab-American and Jewish leaders in separate sessions in recent weeks to discuss his trip.

Obama "wants to recognize Israeli technology and the spirit of the Jewish people, so Israelis can hear for themselves Obama's regard for Israeli society," I was told by someone with knowledge of the March 7 meeting Obama had with U.S. Jewish leaders.

Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassdor to the U.S., briefed a group of Jewish members of Congress on Tuesday about the Obama visit, including Illinois Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Brad Schneider.

Obama "certainly wants the Israelis to understand his sincerity," Schakowsky told me. "I hope that the Israeli people will show more regard for him, regard that is well deserved," she said.

Obama toured Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial when he visited Israel during his 2008 presidential campaign and will make a return trip. In addition, Oren said Obama will visit the Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Schneider said the Shrine of the Book stop is significant because it shows "that the Jewish connection to the land of Israel at least dates back thousands of years. I think that is an important symbolism."

To that point, Obama will also visit the Har Herzl national cemetery -- where Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, is buried.

Obama will be meeting with Netanyahu and will travel to the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the lawmakers said.

Obama will also see an Iron Dome installation -- the missile defense system built with massive financial assistance from the Obama administration and Congress.

Obama met with two dozen American Jewish leaders at that March 7 White House meeting to discuss his trip.

"He wants to communicate that he recognizes that Israel lives in a tough neighborhood that is getting tougher," with the challenges posed by Iran, Egypt and Syria, making it imperative that the U.S. stand fast with Israel, I was told.

Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinian Authority ground to a halt years ago. Obama will urge a "just resolution" of the Palestinian conflict -- but the prospects for peace, he told the group, are "bleak." Obama is not coming with a proposal to jump-start the peace process.

WASHINGTON--Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Rome to celebrate the Inaugural Mass for Pope Francis, Biden said on Wednesday.

Biden, a Catholic, said in a statement, "Jill and I want to offer our congratulations to His Holiness Pope Francis, and extend our prayers as he takes on this holy responsibility. I am happy to have the chance to personally relay my well wishes, and those of the American people, when I travel to Rome for his Inaugural Mass. The Catholic Church plays an essential role in my life and the lives of more than a billion people in America and around the world, not just in matters of our faith, but in pursuit of peace and human dignity for all faiths. I look forward to our work together in the coming years on many important issues."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama statement on the new pope selected Wednesday, His Holiness Pope Francis.

From Obama: "On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I offer our warm wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis as he ascends to the Chair of Saint Peter and begins his papacy. As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than two thousand years--that in each other we see the face of God. As the first pope from the Americas, his selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world, and alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day. Just as I appreciated our work with Pope Benedict XVI, I look forward to working with His Holiness to advance peace, security and dignity for our fellow human beings, regardless of their faith. We join with people around the world in offering our prayers for the Holy Father as he begins the sacred work of leading the Catholic Church in our modern world."

WASHINGTON--There is enormous interest in the use of drones on both sides of the aisle and next month Sen. Dick Durbin (D-lll.) will chair a Senate Judiciary Committee
hearing titled "Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing."

On March 16, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will chair hearing on the domestic use of drones titled "The Future of Drones in America: Law Enforcement and Privacy Considerations."

Last week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took to the Senate floor for a 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan's CIA director nomination to be CIA director and his concerns over the Obama administration targeted drone strikes.

The April 16 Durbin hearing "will focus on the constitutional and statutory authority for targeted killings; the scope of the battlefield and who can be targeted as a combatant; and establishing a transparent legal framework for the use of drones."

"Targeted killing raises important legal and policy questions that require a public debate," Durbin said in a statement. "President Obama has made it clear he wants to work with Congress to establish 'a legal architecture' for drone strikes to prevent abuses. My subcommittee will begin this important constitutional debate when we meet next month."

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday delivers a speech about boosting help to the nations military and their families--her "Joining Forces" program--to CEOs of the Business Roundtable. The chairman of the group is W. James McNerney, Chairman, President & CEO of the Chicago-based Boeing Company.

From the White House: "The First Lady's remarks will continue her call on the private sector to hire America's veterans and military spouses, and help them reach their full potential within America's companies.

"This year, with the Iraq War over and the war in Afghanistan drawing to a close, Mrs. Obama will make the case that it has never been more important to join together and help our veterans and military spouses find employment and build their careers, especially the more than one million veterans who will be hanging up their uniforms and transitioning back to civilian life in the coming years."

Strautmanis leaving White House

| No Comments

WASHINGTON--Michael Strautmanis -- the Chicagoan with deep ties to President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle and counselor to Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett -- will be leaving the White House at the end of next week. He will be taking a senior executive position with the Walt Disney Company's corporate citizenship team.

Strautmanis -- raised in Uptown, a graduate of St. Ignatius and the University of Illinois Champaign/Urbana for undergraduate and Law School -- joined Obama at the very beginning of his Senate term as his chief counsel, later becoming his Senate deputy chief of staff.

After the Obama 2008 presidential campaign, Strautmanis moved over to the White House where he was initially chief of staff overseeing the offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, operations in Jarrett's portfolio.

WASHINGTON -- As President Barack Obama was motorcading to the Capitol on Tuesday -- the first of three visits this week to huddle with GOP and Democrat lawmakers, known here as his "charm offensive" -- I asked Sen. Susan Collins if the mixers could make a difference, what with entrenched Congressional gridlock.

"My hope is it will change the atmosphere and to make everyone work better together," the Maine Republican known for her bipartisanship told me. "The presidents' overtures are long overdue, but they are welcome nevertheless."

Obama met with Senate Democrats Tuesday in a session that featured a lot of senators asking questions -- described to me as sort of like their own news conference -- as Obama attempts to make up for lost time in forging more productive relations with Congress.

Today Obama returns to the Capitol to talk with House Republicans and on Thursday meets with House Democrats and Senate Republicans.

Why is Obama devoting all this time to wooing Congress? Last week he took a dozen GOP senators to dinner and had House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) over for lunch. Ryan, in return, served up Tuesday a proposed fiscal 2014 budget that strips funding for Obama's signature health care law.

Obama's shuttle diplomacy to the House and Senate rank and file may shut down -- or at least soften -- Republican criticism that he doesn't reach out to them.

"With regard to what a lot of you have described as the president's charm offensive, we welcome it," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters.

After Obama left, I asked Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 leader in the Senate, what he made of the presidential outreach.

"I think it is worth a try," Durbin told me. "What he is trying to do is to move them beyond, for many of them, just a knee-jerk negative reaction to him and his proposals. And I can tell you from conversations I've had with Republicans, we haven't converted them to Obama supporters, but I think they are listening, which is all you can ask for."

The Senate is run by Democrats, and face time with Obama is not an issue. Obama confronts a tougher crowd on Wednesday, since the GOP controls the House.

Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reminded reporters on Tuesday about the rarity of Obama's personal dealings with the House GOP members. No meetings with House members in 2012 (hey, it was an election year), an invite to all House Republicans to the White House on June 1, 2011, and a speech at the House GOP retreat in Baltimore on Jan. 29, 2010.

I don't want to oversell these meetings as a cure to what ails a moribund Congress.

"Listen, one meeting, no one is going to fall in love or anything like that," Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told me.

What they may do is blunt some of the sharper critics.

King said, "It's a lot easier to quote/unquote hate someone if you don't deal with them, so you get rid of some of that attitude. Some guys can get that out of their system."

WASHIINGTON--Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joins New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other mayors Wednesday morning on MSNBC;s "Morning Joe" to discuss Bloomberg's innovation competition.

From MSNBC: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York, NY; Mayor Michael Nutter, Philadelphia, PA; Mayor Angel Taveras, Providence, RI; Mayor Annise Parker, Houston, TX ; Mayor Pam O'Connor, Fmr. Mayor of Santa Monica, CA; Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago, IL;

WASHINGTON--The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday advanced two gun-related measures, while action on an assault weapons ban and a cap on the number of bullets in a magazine has been postponed, as those two proposals face an uphill battle.

USA Today's Jackie Kucinich was at the hearing and her report is HERE.

From Kucinich: "A bill that would enhance background checks on prospective gun owners passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line, 10-8 vote. Another measure to improve safety at schools passed on a 14-4 vote."


WASHINGTON---The Conclave to pick a new pope starts Tuesday in the Sistine Chapel. Since being a political junkie transcends all faiths, the election of the next pope is fascinating to non-Catholics...and we know in this election, turnout will be 100 percent! The Vatican website HERE has a lot of information on the process and the traditions-such as how the Cardinals dress.

Below, a briefing from the Vatican on what is happening today.....




Tuesday, March 12, 2013, at 16.30, as determined by the General Congregation of Cardinals, will be entering the Conclave and the Oath for the election of the Roman Pontiff, as provided by ' Ordo Rituum Conclavis . The Cardinals Cardinals Voters want be at 16.15 in the Pauline Chapel of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the First Lodge, wearing a red robe, the spool, the mozzetta and cap.

By Pauline Chapel, the singing of the Litany of the Saints, the Cardinals Voters will head a procession to the Sistine Chapel where, after the singing of the Veni Creator , pronunzieranno the Oath prescribed.

In addition to the Cardinals voters take part in the procession, wearing the dress proper to them:

- Cardinal dictate that meditation
- the Secretary of the Conclave
- The Vice-Camerlengo
- the Auditor General of the Apostolic Chamber
- the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations
- two members of the Board of Protonotari Apostolic Number of Participants
- two members of the Board of Prelate Auditors of the Roman Rota
- two members of the Cleric Prelates of the room
- the Secretary of the Cardinal who chairs the Conclave
- papal masters of ceremonies
- the Papal Choir.

They will want to be in the Sala Regia of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the First Lodge, 16.00.

At 16.00 will have access to the Sistine Chapel the following people:

- The Deputy Secretary of State
- Secretary for Relations with States
- the Prefect of the Papal Household
- the men and women religious involved in the Sacristy
- the priests responsible for the confessions
- the Commander of the Pontifical Swiss Guard.

There will also be the authorized service personnel with a special ticket: Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, the Papal Swiss Guard, Medical Corps, Floreria, Photographers, Vatican Radio, the Vatican Television Center.

Vatican City, March 9, 2013.

By mandate of the College of Cardinals

Monsignor Guido Marini,
Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama phoned Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) on Monday to discuss gun violence and deficit reduction, according to a White House official, with the call coming as Obama this week makes three trips to Capitol Hill to woo members of Congress.

Obama meets with Senate Democrats on Tuesday, House Republicans on Wednesday, Senate Republicans and House Democrats on Thursday.

Last week, Obama had dinner at a hotel here with 12 GOP senators, had Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) over to the White House for lunch, is making calls--such as the Kirk phoned--and, with the Capitol Hill visits, talking directly to members--not just their leader.

At the Monday briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney outlined Obama's broad agenda with these visits, seen as a "charm offensive" needed to try to remake congressional relations.

Obama will, Carney said, discuss "a range of priorities including, of course, conversations he's been having on budget-related issues, the need to reduce our deficit in a balanced way, but also immigration reform and the progress that's being made on that subject in a bipartisan way, efforts to move forward on actions to reduce gun violence -- also efforts that involve both Democrats and Republicans.

"Other items that are on his list of priorities include increasing our energy independence, the need to do something about the pace of nominations being confirmed and considered in the Senate -- judicial nominations, in particular -- as well as the need for Congress to take action on cybersecurity."

Obama basically discussed "legislative priorities" with Kirk, I was told.

Obama gave Kirk a cordial greeting when he saw him at as he entered the House chamber on Feb. 12 for his State of the Union speech. The president gave a fist bump to Kirk who returned to the Senate last January after an absence of nearly a year because of a stroke.

While Obama and Kirk served together in Congress, the two have never been particularly close. Kirk is seen by the Obama team as one of the Senate Republicans who may, on occasion work with the White House, for example on legislation to curb gun violence.

Kirk, along with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have championed legislation, on track to pass the Senate, to crack down on gun trafficking and fencing. However, Kirk, so far, has opposed a measure to require background checks for all gun buyers--though he has not closed that door.

"We are committed to continuing to work in a bipartisan effort with Senators Schumer, Coburn and others in order to find a commonsense solution for enhanced background checks, however, Senator Schumer's current proposal is one we cannot support as it stands today," Kirk said in a March 6 statement.

"Our goal is to pass a bill that will close loopholes in the current background check process in a way that does not burden law-abiding citizens. Any bill we support will guarantee that Americans' Second Amendment rights are clearly protected. We simply want to make sure firearms do not end up in the hands of convicted criminals or people who are deemed mentally unstable by court ruling.

"While the bill Senator Schumer introduced today doesn't meet this standard, we will continue to work with Senator Schumer, Senator Coburn and other colleagues to find a commonsense compromise."

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama on Monday answered questions about her "Let's Move" anti-obesity initiative on Twitter, as her signature program is marking its third year and we learned what she really gets a kick out of doing.

One person wanted to know what Mrs. Obama does for stress. Her answer, "to relieve stress, I love kick boxing."

WASHINGTON--Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) mentioned as a 2016 presidential candidate, hits Chicago on April 1 for a fund-raiser at the Near North home of Joyce and Judson Green, the event chairs.

The price points range from $1,000 to $10,400, which includes a private dinner for two after a reception. The funder bankrolls the Rubio Victory Committee.

Judson Green, a business executive and his wife are arts patrons; read about them in bios at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra site HERE.

WASHINGTON--The Second Presbyterian Church, 1936 S. Michigan, was named a National Historic Landmark on Monday by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The South Loop Church, according to the church website, "was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. In 1977, the City Council of Chicago designated it a Chicago Landmark."

From the Interior Department: "Second Presbyterian Church, Chicago, Ill. The Second Presbyterian Church represents the visual and philosophical precepts of the turn of the century Arts and Crafts design movement. Its interior, the masterwork of noted architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, presents some of the finest examples of Arts and Crafts mural painting, sculpture, stained glass and crafting in metals, fabrics, wood and plaster."

franken:baldwin chicago.jpeg

WASHINGTON--Democratic Sens. Al Franken and Tammy Baldwin hit Chicago on Sunday for a fundraiser at the Lake View home of Brad Lippitz and Yoni Pizer to benefit Franken's political war chests.

The prices range from $1,000 to $5,200 to raise or donate for the Franken for Senate fund and Franken's Midwest Values Political Action Committee.

Franken, from Minnesota, first elected to the Senate in 2008 after a career as a comedy writer, performer and author, is up for re-election in 2014.

Last June, Lippitz and Pizer hosted a fund-raiser for Baldwin, elected to the Senate November from Wisconsin, with actress Jane Lynch a special draw.

Lippitz and Pizer hosted a fund-raiser on March 15, 2008 for President Barack Obama, when he was an Illinois senator making his first run for the White House.

WASHINGTON--Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, I'm told, now is very close to deciding to run for governor in 2014, where she would face Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and possibly former White House Chief of Staff/Commerce Secretary Bill Daley in a Democratic primary.

Madigan has a major fund-raiser set for March 18 at Wildfire, 159 W. Erie, with the price tiers running from $1,000 to $5,000. The theme is to mark her 10 years as Illinois' attorney general -- and all her accomplishments.

In Washington recently, Madigan met with the League of Conservation Voters and her political chief, Gina Natale, huddled with Emily's List.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) will run for another term in 2014, I'm told, and is ramping up for a campaign with five fund-raisers here in the next two weeks.

Durbin is in absolutely no rush to make any official announcement and his core supporters have understood for some time that he will seek re-election, I'm told.

Durbin has held more than 20 fund-raisers since November and as of Dec. 31 had $2,590,707 cash-on-hand in his campaign fund.

Starting in early April, Durbin will step up his political travel, I'm told, speaking around the country for other Democrats and for himself.

Durbin, 68, the Senate Assistant Majority Leader, was first elected to the Senate in 1996 after serving in the House between 1982 and 1996.

Durbin has no opponent on the horizon--either for a Democratic primary or a Republican. Illinois Republicans who are looking for statewide races are far more interested so far in running for governor.

WASHINGTON--Proving once against that there are second acts in politics, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was a big hit Saturday night at the 128th annual Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner, more than making up for his disastrous 2009 State of the Union speech.

Which of course he used as fodder, since the best political humor is self-deprecating-- and Jindal had an abundance of material.

The white-tie and gown affair hosted by the journalism group (disclosure: I'm a member) featured Jindal, speaking for Republicans; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) representing Democrats and President Barack Obama.

Obama did a suave put down of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), whose 2013 State of the Union rebuttal is remembered by his lurching for a bottle of water.

Obama very unobtrusively took a sip of water during his remarks, pausing to let the sight gag sink in.

"That, Marco Rubio," said Obama. "Is how you take a sip of water."

The long evening featured skits satirizing Republicans and Democrats performed by costumed club members interspersed with the speeches.

Though Obama may look calm, Jindal zinged, "He is terrified that I will upstage him again, just like I did with that State of the Union response a few years ago."

Jindal is widely seen as a potential 2016 contender and Jindal did nothing to douse that talk.

Noting that some people ask him if he intends to run for president, Jindal said, "My answer is I have no plans to run. I have made that clear over and over again. In Iowa. In New Hampshire and in South Carolina," he said, naming the states with the first caucus and primaries.

After all, he said with faux modesty, "What chance does a skinny guy with a dark complexion and a funny name have to get elected president of the United States."
The crowd roared.

"The truth is, I am too skinny to run. At least that's what my friend, Chris Christie, keeps telling me," Jindal said of the overweight New Jersey Governor, also mentioned as a 2016 prospect.

On a roll, Jindal went on to compare himself with Obama and mock his own party.

He said earnestly that Obama and he had the "exact same campaign slogan years ago but unfortunately UPS sued both of us and made us stop using it. You remember our slogan, 'What can Brown do for you?"'

"Speaking of brown, I was hoping to see my good friend, John Boehner, here tonight," Jindal said of Boehner, the House Speaker who is always tan. "We actually go to the same tanning salon here in Washington."

Jindal poked fun at the name of Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican party. Hard to imagine, he said, a "better name than Reince Priebus to connect with the working class and convince people we are not the party of one per centers.

"At least I had the political foresight at the age of four to change my name to Bobby."

Jindal was not afraid to stray into the bawdy lane.

Referring to former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford--who quit because of his Argentine mistress--and is now running for a House seat--Jindal said he was "so committed to outsourcing, he even shifted his wife's job overseas," a jab that drew groans from the audience.

Sanford recently asked ex-wife to run his campaign, leaving Jindal to observe, "Hard to believe we Republicans have a gender gap problem, isn't it?"

Turning to freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) who got in a jam in her campaign for once claiming to be part American Indian, Jindal, the son of immigrants from India gave her a shout out.

"We've got a lot in common. From one Indian politician to another, I want to wish you all the best."

Obama recently played golf with Tiger Woods--who had his own problems with a mistress.

Said Jindal, "Tiger reportedly said that the president has, and I quote, 'amazing touch.' The last time Tiger said that he lost millions in endorsements and a hot Swedish wife."


Klobuchar took to the podium with a just asking approach. "I don't want to be judgmental, right from the start, but did anyone else notice that Bobby Jindal lip-synced his entire remarks?

She took aim at Obama, over a White House photo of him skeet shooting at Camp David, to prove--as the gun legislation debate heats up--that he has shot a gun.
"The president asks for one thing. If you could all give me your dessert plates on the tables when you exit, the hotel staff will collect them immediately after this event because the President is going skeet shooting."

With the Gridiron dinner speakers a woman, an Indian-American and a president with a white mother and black father, Klobuchar rolled with "I know the Governor and the President and I agree on one thing:

"One day soon, maybe not next year, maybe not in our children's lifetome, but one day you will once again have a white male politician speak at the Gridiron."


The sequester--those automatic spending cuts going in because Congress and the White House could not agree on a spending and revenue deal--was grist for Obama.
"Because of sequester, they cut my tails. My joke writers have been placed on furlough," Obama said.

And on the dust-up between Bob Woodward and White House Economic advisor Gene Sperling--Obama noted, "that some folks couldn't make it this evening. It's been noted that Bob Woodward sends his regrets, which Gene Sperling predicted. I have to admit this whole brouhaha had me a little surprised. Who knew Gene could be so intimidating?"

"Now I know that some folks think we responded to Woodward too aggressively. But hey, when has -- can anybody tell me when an administration has ever regretted picking a fight with Bob Woodward? What's the worst that could happen? "

After teaching Rubio how to be smooth, Obama said after that sip of water, "As I was saying, we face major challenges. March in particular is going to be full of tough decisions. But I want to assure you, I have my top advisors working around the clock.

After all, my March Madness bracket isn't going to fill itself out. And don't worry -- there is an entire team in the situation room as we speak, planning my next golf outing, right now at this moment. "

Obama also referred to that skeet shooting photo.

"Of course, maintaining credibility in this cynical atmosphere is harder than ever -- incredibly challenging. My administration recently put out a photo of me skeet shooting and even that wasn't enough for some people. Next week, we're releasing a photo of me clinging to religion."

WASHINGTON--Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster this week over drone use in the U.S.--and his pressing Attorney General Eric Holder about the prospects of a domestic strike (none, it turns out) brings up the subject of how we navigate the Constitution in our era of terrorist threats. Holder spoke about this in a speech last Monday in Chicago at Northwestern University Law School. Read his prepared remarks HERE.

Excerpt from Holder speech: "The Justice Department plays a key role in conducting oversight to ensure that the intelligence community's activities remain in compliance with the law, and, together with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, in authorizing surveillance to investigate suspected terrorists. We must - and will continue to - use the intelligence-gathering capabilities that Congress has provided to collect information that can save and protect American lives. At the same time, these tools must be subject to appropriate checks and balances - including oversight by Congress and the courts, as well as within the Executive Branch - to protect the privacy and civil rights of innocent individuals. This Administration is committed to making sure that our surveillance programs appropriately reflect all of these interests"

WASHINGTON--In his Saturday weekly address, President Barack Obama talks about his dinner with GOP senators a few days ago...and how next week he heads to Capitol Hill--spread over three days--to meet with House and Senate Republicans and Democrats.

Said Obama, "Earlier this week, I met with some Republican Senators to see if there were smarter ways to grow our economy and reduce our deficits than the arbitrary cuts and the so-called "sequester" that recently went into place. We had an open and honest conversation about critical issues like immigration reform and gun violence, and other areas where we can work together to move this country forward. And next week, I'll attend both the Democratic and Republican party meetings in the Capitol to continue those discussions."

Click below for transcript

WASHINGTON--If Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady is ousted on Saturday--with his support for gay marriage one of the counts against him--national conservative pundits based here are warning the move will be a big hit against the party--at a time the GOP is looking to expand its appeal with voters who back gay rights.

Brady faces a showdown vote with the state central committeemen--and it may be close.

Stephen Hayes from the Weekly Standard tweets, "Some IL GOPers may purge of chairman who supports gay marriage, even as they hope to win gay-marriage supporters to the party."

Fox News commentator Dana Perino, a former White House press secretary for former President George W. Bush tweets, "Dear Illinois GOP, please don't shoot yourself in both feet. Keep Pat Brady as your chairman - you're fortunate to have him."

Liz Mair, a former RNC Digital Director wrote in her blog, "As previously noted, my personal opinion is that Brady should remain in office, particularly given the importance of electing a Republican governor in 2014 and the significant challenge that installing a new Chairman now would present in achieving that. This is of course setting aside that Brady's stance on same-sex marriage is in line with Illinois opinion on this issue, which is politically helpful."

CNN contributor Ana Navarro, a campaign co-chair for the McCain and Huntsman campaigns said in a tweet, "Could IL GOP be so petty as to oust Chair for gay marriage support? We are the Party of personal freedom, remember?"

David Weigel in Slate has an overview HERE.

Sun-Times coverage is HERE and HERE
and and HERE

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

WASHINGTON--Attorney General Lisa Madigan is doing more than "seriously thinking" about running for Illinois governor--she touched base with environmental and women's groups--base groups if she jumps into the Democratic primary--during a visit here. Read the Politico report on Madigan HERE.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's latest tactic to hammer out compromises with lawmakers as Congress remains gridlocked: Dining diplomacy.

Last night at the Jefferson Hotel here, Obama dined with 12 Republican senators. The guest list was put together by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) Today, Obama lunches in the White House Private Dining Room with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), the 2012 vice presidential nominee and more important for today, the House Budget Committee Chairman and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) the top Democrat on the panel.

The White House and Congress are deadlocked over the budget, spending and revenues--that's why the sequester kicked in last week, those automatic spending cuts no one really wanted.

Next week, Obama heads to Capitol Hill for meetings with House and Senate Republicans and Democrats. This is part of an Obama reach-out--yes, you could say belated--to rank and file lawmakers who could be open to compromise.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on the CBS Morning News on Thursday talked to host Charlie Rose about the dinner:" Look, it was very constructive. It seemed perfectly normal to have a group of folks talking about the biggest issue our nation faces. And I don't think there was any expectation that something over the next month or six weeks is going to occur, but I think it helped lay a foundation for constructive talks maybe between now and the debt ceiling. But certainly it was very useful, very sincere, very cordial, and a good dinner."

"....So, again, what I would say that the most, I think, salient part about the dinner was, it was a very sincere and open conversation. I think everybody's agreed they're not going to give a readout on policy issues that were discussed, but very helpful. And again, I think it's the kind of thing that most of us thought was a perfectly normal dinner to talk about, again, the biggest issue. And I think it was helpful. I really do."

WASHINGTON--Former GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman--who President Barack Obama tapped in his first term to be U.S. Ambassador to China--is the headliner Thursday night at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics. Huntsman will be interviewed by Fox News' Juan Williams for, according to the IOP, "a wide-ranging conversation on the state of politics in the United States and the future of U.S.-China relations."

It's at 6 p.m. at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaking during the seventh hour of his filibuster.

WASHINGTON--After nearly 13 hours, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) ended a rare filibuster on the Senate floor, early Thursday, opposing the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director and speaking out against the Obama administration refusal to say whether drones would be used domestically.

TO NOTE: Paul, who comes from the Tea Party movement within the GOP Party, keynoted Monday night the 6th Annual Northwest Suburban Republican Lincoln Day Dinner in northwest suburban Palatine. The event was hosted by a group of Republican township organization in the northwest Chicago suburbs: Palatine, Schaumburg, Barrington, Hanover, Northfield, and Wheeling.

While the threat of a filibuster always hangs over Senate business--Senators usually don't use the delaying tactic. Paul started talking at 11:47 a.m. ET on Wednesday, according to Paul's office and concluded at 12:39 a.m. ET on Thursday, according to press reports. The Senate then adjourned at 12:41 a.m. ET, according to the Senate record.

DURBIN: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was there until the end. After Paul yielded, Durbin filed the motion to set the stage for a vote on Brennan's confirmation, with the vote possible on Thursday.

A senator has to remain physically present to hold the floor, and Paul finally yielded because he had to go to the bathroom, he suggested at the end of his marathon.

During his seventh hour Paul said, "If the President is unwilling to say clearly and unequivocally that he is not going to kill noncombatants in America, I don't think we should tolerate that. I think there should be a huge outcry and the President should come forward and explain his position. This discussion tonight really isn't so much about John Brennan. It isn't about his nomination so much as it's about whether or not we believe that in America there are some rights that are so special that we're not willing to give up on these. So as we move forward into this debate, it's not really about who gets nominated to be the head of the CIA It's about principles that are bigger than the people. It's about something bigger and larger than the people involved. It's about Constitutional principles that really we shouldn't give up on."

Though Paul had a long stint, he didn't break any filibuster records. The Washington Post looks at filibuster lengths HERE.

I'm not a great fan of Jane Fonda. But I'm not so interested in putting her on a drone kill list either.

Senator Rand Paul ‏@SenRandPaul
The American people deserve a clear statement from the President concerning limits of executive power.

WASHINGTON--When Sen. Mark Kirk spoke at the giant AIPAC conference on Monday night, he had the shortest speech of anyone at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee gala. The recovering stroke victim told the audience, tell the dictators in Iran "I'm back."

Now Kirk, who has long worked for tougher sanctions on Iran in order to prevent the nation from developing a nuclear weapon that could wipe Israel off the map, said in a video released on Wednesday that in the weeks ahead, he will be building a bi-partisan coalition to do even more. Kirk is aiming to "upgrade" sanctions by taking aim at crippling Iranian currency.

Kirk had his team produce a video on the need to crack down on Iran titled "Before It's Too Late," an allusion to the Holocaust. The 2:50 video--a cross between a documentary and news report--uses a professional narrator for most of the narration with Kirk providing several sound bites.

My post on Kirk and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) Iran currency sanctions proposal is HERE.

WASHINGTON--Former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) will be hosting a nightly radio talk show on WIND-AM; Robert Feder has the scoop at

I am 100 percent not surprised. The outspoken, provocative Walsh seems a natural for radio hosting on a station with a right-wing tilt. This is a big perch for him if he explores a statewide run in a comeback bid. He was defeated for re-election last November by Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.)

From Feder, who formerly covered the radio and TV beat for the Chicago Sun-Times: "As first tipped here in January, Walsh has agreed to sign on as a Monday-through-Friday talk show host on WIND-AM (560), the Salem Communications conservative news/talk station. If all goes as planned, his show will air from 7 to 9pm, starting March 18."

Walsh today, according to a Tweet from him: "Joe Walsh ‏@WalshFreedom
On my way to our states Capitol with the Mchenry County Sportsman's Association to support Gun Owners Lobby Day. Watch out Springfield!"

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama heads to Capitol Hill next week for a rare event--a lunch with the Senate Republicans. This comes as Congress is mired in gridlock over the sequester--the automatic forced budget cuts--and a battle looming at the end of the month over money to keep the federal government funded.

Obama asked for the meeting through Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Tuesday, said a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"Senate Republicans welcome the President to the Capitol. And I appreciate he took my recommendation to hear from all of my members," Sen. McConnell said. "We promised the American people that we would cut Washington spending, and the President signed those cuts into law. We have numerous challenges facing the country and Republicans have offered the President serious solutions to shrink Washington spending and grow the economy. And we will have an opportunity to discuss them with the President at the lunch," McConnell said in a statement

Obama last attended a Senate GOP lunch on May 25, 2010.

WASHINGTON--Three Illinois freshmen House Democrats--Brad Schneider, Cheri Bustos and Bill Enyart-- are among the 26 members considered the most vulnerable in 2014 by the House Democratic political operation and will be bolstered with fund-raising and other assistance.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Tuesday the three from Illinois will be part of the DCCC "Frontline" program.

From the DCCC: "The Frontline Program is a partnership between the DCCC and Members to lay the groundwork for the 2014 cycle by supporting and expanding their fundraising and outreach operations. Frontline Members must sign a memorandum of understanding that requires Members to meet aggressive fundraising goals, accelerate volunteer and recruitment efforts, and increase their online networking.

"Frontline membership will change as Members' political circumstances shift as a result of redistricting, their opponent or other factors."

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

WASHINGTON -- After years of strained relations, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- both just re-elected -- may be able to press the reset button when Obama heads to Israel later this month -- united against the growing threat of Iran gaining nuclear capability.

Against this backdrop, Vice President Joe Biden and Netanyahu delivered separate speeches on Monday at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference that touched on Obama's visit. AIPAC is a giant pro-Israel lobby group.

Netanyahu spoke via a satellite hookup -- he usually attends the AIPAC conference in person -- because he is bogged down by his own internal politics. After winning the Jan. 22 election, Netanyahu got a two-week extension last Saturday night to form a governing coalition, which has proved difficult.

"Believe me, it's a lot easier finding common ground between two parties than it is to find common ground among 10 parties," Netanyahu joked. "You think you have a difficulty working out your politics. Believe me, this is harder."

During the U.S. election, Netanyahu was seen in Mitt Romney's camp. Obama had to continuously prove his pro-Israel credentials. Obama's choice of Chuck Hagel for Defense secretary left a sour taste in some pro-Israel precincts in part because of Hagel's weak record on Iran sanctions.

Obama's Israel trip -- to include stops in the West Bank and Jordan -- is the first foreign trip of his second term and should put to rest the complaint that he never visited Israel as president.

Netanyahu said, "The first thing that my new government will have the privilege of doing is to warmly welcome President Obama to Israel. I look forward to the president's visit. It will give me an opportunity, along with the people of Israel, to express our appreciation for what he has done for Israel."

"The president and I agreed to focus our discussions on three main issues: first, Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons; second, the deteriorating situation in Syria, and third, the need to find a responsible way to advance the peace with the Palestinians," Netanyahu said.

These three issues are not equal in importance, and Iran is the priority, because a nuclear attack could wipe Israel off the map. Netanyahu said diplomacy is not working and Iran is "running out the clock . . . to buy time to press ahead with its nuclear program."

Biden, who spoke before Netanyahu, restated Obama's position: that all Iran options, including using military force, are on the table.

"And President Barack Obama is not bluffing," Biden said.

Before any Iranian strike, Biden said, Obama would have to make it clear to the international community that every other option had been tried.

Biden said, if "God forbid, if we have to act, it's important that the rest of the world is with us."

Biden and Netanyahu used their AIPAC speeches to make nice -- paving the way for a new start when Obama gets to Jerusalem in a few weeks.

WASHINGTON--The Senate is poised to move the first bill to curb gun violence since the Newtown massacre, named for Chicago shooting victim Hadiya Pendleton, with Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk among the chief sponsors.

The bipartisan measure cracks down on gun-trafficking and straw purchases of firearms to get around background checks -- problems that have contributed to gun-related crimes in Chicago. At present, there is no federal law banning a person fronting a gun purchase to either sell or pass along the weapon to someone else.

"This bipartisan bill will crack down on the illegal trafficking of guns and impose strict punishments for straw purchasers. Buying a gun for another to use in a crime will mean a hard time-federal crime," Durbin, a Democrat, said in a statement.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear the bill on Thursday and it is expected to clear the panel and head to the Senate floor in April.

Although Congress is considering several other gun-related measures -- including the more controversial proposals to ban assault weapons and limit the number of bullets in a magazine -- the anti-trafficking/straw purchase crackdown bill will move as a stand-alone piece of legislation.

Other senators who help forge the bipartisan measure are Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.); Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

While the bill has a good chance of Senate passage, it's fate in the House is not clear at this stage. The House may not take it up as a stand-alone measure and instead package it with other gun bills -- which would make it harder to create bipartisan support.

Hadiya Pendleton was shot to death in January in a park about a mile from President Barack Obama's Kenwood home.

Kirk, a Republican, said in a statement, "For Hadiya and thousands of other victims, my hope is we can break through the gridlock here in Washington to actually get something done to save lives."

From the White House: Tune in to at 11:10 a.m. ET for the first ever Google+ Hangout with First Lady Michelle Obama.


A spokesman for AIPAC said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) will appear at the AIPAC gala on Monday night, but was not sure if he was going to speak. The AIPAC program distributed on Monday listed Kirk as a key speaker.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is scheduled to be a keynote speaker Monday night at the AIPAC--American Israel Public Affairs Committee--giant conference here. This will be Kirk's first major speech since he has returned to the Senate following an absence of almost a year after suffering a stroke.

This morning, the main speakers are Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu via satellite. Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) are featured in a foreign policy roundtable.

Also on the bill tonight with Kirk are House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) Kirk has long enjoyed a very close relationship with AIPAC and with Israeli government officials. Kirk has been taking a lead on legislation toughening sanctions on Iran so make sure the nation does not develop a nuclear capability that could be used against Israel.

The AIPAC conference comes a few weeks before President Barack Obama's trip to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, the first international travel of his second term.

WASHINGTON--Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is profiled in the latest New Yorker, with author Jeffrey Toobin talking to her son, James--who is the founder of Cedille Records, a classical music label in Chicago--about his mom and his late father, Martin, also an attorney.

Excerpt: In 1980, Jimmy Carter appointed Ginsburg to the D.C. Circuit. Marty became a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, while also establishing an affiliation with the Fried Frank law firm, in Washington. "My parents complemented each other," James Ginsburg told me. "My father was the extrovert, always the life of the party, as well as the cook. Mom is obviously personally more reserved, more quiet. They worked so well together. Growing up, I didn't know that it was unusual for both parents to have careers. People would always ask me what my dad did, and I always wondered why people didn't ask me about my mom. Early on, my mom followed my dad to New York, and, later on, he followed her to Washington." James Ginsburg founded and runs a non-profit classical-music label in Chicago."

WASHINGTON -- The Obama campaign released its final list of "bundlers" over the weekend -- supporters who raised megabucks to re-elect President Barack Obama -- and the abundance of Chicago money muscle, and lack of Hawaiian fund-raising juice, takes away any doubt that the Obama presidential library will end up in Chicago.

Of about 250 bundlers who raised more than $500,000 -- counting couples or business associates as one unit -- 21 were from Chicago or the suburbs and none were from Obama's native state, which has been publicly angling for the library. The University of Chicago is waging a covert bid for the library. See the list of Obama's Illinois super-bundlers at the end of the column; the fourth-quarter list had no local surprises.


This wealthy and well-connected group has very deep pockets, and they are being tapped at present -- the library ask will come later -- to help bankroll the newly formed Organizing for Action, a nonprofit spawned by the Obama campaign to, in the short term, help push Obama's second-term agenda on guns, immigration, the budget and climate change, to name a few issues.

The new group already has an office in Washington and another will be in Chicago, where Executive Director Jon Carson will be based.

While the goal is to create, as Carson has said, "the largest grassroots network in the history of politics," OFA is following a fund-raising model the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012 perfected and also wooing big money with offers of exclusive briefings and access to mingle with top figures in the Obama orbit, including the president.

The group is hosting a "Founders Summit" on March 13 at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, with a $50,000 price tag for the daylong event, according to the invitation I saw. A top donor told me that the ask went up in a conference call to $500,000 to land a spot on a "national advisory board."

After the New York Times' Nicholas Confessore first reported on OFA's $500,000 pitch, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked last Monday about Obama administration officials -- up to the president -- helping to raise money for OFA.

"White House and administration officials will not be raising money for Organizing for Action, and they, while they may appear at appropriate OFA events in their official capacities -- they will not be raising money," Carney said, making a tortured distinction with absolutely no difference.

OBAMA TOP BUNDLERS: From Illinois, raising $500,000 plus for the Obama 2012 campaign are: Neil Bluhm; Wally Brewster and Bob Satawake; Steve Cohen; Les Coney; Kevin Conlon; James Crown; Fred Eychaner; Rajiv Fernando; Vicki and Bruce Heyman; Jill and John Levi; Lee Miller; Chaka Patterson; Penny Pritzker; Laura Ricketts; John Rogers Jr. and Mellody Hobson; Michael Sacks; Andy Schapiro and Tamar Newberger; Amy Singh; David Solow; Alan Solow; Grace Tsao-Wu.

WASHINGTON-- Robin Kelly, who is poised to become a member of Congress -- she won the Democratic primary for the seat vacated by former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and faces only nominal GOP opposition in the April general election -- hits Washington Monday.

She will attend the big American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference dinner on Monday; a fund-raiser for freshmen Democratic House members on Tuesday, and a Congressional Black Caucus lunch on Wednesday.

The AIPAC keynoters on Monday will be Vice President Joe Biden, and via satellite, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama visits Israel later this month, the first foreign trip of his second term.

WASHINGTON--Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who rose to deputy chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton, will be tapped Monday to be the new Director of the Office of Management and Budget, a White House official said on Sunday. Obama will make the announcement at 10:15 a.m. in the East Room.

Burwell will step down as the president of the Walmart Foundation--where she has been perched since 2012--to return to the White House. She joined Walmart after serving 10 years as president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and as the Chief Operating Officer.

Burwell's appointment was expected, with Jeff Mason of Reuters reporting on Feb. 6 that President Barack Obama had chosen her for the spot as he puts together his second term team.

The previous OMB chief was Jack Lew--now the Treasury Secretary. When he left last year to be Obama's chief of staff, deputy budget director Jeffrey Zients became the acting director.

More from a White House official: "Having previously served as Deputy Director of the OMB during the Clinton administration, Burwell is an expert on budgetary and domestic policy and brings a keen understanding of the budget process to this role. Burwell served as Deputy Director of the OMB from 1998 to 2001. Burwell also served as Deputy Chief of Staff to the President and Chief of Staff to the Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton administration.

"Burwell has a proven record as a thoughtful problem solver who builds consensus to get things done. During her tenure as Deputy Director of the OMB, she was one of the principal architects of a series of budget plans that produced a budget surplus, proving her ability to navigate the intricacies of the budget process and to work in a bipartisan way to produce results. Burwell brings rigorous analytical skills and strong relationships on both sides of the aisle to this new role.

"...Burwell's deep knowledge of budget and economic issues along with her record of fighting for working Americans make her the perfect choice to lead the OMB at this important time. Her record proves that she knows how to cut wasteful spending in a smart way while also making the investments needed to grow the economy, protect the middle class and promote prosperity for generations to come. The President is grateful that she has agreed to serve our country again in this important role."

WASHINGTON--Despite the deep partisan divide that produced the sequester--the forced automatic spending cuts kicking in Friday--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Sunday he was hopeful bi-partisan immigration reform can be achieved.

Durbin is part of an eight member Senate team--four Democrats, four Republicans--drafting immigration legislation.

Speaking to CBS "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer Durbin said "Chuck Schumer, myself and Bob Menendez, Mike Bennet, Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake, and the two amigos you just had on board here (John McCain and Lindsey Graham) have really buckled down. We meet virtually every day in a bipartisan effort to write an immigration bill. The president supports this. I think it can be achieved.

"The point I want to make: When I listen to Lindsey Graham talk about where we need to go with deficit reduction, what he is saying is basically the construct of the Bowles and Simpson commission: The notion of putting everything on the table -- revenue, spending cuts, entitlement reform.

"If we did that, we'd avoid these manufactured crises like the one we're in right now," Durbin said, referring to the sequester.

Schieffer asked Durbin what the next step was on the sequester impasse.

"You know, Bob, I'm almost afraid to say it. The American people, over the past two years plus, have been lurching or watching Washington lurch from threatened government shutdowns, threatened economic shutdowns. The words "fiscal cliff" have become common in the American language. Now, we know what it's all about. The "sequestration" word is very common.

"Unfortunately, in three weeks, we face another one. It's the expiration of the continuing resolution which means the funding bill for government expires in three weeks. We have to agree how to finish the year until September 30th.

"It creates an opportunity for us to sit down, the president and congressional leaders, and come up with an answer that is sensible to deal with sequestration as well as with the remainder of this year."

Washington gridlock is about as bad as Durbin has seen it, he said.

"And I've been through some pretty rough periods of time.

"I can recall the ascendency of Newt Gingrich and what it meant to us. It was a very frustrating and emotional upheaval in Washington.

"But what we have here is a steady diet, and I have -- I don't want to point fingers, but I will. The House Republican approach to this is: We're either going to do it exclusively with Republicans, or we just won't do it at all. Only when they're pushed to the absolute extreme where they allow a bipartisan vote.

"What you heard this morning from my two Republican colleagues, and I hope what I'm saying, is that that we're trying to establish a new standard in the Senate of bipartisan dialogue that might lead to a solution. If the House would embrace the same basic concept, I am certain -- certain the president would sit down and work in good faith to get us through this."

WASHINGTON -- Faced with the reality of no agreement with Republicans to prevent the sequester -- forced across-the-board federal spending cuts -- President Barack Obama lamented Friday the limit of his powers.

"I am not a dictator. I'm the president," Obama said to CNN's Jessica Yellin after she asked him at a press conference if he could just keep the congressional leaders in a room until they have a deal.

Obama met with House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but nothing happened to head off the Friday sequester deadline.

With no drama -- compared to the countdown clock frenzy of the fiscal cliff crisis over the New Year's holiday -- the nation sailed into the uncharted waters of the sequester. The fiscal cliff was a manufactured deadline, with the only way out of it to kick the can down the road to Friday.

That we are at this stage disproves one of Washington's heretofore valued conventional wisdoms: that deadlines, whether real of self-imposed (that's what we've got here) force compromise.

Congress was not even in session on Friday, with members long gone, that's how anticipated it was by the White House and the congressional leaders that this sequester was going to happen.

Obama's main strategy at this point -- in the days running up to Friday and in the weeks ahead -- is to turn up the heat on Republicans.

"Let's be clear," Obama said. "None of this is necessary. It's happening because of a choice that Republicans in Congress have made."

He added a little later, "I do know that there are Republicans in Congress who privately, at least, say they would rather close tax loopholes than let these cuts go through."

Obama dinged Boehner and McConnell, suggesting that most Republicans agree with him and "we just need Republicans in Congress to catch up with their own party and their country on this."

The Republican major tactic for now is to sit tight and continue to portray themselves as the champions of cost-cutting and preventing tax increases.

Emerging from the White House meeting, Boehner, referring to prior votes and the fiscal cliff tax hikes for high income earners said: "The House has laid out a plan to avoid the sequester. I would hope that the Senate would act. But let's make it clear that the president got his tax hikes on January 1st. This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over.

"It's about taking on the spending problem here in Washington."

At issue are cuts -- $85 billion for fiscal year 2013 -- in defense and domestic spending, but not Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The sequester will not kick in right away: Federal employee furlough days won't start until April and the federal grant spigot will not turn off all at once. The impact on states will vary. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan wrote to Gov. Pat Quinn on Friday saying the state will lose under the sequester $53 million in low-income rental assistance and cuts in programs to help the homeless.

So what happens next?

Not much.

The White House is pondering where to send Obama to leverage his bully pulpit -- those trips the Republicans accuse Obama of making as part of an endless campaign.

After Obama explained to Yellin about being a president, not a dictator, she pressed him about leadership.

Obama came back with a mixed reference to a Star Trek Vulcan and a Star Wars Jedi in saying how hard it to strike a bargain with Republicans.

Obama said he just can't "do a Jedi mind-meld with these folks and convince them to do what's right."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and the four congressional leaders wrapped up their sequester negotiations about 20 minutes ago and Obama will speak about what is to come at 11:35 a.m. ET.


WASHINGTON--Democrats--212 of them-- are asking the Supreme Court to change how marriage is defined in the Defense of Marriage Act (known as DOMA) to include same sex couples.


From release: Today, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Ranking Constitution Subcommittee Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in the House, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate, along with House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Ranking House Judiciary Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), are filing an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court in U.S. v. Edith Schlain Windsor, a landmark challenge to Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Section 3 defines marriage for purposes of federal law as "only a legal union between one man and one woman," excluding same-sex couples from all marriage-based federal responsibilities and rights. A total of 172 Members of the House and 40 Members of the Senate - including LGBT Equality Caucus Co-Chairs Jared Polis (D-CO), David Cicilline (D-RI), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Mark Takano (D-CA), as well as Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) - signed onto the brief.

WASHINGTON--Congress is out today. The Sequester kicks in. We are heading to some uncharted territory.

President Barack Obama meets with the four top congressional leaders at the White House today: Republicans Sen. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, but the huddle is highly unlikely to avert the automatic budget cuts referred to as the "sequester."

5 MYTHS ABOUT THE SEQUESTER: A smart, fast read by think tank scholars Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein in the Washington Post.

STATE OF PLAY: The latest in sequester by-play in the Washington Post.



Isolate or hide away (someone or something): "the artist sequestered himself in his studio for two years".
A general cut in government spending.
verb. sequestrate - seize - isolate - impound - insulate
noun. segregation - sequestration

WASHINGTON--Why can't Mayor Rahm Emanuel be president? Veteran political writer Marc Ambinder, over at This Week pivots off of Chicago Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman's story about the departure of his chief of staff to explain why know-it-all Emanuel could face a struggle in a White House campaign. This topic triggered by a Feb. 14 Daily Beast report by Lloyd Grove about Emanuel "toying" with a 2016 run.


Office of the Press Secretary


February 28, 2013



In the morning, the President will host the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress at the White House. The Vice President will also attend. The President will be joined by Senate Majority Leader Reid, Senate Minority Leader McConnell, Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi. This meeting will be in the Oval Office and will be closed press.

In-Town Travel Pool

Wires: AP, Reuters, Bloomberg

Wire Photos: AP, Reuters, AFP

TV Corr & Crew: ABC

Print: Tribune

Radio: ABC


9:30AM In-Town Pool Call Time

10:05AM THE PRESIDENT hosts the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress at the White House; THE VICE PRESIDENT also attends

Oval Office

Closed Press

Briefing Schedule

11:30AM Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney



Monthly Archives

Get the Sweet widget

More widgets


Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Stay in touch

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from March 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2013 is the previous archive.

April 2013 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.