Chicago Sun-Times
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May 2013 Archives

By Lynn Sweet and Frank Main
Chicago Sun-Times

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) is highly critical of a proposal by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) for mass arrests of 18,000 Gangster Disciples, telling the Sun-Times on Wednesday that Kirk's approach is "headline grabbing" and an "upper-middle-class, elitist white boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about."

One of Kirk's top priorities is targeting gangs; he has been meeting with law enforcement officials to devise a plan to execute the mass arrests.

Rush's comments came as Kirk and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) huddled Wednesday with Zachary Fardon, the nominee for U.S. attorney in Chicago, and urged him to keep fighting public corruption and to redouble the battle against street gangs.

The senators asked Fardon, who is expected to be confirmed by the Senate in the coming months, to put the pressure on Chicago's largest gang, the Gangster Disciples.

Kirk said at a press conference with Durbin at the Union League Club following the Fardon meeting that he will ask the Senate Appropriations Committee for $30 million "to go after gangs like the GDs . . . and pick the biggest and baddest for a federal effort."

"I think it's completely within the capability of the United States government to crush a major urban gang," Kirk said. "Just think of what the greatest generation did here in Chicago, pretty much crushing the Capone organization."

Rush, asked by the Sun-Times to react to Kirk's proposal said in a phone interview: "It's a sensational, headline-grabbing, empty, simplistic, unworkable approach."

If there is $30 million for Congress to spend, better most of it be allocated for "job creation and job training," to address the gang problem, Rush said.

Rush's House district includes communities plagued by gang violence. He said his criticism of Kirk is "not to excuse their activities."

Rush said an arrest sweep "is not going to work. . . . It is not a law and order, lock 'em up solution."

Rush said he would like to talk to Kirk, to "get him to see the bigger picture." He added, "I am really very upset with Mark" and that Kirk's approach was an "upper-middle-class, elitist white boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about."

Realizing those were very strong words, a short time later Rush issued a follow-up statement to the Sun-Times to put his remarks in context.

Kirk's "current plan does not include the option to create jobs, provide affordable and safe housing, quality health care and improve schools in urban areas, BUT certainly a plan to incarcerate 18,000 black men is elitist. Why is incarceration the sole option instead of rehabilitation which is proven to work and not locking young men up," Rush said in an email.

A Kirk spokesman, told of Rush's comments, said Kirk's "commitment to stopping gang violence in our communities goes back more than a decade. The senator will continue to work with Sen. Durbin, Mayor Emanuel, law enforcement and the entire congressional delegation to keep Illinois families safe."

Finding the money to bankroll the mass arrests will be a major hurdle to clear in Congress, even though Kirk and Durbin are members of the appropriations panel in the Senate.

In the House, there is massive resistance to spending from Tea Party Republicans. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) sits on the House Appropriations Committee and told the Sun-Times, "it is not easy getting money out of the House, worthwhile or not."

Quigley said he appreciates Kirk "going after a plague in Chicago" but believes the focus for federal prosecutors and police should be on "prosecuting the most serious gun traffickers who put weapons in the hands of gang members."

On Tuesday, Kirk, trying to put pieces in place to implement his plan for the mass arrests, met with the Chicago chiefs of the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Lynn Sweet reported from Washington D.C.

greeley.jpgThe Rev. Andrew Greeley

Updated, day of death corrected

Chicago priest, best-selling author, noted sociologist and long-time Sun-Times columnist Father Andrew Greeley died on Wednesday night early Thursday morning. He was 85.

He passed away at his apartment at the Hancock Center, according to June Rosner, Greeley's long-time spokesman. Later on Thursday she clarified, "Father Greeley died in the early hours of this morning, May 30, 2013."

Greeley's family issued a statement, noting his 59 years in the priesthood:

"Our lives have been tremendously enriched by having the presence of Fr. Andrew Greeley in our family. First and foremost as a loving uncle who was always there for us with unfailing support or with a gentle nudge, who shared with us both the little things and the big moments of family life. But we were specially graced that this man was also an amazing priest who recently celebrated the 59th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. He served the Church all those years with a prophetic voice and with unfailing dedication, and the Church he and our parents taught us to love is a better place because of him. Our hearts are heavy with grief, but we find hope in the promise of Heaven that our uncle spent his life proclaiming to us, his friends, his parishioners and his many fans. He resides now with the Lord of the Dance, and that dance will go on."

rahm time cover.png

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel hit the cover of Time Magazine, with his struggles to run Chicago---to fight crime and most recently the controversial closing of 50 public schools-- "as a proxy for a broader fight nationwide over the identity of the Democratic Party."

Emanuel posed for the cover of the upcoming edition on the Quincy/Wells "L' platform. The cover story is by David Von Drehle.

The headlines:

HIS KIND OF TOWN

Rahm Emanuel Left the White House to Run a Broke, Violence-Plagued City, and He's Having the Time of His Life

The article offers nothing new to Chicago readers.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama personally prodded Illinois state House members to vote for a gay marriage bill Wednesday night at a fund-raiser in Chicago as the fate of the measure pending in Springfield is uncertain.

Last December, Obama took the rare step of weighing in on a state issue through a statement urging the Illinois General Assembly to legalize gay marriage in his home state at a time lawmakers were taking up the issue in Springfield.

On Wednesday night, Obama made the pitch personally.

"America is probably more tolerant, more accepting of difference than any time in our history. Obviously, you've got an African American President, a former and soon to be again female Speaker of the House. The work that we did together to end "don't ask, don't tell" is something that I could not be prouder of. But we also know that there's still a lot of people who are excluded in our society and we've got more work to do," Obama said.

"Here in Illinois, we've got a vote on same-sex marriage that's going to be coming up in the state legislature. And I just want to say for the record it's something that I deeply support. I wrestled with this for a long time and I am absolutely convinced it is the right thing to do. And we have to make sure that wherever we go, we are reminding people that the essence of America is that everybody is treated equally under the law without exception," Obama said.

Obama's personal appeal on Wednesday underscores the statement released by the White House last December, when Obama urged Illinois to legalize gay marriage

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

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

Obama made the comment about gay marriage during an event for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at the home of long-time supporters Bettylu and Paul Saltzman.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama hits Chicago on Wednesday afternoon to headline two fund-raisers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at the Chicago Hilton and a dinner at the Near North side home of Bettylu and Paul Saltzman. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) landed in Chicago on Tuesday for two days of fund-raising to benefit House Democrats.

Joining Obama and Pelosi are DCCC chairman Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), House Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who, when he was a House member and DCCC chair helped recruit and elect enough Democrats to the House in 2006 to make Pelosi the first female Speaker.

Many members of the Illinois Democrat House delegation are expected, including Reps. Bobby Rush, Bill Foster, Jan Schakowsky, Cheri Bustos and Robin Kelly. The money raised in Illinois will be used for Illinois House races, Pelosi told me in a Monday interview.

The ticket price for the 5 p.m. Hilton event runs from $1,000 to $2,500. The 7 p.m. Saltzman dinner --with about 70 expected--including Schakowsky, former Obama chief of staff Bill Daley and former Obama strategist David Axelrod runs from $10,000 per person to $32,400 per couple.

On Thursday, Kelly, the newest member of the Illinois delegation, hosts Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House, at a tour of Bimba Manufacturing in University Park and the Chicago Ford Assembly plant, part of a drive to promote the Democrats' "Make it in America" initiative.

Though the Wednesday events are aimed at major donors, the DCCC had a robust April on-line fund-raising drive,
hauling in $1.4 million online with an average donation of $22.

Obama will be overnighting in Chicago

Below, his Chicago schedule:

3:55PM THE PRESIDENT departs the White House
South Lawn


4:10PM THE PRESIDENT departs Joint Base Andrews

CDT

5:00PM THE PRESIDENT arrives Chicago
O'Hare International Airport


6:30PM THE PRESIDENT attends a DCCC event
Chicago Hilton
Pool Coverage of the President's remarks

7:45PM THE PRESIDENT attends a DCCC event
Private Residence
Print Pool Only Coverage of the President's remarks


WASHINGTON--Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who ran for president in 2012, fueled by Tea Party conservatives, announced early Wednesday that she will not seek a fifth term.

Bachmann, traveling in Russia with a congressional delegation, said in her 8:40 video, posted on YouTube, said her decision not to run again had nothing to inquiries made into the finances of her 2012 presidential campaign or the fact that her Democratic challenger is looking for a 2014 rematch. She won by about 5,000 votes last year. "I have every confidence" of winning if running again, she said.

"The law limits anyone from serving as president of the United States for more than eight years, and in my opinion, well, eight years is also long enough for an individual to serve as a representative for a specific Congressional district," Bachmann said.

She also said, "It was clearly understood that compliance with all rules and regulations was an absolute necessity for my presidential campaign," Bachmann said. "And I have no reason to believe that that was not the case."

By Lynn Sweet and Frank Main
Chicago Sun-Times

WASHINGTON -- Illinois Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin are meeting with U.S. Attorney nominee Zachary Fardon on Wednesday to discuss stepping up gun and gang prosecutions in Chicago -- as Kirk is calling for mass arrests of 18,000 Gangster Disciples.

President Barack Obama tapped Fardon last week, picking from four names jointly forwarded to the White House by Durbin, a Democrat and Kirk, a Republican. The Senate Judiciary Committee -- of which Durbin is a member -- is expected to approve Fardon in one or two months and send his nomination to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.

In the meantime, the Fardon meeting in Chicago comes as one of Kirk's top priorities since he has returned to the Senate from his stroke is targeting gangs.

"My big project is to take out the Gangster Disciple gang, which would involve about 18,000 arrests," Kirk said on May 20, speaking before the "Illinois Group" in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The group represents Illinois corporations, law firms and trade associations in Washington.

"I sort of scared the federal judges involved and said I might be needing to process about 18,000 defendants to your courtrooms, could you do this, [because] this would really help our state. And they were very agreeable," Kirk said.

Kirk's team describes his Gangster Disciples proposal as a major thrust against all gangs and very much a work in progress, with costs, logistics and other details to be worked out.


Kirk discussed his idea with Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy before approaching Jack Riley, head of the Chicago office of the DEA. Riley oversees a multi-agency strike force that could target members of the Gangster Disciples.

DEA is "definitely interested in doing this," but the strike force would need additional staff members, said one federal official on background, adding, "It comes down to money."

The police issued a statement saying: "CPD supports Sen. Kirk's efforts to crack down on gang crime and will continue to work with our federal law enforcement partners."

Kirk's interest in stomping out gang activity is not new; it started when he was a House member and Waukegan and North Chicago, in his north suburban congressional district, suffered from gang activity.

Kirk's team says he understood that the killers of Hadiya Pendleton -- the 15-year-old whose funeral was attended by first lady Michelle Obama -- were tied to the Gangster Disciples. That's why he's targeting them.

The reality is that the GDs have splintered into dozens of factions in recent years. A war on the GDs would mean targeting those factions -- and not a monolithic gang. Hadiya's killers were allegedly members of one such faction, called SUWU.

Kirk's Gangster Disciples plan is his most ambitious anti-gang initiative to date.

Kirk and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) last January introduced a bill aimed at reducing gun straw purchasers -- a proposal that could impact gang violence in Chicago, Kirk said at the time. (The measure failed in the Senate last April.)

In 2008, Kirk joined with federal and local law enforcement officials to spotlight the "10 most wanted" gang members in Lake County -- targeting more than 2,000 gang members.

In 2009, Kirk sponsored a measure, the "Alien Gang Removal Act," to deport illegal immigrants if convicted of a gang crime and called for the creation of a "National Gang Task Force."

Frank Main reported from Chicago.

WASHINGTON -- House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who hits Chicago this week along with President Barack Obama for fund-raising events to benefit Illinois House Democrats, told me Monday that there is enough "general agreement" on bipartisan immigration reform for a measure to pass -- and she laid out an aggressive timetable, saying a bill could be sent to Obama to sign by August.

Pelosi also underscored in our interview that she wants the House to have its own bipartisan immigration bill. The Senate bipartisan measure is already out of committee and set to hit the Senate floor in June. If people in Washington thought otherwise -- that she wanted to wait on the Senate (and I have read some stories with that suggestion) -- they are wrong.

"We can be working simultaneously," she told me in the phone interview, speaking from San Francisco, where she marked Memorial Day.

While the House bipartisan immigration proposals will likely end up being more conservative than the legislation already advanced in the Democratic-controlled Senate, Pelosi wants a House bill for a practical reason: To get to 218 votes in the GOP-run House -- and assuming massive Democratic support -- there has to be something in the immigration bill to get the support of about 30 Republicans.

That's also the pragmatic position of Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of eight members of the House bipartisan task force. Gutierrez "has really been our champion," Pelosi said. "He has been a real force."

Pelosi lands in Chicago on Tuesday for two days of fund-raising and, time permitting, the Rolling Stones concert Tuesday night at the United Center.

On Tuesday, Pelosi will be the keynoter at a "Women for Brad" reception at the Hilton Northbrook for freshman Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), who is heading toward a 10th District rematch in 2014 with former Rep. Bob Dold, a Republican. The chief co-hosts are the four Democratic women in the Illinois delegation: Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Tammy Duckworth, Cheri Bustos and Robin Kelly.

On Wednesday morning, Pelosi will team up with Schakowsky and Kelly at Loyola University for a forum with Women Employed, the Women's Business Development Center and other related groups to discuss creating more jobs for women.

Obama flies here Wednesday for two major fund-raising events to help the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House political operation. The tab ranges from $1,000 for a ticket to $50,000 for those who can "bundle" donations from their own social, professional or political contacts.

The main event is at the Chicago Hilton, 720 S. Michigan. Major donors are invited to a dinner hosted by BettyLu and Paul Saltzman. BettyLu Saltzman holds an important place in Obama's political history: She was one of the first major fund-raisers and Democratic activists who saw in him -- when he was starting his political career in Chicago -- a future president.

For the 2014 cycle, Obama so far has agreed to headline eight events for the DCCC -- two of them to be held jointly with the Democratic Senate political shop.

Chicago will be the third stop on that commitment; Obama has appeared at DCCC events in San Francisco and New York this year.

House Democrats had a great year in Illinois in 2012: The 18-member delegation has 12 Democrats and six Republicans. The National Republican Congressional Committee has targeted four Illinois Democrats elected last year for defeat in 2014: Reps. Schneider, Bill Foster, William Enyart and Cheri Bustos.

Pelosi and the DCCC are defending those seats -- and have targeted GOP Illinois freshman Rep. Rodney Davis for defeat, raising money for former Madison County Judge Ann Callis.

"Money raised in Illinois," Pelosi said, "stays in Illinois."

As for immigration, Pelosi is optimistic that obstacles that may loom large now can be bridged -- after the House and Senate pass their own bills and the two chambers come together to reconcile the different versions.

In predicting August passage, Pelosi said support "may be not by everybody, but by enough."

Obama May 28, 2013 week ahead

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WASHINGTON -- Commerce Secretary nominee Penny Pritzker breezed through her confirmation hearing on Thursday with both top senators on the Commerce committee, Democrat Jay Rockefeller and Republican John Thune, predicting she will be confirmed by the full Senate.

Pritzker received a friendly reception from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Only 12 of the 24 members showed up to quiz her -- seven Democrats and five Republicans.

Her hearing lasted a little more than two hours, included no fireworks and only light questioning on the three topics where she could have faced a grilling: the failure of the Superior Savings and Loan in Hinsdale, offshore tax avoidance strategies employed by family trusts, and stormy labor relations between Hyatt Hotels and the union representing hotel workers.

The hearing room in the Russell Senate Office Building was full of red T-shirt wearing members of UNITE HERE!, the union representing Hyatt Hotel workers.

The billionaire Chicago business tycoon and philanthropist, a member of one of the nation's richest families, is President Barack Obama's most important fund-raiser. Pritkzer, as Obama's 2008 national finance chair, raised enough money to get his campaign off the ground and make his candidacy viable.

"I suspect she will do pretty well when it comes to a vote," Thune said after the hearing. "There is pretty good support on both sides for her nomination, barring anything unforeseen." Under Senate rules, one senator can place a "hold" on a nomination.

Rockefeller, from West Virginia, said afterward, "I think she did great; I mean she was so thoroughly prepared." He said a committee vote is expected next month.

Pritzker did not address the failure of Superior in her opening statement.

Thune told reporters he received answers to written questions he posed earlier about the closing of Superior. However, those exchanges are not yet part of any public record and were not released on Thursday. Thune said he would pose additional written questions.

Thune, who represents South Dakota, was the only one to ask about Superior and offshore trusts.

Pritzker testified in response to a Thune question that when Superior closed, the family tried "to make this situation right" as "my family voluntarily agreed to pay $450 million."

Still, 1,406 depositors lost money.

Thune asked her: "What do you have to say to those depositors who lost significant sums of money because of this venture, and what lessons did you learn from your experience at Superior Bank that will inform your role as secretary of Commerce, if you're confirmed?"

Pritzker replied: "I regret the failure of Superior Bank. The lessons that I've learned are really about good management, good governance structure, the importance of diversification and risk management, transparency and having a solid governance.''

As the hearing wrapped up, Thune asked Pritzker about offshore trusts, saying he was channeling Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Grassley has been the most vocal critic of what he has called "offshore tax avoidance," but he is not a member of the Commerce panel.

Thune asked Pritzker if it's "hypocritical for the president to nominate Cabinet members who've benefitted from offshore tax havens when he's criticized that practice for others."

Pritzker replied: "I am the beneficiary of offshore family trusts that were set up when I was a little girl. I didn't create them. I don't direct them. I don't control them. I have asked the trustee to appoint and -- remove themselves and to appoint a U.S. trustee."

After that, Thorne turned to another issue: South Dakota honey producers and Chinese "dumping" honey in U.S. markets.

Said Thune to Pritzker: "We would welcome your help with that particular issue."

Updated...

Lynne Weil, BBG Director of Communications and External Affairs, added this additional context on Friday:

"Michael Lynton was serving on an expired term. In his resignation letter, he noted that "circumstances kept me from taking part in ... recent formal meetings" of the BBG board.

"Mr. Lynton's fellow board members elected him to be interim presiding governor in February 2012 because the previous chairman had left and there was no nominee to replace him. This past January, Jeff Shell was nominated to be BBG Chairman, and we hope that he is confirmed soon," Weil said.

...End Update


WASHINGTON--Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Entertainment, Inc., stepped down from the Broadcasting Board of Governors on Thursday, after I raised questions this week about his lack of attendance at board meetings this year.

Lynton resigned before I posted anything but after the BBG and a spokesman for SONY knew that I was potentially writing about his attendance record.

The BBG is an independent federal agency which oversees the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti).

Lynton resigned effective today, the BBG said in a statement. Lynton was the interim chief of the board, taking over after former chairman Walter Isaacson stepped down on Jan. 27, 2012.

Lynton missed board meetings in Washington on Jan. 23, 2012 and April 19-20 in Miami, Fl. in the office of Cuba broadcasting.

He participated by phone in Feb. 11 and Aug. 17, 2012 telephone meetings.

Lynton did attend in-person a March 8, Sept. 13, Oct. 11 and Dec. 14, 2012 board meetings in Washington. Lynton participated via phone in a June 7, 2012 board meeting in Prague, the Czech Republic at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

In 2013, Lynton did not attend board meetings in Washington on Feb. 22 and April 10-11, where there was a lack of a quorum, that is, five members on the nine member board so the April meeting ended in a recess.

Some members of the board met twice since; each time there was no quorum. Lynton's departure leaves the board with four members. Lynton joined the board on July 2, 2010; his term expired on Aug. 13, 2012 but members can serve until they are replaced.

"It has been an honor to serve our country by taking part in the work of this board, which was established to oversee an agency with a complex and vital calling," Lynton wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama, released by the BBG.

"Time and time again, we have seen that the journalists and other staff of the BBG are dedicated to the agency's mission: to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. They prove it around the clock and against steep odds, in many cases amid some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

"In an effort to sustain this mission, I was proud to work with fellow board members on promoting long-needed reforms of the agency's structure and governance-- among them, enhancing collaboration between the broadcasters and establishing the position of a Chief Executive Officer with day-to-day operational responsibilities," he continued. "I wish the current members and our successors the very best in seeing these reforms through."

Updated...

WASHINGTON--Commerce nominee Penny Pritzker breezed through her confirmation hearing on Thursday with both top senators on the Commerce committee, Democratic Jay Rockefeller and Republican John Thune predicting she will be confirmed by the full Senate.

"I suspect she will do pretty well when it comes to a vote," Thune said after the hearing. "..There is pretty good support on both sides for her nomination," Thune said, "barring anything unforeseen."

Rockefeller said, "I think she did great, I mean she was so thoroughly prepared," he said after the hearing. He said a committee vote is expected next month.

Pritzker's hearing lasted a little more than two hours and included no fireworks and only light questioning on the three topics where she could have faced some grilling, the failure of the Superior Savings and Loan in Hinsdale, off shore tax avoidance family trusts and stormy labor relations between Hyatt Hotels and the union representing hotel workers.

Thune pressed Pritzker on the Superior failure, asking her "what do you have to say to those depositors who lost significant sums of money because of this venture and what lessons did you learn from your experience at Superior Bank that will inform your role as secretary of Commerce, if you're confirmed?

Pritzker replied, "Well, Senator, I regret the failure of Superior Bank. It was not an outcome or a situation that I'm -- you know, I feel very badly about that. The lessons that I've learned are really about good management, good governance structure, the importance of diversification and risk management, transparency and having a solid governance.''

Thune had no follow-up questions on Superior. After the hearing, talking to reporters, he said he had sent question to Pritzker on Superior and had received replies. Those exchanges are not yet part of any public record and were not released on Thursday.

Thune also asked Pritzker on off shore trusts. That's a sore point for Republicans since Democrats went after GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on off shore trusts during the presidential campaign.

Last year, Pritzker earned $53.6 million from a family trust in the Bahamas--created by her grandfather when she was a child.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has raised the most questions about Pritzker and off-shore trusts but he is not a member of the Commerce panel.

Thune picked up the baton for him at the hearing.

"I'm going to channel Senator Grassley," Thune said in framing his question for Pritzker. "But some have criticized the fact that you're a beneficiary of some offshore tax avoidance schemes and that it's hypocritical for the president to nominate cabinet members who've benefited from offshore tax havens when he's criticized that practice for others. How do you respond to that criticism?

Pritzker replied, "Well, Senator, I am the beneficiary of offshore family trusts that were set up when I was a little girl. I didn't create them. I don't direct them. I don't control them. I have asked the trustee to appoint and -- remove themselves and to appoint a U.S. trustee. But I have complied with all of the disclosure obligations, et cetera, that have been required of me in this process."

Thune asked no follow-up questions.

Click below for text of Penny Pritzker opening statement at her confirmation hearing...


For ongoing coverage of the Pritzker confirmation hearing, find more at blogs.suntimes.com/sweet and @lynnsweet on Twitter.


WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) lauded Commerce Secretary nominee Penny Pritzker, the Chicago billionaire business executive a few hours before introducing her with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) at her Thursday confirmation hearing.

She "inherited a few dollars," Durbin noted at a Thursday morning breakfast for Illinois residents visiting Washington he co-hosts with Kirk. But she has "made a few dollars in her life."

"She also participated in the Iron Man triathlathons," he said. "I'm not ready to take her on it that."


For ongoing coverage of the Pritzker confirmation hearing, find more at blogs.suntimes.com/sweet and @lynnsweet on Twitter.


WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) lauded Commerce Secretary nominee Penny Pritzker, the Chicago billionaire business executive a few hours before introducing her with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) at her Thursday confirmation hearing.

"When somebody from your state gets nominated for a top job, which often happens when your president is from your state, today I'm going to be introducing Penny Pritzker of Chicago to be our next commerce secretary. Pretty excited to do that," Kirk said at a coffee for Illinois consitutients he co-hosted with Durbin.

He said Pritzker was "a vibrant part of the Jewish world, of the charitable world in Chicago."


For ongoing coverage of the Pritzker confirmation hearing, find more at blogs.suntimes.com/sweet and @lynnsweet on Twitter.

Updated....

WASHINGTON--Sen. John Thune (R-SD) raised concerns about Commerce nominee Penny Pritzker's business roles in offshore tax avoidance strategies and Superior Bank, the failed Hinsdale Savings and Loan during her Thursday confirmation hearing.

"I would note that some concerns have been raised about Ms. Pritzker's role with, and position as a beneficiary of, an offshore tax haven, as well as her role in the failure of Superior Bank back in 2000 and 2001. I have been in communication with her on these matters, and would appreciate her continuing to work with us after the hearing to answer all of the questions I and other Members of the Committee may have, before we report her nomination," Thune said.

In a round of questioning, Thune asked Pritzker what she had to say to depositors who lost money when Superior closed.

"I regret the failure of Superior Bank," Pritzker said. She added she felt "very badly."

For ongoing coverage of the Pritzker confirmation hearing, find more at blogs.suntimes.com/sweet and @lynnsweet on Twitter.

WASHINGTON -- Billionaire Commerce Secretary nominee Penny Pritzker "inadvertently omitted" more than $80 million in income from the financial disclosures she filed last week, though the revelation is not expected to be a critical factor in her Thursday confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce panel.

Pritzker's lawyer, Robert Rizzi, said in a May 21 letter to a Commerce Department attorney that the income was not in the original May 15 filings with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics "because of a clerical error and through no fault of Ms. Pritzker."

According to Pritzker personal spokesman Susan Anderson, the mistake was "discovered by financial advisers" to Pritzker, the Chicago business tycoon and philanthropist who is a close personal friend and major fund-raiser for President Barack Obama.

Those advisers helped prepare the 184-pages of original disclosures detailing the vast, complex holdings of one of the richest women in the nation, who is a member of one of the wealthiest families in the United States.

Pritzker has been huddling with top Obama team advisers to prepare and strategize for her confirmation; she spent the last week making courtesy calls with many senators on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The panel is chaired by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), like Pritzker an heir to a famous fortune. He is descendant of oil baron John D. Rockefeller and ranked by Roll Call as the fourth richest member of Congress with $86.6 million in assets.

Pritzker made more than that in income alone last year.

On top of the $80 million coming from consulting for more than 400 domestic trusts, she hauled in $53.6 million from the family CIBC trust in the Bahamas -- established by her grandfather when she was a kid. Add to that $1.25 million in salary from the Pritzker Reality Group, and a million plus more in salaries from other holdings.

The $80 million and $53.6 million in income flowed to Pritzker for her work over a 10-year period of restructuring the Pritzker financial holdings -- the result of a settlement of an intergenerational Pritzker family feud. Pritzker presided over the breaking up of the inter-mingled family holdings along 11 family lines.

According to Anderson, among the domestic investments at issue were the Marmon Corp., Hyatt Hotels, Union Tank Car, Conwood Company and the Hyatt Center office building in Chicago. "Pritzker provided advice on the restructuring, managing and in some cases, selling various trust assets," she said.

While two other Obama cabinet nominees are facing confirmation battles -- Thomas Perez for Labor secretary and Gina McCarthy for Environmental Protection Agency administrator -- Republicans are not looking to pick a major fight or block the pro-business Pritzker.


While two other Obama cabinet nominees are facing confirmation battles--Thomas Perez for Labor Secretary and Gina McCarthy for Environmental Protection Agency administrator--Republicans are not looking to pick a major fight or block the pro-business Pritzker.

Panel member Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) met with Pritzker last Wednesday and told me in a statement, "I was impressed by her private sector experience and found her to be very qualified, and I'm looking forward to her nomination hearing."

The Commerce Department handles an enormous number of issues and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) spokesman told me as a member of the committee, he will want to know how "Pritzker plans to manage the nation's fisheries, specifically red snapper in the Gulf and South Atlantic region, and how she'll oversee data collection vital to proper fisheries management."

Pritzker's biggest hurdle toward confirmation will be Republicans grilling her on the major stain on her record, the 2001 failure of Superior Bank, a Hinsdale Savings and Loan, and tax avoidance strategies employed by her trusts and business empire.

The Pritzker family founded Hyatt Hotels, and have been at odds with UNITE HERE Local 1, the hotel workers union for years. Pritzker is on the board -- she will step down if confirmed -- and the union, after at first giving Pritzker a pass, in recent days has started a campaign to oppose her; an ad in Politico called her appointment "The President's mistake."

Union workers are expected to attend her hearing, where she will be introduced by Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin, a Democrat and Mark Kirk, a Republican; she has the backing of both.

Rockefeller said through a spokesman he "fully expects her to be voted out of committee and receive full Senate confirmation."


WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said Tuesday he will back Penny Pritzker for Commerce Secretary, the first Republican to make a public statement in support of the Chicago billionaire business mogul who is a close friend of President Barack Obama.

As I reported here Monday, Kirk will help introduce Pritzker at her Thursday confirmation hearing, joining Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in a traditional role for home state senators.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) also announced his support, with the senator, who has a labor following, making his backing public while UNITE HERE Local 1, the hotel workers union, started a drive to urge senators to vote against Pritzker because of long-running union disputes with Hyatt Hotels, the chain controlled by the Pritzker family.

Kirk said in a statement, "I support Penny Pritzker for Commerce Secretary and will introduce her alongside Senator Durbin at Thursday's confirmation hearing. I believe that, based on her extensive experience in business, she will put jobs and economic growth first. I met with Ms. Pritzker and found her to be someone who is willing to take on special interests, and I am confident her successful private-sector record and close ties to the business community will be beneficial to all of Illinois."

Updated....

WASHINGTON--After first giving her a pass, the union representing Hyatt Hotel workers on Monday protested President Barack Obama's nomination of Penny Pritzker to be Commerce Secretary.

Pritzker's Senate confirmation hearing is Thursday morning. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a strong Pritzker backer, will be introducing Pritzker at her hearing. Pritzker, I'm told, is expecting Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who has not committed to supporting her, to also be with her when she is introduced.

"It is a hard assignment to get approved in the Senate, when (Republicans) are determined to filibuster and slow down every appointment," Durbin said.

Pritzker's family founded the giant hotel chain and Pritzker sits on the board, a position she will relinquish if she is confirmed she said in financial disclosure papers filed last week.

After Obama tapped Pritzker, the union, UNITE HERE Local 1 issued a bland release not attacking Pritzker by name.

In a statement released on Monday, Cathy Youngblood, a Hyatt housekeeper who has led a national campaign to elect a hotel worker to Hyatt's Board of Directors said, "The Commerce Secretary's first concern should be to create good, family sustaining jobs for all Americans. Under Pritzker's direction, Hyatt has led the hotel industry in a race to the bottom by aggressively subcontracting out career hotel jobs to minimum wage temps. This is not the model that will lead our country to a bright economic future."

When I wrote last week about organized labor giving Pritzker a pass,
I focused on UNITE HERE Local 1 because the union had been waging a battle with Hyatt for years.

What I wrote last week: "However, after Pritzker was nominated, Unite crafted a statement that went out of its way not to lay a glove on Pritzker, noting only that that the role of commerce secretary "requires a serious focus on the challenge of helping workers achieve full-time jobs with decent wages and safe working conditions."

"With Pritzker's presumed departure from the Hyatt Board, Unite devoted most of the statement to its drive to get a hotel worker on the board to take her place.

"Tamarin declined an interview through a Unite spokesman, who told me it was premature to comment before Pritzker's confirmation hearing. His son, Nate Tamarin, works in the White House. He is special assistant to the president for public engagement -- who has been a White House liaison to organized labor."

Nate Tamarin left his White House post on Friday, after four years and four months on the job.

DESIREE_ROGERS_25322663.JPGWASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel tapped Desiree Rogers--former White House Social Secretary, now CEO of Johnson Publishing--to chair the board of the city's non-profit tourism marketing organization, Choose Chicago.
Rogers replaces Bruce Rauner, who stepped down, exploring a GOP bid for Illinois governor.

The Sun-Times Mike Sneed had the scoop earlier.


Below, from City Hall....

Experienced Business Leader to Guide Tourism Organization toward Mayor's Goal of 50 Million Annual Visitors

Monday morning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the appointment of Desiree Rogers as Chair of the Choose Chicago board. Rogers replaces Bruce Rauner, who resigned from the position earlier in May to pursue personal interests.

"Desiree Rogers is a world-class business executive and a truly proud Chicagoan, and her unique talents and experience are a perfect fit for this important role," said Mayor Emanuel. "I am confident that she will help Choose Chicago reach the next level as it continues to find creative ways to lure tourists and convention business. I am excited at the prospect of working alongside Desiree again and I celebrate both her appointment and her success."


WASHINGTON -- At the first congressional hearing on the IRS scandal, the soon-departing acting IRS chief Steve Miller balked each time lawmakers used the word "target" Friday to describe, well, the targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

After a four-hour House Ways and Means Committee hearing, lawmakers never were able to elicit from Miller the name or names of career IRS employees who devised the plan to scrutinize organizations with "Tea Party" or "patriot" in their names. Miller said what they were doing was a "shortcut" to grapple with a heavy workload.

"I want to apologize on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service for the mistakes that we made and the poor service we provided. The affected organizations and the American public deserve better. Partisanship or even the perception of partisanship has no place at the IRS. It cannot even appear to be a consideration in determining the tax exemption of an organization," Miller said.

Other hearings in the coming days and weeks may get to the very bottom of the scandal; nobody was buying Miller's "poor service" line. Friday was the first stab at putting the story together, in public. President Barack Obama announced this week Miller was booted out. Miller revealed at the hearing he will be allowed to retire under civil service rules.

Illinois has three members on the panel, Rep. Peter Roskam and Rep. Aaron Schock, both Republicans, and Rep. Danny Davis, a Democrat, and they all quizzed Miller.

Roskam and Schock -- and the other Republicans -- were prosecutorial. Davis and the other Democrats tried to take a larger view and steer away from GOP suggestions that this led to the Obama White House. All three were highly critical of the IRS for singling out conservative groups.

After a light round of questions, Davis concluded, "You know, after listening to all of the discussion and reading all of the information that I've read, I am not convinced that this is a great big political conspiracy. I would certainly admit that there has been some ineptitude."

Schock tried to broaden the scope of inquiry by submitting a 150-page document from the Thomas More Society with more "revelations" about anti-abotion and other groups being targeted.

Roskam focused on how the news broke about the scandal, a story in itself of bungling.

Four days before the May 14 release of the Treasury Inspector General Report -- which scorched the IRS for "inappropriate and changing criteria that may have led to inconsistent treatment of organizations" -- Miller et al. decided to reveal the Tea Party targeting in what turned out, in hindsight, to be terrible judgment.

Another IRS official, Lois Lerner, was scheduled to speak May 10 at an American Bar Association May meeting on Taxation at the Grand Hyatt Hotel here.

Miller and Lerner arranged for a question by a friendly attorney to be planted to allow Lerner to disclose the targeting in her answer.

First, Roskam brushed aside Miller's objection that targeting was a "loaded term."

"Mr. Miller, you may object to the word 'targeting,' but it's used in the IG report 16 times. So it's a common understanding of the word, and so I would just suggest that it's a well-settled doctrine and we not waste a lot of time parsing on it," Roskam said.

Roskam pressed on: "Can you walk me through the logic that animated in your mind at that time, where you thought it would be a good idea to make a public disclosure to the American Bar Association rather than coming and following up on your duty to disclose that to the House?"

Miller replied, "So we were going to do it at the same time, I believe; that our intent was to talk to you all at the same time."

But it never happened; Miller said they "called" to "get it on the calendar.

Roskam saw the lame answer for what it was. "You called to try and get on the calendar? Is that all you got?"


Comedy Central Lynn Sweet photo
Comedy Central caption over Lynn Sweet photo taken at Rose Garden press conference with President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan

WASHINGTON -- Add sexual assault in the military as another scandal for the Obama White House -- one that is being overshadowed by the three other scandals commanding most of the attention in recent days.

Obama held a press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and was grilled in the Rose Garden about the IRS targeting Tea Party and other conservative groups and the Justice Department snooping on the AP phone records. Still in play is the controversy over the Obama administration response to the Benghazi, Libya attacks.

Later in the day, Obama called a special meeting with military brass to address the sexual assault scandal, with yet another episode of alleged misconduct surfacing.

When it started to rain during the press conference, Obama called over two white-gloved Marines who shielded the leaders with their Mary Poppins umbrellas while standing at near attention. I snapped a photo of the weird umbrella scene and Tweeted it out. Someone at Comedy Central saw it and added a caption over my picture on their website: "The Marines are currently working on a type of umbrella to shield Obama from scandals."

But it is not going to be that easy for the Obama White House.

IRS: No to special counsel

Obama rejected suggestions that a special counsel be appointed to probe the IRS for targeting conservative groups.

With the Justice Department conducting a criminal investigation and the Treasury inspector general recommending an investigation, "I think we're going to be able to figure out exactly what happened, who was involved, what went wrong, and we're going to be able to implement steps to fix it."

No AP apology

Obama defended the Department of Justice and Attorney General Eric Holder over seizing the phone records of some Associated Press editors and reporters.

"Leaks related to national security can put people at risk," Obama said. AP editors held a story that may have triggered the government hunt, running it after the White House said the information at issue was about to be released by the White House.

"And so I make no apologies, and I don't think the American people would expect me as commander in chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed."

Holder vote of confidence

Holder had been rumored to be leaving since the start of Obama's second term. Now he will stay a bit, so it does not look as if he was run out of town by hostile congressional Republicans. "I have complete confidence in Eric Holder as attorney general," Obama said.

Sex assault: Needs to stop

The latest military sexual assault problem came on Thursday, when the top official dealing with sexual harrasment at Fort Campbell was arrested in connection with a domestic dispute. A sergeant at Fort Hood was accused of running a prostitution ring on Wednesday.

Obama, meeting with military brass, Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secrertary Chuck Hagel, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and others said about sexual assault, "Not only is it a crime, not only is it shameful and disgraceful, but it also is going to make and has made the military less effective than it can be.

"So this is not a sideshow," Obama said. "This is not sort of a second-order problem that we're experiencing. This goes to the heart and core of who we are and how effective we're going to be."

Pritzker Meeting 05162013.jpg Sen. John Thune, Penny Pritzker.
(photo courtesy office of Sen. John Thune)

WASHINGTON--Commerce Secretary nominee Penny Pritzker met with South Dakota Sen. John Thune on Thursday; the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, holding a confirmation hearing on Pritzker on May 23.

Pritzker's first Senate calls have been with members of that committee--with an exception her first visit, with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has been non-commital on the confirmation of the billionaire Chicago business executive, philanthropist and close personal friend of President Barack Obama.

Thune also met with Transportation nominee Anthony Foxx, the mayor of Charlotte, N.C.

"I would like to thank both nominees for taking the time to meet with me in my office today. The confirmation process should be a rigorous, fair, and thorough exercise and I appreciate the nominees sharing more about their backgrounds, qualifications, and vision for both cabinet agencies," Thune said in a statement.

"Americans continue to suffer from weak economic growth and persistent, high unemployment, and I had an opportunity to hear from Ms. Pritzker how she believes the Commerce Department can better work to address those and other issues. I expressed to Mayor Foxx that our nation faces a number of transportation challenges that will require strong leadership and effective communication with Congress to keep our nation moving.

"I will continue to review the paperwork they submitted in preparation for their confirmation hearings next week and expect that they will continue to be open and forthcoming as the process moves forward."

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

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama gave beleagured Attorney General Eric Holder a show of support at a press conference on Thursday, as Holder takes heat from Republicans for the Associated Press phone record snooping scandal--just the latest matter.

"I have complete confidence in Eric Holder as attorney general."

Obama also offered no apology for the unprecedented intrusion into AP phone records--citing the need for "balance" between democracy and national security.

CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT

CLICK HERE for behind the scene pre-press conference video.

(Video by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) delivered her first floor speech on Thursday, centering on her main campaign theme, gun-control.

"I know there are those who think that new gun laws aren't the solution. I say they're looking at the wrong equation. Common sense gun restrictions are part of a multi-pronged approach to stemming gun violence that should also include increased access to mental health services and better community and social supports. It will take a village to save these children, our children,"

The Senate rejected a series of gun-control measures earlier this year. The fate of gun measures in the House is uncertain.


WASHINGTON -- Juggling three big problems -- with the IRS scandal sparking scorching bipartisan criticism -- President Barack Obama and his team Wednesday scrambled to contain the damage.

The acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Steven Miller, was forced out over the targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

Of the three crises -- the IRS targeting, the Justice Department snooping on Associated Press reporters phone calls and the long running debate over what happened before and after the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, with four U.S. diplomats killed -- the IRS debacle is the most threatening to Obama.

That's because everybody hates the IRS -- the lone government agency without a constitutiency. The IRS scandal created rare bipartisan unity. Democrats and Republicans in Congress united against an agency with no defenders.

Miller knew -- and did not reveal to Congress that he knew -- about the IRS demanding an abundance of information from conservative groups in 2012.

In a brief statement Wednesday from the East Room, Obama said the IRS conduct was "inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives.

"And as I said earlier, it should not matter what political stripe you're from -- the fact of the matter is, is that the IRS has to operate with absolute integrity. The government generally has to conduct itself in a way that is true to the public trust. That's especially true for the IRS."

With Miller gone, the IRS scandal will not disappear because of hearings in the House and Senate over the coming days with IRS officials expected to testify: Friday at Ways and Means; Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee; and, on Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who is on the Ways and Means panel, said the Miller resignation was not enough. "In fact, this should not be the only IRS resignation announced this week as we continue to learn that the scope of involvement is much wider than first reported by IRS officials last week. What was done was not only inappropriate, but it was illegal, and those responsible must pay a criminal price for their actions," he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, while Obama personally went on camera to confront the IRS scandal -- with more from Obama expected Thursday at a White House press conference --the White House disclosed emails between staffers in the White House, State Department and CIA over talking points to describe what happened in Benghazi.

The White House usually does not disclose internal communications unless it is in their messaging interests. The email move came after Republicans used portions of emails that had surfaced to continue to make the argument that, after the attacks, the White House tried to craft talking points for political purposes.

Many of the email exchanges had to do with establishing a base set of facts -- but they did disclose much worry about how some wording could leave the Obama team exposed to criticism.

While the White House portrayed the emails as earnest works in progress, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that the "seemingly political nature of the State Department's concerns raises questions about the motivations behind these changes and who at the State Department was seeking them."

And on another front, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee -- chaired by Holder critic Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), where he said he was not to blame for the AP spying.

"In fact, the head of the RNC called for my resignation in spite of the fact that I was not the person who was involved in that decision," Holder said of the call by the Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus.

"But be that as it may, I was recused in that matter. As I described, I guess, in a press conference that I held yesterday, the decision to issue this subpoena was made by the people who are presently involved in the case. The matter is being supervised by the deputy attorney general. I am not familiar with the reasons why the case -- why the subpoena was constructed in the way that it was because I'm simply not a part of the -- of the case."

The public may not care much about reporters or how many times the Benghazi talking points were revised. But everyone deals with the IRS -- which is why this scandal won't go away soon for the Obama White House.


WASHINGTON -- The portfolio of Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker, the Commerce secretary nominee, reflects vast holdings in hotels, casinos, parking lots, student and elderly housing, a stake in the show "Singin' in the Rain," and last year, $53.6 million from a family trust in the Bahamas.

Pritzker filed a required 184-page disclosure document with the U.S. Office of Governmental Ethics on Wednesday, along with other papers outlining how she will avoid conflicts of interest if confirmed for the post.

She may also have to disclose even more information for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation -- which has its own questionnaire -- in advance of her May 23 confirmation hearing, which could turn into a grilling, given her vast assets.

Highlights:

◆ If confirmed, Pritzker will step down from the Hyatt Hotels Corp. board, the hotel chain founded and controlled by her family, one of the wealthiest in the nation. However, she will be able to retain her Hyatt stock because Commerce ethics advisers "determined that it is not necessary at this time for me to divest my interests" because she would recuse herself if matters arise creating a conflict of interest with Hyatt.

◆ Pritzker will be divesting herself of 221 other holdings within 90 days of her confirmation. The assets and other details about the holdings -- many are trusts -- did not have to be disclosed.

◆ Pritzker will resign from 158 other organizations, a mix of corporate, trusts, non-profits and charitiable posts, including positions at Hyatt, Pritzker Reality, Harvard and Stanford (her schools), the Aspen Institute's Skills for America's Future, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Economic Club of Chicago and the Pritzker Traubert Foundaion.

◆ Off-shore trusts are politically sensitive, especially since the Democrats beat up Mitt Romney over them in the presidential campaign. The $53.6 million was payment for Pritzker's services over 10 years related to the restructuring of the trusts in the Bahamas, according to a source close to the Pritzker family.

The restructure was the result of a settlement of what had been a family dispute, pitting different generations of the Pritzker family against each other.

According to the source, those trusts were created when Pritzker was a young girl, and Pritzker "does not control these trusts and has not received and has no legal right to require any distributions from these trusts."

The restructure was completed last November, with assets untangled and separated by immediate family. The source said Pritzker requested that the trustee for what is now her trust start the legal process leading to the installation of a U.S. trustee.

"She has made this request because it would permit all the trusts for the benefit of her and her immediate family to be more effectively managed and efficiently administered. She has no control over this legal process, its timing or outcome," according to the source.

"The only income Penny has received from these trusts is for the services she performed over the last 10 years to restructure the Pritzker family trusts' holdings."

◆ Pritzker through investments or trusts has stakes in the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin; an airplane leasing company and branded tomatoes. She stepped down from the Chicago Board of Education last March; another holding was in a company investing in teacher software to be used in public school systems.

◆ Values for homes do not have to be disclosed. She has a loan of between $25 million and $50 million -- only ranges have to be revealed -- for a Colorado residence.

◆ Pritzker disclosed a revolving line of credit for three credit cards: between $250,000 and $300,000 for American Express, and between $15,000 and $50,000 for cards with Chase and Neiman Marcus.

WASHINGTON--Faced with a scandal, President Barack Obama on Wednesday said the acting IRS Commisioner, Steven Miller, was asked to resign and he would cooperate fully with Congressional probes of IRS targeting conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

Obama made the announcement during a brief appearance in the East Room.

"So here's what we're going to do. First, we're going to hold the responsible parties accountable. Yesterday, I directed Secretary Lew to follow up on the IG audit to see how this happened and who is responsible, and to make sure that we understand all the facts. Today, Secretary Lew took the first step by requesting and accepting the resignation of the acting commissioner of the IRS because, given the controversy surrounding this audit, it's important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward," Obama said.

"Second, we're going to put in place new safeguards to make sure this kind of behavior cannot happen again. And I've directed Secretary Lew to ensure the IRS begins implementing the IG's recommendations right away.

Third, we will work with Congress as it performs its oversight role. And our administration has to make sure that we are working hand in hand with Congress to get this thing fixed. Congress, Democrats and Republicans, owe it to the American people to treat that authority with the responsibility it deserves and in a way that doesn't smack of politics or partisan agendas, because I think one thing that you've seen is, across the board, everybody believes what happened in -- as reported in the IG report is an outrage. The good news is it's fixable. And it's in everyone's best interest to work together to fix it.

"I'll do everything in my power to make sure nothing like this happens again by holding the responsible parties accountable, by putting in place new checks and new safeguards and, going forward, by making sure that the law is applied as it should be, in a fair and impartial way. And we're going to have to make sure that the laws are clear so that we can have confidence that they are enforced in a fair and impartial way and that there's not too much ambiguity surrounding these laws.

So that's what I expect. That's what the American people deserve. And that's what we're going to do.

WASHINGTON--Penny Pritzker, President Barack Obama's pick to be the next Commerce Secretary, will resign from the Hyatt Hotels Corporation and other positions, according to letter she wrote as part of her ethics statements filed Wednesday in advance of her May 23 confirmation hearing.

Pritzker wrote that the duties of Commerce Secretary may involve matters "affecting the financial interests of Hyatt Hotels Corporation" and other hotel relate interests. Pritzker said she was advised she will not have to divest from these holdings but would recuse herself when appropriate.

Upon confirmation, Pritzker said she will resign from more than 20 Pritzker family trusts and a variety of civic and charitable organizations.

Developing

Senate Commerce panel chair Sen. John Rockefeller tweets Wednesday on Penny Pritzker's May 23 confirmation hearing for Commerce Secretary: "Eager to continue discussing the Commerce Secretary nomination with Penny Pritzker."

WASHINGTON -- Penny Pritzker, President Barack Obama's Commerce secretary nominee, has long been a target of organized labor -- with the drive against her led by the Chicago Teachers Union and Unite Here Local 1, representing the city's hotel workers.

Yet as Pritzker is lining up Senate support for her confirmation -- making her first courtesy calls on Tuesday, starting with a meeting in the Capitol with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) -- no union, either national or local, has raised any objection to her nomination.

"I look forward to helping her through the confirmation process and to working with her once she's sworn in as the next secretary of commerce," Durbin said in a statement after the meeting.

The unions have muzzled themselves, not because they are crazy about the Pritzker nomination. They are not. Labor officials I talked to told me they are taking a pass on Pritzker because unions have a lot more pressing battles than taking on Pritzker.

Unions are worried because Republicans are blocking Obama's nominee for Labor secretary, Thomas Perez, and nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, including Chicago attorney Phillip Miscimarra, a partner at Morgan Lewis.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is holding a hearing Thursday on the NLRB nominees, and the nominees are "likely in for a contentious fight," the Communications Workers of America said in a briefing memo.


For the unions, fighting Pritzker is a lost cause, so best to move on to other battles and leave her alone --and keep out of trouble with the White House. Union leaders are pragmatic and know they do not have the muscle among labor-friendly Democratic senators to have any significant impact anyway. And an anti-union rap would not be a problem for Pritzker with Republican senators.

If the unions had influence, it would have been at the front end -- before Obama tapped Pritzker last week. The unions live in the real world and know that Obama is personally close to Pritzker and may not have won the White House in 2008 without her work as his National Finance Chair and wanted her in the Commerce spot.

In Chicago, Pritzker drew the wrath of the CTU when she was on the Chicago Board of Education; when she stepped down in March, CTU President Karen Lewis said so long in statement that called her an "anti-labor, anti-worker kind of boss."

The Pritzker family controls Hyatt Hotels, and Penny Pritzker is on the board of the hotel chain. She will have to step down in order to join the cabinet as part of her ethics scrub.

The hotel workers union and Hyatt have been at odds for years. Unite Here Local 1 President Henry Tamarin has led the charge against the Pritzker family, teaming up at times with the teachers union to attack the family.

In March 2012, Tamarin slammed Pritzker family members for appealing their property taxes, telling WBBM radio, "We think the family that owns the Hyatt hotels has gone off the reservation of what's fair and just," Tamarin said.

However, after Pritzker was nominated, Unite crafted a statement that went out of its way not to lay a glove on Pritzker, noting only that that the role of commerce secretary "requires a serious focus on the challenge of helping workers achieve full-time jobs with decent wages and safe working conditions."

With Pritzker's presumed departure from the Hyatt Board, Unite devoted most of the statement to its drive to get a hotel worker on the board to take her place.

Tamarin declined an interview through a Unite spokesman, who told me it was premature to comment before Pritzker's confirmation hearing. His son, Nate Tamarin, works in the White House. He is special assistant to the president for public engagement -- who has been a White House liaison to organized labor.

duckworth afghanistan.jpegRep. Duckworth speaks with female cadets at the National Military Afghan Academy (photo courtesy office of Rep. Duckworth)

WASHINGTON--Wounded Iraq war veteran Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), traveled to Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates on an official congressional trip where she focused on the role women are playing as the nation transitions to a new chapter with the planned departure of most U.S. and NATO troops in 2014.

On Mothers Day--last Sunday--Duckworth met with a group of women serving in the U.S. and Afghanistan military. Duckworth is one of two female Iraq war vets serving in Congress.

"In my meetings with the leaders of our military and the Afghan military and government I stressed the need to continue our pursuit of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist groups who seek to attack America. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I will continue to work tirelessly to make sure that our troops in harms way have the tools to succeed and that our presence in Afghanistan keeps the American people safe. At the same time, we need to continue the gradual drawdown of our military presence in Afghanistan over the next year," Duckworth said in a statement.

Duckworth is a member of House Armed Services Committee; her subcommittees are Tactical Air and Land Forces and Oversight and Investigations.

WASHINGTON--Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick--who grew up on Chicago's South Side--returns to his hometown on May 31 to headline an "Organizing for Action Illinois State Founders Summit" on May 31 in downtown Chicago.

The OFA is the non-profit group created by the Obama presidential campaign after the election to bolster President Barack Obama's agenda.

From an OFA source: "The Illinois State Founders Summit on May 31st and June 1st is a continuation of the conversation that was started at our founders event held in Washington, D.C. in March. OFA supporters, volunteers, campaign alumni and donors will come together to discuss OFA's goals and the path forward to ensure the American people's voices are heard by lawmakers as we fight to tip the scales of power back to the American people and away from the special interests to advance the issues the American people voted for in November. ...This is an invite only event and there is no cost to attend."


By Frank Main
Chicago Sun-Times Crime Reporter

Secretary of State John Kerry singled out the Chicago Police Department on Monday as one of 60 U.S. law enforcement agencies that have recently worked with other nations in "developing the rule of law."

More than 25 Chicago Police officers have participated in State Department missions over the past eight years, most recently in Mexico and Honduras. In Mexico, Chicago Police officers have been involved in a U.S. program to combat drug trafficking and production.

Under the Merida initiative, Chicago Police officers helped train members of Mexico's national police force, which has grown more than 300 percent in recent years, officials said.

The State Department is also focused on training state and municipal police officers in Mexico. About three weeks ago, U.S. authorities were pleased to hear Mexico's new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, say he supports efforts to work with state governments in Mexico to improve their law enforcement capabilities, said William Brownfield, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs.

"We do not have the final plan," Brownfield said.

Under the State Department program, the U.S. government pays the Chicago Police officers and provides food, lodging, transportation and security. In Mexico, the Chicago Police officers have been able to gain intelligence about narcotics organizations that sell drugs in Chicago -- and build relationships with their law enforcement counterparts in Mexico, officials said.

"It's a win-win," Brownfield said, adding, "Chicago has become a very effective partner."

Nicholas Roti, chief of the Chicago Police Department's Bureau of Organized Crime, was in Washington on Monday for the State Department's recognition of the Chicago Police officers, Brownfield said. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) attended the ceremony where the Chicago Police officers were honored.

Roti and he said was in El Salvador twice on missions in which the State Department
provided training on investigating gang crimes and homicides.

"It definitely helped us understand the people better," he said. "It was an
eye-opener."

WASHINGTON---President Barack Obama, commenting Monday for the first time on the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative groups, said it was "outrageous."

Obama was careful not to get too far ahead of an Inspector General report expected on the targeting--which Obama said he learned about on Friday.

"I can tell you that if you've got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and nonpartisan way, then that is outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions, and people have to be held accountable and it's got to be fixed. So we'll wait and see what exactly all the details and the facts are.

"But I've got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it. And we'll make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this," Obama said.

The IRS targeting will also be subject to congressional inquiry. On Capitol Hill, the IRS--with no constituency to defend it--will find critics from both sides of the aisle.

Obama made the comments in reply to a question during a joint press conference with UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

WASHINGTON--Rep.Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Iraq war veteran and a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard is highly critical of the military handling of sexual assault cases against females.

Duckworth--at times commanding all-male situations--said Sunday, "I think at this point, in this instance of military sexual trauma, military sexual ...assault.. the military has shown that it's -- it's not capable of fixing this problem."

Duckworth made her comments on CNN's "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" appearing with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who is also an Iraq war vet. The two are the only two female Iraq war vets in Congress.

Unwanted sexual contact in the military is "absolutely unacceptable, Candy. I want the military to be a place where women can succeed and thrive the way I was able to. And the military leadership, at this point, have shown that they have not been capable of fixing this problem," Duckworth said.

"And it's not enough just to say, uh, this is not something we'll stand for, we'll hold these people accountable, unless you're providing a system and a process to actually do that," said Gabbard, who added, "And what is the core reason why this hasn't really gotten better over the years?"

Duckworth said, "This issue is a power issue. It's not a sex issue, it's a power issue. ... And we have to empower the victims."

".... The military, because it is built on power and rank, has the ability to fix it based on that same tradition of power and rank. Commanders can put an end to this. And I am very, very disturbed that they've not been able to do this."

WASHINGTON--On the Sunday shows:

CBS' "Face the Nation" guests include Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)

NBC's "Meet the Press" guests include Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.)

CNN's "State of the Union" guests include Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.)

WASHINGTON--Eduation Secretary Arne Duncan, the former Chicago Schools Chief, will visit Streamwood High School next Wednesday where, according to the Education Department, "he will tour classrooms and host a roundtable discussion on successful labor-management collaboration" at the suburban Chicago school.


Hope Institute.png

WASHINGTON--Back in October, 2005, I wrote about how then Sen. Barack Obama's Hopefund, his leadership PAC, was bankrolling a school to train campaign workers.

Obama's Hopefund--the name foreshadowed a main 2008 presidential campaign slogan--was run at the time by essentially three people: PAC director Nate Tamarin and fund-raisers Jordan Kaplan and Jenny Yeager.

In 2005, Tamarin told me the aim of the campaign school was to ``create this whole class of young, talented staffers who can work their way up in the Democratic Party.''

Fast forward to 2013. Kaplan is now the Democratic National Committee National Finance Director and is the driving force behind DNC's "Hope Institute," being launched today.

The "Institute" will run June 12-14 in Washington and will be an all-expense paid short-course for aspiring political professionals who might be interested in political careers but may not have the connections or experience or formal educational opportunities to get themselves in the game.

"I thought it was important to do some of the things we did well back in the day and I really wanted to start it back up," Kaplan said, telling me about why he wanted to resurrect the Obama campaign school.

The old Obama Hopefund campaign school eventually trained two classes, with about 80 to 100 youths attending--about one-half went on to join the Obama presidential campaign.

In June, the "students" will get briefings on the different political jobs held by campaign professionals--scheduling, advance, communications, polling, fund-raising and--something that did not exist in 2005, the emerging political fields of social media and analytics.

"For two days, Hope Institute attendees will get a crash course in how to break into politics-- learning from some of the folks who helped make our victories in 2012 possible, like senior Obama campaign officials as well as rising stars in Democratic politics," DNC Executive Director Patrick Gaspard said in a message to prospective "students."

In 2005, I wrote that the recruiting focus of Obama's ``Yes We Can'' campaign school program was young African Americans and Latinos. In 2013, the DNC campaign school will also be looking for a diverse group to build up the Democratic bench.

For more information: http://my.democrats.org/Hope-Institute

FOOTNOTE:
Tamarin and Yeager went on to Obama White House careers--and Kaplan and Yeager ended up getting married.

IMG_6713.JPG
Obama in Berlin on July 24, 2008 (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama returns to Berlin in June--the city where he staged a triumphal speech before some 200,000 during the 2008 election at the Tiergarten --with First Lady Michelle, the White House announced on Friday.

The June 17-19 swing will start in Belfast and move to Lough Erne in Northern Ireland for the G-8 Summit. After that the First Couple head to Berlin.


My July, 2008 story on "Obama-mania" in Germany is HERE

WASHINGTON--The White House on Thursday officially sent Penny Pritzker's nomination for Commerce Secretary to the Senate, setting the stage for Pritzker, the Chicago business executive and long time friend and fund-raiser for the the president, to start making courtesy calls on members of the Senate. She's already made some calls.

President Barack Obama tapped her for the post last week at a White House event--but that was many ceremonial. The Senate Commerce panel will now be asking Pritzker to submit an extensive questionnaire. No date has been set for a confirmation hearing.

WASHINGTON--I saw the usually spry and athletic Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) outside of the House chamber on Thursday limping, looking pained with each step. Upon my asking what was wrong, Quigley told me he suffered for the game he loved, hockey.

Quigley, a co-chair of the Congressional Hockey Caucus, is an avid hockey player.

Turns out Quigley was playing a game pitting lawmakers against lobbyists and, as he caught a pass and was taking off, his right leg collapsed, injurying his hamstring.

Quigley will undergo hamstring surgery Friday at Northwestern Hospital.

Said Quigley, "I'll be skating again in six months."

WASHINGTON--Gov. Pat Quinn formally requested federal flood assistance on Thursday, unleashing a bi-partisan push from the entire Illinois congressional delegation for President Barack Obama to declare 11 Illinois counties in need of disaster relief following torrential April downpours.

Quinn, in Springfield, said 49 Illinois counties were impacted and further disaster relief requests for more counties would be coming. "We want to move forward as quickly as possible," Quinn said. The 11 Illinois counties suffering damage from the rainstorm starting on April 18 are: Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Fulton, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, Lake, LaSalle, McHenry and Will.

Quinn said the White House will be asked to handle the request on an expedited basis. Once a county is declared a disaster, residents can apply for federal loans and other financial flood and storm relief.

The delegation wrote in a letter to Obama, "The State of Illinois has determined that state and local funds are not adequate to address the damage to public infrastructure and costs related to debris removal and emergency protective measures resulting from this weather event. "We respectfully request that you make the necessary declaration so that these counties can receive the assistance they need. We thank you in advance for your timely consideration of this important request and stand ready to assist in any way appropriate."


Members signing today's letter are Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Danny Davis (D-IL), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bill Enyart (D-IL), Bill Foster (D-IL), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Robin Kelly (D-IL), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Aaron Schock (R-IL) and John Shimkus (R-IL).



Text of the letter below...

WASHINGTON--Chelsea Clinton--whose profile is growing--especially with her work at the Clinton Foundation--hits Chicago on Thursday to keynote a Jewish United Fund Women's Division Spring event at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan.

Clinton is a big draw--the fund-raising event is sold-out with more than 1,000 people expected to attend.

WASHINGTON--Former Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) announced Wednesday that he will run again in 2014, seeking to reclaim the seat he lost to Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) in 2012 in the north suburban Illinois 10th congressional district.


In an e-mail Dold sent Wednesday, obtained by the Sun-Times, Dold said after "deep reflection," he decided to run again. Dold lost after serving one term.

Schneider narrowly won in 2012, with 50.63 percent of the vote to Dold's 49.37 percent.

Dold's comeback bid will likely be one of the premier Illinois House contests in 2014. The Illinois primary is in March and it would seem that because of their standing, Dold and Schneider would pre-empt serious primary challengers.

React from the National Republican Campaign Committee:

"No one has worked harder for Illinois families than Bob Dold, he would be an exceptional candidate. The families of the 10th Congressional District deserve an independent voice once again because it has been clearly lacking with Pelosi's rubberstamp Brad Schneider." - NRCC Spokeswoman Katie Prill

React from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:

"Just like a bad 90's sitcom that won't go away, former Congressman Bob Dold can only pretend he's with the times," said Brandon Lorenz of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "On every issue that matters, from defunding Planned Parenthood, to opposing the ability of same sex couples to marry, refusing to stop companies that want to drill for oil in the Great Lakes, and even voting for a budget that raises Medicare costs while rewarding special interests, Congressman Bob Dold has let the most extreme ideas run this Republican Congress."

The Schneider/Dold race was one of the most expensive in the 2012 cycle:

Dold
Raised: $4,569,085
Spent: $4,543,049
Cash on Hand: $107,293 as of Dec. 31, 2012

Dold did not show any first quarter, 2013 fund-raising on his FEC report.

Schneider
Raised: $3,043,849
Spent: $3,029,605
Cash on Hand: $14,244 as of Dec. 31, 2012

First quarter 2013 fund-raising, $390,206, according to the FEC


Below, the Dold letter.


May 8, 2013

Dear Friends,

I ran for Congress just a few years ago because I felt a call to serve the 10th District, and you sent me to Washington, DC to do just that. Together, we provided what so many say our country is missing right now - thoughtful leadership that was able to build bridges between parties, and put people before politics and progress ahead of partisanship. We succeeded in changing the dialogue to focus on getting our government on a budget and solving the biggest issues we face as a nation.

As someone who broke the mold and earned a reputation as one of the most independent-thinking, moderate members of Congress, and as someone who was never afraid to work with anybody who shared a desire to solve problems, I share your frustration with the current lack of compromise and the consistent stalemate in Washington.

Over the past few months, I've had the opportunity to speak with many of you about the problems you are facing in your businesses, in your households, and in your communities. You have encouraged me to carry your voice forward in 2014.

With deep reflection, and strong support from you, Danielle and our kids, my family and friends, I wanted to share with you first that I've made the decision to step forward and run in 2014 to represent the 10th District of Illinois.

I want to personally thank you for your continued encouragement. Running for office is never an easy decision for any candidate or their families, but this decision is much larger than my family and I; it is about serving our community and country.

I hope you will join me as we lay out our vision, together, for a more prosperous 10th District.

Very truly yours,


Bob Dold


WASHINGTON -- I wandered into a nuance-free zone on Tuesday, reading the first wave of letters (there were 14) that the public sent to a federal judge regarding the July 1 sentencing of Jesse Jackson Jr. and wife Sandi.

People who know the couple are asking for leniency. Folks who only know of them -- a onetime congressman and former alderman who looted $750,000 from campaign funds to bankroll a seven-year indulgent spending spree -- want them shown no special mercy.


Eight of the letters argued for a break. The most prominent advocate for Jesse Jackson was Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Fudge wrote that even though she and some congressional colleagues in hindsight saw signs of his bipolar illness "during the last 4 to 5 years," nevertheless, he was a "tireless advocate for the poor and underserved." He was also the charming "highlight of our karaoke nights."

"As you weigh the fate of Congressman Jackson, please consider the many fine characteristics he possesses, and his dedicated and passionate service for the people he represented in the United States Congress for nearly 18 years.

"Jesse is worth saving and I know he can continue to have a positive impact on the lives of others as he has with my colleagues and me."

The letters, written over the past few months, were entered into the respective Jackson case files on Tuesday and did not strike me -- so far -- as any part of an orchestrated effort one way or the other. That will come later.

I expect a letter-writing campaign on behalf of the Jacksons' to be part of the sentencing memos their lawyers are preparing, due at the end of the month. Jackson faces up to five years in prison; his wife's top sentence would be three years.

Perhaps more important than any letter for Jesse Jackson will be how much a mitigating factor -- if any -- U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson allows for his mental illness.

Martin Dettmer, a Wheaton dentist, urged the judge to not cut the former congressman any slack because of his mental state.

Jesse Jackson's "behavior reminds us once again that elected officials consider themselves above the law and 'members' of some elite and privileged 'club,' " Dettmer wrote.

He urged the judge not to "show leniency" to Jesse Jackson Jr. "due to his mental disease. ...Citizen's everywhere (and especially in Illinois) are sick and tired of behavior like Rep. Jackson's! A strong message needs to be sent and an example needs to be made! Please do everything in your power to see that Rep. Jackson pays, and pays dearly, for his egregious and repulsive behavior."

An Arlington Heights man, Neal Underwood, wrote that he "betrayed the public trust for his personal gain. His sentence should reflect that."

The couple pled guilty last February and both were quite contrite in court.

Frank Bailey, from Oak Bluffs, Mass., wrote: "I am not impressed by his few tears with the words he is sorry for his actions. I believe that little or no sympathy should be given in this case."

Two women who said they were cousins of Sandi Jackson had letters in the file.

Cousin Jawana Gauthier Walker argued for probation, so Sandi could care for their two children. "They, most of all have been greatly affected by the thought they may be without their mother and father."

Bettye Odom, who owns the Bettye O Day Spa in Hyde Park, has known Jesse Jackson Jr. since he was a kid. She is a friend of the entire Jackson family.

Asking for leniency, she wrote, "I truly believe that Jesse has already suffered extensively for his actions. He has lost credibility in the public eye and I believe he is truly despondent regarding what he has put his family through.

"I look at Jesse now and see only remorse and shame. He does not look me straight in the eye as he has done all his life. He realizes the mistakes he has made and I see the shame in his face."

As for me? I do not have the certainty yet of the letter writers. For now, I am somewhere in between.

WASHINGTON--Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, is seeking a sentencing break for former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.)--asking a federal judge to take into account his work as a "tireless advocate for the poor and underserved," as well as his ability to bring levity to tough situations as the "highlight of our karaoke nights."

Fudge's letter concluded, "Jesse is worth saving and I know he can continue to have a positive impact on the lives of others as he has with my colleagues and me."

The Fudge letter was one of 14 in the federal court file--made public on Tuesday--where people from various walks of life asked for leniency--or not for Jackson, and his wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson. The couple will be sentenced on July 1, following February guilty pleas of looting $750,000 from campaign funds for personal use.

Dr. Martin Dettmer, a Wheaton dentist, said he was writing to "voice my outrage and continued disgust with the behavior of many of our elected officials. He urged a judge to "do everything in your power to see that Rep. Jackson pays, and pays dearly, for his egregious and repulsive behavior."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama said "sexual assault is an outrage; it is a crime," during a joint press conference on Tuesday with South Korea President Park Geun-hye where he was asked about the recent episodes of sexual assault in the military.

"...So bottom line is I have no tolerance for this."

Here is the full Obama response:

"Well, let's start with the principle that sexual assault is an outrage; it is a crime. That's true for society at large. And if it's happening inside our military, then whoever carries it out is betraying the uniform that they're wearing. And they may consider themselves patriots, but when you engage in this kind of behavior that's not patriotic -- it's a crime. And we have to do everything we can to root this out.

"Now, this is not a new phenomenon. One of the things that we've been trying to do is create a structure in which we're starting to get accurate reporting. And up and down the chain, we are seeing a process, a system of accountability and transparency so that we can root this out completely.

"And this is a discussion that I had with Secretary Panetta. He had begun the process of moving this forward. But I have directly spoken to Secretary Hagel already today and indicating to him that we're going to have to not just step up our game, we have to exponentially step up our game, to go at this thing hard.

"And for those who are in uniform who have experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their Commander-In-Chief that I've got their backs. I will support them. And we're not going to tolerate this stuff and there will be accountability. If people have engaged in this behavior, they should be prosecuted.

"And anybody in the military who has knowledge of this stuff should understand this is not who we are. This is not what the U.S. military is about. And it dishonors the vast majority of men and women in uniform who carry out their responsibilities and obligations with honor and dignity and incredible courage every single day.

"So bottom line is I have no tolerance for this. I have communicated this to the Secretary of Defense. We're going to communicate this again to folks up and down the chain in areas of authority, and I expect consequences.

"So I don't want just more speeches or awareness programs or training but, ultimately, folks look the other way. If we find out somebody is engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable -- prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period. It's not acceptable."

CLICK BELOW FOR PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT

WASHINGTON--Illinois and other states could collect sales tax on online purchases under a measure approved by the Senate Monday on a 69-27 vote. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who championed the "Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013" voted yes; Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) voted no. The legislation now advances to the House, where it faces an uncertain future.

Durbin said in a statement, "I am proud to have joined sixty-nine of my Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle in passing this long-overdue legislation that will give much needed support to local businesses around the country," said Durbin. "I thank Senators Enzi, Alexander, Cardin, Heitkamp, Reed and many others for their efforts in securing such strong support for this legislation. I've often listened to speeches in the House and Senate about how we need to do more to make certain that small businesses - the true job creators - can succeed. A solid majority of the Senate stood up for small business today. I think the support in the House will be similar if the leadership practices what they preach and calls this bill for a vote."

Background, from Durbin: "The Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013 - introduced by Durbin and Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) - would give states the option to require the collection of sales and use taxes already owed under state law by out-of-state businesses, rather than rely on consumers to remit those taxes to the States, the method of tax collection to which they are now restricted. The bill currently has the support of over 268 labor, business and government organizations while 22 Governors (15 Republicans and 7 Democrats) have come out in support of leveling the playing field for businesses by addressing sales tax fairness."

Jesse Jackson Jr. May 6, 2013 .png
WASHINGTON--Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) was spotted outside his DuPont Circle home on Monday wearing running gear. Jackson--and wife former Ald. Sandi Jackson--will be sentenced on July 1 after pleading guilty in February of looting $750,000 from campaign funds for personal use. Jackson is free on his personal recognizance.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama--who usually golfs on weekends with staffers--on Monday played with three Senators--two of them Republicans--who may be open to a bi-partisan deals.

The game, at Joint Base Andrews, included Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Col.) The golf game is just the latest move by Obama to try to woo GOP Senators--with the president having held several dinners in the past months as part of a strategy to find critical GOP votes.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at the Monday briefing, "This is in keeping with his engagement with lawmakers of both parties, and in particular Republican senators, to see if he can find some common ground on some of the challenges that confront us."

"...He's looking for partners anywhere he can find them, including, you know, on the eighth hole," Carney said.


WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), discussing trying again to pass a gun-control measure in the Senate, said Sunday on CNN the backers need to find five more votes, but "we can do this."

"What we need to see is a change in political sentiment within the Senate. We need to pick up five more votes, and that's quite a task, I might add, as whip in the Senate, but we can do this. I hope the American people don't give up. I know the president hasn't given up," Durbin told CNN's "State of the Union" host Candy Crowley, speaking from Chicago

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's pick for commerce secretary, Chicago's Penny Pritzker, is leaving the world she has dominated for decades -- as a business tycoon, civic leader and philanthropist -- to become, if confirmed, the storied clan's first major public official.

"She has always been active on not-for-profit boards, and more recently the Chicago Board of Education," White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told me Thursday, a little after Obama announced her appointment in a Rose Garden ceremony.

"She cares deeply about giving back. If not for a president that she respects and knows so well, then when? This felt both the right time and the perfect position."

Pritzker now is the most public face of a private family, one of the nation's wealthiest -- and most charitable -- who vaulted from the business sections to the politics pages as Obama's 2008 national finance chair. Before that, the Pritzker in the political news had been mainly her younger brother, J.B., who in 1998 lost a Democratic primary House bid.

After the 2008 election, Pritzker was in the running to be commerce secretary, but withdrew her name. The Obama team was concerned about the optics; Obama was going to change how business was done in Washington and installing his billionaire finance chair would be sending the wrong message. Also, Pritzker's own financial picture was complicated and would have been difficult to untangle.

With Pritzker's finances streamlined in the past four years -- and with her lower profile in the Obama 2012 re-election campaign, with Obama not worried about re-election and with a sense of carving out a unique Pritzker public service role -- the time was right.


"She's charged up," said David Axelrod, Obama's former top strategist who was in the Rose Garden for the announcement. "And I don't think whatever comes in the way of static is on her mind."

The commerce appointment comes at a price the billionaire Pritzker is willing to pay: extensive financial disclosure and scrutiny by the Senate Commerce, Transportation and Science Committee. No date has been set for her confirmation hearings, though a spokesman for Committee Chair Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W-Va.) said Thursday the aim is for "as quick a confirmation process as possible."

I thought Pritzker would have had to reveal at least a little something about her financial empire in the statement of economic interests she filed with the Cook County clerk last May 1 in connection with her Chicago Board of Education appointment. Turned out, she disclosed nothing.

Instead of listing the identity of any capital asset from which a gain of $5,000 or more was realized -- as requested -- Pritzker's reply on the form was that if anyone wanted more information about the family's "numerous capital assets" they should contact the Pritzker family office.

Can't get away with that again.

Pritzker will have two main confirmation issues: the failure of Superior Bank, a Hinsdale savings and loan the Pritzker family controlled, shortchanging 1,406 depositors, and tax avoidance tactics employed by her various holdings.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a statement: "Every nominee's offshore tax avoidance activities should be examined as part of the nomination process. If the Commerce Committee doesn't explore those questions with the nominee, I plan to do so, but I hope the committee will at least give the tax history a serious look."

As soon as Obama made the Pritzker announcement, the Republican National Committee went after her for her role in the 2001 bank failure with an email headlined, "The new addition to Obama's economic team is another political ally with a history of controversial business practices."

A 2008 Sun-Times story revealed a May 2001 letter that Pritzker wrote where she "appeared to be taking a leadership role in trying to revive the bank with an expanded push into subprime loans." The bank failed a few months later.

Chicago attorney Clint Krislov represented the depositors who lost money and I asked him Thursday about the Pritzker appointment. Krislov -- a Democratic donor -- told me, "the signal we're sending is if you are very wealthy you get a special deal and you get a Cabinet spot."

GOP Senate reaction was lukewarm and Sen. Mark Kirk did not even bother putting out a statement for his home-state pick.

Sen. Dick Durbin, other Democrats and -- most telling -- a variety of influential GOP oriented business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, all welcomed the Pritzker appointment.

Bottom line: Unless there is some surprise, Pritzker -- who has the support of the business community -- will be confirmed.

Pritzker turned 54 on Thursday and Obama took note of her birthday in his remarks.

"So happy birthday, Penny. For your birthday present, you get to go through confirmation. It's going to be great. "


(Video by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama will Chicago business executive Penny Pritzker to be the next Commerce Secretary at 9:15 a.m. Chicago time from the White House Rose Garden. Watch it live below.

WASHINGTON--Hillary Rodham Clinton has a lock on the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday. Read it HERE.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama will tap Michael Froman to be the new United States Trade Representative on Thursday morning, at a White House event where he will also announce his nomination of Chicago's Penny Pritzker to be the next Commerce Secretary. From an the Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics.

My story on Penny Pritzker is HERE.

WASHINGTON--Chicago business executive Penny Pritzker will be tapped by President Barack Obama Thursday morning to be the next Commerce Secretary. My complete story is HERE.

WASHINGTON-- For Democratic women--and others who back Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)--her "Ultimate Women's Power Lunch'' has also become a big networking venue because of the who's who crowd it draws. On Friday, Schakowsky's 2013 "Ultimate" lunch will be keynoted by Cecile Richards, President, Planned Parenthood Action Fund

The Schakowsky for Congress fund-raising event, at the Chicago Hilton, 720 S. Michigan Ave., has multiple donation levels:

Young Power Woman: $75 Power Lunch Guest: $150 Power Lunch Host: $1500 Power Lunch Sponsor: $3000 Ultimate Power Woman: $5200


WASHINGTON--Freshman Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is positioning herself for a leadership role, launching a political action committee to boost other Democrats running for the House as her profile -- and buzz -- are growing.

Papers creating Duckworth's "Perimeter PAC" were sent to the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday, with the name a play on the basic military responsibility of guarding a perimeter -- duty the wounded Iraq war vet, a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard -- did as a young soldier.

One of the first steps ambitious lawmakers take, whether aiming to become leaders or to run for higher office, is to form what are called "leadership" PACs, a pot of money used mainly to bankroll other candidates -- a career bolstering move.

No matter the party, it's impossible to wrangle a leadership role in Congress without taking on major fund-raising chores. For the 2012 election cycle, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), the House chief deputy majority whip, a top leadership spot, contributed $466,605 to GOP candidates from his leadership PAC.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) was in Chicago on Monday and Tuesday for three fund-raisers and a series of finance meetings for her Senate war chest and her "Off the Sidelines" PAC, which Gillibrand is using to boost Democratic female candidates, distributing about $1 million in the 2012 cycle.

An initial focus for Duckworth's "Perimeter" will be to help Democratic Illinois House members who may face bruising 2014 contests: Brad Schneider, Bill Foster, Bill Enyart and Cheri Bustos.

Keeping those seats is a priority of the House political operation, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. President Barack Obama returns to Chicago May 29 for fund-raisers to benefit the DCCC.

Duckworth already is on a fasttrack to be a player, helped by the unusually high profile she brought to Congress: She is one of two women combat veterans, a double amputee, an Asian American and a former Veterans Administration official.

Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appointed Duckworth to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee -- a key perch. However, it comes with the expectation that Duckworth will raise $250,000 for the DCCC. She is also on the DCCC candidate recruitment committee.

Now, on the buzz front: On Tuesday, Duckworth will be in New York to be honored by the Auburn Theological Seminary. And a University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs analysis of news transcripts from seven broadcast and radio national outlets found Duckworth the most-mentioned House freshman between the Jan. 3 swearing-in and Feb. 3.

Duckworth has her priorities straight, even as she seeks to elevate herself on the national stage. She's turned down invites for Sunday shows to return to the district, the most recent, canceling an April 21 booking on NBC's "Meet the Press" to be in the district to deal with the flooding disaster.

WASHINGTON--Even though it was published last year, First Lady Michelle Obama next Tuesday (May 7) will do a book signing of her book American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Garden Across America at the Politics & Prose bookstore in northwest D.C.

The independent bookstore--with a coffee house--is a neighborhood treasure. And this being Washington, there are interesting connections. The bookstore owners are Lissa Muscatine and her husband, Bradley Graham. Muscatine is a longtime speechwriter for former Secretary of State/First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The book is about Mrs. Obama's White House garden and healthy eating. Mrs. Obama has directed that any "author proceeds" go to the National Park Foundation.

After a photo op at the top, the book signing will be closed to the press.

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Lynn Sweet

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

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