Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Recently in Barack Obama Category

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama will tap United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice to become his National Security Advisor on Wednesday, to replace Tom Donilon and will appoint Samantha Power--who has advised him on foreign policy since he was a U.S. Senator from Illinois--to replace Rice.

Power led the Obama White House efforts to address genocide, stepping down several months ago as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. Power won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for her book, "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide."

In April, 2012, Obama named her as chair of his then new Atrocities Prevention Board.

Power worked for Obama when he was in the Senate for about a year--during parts of 2005 and 2006-- taking leave of her post at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Power joined Obama's presidential campaign early--but departed in March, 2008 after she called then Democratic presidential primary rival Hillary Clinton a "monster" in an interview with The Scotsman newspaper and the Clinton campaign organized a push for her to resign.

After a time in exile--she never really left the informal Obama fold--she joined the administration in the first term. She was in her post at the top anti-genocide adviser when Obama decided to support military air strikes against Libya,
faced with then strongman Moammar Gadhafi's threats to slaughter his own people.
In a speech Obama said America had "responsibilities to our fellow human beings" to act. To do nothing, Obama told the nation, would "have been a betrayal of who we are."

Power is married to former University of Chicago professor Cass Sunstein, who--like Power--recently left an Obama administration post. The couple--who met in the 2008 Obama presidential campaign-- have two young children.

From a White House Official: "This afternoon in the Rose Garden, the President will announce that after more than 4 years at the National Security Council, Tom Donilon will be departing as National Security Advisor in early July and will be succeeded by Ambassador Susan Rice. The President will also announce that he will nominate Samantha Power to succeed Ambassador Rice as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations."

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 -- 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."

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--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.

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."

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--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."

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.

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:

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

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--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--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."


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 -- 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. "

Monthly Archives

Get the Sweet widget

More widgets


Lynn Sweet

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

Stay in touch

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Barack Obama category.

5th Congressional District Special Election is the previous category.

Burris is the next category.

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