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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. "


edens.jpg

Flooding on the Edens Expressway Thursday morning forces lane closure.  (Sun-Times photo by Jon Seidel)

Good morning. Thunderstorms, high today 72 [Forecast]

Breaking

Horrific Texas fertilizer plant explosion kills at least 5, injuries scores more and forces the evacuation of the small town of West, about 20 miles north of Waco. [Sun-Times] [NBC]

Breaking

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle fly to Boston for a bomb blast  memorial, "Healing Our City: An Interfaith Service" at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.[Boston Globe] The 10 a.m. Chicago time service will be carried live on multiple platforms.

Breaking

Parts of the Ike, Stevenson expressways shut down by heavy rains, flooding. Metra, CTA, O'Hare and Midway Airports reporting delays and cancellations. Flash flood warnings. For the latest and updates [Sun-Times] 





Sex, drugs, no rock n'roll 
Going to pot... The Illinois House voted to legalize medical marijuana and mandate abstinence in sex education classes for grades 6-12. [Sun-Times][Crain's Chicago Business]

Both bills now move to the state Senate. Lawmakers taking a break from the heavy lifting...as in pension reform. 

Gun-control measures fail

GOP Senators blocked multiple gun-control measures. [Wall Street Journal] [Washington Post]

Obama called the defeat "shameful" [Sun-Times]

The underlying gun bill--with the anti-traffickling provision named after the slain Chicago teen, Hadiya Pendleton-- is expected to be sidelined today. [Sweet, Sun-Times]

Big loss for Obama. [Politico] [Ezra Klein, Bloomberg]

Obama has a lot on his plate. [Real Clear Politics] [Roll Call]

Major takeaway: Obama slapped with big loss on legacy issue. With the Senate shutdown, unlikely the House will act on gun bills.

Weather forces Rahm to delay Washington trip

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was supposed to be in Washington today and Friday; he was grounded in Chicago because of the weather. He was the headliner for an immigration forum hosted by The Atlantic. Tomorrow, Emanuel joins former President Bill Clinton to launch an "Infrastructure Financing for Cities Task Force."  

Emanuel was going to conduct rounds in the White House and huddle with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)

Boston bomb suspect

Videos of the Boston Marathon finish line blast site yielded the faces of suspects. Now authorities have to find them.[Boston Globe 

Ricin suspect arrested

A Mississippi man was arrested in connection with the mailing of letters containing poison to Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). Since the anthrax attacks of 2001, all White House and congressional mail is screened. [Sweet, Sun-Times] [Washington Post]

The suspect is an Elvis impersonator [CBS/DC]

POLITICAL BUSINESS 


*White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett on Time Magazine's new list out this morning of 100 most influential people in the world.

*Obama dined last night with a group of Democratic senators at a hotel near the White House. This follows two dinners with GOP senators. A White House official said they discussed immigration, guns and the Boston bomb blasts.  Durbin was there along with...according to the official ...Dem Senators Michael Bennet, Chris Coons, Dianne Feinstein, Mary Landrieu, Patty Murray, Jack Reed, Jeanne Shaheen, Debbie Stabenow, Mark Warner, Sheldon Whitehouse and Ron Wyden.

*Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) on Wednesday received the 2013 Good Jobs, Green Jobs Champion Award from the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation. Context: Rush is on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

*Hello, Illinois.... Mike Schrimpf former Republican Governors Association communications director, is new communications chief for Bruce Rauner's gubernatorial exploratory drive. [Politico] 

*DLA Piper Chicago office associate Katie Jahnke Dale working with DC colleagues on a new partnership between DLA's New Perimeter global pro bono affiliate and the State Department to combat human trafficking across the globe.

DAYBOOK

Pressers....House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) at 10:30 a.m. Chicago time; House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at 9:45 a.m. Chicago time, both in the Capitol.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Secretary of State John Kerry, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg at various Senate committees testifying on fy2014 budget requests

In Springfield, Governor Pat Quinn delivers remarks at the 5th Annual Muslim Action Day breakfast at the Mansion; later, a speech in the State Capitol in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Meetings.... Illinois Riverboat Gaming Board, Video Gaming Board.

DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin headlines the City Club of Chicago lunch.

Nobel Laureate Gary S. Becker delivers the 3rd annual CME Group Lecture on Global Financial Markets, "Will American Retain its Economic Leadership?

Author Thomas Dyja discusses his book, "The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream" at the Harold Washington Library.

Chef and Bravo host Curtis Stone discusses his cookbook "What's for Dinner?" at the Barnes & Noble in Skokie's Old Orchard shopping center.

SPORTS TODAY

Cubs owners prey on your hopes by promising titles with Wrigley repairs. [Morrissey, Sun-Times]

Bulls clinch a playoff berth; will play Nets on Saturday in first round. [Sun-Times]

Cubs play the Texas Rangers at Wrigley Field this afternoon; White Sox away at the Toronto Blue Jays tonight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Obama will press for more.

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

Strautmanis leaving White House

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

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

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

WASHINGTON--Chicago's Phillip Jackson--former CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority and former Chicago Public Schools deputy chief of staff, a veteran of Mayor Richard M. Daley's City Hall, will be honored Tuesday at the White House for his work to further education in the African American community. He is the executive director of the organization he founded, the Black Star Project.

He will be honored as one of ten "champions of change."

"President Obama has made providing a complete and competitive education for all Americans - from cradle to career - a top priority," said Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett in a statement; her governmental roots also stretch back to Chicago's City Hall.

"That's why, last summer, he signed an executive order to establish the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. This week, we look forward to welcoming Champions of Change who have been working to ensure that all African American students receive an education that fully prepares them for high school graduation, college completion, and productive careers."


On Jackson, from the White House: "Phillip Jackson was born into and resided in public housing in Chicago. Mr. Jackson attended eleven Chicago public schools with varying levels of success. He graduated from Roosevelt University with honors with a degree in Philosophy and studied education at National College of Education. In his career, he has served as senior vice president of operations for a large retail book chain; assistant budget director for the City of Chicago; chief of staff for Chicago Public Schools; chief executive officer for the Chicago Housing Authority; chief for education for the City of Chicago; and president and chief executive officer for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago. He is founder and executive director of The Black Star Project, which works to create globally competitive, globally compassionate, globally cooperative students, parents, families, and communities."

From the White House, on the Champions of Change program: It "was created as a part of President Obama's Winning the Future initiative. Each week, the White House features a group of Americans - individuals, businesses and organizations - who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities."



WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's visit to Chicago on Friday will shine a brighter spotlight on the failure of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Chief Garry McCarthy to curb gun violence in his hometown.

That's the byproduct of Obama coming home days after his wife, Michelle, attended the Saturday funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old South Sider who was gunned down in a park about a mile from the Obamas' Kenwood home on Jan 29.

The Chicago stop is part of Obama's push to promote the second-term priorities he will discuss Tuesday night in his State of the Union address, where he is expected to discuss his gun-related proposals, forged after the Sandy Hook school massacre. Hadiya's mother, Cleopatra Pendleton, is going to be in the House chamber as a guest when Obama delivers that speech, the Pendleton family's spokeswoman, Shatira Wilks, confirmed to me late Sunday.

To Chicagoans, whatever economic messages Obama wants to underscore Friday will take a back seat to anything he says about the slaughters on the streets of Chicago -- 506 murders in 2012, up 16 percent from 2011 -- all happening on Emanuel's watch.

A White House official said on Sunday that Obama will travel to Chicago for "an event amplifying some of the policy proposals included in the State of the Union that focus on strengthening the economy for the middle class and the Americans striving to get there."

"He'll, of course, also talk about the gun violence that has tragically affected too many families in communities across Chicago and across the country," the official said.

Obama's return home in the wake of another horrific Chicago murder -- of a teen who did everything right, who just a week before her death attended Obama's inauguration in Washington -- well, it also makes the visit undeniably personal for the father of two daughters, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11.

White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett attended Hadiya's funeral with Michelle Obama. She grew up a block north of the Obama family home in Kenwood.

I asked Jarrett on Sunday about their visit home for the funeral. "It's very personal for us," she replied.

"The first lady and I grew up in Chicago and before we moved to D.C., we raised our daughters about a mile from where Hadiya was killed. Chicago still feels like home and our hearts just goes out to the Pendleton family who raised an amazing daughter and we thought it would be important to demonstrate the grief that we're feeling in person.

"It's a reminder at a very personal level about what each of these children mean to us. We may not have known her, but she's feels like a part of our family, too.

"There have been so many tragic deaths around the country and the individual deaths don't receive the attention that the tragedies in Aurora or Newtown receive, but the impact it has on the family involved is just as devastating."

Where Obama will speak in Chicago was not locked-in as of Sunday, but I am told that it will likely be in a school or library in a community affected by gun violence -- which means on the South or West Side.

Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, is still constantly in touch with the White House and presumably could have vetoed the Obama trip. He still has a lot of juice at the White House.

But he did not.

I talked with an Emanuel top strategist on Sunday and from Emanuel's perspective, the plus is the president will make it clear that brutal violence is not unique to Chicago and that Congress needs to pass federal laws cracking down on gun-trafficking while imposing background checks on all gun sales. Those steps are needed to help stem the flow of guns into the city.

But that's hardly a life preserver to throw to Emanuel.

The minus -- and it is a big one -- is that Obama's visit will put a renewed national and maybe even international focus on the epidemic of shootings in Chicago, with innocent victims caught in the cross-fire, and Emanuel's inability to get a handle on the soaring murder rate.

Community activists have been pleading for years for Obama to come home and help.

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson told me Sunday, "Chicago is in a state of emergency and I think [Obama] recognizes that."

I asked Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) about the impact of Obama's visit, and he told me the president might be able to make an appeal to the criminals "who are carrying out a small land war in certain neighborhoods of Chicago. This somehow has to end."

And the pressure is on Emanuel to end it.


A day after winning election to a second term, President Barack Obama, Michelle, Malia and Sasha returned to the White House from their Kenwood home -- with Obama stopping by his headquarters here for an emotional send-off to his campaign workers.

Obama was joined by campaign manager Jim Messina and chief strategist David Axelrod. They all gave shout-outs to the staff and volunteers who gathered together in the massive Prudential Building office for the last time.

Almost all of the paid staff in Chicago and in state operations will be without jobs in a few days. Obama stayed about an hour.

Cabinet, other changes

Meanwhile, the Obama second term will be starting to take shape, with speculation already raging about Cabinet switches and other high-level staff changes that may be in the works. I don't expect any wholesale, done-in-a-day overhauls; rather, watch for a gradual process.

Here's the talk:

♦ Treasury. The current White House chief of staff, Jack Lew, has the inside track to be named Treasury secretary to replace Tim Geithner. Another name floating around is Erskine Bowles, who was a White House chief of staff for former President Bill Clinton.


♦ Chief of staff. Names that have been mentioned to replace Lew (who followed Bill Daley who came after Rahm Emanuel) include senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett also oversees the White House offices of intergovernmental affairs and public engagement. Jarrett's role is larger than her titles suggest; she is a counselor-at-large on a variety of matters, often travels with the president and is a personal confidante to both the president and Mrs. Obama.

Another name mentioned is Ron Klain, an attorney who most recently was helping Obama in debate prep. Klain has been chief of staff for Vice President Joe Biden and Vice President Al Gore.

♦ State. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is eager to leave. I've heard that United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice is at the top of the list to replace her -- even if she has to navigate through the controversy over the timeline she offered about the murders of the four American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been very interested in the spot, but quitting his Senate seat would trigger a consequence: another battle over a Massachusetts Senate seat. Republican Sen. Scott Brown, defeated Tuesday by Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren, could start plotting a comeback.

♦ Defense. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta commutes back home to California almost weekly and is said to looking for an off-ramp in the next months. One name mentioned is former Undersecretary Michele Flournoy -- who would be the first woman in the spot.

♦ Education. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the former Chicago schools chief, wants to stay -- and there is no plan for a change.

♦ Attorney General. Attorney General Eric Holder would like to leave eventually -- but does not want to seem as if he were run out of office over the "Fast and Furious" gun-running controversy. The top name to replace him is Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

♦ Transportation. A bit back, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood signaled one term might be enough; I'm told he may be persuaded to stay on -- at least for a while.

♦ Agriculture. Secretary Tom Vilsack was interested in staying -- but that was when his wife, Christie, was running for an Iowa House seat. She lost Tuesday, so the couple may be rethinking their future.

The inauguration

Planning has already started for Obama to be sworn into his second term -- with the date a historic footnote.

The 57th presidential inauguration is to take place on Jan. 21. Say what? The 20th Amendment to the Constitution in 1933 set the date at noon Jan. 20.

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

More evidence that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is using the White House operation to restructure Chicago's City Hall, perhaps foreshadowing a presidential run in 2016 or beyond: the announcement Saturday that he is launching an Office of Public Engagement--based on the White House office of the same name. Basically, the agency will serve to bolster the Emanuel agenda and provide a point of contact for people and groups--sidestepping the need to go to aldermen or ward committeemen for gripes, information, services or suggestions.

Over at the White House, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett oversees the Office of Public Engagement. The director of the White House Office of Public Engagement is Jon Carson--a former Illinois political operative, an Obama 2008 campaign veteran who managed Tammy Duckworth's 2006 Illinois House campaign.

Emanuel is President Barack Obama's former chief of staff. He tapped Deputy Chief of Staff Felicia Davis to "spearhead" creation of the new City Hall office.

CITY HALL DETAILS ON WHAT RAHM'S OFFICE OF PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT WILL DO:

The office "will serve as a direct link between the Mayor's Office, City departments, Sister Agencies, external partners and communities across the City to make city government and its resources more accessible," according to a City Hall release.

"...This work will include connecting community members to resources across City government to help them serve and celebrate their communities; and collaborating with neighborhood and civic organizations, nonprofits, policy advisory groups and various city agencies to inform and engage citizens for the betterment of their communities and the city at large."

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT DOES:

According to the White House, "the Office of Public Engagement is the embodiment of the President's goal of making government inclusive, transparent, accountable and responsible.

"We create and coordinate opportunities for direct dialogue between the Obama Administration and the American public, while bringing new voices to the table and ensuring that everyone can participate and inform the work of the President.

"The Office of Public Engagement helps open the two-way dialogue, ensuring that the issues impacting our nation's proud and diverse communities have a receptive team dedicated to making their voices heard within the Administration, and even more importantly helping their concerns be translated into action by the appropriate bodies of the Federal Government.

"As part of making the Government accessible to its citizens, the Office of Public Engagement acts as a point of coordination for public speaking engagement for the Administration and the various departments of the Executive Offices of the President. The Office of Public Engagement removes obstacles and barriers for engagement and works to improve public awareness and involvement in the work of the Administration."



WASHINGTON--Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil Cohen officiated at the Saturday wedding of the daughter of White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, attended by President Barack Obama, Michelle and their daughters.

In a ceremony at the home where Jarrett spent much of her youth--a block north of the Obama home on South Greenwood---Laura Jarrett married Tony Balkissoon before family and friends.

The two met while at Harvard Law School and the graduates of HLS '10 now practice at rival Chicago law firms, Balkisson at Sidley Austin and Jarrett at Mayer Brown.

Cohen sits in the Chancery Division at the Daley Center and is the husband of Jarrett friend and confidante Susan Sher, who is the former chief of staff for the First Lady. Cohen also is close to Jarrett's parents: her late father Dr. James Bowman, who died last year, and her mother, Dr. Barbara Bowman

Sher left the White House last year and is now the Executive Vice President for Corporate Strategy and Public Affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Many of the attendees at the wedding--as does Jarrett and the Obama family--have ties to the U of C.

The wedding festivities took place in the house and in a tent in the large yard. City of Chicago records show Dr. Bowman received a permit to erect the tent for the wedding.

Among those present:

Newton and Jo Minow: Minow is a senior counsel at Sidley. When Obama was at
Harvard Law School, Minow recommended that Sidley hire him for a summer job in Chicago. Obama took the job and met his future wife, Michelle, at the firm. Minow's daughter, Martha, is the Harvard Law School dean.

John Levi: Levi is the Sidley partner who actually hired Obama--and before him, one Michelle Robinson. Obama tapped Levi to be the Chairman of the Legal Services Corporation. Obama also appointed Martha Minow to the Legal Services board.

Martin Nesbitt:
He is a close personal friend of Jarrett and the Obamas' and lives a few blocks away. Lesser known is that he is the treasurer of the Obama for America campaign committee. His wife, Dr. Anita Blanchard is also one of Mrs. Obama's closest friends; she delivered the Obama daughters. She is an Associate Professor of Obstetrics/Gynecology at the U of C Medical School--where Dr. James Bowman was the professor emeritus in the departments of Pathology and Medicine.

Eric and Cheryl Whitaker:
The couple are close to Jarrett and the First Couple. Whitaker and Nesbitt are also frequent golfing companions of the president. On Sunday, the men were playing at the Beverly Country Club at 87th and Western. Whitaker is the Executive Vice President for Strategic Affiliations and Associate Dean for Community-Based Research at the U of C Medical Center.

Vernon and Ann Jordan
: While Jordan has a high national profile - a Washington insider's insider--the connection with Jarrett is through Ann, a cousin. Ann Dibble Jordan is a former Chicagoan with long-time connections to the University of Chicago, where she is a trustee emeritus.

John Rogers and his daughter, Victoria:
Rogers, the founder of Ariel Investments, grew up with Jarrett on South Greenwood. Years later, by chance, Rogers recruited one Craig Robinson to play basketball at Princeton. Robinson is Mrs. Obama's brother. Rogers is a major Obama fund-raiser. His former wife--Victoria's mother--is Desiree Rogers, a former White House Social Secretary whose departure strained the relationship with Jarrett and Mrs. Obama.

Roxanne Ward: A friend who is a former executive at at Ariel.

Paula Wolff and Wayne Whalen:
Wolff--who has a long civic resume--Mayor Rahm Emanuel tapped her to head the City Colleges Board in February--and Whalen--a partner at Skadden Arps--are longtime Jarrett neighbors, living on the same block on South Greenwood.

Antoinette Cook Bush: a Jarrett cousin who is a partner at Skadden.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Sharon Malone: While Holder gets most of the attention, lesser known is that his wife, an ob-gyn, is also a close friend to Jarrett and Mrs. Obama.

Allison and Susan Davis: Obama joined Davis' law firm out of Harvard Law School. The couple live in Kenwood.

Dan and Fay Hartog Levin: Jarrett was a one-time top staffer for former Mayor Richard M. Daley. When she left City Hall, she landed at The Habitat Company, founded by Dan Levin. She became Habitat president in 2007. Obama tapped Mrs. Levin to be the U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, a position she resigned last year.

WASHINGTON--A new book about the Obama administration adds more to the story about tensions between Attorney General Eric Holder, David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel when he was White House chief of staff.

Valerie Jarrett once broke up a near-fight between Axelrod and Holder, the book reveals.

The book is "Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency" by Daniel Klaidman, a former Newsweek managing editor now with Newsweek/DailyBeast.

Some other highlights, according to news reports about the book:

Emanuel was not pleased that Holder could go around him because he had his own channel of communication with Obama; they were social friends as were their wives.

Senior Advisor Jarrett broke up a fight between Holder and Obama's then Senior Adviser David Axelrod (now top campaign strategist) after a Cabinet meeting. Neither Jarrett nor Axelrod denied the episode.

Excerpts from the story about the book in Main Justice, the website of record about the Justice Department:

"After word spread from Holder aides that they believed the White House was attempting to place a political operative named Chris Sautter within the Justice Department, Axelrod confronted the attorney general. Axelrod had been careful to "not to come close to that line," knowing such a move could "detonate a full-blown scandal."
"'I'm not Karl Rove,' " Axelrod said to Holder, a reference to the 2006 scandal over the firings of U.S. Attorneys that Democrats called politically motivated.

"Holder did not appreciate being publicly dressed down by the president's most senior political adviser. Determined to stand his ground against Tammany Hall, the AG ripped into him in full view of other White House staffers.," Kladiman writes.

It continues: " 'That's bullshit,' [Holder] replied vehemently. The two men stood chest to chest. It was like a school yard fight back at their shared alma mater, Stuyvesant, the elite public high school for striving kids from New York City. White House staffers caught in the crossfire averted their eyes. Jarrett, whose office was nearby, materialized as things got hot. Petite and perfectly put together as always, she pushed her way between the two men, her sense of decorum disturbed, ordering them to 'take it out of the hallway.'"

TENSIONS WITH RAHM

"...Holder's legendary tension with former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is also described. Emanuel thought Jarrett was Holder's spy within the White House, Klaidman writes. In one meeting in which Emanuel criticized Holder, Emanuel "noticed Jarrett pick up her BlackBerry and begin typing. Later, when Holder was at the White House on other business, he went to see Emanuel in his office. He closed the door behind him and

JARRETT TALKS HOLDER OUT OF RESIGNING

"...Holder "sank into a depression" following the death of his mother and a public backlash against his plans to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, in federal court in New York, according to Klaidman's book.
"Holder enjoyed a close personal relationship with President Barack Obama even as he clashed with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House political adviser David Axelrod over his handling of terror detainees and speeches early in the administration on gun control and race relations, according to the book.
Holder ultimately decided to stay at the urging of presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, who told him that if he quit, "this will not be good for you and it will not be good for your friend, the president," according to the book.

Valerie Jarrett's daughter, Laura is getting married on June 16--at the Kenwood home where Jarrett was raised, down the block from the Obama house, the Sun-Times Michael Sneed scoops HERE.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle will be in Chicago for the upcoming NATO Summit--and then return in separate trips for major fund-raising events.

Obama will headline several fund-raisers in Chicago on June 1; Mrs. Obama returns later in the month. White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett keynotes a fund-raiser in Chicago on May 18.

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday will take part in an Obama administration National Summit on Preventing Youth Violence--as Chicago police are grappling with the crime surge in the city.

Among the participants: Attorney General Eric Holder, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Mary Lou Leary, White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske.


WASHINGTON--White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett and Tony Blinken, National Security Advisor to Vice Presiden Joe Biden keynote a Monday session of the annual J Street Conference.

Chicago business executive Jim Klutznick will be stepping up to lead the Israel advocacy organization.

From JStreet.org: "The four-day conference will bring together 2500 political and opinion leaders, policymakers and activists to put advocacy for a two-state solution back on the foreign policy agenda. Participants from across the United States, Israel and Europe will convene under the banner of "Making History" to chart the future of the pro-Israel movement together."


WASHINGTON--White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett is back in Chicago, to keynote the Equality Illinois gala on Saturday night, an event drawing a who's who of Illinois political figures.


From Equality Illinois: "Continuing its more than decade-long tradition as the largest LGBT black-tie gala in the Midwest Equality Illinois hosts its 2012 Justice for All Benefit Gala February 11, 2012.

"...This year, Chicago's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ally community is celebrating the news that the federal appeals court struck down Proposition 8, California's ban on marriage for gay and lesbian couples.


"The audience is both affluent and influential. Past political guests, awardees and honorees include Governor Pat Quinn, Governor Jim Edgar and Mrs. Edgar, Secretary of State Jesse White, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and Bloomington Mayor Judy Markiewicz, as well as then-Senator Barack Obama."

axelrod white house office.JPG
David Axelrod in his former White House office (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON -- President Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod, is launching an Institute of Politics at his alma mater, the University of Chicago, to create bipartisan programs bringing big names in politics to campus and internships for students.

"If years from now I run across young people who have participated in this Institute who are now writers and staffers and yes, candidates, we'll have done our job well," Axelrod said in a conference call on Wednesday.

The U. of C. institute will be largely modeled on Harvard University's Institute of Politics, housed in the Kennedy School of Government. Harvard's IOP brings together all kinds of figures involved in politics -- from political journalists to elected and appointed government officials and high level campaign operatives.

As at Harvard, Axelrod said he envisioned quarterly fellowships for political practioneers, programs and internships for U. of C. students.

Axelrod will be the founding director of the Institute starting in 2013; at present he is handling his last official campaign -- Obama's 2012 re-election bid. Axelrod joined the Harvard IOP board last year and will step down at the end of 2012.

A draw of the U. of C. IOP will be bringing political star power to the Hyde Park campus.

The Institute, said Axelrod, "will be making the University of Chicago a top destination for newsmakers and political actors."

To that point -- and to kick off the U. of C. IOP -- Axelrod lined up a Thursday panel to discuss the 2012 presidential election contest at the International House: ABC News George Stephanopolous; Mayor Rahm Emanuel; MSNBC host Rachel Maddow; GOP media consultant Alex Castellanos and New York Times columnist David Brooks, who picked up his undergraduate degree at the U. of C. in 1983. (The program is for students and invited guests.)

Axelrod -- who received his undergraduate degree in 1976 -- is a former Chicago Tribune political writer who switched to working for candidates, making his name at first as a top consultant for Senate, House and local campaigns. To take advantage of being in Chicago, Axelrod said the Institute will also have a focus on "urban politics."

Axelrod is just one of many people in the Obama orbit with deep ties to the U. of C. Obama taught at the law school; First lady Michelle was an executive at the medical center; daughters Malia and Sasha attended the Lab School; senior adviser Valerie Jarrett was on the U. of C. board and Mrs. Obama's former chief of staff, Susan Sher, is now a top honcho at the medical center.

With all those connections -- and with the Obama home not far from campus -- the U. of C. will likely be in the running to eventually house in whole or part the Obama Presidential Library. If and when that happens at the U. of C., Axelrod said, "we would look for ways to create synergy."

That's off in the future. Said Axelrod, "my goal right now is to help, encourage young people who are going to be, you know, the David Axelrods and better in the future."

Members of a U. of C. IOP advisory board include Republican media consultant Michael Murphy; historian Doris Kearns Goodwin; former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Chicago native, political advisor Howard Wolfson, a U. of C. alum who now works for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and who was a strategist for Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign, Obama 2012 campaign top deputy Stephanie Cutter and Brooks.

WASHINGTON--White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett on Tuesday defended taking a jab at Republicans while speaking from the pulpit over the weekend at Atlanta's historic church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.


"We all sleep a little better at night knowing Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants are not plotting a terrorist attack against the United States," Jarrett said.

Taking aim at Republicans, Jarrett suggested "Teachers, and firefighters, and policemen," may find their jobs in jeopardy because of lack of Republican congressional support.

On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Mika Brzezinski asked Jarrett if "whether or not that is a bipartisan approach, or do you agree to an extent that Republicans have gotten in the way of jobs that are on the line?"

Jarrett said, "I think it's very clear that the Republicans voted against the American Jobs Act. Each time when the whole act was before Congress, when -- each component part, practically all of them the Republicans voted against.

"And so yes, all across the country right now we have teachers and
firefighters, first responders whose jobs are at risk because we don't
have that act in place. And so it did a great deal of damage, and I
think that the Republicans would agree that they voted against it."

President Obama, First Lady Michelle, Malia and Sasha made a rare visit to church on Sunday, heading to Zion Baptist in Washington--a congregation founded in 1864 by African-Americans-- the day before the nation celebrates the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. At the service, a deacon read from Rev. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

The Obama administration--and the Obama re-elect campaign--are focusing activities on MLK Day. The campaign is asking for supporters to take part in service projects--which is also a way to help organize the troops for the November election.

Obama cabinet and top officials are fanning out to mark MLK Day: Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett keynoted on Sunday at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga.

On Monday, in Chicago, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack will speak to Rainbow PUSH to, according to the White House, "highlight USDA advancements on Civil Rights and the Obama administration's settlement of the Pigford lawsuit."

Recommended reading: Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Alter on the resignation of White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.


Alter: "The resignation of William M. Daley as President Barack Obama's White House chief of staff brings to mind the words of David Wilhelm when he left his post as chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1994: "I'm going back to Chicago where they stab you in the front."

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NASHUA, NH.--Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs apologized Monday for insulting First Lady Michelle Obama during an explosive staff meeting where he also laid into Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. The scene is recounted in a new book, "The Obamas," by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor. Jarrett said the two have "worked through disagreements."
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My post on episode in Kantor's book on how when Mrs. Obama worked in Mayor Daley's City Hall in the early 1990s, she was "distressed" by how a small group of "white Irish Catholic" families -- the Daleys, the Hynes and the Madigans -- "locked up" power in Illinois is HERE.
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"In any high-pressure work environment there are occasional arguments and disagreements and that is certainly true of the White House. I regret speaking in anger and regret that this disagreement became so public. But those moments pale in comparison to the important issues facing our country and will not overshadow the vital work Valerie and I will do together as part of a team in 2012," Gibbs said in a statement.

Said Jarrett in a statement, "Since 2004, Robert Gibbs and I have worked together on campaigns and in the government, and he has been a valued advisor and Press Secretary to this President and a key member of the Obama team. Like any colleagues, we've shared some laughs and we've shared some words over the years. But we have always worked through any disagreements out of mutual respect and in our shared commitment now and in the future to President Obama."


The blow-up, Kantor wrote, came during a staff meeting on Sept. 16, 2010, after Gibbs just tamped down a report that Mrs. Obama had told French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy that she "can't stand" life in the White House, that it was "hell."

Jarrett said Mrs. Obama was "dissatisfied" with how the situation was handled and Gibbs exploded at Jarrett for getting involved in the matter. He threw the "F" word around, aiming one time at Mrs. Obama.


Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel clashed with First Lady Michelle Obama and offered to resign in February, 2010--when he was White House chief of staff--after a series of self-serving stories, according to a Huffington Post report about a new book, "The Obamas." Mrs. Obama was not enthused about his chief-of-staff appointment.
The book, by the New York Times Jodi Kantor, will be published Jan. 10.

Kantor, according to HuffPost, reports that "Michelle Obama had "doubts" about the choice of Emanuel as chief of staff. Emanuel, in turn, had been opposed to bringing Valerie Jarrett, the Obamas' longtime mentor, into the White House as a senior adviser."
(Emanuel's reservations about Jarrett had been previously known.)

HuffPost on Kantor book: "Emanuel rejected Michelle Obama's efforts to be part of his 7:30 a.m. staff meeting. The administration did not outfit her with a speechwriter for some time. And the first lady's office grew so isolated from the rest of the presidential orbit that aides there began, as Kantor writes, "referring to the East Wing as 'Guam' -- pleasant but powerless."

HUFFINGTON POST CORRECTION: "An earlier version wrongly stated that Michelle Obama wanted to attend the top-staff 7:30 a.m. White House meeting. Author Jodi Kantor reports that the first lady's chief of staff, Jackie Norris, wanted to attend that meeting and was rebuffed by Rahm Emanuel."

And more on the Kantor book via HuffPost:
"Michelle and Rahm Emanuel had almost no bond; their relationship was distant and awkward from the beginning. She had been skeptical of him when he was selected, and now he returned the favor; he was uneasy about first ladies in general, several aides close to him said, based on clashes with Hillary Clinton in the 1990s that became so severe that she had tried to fire him from her husband's administration," writes Kantor.

And more:
"Kantor reports that then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was often deployed to push back against the first lady, informing her that she couldn't take a private vacation on a state visit, spend large amounts on White House redecoration, or buy expensive clothes.

And more: Michelle Obama, who came to politics skeptically but saw her husband as someone capable of lofty achievements, lashed out against her isolation. She sent emails to Jarrett when she had complaints about news coverage, which Jarrett would forward to others after removing the first lady's name from them. When she couldn't wedge herself into her husband's schedule, she would send her missives to Alyssa Mastromonaco, the president's director of scheduling. The emails, Kantor writes, "were so stern that Mastromonaco showed them around to colleagues, unsure of how to respond to her boss's wife's displeasure."

WASHINGTON--White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett met with Lady Gaga at the White House and other administration staffers on Tuesday to discuss ways to prevent bullying, including a project funded by the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation.

Writing afterwards in a White House blog Jarrett said,
"Today, I had the opportunity to welcome her to the White House, where we discussed ways we could work together to make sure that no child comes under attack, regardless of his or her race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other factor.

"One of Lady Gaga's newest projects is joining together with the MacArthur Foundation and Harvard University to launch the Born This Way Foundation, which will explore ways to help change the culture, the policies, and the curriculum surrounding the safety of our children in school.

"Lady Gaga has described this cause as a personal one - she has said that as a child, she was often picked on for being different. I am deeply moved by the way she has used her story, and her success, to inspire young people, and shine the spotlight on important issues

First Lady Michelle Obama returned to Chicago for the second time in a week on Thursday, to attend the memorial service for Dr. James Bowman, a physician with a global reach, a Kenwood neighbor and the father of White House Senior Advisor and friend Valerie Jarrett.

Mrs. Obama landed Thursday morning for the memorial and was scheduled to fly back to Washington later in the day.

The First Lady made a day trip to Chicago on Monday to attend the funeral mass for Maggie Daley, the wife of former Mayor Richard Daley.

The Bowman family home is a block north of the Obama's Kenwood residence and the families had close ties--through friends and the University of Chicago.

Dr. Bowman died on Sept. 28 at the age of 88. The memorial service for Bowman, professor emeritus in pathology and medicine at the University of Chicago, was at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the university campus.

Dr. Bowman was a specialist in pathology, inherited blood diseases and population genetics. Bowman was the "first tenured African American professor in the University's Biological Sciences Division. He also was a powerful advocate for minority scholars seeking access to academic medical careers," the university said in a statement.

At the time of his death, Dr. Bowman's pioneering work drew wide praise. "The University of Chicago and the University of Chicago Medical Center have lost one of their most important and eminent citizens," said Kenneth S. Polonsky, dean of the Division of the Biological Sciences and the Pritzker School of Medicine. "Dr. Bowman had an enormous impact in so many areas -- as a physician, scientist, mentor, leader, role model and inspiration to students and faculty. We are indeed fortunate to have benefitted from his many contributions and from knowing a man of such exemplary integrity."

In addition, the university said, "Bowman, a senior scholar for the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics and a member of the committees on genetics and on African and African American Studies at the University, was one of the first to study genetic variation among diverse populations, particularly those of African origin, and the relationship between genetics and minority health. Later in his career, Bowman focused on the ethical, legal and public policy issues raised by human genetics and mandatory screening tests in certain U.S. states."

On Thursday afternoon, the Bowman Society will host "A Night of Remembrance" for Dr. Bowman from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine.

A spokesman for First Lady Michelle Obama on Monday morning would not confirm whether Mrs. Obama would return home to Chicago for Maggie Daley's funeral mass--but the lack of a denial suggests something may be in the works. White House chief of staff Bill Daley, of course, is Mrs. Daley's brother-in-law. White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett is planning on attending the mass for Mrs. Daley as is Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

UPDATE Education Sec. Arne Duncan also at the funeral

UPDATE Vice President Joe Biden, Jill Biden and Mrs. Obama flew to Chicago for the Maggie Daley funeral.

UPDATED Mrs. Obama will be attending the funeral. She is trying not to draw much attention to herself in order to not be a distraction.

UPDATED: The FAA is is imposing flight restrictions at O'Hare Airport this morning because of a "VIP movement."
Read the flight restriction notice HERE.


In October, 2010, Mrs. Obama and Jarrett were in Chicago for the funeral of Bishop Arthur Brazier.

WASHINGTON--White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett will tout "Small Business Saturday" in Chicago's Hyde Park, where she will hit the famed 57th Street Books and Chant, the restaurant on E. 53rd to urge folks to shop at local stores.

On Saturday, Jarrett, joined by Ald. Will Burns (4th) and members of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce will host a press conference at Chant, 1509 E. 53rd--not far from the Kenwood home of President Barack Obama and the block where Jarrett was raised.

From a White House official: "The point of the press conference is to "generate awareness about Small Business Saturday....You've heard of Black Friday. And Cyber Monday. But did you know that this Saturday is Small Business Saturday? Small Business Saturday is a national initiative that marks a day to support the local business that create jobs, boost the economy and preserve neighborhoods around the country. Small Business Saturday is an event that drives shoppers to local, independently-owned merchants. The President and the Administration is encouraging everyone to do their holiday shopping this Saturday, November 26, at local small businesses."


WASHINGTON--White House Senior advisor Valerie Jarrett and others raised flags about President Obama visiting a failing solar energy company, Solyndra, according to e-mails released by Democrats on the House GOP-controlled panel investigating the U.S. loan to the now bankrupt California firm.

Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee released a report about the e-mails in order to try to switch the storyline the Republicans are pushing, that the loans were related to campaign donations. Rather, there was internal debate and it turns out the White House did not realize the Department of Energy was bungling administering and monitoring the loan.

Read the PDF of the Democrats' report Democrat Energy Commerce.pdf

CONCLUSION from the report.... "The documents produced Friday, like the other documents received by the Subcommittee to date in the Solyndra investigation, do not contain evidence that government decisions relating to Solyndra were influenced by considerations relating to campaign donations. Rather, the documents show that there was internal disagreement within the Administration about Solyndra's viability and the effectiveness of the loan guarantee program throughout the process. According to the documents, the decisions relating to Solyndra were made on the merits after vigorous debate and with awareness of the risks involved."

WASHINGTON--The White House hosts a large conference for Historically Black Colleges and Universities this week, at a hotel here because the gathering is so large. White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett delivers the keynote address on Monday.

From John Silvanus Wilson, Jr., Executive Director, White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the program book: "When this office was established back in 1980, roughly 80 percent of the African Americans in American higher education were being educated inside of HBCUs. Today, 90 percent of African Americans are being educated outside of HBCUs, including 15 percent in for-profit institutions, 15 percent in Predominantly Black Institutions, and roughly 33 percent in community colleges (only14 of which are HBCUs).

"...This conference is tied to both the fulfillment of Presidential Executive Order 13532 and the pursuit of the goal set by President Obama and Secretary Duncan to have the best-educated and most-competitive and diverse workforce in the world by the year 2020. To meet this goal, our nation needs roughly 8 million more graduates overall, and nearly 2 million of them need to be African Americans. To do our part, HBCUs need to generate another 167 thousand graduates above our current base and pace by 2020. That means our annual production must climb from approximately 35.5 thousand graduates to over 54 thousand. That is no small challenge!"

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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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