Monday, December 27, 2010

Obama steps out in Hawaii for shave ice treat

President Barack Obama made the first public appearance of his vacation Monday, stopping by one of his favorite local shops for a Hawaiian snow cone known as "shave ice."

The president, dressed casually in a black polo shirt, khaki shorts and flip-flops, ordered a flavor combination of melon, lemon-lime and cherry at Island Snow, a store Obama has frequented during past trips to Hawaii.

The president chatted with excited workers and asked them about their holidays as he placed about a dozen more orders for his family and friends.

The president stood outside under cloudy, threatening skies to enjoy his shave ice with daughters Malia and Sasha, and several of the family friends from Hawaii and Chicago who have joined Obama here.

Monday afternoon's outing was the first time the president has been spotted outside his rented oceanfront home or the nearby Marine base since he arrived here late Wednesday. After a frenzied legislative session that forced the president to delay the start of his trip, aides say rest and relaxation is at the top of Obama's agenda during his almost two-week vacation.

The president spent much of the cloudy, drizzly Hawaiian day indoors at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, bowling with his daughters and playing basketball with friends.

The base has become a sanctuary for the president on his Hawaiian vacations. The president golfs on the base course, the first couple uses its gym for morning workouts and the first family often visits a secluded beach here.

But Obamas haven't had much in the way of beach weather since the president arrived here. Clouds hung over the island of Oahu on Monday, and more rain is forecast throughout the week.

The Obamas are expected to stay in Hawaii through Jan. 2.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Obama, Hispanic caucus say immigration reform still a priority

President Barack Obama and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus agreed Tuesday that immigration reform is still an important priority for the next legislature, the White House said.

Obama met with the lawmakers Tuesday in the Oval Office to determine the next strategy to pursue following the "disappointing" defeat of the DREAM Act last Saturday in the Senate.

That bill would have cleared the way for legalizing young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country before the age of 16, lived here continuously for at least five years, and who either go to college or enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Obama and the CHC lawmakers "discussed their deep disappointment with the DREAM Act failing in the U.S. Senate despite having the support of a majority of Senators and a majority of the American people, noting that it would have cut the budget deficit by $2.2 billion over the next 10 years," the White House said.

Obama, according to the statement, "reiterated that he will not give up on the DREAM Act" and thanked the lawmakers for their leadership in trying to get it passed.

The lawmakers present at the meeting were Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Reps. Xavier Becerra of California, Nydia Velazquez of New York, Charlie Gonzalez of Texas and Luis Gutierrez of Illinois.
All are Democrats.

The president also repeated "his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform, pointing out that we can no longer perpetuate a broken immigration system that is not working for our country or our economy," the White House said.

Obama and the legislators "agreed that the American people expect both parties to come together around common sense approaches to solve our toughest problems, not kick them down the road," according to the statement.
They also committed to working among themselves and with Congress to achieve that objective.
Obama and the legislators also agreed that reforming the immigration system "should remain a top priority for the coming Congress."

In that sense, they agreed to collaborate in promoting proposals "not only to strengthen security at the nation's borders, but also restore responsibility and accountability to what everyone agrees is a badly broken immigration system."

The Senate's rejection of the DREAM Act dealt a heavy blow to Democratic hopes of getting the measure passed.
The bill was blocked when a procedural vote did not win the 60 votes in favor necessary for closing the debate and proceeding to approval.

Bogged down in the endless hemming and hawing of Congress since it was first introduced in 2001, the DREAM Act opens the way to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people.

Critics alleged that passing the DREAM Act would be the equivalent of amnesty, which in turn would encourage more foreigners to cross borders into the United States illegally.

They also say that it would be extremely costly, since legalized students would be eligible for federal subsidies that could soar to $6 billion a year.

But the bill's defenders say that, among other things, it would clear the way so that young people with talent could contribute to the nation's economy.

The Migration Policy Institute says that the measure would have immediately favored more than 700,000 young people, while the Department of Education estimates that more than 50,000 college-eligible undocumented immigrants graduate from U.S. high schools every year.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Obama says Christmas message "love and redemption"

President Barack Obama said on Thursday that the message of Christmas was one of "love and redemption to every human being" as he and his family lit the national Christmas tree outside the White House.

That message was not just for Christians like himself and his wife but universal, he said, wearing a long overcoat and scarf in the cold early evening.

"It's a message that says no matter who we are or where we are from, no matter the pain we endure or the wrongs we face, we are called to love one another as brothers and as sisters," he said as he stood in front of the 42-foot-plus living Colorado spruce on the Ellipse just south of the White House.

The White House national Christmas tree tradition began in 1923.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Obama gains ground in push for nuclear treaty

President Barack Obama gained ground in his push for Senate ratification of a stalled nuclear treaty as once-reluctant Republicans signaled a willingness to back the pact with Russia.

Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, said Thursday he is "wide open" to supporting the treaty if the administration addresses his concerns about modernization of the remaining U.S. nuclear arsenal. He praised the White House for working with lawmakers.

"They're making important steps in the right direction," Alexander said on MSNBC. He said the treaty "has important advantages to our country in terms of the data and the verification."

The administration jump-started the treaty with a series of steps this week, including outreach by Vice President Joe Biden to lawmakers and the circulation of a letter from the heads of the three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories expressing support for Obama's 10-year, $84 billion plan to maintain the nuclear stockpile.

"Do I feel any movement on START, the answer is yes," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters.

The laboratory directors from Lawrence Livermore, Sandia and Los Alamos said the administration's plan "would enable the laboratories to execute our requirements for ensuring a safe, secure, reliable and effective stockpile."

Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and a proponent of the treaty, distributed the letter to more than a dozen Republican lawmakers at a closed meeting late Wednesday. Several Republican senators, including Olympia Snowe of Maine and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, emerged from the session more positive about completing the treaty in the lame-duck session.
"Speaking for myself, I think there is that reflection and recognition that we can get it done this year," Snowe said.

The treaty would cut the limits on strategic warheads to 1,550 for the United States and Russia from the current ceiling of 2,200. The pact also would establish new procedures to allow both countries to inspect each other's nuclear arsenals to verify compliance.

Republicans, led by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., have rejected Obama's insistence that the treaty must be dealt with amid the pressing business of Congress' lame-duck session. Some have raised concerns that the treaty would limit work on a missile defense system, and they have pressed for sufficient funds for modernization of the existing nuclear stockpile.

Kyl told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren in an interview aired Thursday night that he thought Republicans would be happy to give the White House an agreement to consider the treaty around March, as long as the new senators coming in January were adequately briefed.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said, "It's moving in a very positive way, but there are still some issues to be resolved." He mentioned GOP concerns about missile defense.

Citing that subject, Jim DeMint, R-S.C., threatened to use stalling tactics to hold up ratification. John Thune, R-S.D., a potential 2012 presidential candidate, also reiterated his opposition to moving ahead on the treaty.
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., said in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday that he was encouraged by the discussions involving GOP lawmakers and the administration. He said he was hopeful for a "positive outcome, and we're certainly going to work in good faith to try to make that happen in the next days, hours."

Backers of the treaty circulated an op-ed from The Washington Post in which five former secretaries of state urged the Senate to ratify.

"We have here an agreement that is clearly in our national interest, and we should consider the ramifications of not ratifying it," wrote Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger and Colin Powell.

Countering that argument, former Reagan administration officials Edwin Meese and Richard Perle wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal saying the pact falls short of those negotiated by President Ronald Reagan and they doubt he would have supported it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Can Obama fight the GOP's blame game?

Can we govern ourselves in the next two years? Do Republicans have any interest in accomplishments that might even indirectly benefit President Obama?

These questions hang over Tuesday's meeting between the president and congressional leaders, an encounter that could set the tone for the next two years.

Grounds for optimism are thin. The most striking aspect of Republican behavior since their party's electoral triumph is a haughty assumption that the voters rejected everything Obama represents and that he ought to capitulate on all fronts right now. Anyone who fails to see things this way just doesn't "get" it.

So certain are the president's opponents that they and only they represent the will of the nation that they feel empowered to undercut Obama even on issues related to our nation's security.

Take the effort of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) to block ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in the lame-duck session. In doing so, he is playing Russian roulette with our nation's interests.

The New START treaty shouldn't be controversial. It is supported by conservatives as varied in their views as Robert Kagan, a neoconservative interventionist, and Pat Buchanan, a paleo-conservative isolationist, not to mention such establishment Republican luminaries as James A. Baker III, Henry Kissinger and Sen. Richard Lugar.

If this treaty is not ratified, the only winner will be Vladimir Putin. Is Kyl, who on "Meet the Press" Sunday reiterated his desire to delay consideration of the treaty, really willing to risk giving Putin and anti-American forces in Russia a leg up?

You don't have to believe me on this. As Kagan wrote this month in The Post, defeat of the treaty will "strengthen Vladimir Putin," who would use its demise "to stir more anti-Western nationalism, further weakening an already weak [President Dmitry] Medvedev and anyone else who stands for a more pro-Western approach." It's not my habit to agree with Buchanan, but he's right in saying: "Killing the treaty would morally disarm those Russians who see their future with the West."
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And the Financial Times, hardly a left-wing newspaper, noted that Kyl's core arguments against the treaty are "so weak as to call into question Mr. Kyl's good faith." We don't need more time to consider it; the treaty has been debated for months. And the Obama administration has made a slew of concessions to Kyl to modernize our nuclear program. What, besides the identity of our current president, justifies this obstruction?

Then there's the uproar against intrusive security screening at our nation's airports, a controversy so evidently rooted in rants rather than reason that the central rallying cry of the critics has become "Don't touch my junk."

There's nothing wrong with a sensible debate over the best ways to prevent another terrorist attack and exactly how to balance liberty and security. But there's plenty wrong with the double standard that (1) blames Obama for violating the rights of airline passengers, and (2) would blame Obama for not taking sufficient steps to protect us if another attack happened. Compare the response of conservatives to this controversy with their fury at anyone who raised any questions about the anti-terror policies of George W. Bush's administration.

In pondering the GOP's current posture, I was reminded of the speech that the late Jeane Kirkpatrick gave to the 1984 Republican National Convention in which she famously condemned the "San Francisco Democrats," naming them after the very liberal and tolerant city where they had just held their convention. Kirkpatrick's refrain about the opposition, which brought uproarious approval from the crowd, went this way: "They always blame America first."

I am afraid that we are about to enter a two-year period in which the Beltway Republicans will always blame Obama's America first - you know, the America that is not the "real" America, the America that happens to disagree with much of the conservative agenda, the America from which they want to "take back" the country, as if the rest of us represent an alien force. If Obama and his America are for something, even if that something is in the nation's interest, it will be rejected out of hand.

In her speech, Kirkpatrick also noted: "The American people know that it's dangerous to blame ourselves for terrible problems that we did not cause." Yes, and it's also dangerous to blame a man and an administration for terrible problems they did not cause.

And what will Obama do about all this? Ronald Reagan, Kirkpatrick's hero, found a way to stand strong, to fight back and to win. We will soon know whether our current president has this in him.