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Obama Sidesteps Sestak and Birnbaum Questions: Is This Change We Voted For?

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Putting aside the legal issues, which I know nothing about as I am not a lawyer, there is an issue surrounding today’s answers by President Barack Obama at his first press conference in 10 months.

That is the president’s campaign pledge to change in the way Washington operates.

First up is President Obama’s response to Rep. Joe Sestak’s claim that he was offered a job by the administration to drop out of his primary battle with Sen. Arlen Specter. If the White House never made such an offer, Obama would have told reporters today that “no offer was every made Rep. Sestak, and unless the congressman can verify his claim somehow, I am confident that no crime was committed.”

Instead, we got what what was basically, “Let me get back to you on that one.” That signifies that the administration and Sestak campaign lawyers are busy crafting some kind of unified response to this mess. In addition, it signifies that something was indeed communicated to the congressman early on about a job in the administration.

That’s politics as usual in Washington. It’s dirty, and it’s winner-takes-all. It’s exactly that type of behavior that has led most Americans to despise Congress and the Washington elite. This is the type of activity the majority of Americans voted to reject in 2008. Obama brought in voters who normally do not cast ballots for Democrats, or even vote at all, on the premise of changing Washington’s business-as-usual atmosphere. This makes it look like the administration has failed miserably.

He also said he did not know if Elizabeth Birnbaum resigned or was fired as director of Minerals Management Services, the agency that has a major role in managing the federal government’s response to the Gulf oil tragedy. Yet he repeatedly said he was on top of the situation and that he was in charge.

How the heck can that happen? How can the guy in charge look so blind-sided?

Birnbaum was on the short rope for a week. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as recently as last week indicated that he was going to shake up the agency. Stephen Power of The Wall Street Journal wrote today after the press conference:

… he was breaking up the agency and dividing its duties across three new offices within the Interior Department. Ms. Birnbaum didn’t attend the announcement, and Mr. Salazar was noncommittal when asked what role she would have at the department going forward.

“Part of the reason I hired her is because she had no connection to industry,” Mr. Salazar said at the time. He added that she had brought “a fresh perspective” to the agency, but when asked what role she would have the department, he said only that “we’ll see.”

Ms. Birnbaum’s departure from the MMS comes as the agency is under intense scrutiny from lawmakers, some of whom have complained that her agency was too lax in setting and enforcing safety regulations on offshore oil and gas companies. A Wall Street Journal article earlier this month detailed how the agency had often deferred to the industry on decisions about what sorts of technologies or practices should be implemented to improve safety.

If the president is in charge and he’s on top of the situation, why didn’t anyone at Interior think about informing him of such a major move, and whether she was fired or resign? They had plenty of time, the press conference was after noon and the termination was in the morning.

The only two things on the president’s public schedule this morning were photo ops with the Duke basketball team, and with Bill Clinton and the U.S. World Cup Soccer team. Is basketball and soccer so important that he could not be interrupted for such a major change in the leadership of the federal response to the oil leak? Could no aide pull him aside for 15 minutes and tell him, “Mr. President, before you meet the press on national TV today on the oil spill, you might want to know that …”

Either the president is lying when he said the oil spill is the No. 1 focus of his administration, or his aides are really struggling with priorities. Either way, it certainly didn’t look like he was the guy in charge today.

And finally, after chastising the press for involving his family in politics during the campaign, he sure didn’t mind using his daughter today to try to convey how important this issue is to him. It seems OK to involve his daughters when he thinks it would benefit him politically.

Yes, today’s press conference was CYA all the way … Washington as usual.


Written by newscycle

May 27, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Posted in Birnbaum, BP, Obama, Sestak, Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

WaPo: For Obama, a changed tone in presidential humor

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Paul Farhi of the Washington Post had a great insight on last night’s annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in that President Obama, for the second year in a row, would not target himself as a butt of his own jokes. Other presidents have often used the event to diffuse ongoing political tensions.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute standup routine. (The jokes were unofficially credited Sunday to Axelrod, Jon Favreau and Tommy Vietor.)


Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama’s] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

Written by newscycle

May 2, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Taking Time Off From the Blog for a While

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I’m going to suspend posting for a while as family health issues are taking priority with my time. Thanks for all the support and well-wishes! I will return when life becomes normal once again.

For the latest newspaper industry layoff news, please take a look at Erica Smith’s Paper Cuts blog.

— Jeff

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April 16, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

POLITICO Arena: Alvin S. Felzenberg’s response to ‘Obama’s nuclear strategy – smart politics or unilateral disarmament?

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I always thought it unwise for presidents to tell actual or would-be aggressors in advance what they would or would not do in a warlike situation. I take it that, unlike Harry Truman, President Barack Obama would have tried to have defeated Imperial Japan — and the barbarism it wrought over so much of Asia and to U.S. troops and prisoners of war — by accepting hundreds of thousands of additional American casualties. What would Tom Hanks say to that?

Interestingly, Truman remains one of the few great presidents to whom Obama has not been compared. I think we now know why.

Alvin S. Felzenberg
Author, “The Leaders We Deserved

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April 6, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

POLITICO Arena: David Mark’s response to ‘Obama’s nuclear strategy – smart politics or unilateral disarmament?Plus, do the RNC’s troubles matter to voters?’

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April 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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March 22, 2010 at 6:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Sunday’s News Shows: It’s Biden vs. Cheney

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It was a matter of dueling vice presidents today as Joe Biden and Dick Cheney went after each other.

Written by newscycle

February 14, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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