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July 31, 2012

White House apologizes to columnist: We overshot the runway

White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer has apologized to Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer for labeling as "ridiculous" his assertion that a bust of Winston Churchill was returned to the British Embassy when Obama took office.

Pfeiffer wrote on the blog tonight that "there was clearly an internal confusion about the two busts and there was no intention to deceive. I clearly overshot the runway in my post."

Pfeiffer in a scathing post on Friday rejected suggestions that the president had returned the bust, and said it remained in the White House residence. But that was the original bust. A second bust -- loaned to George W. Bush while the first bust was getting a touch up -- was returned to the British Embassy after the inauguration.

Pfeiffer said he was trying to illustrate that "this oft repeated talking point about the bust being a symbol of President Obama’s failure to appreciate the special relationship is false. The bust that was returned was returned as a matter of course with all the other artwork that had been loaned to President Bush for display in his Oval Office and not something that President Obama or his Administration chose to do. I still think this is an important point and one I wish I had communicated better."

He continued, "A better understanding of the facts on my part and a couple of deep breaths at the outset would have prevented this situation."

Krauthammer noted in a tweet: "The Churchill-bust affair, finale: the White House issues an apology and correction. Apology accepted. http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog"

Democratic convention lineup to include Bill Clinton, Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama

And the first Latino keynote speaker at a Democratic National Convention: San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Castro will speak at the convention’s opening night on Sept. 4, at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte. Vice President Joe Biden will speak on Sept. 6 and former President Bill Clinton will deliver the nominating speech on Sept. 5 -- a decision that Republicans mocked, noting Clinton's past criticism of Obama. There's also the prospect of Obama's economic record looking anemic in comparison to the Clinton years.

The White House has dismissed those worries, with deputy press secretary Josh Earnest telling reporters that "what ultimately you’re going to find is President Clinton is going to reinforce the message that President Obama himself will be laying out a day or two later, which is his belief that if we’re going to strengthen our economy over the long term, we need to do it by strengthening the middle class, by investing in the middle class, and growing our economy from the middle out."

Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren will speak just before Clinton. 

Romney returning from Poland, creates Polish-Americans for Romney

Mitt Romney's trying to build some momentum with the Polish-American community.

He left Warsaw Tuesday afternoon after visiting some of the city's historic sites and delivering a speech at Warsaw University, reaffirming his strong belief that the U.S.-Polish alliance should be strong.

As he headed home, the Republican presidential candidate's campaign announced "Polish-Americans for Romney.

Heading the effort are former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, rumored to be a potential Romney running-mate, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Dan Benishek of Michigan.


White House hails Senate-House deal to keep the government running

The White House is hailing a deal between congressional leaders to avoid a government shutdown, calling the agreement to keep operations running at least through the first quarter of 2013 a "welcome development."

The White House says Obama has made it clear that the bill should stick "to the funding levels agreed to by both parties last year, and not include ideological or extraneous policy riders. The President will work with leaders in both parties to sign a bill that accomplishes these goals."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the bill -- which will be voted on in September -- would "provide stability for the coming months." And he said it would help lawmakers deal with a bigger looming problem: how to avoid severe automatic spending cuts that are due to take place in January.

"This is very good because we can resolve these critical issues that directly affect the country as soon as the election is over and move on to do good things," Reid said. "It puts this out of the way, and that's very important."

White House counters Netanyahu on Iran sanctions

With Mitt Romney accusing the Obama administration of being soft on Iran (though he's not proposed doing substantially more), the White House today announced new measures it says are designed to strengthen efforts to "pressure and isolate" the Iranian government for not meeting international obligations.

The Romney campaign responded by sending along Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks that "all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota. And that's why I believe that we need a strong and credible military threat coupled with the sanctions to have a chance to change that situation."

The administration contends the sanctions have had an effect on the Iranian economy that will hamper its ability to run a nuclear program.

"It's only going to get worse for the Iranian government," Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, told reporters. "We have thrown the book at the Iranian government, we are determined to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

But Rhodes said the administration shares Netanyahu's "concern that the Iranian government has not yet made a decision" to drop any nuclear ambitions.

The new measures include a new executive order that imposes new sanctions against the Iranian energy and petrochemical sectors. Its designed to deter Iran from establishing payment mechanisms for the purchase of Iranian oil to circumvent existing sanctions, and utilizes the existing structure of the sanctions law, including exceptions for significant reductions in the purchase of Iranian oil.  

And the administration has taken what it says is a"significant step" to hold responsible institutions that "knowingly enable financial transactions for designated Iranian banks." The Treasury Department today imposed sanctions on Bank of Kunlun in China and Elaf Islamic Bank in Iraq under a 2010 sanctions law. It said both "have facilitated transactions worth millions of dollars on behalf of Iranian banks that are subject to sanctions for their links to Iran’s illicit proliferation activities."

Obama likens politicians to kids in college

At a New York fundraiser last night, President Obama joked that a friend described being friends with a politician as "perpetually having somebody in college -- every so often you have to write this check."

"Fortunately," he added, "I'm about to graduate. So this is it, guys."

"So you’re not going to call us for the library?," one donor called out.

"No, no, no," Obama replied. "Somebody else will make that call."

Obama told the crowd, which included Clinton-era deputy Treasury secretary and investment banker Roger Altman and billionaire hedge fund manager Marc Lasry, that his campaign is being "outspent substantially" by Republicans and that super PACs "are engaging in an experience we have not seen in America democracy for quite some time. They are spending like nobody's business, mostly on negative ads."

But Obama -- who has aired his fair share of negative ads -- defended the tone: "When people start saying how terrible it is I just have to remind them that take a look at what Jefferson and Adams had to say about each other, and democracy has always been pretty rough and pretty messy."

Republicans sent out an email suggesting hypocrisy and saying that it's Obama who "is regularly on the stump pointing fingers at Republicans for negative ads and 2) approves and pre-screens his campaign ads."

Romney praises Poland as example of freedom, economic vitality

Mitt Romney wrapped up his foreign trip Tuesday with a rousing address to Poland’s foreign policy
community, praising the country’s economy and its commitment to freedom and insisting
it should be a model for the world.

“Rather than heeding the false promise of a government-dominated economy, Poland sought to stimulate innovation, attract investment, expand trade, and live within its means,” the Republican
presidential candidate said in remarks prepared for delivery. “Your successtoday is a reminder that the principles of free enterprise can propel an economy and transform a society.”

Romney traced Poland’s recent history, and found it offered hope for other nations.

“Unfortunately, there are parts of the world today where the desire to be free is met with brutal oppression: Just to the east of here, the people of Belarus suffer under the oppressive weight of dictatorship,” Romney was to tell an audience of about 400 people at the University of Warsaw Library.

The speech was to be his last major event of a six-day trip that’s taken him to Great Britain and Israel. Each stop has generated controversy—he questioned the British preparation for the Olympics, and angered Palestinian officials by suggesting Israel’s culture helped it prosper.

In Poland, controversy has been minimal. Early Tuesday, traveling press secretary Rick Gorka angrily told a reporter to “shove it,” and told another to “kiss my ass,” when they tried to shout questions at Romney after a ceremony at the solemn Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Gorka later

The day’s main event was the Romney address.

“The Arab world is undergoing a historic upheaval, one that holds promise, but also risk and uncertainty. A ruthless dictator in Syria has killed thousands of his own people. In Latin America, Hugo Chavez leads a movement characterized by authoritarianism and repression.  Nations in Africa are fighting to resist the threat of violent radical jihadism.  And in Russia, once-promising advances toward a free and open society have faltered,” he said.

But, Romney added, “In a turbulent world, Poland stands as an example and defender of freedom.”

He noted that Poland “went from foreign domination to the proud and independent nation you are today. And now, for both our nations, the challenge is to be worthy of this
legacy as we find a way forward.  The false gods of the all-powerful state claim the allegiance of a lonely few.  It is for us, in this generation and beyond, to show all the world what free people and free economies can achieve for the good of all.”

That economy, Romney said, should serve as a beacon to the world.

“From the depths of those dark times, this nation’s steady rise is a shining example of the prosperity that economic opportunity can bring,” he said. “Your nation has moved from a state monopoly over the economy, price controls, and severe trade restrictions to a culture of entrepreneurship,
greater fiscal responsibility, and international trade.”

“The world should pay close attention to the transformation of Poland’s economy. A march toward economic liberty and smaller government has meant a march toward higher living standards, a strong military that defends liberty at home and abroad, and an important and growing role on the
international stage. “


Romney press spokesman: "Shove it"

Morning tension in the Romney press corps....

After a solemn ceremony at Warsaw's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, reporters tried shouting questions at Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Romney, who has had no media availabilities on his six day foreign trip since Thursday, ignored the questions, which included some about the gaffes and controversies that have marred his visits to Great Britain and Israel.

Traveling Press Secretary Rick Gorka, though, was livid that reporters would ask such questions at such a site.

"Show some respect," he said. "Kiss my ass. This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect."

He also told a reporter to "Shove it."

Gorka later apologized to the reporters for using such language.


July 30, 2012

White House: Nothing to offer on Poland?

The White House made it a point to offer President Obama's full confidence in the UK after Mitt Romney ticked off the nation by questioning its readiness for the Olympics.

And as Romney arrived in Israel later in the week, the White House had Obama sign a U.S.-Israel security alliance and announce $70 million in new funding for its Iron Dome.

So with Romney now in Poland, is the White House planning anything Polish-related this week, reporters asked White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

"Not that I have for you right now," Earnest said to laughter. "Thanks for the question."

Poll: No shift in public opinion on gun control, post Colorado shooting

A new Pew poll finds "no significant change in public views on the issue of gun control and gun rights following the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado."

The poll says 47 percent say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 46 percent say it's more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns -- virtually unchanged from April, when 45 percent prioritized gun control, compared to 49 percent for gun rights.

Pew says other recent "major episodes of gun violence, such as the 2011 Tucson shooting and the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, also had little effect on public opinion about gun laws.


"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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