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December 31, 2012

Middle class Americans?

President Obama delivered remarks today on the pending fiscal crisis before an audience that the White House described as being comprised of "middle class Americans."

They filled the South Court Auditorium in the Executive Office Building and lustily cheered on the president, giving his appearance something of a campaign air.

But the White House wouldn't provide their occupations, incomes and whether or not they actually qualify as middle class taxpayers, saying they hadn't run the background checks. The audience members came to the attention of the White House by participating in Obama's call to tweet -- with the hashtag #my2k -- what they'd do with $2,000 -- the estimated pricetag for middle class Americans should the Bush-era tax hikes expire.

Obama earlier this month participated in a live Twitter q and a, using the hashtag. The White House has said that more than 250,000 people had sent my2k tweets.

New Year's Eve at the White House

With no deal yet on averting a fiscal cliff, President Obama told a crowd at the White House he'll be celebrating the New Year in DC -- rather than in Hawaii, as he had planned.

"They are close, but they're not there yet," Obama said of negotiators. "And one thing we can count on with respect to this Congress is that if there's even one second left before you have to do what you're supposed to do they will use that last second.  So, as of this point, it looks like I'm going to be spending New Year’s here in D.C."

The crowd gave him a sympathetic "Aww!"  And Obama noted they'd be "hanging out in D.C., too."

He laughed as someone invited him over, saying, "I can come to your house?  Is that what you said? I don't want to spoil the party."

One woman responded:  "You are the party."  In closing, Obama noted, "If I don't see you, if I don't show up at your house, I want to wish everybody a Happy New Year. "                  

Republicans pan Obama's performance

Republicans took issue with President Obama's remarks today, with his 2008 Republican opponent accusing him of "cheerleading" as the nation faces a fiscal crisis.

Speaking from the Senate floor, McCain said he's watched presidents since Reagan during crises and that Obama led a "a cheerleading, ridiculing of Republicans' exercise in speaking to the American people."

He said Obama had poked at Republicans, "made a couple of jokes, laughed about how people are going to be here for New Year's, sent a message of confrontation to the Republicans, I believe he said 'If they think they're going to do that, they've got another think coming.' "

Obama: A deal is in the making, but there's still work to do

With a New Year's Eve deadline looming closer by the minute, President Obama said Monday that a potential deal is "within sight," but isn't done yet.

He said there's been "progress" in the Senate, and "there are still issues left to resolve, but we're hopeful that Congress can get it done. But it's not done."

He provided no details, but spoke broadly, saying the agreement would extend middle class tax breaks, along with tuition tax credits and unemployment insurance.

Speaking before a crowd that cheered lustily for him and gave him a standing ovation, he took a few swipes at Congress, saying he would've preferred a grand bargain to resolve a number of issues, "but with this Congress, that was obviously a little too much to hope for at this time."

And he added of Congress, noting the lateness of the hour, "If there's even one second left they'll use that second."

Hagel gets some bipartisan support

A group of former Democratic and Republican officials has written an open letter to President Obama, offering "strong support" for the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel -- a possible Defense Secretary nominee facing a backlash for his past remarks on Israel and gays.

The members of the Bipartisan Group who signed the letter -- which appeared in today's Washington Post -- say "no one has been more steadfast in supporting America's commitment to Israel's security than has Senator Hagel."

They said they're writing to Obama to support Hagel "because we believe our polarized political life is much in need of leaders with the kind of bipartisanship and independence of conscience and mind that Chuck Hagel's service to our country has exemplified."

Obama said in a televised interview Sunday that he's not seen anything that would disqualify Hagel, though he's not yet made a decision about filling the post.

December 30, 2012

Clinton hospitalized with blood clot

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was admitted to a hospital Sunday after doctors discovered a blood clot stemming from the concussion she sustained earlier this month.

Clinton, 65, suffered a concussion after falling early this month while she recovered from a stomach virus, her spokesman said. The clot was discovered during a follow-up exam Sunday, Philippe Reines said.

Clinton canceled a Dec. 20 appearance before Congress about a report into the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Some critics suggested she faked her illness to avoid testifying. 

She will spend at least two days at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. The former first lady and senator announced she would step down during President Obama's second term. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. will replace her. 

A prayer and a message for the Senate on fiscal cliff

You can always  get a sense of the gravity of a situation in the Senate by the opening  prayer that Dr. Barry Black, the chamber's chaplain, delivers. And Sunday, as the Senate and House returned to work in hopes of avoiding the fiscal cliff, was no exception.

"As we gather this weekend with so much work left undone, guide our lawmakers with you wisdom," Black prayed. "Show them the right thing to do and give them the courage to do it. Be their shelter in the midst of the storm, regardless of how high the waters rise. When they feel exhausted, remind them of the great sufficiency of your grace."

He added: "Look with favor on our nation and save us from self-inflicted wounds. We pray in your great name. Amen."

Obama defends potential Defense appointee Chuck Hagel

President Obama says he hasn't made a decision about who'll serve as Defense Secretary, but said he's not found anything to disqualify former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a leading contender who has come under fire.

Obama in an interview on Meet the Press called Hagel "a patriot, he is somebody who has done extraordinary work in the U.S Senate. He is somebody who has served this country with valor in Vietnam."

Hagel has come under fire for his statements on Israel and gays. On Friday, Hagel issued an apology for remarks he made in 1998 about a gay ambassadorial nominee, saying they “do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record.”

Obama called the apology a "testimony" to changing views about gays and lesbians over the past decade.

But South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham said on Fox News Sunday that "there would be very little Republican support for his nomination. At the end of the day, they will be very few votes."

Obama on Benghazi: There was "some sloppiness"

President Obama said the review of the attack in Benghazi identified some "severe problems" in protecting U.S. embassies -- and pledged to fix it.

"We're going to solve this, we're not going to be defensive about it, we're not going to pretend that this was not a problem, this was a huge problem," Obama said on Meet the Press, saying his administration would follow every recommendation suggested by the review panel that found serious security shortcomings. 

He said the review found "some sloppiness, not intentional," in how embassies were secured in areas where the U.S. can't rely on the foreign government.

He said the U.S. has "some very good leads" on the suspects, but wouldn't elaborate. And he defended Susan Rice, his UN ambassador who withdrew her name from consideration as Secretary of State, saying calling Republican criticism of her TV appearance after the Benghazi attack, a "politically motivated attack on her."

Obama pledges to put "full weight" behind gun measures

President Obama didn't name gun control as a top priority in his list for his second term, but pledged to put his "full weight" behind gun control measures, saying he believes after the Newtown shooting -- "the worst day of my presidency" -- that "something fundamental in America has to change."

Obama said he's supported an assault rifle ban, banning high capacity clips and background checks and that gun control is something he'd like to get done "in the first year."

He said he plans a "very specific proposal" based on recommendations that vice president Joe Biden's task force is putting together.

"This is not something that I will be putting off," he said. Obama acknowledged it wouldn't be easy -- given opposition from gun owners and the National Rifle Association -- which has said gun control measures like the 1994 assault weapons ban didn't work.

"My response is 'Something has to work," Obama said. "It is not enough for us to say, 'This is too hard, so we're not going to try.' "

Continue reading "Obama pledges to put "full weight" behind gun measures " »

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

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