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Reading made Don Quixote a gentleman. Believing what he read made him mad. – George Bernard Shaw

January 19, 2009
tags:

Pooh

One should absorb the colour of life, but one should never remember its details. Details are always vulgar.
Oscar Wilde
Good morning. This is Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a day that President-elect Barack Obama is urging be set aside for community service. There is information at USAService.org on activities going on across the nation. The president-elect and his wife Michelle are planning to have lunch today with community service volunteers in the Washington, D.C., area. Inauguration Day, of course, is less than 24 hours away. Tonight, the Democratic president-elect is due at bipartisan dinners honoring Republican Sen. John McCain, former secretary of State Colin Powell (a Republican) and Vice President-elect Joe Biden. Meanwhile, here are some of the stories making headlines:

USA TODAY — Obama’s first steps will include ordering plans for pullout from Iraq: “The incoming administration is signaling what steps Obama will take when the inaugural festivities are over. On his first full day in office, he will order military leaders to begin planning the pullout of most combat troops from Iraq within 16 months, as promised during the campaign, adviser David Axelrod said on ABC’s This Week. During Obama’s first full week a

Obama seeks McCain’s advice; aides to get right to work

Good morning. This is Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a day that President-elect Barack Obama is urging be set aside for community service. There is information at USAService.org on activities going on across the nation. The president-elect and his wife Michelle are planning to have lunch today with community service volunteers in the Washington, D.C., area.

Inauguration Day, of course, is less than 24 hours away. Tonight, the Democratic president-elect is due at bipartisan dinners honoring Republican Sen. John McCain, former secretary of State Colin Powell (a Republican) and Vice President-elect Joe Biden.

Meanwhile, here are some of the stories making headlines:

USA TODAY — Obama’s first steps will include ordering plans for pullout from Iraq: “The incoming administration is signaling what steps Obama will take when the inaugural festivities are over. On his first full day in office, he will order military leaders to begin planning the pullout of most combat troops from Iraq within 16 months, as promised during the campaign, adviser David Axelrod said on ABC’s This Week. During Obama’s first full week as president, he will issue executive orders to begin the process of closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay and to tighten ethics rules for the new administration, press secretary Robert Gibbs said on Fox News Sunday.”

Related story by Politico — Key Obama aides will be heading right to work: “Vans will be poised at the Capitol to take a few top aides of Barack Obama’s to their new offices at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. as soon as he is sworn in, transition aides told Politico. About 20 senior officials have had their paperwork cleared to enter the White House complex on Tuesday. Some will attend a traditional lunch with the new president in the Capitol, then get to work while the inaugural parade is under way. The quick start on Tuesday is indicative of the months of planning that Obama’s transition team has put into preparing for his opening days in office.”

The New York Times — Obama seeks McCain’s counsel: “Over the last three months, (President-elect Barack) Obama has quietly consulted (Republican presidential nominee Sen. John) McCain about many of the new administration’s potential nominees to top national security jobs and about other issues — in one case relaying back a contender’s answers to questions Mr. McCain had suggested. Mr. McCain, meanwhile, has told colleagues ‘that many of these appointments he would have made himself,’ said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and a close McCain friend. Fred I. Greenstein, emeritus professor of politics at Princeton, said: ‘I don’t think there is a precedent for this. Sometimes there is bad blood, sometimes there is so-so blood, but rarely is there good blood.’ “

Obama Reaches Out for McCain’s Counsel

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Senator John McCain has been courted by President-elect Barack Obama.

WASHINGTON — Not long after Senator John McCain returned last month from an official trip to Iraq and Pakistan, he received a phone call from President-elect Barack Obama.

As contenders for the presidency, the two had hammered each other for much of 2008 over their conflicting approaches to foreign policy, especially in Iraq. (He’d lose a war! He’d stay a hundred years!) Now, however, Mr. Obama said he wanted Mr. McCain’s advice, people in each camp briefed on the conversation said. What did he see on the trip? What did he learn?

It was just one step in a post-election courtship that historians say has few modern parallels, beginning with a private meeting in Mr. Obama’s transition office in Chicago just two weeks after the vote. On Monday night, Mr. McCain will be the guest of honor at a black-tie dinner celebrating Mr. Obama’s inauguration.

Over the last three months, Mr. Obama has quietly consulted Mr. McCain about many of the new administration’s potential nominees to top national security jobs and about other issues — in one case relaying back a contender’s answers to questions Mr. McCain had suggested.

Mr. McCain, meanwhile, has told colleagues “that many of these appointments he would have made himself,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and a close McCain friend.

Fred I. Greenstein, emeritus professor of politics at Princeton, said: “I don’t think there is a precedent for this. Sometimes there is bad blood, sometimes there is so-so blood, but rarely is there good blood.”

It is “trademark Obama,” Professor Greenstein said, noting that Mr. Obama’s impulse to win over even ideological opposites appeared to date at least to his friendships with conservatives on The Harvard Law Review when he was president.

For Mr. Obama, cooperation with his defeated opponent could also provide a useful ally in the Senate, where Mr. McCain has parlayed his national popularity and go-his-own-way reputation into a role as a pivotal dealmaker over the last eight years. But on the subject of Iraq, in particular, their collaboration could also raise questions among Mr. Obama’s liberal supporters, many of whom demonized Mr. McCain as a dangerous warmonger because of his staunch opposition to a pullout.

Mr. Obama arrived for their Chicago meeting on Nov. 16 with several well-researched proposals to collaborate on involving some of Mr. McCain’s favorite causes, including a commission to cut “corporate welfare,” curbing waste in military procurement and an overhaul of immigration rules.

“The corporate welfare commission and military acquisition reform are two things the president-elect wants to do very soon,” Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff and a participant in the meeting, said in an interview. The new administration is already preparing to introduce legislation echoing a previous McCain bill on the commission idea, Mr. Emanuel said, adding, “We have been very respectful and solicitous of his ideas.”

Mr. Emanuel said he did not remember any discussion of Iraq. “Barack has been clear that he is going to stick to his responsible reduction in forces, and he hasn’t changed from that,” he said.

But Mr. Graham, who accompanied Mr. McCain to the meeting, said Mr. Obama took a notably different tone toward Iraq than he had during the campaign, emphasizing the common ground in their views.

“He said that he understands that we had differences but he wanted to let us know that he also understands that we have got to be responsible in how we leave Iraq,” Mr. Graham recalled. “What the Obama-Biden administration has talked about is not losing the gains we have achieved. ”

He added, “Obama does not want to be the guy who lost Iraq when it is close to being won.”

Mr. Emanuel, whose only previous contact with Mr. Graham was negotiating the terms of the presidential debates, began calling him more than once a week to follow up. “Constantly,” Mr. Emanuel said. “There has been a running dialogue.”

Mr. Graham, in turn, called his counterpart “a pleasure to do business with.”

Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., a friend since Mr. McCain was the Navy’s liaison to the Senate three decades ago, has also played intermediary. He called Mr. McCain to ask him to appear at the inaugural dinner, and he invited Mr. Graham on another recent trip to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I know the vice president-elect is very concerned about the end game in Iraq,” Mr. Graham said.

Some Senate Democrats have complained that Mr. Obama failed to seek their contributions about certain appointments — notably Leon E. Panetta as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. But the Obama transition team has consistently sought advice and feedback from Mr. McCain, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, on national security appointments, Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Graham both said.

Mr. Graham said Mr. McCain had enthusiastically supported those appointments: Gen. James L. Jones (an old McCain friend) as national security adviser; Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the retired Army chief of staff, as secretary of veterans affairs; Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state; and most of all, retaining Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

“Picking Gates is a good statement that they are not going to pull out of Iraq in a way that undercuts the gains achieved,” Mr. Graham said.

And when Mr. McCain raised “concerns” about the potential choice of Adm. Dennis C. Blair as director of national intelligence, Mr. Emanuel said, Mr. Obama’s advisers asked the admiral to provide answers to Mr. McCain’s questions to win his support. (Neither side would disclose the details of Mr. McCain’s concerns, but Admiral Blair has faced past questions about his relations with the military dictators of Indonesia when he was in the Navy, and a possible conflict of interest when he later worked with a nonprofit group evaluating weapons systems.)

“We gave McCain time to talk through it, made sure he was briefed,” Mr. Emanuel said.

Mr. Obama’s cultivation of Mr. McCain is a stark contrast with the practices of past presidents. After the 2004 election, President Bush did not talk to his defeated opponent, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, until Mr. Kerry visited the White House in March 2005 as part of a large group to celebrate the Red Sox victory in the World Series. (“I like to see Senator Kerry,” Mr. Bush said, “except when we’re fixing to debate.”) And after Mr. Bush defeated Mr. McCain for the Republican nomination in 2000, the two had only perfunctory contact and often-adversarial relations for nearly two years.

Shortly before his second inauguration, former President Bill Clinton awarded his defeated opponent, Bob Dole, the Medal of Freedom. But it was an entirely ceremonial event. (Mr. Dole joked that had hoped to be at the White House picking up “the front door key” instead.)

A spokeswoman for Mr. McCain did not respond to several messages. But Mr. Graham said he and Mr. McCain were convinced that Mr. Obama was genuinely interested in working together with them on both domestic priorities and foreign policy.

“Not only is it good politics,” Mr. Graham said, “it gives you an insight into who we are dealing with.”

USA TODAY — Convergence of inauguration and King Day is one of those “grace notes of history:” “The pairing of King Day and Inauguration Day — when the nation’s first African-American president will look across the National Mall to where King in 1963 declared, ‘I have a dream!’ — raises a question: Is Obama the fulfillment of King’s dream? And what, exactly, was that dream? On Sunday, USA TODAY reporters visited four churches where King gave Sunday sermons in March 1968, during the last month of his life. … Preachers and congregants said King would be gratified by Obama’s inauguration — but not satisfied. ‘He’d say this is a great moment to celebrate, but we ought to hold the new president’s feet to the fire,’ said Samuel T. Lloyd III, dean of the National Cathedral.”

The Washington Post — First African-American president hopes to bridge differences: “Throughout his barrier-breaking presidential campaign, Barack Obama avoided calling direct attention to race, long a divisive force in electoral politics. But now, as he stands on the verge of becoming the nation’s first African American president, Obama is talking more about how his racial identity can unify and transform the country.” In an interview with the Post, Obama said that “he hopes to use his presidency as an example of how people can bridge differences — racial and otherwise. ‘What I hope to model is a way of interacting with people who aren’t like you and don’t agree with you that changes the temper of our politics,’ he said.”

ABC News — Rev. Wright says Obama is example of hope, then calls media “evil:” Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Chicago pastor who sparked campaign controversy over things he said about America in sermons at the church President-elect Barack Obama used to attend, delivered a sermon Sunday at Howard University in Washington during which he said Obama’s life underscores that the nation can build a better future. Then, in an interview with ABC, “Wright showed some … fire when he lashed out at the network for breaking the story of his inflammatory sermons, saying he was ‘not going to kiss anybody’s behind.’ “

USA TODAY — Big donors get great tickets to inauguration: ” President-elect Barack Obama, who has pledged to run a White House free of special-interest influence, is granting his biggest donors coveted tickets to his swearing-in Tuesday and other inaugural activities. Contributors who gave at least $10,000 to help underwrite the inauguration received two tickets to witness the Democrat take the oath of office, watch the Inaugural Parade and party at one of the 10 black-tie balls attended by Obama and his wife, Michelle. Those who gave $50,000 — or raised $300,000 from other contributors — received a total of four tickets to official inaugural activities. … Linda Douglass, a spokeswoman for Obama’s inaugural planning team, said donors will not have undue sway in the new administration. ‘The president-elect made it clear throughout his campaign that the people who have power in his campaign are the grass-roots,’ she said.”

Related story by The Wall Street Journal — Lobbyists find ways around rules: “Lobbyists and corporations have found an opening in the latest congressional-ethics law that allows them to pay for special access to lawmakers and members of the incoming Obama administration during next week’s … inaugural festivities. President-elect Barack Obama was a vocal champion of rules enacted last year that prohibit companies and lobbyists from buying anything worth more than $10 for lawmakers. But well-heeled interests have found a way to circumvent the ban by partnering with ‘state societies’ that are throwing parties to celebrate Mr. Obama’s inauguration.”

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