Happy Monday folks. WORLD NEWS anchor Diane Sawyer was in DC today to talk with President Obama. That interview and other today news below………
PRESIDENT OBAMA-Diane Sawyer talked with President Obama today in Washington. It’s the sole television interview that Obama is doing prior to Wednesday’s State of the Union speech. Here’s some of what they talked about—–
–STATE OF THE UNION/JOBS-What will the President have to offer Wednesday night concerning jobs? Earlier today, the President vowed more help for the middle class. Yunji de Nies wrote: “The President said the White House Middle Class task force, which includes members of his economic team and policy teams, had come up with a number of ideas to tackle those problems, including nearly doubling the child and dependent care tax credit for middle class families making under $85,000; caps on student loan repayments; requiring employers to offer IRA deductions; expanding tax credits to match retirement savings.” Sawyer noted that Republicans are already out dismissing what the President will offer up on Wednesday concerning jobs. The President suggested “that they save the rebuttal for after the speech. They haven’t really heard what we’re proposing.” So what is the President proposing? While he was mum on additional specifics (“I’ll let you guys judge whether it’s surprising or not”), he offered the following: “We’re going to talk about how we can first of all focus on job creation and growth. I’ve met with the Republicans by the way, several weeks ago. So I have their ideas. I know what they’re proposing. And some of the things we propose are things that actually should get some strong bipartisan support.”
–BERNANKE-The embattled Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has the President’s full support…President Obama told Sawyer “He has my strongest support. I think he’s done a good job.” Sawyer mentioned two Bernanke critics in the Senate-Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Sawyer: “Barbara Boxer said we need a representative of Main Street.” Obama disagreed: “What we need is somebody at the Federal Reserve who can make sure that the progress that we’ve made in stabilizing the economy continues. And I think Bernanke is the best person for that job.”
–TAXES-Sawyer asked the President about taxes-“can you guarantee (the American people) still that there will be no taxes on anybody who makes under $250K? Obama: “I can guarantee that the worst think we could do would be to raise taxes when the economy is still this weak.”
–HEALTH CARE/TRANSPARENCY-Sawyer asked about the health care process and transparency, and mentioned the deals brokered with Nebraska and Florida in Congress. President Obama clarified: “I didn’t make a bunch of deals. There is a legislative process that is taking place in Congress and I am happy to own up to the fact that I have not changed Congress and how it operates the way I would have liked.” President Obama continues: “I think it is important to note that the promises we made about increased transparency, we’ve executed here in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
–PRESIDENT OBAMA/WHY I CAME TO THE WHITE HOUSE-Sawyer asked the President whether he had given thought to a single term-the President responded that “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president. And I…believe that.” As for what issues the President would continue to push, he noted “I will not slow down in terms of going after the big problems that this country faces.” The President continued that his easiest course would be “to go slow bore, avoid controversy”. It might increase his poll numbers, Obama noted, but “you’re not solving problems that are vital to making sure the American dream continues for the next generation. And I don’t want to look back on my time here and say to myself ‘all I was concerned about was nurturing my own popularity.’ That’s not why I came.”
–After excerpts of the interview ran, Sawyer turned to Jake Tapper and Jon Karl for their thoughts-Sawyer asked Tapper “what did you hear from the President?”
Tapper: “That he’s not going to do really anything all that different except to try to communicate better. I spoke with David Plouffe who is his 2008 campaign manager whose been brought in to help run the political operation at the Democratic National Committee and Plouffe told me that healthcare has become a caricature. If Democrats walk away from it now, they will get all of the downside and none of the upside. Another senior administration official told me that they see the problem here is that the American people look at Washington, look at President Obama, what he’s doing, and they don’t see how it has anything to do with their daily lives so you’re going to see the president out at least once a week. On Thursday he’s going to go to Tampa, Florida with Vice President Biden and he’s going to try to connect with the American people, let them know how what he’s doing affects them.”
Sawyer turned to Karl to talk about jobs and noted “it looks as if the president’s party is trying to get the jump, even outstrip him on jobs.”
Karl: “Absolutely. The Democrats here, especially in the senate, are not going to wait for any proposals from the White House. I am told that the Senate Democratic leadership tomorrow will present a jobs bill. Could be as high as 90 billion dollars, to the rank and file democratic senators, saying this is what we need to do now. They don’t want to walk away from healthcare at this point. Some of them want to run away. They say the issue that matters most, the issue we’ve got to get back to is the economy and that’s what we’re looking for from the president.”
POTUS BUDGET: Jake Tapper has provided a preview of the President’s budget for Fiscal Year 2011, which will be released next week (Feb. 1): “President Obama will propose a three-year hard freeze on non-security discretionary spending, to last from 2011 through 2013. This will save $250 billion over the next decade, senior administration officials told reporters. By 2015, non-security discretionary spending will be at its lowest level as a component of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product in 50 years. Senior administration officials acknowledged that various government officials were protesting the potential cuts and freezes in their budgets and favored projects, but wouldn’t go into detail. ‘Tune in Monday’ when the budget is released, an official said. The base level of non-security discretionary spending for Fiscal Year 2010 is $477 billion. From 2011 through 2013, a senior administration official said, spending ‘will be no higher than that.’” The administration notes that security-related spending will not be impacted by the freeze. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
HAITI-Unfortunately, nearly two weeks after Haiti’s devastating earthquake, the need still dwarves the aid available. Take shelter for instance. We’ve noted upwards of 1.5 million homeless…what’s being done to house these people? David Wright, reporting from Haiti for WORLD NEWS, tried to get a look today at one such location: “The UN’s first refugee camp at Croix de Bouquet is meant to house 30 thousand….They wouldn’t let us film there. Because they’re just building it. You can see from the road—no tents yet.” What about those folks in need of food and water? Wright: “The UN estimates that 500 thousand people have received food rations. But 2 million need it.” Wright noted how difficult a process it seems to be-“Today at the main port, the Columbian Red Cross unloaded boxes of food and water one at a time. The port is too damaged to handle big ships. They figure unloading 4 tons from just this one ship will take 35 days.”
Kirit Radia got the following information from a State Department briefing this afternoon:
–AMERICAN FATALITIES-“59 American citizens now killed in Haiti quake-55 private citizens 1 US official, PLUS 3 family members of a US official (*this part is new*) 37 additional deaths that may be American, embassy looking to confirm citizenship”
–SEARCH AND RESCUE-134 people rescued by Search and Rescue teams from around the world (most are Haitian). Includes 47 rescued by US teams. Search and rescue efforts continue.
–AMERICAN EVACUATIONS/HAITIAN ORPHANS/OTHER-11,500 Americans and their family members evacuated from Haiti.
363 Haitian orphans brought to the US….“a few hundred more” in the pipeline.
17,000 or so Americans on file with the State Dept… 2/3rd of them have been found, about 4,000 outstanding cases.
459 humanitarian paroles awarded to Haitian citizens.”
CT SCANS: Doctors are pushing for increased safety standards for CT scans, which are used regularly to diagnose illnesses in patients. John McKenzie reported on some of the discrepancies found in using the scanners for WORLD NEWS: “Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman reviewed the CT images of a thousand patients at four of San Francisco’s largest hospitals and found the radiation doses varied wildly. Some patients received 20 times more radiation than others…the same type of test, even within the same hospital…radiologists, eager to get the clearest picture possible can order higher doses of radiation, and few hospitals bother to check.” In addition, McKenzie reports that the radiation levels on CT scanners are not clearly displayed. Critics say these types of irregularities lead to accidental radiation overdoses, including the incident in Los Angeles last year where more than 300 patients accidentally got 8 times more radiation than prescribed. “These accidents are considered rare,” McKenzie reports, “but experts say patients should ask their doctor whether tests or treatments using radiation are really needed; that they be done using the lowest radiation levels possible; and that the doctor check the does actually given throughout a patient’s history.” (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
HOME SALES-A drop in existing home sales was anticipated for December…just not such a large drop. Dan Arnall: “According to data compiled by the National Association of Realtors, existing homes sold at an annual rate of 5.45 million units, 16.7% lower than the November level. But the dip was larger than the consensus expectations – economists were betting on a 5.9 million unit pace for last month.”
But it wasn’t all bad news-Arnall tells us:
“The big drop in the sales pace didn’t push us into negative territory from the year prior – the sales pace was up 15% from December 2008. And, the median price for homes purchased in December was $178,300, up 1.5% from the median price a year ago.”
KERRIGAN’S FATHER DIES: The family of figure skater Nancy Kerrigan has asked for privacy following the death of her father, Daniel. Kerrigan’s brother Mark pleaded not guilty to assaulting Daniel Sunday at the family’s home. Daniel died shortly after the disturbance. Authorities are waiting for autopsy results to determine the cause of his death. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
YEMEN/AL-AWLAKI-So what’s the US doing about Anwar al-Awlaki? Brian Ross/Richard Esposito/Matthew Cole report “White House lawyers are mulling the legality of proposed attempts to kill an American citizen, Anwar al Awlaki, who is believed to be part of the leadership of the al Qaeda group in Yemen behind a series of terror strikes, according to two people briefed by U.S. intelligence officials. One of the people briefed said opportunities to ‘take out’ Awlaki ‘may have been missed’ because of the legal questions surrounding a lethal attack which would specifically target an American citizen. A spokesperson said the White House declined to comment.”
Luis Martinez talked with a senior military official today about Yemen and the whereabouts of Anwar al-Awlaki. What we can report, attributable to a senior military official: “(Anwar al-Awlaki) is in Yemen. He has been a significant element in the reestablishment of al Qaeda in Yemen. He has been very active, of course, in cyberspace. You’ll recall that’s how Maj. Hasan contacted him and I do believe that he had contact with the Detroit Bomber,” who’d spent several months in Yemen before leaving in mid-December for Africa enroute to Detroit. “He is an important leader within al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In the sense more of a spiritual leader, but nonetheless an important leader.”
The official says Yemen seems “quite determined in going after al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula element” in particular some of the group’s leadership noting that recent airstrikes targeting leaders were based on actual intelligence. He characterized the airstrikes as “operations of significance, two of them in direct response to the threats that led to the closure of the US embassy in Sanaa. He said the release of video footage of President Saleh’s recent meeting with Gen. Petraeus on January 2nd is another sign of Yemen’s commitment to take on AQAP given that it was made available to Arab TV outlets an hour after the meeting took place. Quite a surprise, said the official, given that the US side thought the meeting was secret. Also quite a change from a previous meeting in July where the official doubted Arabian news outlets would have even been made aware of the meeting.”
–HOPE FOR HAITI TELETHON-MTV sent out a press release on Friday’s “Hope For Haiti” telethon which read in part: ““Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief,” drew a cumulative audience of more than 83 million viewers and a gross average audience of more than 24 million viewers in the United States, according to Nielsen Media Research. The telethon has now raised more than $61 million in donations from the general public to date.” (Dave Alpert)
–2010 CENSUS-Counting for the 2010 Census began today in a remote Alaska village…Noorvik (the Dixville Notch of Census Takings?). It’s supposed to have a population around 650.