Political Notebook

President to sign national service act named for Kennedy

April 21, 2009
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President Obama plans today to sign a national service bill named for Senator Edward M. Kennedy, White House officials said.

The bill-signing event will take place at Washington's SEED School, a public school with students who face challenges in school and at home. Kennedy is expected to attend, along with former president Bill Clinton.

Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, championed the bill, which would increase the ranks of AmeriCorps to 250,000 slots over eight years and create five groups to help poor people, improve education, encourage energy efficiency, increase healthcare access, and assist veterans.

When Congress approved the legislation, Obama praised Kennedy's role, saying that "it is fitting that this legislation is named after Ted Kennedy, a person who has never stopped asking what he could do for his country."


Obama-Chávez handshake draws more Republican fire
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former vice president Dick Cheney yesterday joined the critics of President Obama's supposed chumminess with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez during the weekend at the Summit of the Americas.

"I think there is something fundamentally wrong with weakness in America, and then playing to placate dictators," Gingrich said on Fox News Channel. "This does look a lot like Jimmy Carter. Carter tried weakness and the world got tougher and tougher because the predators, the aggressors, the anti-Americans, the dictators, when they sense weakness, they all start pushing ahead."

Cheney, who has accused Obama of making America less safe with foreign policy reversals, said he is disturbed by how much Obama seems to be apologizing.

"The world outside there, both our friends and our foes, will be quick to take advantage of a situation if they think they're dealing with a weak president or one who is not going to stand up and aggressively defend America's interests," Cheney said last night on Fox News Channel's "Hannity" show.

"The United States provides most of the leadership in the world. We have for a long time. And I don't think we've got much to apologize for."

Obama told reporters on Sunday that the symbolism of his handshake, followed by handclasp, with Chávez is being blown way out of proportion.

"It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chávez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States," the president said.


Financial sector is high among Dodd's donors
WASHINGTON - Wealthy Wall Street executives may be outcasts to some Americans, but not to Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut.

Facing his toughest reelection fight, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee is reaching out to the financial sector's deep-pocketed donors.

More than $100,000 of the $1 million Dodd raised in the first three months of this year came from political action committees for the financial, insurance, and real estate industries, according to his latest fund-raising report. Dodd also raised $608,995 from individuals, among them top executives from companies such as Fidelity, Citigroup, and Citizens Financial Group.

In contrast, his take from Connecticut residents was $4,250, an especially anemic display of political enthusiasm for the state's five-term senator. He was skewered in the public furor over $165 million in executive bonuses for American International Group Inc., the bailed-out insurance giant.

After first denying it, Dodd acknowledged that he agreed to a request by Treasury Department officials to dilute a bonus restriction in the economic stimulus bill. His approval rating sank to a career-low 33 percent in a recent Quinnipiac University poll.


Obama raised $53m for inauguration cost
WASHINGTON - President Obama's prolific fund-raising carried on through inauguration day as his inaugural committee raised at least $53 million from donors for his swearing-in festivities.

That's about $11 million more than President George W. Bush raised for each of his two inauguration days.

Obama's inaugural committee filed a report yesterday with the Federal Election Commission listing donors who gave $200 or more.

Obama had already voluntarily disclosed his biggest donors on the website of his inaugural committee, which accepted donations of up to $50,000 from individuals.

Those who gave at least $50,000 had special access to inaugural events such as candlelight dinners with Obama and his wife, Michelle, and members of Congress, and tickets to a ball, the swearing-in, and the inaugural parade.