Boehner Invites President Obama to Deliver State of the Union

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Speaker of the House John Boehner wrote a letter to President Obama on Tuesday inviting him to offer an address on the State of the Union Jan. 25 before a Joint Session of Congress.

In the letter, Boehner, R-Ohio, referenced the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and said the tragedy in Tucson is an opportunity for elected officials to renew their commitment to public service.

Boehner also seemed to address the bitter political discourse in Washington, writing to the president about the potential opportunity for Republicans to find “common ground” with the White House and Congressional Democrats.

President Obama is expected to accept the invitation, avoiding any potential scheduling disagreement similar to the one experienced after the congressional midterm elections.

The full text of the letter is below:

January 11, 2011

The Honorable Barack Obama
The President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

A new Congress provides us a renewed opportunity to find common ground and address the priorities of the American people. Our actions must be driven by their desire for freedom, economic recovery, and fiscal sensibility, as well as a need to rebuild the broken bonds of trust between the people and their government. 

Recent events have reminded us of the imperfect nature of our representative democracy, but also how much we cherish the ideal that our government exists to serve the people. Even in the wake of tragedy, we must never waiver from our obligation to carry out their will and provide solutions to keep moving our nation forward.

As many great challenges lie ahead for our nation, we welcome an opportunity to hear your proposals. Therefore, I am honored to invite you to offer an address on the State of the Union on January 25, 2011, before a Joint Session of Congress. 

Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to your response.
Speaker of the House

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tucson Shooting Puts Arizona's Gun Culture in Spotlight

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In the aftermath of Saturday's Tucson shooting that has left six dead and Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords clinging to life, many are looking at who and what is to blame in the world of Arizona's politics and gun control. From Arizona's permissive gun laws to the toxic, us-versus-them environment that has permeated U.S. political discourse, political figures, pundits and the police have begun to point fingers.

Arizona's gun laws are among the nation's least restrictive, where guns are allowed in public spaces and buildings and concealed weapons can be carried without a permit by those qualified to own a gun.

While the Tucson shooting brings the issue of gun violence back to the forefront of the gun control debate, national polls provide an interesting perspective. Seven in 10 Americans in a recent Gallup poll opposed banning handgun ownership -- a position that's grown in recent years according to ABC News' pollster Gary Langer of Langer Research Associates.

Americans overwhelmingly see gun ownership as a constitutional right, and express doubt that the availability of guns is the primary cause of gun violence.

In an October Gallup poll, 44 percent of Americans favored stricter gun laws -- tying the low and down from 78 percent from when the question was first posed in 1990.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Fox News President Tells His Commentators to 'Shut Up, Tone It Down'

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It was merely a matter of hours after Saturday's shooting rampage in Arizona that finger-pointing and political vitriol took hold. Liberal commentators and bloggers took aim at conservatives -- chiefly Sarah Palin -- for putting out a map last March that put the districts of 20 House Democrats in cross-hairs, including that of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head and remains in intensive care at Arizona University Hospital.

Conservatives, meanwhile, blasted the left for turning the tragic shooting into a political issue.

Now, the president of Fox News, Roger Ailes, has called for a cease-fire, vowing to tone down the political rhetoric.

"Both sides are wrong, but they both do it," Ailes said in an interview with Russell Simmons that was posted on the liberal entertainment mogul's website, "I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually. You don't have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that."

In Washington, leaders of both parties have called for civility, including President Obama, who cautioned against attributing any political motives to the accused killer, Jared Lee Loughner.

Fox News commentators said their message has always been one of nonviolence, and it’s the liberal media that needs to cut back on confrontational talk.

Republicans call the criticism aimed at conservatives unfair, and that both sides are to blame.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pawlenty on Palin's Political Map: Crosshairs Not My Style

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said that Sarah Palin's decision to put crosshairs on districts of vulnerable Democrats -– including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' -- was not what he would have done, but he doesn’t think it contributed to the terrible tragedy in Tucson on Saturday.

“It wouldn’t have been my style to put the crosshairs on there. But again there is no evidence to suggest that it had anything to do with this mentally unstable person’s rage and senseless act in Arizona,” Pawlenty told ABC News.

The shooting that took six lives and injured 14 others will change the political climate in Washington, Pawlenty said, because it is causing people to step back and think about rhetoric.

“There is a line there as it relates to basic civility, decency and respect and not trying to invoke violence,” he said.

Pawlenty and Palin haven’t decided if they will run for president in 2012, but Pawlenty called his potential opponent a “remarkable leader” who “brings a lot to the debate and the table both nationally and within the Republican Party.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Exclusive: George H.W. Bush's Oval Office Letter to Bill Clinton

Photo Courtesy - White House/Pete Souza(NEW YORK) -- It's a tradition passed from president to president: leave a letter for the next occupant of the Oval Office on the desk the morning of the inauguration.

Often the contents of these letters are kept secret, but while conducting research for his new novel The Inner Circle, author Brad Meltzer asked George H.W. Bush about these letters, and the former president sent him a copy of what he wrote to Bill Clinton on Jan. 20, 1993.

Here is the full text of the letter:

January 20, 1993

Dear Bill,
When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago.  I know you will feel that too.

I wish you great happiness here.  I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note.  I wish you well.  I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success.  I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck –

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Biden Meets with Afghan President; Emphasizes US Commitment

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Vice President Biden said Tuesday the coalition forces in Afghanistan have “largely arrested the Taliban momentum” in key areas there.  But he acknowledged that the gains are “fragile and reversible.”

Biden’s comments came after a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace in Kabul.

Biden emphasized the U.S. commitment to the Afghan government.  “We are not leaving if you don't want us to leave,” he said.

The vice president said while there are “many hard days that lie ahead,” there is now a “viable path going forward” to the transition from U.S. forces to Afghan security forces by 2014.

"We've moved into a new phase in Afghanistan: transition to full Afghan lead beginning this year and concluding in 2014," he said.

Biden reiterated the message that a senior administration official conveyed on the trip over -- the United States is there to assist the Afghan government, not lead.

"It is not our intention to govern or to nation-build,” Biden said.  “As President Karzai often points out, this is the responsibility of the Afghan people and they are fully capable of it.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Obama to Attend Arizona Memorial for Tucson Shooting Victims

Photo Courtesy - The White House | Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are planning to go to Tucson, Arizona on Wednesday to attend a memorial service for the victims of Saturday's shooting spree that killed six people and injured 14, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The visit, first disclosed by a senior administration official to ABC News, was confirmed by the University of Arizona.

"President Obama will speak at a memorial event at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 12 to support and remember victims of the mass shooting in Tucson, and to lift the spirits of those who have been personally affected by this tragedy," the university said in a statement. "'Together We Thrive: Tucson and America' will take place at McKale Center and is free and open to the campus and greater Tucson community."

The memorial in Tucson comes after the president and first lady led a national moment of silence this morning in Washington to honor the victims as congressional business paused.

The president stood at the top of the driveway on the South Lawn of the White House to remember the victims. About 200 to 300 staffers gathered to observe the moment of silence, which lasted slightly more than a minute.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Interior Department Chief of Staff Leaving His Post

Photo Courtesy - DOI dot gov(WASHINGTON) -- Interior Department chief of staff Tom Strickland is leaving his post.

"I came to Washington to take on this job and help (Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar) in the task of cleaning up this department," Strickland told the Denver Post. "We've had even more excitement and challenge than we bargained for....We always brought our best effort. We always tried to do right by the people."

Salazar told the newspaper, "I asked him not to leave. I begged him. I'll miss his 80-hour weeks. He wants to move forward and do another chapter."

ABC News reported last May that although his agency was charged with coordinating the federal response to the BP oil spill, Strickland traveled to the Grand Canyon with his wife participating in activities that included whitewater rafting three days after the leaks in the Deepwater Horizon pipeline were discovered.

Other leaders of the Interior Department were focused on the Gulf, joined by other agencies and literally thousands of other employees. The chief of staff’s trip raised eyebrows among other Obama administration officials and even within even his own department, sources told ABC News.

Ultimately, after the government realized that the spill was worse than had been previously thought, officials decided that Strickland was needed in the Gulf so Strickland was taken out of the Grand Canyon by a National Park Service helicopter.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Under Pressure, Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Resigns

Photo Courtesy - SIGAR dot mil(WASHINGTON) -- Under pressure, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields (Ret.), came to the White House Monday and resigned.

Fields delivered the message to Special Assistant to the President for Afghanistan and Pakistan Doug Lute.

“He told us that since the administration is transitioning to a new phase in Afghanistan, he thought it was a good time to step down,” a White House source said, insisting Fields was not forced out.

Last fall, a bipartisan group of senators -- calling the Special Inspector General’s office a “failing organization” -- pushed for President Obama to fire Fields and replace him “with an individual who will oversee the significant organizational change needed within the SIGAR to provide adequate oversight of the billions of dollars of spending on reconstruction in Afghanistan.”

The office is responsible for monitoring the $56 billion sent to Afghanistan since 2002 for humanitarian and non-military development programs.

“It has been clear for several months that SIGAR’s mission is not being served effectively,” wrote Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.  “It is for this reason that we have concluded that SIGAR would be better served with new leadership.”

The senators said they were “disappointed” by the Obama administration’s “ongoing failure to take decisive action to make changes at SIGAR.”

Fields was appointed by President Bush in June 2008. The White House on Monday credited Fields’ team with helping to “lead the effort to provide comprehensive and independent oversight of fiscal initiatives in Afghanistan....As he moves on to new challenges, he can do so confident in the knowledge that the president and the American people owe him a debt of gratitude for his courage, leadership and selfless service to our nation.”

At a hearing in November, the three-star general said he built the organization up from nothing to 123 people.

“My leadership has been referred to as inept,” Fields said at the time. “That’s the first time.”

Said McCaskillon  Monday evening, “Mr. Fields simply was not the right person for this very difficult job.  I hope that his departure will allow the agency to turn over a new leaf and finally begin to do the important contracting oversight work we so desperately need.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Post-Tucson Tragedy, Sen. Joe Manchin Discusses Use of Gun Imagery in Campaign Ad

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., one of a number of 2010 candidates who used gun imagery in their campaigns, explicitly separated himself on Monday from those who targeted specific candidates and expressed doubts that he would run the same ad again today.

“I've spent my whole career bringing people together, avoiding the rancor of partisan politics, and that will continue to be the focus of my work as U.S. Senator going forward,” Manchin said in a statement Monday.

“The act of a deranged madman who commits a horrific act should not and cannot be confused with a metaphor about a piece of legislation. I have never targeted an individual, and I never would," he added. "This tragedy, I hope, serves as call for common sense, and wake-up call that we should all come together with common purpose to do what is best for our country.”

In his campaign ad below, Manchin -- touting his National Rifle Association endorsement -- shoots a bullet at the "cap and trade bill," as a symbolic rejection of the energy legislation being discussed by Democrats.

Since the shooting spree in Tucson Saturday, Sarah Palin and candidates who used gun references have come under fire from some liberals for provoking violence.

A number of candidates, including Sharron Angle of Nevada, used such imagery although Manchin is the only one who was elected into office.

UPDATE: In a conference call with reporters Monday, the newly minted senator expressed doubts about releasing the ad if he were campaigning.

“I can’t say that we would. I really can’t," Manchin replied, when asked if given what has happened, he would release the same ad again today. "It is a much more sensitive thing that we are dealing with right now. With that I will say -- that was a metaphor. We were talking about a piece of legislation. You’re talking about an act of a crazed, deranged individual. I don’t think the two are related at all. But it would have made anybody more sensitive to that."

He pointed out that his new communications director, Emily Bittner, worked for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' campaign during her 2008 campaign.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio