David Axelrod Departs White House, Returns to Chicago

Photo Courtesy - MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Senior White House Advisor David Axelrod is leaving the Obama administration on Friday to begin work on the president's 2012 re-election campaign.

During the 2008 campaign, strategist David Axelrod never intended to move to the White House, but he says he's glad he did.

"This has been the experience of a lifetime," Axelrod told ABC News Radio White House correspondent Ann Compton.

Lesson learned in the West Wing?

"What you've got to do is keep your eye on the long term. I mean, three months ago we were left by the roadside for dead after the Nov. 2 elections."

David Plouffe, Obama's former campaign manager and the man who the president called the "unsung hero" of his successful presidential campaign, will assume Axelrod's White House responsibilities.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Asks for Daily Briefings, Meetings on Egypt Protests

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama has demanded daily briefings from his staff on the unrest in Egypt, which puts the U.S. in the awkward position of standing with a repressive yet key U.S. ally that is the target of a pro-democracy movement.

Each day an interagency task force at the White House -- with officials from the State Department, intelligence community, National Security Staff and the like -- will hold a meeting to discuss the situation on the ground, with U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey participating via video teleconference, White House officials told ABC News.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been a critical ally for the U.S. in standing against Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program, in recognizing the Iraqi government, and in trying to broker peace between the Israelis and Paliestinians.  Behind the scenes, officials said, the Obama administration has pushed Mubarak to get ahead of the strengthening democracy movement in his country.

Recent cables obtained by Wikileaks seem to back up claims of pressure, U.S. concerns about Egypt, and a strong alliance.  An anecdote-filled January 2009 missive from Scobey detailed how police brutality in Egypt is "routine and pervasive," including brutality against "demonstrators, certain political prisoners and unfortunate bystanders."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


GOP Takes Aim at Birthright Citizenship

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A pair of Republican senators have launched a push to take away automatic citizenship for children born in the United States to illegal immigrants.

GOP senators David Vitter of Louisiana and Tea Party favorite Rand Paul of Kentucky introduced a bill Thursday seeking to amend the Constitution so a child born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants would only be granted citizenship if at least one parent is a legal citizen, legal immigrant, active member of the Armed Forces or a naturalized legal citizen.

The senators contend there is a "loophole" to the 14th Amendment they now want to close with their new resolution.  The 14th Amendment, they say, does not in its language or intent give birthright citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants.

“For too long, our nation has seen an influx of illegal aliens entering our country at an escalating rate, and chain migration is a major contributor to this rapid increase -- which is only compounded when the children of illegal aliens born in the U.S. are granted automatic citizenship,” Vitter, chairman of the Senate Border Security and Enforcement First Immigration Caucus, said in a statement Thursday.  “Closing this loophole will not prevent them from becoming citizens, but will ensure that they have to go through the same process as anyone else who wants to become an American citizen."

Paul, one of three members of the Senate's new Tea Party Caucus, emphasized that citizenship is a privilege, rather than a birthright.

"Citizenship is a privilege, and only those who respect our immigration laws should be allowed to enjoy its benefits," Paul said.  "This legislation makes it necessary that everyone follow the rules, and goes through the same process to become a US citizen."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Exclusive: Michelle Obama Ready to Campaign for Husband

Photo Courtesy - The White House/ Samantha Appleton(FORT JACKSON, S.C.) -- First lady Michelle Obama stands ready to campaign for her husband's re-election, but says that's still a long way off and she's focusing on other key issues.

"I mean, there's so much more to do here in the present ...," Obama told ABC News in an exclusive interview that aired Friday.  "I focus on what's before me, right on the work that I can do today."

"Whenever it's time to campaign and they tap me on the shoulder, I'll be right there.  But until then, we've got some great initiatives...," she said.  "And I'm rolling up my sleeves to get that work done, and we'll cross that other bridge when we get there."

ABC News' interview with Obama took place at Fort Jackson, the U.S. Army training post outside Columbia, South Carolina.  The first lady visited the base on Thursday to get a first-hand look at how the Army is tackling the problem of obesity among service members.

Last February, she launched "Let's Move!," a campaign that seeks to end childhood obesity within a generation.  Obesity is of particular concern for the military, she said, pointing out that some top Army officials have said young recruits are unable to train because they are either overweight or malnourished.

"It is not an overstatement to say that childhood obesity and our need for physical education and nutrition education is a national security issue," she told ABC News in a wide-ranging interview that also touched on the Tucson shootings, support for military families, the government's role in people's personal nutritional choices, and criticism of her fashion choices.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Congress to Probe Peace Corps Rape Allegations

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images/ PeaceCorps [dot] gov(WASHINGTON) -- Republican lawmakers said Thursday they will conduct hearings into allegations that women who worked for the Peace Corps were routinely raped and sexually assaulted, then given little help by the agency to deal with the trauma.

The planned hearings were spurred by an ABC News-20/20 investigation into accusations of over one thousand American women who were raped and attacked over the past ten years.

The 20/20 report featured interviews with some of the women who claimed to have been brutalized while working for the Peace Corps in foreign countries.  They said the agency's culture is one that blames the victim, often asking them what they did to cause the attacks.

Congressman Ted Poe of Texas expressed both fury and sadness after having watched the 20/20 report and called for a hearing.

Vowing to be an advocate for the women, Poe said, "The Peace Corps needs to get its act together and make sure the victims of rape have peace of mind when they are serving the United States."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Obama Answers YouTube Users' Questions

Photo Courtesy - The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama appeared on YouTube Thursday to answer a variety of questions that ranged from the serious to the frivolous.

The president had plenty of queries to choose from -- the White House was swamped with about 140,000 questions.

Asked to go more in depth about proposals made during his State of the Union address, Obama pretty much stuck to Tuesday's night script.  He vowed to draw the line on discretionary spending and said that in order for America to remain competitive, it must "out-build, out-educate, out-innovate every other country."

On the hot topic of Egypt, the president urged both sides in the growing political dispute not to respond with violence.

Obama also reiterated his support for embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as an important U.S. ally, but cautioned his counterpart that it was time to move forward on political, economic and social reforms demanded by his people.

As for the lighter side of the YouTube appearance, Obama was adamant about not picking a favorite for the upcoming Super Bowl game between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, especially since his beloved Chicago Bears were eliminated last weekend by Green Bay.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Public Financing for Presidential Campaigns on the Chopping Block

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A year after the Supreme Court overturned the federal government's decades-old restriction on corporate spending in political campaigns, Republicans are attempting to end the Presidential Election Fund, a move that Democrats charge will only boost the presence of special interest groups.

House Republicans on Wednesday passed a bill to eliminate public financing for presidential campaigns, a program that has been in place for 35 years.

The bill would terminate all taxpayer funding of presidential election campaigns and party conventions "to reduce federal spending and the deficit." The funds that remain would go into the Treasury Department's general fund and would only be used for deficit-reduction purposes.

Under current law, Americans can designate $3 on their income tax filings toward the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. The fund currently collects about $42 million annually, and its balance was $195 million at the end of 2010, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

To qualify for the public funds, presidential candidates and party convention committees have to limit their campaign spending.

The nonpartisan CBO estimated that eliminating the public financing system would reduce direct spending by $617 million in the 2011-2021 period.

The bill faces a bleak future in the Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced the bill Wednesday in the Senate, calling the fund "an outdated, wasteful Washington program" and a "welfare for politicians."

But Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., thus far has no plans to bring the measure to a vote on the floor, setting the stage for more partisan wrangling.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Senate Puts a Stop to Secret Holds

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate Thursday voted to end so-called “secret holds,” a procedural move used by lawmakers to anonymously block legislation or nominees.

The vote was 92-4, with three of the four senators voting against ending secret holds came from the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus: Jim DeMint, R-S.C., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R-Ky. The fourth vote came from John Ensign, R-Nev.

“Today’s vote was an important step forward in the fight to reform the way Washington does business. No longer will senators be able to hold up legislation anonymously. From now on, they’re going to have to own it,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said about ending secret holds. “We’ve been sent here to do the people’s business and the American people deserve greater transparency and accountability.” 

The Senate also voted 81-15 to waive the reading of amendments as a time-killing maneuver.

However, senators rejected a few more sweeping measures that would have overhauled the rules in an effort to cut back on filibusters. Tom Harkin’s attempt to gradually reduce the number of votes needed to invoke cloture was defeated 84-12 and a push to insist on talking filibusters also came up short later in the evening.

Earlier Thursday, Democrat and Republican leaders today reached an agreement to try to make the upper chamber run more smoothly. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and top Republican Mitch McConnell struck a gentleman’s agreement for the majority to cut down on blocking minority amendments and in turn for the minority to cut down on filibustering motions to proceed. And they both promised not to use the so-called “Constitutional option” to change Senate rules with a simple majority vote of 51 senators, rather than the customary threshold of 67.

That agreement left some lawmakers disappointed that the stronger proposals to stop filibusters never got the support they needed to make any real headway.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Illinois Supreme Court Sides with Rahm, Reverses Appellate Ruling

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- (CHICAGO) -- The Illinois Supreme Court has cleared the way for former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to run in Chicago's mayoral election on Feb. 22.

In a 7-0 ruling, the Illinois high court struck down Monday's Appeals Court ruling that Emanuel failed to meet residency requirements, which require mayoral candidates to live in Chicago for at least one year before the election.

Thursday's ruling ensures that Emanuel's name will be on the ballot when early voting begins next Monday.

Even before issuing Thursday's decision, the Illinois Supreme Court had already granted an emergency request by Emanuel to stop the city board of elections from printing ballots without his name on them.

The Board had been poised to begin printing the ballots in the next few days. The order made it clear that any ballots printed while Emanuel's appeal to the Supreme Court is pending must include his name.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


GOP Congressman Mike Pence Rules Out 2012 Presidential Bid

Photo Courtesy - ABC News (WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., announced in a letter to supporters on Thursday that he will not run for president in 2012, saying that his "calling is closer to home."

Pence had set a deadline of the end of the month to make a decision about his political future. His letter on Thursday suggests that he is leaning strongly toward running for governor of Indiana instead.

“In the choice between seeking national office and serving Indiana in some capacity, we choose Indiana,” Pence, said in the letter on behalf of himself and his wife, Karen. “We will not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012.”

In the letter he said he would “be traveling across the state to listen and learn about how Hoosiers think we might best contribute in the years ahead.” He added that he would "make a decision later this year about what role we will seek to play."

Several high-profile conservative leaders had been encouraging Pence to seek the GOP presidential nomination, arguing that he would be a candidate who could unite disparate elements of the Republican Party.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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