December 24th, 2010
By JEFF ZELENY
WASHINGTON — President Obama is planning the first major reorganization of his administration, preparing to shuffle several positions in the West Wing as he tries to fortify his political team for the realities of divided government and his own re-election.
The president is studying how to maximize the power of the executive branch, advisers said, seeking insight from veterans of previous administrations and fresh advice from business leaders to guide the second half of his term.
He is reviewing the restructuring plan during the holidays, aides said, and intends to make the first announcements in the opening days of January.
A reshaping of the economic team, beginning by naming a new director of the National Economic Council, is among the most urgent priorities of the new year. Gene Sperling, a counselor to the Treasury secretary who held the position in the Clinton administration, is among the final contenders to succeed Lawrence H. Summers in the job, along with Roger C. Altman, a Wall Street investment banker who also served in the Clinton administration.
When Republicans assume control of the House on Jan. 5, ending four years of a full Democratic majority in Congress, the president’s approach to policy and politics is poised to change on several fronts.
The White House is hiring more lawyers to handle oversight investigations from the new Congress, even as the president sets up a re-election headquarters in Chicago and considers ways to streamline operations inside the West Wing.
“You’re not going to see wholesale changes, but there will be significant changes. I think that’s desirable,” said David Axelrod, a senior adviser who is leaving the White House next month. “This is a bubble. It’s been an intense couple of years, and there’s an advantage to bringing in folks who have a fresh set of senses — smell, touch and feel — about what’s going on out there.”
The first personnel change inside the White House is the arrival of David Plouffe, who managed Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign. For the last two years, Mr. Plouffe has been one of the president’s closest outside confidants, but he is set to replace Mr. Axelrod as his chief political adviser, with a broad portfolio.
Jim Messina, a deputy White House chief of staff, will depart early next year to manage the re-election campaign in Chicago. His departure, along with those of others inside the West Wing, has created vacancies among the president’s top echelon of advisers that are at the heart of the reorganization plan.
At the final cabinet meeting of the year, on Dec. 8, the president renewed his request that if any members intended to step down, they needed to signal their intentions. White House officials said they believed that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is the only cabinet member who definitely plans to leave next year, although one other departure is possible.
There has been far less turnover for the Obama administration than for some of its recent predecessors. But at the midpoint of his term, several aides are considering new opportunities, including the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs. Mr. Gibbs will probably either become a senior adviser to the president or work outside the White House, defending Mr. Obama on television and beginning to define the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates. The leading contenders for his job are Jay Carney, a spokesman for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and Bill Burton, a deputy press secretary.
Two months before the midterm elections, even before it became clear that Democrats would lose their Congressional majority, the president ordered a review of how the White House operated and how it could be modernized. The mission of the Reorganization Plan, as it is called at the White House, expanded after the sweeping Republican victory.
Pete Rouse, now the interim White House chief of staff, was already working on the plan in October when Rahm Emanuel stepped down as chief of staff to run for mayor of Chicago. The process has been a highly guarded secret even inside the White House, with Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser; Robert F. Bauer, the general counsel; and Mr. Axelrod also providing guidance.
The president was frustrated by the bureaucracy of the administration, aides said, and asked Mr. Rouse to recommend ways to improve internal communication and efficiency. Several recommendations were given to the president before he left Washington on Wednesday night to spend Christmas with his family in Hawaii, aides said.
The review has created anxiety in the corridors of the West Wing, where many aides who have spent at least four years working for Mr. Obama are uncertain of their next assignments. Some will be dispatched to Chicago, where the re-election effort is scheduled to be well under way by the spring, with the fund-raising, political and communications staff among the first to report for duty.
The week after the midterm elections, the president began an extensive series of one-on-one conversations in the Oval Office about how he could make the best use of the final two years of his first term.
Mr. Obama discussed the pitfalls — and opportunities — of divided government with former President Bill Clinton during a long meeting this month. He also has held private discussions with an array of figures, including Leon E. Panetta, the director of the C.I.A., who served as a chief of staff to Mr. Clinton; John D. Podesta, another former Clinton chief of staff; Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader; and Kenneth M. Duberstein, a former chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan.
Mr. Obama is reading the biography “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime,” by Lou Cannon, aides said, and recently completed “The Clinton Tapes,” by Taylor Branch, who chronicled the 42nd president through a series of private interviews.
Despite all his time studying the Clinton administration, Mr. Obama told his aides that he had no intention of following the precise path of Mr. Clinton, who after the Democratic midterm election defeats of 1994 ordered a clearing of the decks inside the White House, installed competing teams of advisers and employed a centrist policy of triangulation. In fact, several advisers confirmed, the word “triangulation” has been banned by Mr. Obama because he does not believe it accurately describes his approach.
On Wednesday afternoon, even as lawmakers were approving a burst of Mr. Obama’s legislative priorities in the waning hours of the Congressional session, the president and a small circle of advisers convened to sketch out the next two months. Mr. Obama intends not only to extend a hand to Republicans but also to begin detaching himself more from Congress and spending more time making his case directly to the American people.
“In a world of divided government, getting things done requires a mix of compromise and confrontation,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “What are the things you can do without Congress? In some cases, that involves executive orders, but it also involves using the bully pulpit of the presidency to make a political argument about the direction of the country.”
More From The NY Times
December 23rd, 2010
December 23rd, 2010
December 23rd, 2010
By SARAH AMOS
ABC News' Susie Banikarim and David Muir contributed this report
The airline pilot who was reprimanded by the TSA for posting videos showing security flaws at a major airport is speaking out exclusively for the first time, saying that it was the "fallacy of the system" that inspired him to take this action.
Late last month a 50-year-old pilot, who asked that his name and the airline he works for not be made public, took a series of videos with his cell phone to show major flaws he says still exist in airport security systems. The videos show how easily ground crews at San Francisco International Airport were able to access secure areas. "As you can see, airport security is kind of a farce. It's only smoke and mirrors so you people believe there is actually something going on here," the pilot says on one video.
"People don't understand that when they walk through the TSA checkpoints, well, they are getting, now they are getting a groping, but they don't understand that all those people you see outside, the ground personal, all the caterers, all the airline cleaners, they get virtually nothing," the pilot said in an interview with ABC News.
He uses the videos to make his point.
"I wanted to give you an idea of what type of security the ground crews go through, their screening is sliding a card and going through a door. Not screened at all," the pilot says in one clip
This pilot is not the first person to raise these security issues. The unfettered access that ground crews, baggage handlers and others have at most major airports has been reported on in the past, especially after 9/11.
He first posted the videos to YouTube on November 28. Three days later, he says, four federal air marshals and two local sheriff's deputies showed up at his home to question him about the footage. The pilot filmed the conversation, during which the federal marshals confiscated his federally-issued firearm.
"I was surprised by the response. It was a bit of overkill. I could have just dropped my badge and weapon in a FedEx box and FedExed it in for 20 bucks," said the pilot. "They sent six people over to pick up a handgun and a badge. I said, that is your federal government with your tax dollars."
The pilot also recieved a letter directly from the TSA that said, "an administrative review into your deputation status as a Federal Flight Deck Officer has been initiated."
In a statement sent to ABC News, the TSA said it holds "all employees and those serving as Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDOs) to the highest ethical standards. The TSA responded and took action in this situation because the pilot in question was an FFDO. FFDOs must be able to maintain sensitive security information as a condition of the FFDO program. As the issuing authority of credentials and firearms, TSA reviews each possible violation of those standards and acts accordingly up to and including removing an individual from the assigned role. As to access control at SFO, TSA is confident in the tools the airport has implemented and reminds passengers there are security measures in place that are both seen and unseen."Reaction in the aviation community has been mixed.
I'm not aware of a commercial airline pilot going this far," said ABC News Aviation Consultant John Nance. "On one side every airline pilot in the country is virtually outraged at the insanity of putting pilots through security. On the other hand you've got people who can just swipe their way in or out." Still, Nance says others argue, "What we don't want to do is wave a red flag at our enemies and say, 'Hey, take a look at this vulnerability.'"
"I just tried to address my concerns and voice it on YouTube," said the pilot. "Basically all you have to do, is we have an emplopyee line, you just put them through the employee screener."
ABC News' Susie Banikarim and David Muir contributed this report
December 23rd, 2010
Sarah Palin sought to build her foreign policy credentials on Tuesday, with a new op-ed arguing that the Obama administration needs to "toughen up" on Iran based on information from leaked diplomatic cables that she had earlier denounced.
The former Alaska Governor writes in USA Today:
Iran continues to defy the international community in its drive to acquire nuclear weapons. Arab leaders in the region rightly fear a nuclear-armed Iran. We suspected this before, but now we know for sure because of leaked diplomatic cables. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia "frequently exhorted the U.S. to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program," according to these communications. Officials from Jordan said the Iranian nuclear program should be stopped by any means necessary. Officials from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt saw Iran as evil, an "existential threat" and a sponsor of terrorism. If Iran isn't stopped from obtaining nuclear weapons, it could trigger a regional nuclear arms race in which these countries would seek their own nuclear weapons to protect themselves.
The "leaked diplomatic cables" that Palin speaks of are, of course, dispatches released as part of WikiLeaks' latest document dump, an action that she deemed "treasonous," later asking why the group's founder, Julian Assange, was not "pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders."
The general thrust of Palin's op-ed is that the potential danger of Iran -- nuclear or non-nuclear -- is enough to warrant an escalation of the existing United Nations economic sanctions:
Much more can be done, such as banning insurance for shipments to Iran, banning all military sales to Iran, ending all trade credits, banning all financial dealings with Iranian banks, limiting Iran's access to international capital markets and banking services, closing air space and waters to Iran's national air and shipping lines, and, especially, ending Iran's ability to import refined petroleum.
Palin made another foray into foreign policy over the summer when she blasted out her manifesto via Facebook. In that release, she argued for a sacrosanct defense budget, a reaffirmation of unconditional ties with Israel, and the elimination of a timetable for the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan.