Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • France a ‘great, great ally,’ White House says, as Afghan policy headache looms

    Click image to see more photos. (Reuters/Philippe Wojazer)Click image to see more photos. (Reuters/Philippe Wojazer)

    The White House said Friday it was "monitoring" the outcome of France's elections, the results of which could pose fresh challenges for President Barack Obama on issues like the war in Afghanistan.

    "We're certainly monitoring it in the sense that we follow the news and France is a great, great ally of the United States and will continue to be so," spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

    But there's a real chance that a victory by Socialist candidate François Hollande could complicate Obama's policy in Afghanistan. Hollande has vowed to pull France's roughly 3,600 combat troops from that war-torn country by year's end—more quickly than incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy, who wants them out at the end of 2013. Hollande led Sarkozy in recent polls ahead of Sunday's first round of voting.

    Obama's own approach calls for drawing down to 68,500 American troops by later this year, and he expects a NATO summit in Chicago next month to set out a road map for handing over full security responsibility to Afghan forces next year on the way to a full withdrawal of Western combat forces by the end of 2014.

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  • Secret Service ousts three more, White House hits out at Palin

    (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)The Colombia prostitute scandal engulfing the Secret Service widened Friday as the agency announced that three more employees would resign in connection to the alleged misconduct, bringing the overall number of employees to lose their jobs to six. The agency also said that the total number of agents implicated had risen by one to 12.

    On the political front, the White House hit back at Republican critics like Sarah Palin, accusing them of improperly trying to use the embarrassing controversy as a political weapon against President Barack Obama.

    "In addition to the previously announced personnel actions, three additional employees have chosen to resign," Assistant Director Paul S. Morrissey of the U.S. Secret Service Office of Government and Public Affairs said in a statement emailed to reporters.

    "As a result of the ongoing investigation in Cartagena, a twelfth employee has been implicated. He has been placed on administrative leave and his security clearance has been temporarily suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.

    "One of the employees involved has been cleared of serious misconduct, but will face appropriate administrative action. At this point, five employees continue to be on administrative leave and their security clearances remain suspended pending the outcome of this investigation," Morrissey said.

    The scandal has also caught up at least 11 military personnel. The controversy erupted when members of the Secret Service and the military were in Cartagena, Colombia on the sidelines of an international summit attended by Obama — though there has yet to be any suggestion that his security was in any way compromised by agents in compromising situations.

    At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney hit back sharply at Palin, a former Republican vice presidential candidate, after she charged that the scandal and the controversy over wanton spending at the General Services Administration (GSA) were brought on by Obama's "poor management skills."

    "It is preposterous to politicize the Secret Service," Carney told reporters at his daily briefing.

    Palin and Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions have in recent days charged that the scandal, coupled with the outrage over lavish GSA spending on a convention in Las Vegas, reflects poorly on Obama. Those two controversies, as well as the tragic mass slaying of Afghan civilians, allegedly by an American soldier, have overshadowed much of the White House's agenda in recent weeks.

    "What they're doing is trying to turn these incidents—one that's still under investigation—to political advantage," Carney charged when asked about critics who lump the three issues together.

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  • Obama to appear on Jimmy Fallon show next week

    What does President Barack Obama have in common with Elmo, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, Michele Bachmann and Bruce Springsteen? As of next week, they will all have appeared as guests on comic Jimmy Fallon's late-night show.

    Obama will make his first appearance on the irreverent program in a segment taped Tuesday from the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which will be shown that night, NBC announced Friday. Dave Matthews will be the musical guest.

    White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said on Twitter that Obama would promote a plan to keep student-loan costs in check.

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  • Obama honors Alabama’s Crimson Tide, jokes he’ll need gift helmet ‘between now and November’

    President Barack Obama honored the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide football team at the White House on Thursday for their BCS national championship victory and joked that a gift helmet from coach Nick Saban would come in handy in the 2012 campaign.

    Speaking on the South Lawn of the White House, Obama praised the players not just for their athletic prowess, but for the way they pulled together to help Tuscaloosa in the aftermath of a devastating tornado.

    "The Tide showed us what it takes to win as a team, but they also showed what it means to be a part of a larger community, to look out for one another, to help," said the president. "And that makes them pretty special."

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    Saban presented Obama with a team jersey and then a helmet, saying: "We certainly don't want to be responsible for any head injuries that the President might have."

    "I'm probably going to need a helmet between now and

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  • Obama spokesman: Romney ‘oversensitive’ to ‘silver spoon’ remark

    According to White House spokesman Jay Carney, President Barack Obama wasn't referring to Mitt Romney when he said at a campaign-style event Wednesday: "I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth."

    "Those of you who have covered President Obama know that he has used that phrase to describe his background many times in the past," Carney told reporters. "And I suppose anybody who thinks it was a reference to them might be a little oversensitive -- unless they think that when President Obama said it three years ago it was in reference to them."

    Obama made the comment Wednesday in a speech focused on contrasting his economic policies to proposals from his Republican critics, implicitly including Romney, in the critical electoral battleground of Ohio.

    The former Massachusetts governor hit back at the president on "Fox and Friends" Thursday, saying Obama preferred "attacking people" to "attacking problems."

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  • Obama fires back at criticisms of his travel

    Click image to see more photos. (Reuters/Jason Reed) Click image to see more photos. (Reuters/Jason Reed)

    The White House on Thursday dismissed as "kinda ridiculous" complaints that President Barack Obama has been billing taxpayers for criss-crossing the country, giving speeches in states that could be critical to his reelection campaign.

    Obama himself recently weighed in on the issue. The controversy centers on the arcane process by which taxpayers pick up the tab for "official" trips while his reelection campaign or the Democratic National Committee pays for "political" travel. When a presidential foray includes both kinds of events, the cost is divided according to a formula that presidents have declined to make public.

    Asked whether taxpayers were improperly footing the bill, Obama press secretary Jay Carney replied: "They're not."

    "We follow all the rules and regulations to ensure that the DNC or other relevant political committee pays what is required" for political travel, Carney said. "We go absolutely by the book."

    The press secretary also hit out at critics who have noted that Obama's message at political events is largely indistinguishable from his official events.

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  • Dogfight over Obama’s dog-meat-eating childhood joined by White House

    Proving that election fights can unleash the worst jokes, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that conservatives gleefully noting that President Barack Obama was fed dog meat as a child in Indonesia were just "trying to get out of the doghouse."

    "He keeps up with the news, he may know about it," Carney said noncommittally when asked about the back-and-forth. "I think we're talking to a reference in his book to a period when he was 6 or 7 years old. Making a big deal out of it sounds like somebody who's trying to get out of the doghouse."

    The resulting press corps groan conveyed a clear message: For Seamus, Jay.

    "Just occurred to me to say that," Carney said.

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  • Pat Summitt gets Presidential Medal of Freedom after retiring

    President Barack Obama announced Thursday he was awarding retiring University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the country's highest civilian honor.

    Click image for more photos

    "Coach Summitt is an inspiration—both as the all-time winningest NCAA coach, and as someone who is willing to speak so openly and courageously about her battle with Alzheimer's," Obama said in a statement one day after Summitt stepped down as the Lady Vols' coach.

    "Pat's gift has always been her ability to push those around her to new heights, and over the last 38 years, her unique approach has resulted in both unparalleled success on the court and unrivaled loyalty from those who know her and those whose lives she has touched. Pat's coaching career may be over, but I'm confident that her work is far from finished. I look forward to awarding her this honor," the president said.

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  • India’s missile test gets muted response from Obama’s national security team

    One week after sharply condemning North Korea's rocket launch, the White House on Thursday declined to explicitly criticize India for testing a potent missile with the range to carry a nuclear payload to China.

    "We understand that India tested an Agni V ballistic missile," said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor in a statement emailed to Yahoo News. "We urge all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding nuclear and missile capabilities, and continue to discourage actions that might destabilize the South Asia region."

    Washington regards India, the world's most populous democracy, as a critical U.S. partner but views secretive North Korea as a dangerous rogue state. Still, Vietor's comments reflected American concerns about the frequently tense rivalry between India and neighbor Pakistan.

    When asked about the planned test, State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Wednesday highlighted the "very strong strategic and security partnership with India." He also

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  • Obamas mourn death of Dick Clark, ‘America’s oldest teenager’

    Click image to see more photos. (AP/ABC, Donna Svennevik, File)Click image to see more photos. (AP/ABC, Donna Svennevik, File)

    President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday mourned the death of famed television producer Dick Clark, praising his contributions of expanding the audience for popular music and his four-decade run as the master of ceremonies at New Year's Eve celebrations in Times Square.

    "Michelle and I are saddened to hear about the passing of Dick Clark," the president said in a written statement after news broke that Clark had succumbed to a massive heart attack.

    "With 'American Bandstand,' he introduced decades' worth of viewers to the music of our times," Obama said. "He reshaped the television landscape forever as a creative and innovative producer. And, of course, for 40 years, we welcomed him into our homes to ring in the New Year."

    "But more important than his groundbreaking achievements was the way he made us feel — as young and vibrant and optimistic as he was.  As we say a final 'so long' to Dick Clark, America's oldest teenager, our thoughts and prayers are

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