Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Obama’s state dinners cost how much?

    President Barack Obama and visiting French President Francois Hollande will be joined by more than 300 notable guests in a tentlike heated pavilion on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday for a dinner whose menu includes caviar, rib-eye steak, chocolate cake and cotton candy.

    Who picks up the tab? Taxpayers, sure, but specifically a special fund overseen by the U.S. State Department’s chief of protocol. Now, thanks to Mark Knoller of CBS News, the peerless White House press corps' authority on presidential data, we for the first time have a sense of just how much such dinners cost.

    Here’s what Knoller squeezed out of the State Department’s Office of Protocol 13 months after submitting a Freedom of Information request:

    The 300-guest November 2009 dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — best remembered for Michaele and Tariq Salahi’s ability to crash the party — cost $572,187.36.

    It was the president’s first state dinner and also the most expensive of the five state or

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  • Obama: Choosing between Britain and France would be like picking a favorite daughter

    President Barack Obama threw a platterful of red meat to Britain’s tabloid press on Tuesday, saying that he could not judge a “best ally” contest between Britain and France any more than he could pick a favorite between daughters Sasha and Malia.

    “I have two daughters. And they are both gorgeous and wonderful, and I would never choose between them,” Obama said at a joint press conference with visiting French President Francois Hollande at the White House. “And that's how I feel about my outstanding European partners. All of them are wonderful in their own ways.

    “What I do believe is, is that the U.S.-French alliance has never been stronger,” Obama went on. "That's good for France. It's good for the United States. It's good for the world, because we share certain values and certain commitments and are willing to act on behalf of those commitments and values.”

    Obama had been asked whether Paris had “replaced” London as Washington’s best friend on the global stage. The tight friendship

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  • Are Obama and Hollande trying to take credit for improved relations under Bush, Sarkozy?

    President Barack Obama and visiting French President François Hollande said in a rare joint op-ed published Monday that the world benefits from a France-U.S. alliance that “is being made new again.” But they didn’t give any credit to George W. Bush and Nicolas Sarkozy, who did most of the work to repair a relationship that soured in the run-up to the Iraq War.

    Obama and Hollande, writing in the Washington Post, declared that “a decade ago, few would have imagined our two countries working so closely together in so many ways.”

    That’s undeniably true. The period from 2002-2004 was a poisonous time in Franco-American relations. France fiercely opposed the invasion of Iraq. Angry American conservatives, turning to "The Simpsons" for inspiration, denounced the French as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” On Air Force One, the official breakfast menus included “freedom toast” rather than French toast. In the House of Representatives cafeteria, “freedom fries” replaced french fries.


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  • Lawmaker: ‘Very little’ Obama work so far to rewrite ‘war on terrorism’ law

    Will the law that justified the invasion of Afghanistan outlive the U.S. combat mission there? One prominent lawmaker worries that it will.

    President Obama’s drive to rewrite America’s main “war on terrorism” legislation has stalled, a victim of national security staffers’ heavy focus on NSA spying and the charged partisan climate of a mid-term election year.

    That’s the diagnosis from Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.), a leading voice in his party for changing the legislation conceived to authorize the war in Afghanistan but also used to justify everything from drone strikes in Yemen to an unprecedented expansion of government spying.

    “I don’t see any real movement in the administration on this. And apart from some discussions during various hearings I don’t see much congressional appetite on it either,” Schiff told Yahoo News in a telephone interview on Thursday.

    Asked how much progress he’s seen from the administration on rewriting the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF)

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  • Hollande first French president since 1958 not to address Congress on state visit

    French President Francois Hollande will be the first French president since 1958 not to address a joint session of Congress during a state visit to Washington, French media are reporting. Hollande, who has seized headlines around the world with the soap opera-style mayhem in his personal life, will get a visit to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and, of course, a lavish state dinner at the White House.

    So are House Republicans snubbing Hollande?

    Republican House Speaker John Boehner's office denies that the French leader's very public romantic troubles (or his Socialist Party credentials) played a role.

    "The Speaker values America's strong relationship with our oldest ally, but the schedule made an address
    impossible during this visit," spokesman Michael Steel told Yahoo News.

    Hollande's predecessor, the proudly pro-American Nicolas Sarkozy, made an official visit to Washington in late 2007 (a few weeks after his very troubled marriage ended in divorce). Sarkozy addressed Congress.


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  • The White House Obamacare playbook for vulnerable Democrats in 2014

    It’s mid-October, 2014. On TV, a woman from your state looks directly at the camera as she tells the story of how Obamacare helped her get health insurance just before a devastating accident, or helped her kids with a chronic but common illness like asthma. She thanks her Democratic senator for voting for the Affordable Care Act. She doesn’t mention President Obama by name (he’s not popular here). In closing, she takes Republicans to task for their repeated efforts to repeal the law.

    That could be the script for political ads by vulnerable Democrats like Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana or Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska this year if they take a page from the (unofficial) White House playbook for fighting back on Obamacare.

    Everyone knows that the GOP plans to hang the unpopular law around the necks of Democrats – especially senators from red states elected (or reelected) in 2008, when Obama himself swept into office. They’ll be tying them to canceled policies and feature employers who blame

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  • Billie Jean King won’t attend Sochi games opening

    Tennis champion says she needs to attend to her ailing mother

    Openly gay former tennis superstar Billie Jean King won’t be delivering a symbolic message to Russian President Vladimir Putin when the Olympic Games open in Sochi. Her mother is seriously ill.

    “With my mother in failing health, I will not be able to join the U.S. Presidential Delegation at this week’s opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics,” King said in a statement provided to Yahoo News. “It is important for me to be with my mother and my brother at this difficult time. I want to thank President Obama for including me in this historic mission and I look forward to supporting our athletes as they compete in Sochi.”

    At the White House, spokesman Shin Inouye said Obama “extends his thoughts and prayers to Ms. King and her family in this difficult time."

    Instead, ice hockey silver medal-winner Caitlin Cahow will attend the Feb. 7 opening ceremony. Cahow, who is openly gay, had originally been named to the delegation at the closing ceremony. (Cahow recently shared her views on lesbian,

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  • New Obamacare push features mom jeans, 'MOM' tattoo


    Does Obamacare’s success depend on these mom jeans?

    No. But a new social media-driven push to get young Americans to enroll in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act may turn out to be critical to the law’s success. And it once again places mothers at the heart of the government’s ACA enrollment and outreach efforts.

    The Obama administration has already courted young women — there was that whole “your cats and dogs can talk and want you to sign up for Obamacare” Internet video — and just last month tried to get mothers to convince their adult children to enroll, reaching out to the moms with a staid TV ad campaign.

    Now the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) — the lead agency tasked with implementing the ACA — is looking for word-of-mouth publicity with a new digital campaign it hopes will get people buzzing. If the mom jeans photo doesn’t do it, perhaps the “MOM” tattoo pic will.

    It’s not just “mother knows best.” If not enough younger, healthier people sign up

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  • Obama, Reid hold 2014 strategy session

    President Barack Obama and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held a closed-door strategy session at the White House on Monday to plan how to keep Republicans from seizing the Senate in November’s elections, an informed source said.

    A source familiar with the meeting said Obama and Reid were joined by Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil. The DSCC's job is to recruit, fund and elect Democrats to the Senate.

    The source, who requested anonymity to described the meeting, characterized the talks as “productive” and said the group “reviewed the landscape and 2014 races.”

    The White House had announced that Obama and Reid would meet but had not mentioned the more political elements of the discussion or that Bennet and Cecil would attend.

    The discussions kicked off a heavily political week for Obama, who will host House Democrats for a reception and round-table discussion on Tuesday

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  • Obama spokesman: Philip Seymour Hoffman ‘a remarkable talent’

    President Barack Obama’s chief spokesman said Monday that the death of gifted actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was “tragic” and that anyone who cared for “incredibly powerful” performances was a fan.

    “It's hard to imagine if you are a fan of incredibly powerful acting that you weren't a fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was just a remarkable talent, in my view,” Jay Carney told reporters. “It's very sad news.”

    Carney underlined that he was speaking for himself and had not discussed the actor’s death with Obama.

    While the president has formally commented on the passing of some performers, such as Whitney Houston, it was not clear whether he would do so in this case.


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