Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Obama calls Mexico’s president-elect, but White House statement mum on cartels

    Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto (Christian Palma/AP)

    President Barack Obama telephoned Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto to congratulate him on his victory in last weekend's elections, the White House said in a statement Monday. While the release listed several topics that the two men discussed, it made no explicit mention of the two countries' fitful efforts to combat ultra-violent drug cartels.

    Obama "reiterated his commitment to working in partnership with Mexico, and looks forward to advancing common goals, including promoting democracy, economic prosperity, and security in the region and around the globe, in the coming years," according to the White House statement.

    Peña Nieto's victory brought the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which governed Mexico for decades, back to power. He has pledged to overhaul his country's energy, labor and tax systems, Reuters reported.

    "The two leaders reaffirmed the close bilateral partnership the United States and Mexico enjoy based on mutual respect, shared responsibility, and the deep

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  • Obama aides’ pay ranges from six-figure salaries to $0

    Ah, the rites of summer: July 4 celebrations, the first day at the pool and the ritualized, voyeuristic peek into White House staffer salary information.

    The White House on Friday released annual pay data for President Barack Obama's aides, showing a wide span from the top salary of $172,200 for folks like National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and Press Secretary Jay Carney to the $0 (yes, zero) paid to senior policy adviser David Kaden and Special Assistant Andrew Parker.

    Under a 1995 law, the White House must inform Congress how much it pays staff. The Obama administration made the information public in a searchable database.

  • Obama discusses July 4, London Olympics, with national security team

    The Olympic Torch makes its way to London (Yui Mok/AP/LOCOG)

    President Barack Obama huddled late Thursday with his national security team to discuss precautions ahead of July 4th and the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in London, the White House says.

    "The President directed all to ensure we are doing everything possible to keep the American people safe and to continue close cooperation on the Olympics with our British counterparts," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an emailed statement on Friday.

    The meeting came as Britain's The Telegraph newspaper reported that authorities there had arrested two Muslim converts on suspicion of plotting an attack against the canoeing venue for the games.

    The White House announced one week ago that First Lady Michelle Obama would lead the American delegation to the opening ceremony of the games.

    Authorities are aware that the athletic competition could present a tempting target — and have deployed vast resources to thwart a potential attack. The Associated Press recently took a look at

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  • Top Obama aide to Congressional Democrats: ‘Go on offense’ on taxes

    President Barack Obama (Kiichiro Sato/AP)

    A top advisor to President Barack Obama urged Congressional Democrats on Friday to "go on offense" against Republicans on the issue of taxes and argued that the Supreme Court ruling upholding the incumbent's signature health care law should be the "clear and final" word on the issue.

    In a memo made public by the White House, David Plouffe accused Republicans of "trying to misrepresent" Obama's record on taxes.

    "We welcome this debate on middle class taxes, and we urge you to seize this opportunity to go on offense to illustrate how the President and Democrats in Congress are standing up for the middle class," Plouffe wrote.

    The issue has flared up in part because the Court upheld the individual mandate on grounds that it amounted to a tax — a ruling Republicans pounced on to accuse the president of trying to enact a stealth tax hike.

    "Yesterday, the court blew the president's cover," said Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell noted that Obama had repeatedly denied that the individual mandate — which requires Americans to have insurance or pay a fine — amounted to a tax.

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  • Holder? Prosecuted? White House says forget it

    Attorney General Eric Holder (John Raoux/AP)

    The Department of Justice will not prosecute Attorney General Eric Holder after the Republican-led House of Representatives voted to hold him in contempt of Congress, the White House said Friday.

    "Prosecutions will not take place in this circumstance," spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One as President Barack Obama headed to wildfire-ravaged Colorado. Carney dismissed the contempt vote, which grew out of Holder's refusal to turn over Justice Department documents tied to the Fast and Furious operation, as "pure politics."

    The department sent House Speak John Boehner a letter underlining this point, saying it won't bring Holder's contempt citation before a federal grand jury nor will it pursue any other actions to prosecute him.

    The Fast and Furious operation aimed to track how firearms sold in America end up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in Arizona observed suspected straw buyers purchasing weapons, but lost track of many of the guns involved. Two of the weapons were later recovered at the scene of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry's fatal shooting.

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  • White House: Sorry, Roberts, Obamacare mandate is a penalty, not a tax

    A protester against Obamacare outside the Supreme Court on Thursday (David Goldman/AP)

    The White House argued on Friday that the individual mandate at the heart of Obamacare is a penalty, not a tax, contradicting the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling a day earlier upholding the historic health care law. But if it is a tax, blame Mitt Romney, spokesman Jay Carney suggested.

    "It's a penalty because you have a choice. You don't have a choice to pay your taxes, right?" Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One. President Barack Obama was on his way to Colorado to view the response to the worst wildfires in the state's history.

    In any case, Carney said, the penalty "is modeled exactly on the penalty that exists in the health care reform that was promoted and signed into law by Gov. Romney in Massachusetts."

    Republicans pounced Thursday on Chief Justice John Roberts' ruling that the Affordable Care Act passed constitutional muster as a legitimate exercise of Congress' power to levy taxes.

    Roberts wrote that the law "makes going without insurance just another thing the government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning an income." His words offered Republicans disappointed by the ruling something of a political silver lining: They have been hitting the law as a vast tax hike and clearly plan to do so through to the election.

    "You can call it what you want," Carney said, underlining Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will affect only 1 percent of Americans. "It is not a broad-based tax."

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  • Obama: Health care is ‘still a BFD’

    Remember when the VP had a NSFW moment about the ACA and people LOL'd and SMHed? For $30, you can now get the shirt.

    Vice President Joe Biden raised a few eyebrows at the March 23, 2010, signing of the Affordable Care Act when a microphone caught his whispered "this is a big fucking deal" to President Barack Obama.

    Two years and one historic Supreme Court decision later, Obama's re-election campaign has put "Health Reform Still a BFD" on a T-shirt, with a $30 price tag. Obama tweeted a link to the garment. (There are other Obamacare items there too, including a "pack" that comes with an "I like Obamacare" shirt, and bumper stickers and buttons).

    Technically, you're not buying the shirt: You're making a donation to the campaign and getting the item in return. Campaign stores are, in effect, a way to reward small donors and keep them coming back.

    Some Republicans are already joking that Obamacare is actually a BFT—a Big Federal Tax. But Mitt Romney has yet to add any Obamacare-themed

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  • Holder contempt vote ‘a transparently political stunt,’ says White House

    Attorney General Eric Holder (Bill Haber/AP)

    The White House denounced the Republican-led House of Representatives vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, accusing President Barack Obama's foes of looking to score political points.

    Republicans said Holder's refusal to turn over documents tied to the Fast and Furious operation, which aimed to track how firearms sold in America end up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels, had compelled lawmakers to act.

    But Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer accused Republicans of opting "for political theater rather than legitimate Congressional oversight" after serving notice earlier this year that one of their top goals was "to investigate the Administration and ensure that President Obama was a one-term President."

    "Despite the major economic challenges facing the country, they talked openly about devoting taxpayer-funded, Congressional oversight resources to political purposes," he charged in a statement.

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  • Obama cheers Supreme Court’s health care ruling, says focus must now be jobs

    President Barack Obama welcomes the Supreme Court's health care ruling (Luke Sharrett/AP/Pool)

    President Barack Obama called the Supreme Court's decision to uphold his historic health care overhaul a victory for sick and struggling Americans and vowed a renewed focus on the worry atop voters' minds: the sour economy.

    "Whatever the politics, today's decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court's decision to uphold it," he said in brief remarks two hours after the nine justices delivered their verdict.

    "Now's the time to keep our focus on the most urgent challenge of our time: putting people back to work, paying down our debt and building an economy where people can have confidence that if they work hard, they can get ahead," he said in the ornate East Room of the White House.

    Even as he professed that a political scorecard missed the point of the 5-4 ruling, Obama also got in a sly dig at Mitt Romney. The president defended his adoption of the so-called "individual mandate," which requires Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty, and underlined: "This idea has enjoyed support from members of both parties, including the current Republican nominee for president."

    The nearly united Republican response to the high court's ruling showed that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) had won only a reprieve and that its fate was now entwined with the results of the presidential election. Republicans, channeling deep conservative anger at the law, vowed to target the law for repeal in Congress and served notice that the only way to roll it back was to put Romney in the White House. (House Republican leaders set a July 11 repeal vote—a symbolic measure since Democrats control the Senate.)

    "This is a time of choice for the American people. Our mission is clear: If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we're going to have to replace President Obama," Romney said in televised remarks, speaking from a rooftop with the Capitol as his backdrop. "If you don't want the course that President Obama has put us on, if you want instead a course that the Founders envisioned, then join me in this effort. Help us. Help us defeat Obamacare. Help us defeat the liberal agenda that makes government too big, too intrusive, and is killing jobs across this great country."

    The Romney campaign said that in the three hours after the ruling, it had raised more than $1 million.

    The president, alluding to public opinion polls that have never found the law to be popular, noted that "it should be pretty clear by now I didn't do this because it was good politics." But he urged Americans to set aside the "divisive" debates of 2009 and 2010.

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  • Obama campaign raising funds off pending Supreme Court ruling

    President Barack Obama hosts lawmakers Wednesday for a White House picnic (Susan Walsh/AP)President Barack Obama (Susan Walsh/AP)

    Diagnosis: A potentially brutal Supreme Court ruling. Cure: Send money.

    That was the message from President Barack Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, to supporters on Thursday as Washington breathlessly awaited the nine justices' ruling on whether the president's landmark health care law overstepped the Constitution.

    "We don't know what will happen this morning," Messina said in a fundraising message sent by email just a couple of hours before the court was expected to announce its decision. "But no matter what, today is an important day to have Barack Obama's back."

    "If you're with him, donate now—before this week's critical fundraising deadline," he urged, promising "more soon" (presumably coming after the ruling is public, around 10 a.m. Thursday morning).

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