By Jeff Mason SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Reuters) - President Barack Obama paid a nostalgic visit on Wednesday to the place that launched his political career and made a renewed call for better relations between Republicans and Democrats to create a more positive tone in U.S. politics. Obama won the White House in 2008 partially on a promise to overcome partisan divides in Washington. He has called his failure to do that, seven years after taking office, a regret. On the ninth anniversary of his 2007 announcement in Springfield that he was running for president, Obama addressed Illinois lawmakers at the state Capitol where he once worked as a state senator in what he described as a collegial, friendly atmosphere. "I was able to be part of that here, and yet I couldn’t translate it the way I wanted to in our politics in Washington," he said. Obama said reducing the influence of money, making it easier to vote and ending the way voting districts were drawn politically would help solve the problem. "We've got to build a better politics," he said. "When I hear voices in either party boast of their refusal to compromise as an accomplishment in and of itself, I'm not impressed." Congressional Republicans have said the Democratic president is often unwilling to work with them to pass legislation. "“The central premise of the Obama presidency was to unite the country, and that’s been an unquestionable failure,” Doug Andres, a spokesman for Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan, said in a statement. Obama has made clear he views Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's rhetoric as corrosive. Trump, who has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, won the New Hampshire Republican primary on Tuesday as the parties hold state-by-state nominating contests for the Nov. 8 election to succeed Obama. MICROCOSM The chamber in which Obama addressed Illinois lawmakers also became a microcosm of the challenges he was hoping to address. Democrats stood and clapped when Obama said the country was better off since he became president. Republicans stayed seated. The situation was similar to what occurred at his annual State of the Union addresses in Washington. Obama chided both sides, however, and said he believed Republicans shared some of his values even if they disagreed on how to enact them. He noted the importance of basic governance such as fixing roads and passing budgets, a reference to a crisis facing his home state. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has refused to sign a spending plan for Illinois' 2016 fiscal year without winning Democratic concessions that would weaken collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions, impose term limits, freeze property taxes and make it harder for workers injured on the job to collect damages from their employers. Democrats, who control both of Illinois' legislative chambers, have resisted his demands, setting up a stalemate that has left the state's public universities and social-service programs starved for funding. Chicago State University, for example, last week declared a financial emergency, and furloughs have been imposed at other public universities. Obama's trip was aimed both at solidifying his legacy in a familiar place and making good on a promise to spend his last year working toward healing partisan wounds. Shortly after arriving, he stopped at a restaurant he frequented as a state senator, then shook hands with onlookers outside the Old State Capitol, where Obama announced his bid for the White House exactly nine years ago. (Additional reporting by Dave McKinney in Chicago and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)
- Associated Press
President Joe Biden has brought back Dr. Kevin O'Connor as his physician, replacing President Donald Trump's doctor with the one who oversaw his care when he was vice president. The White House confirmed that Dr. Sean Conley, the Navy commander who served as the head of the White House Medical Unit under Trump and oversaw his treatment when he was hospitalized with COVID-19, will assume a teaching role at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. O'Connor, a retired Army colonel, was Biden's doctor during his entire tenure as vice president, having remained in the role at Biden's request.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced Monday he will not run for a third term in the U.S. Senate in 2022, citing "partisan gridlock."Why it matters: It's a surprise retirement from a prominent Senate Republican who easily won re-election in 2016 and was expected to do so again in 2022, creating an open Senate seat in a red-leaning swing state.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.Between the lines: Portman was one of the Republican senators who said that former President Trump "bears some responsibility" for the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. His decision not to seek re-election will free him from the political constraints of voting to convict Trump in his upcoming impeachment trial, though it's not yet clear whether he will choose to do so.What they're saying: "I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision," Portman said in a statement. * “We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground." * "This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades."Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- The Independent
First family orders sesame bagels with cream cheese
- The Telegraph
The acrimonious split within Republican ranks widened over the weekend as Donald Trump made his foray back into politics, backing the re-election of a hard-line supporter as chair of the party in Arizona. His wholehearted support for Kelli Ward was seen by allies as the former president firing a warning shot across the bows of any Republican senators considering backing his impeachment. Underlining Mr Trump’s grip on the Republican grassroots, the Arizona party also voted to censure John McCain’s widow, Cindy, former senator Jeff Flake and governor Doug Ducey, who refused to back the former president’s claims of election fraud. Mr Trump’s intervention came amid reports that he is considering setting up a “Patriot Party” which would spearhead primary challenges to his opponents in the 2022 mid-term elections. The former president has already amassed a massive war chest with his Save America political action committee declaring last month that it had raked in $207.5 million in donations.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by Sheldon Silver, the once-powerful New York State Assembly Speaker, of his conviction on corruption charges that resulted in a 6-1/2-year prison sentence. Silver, 76, began serving his sentence last August despite being in poor health. Two conservative justices, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, said they would have taken up Silver's appeal.
- The Week
Senate Democrats are drawing a line at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) demand that a power-sharing agreement in the 50-50 Senate include a pledge to retain the legislative filibuster. "If we gave him that, then the filibuster would be on everything, every day," Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday's Meet the Press. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered McConnell "word for word" the same power-sharing agreement used in the first half of 2001, and McConnell's insistence on adding the filibuster pledge is "a non-starter."But until Schumer and McConnell reach agreement on the Senate's operating rules, Republicans still retain much of the majority they lost last Wednesday."Without an organizing accord, Republicans remain in the majority of most Senate committees," and "veteran Democrats eager to seize the gavels and advance their long dormant agendas can only wait and wonder," The Washington Post explains. "Newly sworn-in Democratic senators cannot get committee assignments until an organizational deal is struck," leaving the old GOP-majority structures in place, and "Democrats can't unilaterally impose an organizing agreement because they would need Republican support to block a filibuster."The filibuster has evolved into a sclerotic de facto requirement for a 60-senator supermajority on all legislation. Frustration with obstruction by the minority led Senate Democrats to end the filibuster for some presidential appointees and lower-court judges in 2013, and McConnell continued eroding the filibuster as majority leader, killing it for Supreme Court nominees and further easing the confirmation of presidential appointees.A handful of Democratic centrists would prefer to keep the filibuster — for now. But there is mounting pressure from inside and outside the chamber. "There is absolutely no reason to give Sen. McConnell months and months to prove what we absolutely know — that he is going to continue his gridlock and dysfunction from the minority," said Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for the anti-filibuster liberal coalition Fix Our Senate.More stories from theweek.com Trump must be prosecuted Moderna working on booster shot to increase protection against South African coronavirus variant Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing
- Yahoo News Video
A video compiled by Just Security reveals the reaction of people who watched former President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 speech before the Capitol was attacked.
- NBC News
The Biden administration aims for 100 million vaccinations within his first 100 days as president.
- Associated Press
Federal law enforcement officials are examining a number of threats aimed at members of Congress as the second trial of former President Donald Trump nears, including ominous chatter about killing legislators or attacking them outside of the U.S. Capitol, a U.S. official told The Associated Press. The threats, and concerns that armed protesters could return to sack the Capitol anew, have prompted the U.S. Capitol Police and other federal law enforcement to insist thousands of National Guard troops remain in Washington as the Senate moves forward with plans for Trump's trial, the official said Sunday.
California Governor Gavin Newsom's office has decided to lift the orders as ICU availability in the regions that remained under the stay-at-home order, including the Bay area and Southern California are projected to rise above the 15% threshold that triggered the lockdown measures, according https://bit.ly/3sSPOfp to San Francisco Chronicle. California has reported over 3.1 million cases and 36,745 deaths so far, a Reuters tally showed. Strict stay-at-home orders were renewed for much of California in December to avert a crisis in hospitals.
- The Telegraph
Italy’s interior minister has intervened in a row in Naples over the painting of giant murals that pay tribute to the blighted lives and violent exploits of teenage criminals. Italians have adopted a curious English phrase, “baby bosses”, to describe the young gangsters, who frequently lose their lives in confrontations with police on the streets of the southern city. Such “bosses” are said to be members of “baby gangs” – another curious Italo-English invention that denotes groups of delinquents and drifters. Authorities in Naples want to scrub out or paint over two large murals which adorn the sides of buildings. They depict two young men, Ugo Russo and Luigi Caiafa, who were shot dead in separate incidents last year by police officers during robbery attempts. A mural dedicated to Russo depicts his face and the words Verità e Giustizia – Truth and Justice. He was killed when he tried to rob an off-duty police officer last year.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), incoming chair of the Senate Budget Committee who caucuses with the Democrats, told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that Democrats plan to push a coronavirus relief package through the chamber with a simple majority vote. Why it matters: "Budget reconciliation" would allow Democrats to forgo the Senate's 60-vote requirement and could potentially speed-up the next relief package for millions of unemployed Americans. Democrats hold the the 50-50 split in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote.Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.What he's saying: "What we cannot do is wait weeks and weeks and months to go forward. We have got to act now," Sanders said. * "We're going to use reconciliation — that's 50 votes in the Senate, plus the vice president — to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now." * When asked if he wants a relief bill passed before former President Trump's impeachment trial begins the week of Feb. 8, he said: "We've got to do everything. This is not — you don't have the time to sit around, weeks on impeachment and not get vaccines into the arms of people."Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
- National Review
President Biden will sign a fresh round of executive orders during his first full week in office, including actions loosening restrictions around abortion and immigration. Biden will issue and order to rescind the Mexico City policy, which prohibits U.S. funding for foreign organizations that perform or promote abortions. The administration also dodged last week on whether Biden plans to scrap the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funding of elective abortions under Medicaid. On immigration, Biden plans to establish a task force focused on reuniting migrant families who were separated as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, according to a memo outlining the upcoming executive actions obtained by The Hill. Biden will order an immediate review of the public-charge rule, which denies U.S. entry to migrants considered likely to become dependent on the government. The president also plans to roll back Trump administration policies on asylum and take “other actions to remove barriers and restore trust in the legal immigration system, including improving the naturalization process.” At the same time, Biden will take a page from the Trump administration’s playbook and sign an order directing federal agencies to tighten requirements on buying goods and services made in America from American businesses. Trump signed a similar directive during his first months in office. The president will also sign orders related to racial equity, including establishing a commission on police and bringing back Obama-era rules on transferring military-style equipment to local law enforcement. Another order will direct the Justice Department to improve prison conditions and begin the process of eliminating private prisons. Biden may also sign an order reversing a ban on transgender troops serving in the military. On climate change, Biden is expected to sign an order installing regulations to “combat climate change domestically and elevate climate change as a national security priority.”
Tacoma Police spokeswoman Wendy Haddow said police were alerted to the street racers and a 100-person crowd blocking area streets, according to the News Tribune. When the patrol car responded, the crowd began pounding on the vehicle's windows, she told local media. “He was afraid they would break his glass,” Haddow told the News Tribune, saying the officer sped away from the scene for his own safety.
- Associated Press
Indianapolis police arrested a 17-year-old boy Monday in the killings of five people, including a pregnant woman, who were shot to death inside a home in what the city's mayor called a “devastating act of violence.” The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement that the name of the suspect in Sunday's killings was “not being released at this time since the suspect is a juvenile." As officers were investigating, police received information about 4:40 a.m. that led them to a nearby home, where they found multiple adults dead inside from apparent gunshot wounds, Sgt. Shane Foley said Sunday.
- NBC News
First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
President Joe Biden will continue his flurry of executive orders on Monday, signing a new directive to require the federal government to “buy American” for products and services. Why it matters: The executive action is yet another attempt by Biden to accomplish goals administratively without waiting for the backing of Congress. The new order echoes Biden's $400 billion campaign pledge to increase government purchases of American goods.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.What they're saying: "President Biden is ensuring that when the federal government spends taxpayer dollars they are spent on American made goods by American workers and with American-made component parts," the White House said in a fact sheet.The big picture: Biden’s action kick offs another week in which the president will seek to undo many Trump policies with executive actions, while signaling the direction that he wants to take the country. * Biden will also reaffirm his support for the Jones Act, which requires maritime shipments between American ports to be carried on U.S. vessels. * Last week, Biden signed an order to attempt to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors and workers to $15 an hour.The bottom line: Former President Trump also attempted to force the federal government to rely on U.S. manufacturers for procurement with "buy American" provisions. * But supply chains — with some parts and components made outside of the U.S. — require long and complicated efforts to boost domestic manufacturing. Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
Drugmaker Merck & Co said on Monday it would stop development of its two COVID-19 vaccines and focus pandemic research on treatments, with initial data on an experimental oral antiviral expected by the end of March. Merck was late to join the race to develop a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 2 million people and continues to surge in many parts of the world including the United States. The company will record a pre-tax discontinuation charge in the fourth quarter for vaccine candidate V591, which it acquired with the purchase of Austrian vaccine maker Themis Bioscience, and V590, developed with nonprofit research organization IAVI, Merck said in a statement.
- Associated Press
The Supreme Court declined Monday to take up the case of former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is serving a 6 1/2-year prison sentence after being convicted in a corruption case. The high court's decision not to hear Silver's appeal is another sharp blow to the Manhattan Democrat, who was once one of the three most powerful state officials. Silver was ousted as speaker in 2015 and was convicted later that year.
- The Week
Rep. Matt Gaetz's (R-Fla.) attacks on Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) have drawn some sharp pushback from her spokesperson.Gaetz has been slamming Cheney over her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump in the House of Representatives, and he's planning a trip to her home state of Wyoming for an event as he demands she step down as House Republican Conference chair. Now, a spokesperson for Cheney is hitting back. "Rep. Gaetz can leave his beauty bag at home," a spokesperson for Cheney told the Washington Examiner on Sunday. "In Wyoming, the men don't wear make-up." Cheney, the third highest-ranking Republican in the House, voted to impeach Trump earlier this month for incitement of insurrection following a deadly attack on the Capitol by his supporters, saying, "The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack." Since then, Politico writes she has been "fighting to keep her political career alive."Before his planned Thursday trip to Wyoming, Gaetz said on Twitter over the weekend that he does "not want her job" and is "unequivocally" not "seeking a position in House Leadership" — but he added, "I also know Wyoming can do better." Cheney has defended her vote and her statement condemning Trump, saying, per the Washington Examiner, "All of us have an obligation to the Constitution and an obligation to do what we believe is right, what our oath compels us to do, that is above politics, above partisanship." In response to the statement from Cheney's spokesperson, Punchbowl News' Jake Sherman wrote that while it might be "easy to rag on people like" Gaetz on background, the "risk is someone on the fence is taken aback by this." More stories from theweek.com Trump must be prosecuted Moderna working on booster shot to increase protection against South African coronavirus variant Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing