Holly Bailey

Stories by Holly Bailey

  • Obama Meets the Pope, Makes It Out Alive

    President Obama just wrapped up his visit with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. We’ll have to wait for word later from administration officials on what exactly the two talked about in their private sit-down. And no doubt the Vatican will have its own take. But reporters at the White House press file at the G-8 site in L’Aquila were able to see some of the visit on feed provided by official Vatican TV. Obama first met one-on-one with the pope, where the two exchanged the usual greetings as the president was escorted into Benedict's private apartment. The two leaders then went into the Papal Library, where Obama sat on one side of a very fancy wooden desk and Benedict sat on the other. As dozens of photographers captured the moment for eternity, Obama made small talk. “You must be used to having your picture taken,” the president said. The pope, with a faint smile, nodded. “I’m still getting used to it,” Obama told him. The pope gave him a careful look. “You must be getting...
  • At the G-8, Obama Gets Personal About Poverty

    One of the real accomplishments here at the G-8 was the announcement that participating countries would contribute $20 billion toward global food security. Administration officials initially estimated they would only get $15 billion in commitments but Obama pushed the issue heavily. At a meeting this morning with the leaders of Nigeria, Libya, Ethiopia and several other African countries, Obama, talked about his own family’s experience with Africa and poverty. “Everyone knows his father is from Kenya, that he still has relatives living in poverty, and that while he’s president of the United States, he feels poverty in a very personal way because of this of his family situation,” a senior administration official told reporters. In part, Obama talked about Kenya’s decline from the days when his father lived there, and it was an economy doing better than South Korea, to now, where family members who remain there struggle. “His cousin in Kenya can’t find a job without paying a bribe,”...
  • Obama Says G-8 Concerned About 'Appalling' Events in Iran

    Going before reporters here in Italy, President Obama called his first G-8 summit “highly productive,” even as he conceded that summit leaders didn’t agree on every issue and not every problem was solved. Obama cited “meaningful” progress on issues like climate change and nuclear proliferation and disputed reports that the summit had failed to meet expectations by not issuing sanctions on Iran for the “appalling events” in the wake of last month’s disputed election there. ...
  • Can Obama Find Common Ground With the Pope?

    For the past five days, President Obama has navigated some of the more trickier diplomatic moments of his young presidency—first in Moscow, where he talked to the Russians about nuclear weapons and Iran, and then at the G-8 summit, where talks were dominated by efforts to curb climate change. But as he enters the final stretch of his fourth presidential trip abroad, Obama faces his most emotional and perhaps most contentious meeting yet. On Friday, he’ll head to the Vatican to meet for the first time with Pope Benedict XVI, a leader with whom Obama shares strong philosophical differences.Among other things, Obama and the pope are at odds on abortion rights, stem cell research and other hot button cultural issues. But White House aides said Obama would go into the meeting looking for areas where they can agree.  That includes pushing for Middle East peace and fighting global poverty. Both men have been strong proponents for immigration reform and expanded health care. The White House...
  • Did the CIA Deliberately Lie to Congress?

    Now this is a big story, if true: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee accused the CIA of lying to Congress about classified actions, citing as their evidence recent testimony by the agency’s chief, Leon Panetta. Intel chairman Silvestre Reyes, in a letter sent to House Dem and GOP leadership, said the committee “has been misled, has not been provided full and complete notifications and (at least one case) has been affirmatively lied to.” (Here’s the letter, courtesy the Washington Post.) A separate letter signed by seven other Democrats on the Intel committee says Panetta recently told the panel in closed-door testimony on June 24th that the CIA had “misled members” and “concealed significant actions” from Congress for the last eight years. What actions are they specifically talking about? Democrats won’t say—but according to the Wall Street Journal, the CIA does confirm Panetta “took the initiative” to notify Congress about “lapses.” This comes on the heels of House...
  • WH Still Hopeful on Climate Change

    Even before President Obama arrived in Italy for the G-8, White House officials were downplaying expectations that there would be major movement on climate change policy here. And that’s still the message, a day after the talks produced an agreement to limit levels of greenhouse gases in the long term but failed to produce numerical benchmarks in the short term for how exactly to achieve that goal. Amid the disarray, developing nations, led by China and India, failed to sign onto the accord—putting at risk talks set for later this year in Copenhagen when the United Nations hopes to cement a worldwide climate treaty. Asked this morning about the failure to get an accord, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs repeated a line of argument he used earlier this week: that the administration is more concerned with getting something through Congress before turning to the world stage. “I'm not entirely sure that we expected to come here and have eight to 10 years of disagreement wash...
  • Lula Zings Obama on Soccer

    Ouch. At day two of the G-8 summit this morning, President Obama met with Brazilian President Lula da Silva, who couldn’t resist getting a dig in about his country’s recent victory over the U.S. national soccer team. The two leaders were gathered for a photo op in front of reporters when Lula motioned to an aide, who subsequently brought over a Brazilian soccer jersey autographed by team members. “Hey, look at this,” Obama said, holding up the shirt. As reporters watched, Lula began excitedly talking about how stressed he was during the June 28th soccer match between the U.S. and Brazilian national teams in the Confederations Cup series. The U.S. led most of that game 2-0, only to lose 3-2 to the Brazilians. Through an interpreter, Lula told Obama that he had spent most of the game on the edge of his seat and that he had subsequently ripped off Obama’s campaign catchphrase to make it through. “Yes we can, Yes we can,” Silva repeatedly said, as Obama grinned. Lula has long been one ...
  • G-8 on Guard for Aftershocks, Literally

    With so many world leaders in town, it goes without saying that there is massive security at the G-8 here in Italy. But there are some threats officials here simply can’t control, and that’s Mother Nature. The summit is being held in L’Aquila, a city that is rebuilding from a deadly earthquake this past April that killed nearly 300 people and left at least 50,000 homeless. Described as Italy's worst quake in 30 years, it measured 6.3 on the Richter scale, but the shaking hasn’t stopped. The city has been experiencing frequent aftershocks, including one over the weekend that measured a 4.1. That may not be a big deal to folks on the West Coast, but in L’Aquila, a city full of super old buildings, that’s a pretty hefty shake. The summit is being organized by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who originally had wanted to host President Obama and other leaders on a cruise ship off the coast of Sardinia. But after the earthquake, Berlusconi moved the meetings to L’Aquila to...
  • In Italy for the G-8, Obama Turns to Climate Change

    President Obama just arrived in Italy, where he’ll spend two days meeting with foreign leaders at the Group of Eight meeting in L’Aquila before heading to Rome where he’ll sit down with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Friday. What’s on the agenda this week? Everything—though talks are expected to focus on Iran, financial markets,  non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the on-going war in Afghanistan, and world hunger. On Thursday, Obama will chair a meeting expected to focus primarily on climate change. And then there’s the random issues that might come up. Not unlike the G-20 meetings in London in April, there are rumblings here that China might be reviving that touchy subject of setting up a currency to compete with the U.S. dollar—though that might have lost some steam as Chinese President Hu Jintao abruptly headed back home today to deal with the violent rioting that has left more than 150 people dead in Western China. That has left a hole in President Obama’s schedule, as...
  • Did Obama's Sit Down With Putin Change Anything?

    White House officials have now done two readouts on what went down with President Obama and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at their meeting here in Moscow on Tuesday morning. The assessment: No major drama, at least not that they are talking about yet. We had wondered if Putin might try to exhibit some manliness to, you know, one up the new kid on the block. After all, we’re talking about a guy who once tranquilized a tiger in front of the cameras. When President Bush visited Putin’s house a few years ago, the then-Russian prez tried to show Bush up by bragging that his dog was better than then-official White House canine Barney—this according to W. himself, who laughed about the episode later in a talk with reporters at the White House. Did Putin try to besmirch Bo? No word on that, but White House officials have repeated again and again, with some surprise, how well Obama and Putin seemed to get on—citing, among other things, that the meeting went longer than planned. ...
  • Obama Reiterates Support for Public Plan

    As he prepares to leave Russia and head to Italy for the G8, President Obama has understandably been focused heavily on foreign policy the past few days. But the White House in an interesting move released a statement from Obama this afternoon on an increasingly heated issue back home: health care reform. Obama's statement walked back an interview Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, gave to the Wall Street Journal Monday. In the interview, Emanuel implied the WH could deal with a reform bill that doesn’t include a so-called public plan--a cornerstone of what Obama has been proposing since the camaign. “'The goal is to have a means and a mechanism to keep the private insurers honest, " Emanuel told the WSJ. "The goal is non-negotiable; the path is negotiable." Oh yeah? Well someone didn’t think so, and the White House issued a short statement from the prez contradicting his top aide. “I am pleased by the progress we're making on health care reform and...
  • Fact Check: When Did Obama Meet His Wife?

    Did President Obama make a flub today when talking about when he met his wife, Michelle? Just before his speech to a university here in Moscow this afternoon, Obama mentioned his first meeting with the future First Lady in an offhand remark. “I don’t know if anybody else will meet their future wife or husband in class like I did, but I’m sure you’ll all going to have wonderful careers,” the president said. The thing is: Obama didn’t technically meet his wife at school. Although both are Harvard Law School grads, Michelle Obama got her degree in the spring of 1988 while her future husband didn’t actually start school there until later that fall. (He graduated in 1991). The Obamas officially met in Chicago in 1989, when the future president was a summer associate at the Sidley Austin law firm and Michelle was assigned as his mentor. Was what Obama said wrong? Technically no, considering Obama was still going to school when he met his wife. But for those keeping close watch on Obama...
  • Obama Hits Russia on Democracy, Human Rights

    In his speech here in Moscow today, President Obama pushed for a more cooperative and trusting relationship between the U.S. and Russia, but that didn’t stop him from delivering some tough words when it comes to the country’s track record on democracy. “By no means is America perfect, but it is our commitment to certain universal values which allows us to correct our imperfections and to grow stronger over time,” Obama said. He cited his own experience, noting that if democracy did not advance “competitive elections” that he as an African American “wouldn’t be able to address you as an American citizen, much less a President.” White House aides say he repeated the same message in private to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. An excerpt of the speech is after the jump, courtesy the White House....
  • Is Obama's PR Message In Russia Working?

    Your Gaggler is in the press pool today, and I can now report first hand: the Russians really aren’t that excited about President Obama. Almost every trip, foreign and domestic, Obama has been the subject of curious, often cheering crowds. On domestic trips, some people even show up to boo. Not here. On the ride to and from Vladamir Putin’s house in Western Moscow, most Russians on the street this morning regarded Obama’s motorcade with total indifference. No cheering. No booing. It’s been a whole lot of, well, nothing. The motorcade route is usually sprinkled with dozens and dozens of people taking photos of Obama and his entourage as his limo passes. This morning, your Gaggler counted a grand total of four. ...
  • At Last, Obama and Putin Meet

    On Tuesday morning, President Obama drove about 25 minutes outside of central Moscow to have breakfast with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s former president turned prime minister. The meeting was highly anticipated to say the least. As your Gaggler noted yesterday, pretty much everybody seems to think Putin is still running the show here in Moscow, although Obama and the White House, when asked, won’t even go there. Here’s one telling sign: Obama visited Putin in the compound where he lived as president, Novo Ogaryovo. According to the locals, Putin liked it so much that when his term ended as president, he just decided to stay on, leaving current Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to find alternate housing. Today’s meeting was the first time Obama and Putin had ever met. Upon arrival, Putin met Obama outside for a quick handshake, before they headed upstairs to an ornate living room, where they briefly spoke to reporters. The initial meeting was cordial, but in your Gaggler’s view, it see...
  • From Medvedev, With Love

    No one should ever forget their first visit to a nuclear storage site. According to local media here in Moscow, one of President Medvedev’s ceremonial gifts to President Obama this week was a photo album documenting Obama’s last visit to Russia in 2005. The album reportedly includes photos of then-Sen. Obama touring a nuclear warhead storage site with other members of Congress as well as a missile disposal site. Ah memories. But that wasn’t all Obama received. The Russian prez also gifted POTUS a collection of historical documents, including letters from Tsar Alexander II to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. No word yet from the White House on what Obama gave Medvedev.
  • WH 'Deeply Concerned' Over Violence in China

    At least 150 people have been killed and more than 800 injured in China’s western Xinjiang province today after rioting broke out between ethnic Muslim Uighurs and members of China’s Han majority. Asked for his reaction during the presser today in Moscow, President Obama declined to comment, telling reporters he didn’t want to say anything until he had been fully briefed. Hours later, administration officials still aren't saying much. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs just issued an official statement on behalf of the administration, basically repeating a no comment. “We are deeply concerned over reports of many deaths and injuries from violence in Urumqi in western China,” Gibbs said in a written statement. “Reports, so far, are unclear about the circumstances surrounding the deaths and injuries, so it would be premature to comment or speculate further. We call on all in Xinjiang to exercise restraint.” The violence has been watched very closely here in Moscow, as the...
  • Who's Really Running the Show in Russia?

    There was a funny moment during President Obama’s presser with Russian Prez Dmitry Medvedev this evening. The Associated Press’s Ben Feller asked Obama about conventional wisdom in Russia and beyond that suggests Medvedev isn’t really running the show here in Moscow but that the strings are really being pulled by Vladimir Putin, the former president who is now prime minister. Who does Obama think is in charge? As Feller asked the question, Medvedev cocked an eyebrow and delivered what your Gaggler would describe as the classic stink eye. For his part, Obama didn't go there. He said he'd be meeting Putin for the first time tomorrow and that he was anticipating the sit down. (Me too, Mr. President.) “My understanding is that President Medvedev is the president; Prime Minister Putin is the prime minister,” Obama said. “And they allocate power in accordance with Russia’s form of government, in the same way we allocate power in the United States.” It was at this precise moment...
  • Obama and Medvedev Reach Tentative Agreement on Nukes

    A day after talks seemed in doubt, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a preliminary agreement that if ultimately approved would dramatically reduce each country’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. The agreement, which must ultimately be approved by Congress, would replace an arms control treaty set to expire this December. What Obama and Medvedev signed today specifically instructions negotiators as they work toward a final agreement, but White House officials acknowledged its hardly a done deal. The so-called “joint understanding” commits the U.S. and Russia to reduce their strategic warheads to a range of 1,500 to 1,675 weapons, down from a limit of 2,200 set by George W. Bush and Vladamir Putin in a treaty set to take effect in 2012. Today’s tentative deal would also limit so-called delivery vehicles to a range between 500 and 1,000—down from the Bush/Putin treaty that would limit those to 1,600. The two leaders also agreed on what the White House described...
  • The WH Briefing Room Isn't Quite Like This

    The dirty little secret about presidential foreign trips: There is A LOT of hurry up and wait. In about two hours, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will hold a news conference. For now, reporters are holding in perhaps the most opulent press filing center your Gaggler has ever seen. We're inside the Kremlin Palace, in a huge room featuring massive gold chandeliers and lots of ornate woodwork, including handpainted wood floors. There are at least three gold-plated fireplaces. Not too shabby.
  • Obama Talks to Kremlin Critics

    The White House just released a transcript of President Obama’s written interview with Novaya Gazeta, a Russian opposition newspaper that has a long history of fighting with the Kremlin. The interview isn’t incredibly newsworthy: Obama pledges that a push for human rights will included in his negotiations with top Russian leaders and praises Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s efforts on judicial reform. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the interview is that Obama gave it at all. Novaya Gazeta is known for its investigative reporting and commentaries critical of the Kremlin, particularly Vladimir Putin—whom the paper has lambasted for rolling back freedoms in Russia. The reporting didn’t sit well: Four of its reporters have been murdered in the last eight years, most recently in January. Most of the killings remain unsolved, including the death of its most famous reporter, Anna Politkovskya, who was shot in 2006.  During his eight years in office, Putin refused to talk to...
  • Obama Arrives in Moscow

    President Obama just arrived in Moscow. First stop: He and First Lady Michelle Obama will lay flowers at the Russian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, just off Red Square. Then it’s off to the Kremlin, where Obama will meet one on one with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. They’ll have a press conference later this afternoon--er well, morning to you guys back home. Two things of note so far: Local TV did not show Air Force One’s arrival in Moscow so maybe there's something to those reports about the Russians being totally blasé about the president of the United States being in town. (Your Gaggler and other reporters not in the press pool today instead were witness to yet another interview with Jermaine Jackson. Thanks CNN!) And in another strange weather development, it’s suddenly not raining anymore.  It had been pouring buckets, so much so that your Gaggler had made a few bad jokes about building an ark. (Yes, we know. We won’t quit our day job.) But within minutes of Obama’s...
  • Obama to the Russians: My Golf Swing Sucks

    What does President Obama dislike about himself?  His golf swing. Your Gaggler thinks that’s sort of a lame answer (Come on Mr. President! Golf?), but that’s what Obama told an interviewer from Russia’s state-run Rossiya TV and ITAR-TASS news agency ahead of his trip to Moscow. “I don’t like my golf swing,” Obama said, according to a transcript released by the White House. “It’s a game I keep on thinking that I should be good at, and somehow the ball goes this way and that way and never goes straight.” It’s not for lack of trying: Obama has been golfing more than a dozen times since he moved into the White House. He’s golfed at least once every weekend for the past month, including this past Saturday when he the links at Andrews Air Force Base ahead of a July 4th barbecue at the White House. This isn’t the first time Obama has bemoaned his golf skills. In an interview with CBS’s Harry Smith last month, Obama confessed that he’s “terrible” at the game but that he won’t stop because...
  • From Russia, With Love

    Good morning from Russia! Your Gaggler is in a very rainy Moscow awaiting the arrival of President Obama who is scheduled to land here in a few hours. He’ll spend the next three days meeting with top Russian leaders, including President Dmitry Medvedev and former president turned Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Your Gaggler wrote an opus last week going over what this trip is all about. But we’ll sum it up again here in just one word: “reset.” Obama is hoping to turn the page on what has been chilly relations between the U.S. and Russia in hopes of finding new common goals. But that looks increasingly difficult, given the widening differences between the Washington and Moscow on issues like Iran and the U.S.’s plans for a missile defense shield. Administration officials had hoped to announce significant progress on a the renegotiation of a nuclear arms treaty that Obama and Medvedev announced at their first meeting last April in London. But last night, a senior White House official ...
  • Obama on Putin, Pies and GITMO

    Here's more from President Obama's interview this morning with the Associated Press’s Jennifer Loven:On Russia, Obama was asked why he plans to meet with former Russian President Vladimir Putin in addition to talks with current leader Dmitry Medvedev. “(Putin) still has a lot of sway…and I think that it's important that even as we move forward with President Medvedev that Putin understand that the old Cold War approaches to U.S.-Russian relations is outdated — that's it's time to move forward in a different direction,” Obama told the AP. “"I think Medvedev understands that. I think Putin has one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new, and to the extent that we can provide him and the Russian people a clear sense that the U.S. is not seeking an antagonistic relationship but wants cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation, fighting terrorism, energy issues, that we'll end up having a stronger partner overall in this process.”...
  • Biden Makes Surprise Visit to Baghdad

    Vice President Joe Biden just landed in Baghdad in a surprise two-day visit to Iraq. According to the White House, Biden is there to meet with U.S. military officials and troops and will sit down with Iraqi political leaders including President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The trip comes on the heels of Biden’s new Iraq duties. As Newsweek was first to report, President Obama has asked Biden to take the lead on Iraq policy with the goal of encouraging Iraqi political leaders to get their act together. Here’s part of my write-up from Newsweek's latest issue:Biden's role will be something of an unofficial envoy to Iraq, though he won't handle day-to-day dealings with officials on the ground. The goal is to "raise the level" in hopes that Biden's stature encourages Iraqi officials to bridge their political differences, says a senior administration official who didn't want to be named talking about high-level personnel decisions. ...
  • As Obama Heads to Russia, the 'Reset' Faces Its First Test

    When President Obama met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for the first time last April, both men called for a new day in relations between the two countries. Obama said he wanted to push the “reset” button, while Medvedev called for an end to the “drift” in the U.S./Russian dynamic. They pledged to forge a more pragmatic relationship than their predecessors, George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, who bonded personally even as ties between Russia and the U.S. sank to new lows. Obama did not want to be “buddy buddy” with Medvedev, a senior administration official told reporters at the time. The White House, according to the official, wanted to forge something “more substantial,” a rapport of “candor and frankness” that would produce real results....
  • Who Gets Paid What in the Obama White House

    How much does Jon Favreau get paid to write President Obama’s speeches? According to a list of salaries released today by the White House, Obama’s chief speechwriter makes $172,200 a year—the top salary possible in the West Wing. Favreau, who is paid on par with what President Bush’s chief speechwriter was paid in 2008, earns the same salary as 19 other top administration officials, including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, National Security Adviser Jim Jones and economic adviser Larry Summers. The list, which is provided to Congress annually by the White House, includes staffers in the Executive Office of the President, including the first lady’s office and the Domestic Policy Council. (Vice President Biden’s staff salaries are typically disclosed in a separate report to the Senate.) Among the highlights: Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, who makes $113,000; Stephanie Cutter, who is leading the Sonia Sotomayor’s...
  • What is Mark Sanford Thinking?

    Who is advising Mark Sanford these days? That’s what your Gaggler is wondering, considering the embattled South Carolina governor will not stop treating the media as a confessional. In two days of interviews with the Associated Press, Sanford not only owned up to still being in love with the Argentine woman he cheated on his wife with, but he confessed to having “crossed the lines” with other women in the past—though he insists he didn’t have sex with them. Sanford admitted that he’d seen his mistress, now identified as Maria Belen Chapur, more often than he’d initially admitted and described her as his “soul mate.” “This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, this was a love story,” the governor told the AP. “A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day.” And Sanford is coming clean with all this, even as he says he wants to reconcile with his wife, Jenny, whom he is "trying to fall back in love with." Yikes. We can only guess at the advice...
  • Can Obama Sell Health Care Reform Without Getting Too Specific?

    President Obama heads to the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., today to hold a health care town hall. It’s the second time in a week that Obama has taken questions from the public on reform efforts. Last Wednesday, Obama participated in an ABC News forum on the topic at the White House. Today, Obama will take questions from a live audience, as well as those submitted via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. It’s all a part of Obama’s efforts to use his own political popularity to get health care reform through Congress. This marks a bit of a strategy change for the White House. Initially, Obama tried to take a hands-off approach to the legislation, allowing Congress to take the lead. The plan seemed based on not repeating the mistakes of the Clinton White House which saw its reform efforts go down the tubes in 1993 when it took a heavy-handed approach to the bill, as opposed to letting lawmakers run the show. But Obama is far more popular than Bill Clinton was, and Democrats want the...