Corralling the Cabinet
Just back from the Summit of the Americas, President Barack Obama gathered his Cabinet on Monday and asked them collectively to find $100 million in cost cuts over the next three months. That's a fraction of a fraction of a budget of well over $3 trillion, and it quickly drew ridicule from pundits and Republicans. Obama acknowledged that the goal amounts to a drop in the bucket, but "pretty soon even in Washington, it adds up to real money," he said. Cabinet meetings have not been the place to go for serious policymaking for many years. The work of making final, tough policy decisions is handled by the president and a small group of close advisers, most at the White House. That's not to say Obama's Cabinet lacks star power. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is one of the world's best-known figures. There was still one empty seat Monday: Health and Human Services nominee Kathleen Sebelius has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.
CIA pep talk, and Cheney
Days after releasing top secret memos that detailed the CIA's use of simulated drowning while interrogating terror suspects, Obama went to the spy agency's Virginia headquarters Monday to defend his decision and bolster morale. He urged hundreds of CIA employees gathered in a secure auditorium to ignore the controversy. "Don't be discouraged by what's happened the last few weeks," he said. "You need to know you've got my full support." Obama has vowed not to seek prosecution of CIA agents and interrogators who took part in waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics, but there were signs Monday that Obama might not be able to avoid a protracted inquiry into the use of the techniques. Aides on Monday did not rule out legal sanctions for the Bush administration lawyers who developed the legal basis for the use of the techniques. And ex-Vice President Dick Cheney accused Obama of endangering the country by disclosing national secrets.
Lobbyist exemptions urged
A coalition of nonprofit groups has started a campaign to exempt lobbyists for charitable and social welfare organizations that have tax-free status, meeting with presidential aides and sending them ideas for rewriting Obama's antilobbyist hiring policy. "It's an outrage," said Stephen Rickard, executive director of the Open Society Policy Center, an advocacy organization, complaining that the policy precluded Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, from becoming Obama's human rights chief. "Tom is one of the most effective and dedicated human rights activists in Washington," Rickard said. Malinowski was also a registered lobbyist, on behalf of genocide victims. The rules do not distinguish between those who advocate for moneyed interests and those who advocate for public interests. Obama has issued only a few waivers, and White House officials said they would not consider changes in the policy.