Quick Takes

By Dan Froomkin
11:11 AM ET, 03/31/2009

Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times: "President Obama traveled to Capitol Hill on Monday evening to bolster House Democrats as Congress began a politically charged budget debate that will determine the president's ability to pursue his broad domestic policy agenda. In a private session with lawmakers, Mr. Obama urged them to remain united behind the House's $3.5 trillion spending plan, saying its approval would provide momentum for more difficult fights to come over major policy changes he has promised. 'If we don't pass the budget, it will empower those critics who don't want to see anything getting done,' Mr. Obama told his fellow Democrats...Lawmakers and aides said Mr. Obama also impressed them with his detailed level of political knowledge, reminding one questioner that the lawmaker had voted against his economic stimulus legislation. 'Don't think we're not keeping score, brother,' Mr. Obama said."

AFP reports: "A former top US government advisor who faces possible indictment in Spain for his role in establishing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp described the case against him as 'outrageous.' Douglas Feith -- a key advisor in president George W. Bush's Pentagon -- told Fox News that moves before a Spanish court to indict him for facilitating torture were an effort to 'intimidate US government officials.'"

Reuters reports: "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday the Obama administration had dropped 'war on terror' from its lexicon, rhetoric former President George W. Bush used to justify many of his actions. 'The (Obama) administration has stopped using the phrase and I think that speaks for itself. Obviously,' Clinton told reporters traveling with her to The Hague for a conference on Afghanistan."

William Glaberson writes in the New York Times: "The Justice Department announced Monday that the administration had decided to release a detainee at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, a Yemeni doctor who the Bush administration once claimed had taken part in an anthrax program of Al Qaeda. The government had backed away from the anthrax accusations but had continued to hold the detainee....The decision...came in the third case the Obama administration has reviewed under new procedures the president put in place to analyze the cases of military detainees in preparation for closing the Guantánamo prison in Cuba."

Peter Baker writes in the New York Times: "President Obama on Monday repeated his request for Sudan to let more than a dozen expelled humanitarian aid groups back into the country and suggested that if it did not, he would 'find some mechanism' to get food, water and medicine to the people of Darfur."

Reuters reports: "Obama signed sweeping land and water conservation rules into law on Monday, setting aside millions of acres as protected areas and delighting environmentalists. The measure, a package of more than 160 bills, would designate about 2 million acres -- parks, rivers, streams, desert, forest and trails -- in nine states as new wilderness and render them off limits to oil and gas drilling and other development."

Juliet Eilperin writes in The Washington Post about "more than a dozen environmental initiatives the new administration has undertaken in its first two months. In nearly every case, the decisions were based on extensive analysis and documentation that rank-and-file employees had prepared over the past couple of years, often in the face of contrary-minded Bush administration officials. After years of chafing under political appointees who viewed stricter environmental regulation with skepticism, long-serving federal officials are seeing work that had been gathering dust for years translate quickly into action."

Is Vice President Joe Biden the anti-Cheney? A gadfly, rather than a puppetmaster? Mark Leibovich writes in the New York Times: "'There's, I think, an institutional barrier sometimes to truth-telling in front of the president,' Mr. Obama said. 'Joe is very good about sometimes articulating what's on other people's minds, or things that they've said in private conversations that people have been less willing to say in public. Joe, in that sense, can help stir the pot.'"

Elisabeth Bumiller writes about Defense Secretary Robert Gates and how the "canny, deceptively bland Washington master of adaptation — he is a former director of central intelligence who has served eight presidents of both parties — is trying to cement his role in the Obama inner circle."

Liz Sidoti writes for the Associated Press that "old racial stereotypes and Internet-fueled falsehoods flourish about the first black president."

Denise Lavoie writes for the Associated Press: "Barack Obama's Kenyan aunt lost her bid for asylum more than four years ago, and a judge ordered her deported. Instead, Zeituni Onyango stayed, living for years in public housing. Now, in a case that puts the president in a tough position both personally and politically, Onyango's request is being reconsidered under a little-used provision in U.S. immigration rules that allows denied asylum claims to be reheard if applicants can show that something has changed to make them eligible. Such as the ascension of her nephew to the presidency of the world's most powerful country."

Erica Orden writes in New York Magazine: "At a time when people are having trouble holding on to their houses, Barack and Michelle Obama have sensibly decided not to use taxpayers' money to renovate theirs."

And not only that, but CNN's Alexander Mooney and Shannan Butler note: "New presidents have traditionally undertaken extensive redecoration efforts to their personal quarters reflect their own tastes, with a new Oval Office rug tradition ringing in as the priciest item. Former President George W. Bush spent over $60,000 on a new cream carpet designed by Laura Bush in 2000 to replace the deep blue rug that covered the space during the Clinton administration. Obama aides have said the president likes the Bush rug, and does not plan to replace it."

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