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Joblessness? Deficits? Wars? Let's Party!
Washington never looks more out of touch than it will this weekend, when movie stars, music moguls, media mavens, and their advertisers join President Obama at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
It is called the “nerd prom.”
Established decades ago to encourage comity between reporters and The Reported, the dinner has in recent years been overshadowed by star-gazing, extravagant parties, and the antics of hired comics. Conan O’Brien entertains the crowd Saturday night.
As we say in Washington, the dinner is “lousy optics” – rarely more so than Saturday night, when the backdrop will be joblessness, a budget deficit, the Boston Marathon bombing, and a blood-red line in Syria.
Traditionally, the president addresses the dinner to poke fun at himself and his audience before ending on a sober note. Last year, President Obama closed by praising “a free press that isn’t afraid to ask questions, to examine and to criticize.”
And to party.
HOUSE PASSES SENATE MEASURE TO EASE FLIGHT DELAYS. The House on Friday passed by a 361-41 vote a Senate measure to alleviate flight delays caused this week by furloughs of air traffic controllers and other essential FAA employees due to sequestration. The legislation will empower the Department of Transportation to cover the employee costs by shifting unspent funds. White House press secretary Jay Carney said that President Obama will sign the legislation, but added, “Ultimately, this is no more than a temporary Band-Aid that fails to address the overarching threat to our economy posed by the sequester's mindless across-the-board cuts.” Read more
- The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber calls the Democrats’ actions on the matter a “shameful” cave-in.
LAWMAKERS QUIETLY SEEKING NEW PATH ON GUNS. Despite the high-profile failure of last week’s gun-bill vote, two of the major players involved in the matter are moving forward, albeit quietly, The New York Times reports. Both Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., are re-engaging, with Manchin saying he is looking at tweaking language in the failed background-check bill that would make it more palatable to rural constituencies. At the same time, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is working with Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Chuck Grassley of Iowa on a separate, anti-trafficking provision. Read more
- Despite the gun-bill setback, Toomey’s approval rating is at a record-high among Pennsylvania voters.
OBAMA ADDRESSES PLANNED PARENTHOOD CONFERENCE. President Obama on Friday addressed the national conference of Planned Parenthood, where he criticized state legislatures for passing laws restricting abortion rights. “There's nothing conservative about the government injecting itself into decisions best made between a woman and her doctors," Obama told the audience. “When politicians try to turn Planned Parenthood into a punching bag, they're not just talking about you, they're talking about the millions of women who you serve.” The president thanked the organization for its advocacy of the Affordable Care Act and asked for help in educating the public on the law’s benefits. Read more
DOING NOTHING IN SYRIA IS RISKIER THAN GETTING INVOLVED. Should the United States and its allies become directly involved in Syria’s civil war, historians may well look back at Thursday’s announcement that the regime of strongman Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people as an important inflection point. In truth, the Obama administration has already been quietly increasing its assistance to the Syrian rebels for months, as red flags continue to mount indicating that the cost of doing almost nothing about Syria has steadily begun to outweigh the risks of doing more, National Journal’s James Kitfield reports. Read more
THE AMERICAN DREAM, DOWNSIZED. This week’s National Journal magazine focuses on the economy, the middle class and downsized dreams. In the cover story, Amy Sullivan writes that the beginning of the 21st century was a lost decade for the middle class, but the decline has been underway for many more years. In the early 1970s, middle-class households earned 62 percent of the national income; today, they bring in just 45 percent. These households are more vulnerable, economists say, than at any time since World War II. Check out other offerings in the magazine, including how Millennials are the unluckiest generation, how retirement keeps getting further away, and how online education saves everyone money.
- The economy expanded by 2.5 percent in the first quarter, but underwhelmed economists’ expectations of about 3 percent growth.
GOVERNMENT MIGHT NOT HIT DEBT CEILING UNTIL AUTUMN. According to analysts, the nation may not reach the debt limit as early as previously anticipated, due to increases in tax revenue, decreases in federal spending, and potential revenue from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, The Washington Post reports. The debt limit of $16.4 trillion has been suspended through May 18, at which point it is expected to automatically increase to $16.8 trillion. In light of the revenue streams and reduced spending, analysts now project that the government will reach the debt ceiling in September or October. Read more
FROMAN, PRITZKER REPORTEDLY CLOSE TO TRADE, COMMERCE NODS. Sources claim that Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman will soon be named U.S. Trade Representative, while billionaire businesswoman and Obama fundraiser Penny Pritzker is still slated for nomination as Commerce secretary, Reuters reports. The White House declined to comment on the nominations, which would address some of the final vacancies in Obama’s second-term Cabinet. Read more
PLEASE DON’T CALL IT A NERD PROM! “Nerd prom” is a misnomer for Saturday's White House Correspondents’ Dinner, The Atlantic Wire’s Philip Bump writes. “By our math, over three-quarters of the announced guests at tomorrow night's non-prom are not nerds. The majority are celebrities.” However inaccurate, members of the media have embraced the term, which “is really a humblebrag, a way of saying, ‘I'm going to this thing that is so dorky because everyone who goes is such a brilliant nerd, and did I mention I am going to it.’” Read more
- NBC’s Tom Brokaw reiterated his criticism of the Dinner this week, saying, “The breaking point for me was Lindsay Lohan. She became a big star at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Give me a break.”
COLBERT BUSCH OUTRAISES SANFORD NEARLY TWO-TO-ONE. Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch raised nearly twice as much money as did former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford over the last two months, ahead of the May 7 special election for the Palmetto State's 1st District seat, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission late on Thursday. Colbert Busch brought in an impressive $877,694 in the pre-special election period, which ran from Feb. 28 to April 17. Sanford, meanwhile, raised $453,554 and ended the period with $284,245 in the bank, slightly more than Colbert Busch's $254,459 cash-on-hand total. Read more
WHY DID GABON GIVE OBAMA A GIFT WORTH OVER $52,000? On Thursday, Obama released a list of all the gifts he accepted in 2011 on behalf of the United States. For each gift, the PDF names the donor country, a description of the gift, an estimate of its value, and a reason why Obama accepted it. France was the third-most generous country to the United States by the value of its gifts ($42,144.86). Coming ahead of it was Brazil ($43,802.46), which seemed really fixated on giving Obama rare soccer jerseys. But the award for Most Lavish Foreign Dignitary goes to the president of Gabon, the tiny West African country, as National Journal’s Brian Fung reports. Read more
"I'm not going to try to get even with anybody. If you start to blame everyone else for something that happened you didn't like, it will destroy you. It will eat you alive." — Former Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., in one of his first interviews since the end of his failed Senate campaign. (KSDK-TV)
‘DON’T BE STUPID. I JUST KILLED A POLICEMAN IN CAMBRIDGE.’ The story of the carjacking that ultimately led to a manhunt for the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings “unfolds like a Tarantino movie, bursts of harrowing action laced with dark humor and dialogue absurd for its ordinariness, reminders of just how young the men in the car were,” Eric Moskowitz writes for The Boston Globe. “Girls, credit limits for students, the marvels of the Mercedes ML 350 and the iPhone 5, whether anyone still listens to CDs—all were discussed by the two 26-year-olds and the 19-year-old driving around on a Thursday night.” The man whose car was hijacked, known as “Danny,” relays a 90-minute journey that ended in the daring escape that alerted the cops to the suspects’ whereabouts. Read more
PLAY OF THE DAY
LET’S PARTY LIKE IT’S 2006! With the Thursday dedication of George W. Bush’s presidential library, hosts were able to recycle jokes from the previous decade. Proving the point, Jon Stewart started The Daily Show nearly hyperventilating with giddiness and eventually had to breathe comically into a paper bag. On CBS, Craig Ferguson played on Bush’s last name, while David Letterman highlighted an interview with Bush’s mother, Barbara. On NBC, Jimmy Fallon made fun of Bush’s statue and The Tonight Show’s Jay Leno hit Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and President Obama. Watch it here
HILLARY CLINTON AND THAT CABLE ‘SIGNATURE’ SMOKING GUN. This week, The House released a scathing report on Benghazi that found Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had “signed” an April 2012 cable that denied additional security for the mission in Benghazi, seemingly contradicting testimony she had given to Congress earlier this year saying she was unaware of such a request. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker takes a look at Republicans’ claims, put forward most prominently by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and finds the chairman and Republicans all wet. Read more
DINNER THEATER. On D.C.'s self-congratulatory weekend, the Sunday shows will be dominated by the latest from Syria and Boston.
- NBC’s Meet the Press hosts Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
- CBS’s Face the Nation hosts Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
- ABC’s This Week hosts Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md.
- Fox News Sunday hosts Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas.
- CNN’s State of the Union hosts Reps. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.
- Bloomberg’s Capitol Gains hosts Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
- C-SPAN’s Newsmakers features Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.