Happy Birthday, Michelle Obama!

First lady Michelle Obama celebrated her 47th birthday yesterday by dining out with her husband.   The first couple ate dinner together on January 17 at The Source, a Washington, DC restaurant run by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.  They were able to make the trip down Pennsylvania Avenue to the restaurant despite a snow and ice storm that began passing through the city last night.

The details of their dinner, such as what they ate, have not been publicly discussed, although The Source calls its cuisine “pan-Asian.”

Michelle Obama’s Letter to Parents

In the wake of the attempted assassination of Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, many have asked what drives a person to open fire on a peacefully assembled crowd and what something like this says about the United States.  For children these questions can be particularly confusing and difficult.  To help cope, first lady Michelle Obama released an open letter to parents across the United States yesterday offering ways to talk to children about the heartbreaking events in Arizona and lessons we can all take away from the tragedy. 

“In the days and weeks ahead, as we struggle with these issues ourselves, many of us will find that our children are struggling with them as well.  The questions my daughters have asked are the same ones that many of your children will have – and they don’t lend themselves to easy answers.  But they will provide an opportunity for us as parents to teach some valuable lessons – about the character of our country, about the values we hold dear, and about finding hope at a time when it seems far away.

“We can teach our children that here in America, we embrace each other, and support each other, in times of crisis.  And we can help them do that in their own small way – whether it’s by sending a letter, or saying a prayer, or just keeping the victims and their families in their thoughts.

“We can teach them the value of tolerance – the practice of assuming the best, rather than the worst, about those around us.  We can teach them to give others the benefit of the doubt, particularly those with whom they disagree. 

“We can also teach our children about the tremendous sacrifices made by the men and women who serve our country and by their families.  We can explain to them that although we might not always agree with those who represent us, anyone who enters public life does so because they love their country and want to serve it.” 

Read the full letter.

Vice President Biden Visits Troops in Iraq

After making a surprise visit to Afghanistan earlier this week, Vice President Biden rounded out his trip with a stop in Iraq, meeting with leaders of the newly formed Iraqi government and visiting with some of the remaining American troops stationed in the country.  Biden spoke about the work American troops are still doing in Iraq to train Iraqi forces and to help establish a strong foundation for Iraq’s infrastructure.  Continue reading

A Nation in Mourning

President Obama addressed a crowded stadium of mourners at the University of Arizona last night during a memorial ceremony for the victims of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson, Arizona.  Obama eulogized the six victims who lost their lives when a gunman open fired at an event in a grocery store parking lot in an alleged attempt to assassinate U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  He also shared the hopeful news that, after surviving a point-blank gunshot wound to the head, Congresswoman Giffords had just opened her eyes for the first time since the shooting.  Continue reading

President Obama on One Year Anniversary of Earthquake in Haiti

In a statement released on the one year anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, President Obama paid respects to those who lost their lives in the disaster, and recalled the assistance the United States continues to provide the Haitian people today. 

The president also said:

“On this day when our thoughts and prayers are with the Haitian people, my message is the same as it was last year.  Haiti can and must lead the way, with a strong vision for its future.  The international community must now fulfill the pledges it has made to ensure a strong and sustained long-term effort.  And as they forge ahead with the hard work of rebuilding their proud country, the people of Haiti will continue to have an enduring partner in the United States.”

You can read his full statement on the official White House website: http://bit.ly/gXfRQo

Learn more:  Haiti After One Year

President Obama Will Travel to Arizona

President Obama will travel to Arizona on Wednesday where he is expected to speak publicly about the shooting of a Congresswoman and bystanders in Tucson, Arizona. The Congresswoman is alive but in critical condition after being shot in the brain. Six bystanders were killed and many others wounded.

President Obama will deliver his speech from the University of Arizona, during an event the university is calling “Together We Thrive: Tucson and America.” There is much speculation as to what the president will say in his remarks. Will he call for more civility in American politics? Will he speak about the heroes who have emerged from the tragedy, including the 20-year-old intern who rushed to the Congresswoman to stop the bleeding from her head with his bare hands, possibly saving her life?

Whatever the contents of his speech, some Americans are seeing similarities between the Tucson shooting and the Oklahoma City bombing, which occurred in 1995. Both attacks were attacks on Federal employees, and after that bombing, President Clinton traveled to Oklahoma City where he delivered a speech in an effort to unify the country after tragedy.

Presidents Obama, Sarkozy Meet in Washington

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in Washington today to meet with President Obama and to discuss a range of issues affecting both their countries, such as the global economy and national security.  France will assume the presidency of the G-8 and the G-20 in 2011.

After their meeting the two presidents held a joint press conference during which President Obama said they discussed, “how we can coordinate our [G-8 and G-20] agendas to make sure that we are as productive as possible in delivering the kinds of reforms and follow-through that will result in prosperity for peoples around the globe.”

Speaking about Franco-American relations President Obama said: “We don’t have a stronger friend and a stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy and the French people.  We have cooperated over the last several years on dealing with a global economic crisis, dealing with the challenges of terrorism, dealing with a range of geopolitical issues from the Middle East to Iran to Afghanistan.  And I’ve always found Nicolas to be an outstanding partner and an outstanding friend to the American people, as well as a leader on the world stage.”

As the presidents met, so did their wives.  Mrs. Obama hosted Mrs. Bruni-Sarkozy for lunch at the White House.

Vice President Biden Arrives in Afghanistan

Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise trip to Afghanistan today.  He arrived on Monday night Kabul time and is there to gather first-hand information on the situation in the country.   He is scheduled to participate in a number of high-level meetings, including with President Hamid Karzai, and will also visit an Afghan National Army Training Center.  Biden will also likely be looking to see if the Obama administration’s Afghanistan strategy is leading to progress in the nation.

President Obama made his own surprise visit to Afghanistan in early December 2010.

President Obama’s Statement on the Arizona Shooting

President Obama has issued a statement after a gunman shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona, on Saturday as she held a political meet-and-greet with her constituents at a grocery store in Tucson.  The Congresswoman remains in critical condition after a bullet passed through the left side of her brain.  Six people were killed in the attack, and others were seriously wounded.  You can read the president’s full statement on the White House’s official website.  Here is an excerpt:

“It’s not surprising that today Gabby was doing what she always does — listening to the hopes and concerns of her neighbors.  That is the essence of what our democracy is all about.  That is why this is more than a tragedy for those involved.  It is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our entire country.

What Americans do at times of tragedy is to come together and support each other.  So at this time I ask all Americans to join me and Michelle in keeping all the victims and their families, including Gabby, in our thoughts and prayers.  Those who have been injured, we are rooting for them.  And I know Gabby is as tough as they come, and I am hopeful that she’s going to pull through.”

President Obama will lead a national moment of silence today at 11:00 EST to honor the victims of the tragedy.

New Year Brings Changes to White House Staff

2011 is bringing some new faces to the White House. 

First, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced this week that he will be leaving his post in February.  He has worked with Mr. Obama for seven years, and is leaving the White House to work as a consultant in the private sector.  President Obama is expected to name his replacement in the coming weeks.

Next, President Obama named William Daley as his new Chief of Staff.  Mr. Daley formerly worked in the Clinton administration as Commerce Secretary, and recently served as head of investment bank J.P. Morgan Chase’s  Midwestern operations. 

Gene Sperling

The third change this week is to the president’s economic team.  Outgoing director of the National Economic Council Lawrence Summers will be replaced by Gene Sperling.  Like Mr. Daley, Mr. Sperling is a veteran of the Clinton administration.

Two more changes that are linked to the 2012 presidential elections: David Plouffe, who ran the president’s 2008 presidential campaign, will soon be join the White House as an adviser to the president, and another adviser, David Axelrod, will leave this month to take a break before likely playing a major role in President Obama’s re-election campaign.