Finally, Obama recognizes that he has gonads!

Obama names new labor board members

By James O’Toole and Chris Isidore @CNNMoney January 4, 2012: 5:52 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The White House announced Wednesday that President Obama plans to appoint three new members to the National Labor Relations Board, continuing his end-run around the Congressional approval process.

The White House said in a statement that Obama has tapped Sharon Block, Terence Flynn and Richard Griffin to fill seats on the board via recess appointments.

The NLRB, which is supposed to be governed by a five-member board, is down to three active members because Senate Republicans have opposed Obama’s nominees. And one member, Craig Becker, will see his term end at the conclusion of the current session of Congress.

That’s a problem, because the NLRB requires a three-member quorum to do anything, like set rules or consider a complaint. President Obama has made four nominations in the last two years, none of whom have come up for a confirmation vote in the Senate.

Obama originally nominated Flynn last January, and named Block and Griffin in December.

Wednesday’s announcement came on the same day that Obama revealed plans to appoint Richard Cordray to be the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have criticized Obama’s recess appointments as legally dubious. Since May, Republicans have been using a little-known procedure to keep the Senate in session — even when it hasn’t really been conducting any business — in an attempt to stop the president from making recess appointments.

“[W]hat the President did today sets a terrible precedent that could allow any future President to completely cut the Senate out of the confirmation process,” McConnell said in a statement Wednesday.

Obama countered that Americans “deserve to have qualified public servants fighting for them every day – whether it is to enforce new consumer protections or uphold the rights of working Americans.”

“We can’t wait to act to strengthen the economy and restore security for our middle class and those trying to get in it,” he said in a statement.

The typically low-profile NLRB has become a political hot potato since Obama took office, with Republicans charging that it’s too beholden to union interests and is hurting job creation.

Detaining citizens indefinitely is as American as apple pie!

Obama Signs Defense Bill Despite ‘Serious Reservations’

Barack Obama Defense Bill
First Posted: 12/31/11 03:25 PM ET Updated: 12/31/11 06:22 PM ET, The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — Indefinite military detention of Americans became the law of the land Saturday, as President Barack Obama signed a defense bill that codified that authority, even as he said he would not use it.

The National Defense Authorization Act states how the military is to be funded, but also includes a number of controversial provisions on arresting and holding suspected terrorists, which at first drove Obama to threaten a veto.

He retreated from that threat after Congress added provisions that took the ultimate authority to detain suspects from the military’s hands and gave it to the president. Congress also clarified that civilian law enforcement agencies — such as the FBI — would still have authority to investigate terrorism and added a provision that asserts nothing in the detention measures changes current law regarding U.S. citizens.

Still, the signing on New Year’s Eve as few people were paying attention angered civil liberties advocates, who argue that the law for the first time spells out certain measures that have not actually been tested all the way to the Supreme Court, including the possibility of detaining citizens in military custody without trial for as long as there is a war on terror.

“President Obama’s action today is a blight on his legacy because he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield,” Romero added. “The ACLU will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress or internationally.”

The administration was especially sensitive about the law and about reaction to the president signing it. In addition to enacting the measure while few people were paying attention — and many opponents still had hopes the president would veto the bill — the White House added a signing statement specifying that the Obama administration would not detain Americans without trial. The White House also sent out a notice to its online community highlighting Obama’s complaints with the law, in a tacit admission that many of the president’s more ardent supporters despise the detention provisions.

“I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists,” Obama said in the signing statement.

Presidents issue such statements when they feel a law conflicts with the executive’s constitutional powers. Obama criticized them during the Bush administration, but has found the practice useful on a handful of occasions.

In this case, Obama argued that the changes Congress made to the bill affirm only authorities that the Bush and Obama administrations have already claimed in fighting terrorism. But he noted that the codification of those powers in law was unnecessary and perhaps harmful. And he insisted he would not use the powers to detain citizens without trial.

“I want to clarify that my administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” Obama wrote. “Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My administration will interpret section 1021 [of the bill] in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.”

Civil liberties advocates like Romero pointed out that once the provisions are law, however, they will be available to a President Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney or any future president, who could choose to use the powers granted more aggressively.

“We are incredibly disappointed that President Obama signed this new law even though his administration had already claimed overly broad detention authority in court,” said Romero. “Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back the constitutional excesses of George Bush in the war on terror was extinguished today.”

Because of the provisions specifying that the new legislation does not change current law, the new law leaves the authority it grants open to interpretation and to the possibility — albeit in very difficult circumstances — of someone challenging a detention through the courts.

“Thankfully, we have three branches of government, and the final word belongs to the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the scope of detention authority,” Romero said. “But Congress and the president also have a role to play in cleaning up the mess they have created, because no American citizen or anyone else should live in fear of this or any future president misusing the NDAA’s detention authority.”

Obama also said he will not abide by the law’s requirement to detain terror suspects using the military.

“I reject any approach that would mandate military custody where law enforcement provides the best method of incapacitating a terrorist threat,” Obama said. “While section 1022 is unnecessary and has the potential to create uncertainty, I have signed the bill because I believe that this section can be interpreted and applied in a manner that avoids undue harm to our current operations.”

Finally, he rejected a number of other provisions, saying the White House is concerned they interfere with the president’s constitutional powers and ability to fight terrorism.

“My Administration will aggressively seek to mitigate those concerns through the design of implementation procedures and other authorities available to me as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief, will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future, and will seek the repeal of any provisions that undermine the policies and values that have guided my Administration throughout my time in office,” Obama warned.

Still think Obama is soft on illegal immigration?

Obama’s ICE reports record number of deportations of illegal immigrants

By Jordy Yager – 10/18/11 08:08 PM ET, The Hill

The U.S. deported more people — nearly 400,000 — who were in the country illegally in fiscal 2011 than ever before, according to the latest numbers released Tuesday by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureau.

President Obama’s administration touted the startling figures as evidence of its progress in stopping illegal immigration, a record that could help the president win back independent voters who abandoned Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections.

A key Hispanic Democrat, however, said the figures were “nothing to be proud of,” highlighting the dangers a record number of deportations could mean for a White House focused on attracting Hispanic voters critical in swing states such as Colorado and New Mexico.“We are deporting hundreds of thousands of people who came to the country to work, raise families, contribute to the economy, and want nothing more than to be allowed to live and work here legally,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said in a statement.

Of the 396,906 people removed from the U.S., more than half — 216,698 —had been previously convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, according to the ICE numbers, which represent a 90 percent increase in the number of criminals deported over those for fiscal 2008. The numbers mark a 10 percent increase over criminals removed in fiscal 2010 — about 195,000.

With the Republican field of candidates fighting over who can be the toughest on border security, Democrats believe there is an opening for Obama to win over Hispanics in 2012. The demographic group was an important part of Obama’s 2008 coalition, but Hispanics have been disappointed with the president’s failure to move broad immigration reform legislation through Congress.

For much of 2011, the White House has been focused on reaching out to Hispanic groups to highlight its support for comprehensive immigration reform.

The administration also shifted its enforcement policy in June, focusing its prosecutions on illegal immigrants who had criminal records. The new Department of Homeland Security rules halted the blanket deportation of every illegal immigrant in line for exile. Instead, DHS officials said they would look at each individual on a case-by-case basis, prioritizing violent offenders and other criminals, while deferring the deportation of many students and others considered nonthreatening.

The new policy, formally announced in August and hailed at the time by Gutierrez and other immigration reform advocates, was intended to win over Hispanics.Gutierrez on Tuesday said he’s still searching for evidence that those changes have taken hold.

“The announcement cannot be merely a pacifier for those of us crying out for justice and compassion,” he said. “It must actually stop the deportation of those with deep roots in our country like long-term residents, DREAM Act students, military families, and immediate family of U.S. citizens.”

ICE Director John Morton attributed the jump in deportations to the agency’s newly revamped discretionary policy.

“Smart and effective immigration enforcement relies on setting priorities for removal and executing on those priorities,” Morton said in a statement.

“These year-end totals indicate that we are making progress, with more convicted criminals, recent border crossers, egregious immigration law violators and immigration fugitives being removed from the country than ever before,” he said.

Republicans have blasted the White House’s new enforcement policies, saying they are a backdoor path to citizenship and a cloaked version of amnesty.

“The Obama administration is cooking the books to make it look like they are enforcing immigration laws, when in reality they are enacting amnesty through inaction,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) on Tuesday.

Obama, in an online discussion targeted at Hispanic voters last month, acknowledged that the deportation numbers are “deceptive” because they do not include people who are sent back to their native country after being arrested by Border Patrol while attempting to cross the border illegally.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who is expected to be asked about the new policies when she appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, said earlier this month that the rising number of deportations shows her agency is doing its job to enforce the law.

“We cannot, on the one hand, be on the verge of removing, for the third consecutive year, a record-breaking number of unlawful individuals from this country with the highest number of criminal removals in American history and, at the same time, be abrogating our law enforcement responsibilities,” Napolitano said during a talk at American University.

ICE said that of the criminals deported, 1,119 had been convicted of committing a homicide, 5,848 had been convicted of sexual offenses and 44,653 aliens had been convicted of drug-related crimes.

This year’s numbers represent about a 1 percent increase in total people deported. In fiscal 2010, ICE removed 392,862 people who were in the country illegally.

The announcement comes as the debate over the country’s immigration laws has gained focus on Capitol Hill, in the federal court system and on the GOP presidential campaign trail.

The Justice Department (DOJ) has launched a fight against Alabama’s new immigration law — the latest in a series of state measures that require local law enforcement officials to establish whether a suspected criminal is in the country legally.

And Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain came under fire this week for comments he made suggesting that a border fence should be electrified. Cain later said he was making a joke and that he didn’t want to offend anyone, though he stood by the idea of electrifying a fence along the border.

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Rep. Waters urges Obama to drop nice-guy act and fight Republicans, Tea Party

By Mike Lillis – 09/22/11 08:03 PM ET, The Hill

President Obama should quit watching sports and drinking beer with his political opponents in hopes it will lead to GOP cooperation, Rep. Maxine Waters said Thursday.

The outspoken California Democrat said Obama needs to fight harder for Democratic policy priorities in the face of entrenched opposition from Republicans and the Tea Party.

“He’s been very nice about it,” Waters said of Obama’s budget negotiations with Republicans. “He’s been on the other side of the aisle talking with people. He’s invited them up to the White House to have beer. He’s invited them to come and watch the Super Bowl games.“He’s done all of that, and when they eat his food and drink his beer and leave, then they go and try to kill him [on Capitol Hill],” she told an audience gathered for the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Foundation’s annual legislative conference in Washington.

“You’ve gotta fight — you will not win this battle without fighting,” she added.

Many House liberals have been disenchanted with Obama going back to December, when the president accepted GOP demands that the Bush-era tax rates be extended to even the wealthiest Americans — a provision strongly opposed by most Democrats.

The president drew similar liberal criticism this summer for backing enormous cuts in both a 2011 spending bill and legislation to raise the debt ceiling. More recently, some CBC members wondered aloud why Obama didn’t visit any urban areas on his August jobs tour through the Midwest.

Obama this month has taken steps to silence his liberal critics, adopting a more combative tone, for instance, in his Sept. 8 address before a joint session of Congress. Liberals are also cheering Obama’s proposal to eliminate the same tax rates for the wealthy that he’d backed in December.

Still, Waters suggested Thursday that CBC members remain wary of Obama’s willingness to fight for liberal priorities when the going gets tough.

“We love the president. We want him to be successful,” Waters said. “But does he feel our pain? Does he understand what’s going on out here?”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Waters, who heads the CBC’s jobs taskforce, said she’s encouraged by Obama’s new proposal to address unemployment and rein in deficit spending. But she also warned that the group will be watching closely as the high-stakes budget negotiations evolve.

“We’re pleased that the president has a jobs proposal. Now we have to trace it and to track it … because strange things happen in the legislative process. We don’t want this to end up being just a tax-cut deal only,” she said.

“I love the president,” she added, “but I will ask the president, ‘Where’s the money?’ ”

Waters suggested the black community needs to become more involved if it wants Washington lawmakers to take notice, for instance, that the recession hit minority communities much harder than it did white populations.

“We have got to show up. The Tea Party shows up. The Tea Party intimidates everybody,” she said. “We have to show people that we have no fear. Don’t mistake the silence for intimidation.”

Waters generated headlines last month when, amid a CBC job-promotion tour, she said the Tea Party “can go straight to hell.”

On Thursday, she wasn’t apologizing.

“Yes, I was displayed in national media telling them where to go,” she said. “And I mean that.”

If anyone in the audience was surprised by Waters’s trenchancy, they shouldn’t have been. Indeed, the California Democrat had warned the crowd that she wouldn’t be holding her tongue.

“Please be worried about what I’m going to say,” she said at the start of her remarks,” because I’m going to say it anyway.”

Glad the President has finally come around

White House Responds To N.C. Marriage Amendment

September 13, 2011 | The Washington Blade
The White House (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The White House today responded to efforts in the North Carolina Legislature to ban same-sex marriage via constitutional amendment, saying that President Obama opposes laws “designed to take rights away.”

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, issued the following statement in response to the Washington Blade’s inquiry as to whether President Obama opposes the North Carolina amendment banning same-sex marriage, which will come before state voters in May 2012:

“The President has long believed that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights and legal protections as straight couples,” Inouye said. “That’s why he has called for repeal of the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ and determined that his Administration would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA in the courts. He has also said that the states should determine for themselves how best to uphold the rights of their own citizens.

Inouye continued, “While the President does not weigh in on every single action taken by legislative bodies in our country, the record is clear that the President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples. The President believes strongly in stopping laws designed to take rights away.”

Obama Administration to Cut or Roll Back Hundreds of Federal Regulations

Administration moves plan to ax hundreds of rules

APBy JULIE PACE – Associated Press | AP – 19 hrs ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration disclosed plans Tuesday to cut or roll back hundreds of federal regulations, including some that will streamline tax forms at the Internal Revenue Service, let railroad companies pass on installing expensive new technology, and speed up the visa process for low-risk visitors to the U.S.

The administration said the regulations will save businesses up to $10 billion over the next five years and spur job growth in the private sector.

The move, announced while President Barack Obama was on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, was the latest White House gesture to reach out to a business community that has often felt alienated from the administration.

The move was criticized by some as too little, too late.

“The administration’s findings and determinations, on their own, are a worthy effort at making technical changes to the regulatory process, but the results of this look-back will not have a material impact on the real regulatory burdens facing businesses today,” said Bill Kovacs, senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Administration officials said the plans unveiled Tuesday include 500 regulatory reforms, including more than 100 from the Department of Transportation and more than 70 from the Department of Health and Human Services. Once the reforms are fully implemented, the administration estimates businesses will save about $10 billion over five years.

Cass Sunstein, head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said the savings for businesses will give the private sector an opportunity to create new jobs. But Sunstein said he had no estimates on how much help the regulatory reforms would provide.

Many of the regulatory reforms are designed to help small businesses, the administration said. Those include accelerating payments to as many as 60,000 small businesses that have contracts with the Department of Defense, and requiring the Small Business Administration to adopt a single electronic application in order to reduce paperwork burdens.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the administration’s announcement was “underwhelming.” And the Chamber of Commerce said real regulatory reform should include permit streamlining and reforms that would make it easier for businesses to get environmental clearance to start projects.

Obama called for federal agencies to scrutinize their existing regulations after his party suffered sweeping losses in the 2010 elections. The president acknowledged at the time that his relationship with the business community had soured, and he vowed to scrap “dumb” rules that were hindering private sector growth.

Sunstein said the reforms would not impact regulations needed to protect consumers and the environment, including rules used by the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure safe air travel and by the Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration to protect food safety.

“The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya were the top concern of a mere 5% of Americans…”

Libya: Is Gadhafi’s loss Obama’s gain?

By Alan Silverleib, CNN
August 22, 2011 2:41 p.m. EDT
Moammar Gadhafi's fall may be a victory for President Obama, but it may not mean much to voters amid a sour economy.
Moammar Gadhafi’s fall may be a victory for President Obama, but it may not mean much to voters amid a sour economy.
  • Analysts generally see little domestic political gain for Obama in Gadhafi’s fall from power
  • Most voters are far more concerned with economic than foreign policy issues
  • To extent foreign policy is an issue in 2012 election, Libya could help Obama’s chances
  • Analysts also don’t see much gain for Obama in terms of international stature

Tune in to “AC360º” at 8 ET for live reports from CNN reporters on the ground in Libya, as rebels battle Moammar Gadhafi loyalists for control of Tripoli.

Washington (CNN) — Roughly six months after President Barack Obama called on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step down from power, it appears change has come to Tripoli. Four decades of iron-fisted rule are coming to an end.

So does this make you more or less likely to vote for Obama next year?

As the U.S. presidential campaign begins in earnest, that question is not far from the minds of top Democrats and Republicans. But for now it is questionable whether success in North Africa — assuming the NATO-led mission is ultimately viewed as a success — will matter much in economically stressed middle America, many analysts say.

Analysts are also unsure what, if any, impact Gadhafi’s fall will have on Obama’s stature and reputation overseas.

U.S. voters so far appear to have given little thought to the war in Libya. Sixty percent of Americans cited the economy as their No. 1 concern in an August 5-7 CNN/ORC International Poll. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya were the top concern of a mere 5% of Americans — a figure barely outside the poll’s 3% margin of error.

Translation: Who’s up or who’s down in Tripoli may not matter to someone who can’t find a job in Dayton, Ohio.

To the extent that war-weary Americans have been paying attention, they haven’t been terribly supportive of the U.S. role in NATO’s air campaign. Only 35% of Americans supported U.S. military action in Libya in a July 18-20 CNN/ORC survey, while 60% opposed any American military intervention there.

There’s also little evidence that other recent foreign policy successes worked to Obama’s advantage.

“After Osama bin Laden’s death (in May), Obama’s approval rating didn’t rise at all in some polls,” said Keating Holland, CNN polling director. “In others, it rose and then dropped back down the previous levels.”

“We can’t predict whether events in Libya will boost Obama’s poll numbers,” Holland said. “But if bin Laden’s death did not lead to a permanent gain, it seems unlikely that removing Gadhafi from power will have a long-term effect on Obama’s approval rating.”

Politically speaking, is there any upside for the president?

“At the least, the situation in Libya should soften criticism last week by Republicans for the president being on vacation,” said Paul Steinhauser, CNN deputy political director. “Obama’s handling of the fighting in Tripoli is more ammunition for the White House that the president’s stay in Martha’s Vineyard is truly a ‘working vacation.’ And Gadhafi’s ouster will also make it harder for the GOP presidential candidates to criticize Obama over his foreign policy.”

Analysts also note that while the economy appears to be foremost on voters’ minds today, 15 months is a lifetime in politics. It’s not easy to predict where the country will be in November 2012.

Next year, “Obama will likely have two big achievements to brag about,” Holland said, referring to bin Laden’s death and Gadhafi’s ouster. “That may not be of much help if the economy is still the No. 1 issue, but even if that is still the case, it’s likely that at least one presidential debate will focus on foreign policy. And who knows if events between now and next November might make foreign affairs into a big worry for a significant number of voters.”

Holland argued that “in the long run, (success in Libya) may not make voters feel better about Obama on the issues, but it may make them feel better about Obama personally.”

“Americans seem to like Obama himself more than they like his stands on the issues,” Holland said. “That helped him in 2008 and it may be his ace in the hole in 2012.”

Adam Sheingate, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist, told CNN there is a “limited upside” at best for Obama in Libya. There are, however, potential risks to the president’s popularity if a post-Gadhafi Libya becomes unstable, he said.

In terms of governance, however, Obama’s ability to help NATO prosecute the air war in Libya is a clear victory for the executive branch in its post-Vietnam struggle with Congress for control of U.S. foreign policy, Sheingate said. Despite the war’s relative unpopularity in the United States, a sharply divided Congress proved unable to speak with one voice on the conflict, much less impose any sort of constraint on the president’s power.

Ultimately, Obama was largely constrained only by his own pledge not to commit any U.S. ground troops to the conflict.

“As far as the institutional question, there are very few limits on presidential war powers,” Sheingate said. “Presidents can deploy forces pretty much at will … and (generally only) seek congressional backing for the use of force for political reasons, not constitutional ones.”

Outside the United States, it is unclear whether the developments in Libya will do much to bolster’s Obama reputation.

“Obama should get credit for making the call” and backing a NATO intervention, said Michael Rubin, a Middle East analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.

But “I don’t think it’s going to make much difference” in terms of the president’s or America’s standing in other parts of the world, Rubin predicted. “Europeans are going to look differently on Libya a month from now once migrants start flooding across the Mediterranean.”

“Also, if you thought Iraq’s reconstruction was hard, at least Iraq had a structure on which to build a new government,” Rubin said. “Gadhafi got rid of Libya’s structure 38 years ago.”

It’s “ironic that Obama the Nobel peace laureate now attaches his legacy to war,” Rubin said. But his stature “for better or for worse is defined by the global economy.”

Middle East expert Shadi Hamid argued that to the extent leaders in Britain and France took the lead in NATO’s air campaign, they are more likely to reap the political benefit of any successful outcome.

In many ways, Gadhafi’s fall is “a vindication of Obama’s decision to take military action. He can say the mission was a success,” said Hamid, research director at the Brookings Institute’s Doha Center, which focuses on Middle East politics. The Brookings Institute is a nonpartisan Washington think tank.

But “I don’t think it’s a very big boost” for Obama, Hamid told CNN. The United States “took a back seat and preferred to let others lead,” he said, highlighting Europe’s role in providing military training for the rebels.

A perception has taken hold, particularly in the Middle East, that Obama is an “overly cautious, weak leader who wants to split the middle (and) never takes it all the way,” Hamid said. “Libya fits into that narrative of weak leadership.”

“Whether that’s fair is a different issue,” Hamid said. “But you can certainly argue that those sentiments have taken hold.”

White House Sticking to Iraq Troop Timetable

White House sticks to Iraq troop timetable after day on which 70 are killed

By Ian Swanson – 08/15/11 02:55 PM ET, The Hill

The White House said Monday there are no changes in the timetable for U.S. forces to leave Iraq on a day in which attacks killed more than 70 people in the country.

U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Iraq in December under the status of forces agreement between the two countries, though it is possible some forces could remain in Iraq if that country’s government requests them.

“Obviously there have been attacks and we strongly condemn them,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday on Air Force One.Carney noted that the general trend in Iraq is decreasing violence, but signaled the Obama administration would consider keeping some forces in Iraq if that country’s government wanted U.S. soldiers to remain.

“It doesn’t change where we are in the process of drawing down our troops or change the fact that we are, as we have said, in discussions with the Iraqis,” Carney said of the latest violence. “And if they make some kind of request, we would consider it.”

While President Obama is focused on the economy during a three-day barnstorming trip through the Midwest on a presidential bus, foreign policy worries, mostly centered on the Middle East, are taking up his time.

The White House is reportedly considering asking Syrian President Assad to resign amid growing violence in that country, and U.S. forces continue to back-up NATO assaults on Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces are slowly departing from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Next year’s presidential election is expected to focus on the economy, but Monday’s violence in Iraq is a reminder of the unpredictability of the conflicts the U.S. is involved in across the region.

On Syria, Obama had phone conversations over the last several days with the leaders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. He has also spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Carney said the White House is looking “together with a broad array of international partners” to increase pressure on Assad.

He added that it is “becoming increasingly clear” that Gadhafi’s days are numbered as his “isolation … grows more extreme.”

The violence in Iraq took place after the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which had ushered in a period of relative calm in the country in the past.

Obama to Put Forth Plan for US Economy

15 August 2011 Last updated at 23:48 ET, BBC News

Obama promises ‘very specific’ plan for US economy

US President Barack Obama has promised a “very specific” plan next month to improve the flagging US economy.

In Iowa on day one of a rural Midwest bus tour, he said he would put forward the blueprint when Congress returned in September.

As President Obama spoke, his would-be 2012 Republican challengers blamed him for the flagging American economy.

With US unemployment jammed at just above 9%, jobs could well remain a major issue for voters in 2012.

Responding to a question in a town hall in Decorah, Iowa, on Monday evening, Mr Obama said: “I’ll be putting forward when they [lawmakers] come back in September a very specific plan to boost the economy, to create jobs and to control our deficit.

“And my attitude is – get it done.”

‘Lowering the rhetoric’

Mr Obama set off on Monday morning on a three-day swing through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.

The tour – in an imposing Secret Service armoured bus – is officially a White House event, although Republicans called it a campaign trip.

The BBC’s Marcus George in Washington says Mr Obama is trying to reassert his leadership and, indirectly, shore up support in states that could make or break his campaign for a second term.

During Mr Obama’s stop in Decorah, he clashed with a local leader of the conservative Tea Party, Ryan Rhodes.

Mr Rhodes referred to reports that Vice-President Joe Biden had likened Tea Party members during recent debt-ceiling negotiations to terrorists.

Mr Obama replied: “In fairness, since I have been called a socialist who wasn’t born in this country, who is destroying America and taking away its freedoms because I passed a health care bill, I am all for lowering the rhetoric.”

Mr Obama’s approval rating dipped below 40% for the first time in a Gallup daily tracking poll on Sunday, although recent polls have shown far lower voter satisfaction with Congress.

‘Magical Misery bus tour’

Analysts say Mr Obama’s challenge is to convince voters that his policies – including a $787bn (£482bn) economic stimulus package and health care reforms – have helped the economy, not hindered it.

Presumptive Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney labelled Mr Obama’s trip the “Magical Misery bus tour”.

The former Massachusetts governor said in a statement the president was “more interested in campaigning in swing states than working to solve the economic crisis crushing the middle class”.

Texas Governor Rick Perry meanwhile completed his first full day of campaigning, telling the Associated Press news agency: “I respect all the other candidates in the field but there is no one that can stand toe-to-toe with us.”

In an interview with an Iowa newspaper, Mr Perry also challenged Mr Obama, to “get rid of the regulations stifling jobs in America”.

Mr Perry received an unexpected compliment in New York on Monday from Democratic former President Bill Clinton.

Mr Clinton said the Texan was a “good-looking rascal,” but indicated he was not so impressed by Mr Perry’s policies.

Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann will begin a bus tour on Tuesday in South Carolina, buoyed by her win in Saturday’s non-binding “straw poll” in Iowa.

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the race after finishing a distant third in that poll. Mr Romney did not compete.

Mr Romney, Ms Bachmann and Mr Perry are each vying to become the Republican nominee and challenge Mr Obama for the White House in 2012’s elections.

With the first real voting not scheduled to take place until February, correspondents say plenty of time remains for more upheaval in the Republican race.

This could include a late entrance from Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, 2008 vice-presidential nominee and conservative Tea Party hero.