CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) - Top Obama advisor David Axelrod says he has not recently spoken to scandal-plagued Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Asked by PBS's Gwen Ifill when the last time Axelrod spoke with the governor, he replied, "Thankfully, a long time ago." Axelrod's firm once advised the Illinois governor.
Axelrod and Ifill were participating in the Harvard Institute of Politics forum of 2008 campaign leaders.
Axelrod was also asked about the revelation that Blagojevich may have wanted to trade personal and political favors in exchange for the appointment of Obama advisor Vallerie Jarrett to fill Obama's vacant senate seat.
Axelrod said that Obama never wanted Jarrett to fill that seat. Axelrod said, "His (Obama's) preference was always that she serve in the White House. He eventually expressed that to her and said, 'I need you.'"
Obama named Jarrett a senior White House advisor on November 14.
Earlier this week, Axelrod released a statement that he had been "mistaken" when he told an interviewer last month that Blagojevich and Obama had discussed the Senate vacancy. "They did not then or at any time discuss the subject," he said.
(CNN) - The Republican party must stop "shouting at the world" and start listening to minority groups if it is to win elections in the 21st century, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday.
In an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria for Sunday's "GPS" program, President Bush's former secretary of state said his party's attempt "to use polarization for political advantage" backfired last month.
"I think the party has to take a hard look at itself," Powell said in the interview, which was taped Wednesday. "There is nothing wrong with being conservative. There is nothing wrong with having socially conservative views - I don't object to that. But if the party wants to have a future in this country, it has to face some realities. In another 20 years, the majority in this country will be the minority."
Powell, who crossed party lines and endorsed President-elect Barack Obama just weeks before the election, said the GOP must see what is in the "hearts and minds" of African-American, Hispanic and Asian voters "and not just try to influence them by... the principles and dogma."
"I think the party has to stop shouting at the world and at the country,"Powell said. "I think that the party has to take a hard look at itself, and I've talked to a number of leaders in recent weeks and they understand that." Powell, who says he still considers himself a Republican, said his party should also stop listening to conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
"Can we continue to listen to Rush Limbaugh?" Powell asked. "Is this really the kind of party that we want to be when these kinds of spokespersons seem to appeal to our lesser instincts rather than our better instincts?"
Zakaria's full interview with Powell will air Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) - After a campaign with a lot of focus on 3 a.m. phone calls, chief Obama strategist David Axelrod recalled a 2 a.m. e-mail as a decisive moment.
It was the evening before Barack Obama's big speech on race - an effort to quiet the uproar over statements from his chicago pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Some aides weren't quite sure a race speech was a good idea, but Obama was adamant and "we didn't have a better idea," Axelrod told a forum at Harvard's Institute of Politics Thursday evening.
Axelrod recalled going to sleep after a long day of campaigning in Pennsylvania, knowing Obama had retired to his hotel room to the finish the speech.
At 2 a.m., he said he woke up and Obama had e-mailed the speech. After scrolling through the text on his blackberry, Axelrod said he replied with a simple sentence: "This is why you should be president."
Chief McCain pollster Bill Mcinturff, also at the forum, said McCain was adamant that his campaign would not raise Rev. Wright as an issue.
But even if he thought otherwise, Mcinturff said given McCain's deficit among younger and latino voters, using the Wright issue would likely have backfired.
In his best case scenario using Wright as an issue, Mcinturff said McCain might win the presidency with 273 electoral votes but lose the popular vote by "3 million votes and de-legitimize the presidency."
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Bush reflected on his own struggle with alcohol in a White House meeting today to tout gains in the war on drug abuse.
CNN was the only media outlet invited to attend the entire meeting, which other reporters joined in the final minutes for remarks from the president.
Several in the room, including Don Coyhis of Colorado Springs, Colorado who runs a program targeting Native Americans battling substance abuse, were recovered addicts or alcoholics.
Bush, who quit drinking at the age of 40, was impressed.
"Congratulations on thirty years of sobriety," the president told Coyhis. "I'm eight years behind you."
(CNN) – Who is candidate No. 5 in the Gov. Blagojevich scandal? While specific names are not referenced in the affidavit disclosing six prospective candidates in the running for Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat, details emerged regarding one candidate in particular – No. 5. In the latest installment of CNN=Politics Daily, CNN’s Drew Griffin takes a close look at this candidate as he maintains he had no involvement in the wrongdoing.
Also: She attends numerous events per year, logs hundreds of hours of volunteer work, entertains visitors from all over the world, and takes up causes of her own. So should the nation’s first lady be on the White House payroll? CNN’s Alina Cho reports.
Plus: One of President-elect Barack Obama’s biggest campaign promises was to fix America’s broken infrastructure and create American jobs in the process. Is this the answer to heal the nation’s ongoing economic trouble? CNN’s Alan Chertoff has the story.
Finally: During his campaign, President-elect Obama said his policy toward Cuba will be guided by one-word: freedom. So, what will this mean in practice? Havana, Cuba Bureau Chief Morgan Neil has Thursday’s “Memo to the President.”
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(CNN) - Hillary Clinton's pay check has officially been cut.
Congress voted Wednesday night to reduce the Secretary of State's salary back to its pre-2007 level of $186,000 to conform to a clause in the constitution stipulating a member of congress cannot be appointed to a government job if the position's salary has increased during the lawmaker's current term.
Clinton's second term began in January 2007.
The conservative activist group Judicial Watch circulated the clause in question, Article 1, Section 6 of the Constitution, soon after President-elect Barack Obama announced he was nominating Clinton to the top diplomatic post. Noting the clause, Judicial Watch said it was illegal for Clinton to be nominated to the post since President Bush authorized a nearly $5,000 pay raise for job last January.
"There's no getting around the Constitution's ineligibility clause, so Hillary Clinton is prohibited from serving in the Cabinet until at least 2013, when her current term expires," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement.
But lawmakers have gotten around the clause before in the same fashion they have now: with Congress changing the salary of the office in question back to what it originally was.
It happened when Ohio Sen. William Saxbe was named President Nixon's attorney general in 1974 and again when Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen became President Clinton's Treasury secretary in 1993.
While Clinton is missing out on the nearly $5,000 pay raise, she still stands to make about $10,000 more as secretary of state than she currently draws as a U.S. senator.
(CNN) - Would Hillary Clinton have won the prolonged Democratic primary race if David Plouffe was managing her campaign?
Plouffe served as Obama’s campaign manager and is often referred to as the "unsung hero" of the president-elect's White House bid. He was largely responsible for designing the strategy that ultimately dashed Clinton's own ambitions for the Oval office.
Now, the camera-shy Plouffe is revealing what surprised him the most about Clinton’s campaign: the New York senator's strategists willingness to concede a string of caucus states to the Obama camp. In the process Obama won a vast sum of delagates and created a lead in the delegate count that ultimately proved fatal to Clinton's chances.
"We were surprised because at some point it became likely that it was going to be a battle that went on for some time, and delegates that are gained through a caucus are no different than through a primary—so every contest mattered," Plouffe told Portfolio Magazine.
“They ceded the field to us for a long period of time," Plouffe also said. "I think if they had contested those caucus states, we might've won those caucus states but we wouldn't have won them 55-35 [percent]."
Given that the Democratic party appropriates it's delegates proportionately, Ploffe said the wide margins of victory in the caucus states ultimately gave the Obama campaign a nearly insurmountable lead by mid-March.
"I guarantee if they had contested them vigorously, our margins would've been shrunk," he said. "And that's the tale of the campaign. Otherwise we didn't rack up the huge landslide. We did in some of the primary states for sure, Virginia was a big win, Wisconsin was a big win, but those caucuses provided us a huge delegate lead."
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) - President-elect Barack Obama Thursday said no one in his office engaged in dealmaking with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich over who would succeed him in the Senate.
FBI agents arrested Blagojevich on Tuesday on federal corruption charges related in part to the selection of Obama's successor as a U.S. senator. Federal officials said Blagojevich was looking to sell or trade the position.
Obama said the vacant Senate seat is not for "any politician to trade," and he said he had never spoken to the governor on the subject.
He said he was confident that "no representatives of mine would have any part of any deals related to this seat." The Senate seat "belongs to the people of Illinois and they deserve the best possible representation," he said.
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) - President-elect Barack Obama picked former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle for two important roles Thursday - secretary of Health and Human Services and director of the White House Office of Health Reform.
"He will be responsible not just for implementing our health care plan. He will also be the lead architect of that plan," Obama said, calling Daschle "one of America's foremost health care experts."
"If we want to overcome our economic challenges, we must also finally address our health care challenge," Obama said. Appearing at a press conference with Obama, Daschle said it is "so exciting" to take on the dual role not just to implement reform "but helping to generate it."
"We have the most expensive health care system in the world, but are not the healthiest nation in the world," Daschle said.
"Our growing costs are unsustainable, and the plight of the uninsured is unconscionable," he said.
"Addressing our health care challenges will not only mean healthier and longer lives for millions, it will also make American companies more competitive, address the cause of half of all of our personal bankruptcies and foreclosures and help pull our economy out of its current tailspin."
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Workers of a company that hired illegal immigrants cleaned the home of top U.S. immigration official Michael Chertoff, and the Department of Homeland Security has accused the company's owner of deceiving the department chief.
"Every contractor in the United States has the responsibility of ensuring their workers are legal," DHS spokesman Russ Knocke said in a prepared statement given to CNN on Thursday.
"As soon as the Chertoffs learned that Mr. Reid deceived them by employing some unauthorized workers, they fired him."
The situation came to light when the owner of the company, James Reid, approached The Washington Post, which published an article on Thursday.
Reid, who owns Consistent Cleaning Services in Maryland, denied that he deceived the DHS secretary and his wife, whom he had worked for since Chertoff was named to the position in early 2005. Now, he is facing more than $22,000 in fines from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which is under DHS.
Reid told CNN's "American Morning" on Thursday that before he went to the Chertoffs' home, he provided the Secret Service with the employees' payroll information, their social security cards, work permits, passports or visas.