In anticipation of the president's address, members of Congress are saving good seats in the House chamber. (Photo Credit: Getty Images/File)
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Members of Congress haven't camped out for hours in the House chamber to save prime seats like they did for President Obama's first joint address back in February, but several did come to the chamber early Wednesday morning to put place cards in prime center aisle seats to reserve them for tonight. Lawmakers in these seats are positioned to greet the President as he enters and possibly shake his hand or give him a slap on the back in front of network TV cameras.
According to a congressional source who arrived in the House chamber for preparations early this morning, Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick had already placed a marker saving a prime seat about halfway down the aisle on the Democratic side. Fellow Democrat Eliot Engel, who camped out in February for hours to get his aisle seat, arrived on the floor around 8:30 am this morning and put a marker on the seat just below Kilpatrick's.
This source also tells CNN that Democratic Reps. Laura Richardson, Jesse Jackson Jr., Elijah Cummings, and Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee reserved spots on the aisle on the Democratic side of the chamber this afternoon. Reps. Emanuel Cleaver, John Salazar, and Dale Kildee saved seats just one in from the aisle.
In a change to the unofficial protocol to past Presidential joint addresses, some Democrats actually put markers on aisle seats on the Republican side of the chamber, which is on the president's right as he heads down the center aisle. Traditionally, Democrats sit on one side of the chamber for major speeches, and Republicans sit on the other. Democrats Yvette Clark, Joe Baca, and Al Green reserved seats on the aisle on the GOP side. Republican Reps. Tim Murphy, John Sullivan, and Cliff Stearns have also reserved seats on the GOP side of the aisle.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - A Justice Department unit has opened an internal inquiry into how government lawyers handled a controversial case of alleged voter intimidation by members of the New Black Panther Party on Election Day, sources told CNN.
The department did not announce the inquiry. The sources, who asked not to be identified, said the decision does not signal a formal investigation, but reflects responsiveness to lingering concerns.
The Obama Justice Department said in May it was dropping its complaint against three men in Philadelphia who identified themselves as belonging to the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
The complaint against the men, filed in January, alleged that on November 4, during the general election, Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson were stationed at the entrance to a Philadelphia polling place wearing the uniform of their organization. The complaint, filed in federal court, said Shabazz brandished a "police style baton weapon."
The White House has released excerpts of President Obama's address to Congress tonight:
EXCERPTS OF THE PRESIDENT'S ADDRESS TO A JOINT SESSION OF CONGRESS TONIGHT:
I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last. It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform. And ever since, nearly every President and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way. A bill for comprehensive health reform was first introduced by John Dingell Sr. in 1943. Sixty-five years later, his son continues to introduce that same bill at the beginning of each session.
Our collective failure to meet this challenge – year after year, decade after decade – has led us to a breaking point. Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans. Some can't get insurance on the job. Others are self-employed, and can't afford it, since buying insurance on your own costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer. Many other Americans who are willing and able to pay are still denied insurance due to previous illnesses or conditions that insurance companies decide are too risky or expensive to cover.
(CNN) – For the second time since resigning the Alaska governorship more than a month ago, Sarah Palin is adding her voice to the fiery debate over health care. This time, Palin is hitting the pages of the Wall Street Journal as President Obama gets set to address a joint session of Congress on the issue.
"The answers offered by Democrats in Washington all rest on one principle: that increased government involvement can solve the problem. I fundamentally disagree," Palin writes in the 1,110 word op-ed in Wednesday's edition of the paper.
"Common sense tells us that the government's attempts to solve large problems more often create new ones," the former GOP vice presidential candidate continues. "Common sense also tells us that a top-down, one-size-fits-all plan will not improve the workings of a nationwide health-care system that accounts for one-sixth of our economy."
Palin, whose initial Facebook posting on so called "death panels" last month is credited with spurring heated opposition to the House Democratic health care proposal, again raises the now widely debunked claim a government panel could determine which senior citizens receive vital treatments.
"Is it any wonder that many of the sick and elderly are concerned that the Democrats' proposals will ultimately lead to rationing of their health care by-dare I say it-death panels?" she writes. "Establishment voices dismissed that phrase, but it rang true for many Americans."
Ultimately, Palin says, Congress looks like it will abandon this so called "death panel" legislation because Americans made their voices heard in the contentious town halls last August.
"But the fact remains that the Democrats' proposals would still empower unelected bureaucrats to make decisions affecting life or death health-care matters. Such government overreaching is what we've come to expect from this administration," she says.
A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee sharply hit back at that claim, saying "The way Sarah Palin is trying to scare Americans you'd think it's Halloween already."
"By continuing to peddle what Pulitzer Prize winning independent fact checkers have found to be ‘pants on fire’ lies and doubling down on the GOP recommendation to end Medicare for future generations, the only thing that's in costume here is Sarah Palin's supposed concern for the health care of Americans," said DNC Press Secretary Hari Sevugan.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - A key Republican senator in health-care negotiations said Wednesday that President Barack Obama should drop his push for a government-run public insurance option.
Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine said in an interview with CNN that deep divisions over a public option were holding back progress on crafting a bipartisan health-care bill.
Republicans unanimously oppose a public option, describing it as step toward a government takeover of health care. Democrats reject that claim, saying the public option would be one choice for consumers who could decide instead to select private coverage.
"People are rightly skeptical of a government-run health-care system, of the government interfering with medical decisions, so I would hope we can take it off the table," Snowe said of the public option.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Obama's speech on health care reform Wednesday night to a joint session of Congress continues a long tradition of presidents addressing Congress outside of the more familiar setting of a State of the Union address or annual message.
George Washington began the tradition of addressing Congress in person in the form of an annual speech, satisfying the constitutional requirement that the president brief Congress on "from time to time" on "the state of the union." However, it was Washington's successor, John Adams, who was the first president to address a joint session of Congress on a specific topic outside of the regularly scheduled annual message.
Adams' first speech to Congress was an address on relations with France, delivered on May 16, 1797, just over two months after his inauguration. He would deliver his first annual message in November of that year. After Adams, Thomas Jefferson discontinued the practice of addressing Congress in person, saying the ceremony too closely resembled a king addressing his subjects.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Moderates? To hear the Democratic National Committee tell it, Tim Pawlenty is a conservative wolf in sheep's clothing, and Bob McDonnell is his right-wing muse.
Democratic party state chairs from Virginia and Minnesota used a DNC-organized conference call Wednesday to slam both Republicans, attacking the Minnesota governor for campaigning with McDonnell, Virginia's "extremist" Republican gubernatorial candidate.
Donna Cassutt, chairwoman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, accused Pawlenty of abandoning his "middle-of-the-road" credentials by campaigning with McDonnell, who has been fending off attacks from opponent Creigh Deeds over a 1989 master's thesis that criticized working women and gays.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Barack Obama will travel to Minnesota on Saturday and attend a health care reform rally in Minneapolis. White House officials say that the trip will be part of a push to build momentum out of Obama's prime time address to a joint session of Congress tonight on health care refor
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The leader of a massive push for the inclusion of a public option in health care reform legislation told CNN Wednesday that the group will begin running an ad in Montana in the coming weeks targeting the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Max Baucus.
The spots, likely backed by a six-figure buy, will pressure the Montana senator to support the public option, and highlight his campaign contributions from the insurance industry.
Baucus does not support a public option, and on Wednesday said that he would be introducing legislation without the provision in his committee, and moving forward with or without Republican support for the health care bill.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has already released spots targeting Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who have both been considered possible swing votes on a final bill.
The group, which staged a protest of former Obama volunteers outside the White House earlier this week, has drawn attention for its online petition pushing President Obama to stand firmly behind a public option.
The petition had drawn 80,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning, including those of 400 former Obama campaign staffers, 25,000 former Obama volunteers and 45,000 Obama campaign donors, according to Adam Green, PCCC's co-founder. The organization has seen its membership grow by almost 15 percent in the past week, he said, to over 160,000.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Obama is tweaking his pivotal health care address to a Joint Session of Congress right up until the last minute, with top aides saying he's putting a heavy imprint on a speech in which he will finally lay specific details on the table for Congress to consider.
Top aides say the President worked on the speech late into Tuesday night in the White House residence and then brought yet another new draft down to the Oval Office on Wednesday morning for his staff to work through. Obama had taken a rough first draft of the speech to Camp David this past weekend and spent a lot of time re-working it, bringing back handwritten notes of what he wanted to say.
"The president hopes tonight to bring some clarity to the debate," said one senior administration official.
Several administration officials say the President will make a strong push for a public option, but he will not draw a line in the sand over a government-run insurance plan. That leaves the door open for Congress to come up with another option, such as a co-op or a "trigger," in which a public option would only kick in if insurance companies fail to make reforms within a defined period of time.