Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, discussed the need for a more civil political discourse on Sunday's State of the Union. (Photo Credit: CNN)
Washington (CNN) – Commenting on the high-temperature political rhetoric of the last week and some incidents of violence and threats against lawmakers, a leading Senate Republican walked a fine line Sunday.
Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said “ugliness” ought to be condemned. And, at the same time, the Tennessee Republican said the nation’s leaders needed to “respect” the anger some have about the direction the country is headed in.
“There's no doubt there has been - the anger today is more visible,” Alexander told CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. “You can go to any Web site and see ugliness. It used to be beneath the surface and it's on top now, and it ought to be condemned.
“But there's also a lot of real anger out there about the direction of the country. And we need to respect that and then conduct ourselves in a civil way, which I think we United States senators are capable of doing and did do this week.”
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, agreed with Alexander and had detailed advice about how to cool down the country’s political rhetoric.
We interrupt the Sunday programs with this just in: President Obama took a dark-of-night secret journey to Afghanistan for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a salute to U.S. troops.
Meanwhile, back on the set, Washington was in the dark, or left in the dust, whichever you prefer. At any rate, nobody knew about the trek until most of the shows were over and the President landed in Kabul, making coverage of the story limited.
Notable but not quite soundbiteable this Sunday. Check out Senior White House advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett on U.S.-Israeli relations lately. It sounds like they are dialing back the public expressions of U.S. anger at Israel for approving new construction in disputed territory. It’s pretty nuanced if real, but it IS the Middle East we’re talking about. I’m half expecting calmer, nicer, less tense pronouncements as we head into Easter week.
But Sunday talk was mostly domestic – health care reform and the civility of the debate thereof. Turns out the whole health care reform debate didn’t get settled with the bill’s passage. It got moved to another venue: from the legislative arena to a wholly political one.
Speaking to about 2,000 U.S. and allied troops at the major U.S. base in Afghanistan, Obama said, "Those folks back home are relying on you."
"I know it's not easy," he said. "You're far away from home. You miss your kids, you miss your spouses, your family, your friends." But he added, "If I thought for a minute that America's vital interests were not served, were not at stake here in Afghanistan, I would order all of you home right away."
(CNN) - President Barack Obama pledged continued U.S. partnership with Afghanistan during a previously unannounced trip to the country Sunday.
In remarks after meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Obama said he wanted to send a "strong message" that the partnership between the nations would continue.
Obama said he invited Karzai to Washington, and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the planned date for that visit is May 12.
Washington (CNN) – A leading Senate Republican said Sunday that his chamber’s failure thus far to act on a number of President’s Obama’s nominees was consistent with the constitutional scheme of government intended to keep the executive branch in check.
Obama announced plans Saturday to appoint 15 nominees while the Senate is in recess. Among the 15 is one especially controversial pick for the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that weighs in on those labor-management disputes governed by federal law.
Related: Obama to make recess appointments
Asked on CNN’s State of the Union about Democratic claims of Republican obstructionism in the Senate, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said his party was helping to fulfill the Senate’s traditional role in a divided government.
“What it’s called is checks and balances,” said the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. “And what the president has done here is throw fuel on the fire at a time when the civil – when the debate about politics is a very angry debate to begin with.”
Washington (CNN) - A Republican-led effort to block President Barack Obama's nominations for top federal jobs made it necessary for the 15 recess appointments announced by the White House, Obama's senior adviser said in an interview broadcast Sunday.
"The Republican Party has taken a position where they're going to try and slow and block progress on all fronts, whether it's legislation or appointments," David Axelrod told the CNN program "State of the Union."
Axelrod noted that the previous administration had fewer appointees awaiting Senate confirmation at the same point after taking power.
"We have 77 appointees who have not gotten the (Senate) vote because they have been held up by the Republican Party," Axelrod said. "Some of them are in very sensitive positions – Treasury, Homeland Security, and boards like the Labor Relations Board . . . where there are a huge number of vacancies."
Much of the controversy over Obama's decision to use his authority to make recess appointments focused on Craig Becker, a union lawyer nominated to the National Labor Relations Board.
During his first trip to Afghanistan since taking office, President Obama met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
(CNN) - President Barack Obama made a surprise trip Sunday to Afghanistan where he met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Obama left his Camp David retreat for the previously unannounced trip and flew to Afghanistan on Air Force One, landing at Bagram Air Base at 7:24 p.m. (around 11 a.m. ET). Obama then flew on a helicopter to the Presidential Palace for a meeting with Karzai.
The two presidents took part in a 10-minute arrival ceremony before walking into the palace. U.S. officials said they planned to hold a one-on-one meeting first, joined by key aides, and then bring in Karzai's cabinet.
In a briefing with pool reporters on the trip, National Security Adviser James Jones said Obama would push Karzai to improve efforts to meet benchmarks for better governance in his second term, which began last year.
According to Jones, Obama planned to point out that certain issues such as a merit-based system for appointing key government officials, battling corruption and taking on narcotics trafficking that helps fund insurgents needed more attention.
Washington (CNN) – A senior adviser to the president said his party was not out of bounds in issuing fundraising appeals linked to recent threats of violence against congressional Democrats.
Obama senior adviser David Axelrod also suggested congressional Republicans bore some responsibility for the overheated rhetoric and incidents of vandalism directed at Democrats.
After multiple incidents of violence and threats directed at the offices and even the homes of some Democrats who voted for the recently passed health care legislation, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the head of President Obama’s grassroots political operation both sent fundraising messages to supporters that mentioned the recent incidents.
Asked about those fundraising appeals in an interview that airs Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, Axelrod said, “I think that they were within the parameters of acceptable fundraising. I would rather there were not events around which to send out missives like that.”
Axelrod, who is widely credited with crafting Obama’s messaging during the presidential race, also suggested to CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley that there is a “cause and effect” relationship between some of the rhetoric congressional Republicans used in the final days of health care debate and the recent violence and threats.
Washington (CNN) – The president’s recent closed-door meeting with Israel’s prime minister - which lacked the fanfare and niceties normally associated with greeting another world leader - was a working meeting where issues in the U.S.-Israeli relationship were discussed bluntly, White House senior adviser David Axelrod said.
Asked about the low-key way in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was greeted at the White House last week, Axelrod dismissed any suggestion that the lack of formalities was intended to send a message to Israel.
“[T]here was no snub intended,” Axelrod said in an interview that airs Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
“This was not about a ceremonial meeting,” Axelrod told CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. “This was a working meeting.”
Related: Obama, Netanyahu meet at White House
Axelrod added, “Look, Israel is a close, dear, and valued friend of the U.S., a great ally. That is an unshakeable bond. But sometimes part of friendship is expressing yourself bluntly.”