Washington (CNN) - In a dramatic concession to senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers, President Obama abruptly shifted his position Saturday and declared his public support for creating a fiscal commission that could propose sweeping tax increases and spending cuts to try to slash the soaring federal debt.
The White House released an unexpected written statement from Obama saying he now backs putting together a powerful commission created through a federal statute, a reversal from earlier this week when Vice President Joe Biden signaled in a private meeting with Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.Dakota, and other key lawmakers that the administration would only support a weaker version of the commission by forming it through an executive order.
"The only way to solve our long-term fiscal challenges is to solve it together – Democrats and Republicans," Obama said in the written statement. "That's why I strongly support legislation currently under consideration to create a bipartisan, fiscal commission to come up with a set of solutions to tackle our nation's fiscal challenges – and call on Senators from both parties to vote for the creation of a statutory, bipartisan fiscal commission."
Conrad applauded Obama's decision in a written statement.
"The president is demonstrating exactly the kind of leadership we need to tackle our nation's long-term fiscal challenges," Conrad said. "His support shows that he is determined to do what is necessary to put us back on a sound long-term course."
WASHINGTON (CNN) – CNN has learned that the White House is quietly talking about drafting formal health care legislation after allowing Congress to work on its own for months.
Multiple sources close to the process told CNN Friday that while the plan is uncertain, they are preparing for the possibility they could deliver their own legislation to Capitol Hill sometime after the President Barack Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress Wednesday, with one source calling the possibility of new legislation a "contingency" approach if efforts by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus to craft a deal fall through.
The White House emphasized Friday that no formal bill has yet been written. "The President has been reviewing all of the various legislative proposals, but no decision has been made about whether formal legislation will be presented," said Deputy Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer.
Multiple sources told CNN earlier in the day the thinking among administration officials was that the president will lay out a path to reform in his speech next week that the White House hopes can bridge the various differences in the competing proposals. Sources expect the president to emphasize the message: If Congress passes something now, it will serve as a foundation to pass further reform in the future.
As previously reported, the so-called trigger option remains very much on the table.
(UPDATE, 1:25 pm: The House has passed the $2 billion extension of the cash for clunkers program 316-109; there will be no Senate vote before Monday)
WASHINGTON (CNN) – White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday the extremely popular "cash for clunkers" program is still up and running at least through this weekend, and said Obama administration officials are working furiously behind the scenes with Congressional leaders to find extra money to extend the program for a longer time period.
"It's up and running," Gibbs told reporters in his office, adding that it "can, will and should" continue indefinitely.
Meanwhile, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan announced that lawmakers are closing in on a deal with the White House that would give the program, which allows consumers to trade in old cars for newer more fuel-efficient vehicles, an extra $2 billion to continue and expand it.
(CNN) – A senior State Department official said Wednesday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not go to Moscow for President Obama's meetings with Russian officials.
A senior White House official said the reason Secretary Clinton is skipping the trip is because the intensive physical therapy sessions that she's been undergoing due to her broken elbow would have been too difficult to replicate during a grueling trip overseas. The White House official said it was unclear who will stand in for Clinton, though typically in a situation like this the Deputy Secretary of State would travel in her place. The Secretary's number two at State is James Steinberg, a former deputy national security adviser in the Clinton administration.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (CNN) - Some of the new media tools that helped propel President Obama to the White House are going to get their first test run on the international stage Thursday, when he delivers a long-awaited speech to the Muslim world.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said administration officials are planning to use text messaging and social networking sites like Facebook to help engage the world, especially young people, during and after the speech in Cairo.
Gibbs said the goal is to "not only draw people in to see the speech but to have them discuss it as well" to keep the conversation going long after the actual speech is delivered.
For example, the U.S. State Department is planning to send text messages about Obama's speech to users worldwide who sign up at http://www.america.gov. The texts will be sent out in four languages - Arabic, Persian, Urdu and English - and will enable users "to reply and give feedback" in real time, according to Gibbs.
The White House, which usually sends out transcripts of presidential speeches in English, will release the transcript in 13 different languages this time around.
Administration officials estimate that there are 20 million users of Facebook in the Arab countries and are setting up live chats on that site in order to get a conversation going online.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – A Republican aide familiar with Judd Gregg's decision to withdraw from consideration says the New Hampshire senator has been privately consulting with GOP leaders about this move for the “past couple of days” before making final decision today.
And a Republican source close to Gregg says the "census tipped things," adding to increasing "worries about his seat at the table" - that Gregg might be marginalized “basically if on any issue important to Democratic constituencies they are on one side and Judd is on the other, he is muted.
(CNN) - President-elect Barack Obama will officially nominate members of his national security team at an event Monday morning, including Sen. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, according to two officials.
The Obama transition team announced Sunday that Obama will unveil the full team at a press conference at the Chicago Hilton around 10 a.m. ET.
CNN and CNN.com will carry the event live.
The officials said Obama is also expected to finally confirm that he is keeping Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his current post, and plans to name retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones as his National Security Adviser at the White House.
Watch: Ed Henry discusses the security team rollout
Also, two sources close to the transition said Obama will nominate Susan Rice as United Nations ambassador, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as Homeland Security secretary and Eric Holder as Attorney General.
CHICAGO (CNN) – Several officials close to President-elect Barack Obama's transition told CNN on Tuesday that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to stay on the job for at least the first year of the new administration, with one source calling it "all but a done deal" that the official nomination could be announced as early as next week.
"It's now pointing in that direction," one of the sources close to the transition said of Gates being part of Obama's national security team, which many say also is likely to include Sen. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.
"It's likely to happen," a second source close to the transition said of Gates staying on. This source noted that Gates could stay longer than a year if he and Obama end up working well together.
Sources close to the transition have said Obama is interested in some continuity at the Pentagon because he is entering office having to deal with two wars - in Iraq and Afghanistan - as well as the international financial crisis.
CHICAGO (CNN) - Prominent Washington lawyer Greg Craig will be named White House counsel for the Obama administration, a Democratic source tells CNN. The source added that it is unclear when the appointment will be made public.
Craig first gained prominence representing President Clinton in the Senate impeachment trial, but he endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries and later played a key role in Obama's vice presidential vetting process.
CNN reported Friday that Craig was under stong consideration to be named as the incoming president's top lawyer, according to three officials close to the presidential transition. One of those officials said Craig was "highly regarded" and trusted for his discretion by Obama.
(CNN) – At their private Oval Office meeting on Monday, President-elect Barack Obama urged President Bush to support billions of dollars in aid for the struggling auto industry during the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress, according to three officials briefed on the meeting.
The officials said Bush privately expressed skepticism about taxpayer money for automakers on the heels of a string of government bailouts for other industries, and the president also urged Obama to help push through a free trade pact with Colombia – a key legacy item for the outgoing administration that is facing stiff resistance from Democrats on Capitol Hill.
But a senior Bush administration official seemed to downplay suggestions that Bush was offering a quid pro quo by saying the White House still believes the trade deal “deserves to pass on its own merits” without being linked to anything else.
The officials familiar with the meeting said Obama made the case that dramatic action needs to be taken this year – rather than after he is sworn into office – because the Big Three U.S. automakers are bleeding cash at an alarming rate.
One of the officials noted that about one in ten jobs in America are tied to the auto industry, and if one of the companies goes bankrupt it could have a massive spillover effect into the credit industry and other sectors. “The numbers are so staggering,” said the official. “It’s a huge piece of the financial fabric of the country.”
The senior Bush administration official said the White House is “open to ideas from Congress to accelerate funds they’ve already appropriated” to help the auto industry.
But the administration official said support would come “as long as funding will continue to go to viable firms and with strong taxpayer protections” linked to the auto industry aid.
An official in the auto industry told CNN that bringing the Colombian pact into the negotiations could be a poison pill that prevents passage of an auto industry package. But a senior Democratic aide suggested Congress may be willing to call Bush’s bluff and try to pass an auto industry aid package without the trade deal.
The senior aide said Democrats do not believe “this president wants to add the demise of GM to his legacy list.”