On Thursday, the cast of the Broadway revival of “A Raisin in the Sun” was told that a “high-level official” would be coming to the show the next night. Who could it be? Kathleen Sebelius had just resigned—maybe she had more time for theatregoing? Word got out on Friday afternoon: the Obamas were coming to Broadway. By seven o’clock that night, Forty-Seventh Street had been partitioned off, and the Barrymore Theatre was swarming with security guys—not an unwelcome sight, after the Times reported that Broadway has had a tough time attracting men. This was not Obama’s first act of Presidential playgoing. In 2009, he and Michelle went on a date night to August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” and the First Lady has brought her daughters to “Memphis” and “The Addams Family.” “A Raisin in the Sun” was more than a safe choice: it was an undeniably poignant one. It premièred in 1959, and made Lorraine Hansberry the first African-American woman to have a play produced on Broadway. The story follows a black family in Chicago preparing to move into a big, fancy house, despite resistance from their conservative white neighbors. (Sound familiar?) And its themes are as lofty and as loaded as Obama’s: upward mobility, the pain of progress, and, as Sarah Palin might put it (though Hansberry certainly did not), “that hopey, changey stuff.”
The lights went down, and the door to the street swung open. A stream of people, including the President, the First Lady (in black), and Valerie Jarrett, snaked through to the back of the house and then down the aisle. Ignoring the announcer’s pleas, the audience leaped to its feet—this usually happens at the end of the show—and camera flashes twinkled in the darkened theatre. The Obamas shook some hands and took their seats. It’s not often that a single member of the audience commands more attention than the action onstage, and in the initial minutes there was a jittery energy that distracted from the story. Denzel Washington got his usual entrance applause (and a few catcalls from the balcony). If it took a while to buy him as Walter Lee Younger, it wasn’t because Washington is twenty-four years older than his character: Obama’s Obama-ness somehow increased Denzel’s Denzel-ness. At intermission, the Obamas went backstage to meet the cast, as patrons flooded the bar.
Act Two was sprinkled with unspoken moments of meta-theatre. When Walter asks his son, Travis, what he wants to be when he grows up, the boy says, “Bus driver.” His father urges him to dream bigger, and the words “President of the United States” seemed to waft in the air momentarily. In the end, the Youngers take the house, defying the enmity of the “welcoming committee.” They are the change they’ve been waiting for. At the curtain call, the Obamas joined the audience in a standing ovation, and Denzel Washington tipped his fedora to the President, flashing his matinee-idol grin. Scott Rudin, the powerhouse producer, said, “I pretty much cried the whole time.” Bryce Clyde Jenkins, the thirteen-year-old who plays Travis Younger, was still beaming. “I was in school at 11:08 when my teacher, Miss Bernadette, pulled it up on the computer that the First Lady and the President were coming to the performance tonight,” he said. “I kind of jumped for joy inside myself.” Did he find it hard to concentrate onstage? “No,” Jenkins said. “We have a responsibility to the people who are in the show and the Obamas to put on a good show and treat them like they’re our last audience.”
On This Day: President Obama encourages a young participant at the White House Easter Egg Roll, April 13, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
The Week Ahead
Today: The President has no public events scheduled.
Monday: The President will host an Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House.
Tuesday: The President and the First Lady will mark the beginning of Passover with a Seder at the White House with friends and staff.
Wednesday: President Obama and Vice President Biden will travel to Leetsdale, Pennsylvania for an event on the economy.
Thursday: The President will welcome the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride to the White House in celebration of the eighth annual Soldier Ride.
Friday: The President will meet with the National Commander and Executive Director of the American Legion. Later, he will welcome the United States Naval Academy Football Team to the White House to present them with the 2013 Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
10:0 PM ET today: President Obama appears in the Showtime documentary series ‘Years of Living Dangerously’, produced by James Cameron, to discuss climate change.
Karen Rubin: Obama At National Action Network, Defends Voting Rights, Issues Call To Action
President Barack Obama delivered an impassioned defense of voting rights and a call to action to vote. Delivering the keynote address which concluded the National Action Network’s convention in New York City, on Friday, April 11, Obama declared, “Just as inequality feeds on injustice, opportunity requires justice. And justice requires the right to vote.” Just the day before, at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, he had reflected upon the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under President Lyndon B Johnson, and his remarks built on that theme. The Voting Rights Act, which some regard as even more crucial an achievement, did not come until 1965. Showing a full gamut of emotions during his 20-minute speech, from bemusement to impassioned invocation, to a folksy, intimate conversation, he used the fabricated controversy over his birth certificate to make the more serious point of documents being required to vote that low-income people,
elderly people, urbanites, young people may not have, and even women, who by virtue of getting married have a different name on their drivers’ license, may be denied access to the polls, while in other districts, people are being forced to stand for hours on end in order to cast a ballot. He pointed to some successes in his administration – 9 million jobs created since the financial collapse of 2008, the Affordable Care Act that saw nearly 8 million enrollees, millions more covered under expanded Medicaid and a significant drop in the percentage of uninsured, lowered high school drop out rates. But he talked, as well, about the Opportunity Agenda – raising the minimum wage, universal Pre-K, access to affordable health care, pay equity, job training, access to higher education, addressing the impacts of carbon pollution that disproportionately affect low-income communities, immigration reform, that can only be achieved, first because of the ballot box.
LOL GOP: This Is A Fantastic Pro-Obamacare Ad – Why Aren’t There A Thousand Like It?
Since news broke that enrollments in the Obamacare exchanges had broken 7 million, there has been a steady stream of positive indications for the law. Signups in the exchanges continue at impressive pace as the deadline to complete applications nears. Medicaid expansion is taking off in Michigan and will continue all year long. But the best news is this new ad from a Super PAC supporting Alaska senator Mark Begich that makes the most effective case for the law — it ends discrimination against people who’ve gotten sick. This is a fantasitc message because you know who gets sick? Everyone, eventually. The bad news is we likely won’t be seeing many ads like this from candidates as Democrats in close elections recognize that the enthusiasm is on the side of repeal, which is less popular than the law nationally but gospel among the GOP base.
Going on the offense, which is always the right strategy, is more challenging when you’re afraid your only inflaming the people most likely to vote in a low-turn out election. However, there is a huge opportunity for outside groups and supporters of the law to flood the internet with these kinds of testimonials. Film a friend. Speak into a camera. I’m even thinking about how to fund a contest for the best homemade video. The tide could be turning for this law and personal stories — along with stern indictments of the incredible cruelty of denying Medicaid expansion — could transform the political landscape. And there are signs the shift has already begun.
Justin Baragona: Can White Conservatives Please Stop Saying That Racism Doesn’t Exist Anymore?
In the aftermath of Attorney General Eric Holder’s remarks at a National Action Network event on Wednesday, white conservative pundits have used their airtime to complain about Holder ‘playing the race card.’ Some have even gone so far as saying that racism is no longer a problem in America and doesn’t even exist anymore. On two programs this past week, we witnessed panel discussions about race where all the participants were white. On Thursday, Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough defended Gohmert’s behavior and accused the Attorney General and the President of playing the race card too often. He then tried to lead a discussion on racism, or the lack thereof, in Washington. His feeling is that Washington is just a tough place to work, and that Bill Clinton, Janet Reno and Richard Nixon all dealt with worse behavior from political opponents. He was able to get agreement from others on the panel that racism is not an issue in Washington and that this is all just politics as usual.
Now, I’d like you to take a look at the composition of this panel discussing race and tell me what all of them have in common: Hmmm. That sure is a diverse panel there, isn’t it? I am sure they can provide us with quite a bit of varied insight and experience when it comes to race relations and what it likes to be black in America. Few things are more offensive that white people explaining to black Americans how racism doesn’t exist anymore. I would have to think that African Americans hate hearing a white conservative whine about a black person ‘playing the race card.’ This is one of the biggest reasons why Republicans get less than 10% of the black vote in national elections, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
TPM: Poll: Republicans Admit Obamacare Might Not Be The End Of The World
As Obamacare’s first enrollment period ends and the law becomes a more established part of U.S. policy, the Republican base appears to be having an epiphany: Maybe it’s not the end of the world.
A new Gallup poll found that the number of self-identified GOPers who think the law won’t affect them spiked 20 percentage points from a month ago.
Back in late February and early March, 72 percent of Republicans said that Obamacare would make their lives and their family’s lives worse in the long run. But just a month later, that figure fell to 51 percent. The percentage who said that the law wouldn’t make much difference leapt from 23 percent to 43 percent over the same period.
Trevor LaFauci: Texas-Sized Beat Down: How Eric Holder Put Rep. Louie Gohmert In His Place
On Tuesday, in a heated exchange on Capitol Hill, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder laid the smackdown on Texas Republican Representative Louie Gohmert for implying that Holder should be held in contempt for withholding documents related to Operation Fast and Furious. In the nearly three-and-a-half-hour-long session involving thirty-four members of Congress, it was the exchange with Gohmert which brought the day’s most dramatic fireworks. This was not the first time that tensions have risen between Holder and Gohmert. Last May at a hearing regarding the Boston Marathon bombing, Gohmert attacked Holder by claiming that the Justice Department had not done enough to prevent the Boston Marathon bombing. When Holder pushed back, Gohmert gave us the now-famous quote that “the Attorney General will not cast aspersions on my asparagus”
The Republican Party has been doing everything in their power since day one to try and manufacture some kind of Watergate-esque scandal that could bring down the Obama Administration. They are doing so because they know that with eight successful years of Democratic policies in place, the Republican Party will be unlikely to take back the White House any time soon. They have been digging and digging for some kind of scandal and at this point the hole is so big that there is no way to return to the surface, so they continue digging deeper no matter how foolish they appear. Here’s the current list of “impeachable” scandals that Republicans have tried to pin on the Obama Administration: Operation Fast and Furious, the IRS targeting of Conservative groups, the NSA data collecting, the tracking of Associated Press reporters, Benghazi, etc., etc. None of these have panned out
Kathleen Sebelius is a rarity in Washington: a powerhouse with a down-to-earth sense of humor that made her as approachable as she was powerful. And after five tough years (and particularly the past six months) as secretary of health and human services, the former governor of Kansas is stepping down. The Rose Garden send-off today by President Obama and Vice President Biden and the standing ovations from her colleagues were appropriate for someone who met the ultimate goal. Yes, the Oct. 1 rollout of HealthCare.gov was an unmitigated disaster. But if you only focus on that, you’re missing a more complete picture of Sebelius’s tenure at HHS. Crisis greeted her when she walked through the door in April 2009. The H1N1 pandemic was surging across the globe, and vaccines for this new strain of swine flu didn’t exist. Sebelius shepherded the process of expediting production and distribution of a vaccine.
While that was happening, Sebelius was helping to design what would become known and derided as Obamacare. She was there for the lunacy of “death panels” and “You lie!” She was there when the ACA passed Congress without a single Republican vote and when it survived a constitutional challenge. She was there for countless congressional hearings on the health-care law, useless votes to repeal it, creepy Uncle Sam and other tactics meant to scare people from signing up for health care.“There are seven and a half million people across the country that have the security of health insurance, most of them for the very first time, and that’s because of the woman standing next to me here today,” the president said in a farewell ceremony as triumphant as the one held more than a week ago to announce the better-than-expected enrollment numbers. “And we are proud of her for that. That’s a historic accomplishment.”
Zachary Roth: Democrats Finally Make Voting Rights A Top Priority
For years, voting-rights advocates have been quietly urging Democrats and the Obama administration to fully embrace the fight over access to the ballot as a defining civil-rights issue of our day. This was the week when it finally happened. The heightened rhetoric, which came from President Obama and other heavyweights in his party, is the latest sign that voting rights are likely to be a front-burner issue when Americans go to the polls this fall—at least if Democrats have their way. In a speech at the National Action Network convention in New York City Friday afternoon, Obama used his most forceful language yet on the subject to condemn Republican efforts to make voting harder. “The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” the president said. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.”
Obama continually linked today’s battles to the historic movement for African-American voting rights half a century ago, invoking the three young civil-rights activists who were murdered in Mississippi in 1964 while registering voters. “Americans did not stand up and did not march and did not sacrifice to gain the right to vote, for themselves and for others, only to see it denied to their kids and their grandkids,” Obama said, drawing raucous cheers from the crowd. “We’ve got to pay attention to this.” Obama even took time to dissect the arguments of those who argue that voter ID laws are needed to stop fraud, citing a study showing a fraud rate of just 0.00002%. “So let’s be clear,” Obama said. “The real voter fraud is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud.”
Obama’s rousing words come days after he called efforts to stop people voting “un-American” during a Houston fundraiser. And they follow on the heels of similar remarks this week from two of the other highest-profile Democrats in the country, Vice President Joe Biden and President Bill Clinton. In linking today’s voting restrictions to laws that kept blacks from the polls during segregation, Obama and his allies aren’t explicitly saying that the ongoing GOP push to make voting harder is a racially motivated effort that has roots in the Jim Crow era. But they’re certainly allowing that inference to be drawn. To voting rights advocates, the new level of engagement from top Democrats, especially Obama himself, is welcome indeed.
“Nothing is more important than the American people hearing the president of the United States bringing the full passion and power of his voice and his position to the issue of promoting voting rights and an open democracy for every citizen,” said Barbara Arnwine, the president of the National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. It’s not just talk, either. The Democratic National Committee recently launched the Voter Expansion Project, which aims to push back against restrictive voting laws by registering new voters and supporting laws that expand access to the ballot.
Bloomberg: Ukraine Sees $7 Billion IMF Funding This Year
Ukraine will probably receive $7 billion in International Monetary Fund financing this year to support the state budget and central bank reserves, Finance Minister Oleksandr Shlapak said. The east European nation is also seeking further funding from the Group of Seven countries, Shlapak said an interview in Washington yesterday. Of the group’s members, Canada has pledged $200 million and the U.S. has also responded, he said. The government predicts Ukraine’s economy will shrink 3 percent in 2014, the third recession since 2008, while reserves are at a nine-year low. The country sealed a preliminary accord with the IMF last month for as much as $18 billion in loans during two years, with the agreement unlocking $27 billion in international financing. Ukraine needs about $30 billion through 2015 to “balance the situation,” Shlapak said.
The currency will rebound after the IMF deal is completed, Shlapak said. Ukrainian officials will meet IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde on April 14 and the government “hopes” the lender’s board will convene to approve the loan this month, he said. Ukraine wants to get the funds as soon as possible, he added. “While we announced the $27 billion, which is the financing need of the country for the next 24 months, we have also given a range for the financing that would come from the fund, and that range has been $14 to $18 billion,” IMF European Director Reza Moghadam said today in Washington. “Our exact financing will depend on how much comes from other bilateral and multilateral lenders.”
Obamacare, the law that could save you 2% or more on car insurance. It isn’t exactly the main pitch behind the health-insurance law, but a study released Wednesday by the Rand Corporation finds that as more people gain health insurance, the costs of other types of insurance could go down. In particular, car insurance and other liability-insurance companies that typically spend tens of billions of dollars each year on health-care claims related to car accidents, workplace injuries and other scenarios could see their health costs decline and could pass those savings on to consumers in the form of lower premiums.
In the case of car-insurance companies, the study points out that some uninsured people, upon suffering through a car accident, may then seek treatment for conditions they have that are unrelated to the car accident. If those types of conditions were covered by health-insurance companies, it could shave up to 2% off of the average costs incurred by auto-insurance companies, the study found. “It’s extraneous stuff you might get the auto insurer to pay for,” says David Auerbach, the lead author of the report and a health policy researcher with Rand Corporation. “It’s hard to tell what was actually caused by the accident.”
Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine has been making a spectacle of himself lately, most recently tying himself in knots trying to explain away his essay on race in the Obama Era. On Thursday night’s All In with Chris Hayes, his point seems to have evolved into a plea for fairness to Republicans, while conceding that everything about Republicanism is legitimately racist. He told Chris Hayes that “you can go to almost any issue and see a racial dynamic, and I really think you can, and you can legitimately,” but somehow, legitimately identifying those racial dynamics is somehow unfair, and contributes to a “poisonous dynamic.”
I don’t get it, and I don’t agree with either end of that hypothesis. There are many issues that either don’t have a racial dynamic, or have racial dynamics that intersect the partisan divide, and discussing those issues that do have a racial dynamic in racial terms isn’t just fair, it is essential. However, on Chait’s own terms, if every partisan issue can legitimately be viewed as racial, how could it possibly be unfair to discuss that?
Jay Carney: President Obama and Vice President Biden’s 2013 Tax Returns
Today, the President released his 2013 federal income tax returns. He and the First Lady filed their income tax returns jointly and reported adjusted gross income of $481,098. The Obamas paid $98,169 in total tax. The President and First Lady also reported donating $59,251 – or about 12.3 percent of their adjusted gross income – to 32 different charities. The largest reported gift to charity was $8,751 to the Fisher House Foundation. The President’s effective federal income tax rate is 20.4 percent. The President pushed for and signed into law legislation that makes the system more fair and helps the middle class by extending tax cuts to middle class and working families and asks the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share. In 2013, as a result of his policies, the President was subject to limitations in tax preferences, as well as additional Medicare and investment income taxes, for high income earners.
The President and First Lady also released their Illinois income tax return and reported paying $23,328 in state income tax. The Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden also released their 2013 federal income tax returns, as well as state income tax returns for both Delaware and Virginia. The Bidens filed joint federal and combined Delaware income tax returns. Dr. Biden filed a separate non-resident Virginia tax return. Together, they reported adjusted gross income of $407,009. The Bidens paid $96,378 in total federal tax for 2013, amounting to an effective tax rate of 23.7 percent. They also paid $14,644 in Delaware income tax and Dr. Biden paid $3,470 in Virginia income tax. The Bidens contributed $20,523 to charity in 2013, including contributing the royalties received from Dr. Biden’s children’s book, net of taxes, to the USO.
Dear Disappointeds: Back in 2010 you told us that you were disappointed in the President you helped elect. And because of that, you weren’t motivated enough to vote in the midterms. While I don’t share your disappointment, I want to say that I hear you. Now we’re facing another midterm election and we have the benefit of hindsight to tell us what changed as a result of your lack of enthusiasm. Sure, you might have wanted single payer and a larger stimulus package.
But you have to admit that Obamacare is doing an awful lot of good. And perhaps you should read Michael Grunwald’s book The New New Deal to learn how the American Recovery Act was way more than many of us thought it was at the time. Its “gut check” time for all of us. I don’t know about you, but after these last four years I’m actually psyched to get back to Democrats arguing with other Democrats over HOW MUCH change we want to see rather than being pissed at Republicans all the time for their total obstruction. There’s a lot riding on this one. I hope we can all work together to make that happen.
The Week: Obama Is On Track To Leave A Budget Surplus
Bill Clinton left the presidency with a budget surplus. And although the first five years of Barack Obama’s presidency have featured high (but falling) deficits, it’s starting to look like Obama could do the same. For the first time since the 1950s, federal spending is lower than it was four years ago: As Mike Darda argues: The fiscal deficit has been falling by an average of 1.5 percentage points per annum since peaking in late 2009.
If this trend continues, it would imply a balanced budget during 2015 and a fiscal surplus in 2016. [AEI] Obama leaving office with a balanced budget would come as a big shock to those who have compared the U.S. to crisis-stricken countries like Greece, or claimed that Obama is spending like a drunken sailor. But that is exactly what the U.S. is on trend to do.
Alice C. Shephard: Balancing Act: In The Constant Juggle Of Managing Life At Home And Life At Work, Claire Shipman Realizes That Confidence Is Key
ABC News contributor Claire Shipman is gently trying to coax her eight-year-old daughter, Della Claire Carney, to appear in a Washingtonian MOM photo shoot, in which Della might have to wear pink and comb her tangled mane. Della is not easily swayed. She hates pink. Nor does she like to brush her hair. The daughter of Shipman and Jay Carney, President Obama’s press secretary, isn’t the kind of young girl interested in pleasing her Washington-power-couple parents, or any of the adults around her on the photo shoot for that matter. She is funny, sweet, and obviously smart, but she’s not going to budge for braids and patterned shirts.
To Shipman, 51, this is great, though it can be trying. She’d love it if every once in a while Della would run a comb through her locks. Shipman and Carney’s son, Hugo James Carney, on the other hand, spends a lot more time styling his red hair. “He’s 12 going on 16,” says Shipman. During the shoot, Hugo walked up to everyone on the production crew, held out his hand for a firm shake, and said, “Hello, I’m Hugo, nice to meet you”; to say he is a well-mannered tween is an understatement. Hugo and Della both attend Sidwell Friends School. The busy Carney-Shipman household also “parents” one-year-old Flash, a Portuguese water dog who is a cousin to the Obamas’ dog Sunny.
Shipman and her close friend Katty Kay, the Washington correspondent for BBC World News America, have just written a book on women and confidence called The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know, released in April. Not surprisingly, Shipman has learned a lot about her own daughter through her research. “My daughter is a tomboy,” she says. “She’s strong-willed and doesn’t care about conventions. Our research helped me realize that this is not something I want to go away. If she has her own strong opinions and wears what she wants to wear, that’s great—even if I don’t like it.”
Carney, 48, says the book’s findings changed how they parent their daughter. “Raising Della, we are both now extremely mindful of how important confidence is for girls, and how different it can be in girls compared with boys,” he says. “We try to help Della build confidence by focusing on the effort she puts into things, rather than just praising the outcomes.” I Absolutely Won’t Let Kids . . . They can never treat people badly. Being rude or less than caring produces draconian consequences and much-dreaded family meetings.
President Obama cheers on a young child as she rolls her egg toward the finish line April 13, 2009, during the White House Easter Egg Roll (Photo by Pete Souza)
First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden tour earthquake damage in Port Au-Prince, Haiti, along with Haitian President Rene Preval, and Elisabeth Delatour Preval, the First Lady of Haiti, April 13, 2010. The damaged presidential palace is seen in the background (Photo by Samantha Appleton
President Obama meets with Goldman Environmental Prize winners in the Oval Office, April 13, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, seated far left, meet with staff aboard Bright Star during a flight from New River Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, April 13, 2011. The trip was to launch Joining Forces, a national initiative to support and honor America’s service members and their families (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden and Martha Stewart drop by Operation Shower, a celebration for pregnant women whose husbands are service members, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, April 13, 2011. The event was part of the launch of Joining Forces, a national initiative to support and honor America’s service members and their families (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, and facility manager Judith Markelz, second left, greet volunteers preparing a meal at the Warrior and Family Support Center in San Antonio, Texas, April 13, 2011. The First Lady and Dr. Biden met with service members and their families during their visit to the facility, which helps care for family members of Wounded Warriors whose recovery is expected to last a long period of time (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
First Lady Michelle Obama greets Marines following her remarks to 3,000 Marines, soldiers, sailors, and military family members at Memorial Field House in Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 13, 2011. The event was part of the launch of Joining Forces, a national initiative to support and honor America’s service members and their families (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
President Obama talks with, from left: Dan Restrepo, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs; U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk; and Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis aboard Air Force One while en route to Tampa, Fla., April 13, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
Audience members embrace President Obama after he spoke at the Port of Tampa in Tampa, Fla., April 13, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama attends a Summit of the Americas Leaders’ Dinner at Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena, Colombia, April 13, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)