Inside Politics

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What has been the biggest debacle on Obama's watch?

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OH-BAMA

Please. Let’s take a breath here before the whole country blows a gasket.

We know that the Bush administration and the Obama transition team are playing nice together. And we know that everyone thinks it’s prudent for President-to-be Barack Obama to be boldly pro-active in these troubled times. But wait a minute.

He’s not president. Yet.

A Fox News editorial is taking lofty trappings to task:

“President-elect Barack Obama is looking very presidential these days. When he makes an announcement, he is ringed by American flags and stands behind a lectern that has a very presidential-looking placard announcing ‘The Office of the President-Elect.’ But the props are merely that. Under the Constitution, there is no such thing as the Office of the President-Elect.”

PARSING PARDONS

“Will law and order conservatives attack Bush for his 14 pardons?” asks soon-to-be ex-Fox News host Alan Colmes in his “Liberaland” blog.

“They never stop talking about the Clinton pardons. I wonder if any of these will bother them? I mean, it’s not like these crooks were as bad as [Marc] Rich. All they did was drug offenses, tax evasion, wildlife violations, bank embezzlement, hazardous waste, food stamps and the theft of government property,” Mr. Colmes points out.

President Bush pardoned 14 people, and more are likely to come. But some Colmes readers question his logic.

“Your comparison of the Bush and Clinton pardons is absurd. You’re free to make any arguments you wish, but you lose credibility when they are not rooted in fact, but rather your liberal prejudices. None of President Bush’s pardons have gone to fugitives that fled the country, as did Marc Rich. None of Bush’s pardons, I presume, have been done at the behest of the estranged wife of said fugitive, who also happened to be a major fundraiser for Clinton,” noted one critic.

JANET PLANET

Need background on Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, possibly our next Department of Homeland Security czarina, who is approved by none other than Sen. John McCain? Here’s insight from More magazine:

“Napolitano fairly hums with intensity. She’s pugnacious, fiercely opinionated, thin-skinned and hooked on goofy one-liners. Supporters say she has perfect political pitch in a swing state that’s an economic and social blueprint for a changing America. Critics call her a chameleon, willing to embrace any position that bolsters her approval ratings. But nobody sells Napolitano short. As Jana Bommersbach, a veteran Arizona journalist, says, ‘Janet is easily the smartest person in the room in any situation.’”

PENN CENTRAL

In the Nation magazine, actor-activist Sean Penn has penned and filmed “Conversations With Chavez and Castro.” He sat down with Cuban President Raul Castro in his first interview with the “foreign press.”

The pair talked for seven hours - with Mr. Castro airing his views of President-elect Barack Obama, and in a walk down memory lane, his own role during the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis. Mr. Castro also shares details of the “secret but ongoing military relationship between the Pentagon and Cuba over Guantanamo.”

This is Mr. Penn’s second trip to Cuba. He also went to Venezuela with Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Brinkley to chat with President Hugo Chavez - who revealed his ideas of a “potential relationship with President Obama,” the Monroe Doctrine and “human rights and freedom of expression” under his presidency.

BARRY’S ‘BERRY

There are some things even a president can’t do, as President-elect Barack Obama is finding out.

In an interview with Barbara Walters that airs Wednesday, he told the ABC diva that he wants to keep his BlackBerry but is running into resistance.

A president’s e-mail may be subject to public records laws and to subpoenas. It also may pose a security risk for him to carry a traceable cellular device. He told Miss Walters he’s having to negotiate with the Secret Service, lawyers and White House staff.

Mr. Obama has long been known to love his BlackBerry and could often be spotted during the campaign happily thumbing away. He told ABC he wants to “break through the isolation and the bubble that exists around the president.”

“I’m negotiating to figure out how can I get information from outside of the 10 or 12 people who surround my office in the White House,” he said. “Because one of the worst things I think that could happen to a president is losing touch with what people are going through day to day.”

EDGING UP

The latest job-approval ratings are in from Rasmussen Reports: 3 percent of voters rate Congress “excellent,” and 9 percent grant Congress a “good,” the pollster said Tuesday. The combined numbers equal a whopping 12 percent positive approval rating.

Still, it’s the highest ratings for the legislature since May - and up one percentage point since Election Day. Over the summer, just 9 percent gave the lawmakers positive ratings.

Meanwhile, 55 percent said Congress is doing a poor job and 31 percent rate lawmakers’ performance as fair.

The poll of 1,000 likely voters was conducted Nov. 20-21.

A BUSH REMEMBRANCE

First lady Laura Bush will soon join the ranks of power authors. She says a personal memoir is in the making.

“I’ve been talking to some publishers, but nothing has happened yet - just a few visits,” she told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Mrs. Bush is being represented by Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, whose many clients include former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Mr. Barnett worked with the first lady when she and daughter Jenna Bush Hager collaborated on a children’s book. Jenna herself published “Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope” in 2007.

President Bush’s memoir “A Charge to Keep,” was published in 1999, and dedicated “To Laura and the girls.”

• E-mail Jennifer Harper or call 202/636-3085.

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