- - Sunday, November 18, 2012

At the start of a three-nation tour of Southeast Asia, President Obama joked Sunday with a Buddhist monk in Thailand that he could use some prayer to help reach a budget deal with Republican lawmakers to avert a fiscal crisis back in the U.S.

“We’re working on this budget, we’re going to need a lot of prayer for that,” Mr. Obama told a monk while touring the Wat Pho Royal Monastery.

Later, at a joint news conference with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the president tried to explain his quip.

“I always believe in prayer,” Mr. Obama said. “If a Buddhist monk is wishing me well, I’m going to take whatever good vibes he can give me to try to deal with some challenges back home. I’m confident that we can get our fiscal situation dealt with.”

EPA

Congress demands info on secret email accounts

A House committee has begun an investigation into whether EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson used an email alias to try to hide correspondence from open-government requests and her agency’s own internal watchdog — something Republican lawmakers said could run afoul of the law.

The science committee has asked Mrs. Jackson to turn over all information related to an email account under the name of “Richard Windsor,” which is one of the aliases identified by a researcher looking into the EPA.

The committee has also asked the White House’s lawyer and EPA’s inspector general to look into the matter and report back by the end of this month, saying that the secret email accounts could have been used to keep key information from official watchdogs as well as the public.

EPA did not respond Friday night to a request for comment.

The researcher who uncovered the “Richard Windsor” alias email, Christopher Horner, has repeatedly battled the administration over its global warming efforts.

Earlier this year he and his colleagues at the Competitive Enterprise Institute sued to demand the release of emails from “secondary” accounts from EPA, and cited a memo saying the practice began during the Clinton administration under then-administrator Carol Browner.

SENATE

Lieberman not holding breath for new position

Retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, one of the chamber’s most respected voices on national security, said on Sunday morning that he’d listen to offers from President Obama to take a Cabinet post or other position within the administration, but stressed that he isn’t holding his breath.

“There have been no talks. It’s not what I’m planning for the next chapter of my life. … I’m not waiting by the phone,” the independent Connecticut senator said on “Fox News Sunday.”

It’s hardly the first time Mr. Lieberman, a former Democrat and that party’s vice presidential nominee in 2000 alongside Al Gore, has been mentioned as a possible Cabinet official. In fact, there was speculation earlier this year that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney might pick Mr. Lieberman to be his secretary of state, if he defeated Mr. Obama. Mr. Lieberman confirmed over the summer that he would have been open to serving in a Romney administration.

WHITE HOUSE

Plane carrying press corps damaged in bird strike

The charter aircraft carrying the White House press corps to President Obama’s three-nation tour of Southeast Asia lost an engine due to a bird strike in Japan early Saturday.

No one was injured in the incident, which occurred as the press plane was preparing to land for a refueling stop in Tokyo. But CBS radio reporter Mark Knoller said on Twitter that the damaged engine required the White House travel office to get another plane for the media, forcing a delay of more than five hours in Japan.

The charter flight left Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Friday morning, Washington time. Mr. Obama departed Saturday morning on Air Force One for Thailand; he will also visit Cambodia and Burma before returning to Washington on Wednesday.

JUSTICE

Official: Voter sign-up should be automatic

One of the top enforcers of the nation’s civil rights laws said Friday government should be responsible for automatically registering citizens to vote by using existing databases to compile lists of all eligible residents in each jurisdiction.

The proposal by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, chief of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, follows an election with breakdowns that forced voters in many states to wait in line for hours.

In remarks at George Washington University law school, Mr. Perez said census data shows that of 75 million adult citizens who failed to vote in the 2008 presidential election, 60 million were not registered and therefore ineligible to cast a ballot.

Mr. Perez said the current registration system is needlessly complex and forces state and local officials to manually process a crush of new registrations, most handwritten, every election season. This leaves “the system riddled with errors, too often, creating chaos at the polls,” Mr. Perez said. “That’s exactly what we saw at a number of polling places on Election Day.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports