Obama’s briefings are showing

Al Kamen
Columnist September 25, 2012

Let it not be said that columnists don’t have clout.

Take, for example, Washington Post op-ed columnist Marc Thiessen’s Sept. 10 piece saying President Obama has failed to attend his daily intelligence briefing “more than half the time.”

Thiessen’s column was based on numbers from the Government Accountability Institute, which he described as a “new conservative investigative research organization.” (It’s now being called a “nonpartisan” research group.)

The GAI was founded by Peter Schweizer, an author who consulted for the George W. Bush White House’s speechwriting operation. (Thiessen and Schweizer also founded a business called Oval Office Writers in 2009.)

Schweizer, the only person listed on the GAI Web site as being on the GAI “team,” used Politico’s White House calendar — as opposed to the skimpy official White House schedule — to calculate Obama’s briefing attendance.

Our colleague Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, debunked the GAI analysis as meaningless, given that different presidents have different ways of getting briefed on intelligence matters — some prefer just to read the Presidential Daily Brief, some prefer just meeting with their national security adviser, and so on. He gave the claim three Pinocchios (out of a possible four). Thiessen disagrees.

Then Karl Rove’s Operation Crossroads super PAC picked up on the analysis when it blistered Obama in an ad for his supposed inattentiveness to foreign policy and cited Thiessen’s Post column.

Next thing you know, as Kessler points out to us, the White House schedule started looking a little different. On Sept. 14 (four days after Thiessen’s column) and every workday since, through Monday, it listed Obama — and sometimes Vice President Biden — as being briefed.

Asked about that recent uptick in Obama’s “attendance, ” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Tuesday afternoon: “As we’ve said countless times, the president reads the PDB every day and most days he’s in D.C. has an Oval [Office] session.” Vietor added that the scheduling had “nothing to do” with Thiessen’s column.

Well, okay.

Calling all eggheads

In the ever-uglier Senate race in Massachusetts, Republican incumbent Scott Brown has tried to make proletarian hay out of Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren’s academic background.

He calls her “Professor Warren.” Subtext: See! She’s one of those ivory-tower elitists! And he has bashed her Harvard salary. (“How very uppah-crust!” the truck-driving Bruins fan seems to be crowing.)

Warren, though, isn’t running away from her smarty-pants rep. In fact, she’s doubling down with a fundraiser Wednesday night outside Boston daring folks to match their brains against her crack staffers in a trivia battle royal.

“Come Test Your Wits against Elizabeth Warren’s Policy Team” the invite taunts. Luckily, the prices are such that even a public-school grad might afford them: $20 for an individual and $100 for a team.

Would-be attendees should hope the categories don’t include topics of particular Warren expertise, such as “The Fine Print of the Bankruptcy Law” — or “Scott Brown’s Voting Record. ”

Cut out the middleman

Fluency in bureaucratic-speak is harder than it looks.

The Senate voted Friday to boost Jim Syring’s military rank, a prerequisite for his taking the position of director of the Missile Defense Agency, the job the president selected him for last month. And we assumed the Senate still hadn’t confirmed him for the job, since the Congressional Record notice about the vote included nary a mention of the missile agency or the title Syring is to hold there. The Loop reported that he’d gotten “half a loaf” by getting the necessary boost in rank but not the job itself.

Alas, we underestimated the import of the phrase that followed the announcement of his promotion: “while assigned to a position of importance and responsibility.” Turns out, those innocuous little words mean big things for Syring — namely, that the promotion to vice admiral means that he’s now eligible for the military to hand him over the keys to the MDA — just as the president directed — with no further approval from the Senate needed.

Couldn’t have been any clearer, right?

Still, questions remain. Like when will Syring actually take over as head of MDA?

Still no word. That’s as clear as . . . federal code.

Oh, thank heaven

Anyone strolling into the 7-Eleven in Foggy Bottom on Tuesday evening in search of a caffeine fix may have thought the store was showing support for Mitt Romney. There were disposable coffee cups emblazoned with the Republican presidential candidate’s name but no similar offerings featuring the incumbent.

A Loop fan and coffee swiller noticed the seemingly partisan selection and asked the manager about it. Turns out he ran out of Obama cups earlier in the day. More tomorrow, he promised.

Which figures, since the convenience store is a mere Slurpee’s throw from State Department headquarters, where we can assume few employees would want to be seen toting Romney gear.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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