Just Sitting in the Dark and Watching the Fire

By Al Kamen
Friday, January 9, 2009

Former FEMA administrator Michael D. Brown was among 11,000 Boulder, Colo., folks evacuated yesterday amid raging wildfires that have scorched at least 1,000 acres. Brown, dubbed "Brownie" by President Bush during the Katrina Hurricane fiasco, moved back to the Boulder area, where he runs a disaster consulting business.

"I got back home to Boulder, the winds were just whipping up 60, 80 miles an hour. I was working in my home office, the dogs start barking, and lo and behold, there's a Boulder County sheriff with lights flashing saying there's a mandatory evacuation," Brown said during a local radio interview, our colleague Ed O'Keefe reports.

Asked about the irony of the former chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency evacuating his home, Brown said: "It was strange being told to evacuate, because, you know, I firmly believe in evacuations. When they told me that, you know, I just loaded the dogs up, grabbed my briefcase and headed down the mountain."

Brown was told there was a fire. "I couldn't smell the smoke or see it, because the [wind was] just pushing the smoke due east. I couldn't see the fire until I got down to Highway 36. And when I saw it, I was just astonished at just how large it was. So I sat and watched it for about two hours," he said.

Now we know why he was right for FEMA.

Clinging to Normalcy

President-elect Barack Obama, for years addicted to BlackBerrys (yes, he has multiple ones), may be forced to surrender the devices when he is sworn in. But in an interview Wednesday with John Harwood of CNBC and the New York Times, Obama said, "I'm still clinging to my BlackBerry."

"They're going to pry it out of my hands," Obama said, adding that giving up the BlackBerry is "the hardest thing about being president."

Obama said he expects to have access to a computer somewhere in the West Wing, if not in the Oval Office, but keeping his BlackBerry is his chief concern. "I don't know that I'll win, but I'm still fighting it."

On vacation in Hawaii, Obama often sported two BlackBerrys clipped to his belt. He has said his e-mail keeps him in touch with friends and other advisers outside his pre-presidential bubble. But Obama chafed at being increasingly kept from living a normal life.

"When we were on vacation in Hawaii, I was greatly discouraged from going body surfing. Going to get shave ice was a major ordeal. And you know . . ."

"Well, were you told not to walk outside without your shirt on?" Harwood asked.

"I learned of that after the first day," Obama responded.

"Was that an embarrassment to you? Or do you care?" Harwood asked. "You got a lot of commentary about that."

"You know, it was silly, but, you know, silliness goes with this job," Obama said.

Told by Harwood that he "got some flattery" for the shirtless pictures, Obama replied: "My wife was tickled by me blushing. Anyway, what point was I making here, John? We got sidetracked."

Maybe something about the second-hardest thing about being president?

Way Back When

Historical footnote . . .

This from the front page of the Austin American-Statesman on March 15, 2000. The headline was: "Bush and Gore wrap it up; After clinching nominations, both look ahead."

"With solid support in his home state and a big boost from his brother's," the article said, "Texas Gov. George W. Bush on Tuesday clinched the Republican nomination for president of the United States."

" 'When I filed for president I pledged I'd come home to Texas with the nomination of my party,' Bush told cheering supporters at a local community center. 'Well tonight we can say: Mission accomplished.' "

Wait a minute! Didn't some Navy guy on an aircraft carrier come up with that slogan?

GOP Backing for Holder

Amid increasing rumblings that Senate GOP unease with Obama attorney general nominee Eric H. Holder Jr. could turn nasty by next week's confirmation hearing, Holder supporters are touting endorsements of him from 10 top-tier Republicans, including former attorney general William P. Barr, former deputy attorney general George J. Terwilliger III and former Senate Judiciary Committee chief counsel Manus M. Cooney.

Holder is "an extraordinary lawyer and an even better person," the Republicans wrote in a letter to committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking Republican Arlen Specter (Pa.), urging that Holder "be confirmed swiftly."

As for that somewhat controversial pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, the GOP-ers said former president Bill Clinton, and Clinton alone, is to blame.

Opposition to Gupta

Meanwhile, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (Mich.) has written a letter to Democratic colleagues asking them to join him in opposing the expected nomination of CNN and CBS medical correspondent and neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta for surgeon general, a job that includes overseeing the 6,000-member U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

Conyers wrote that Gupta "lacks the requisite experience needed to oversee the federal agency that provides crucial health care assistance," and he wants Democrats to sign a letter asking Obama not to officially nominate Gupta.

Now, if Conyers were in the Senate . . .

The New Familiar Faces

In what would be one of the first major breaches of Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton's Foggy Bottom fortress, there's talk that Philip H. Gordon may be the pick to be assistant secretary of state for Europe. Gordon, who's now at the Brookings Institution, was a former director for European matters on the National Security Council during her husband's administration, but he's seen as an Obama guy.

Other likely picks include: Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter to run the policy planning shop; Lael Brainard, former Clinton White House deputy national economic adviser who is now at Brookings, to be undersecretary for economic, energy and agricultural affairs (she can carpool with -- and outrank -- hubby Kurt Campbell, the likely assistant secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs); Johnnie Carson, a former ambassador to Kenya who is now on the National Intelligence Council, is talked about to be assistant secretary for Africa; and Robert J. Einhorn, who had been assistant secretary for nonproliferation in the Clinton administration -- and is a good pal of current national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley -- would bump up one step to be undersecretary for nonproliferation.

Chatter at the Council on Foreign Relations is that adjunct senior fellow Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall is leading to become senior director for Europe at the National Security Council. She's a former Pentagon official on European affairs -- and, more to the point, a Biden person. Former assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasia Elizabeth Jones, now at APCO Worldwide, is being talked about to become assistant secretary of state for Middle East matters.

With Philip Rucker and Alice Crites

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