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The Obama Presidency

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

OFFICIAL REASSURANCE

Obama Didn't Get Sick on Mexico Trip

In the midst of dealing with the widening swine flu outbreak, the White House struggled Monday to convince the world -- and in particular the media -- that the president had not been infected.

Speculation had exploded after foreign newspapers reported that the president's tour guide at a Mexico City museum on April 16 had died from flulike symptoms the next day. (He did die -- but not of swine flu, it turns out, or on April 17.)

In his daily briefing to reporters, press secretary Robert Gibbs became exasperated after saying over and over again that Obama was not infected, not even sick.

"I just, again -- boy, I'm glad I'm not a public health spokesman," Gibbs said. "Let me just do this one more time. The doctors have informed me, based on my personal curiosity, knowing of yours, that the president's health was never in any danger; that he has not exhibited any symptoms; neither has anybody traveling with him; neither has any of the press that traveled with him, that I'm aware of, exhibited any symptoms that would cause some reason for concern."

Hours later, the White House felt compelled to distribute a statement from the Mexican Embassy backing up its story:

"Mr. Felipe Solís, Director of Mexico's National Anthropology Museum, died on April 23rd, a week after he welcomed Presidents Obama and Calderón at the Museum. He died of complications of a preexisting condition and not of swine flu," it said.

Later came an official White House fact sheet stating it again, this time in Q&A form: "Was Felipe Solis the President's tour guide in Mexico city, and did he die of swine flu? No. The Mexican embassy has issued a statement clarifying that Mr. Solis's death was not caused by swine flu."

-- Michael D. Shear

OFFICE OF LEGAL COUNSEL

Scholars Urge Vote On Johnsen for Justice

A bipartisan coalition of scholars pressed the Senate on Monday to vote on the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to lead the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

Johnsen won a party-line vote of 11 to 7 from the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. But her bid to lead the Office of Legal Counsel has languished.

Republicans have attacked Johnsen's early legal work for an abortion rights group and questioned her temperament in the face of essays she wrote criticizing the OLC's conclusions in the Bush administration. One Senate Democrat, Nebraska's Ben Nelson, recently said he would not support Johnsen's bid.

-- Carrie Johnson

A 3% SOLUTION

President Wants More Spent on Science

President Obama called for dramatically increased spending on basic science research.

In a speech Monday to the National Academy of Sciences, Obama said that the United States should boost the amount of government and private money spent on scientific research to 3 percent of the nation's economic output. He called such a target "the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history."

Obama did not predict how long that would take, and he did not specifically address how the federal government would make that happen.

He did outline several increases in funding for science, including money for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy and a commitment to doubling the budgets of three key science agencies over the next 10 years.

-- Michael D. Shear

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