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Returning from Hawaii. (Photo/WWR)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Today in the West Wing: Friday, May 21

You can't fire me, I quit.

That's the essence of how the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, is leaving his job today.

The "DNI" offered to quit yesterday during a phone call with Obama; who accepted the offer. Obama had floated the idea of replacing Blair earlier this week, and wanted him to stay on until a replacement could be named. But Blair refused. It is the highest ranking departure to date of the Obama administration.

Aside from the usual statements to the media that are meant to downplay these departures - Obama: Blair "performed admirably and effectively at a time of great challenges to our security;" Blair: "with deep regret I informed the President today that I will step down;" - it's worth noting that Blair has been the third person to hold the job since it was created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. There is growing talk that the DNI job, the way it is structured and so forth, is flawed and doesn't help the U.S. combat terrorism.

Or it could just be that Blair wasn't the right fit for the job. Obama loyalists cite political missteps and a failure to connect the dots that might have prevented the Christmas Day scare on that Detroit-bound jet, or the fizzled car bomb in Times Square.

The fact that no replacement has been named suggests a lack of coordination by the White House. With terrorist threats mounting, the country's top intelligence job is vacant, and because a new replacement must be approved by the Senate, it'll be vacant for weeks to come.

Financial Reform Moves Ahead

Meantime, Obama is hailing Senate passage of a bill that would dramatically overhaul regulations of the financial industry - the biggest changes since the 1930s.

This isn't a done deal. The Senate bill passed last night by a 59-39 vote must now be combined with a similar House bill - and then both the House and Senate must vote again on that combined measure. But the President and Congressional leaders seem confident this will happen.

The bill aims to rein in the kind of risky Wall Street practices that nearly caused the U.S. economy to collapse two years ago. It would 1) set up a new consumer watchdog agency to oversee things like mortgages and credit cards; 2) banks would be required to spin off their derivatives businesses - the murky, lightly regulated instruments that helped spark the downturn; and 3) prevent banks from being bailed out in the future by taxpayers.

Opponents - practically all Republicans - say it doesn't do anything about mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which were bailed out in 2008. They also say small banks and businesses will be burdened with new rules that'll make it harder to operate.

Electric Cars

We'll hear from the President at 10:45, when he unveils new measures to increase fuel efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas emissions for cars and trucks beginning in 2017.

A big part of the fuel-effiency drive is electric cars. Obama wants to move away from oil-based fuels as quickly as possible. He sees a trifecta of benefits for national security, the economy and the environment.

Last month the administration rolled out mileage goals for 2012-2016 model year vehicles: 35.5 miles per gallon, nearly 10 miles per gallon more than now.


The Schedule


9:30AM THE PRESIDENT and THE VICE PRESIDENT receive the Presidential Daily Briefing
Oval Office
Closed Press

10:00AM THE PRESIDENT meets with senior advisors
Oval Office
Closed Press

10:45AM THE PRESIDENT delivers remarks and signs a Presidential Memorandum outlining the next steps in his vision for cleaner, more efficient vehicles
Rose Garden
Open Press (Pre-set 9:40AM – Final Gather 10:10AM – North Doors of the Palm Room)

Private Dining Room
Closed Press


Presidential Quote

"Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder." - George Washington

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