A Week in Washington, D.C.

A Week in Washington, D.C.
ESSENCE.COM Jan, 30, 2009

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The President—he’s just like us! In perhaps the country’s most exclusive Super Bowl party, President Obama invited 11 Democratic and four Republican lawmakers to the White House on Sunday for the big game. His team of choice? The Pittsburgh Steelers.

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President Obama spent Saturday night at the Alfalfa Dinner, an annual event hosted by a group of Washington’s rich and influential elite. The 96-year-old dinner, which did not allow African-Americans until the 1970’s, was started in honor of the birthday of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Guests this year included Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin. The President joked at the event, “If he were here tonight, the General would be 202 years old. And very confused.”

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Is this a case of the “Obama Effect?” Fresh on the heels of the swearing-in of the nation’s first Black President, on Friday the Republican National Committee elected its first African-American chairman. Michael Steele, who previously served as lieutenant governor of Maryland, won the Republican Party’s chairmanship in a tight race that involved six rounds of voting.

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In an open letter to President Obama penned by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., for ESSENCE.com, he urged the President to keep his vision on the economy, but also on improving public education and upholding the Voting Rights Act. “Those who have been dealt the most inequality deserve targeted stimulation,” Jackson wrote. “Our character is measured, as you mentioned in your inauguration speech, by how we treat the least of these.”

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President Obama signed his first bill into law on Thursday, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for women and other workers to sue for pay discrimination. The act lifts a previous 180-day time limit for workers to file discrimination suits against employers, and has been hailed as a victory for working women.

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The U.S. Senate passed a bill on Thursday to expand health care to 4 million uninsured children. The bill would be funded by raising the federal cigarette tax by 61 cents a pack. Former President George W. Bush vetoed similar legislation twice, but President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law as early as this week.

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Among the Obama appointees sworn in on Tuesday were two seriously credentialed African-American women. Susan E. Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is a Stanford-educated foreign policy expert who wants to stop genocide in the Darfur region of the Sudan. Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is a Princeton-trained chemical engineer who says that environmental justice and protection for minority communities will be a priority under her leadership.

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On Thursday, Michelle Obama debuted her first official act as First Lady—hosting a morning reception, accented with yellow orchids and fruit pastries, to celebrate the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. “This legislation is an important step forward, particularly at a time when so many families are facing economic insecurity and instability,” she said to guests including Donna Brazile and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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Keeping in step with his claim that he’s an advocate for the middle class, on Friday President Obama announced a new task force that will focus on improving living standards for middle-class families. The President said he hasn’t forgotten about Americans below the poverty line, and noted that the task force will also help the poor become middle class.

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President Obama blasted Wall Street executives on Thursday, in the wake of figures showing that financial CEOs accepted $18.4 billion in bonuses after they were given billions in taxpayer-funded bailout dollars. Calling the bonuses “shameful,” the President went on to say, “there will be time for them to get bonuses. Now is not that time. And that’s a message that I intend to send directly to them.”

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In a move hailed by environmental groups, President Obama signed an executive order last Monday forcing automobile companies to strictly limit their emissions. “It is a false choice to think you have to choose one or the other—a clean environment, a child without asthma and less smog versus a thriving auto industry,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson told ESSENCE.com in response to critics of the law, who say it puts a burden on the struggling auto industry.

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The House of Representatives approved President Obama’s $819 billion stimulus plan on Wednesday, but all 178 House Republicans voted against it. The plan, which includes a mix of federal spending and tax cuts, now moves to the Senate. We’ll chalk it as a win for House Democrats—but a loss for the bipartisanship that Obama was hoping for.

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In one of many phone calls that President Obama has made to foreign leaders, on Tuesday he spoke with South Africa’s President Kgalema Motlanthe. The men discussed their concerns about the political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, with Obama noting that South Africa holds a key role in helping find a resolution.

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When his daughters’ school closed on Wednesday due to ice and snow, President Obama cracked a few jokes on D.C. locals. “When it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don’t seem to be able to handle things," he said with a laugh. The President said that he would have to instill “some flinty Chicago toughness” into Washingtonians.

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For his first formal interview as President of the United States, President Obama chose an Arabic TV network, perhaps in an attempt to repair U.S. relations with the Arab world. "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” he said in the interview, which aired Tuesday on the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya Network.

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