December 24th, 2011
11:10 PM ET

First lady helps track Santa on Christmas Eve

(CNN) - First lady Michelle Obama got into the Christmas spirit Saturday by helping field phone calls from excited children eagerly tracking Santa and his sleigh full of toys across the world.

"I've spotted a little dot, flashing dot that is over - right now, Santa's sleigh is over the country of Latvia. And he's delivering toys there," Obama told three siblings. "It looks like he's got all nine reindeer with him. And it looks like that sleigh is pretty full - yep, that's what the experts here are saying."

Obama took the phone calls from Hawaii where the first family is vacationing for Christmas.

Read the rest of the story here.

Topics: Michelle Obama
December 23rd, 2011
08:13 PM ET

Obama's Hawaiian Hale

President Obama and the first family are once again spending their annual holiday vacation on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, Obama's childhood home.  The first family is renting a secluded 5-bedroom house situated on Kailua Beach, according to local realtor David Dunham.  The first family has vacationed on Kailua Beach for the past three years.

The 6,000 square foot luxury house, has an "Asian flair", according to Dunham.  Interior Designer Jay Gorsia designed the house to reflect the Chinese and Indian heritage of the owners.  The house is accentuated with Brazilian hardwoods and cherry trim molding, and has a swimming pool set among a lush tropical garden and koi pond.

This year's presidential holiday retreat, just a few houses down the street from where the Obama family vacationed in the past, also has a larger swimming pool and a greater level of privacy than houses in years past.  A temporary eight foot barrier has been built as an added measure of privacy and security according to Dunham.  The Obamas are the first group to ever rent the house.

Dunham plans to list the house for sale once the Obama family returns to Washington. The sales price: a cool $7.9 million.

Topics: The Family • The Visuals • Vacation
Obama sends holiday cheer to the press
December 23rd, 2011
04:06 PM ET

Obama sends holiday cheer to the press

Before President Obama boarded Marine One to leave for his annual holiday trip to Hawaii, he made a surprise stop to wish the press corps Christmas greetings.

"Merry Christmas! Enjoy the time with your family," he told reporters and cameramen as he shook hands with each person. He spent about ten minutes greeting those who cover his every move.

The relationship between the White House press corps and the president can sometimes be adversarial but on this occasion it was strictly a time for holiday cheer.

Earlier during his statement in the James Brady Briefing Room, the president wished "Happy Holidays" to several groups of people, including the White House press corps.

"So I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas, happy holidays, a happy New Year to you and your families - and that includes everybody here in the press corps," he said. "I know you guys have been working hard, and your families will be happy to spend a little more time with you over the next few days."

It almost felt like a deja vu.  Last year, the president did the same as he boarded his helicopter before departing for Hawaii.  Maybe he's starting a new holiday tradition!

Topics: Christmas • Hawaii • President Obama
Obama signs payroll tax cut extension and heads to Hawaii
December 23rd, 2011
03:15 PM ET

Obama signs payroll tax cut extension and heads to Hawaii

Well, the stalemate is over and President Obama can leave to join his family in Hawaii. While he was scheduled to make a statement about the payroll tax cut extensions around 12:15, he finally spoke about an hour later. They were waiting for the actual bill to arrive at the White House and then he had to sign it. The White House also tells us he signed the omnibus bill for 2012.

Check out how our friends at CNN wires have wrapped today's events:

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama signed a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut Friday, ending what had been a heated political stalemate and sealing a hard-fought win for Democrats on an issue - taxes - that has historically favored the GOP.

Earlier in the day, the measure cleared the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives by unanimous consent, a procedural move allowing the measure to pass even though most members of Congress were already home for the holidays.

"This is some good news just in the nick of time," Obama said shortly before departing the White House for Hawaii. But "we have a lot more work to do. This continues to be a make-or-break moment for the middle class in this country."

Among other things, the $33 billion bill also includes a two-month extension of emergency federal unemployment benefits and the so-called "doc fix," a delay in scheduled payment reductions to doctors who treat Medicare patients.

Congress will consider a longer extension of all three measures when it reconvenes in January.

For the full story, click here.

Topics: John Boehner • President Obama • The News
Morning Briefing: December 23
December 23rd, 2011
08:17 AM ET

Morning Briefing: December 23

The 1600 Report's daily roundup of what the White House is reading this morning online and in the papers:

Boehner gives Obama a Christmas gift [NYTimes]

Has the House GOP been ‘humbled’? [POLITICO]

Newt ’99 vs. Newt ’11 [NYTimes]

He’s lowering expectations in Iowa [CNN]

Maybe he being too darn nice? [WashPost]

Ron Paul feels the heat that comes with being a frontrunner [POLITICO]

Bush Sr. endorses Romney [NYTimes]

White House press office v. reporters [WashPost]

POTUS' Day Ahead
December 23rd, 2011
07:41 AM ET

POTUS' Day Ahead

Good morning from the White House. With a payroll deal in the bag, it remains unclear when and if President Obama will travel to Hawaii today to begin his vacation. The official schedule released by the White House gives little indication of what the president is up to today.

But we do know this: he still has to sign the omnibus spending bill, delivered to the White House yesterday. He's also likely waiting to see if the House indeed passes the payroll tax extension by unanimous consent as Speaker John Boehner has promised.

Full schedule after the jump:

Topics: Daily Schedule
It's over!  Dueling statements from the speaker and the president
December 22nd, 2011
06:08 PM ET

It's over! Dueling statements from the speaker and the president

House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday announced an agreement with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid to extend the payroll tax cut for two months.  Afterwards both Speaker Boehner and President Obama released statements.

House Speaker John Boehner:

Senator Reid and I have reached an agreement that will ensure taxes do not increase for working families on January 1 while ensuring that a complex new reporting burden is not unintentionally imposed on small business job creators. Under the terms of our agreement, a new bill will be approved by the House that reflects the bipartisan agreement in the Senate along with new language that allows job creators to process and withhold payroll taxation under the same accounting structure that is currently in place. The Senate will join the House in immediately appointing conferees, with instructions to reach agreement in the weeks ahead on a full-year payroll tax extension. We will ask the House and Senate to approve this agreement by unanimous consent before Christmas. I thank our Members – particularly those who have remained here in the Capitol with the holidays approaching – for their efforts to enact a full-year extension of the payroll tax cut for working families.”

President Barack Obama:

For the past several weeks, I’ve stated consistently that it was critical that Congress not go home without preventing a tax increase on 160 million working Americans. Today, I congratulate members of Congress for ending the partisan stalemate by reaching an agreement that meets that test.

Because of this agreement, every working American will keep his or her tax cut – about $1,000 for the average family. That’s about $40 in every paycheck. Vital unemployment insurance will continue for millions of Americans who are looking for work. And when Congress returns, I urge them to keep working to reach an agreement that will extend this tax cut and unemployment insurance for all of 2012 without drama or delay.

This is good news, just in time for the holidays. This is the right thing to do to strengthen our families, grow our economy, and create new jobs. This is real money that will make a real difference in people’s lives. And I want to thank every American who raised your voice to remind folks in this town what this debate was all about. It was about you. And today, your voices made all the difference.

Topics: John Boehner • President Obama • The News
December 22nd, 2011
12:17 PM ET

Omnibus bill delivered to White House

President Obama has been holding off on going to Hawaii until the Omnibus – the bill that funds the government through 2012 - arrived for his signature.  Now that it's arrived, there's only one hurdle keeping him in town: the payroll tax cut stalemate. Here's a statement from an administration official saying he’ll sign the Omnibus before midnight tomorrow.

"We received the Omnibus late yesterday, and the president will sign it before the current short term CR runs out this week. The current short term CR runs out at midnight on Friday," the official said.

Do you think the president signs it and then joins his family for a brief Christmas in Hawaii? If he does he’ll probably heads back to DC next week if payroll hasn’t been extended.

Topics: The News
December 22nd, 2011
11:33 AM ET

Obama, Boehner speak again

Looks like the President connected with House Speaker John Boehner again Thursday. But its unclear if the ball has moved at all. Here's the readout from the White House:

Speaker Boehner called the President this morning and the President reiterated to the Speaker that the only viable option currently on the table is for the House of Representatives to pass the bipartisan Senate compromise that received the support of nearly 90 percent of the Senate. The President told Speaker Boehner that he is committed to begin working immediately on a full-year agreement once the House passes the bipartisan Senate compromise that prevents a tax hike on 160 million Americans on January 1.

Topics: President Obama
Morning Briefing: December 22
December 22nd, 2011
08:50 AM ET

Morning Briefing: December 22

The 1600 Report's daily roundup of what the White House is reading this morning online and in the papers:

Obama has chats with Boehner, Reed [CNN]

And he’s upping the pressure over payroll [POLITICO]

Economic numbers are good, but don’t get your hopes up [NYTimes]

Poll shows only 17 percent happy with how things are going [POLITICO]

New EPA regs draw praise, and heat [CNN]

Romney people happy he’s getting beat up? [POLTICO]