The Most Influential Figures of 2009

•December 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

President Obama

President Obama brought change to Washington this year when he was inaugurated as the 44th President on January 20th. He immediately set to work on reversing the obstructionist policies of the Bush Administration, beginning with the closure of Guantanamo Bay. His ambitious healthcare reform is set to become law next year, and will leave the President will several other big issues to solve- the economy, climate change and the war in Afghanistan.

Speaker Pelosi

Speaker Pelosi has cast waves since she was elected to the Speakership in 2006. Her strict and successful leadership has resulted in many key legislative issues passing in the House of Representatives. She turned heads this year when she accused the CIA of lying about torture techniques, causing outrage from the Republican Party. Once again, her information and judgement was proved right. Pelosi is President Obama’s right-hand political woman, and she will have an equally influential part to play in 2010 with the continuing issues of climate change and employment.

George Stephanopoulos

George Stephanopoulos, once Communications Director for President Clinton caused his own headlines earlier this month when it was announced he would be moving to anchor Good Morning America. One wonders what the move will do to Stephanopoulos’s career, and if political Sunday mornings will ever be the same again!


Diane Sawyer

Diane Sawyer, (whose seat Stephanopolous now occupies) announced that she would be moving to anchor the Nightly News on ABC earlier this autumn. Only the second woman to currently present the evening news (Katie Couric of CBS being the first,) Sawyer will start later this month.

Senator Olympia Snowe

Senator Olympia Snowe (R:ME) is currently being courted by both Republican and Democratic members of the Senate. The reason why? Healthcare. Snowe cast the only Republican vote in the Senate Finance Committee to support healthcare reform, breaking away from the rest of her party. Obama needs her vote to declare the legislation bi-partisan.

Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hit the ground running as she began her new position this year. Visiting countries such as the UK, Pakistan, Russia and Afghanistan, Clinton certainly has many of the world’s issues on her agenda. She has proven to be a successful choice for President Obama, and once again quelled rumours that she would be running for another election- this time, the Governor of New York.

Oprah Winfrey

The Queen of daytime TV, Oprah Winfrey shocked audiences this autumn when she announced her award-winning and legendary show will be her last for ABC. Deciding to move to her own network as well as concentrating on other projects, the line-up for Oprah’s next career move is certainly one we will all be watching.

Senator Ted Kennedy

The passing of Senator Ted Kennedy this summer certainly did not come as a shock. The Lion of the Senate, champion of human rights, education, and healthcare amongst others was the voice of the people. His fearless and tireless campaigning for affordable and quality healthcare for all was spurred on by the Democratic Party, supporters and allies and its passing will be a memory to his legacy.

Majority Leader Hoyer: “GOP obstructionism is damaging Congress.”

•December 8, 2009 • 2 Comments

The Democratic Congressional Leadership meet with President Obama. L-R: Vice-President Biden, President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, George Miller (partially obscured), Majority Leader Hoyer, Charlie Rangel.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D:MD) offered lengthy criticism of the Republican Party and their leadership on Monday, claiming that the minority party has traded bipartisanship for blatant obstructionism.

Speaking at the Center for American Progress, Majority Leader Hoyer discussed his concerns over the friction in today’s legislative process and the damage that GOP ideology is causing to Congress as an institution.

“The hard choices that are being forced on our country demand engagement from both parties. Challenges like reforming our massive entitlement programs, controlling the growth of health care spending and responding to climate change- issues that are fraught with political risk and so easy to demagogue that it is impossible for one party to take them on alone. These challenges are dangerously likely to remain untouched as long as at least one party is willing to be a ‘Party of No.’”

The Republican Party have not been in the majority within Congress since the 2006 General Elections. All House of Representative seats, a third of the Senate, 36 state governorships and many state legislatures were contested. The Democratic Party took majority control of the House and Senate, electing the first female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, with a turnout of near presidential levels. This severely damaged the momentum and vision of the GOP, and undoubtedly contributed to the historic election of Barack Obama in November 2008.

A Democratic controlled Congress has achieved a plethora of legislative triumphs since 2007. The introduction of their ’100 Hour Plan’ saw the breaking of the link between lobbyists and legislation, a pay-as-you-go policy to reduce the deficit, the enactment of all recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, increase of the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, federal funding for stem cell projects, lower drug prices for Medicare patients, halving of student loan interest and the end of large tax subsidies for oil corporations. All but three of these initiatives passed, highlighting the motivational drive of the Democratic Party to bring change and transparency to Washington.

The election of President Obama has only highlighted the obstructionism and lack of cooperation from the Republican Party. Whilst some legislation like The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act received bipartisan support, others including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the ongoing American Clean Energy and Security Act have passed only with the Democratic majority. This blatantly shows the GOP’s stubbornness and reluctance to unite with the Majority Party for the good of the American people. Critical issues like financial stability, healthcare reform and investment in clean energy are vital for the development of both America and the wider world and as long as the Republican Party refuse to cooperate these issues will take longer to be solved.

The ideology and attitudes within the minority of the US Congress have increased in their bitterness and obstructionism and it is likely that this particular stance will continue and play a major role in the forthcoming Congressional elections and Presidential election in 2012.

The future of female leadership

•December 7, 2009 • 2 Comments

Bridgend AM Carwyn Jones has been named the First Minister and Leader of the Labour Party in Wales. Pushing Health Minister Edwina Hart AM in to second place, and Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney AM to third, Mr Jones will formally be sworn in tomorrow. He is expected to announce his cabinet on Thursday.

Personally, I was disappointed by the results and wanted Hart to be elected as the first female First Minister. She displays strong leadership and is willing to make the tough decisions which impact on all of our lives in Wales. Her continued shake-up of the NHS is just one example of her ability to bring positive change to the people of Wales, alongside her detailed experience as an AM and Cabinet member for 10 years.

As of February 2009, there are currently 126 (19.5%) female MPs compared to 520 male MPs in the House of Commons. In the House of Lords 147 (19.7%) female peers occupy the seats. Within the US Congress 73 (16.8%) female representatives are present in the House of Representatives, with a smaller margin (15 or 15.3%) serving in the Senate. Even though we have female leadership in the form of Harriet Harman MP as Leader of the House (and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party) and Baroness Royall  as Leader of the House of Lords, the percentage of female MPs and peers is extremely low contrasted against developing nations such as Rwanda who have at least 50% female parliamentary representation.

Research published by the Institute of Welsh Affairs and reported by the BBC on 10/11/09 highlights that the current high level of female representation in the Welsh Assembly (currently 28 members) could fall to below 30% in 2011 due to retirements and changes in party selection procedures. If these findings prove to be true it could be devastating news for current and future females seeking for a career in politics and the public arena.

Whilst the statistics can prove daunting, let us remember that the UK elected its first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. The Democratic Party came close in 2008 with former First Lady, Hillary Clinton one of the top candidates. The women of the US Senate pride themselves on their achievements and their ratio of representation has substantially increased over the past decade. It is certainly welcoming to see that 3rd in succession to the US Presidency is the first female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. It is with her election to the Speakership in 2006 that the glass ceiling was cracked a little further, proving to females in America, and around the world that anything is possible.

Update: This interesting article discussing US female politicians was published on Dec 11th: http://www.boston.com/news/politics/2008/articles/2009/12/11/the_look_of_women_in_politics/

Back off boys, the Speaker is in town.

Transparency returns to the White House

•November 25, 2009 • 2 Comments
President Obama and the First Lady walk to greet the Indian Prime Minister.

After months of anticipation, the red carpet was finally rolled out last night for the first state dinner of the Obama Administration, honouring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and First Lady, Gursharan Kaur. Dubbed the biggest social event of the Obama Presidency, the 338 strong guest list was a mix of Washington hierarchy, Hollywood A-listers, prominent Indian Americans, and Obama friends, family and campaign donors.

Keeping with tradition, Mrs Obama previewed the glamorous table settings and menu to a group of young women from the White House Leadership and Mentoring Program, who were then invited to stay for lunch.

Highlighting the important links with the country, the Obamas hosted the event in a marquee located on the South Lawn, with views of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. In his toast, the President said the settings conjured images of India, where events are often held in outdoor locations. Prime Minister Singh said he was overwhelmed by the Obamas hospitality, and repeated that the President’s election had been an inspiration to millions of Indians.

The excitement surrounding the event signals a new beginning of a transparent Presidency, where the American public, and indeed those around the world can now experience the planning and hard work which goes in to organizing an event of this size. All the events, from the welcoming ceremony to the state dinner itself were streamed live on the White House’s website, allowing internet users to see the guests arriving and what the First Lady had selected to wear in real-time. In an interview with Capitol File and Vogue earlier this year, Social Secretary Desiree Rogers hinted that sweepstake draws could be introduced in an effort to welcome more individuals to the nation’s house, much like similar competitions which were held throughout the campaign trail and election.

This brings new hope and transparency to the social side of the Presidency. During the Bush ’43′ Administration, only  7 state dinners were held during his 8 years in office, compared to the Clinton’s who hosted well over 20 similar events. These developments all signal the Administration’s attempts to reverse the secrecy and ‘closed-circle’ environment of the past eight years, and open up the White House, and the Presidency to the American people and the world. Washington DC residents and natives have talked of a new excitement in the city, and much of this I feel is down to the election of Barack Obama and his innovative plans for the future.

Read the joint statement from President Obama and Prime Minister Singh here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/joint-statement-between-prime-minister-dr-singh-and-president-obama

Photos from the event can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/whitehouse/sets/72157622877680964/

Pelosi focuses on jobs

•November 17, 2009 • 2 Comments

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D:CA)

House Democratic leaders are aiming for a legislative solution to tackle high unemployment numbers by Christmas, The Hill reported today.

This focuses follows a similar change in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D:NV) told colleagues he also plans to introduce a jobs measure.

Aides say that from now on, House Democrats’ message until Christmas will be about jobs.

“We continue to look for opportunities to build on the recovery package and other actions Congress has taken to bolster the economy,” said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Speaker Pelosi.

Unemployment is at a 25 year high and is expected to remain in double digits into next year. This makes the issue, alongside climate change and healthcare legislation a top priority for the 2010 midterm elections.

220-215

•November 12, 2009 • 4 Comments
Speaker Pelosi

Speaker Pelosi walks to announce the vote.

Democrats declared victory in the battle for healthcare reform on Saturday evening, passing the Affordable Healthcare for America Act by 220-215. The vote cleared the way for the Senate to begin its debate on the proposed reform.

The Affordable Healthcare for America Act will expand coverage to millions of uninsured individuals as well as placing tough new restrictions on the insurance industry. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi likened the victory to the passage of the Social Security legislation in 1935 and Medicare 30 years later.

“It provides coverage for 96% of Americans. It offers everyone, regardless of health or income, the peace of mind that comes from knowing they will have access to affordable healthcare,” said Rep. John Dingell, the 83 year old representative from Michigan.

The legislation would require most Americans to carry insurance and provide federal subsidies to those who otherwise could not afford it. Large companies would have to offer coverage to their employees, and both would be slapped with penalties if they defied the government’s mandates.

Insurance industry practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions would be banned, and insurers would no longer be able to charge higher premiums on the basis of gender or medical history. In a further slap, the industry would lose its exemption from federal antitrust restrictions on price gouging, bid rigging and market allocation.

The Democratic side of the House erupted into cheers when the bill gained the 218 majority votes. When the bill was officially gavelled by Pelosi, even louder cheers were heard.

The bill drew the votes of 219 Democrats and Rep. Joseph Cao, a first-term Republican who holds an overwhelmingly Democratic seat in New Orleans. Opposed were 176 Republicans and 39 Democrats.

The passing of the bill in the House has marked a historic change. The bill will now proceed to the Senate, where the next vote will be held. Both bills from the House and Senate will then go to committee where the final decision will be made. The President will have 10 days to sign a bill into law once it reaches his desk.

For further information and video, visit this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/11/07/house-health-care-vote-br_n_349468.html

One Year Later and the dream is as strong as ever

•November 3, 2009 • 2 Comments
Barack and Michelle 'take 5' on the campaign trail

The Obamas on the campaign trail

November 3rd 2008: the final day of campaigning for what is the most historic US election of the modern era. The the-then Senator Barack Obama (D: IL) had a clear lead against his Republican challenger, Senator John McCain (R: AZ,) and the world held its breath as November 4th dawned.

The Obama/Biden team campaigning

The Obama/Biden team campaigning in Michigan

Running his campaign on the promise of change and hope, the Obama/Biden team inspired a new generation of American voters, alongside establishing an invigorated political grassroots movement. It was in part due to this approach that Barack Obama was declared the 44th President of the United States on November 4th 2008.

Victory Night

Election Night in Grant Park, Chicago

The Presidential Inauguration on the 20th January 2009 was the most watched and most attended in history. The dream of Martin Luther King had become reality. Change had come to America.

Out with the old, in with the new

Out with the old, in with the new

Then the hard work began. President Obama’s first alteration was an executive order and presidential memoranda ordering the closure of Guantanamo Bay, as well as the development of plans to withdraw troops from Iraq. He also changed procedures to promote disclosure and transparency under the Freedom of Information Act, and reduced the secrecy given to presidential records. The President also reversed George W. Bush’s ban on federal funding to foreign establishments that allow abortions (referred to as ‘The Global Gag Rule.’)

On January 29 2009, President Obama signed his first bill into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which overruled the Supreme Court’s decision and eased the requirements for filing employment discrimination lawsuits. Five days later he signed the reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover an additional 4 million uninsured children. The President also repealed a Bush-era policy that prevented federal tax dollars from being used to fund research on the use of embryonic stem cells to cure some of the most destructive diseases.

On May 26 2009, President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to become the first Hispanic woman to be a Supreme Court Justice. She was confirmed on August 6 2009 by a vote of 68-31. This is seen as a landmark achievement for minority groups, and once again highlighted that change had come to Washington.

In foreign policy, both the President, Vice-President and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made separate trips to both Russia and Europe to announce a ‘new era’ in US foreign relations. President Obama promised to establish a new era of nucleur dearmament, and called for other nations to follow his lead. In the Middle East, Obama delivered a significant speech at Cairo University, Egypt on June 4th, calling for a new beginning in relations between the Islamic world and the US.

The Future

There is no doubt that President Obama has many serious issues to contend with. With the current debate over health care reform continuing to dominate the domestic agenda, Democrats in the US Congress have promised to get a bill on the President’s desk by Thanksgiving. Last week the majority Democratic caucus of the House of Representatives launched their bill, which will now be debated in the chamber. This signifies real change in the direction of health care legislation, and provides the opportunity for more Americans to have access to coverage which is affordable, fair and value for money.

The war in Afghanistan is another equally contentious issue. It is likely that more US troops will be sent to the region once an assessment has been made by the White House. This decision, like health care reform will divide supporters and critics alike.

There is no doubt that the election of Barack Obama has brought change to Washington, and the nation. Eight years of Republican rule turned the United States into a country distrusted, despised even by other nations around the world. The Obama Administration and its new era of transparency has given birth to a new chapter in the country’s history: one of democracy, hope, and inspiration which has brought new faith and trust within the United States and around the world.

For more information about the President’s Agenda, visit these links:

Signed Legislation: http://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/signed-legislation

Issues: http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues

The President and First Lady

The President and First Lady in the Diplomatic Reception Room

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.