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TOP OF THE TICKET

Few in White House appear to drive American cars

A parking lot survey turns up five U.S.-made vehicles out of 23.

April 05, 2009|Andrew Malcolm and Johanna Neuman

Oops, it seems that many on President Obama's team, including those seeking to save the American automobile industry, do not actually drive vehicles from the American automobile industry.

According to a study by the Detroit News and a White House parking lot survey by Politico.com, neither do Obama's White House staffers.

Before leaving for Europe (where the Secret Service had pre-placed Obama's new armored Cadillac), the president dished out rhetorical tough love to U.S. automakers.

He canned the chief executive of General Motors (the United Auto Workers president remained, not receiving bailout money), gave the giant carmaker 60 days to reorganize, and directed Chrysler to merge with Italy's Fiat in 30 days to remain an American company. (Let it go, it makes sense in Washington.)

The Politico survey of cars parked next to the White House found only five U.S. brand cars out of 23 -- a Dodge, two Fords, a Jeep and a Cadillac. The News found that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who didn't have the money to pay more than $20,000 in back taxes until they became a confirmation problem, did acquire a 2008 Acura.

Lawrence Summers, head of the president's National Economic Council, drives a Mazda. Budget Director Peter Orszag drives a Honda and a Volvo. Economic advisor Austan Goolsbee drives a Toyota. VP Joe Biden's economic advisor Jared Bernstein prefers a Honda.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican, went American with a Buick and a Ford Escape hybrid.

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Gingrich's quiet conversion

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, known for his nimble mind and fondness for debate, converted to Catholicism at St. Joseph's Church in Washington last weekend. Then the former Georgia congressman and onetime Baptist went into a cone of silence, not giving interviews or even Twittering.

In his blog called God & Country, Dan Gilgoff wrote:

"So far, Gingrich has been conspicuously quiet about his conversion. He didn't mention it in an interview with me earlier this month that focused on his stepped-up efforts to organize religious conservatives and promote religious liberty issues. An enthusiastic Twitterer, the former speaker has gone tweetless since Saturday."

The twice-divorced Gingrich, who has confessed to marital infidelities, converted to the faith of his third wife, Calista Bisek. And politicos are speculating that the conversion will help shore up his position with values voters as he contemplates another race for the presidency in 2012.

Deal Hudson, who founded the Catholic magazine Crisis and advised George W. Bush's political guru Karl Rove, argues that Gingrich's conversion represents a personal and political cleansing.

"From a Catholic point of view," Hudson told the Daily Beast's Max Blumenthal, "Newt's sins no longer exist -- they've been absolved. He's made a fresh start in life. So Newt will continue to sin and confess, but there aren't going to be a lot of Catholics who will hold that against him. They understand why being a Catholic makes a difference."

Former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), himself a Catholic, attended the March 29 service with his wife. The lobbyist at Clark & Weinstock quipped that the event was different from others he'd attended with Gingrich because "it was the only event with Newt where he didn't give a speech."

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andrew.malcolm@latimes.com

Read Top of the Ticket, The Times' blog on national politics, at latimes.com/ticket.

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