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Obama's Prime Minister's Questions

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was often magisterial during Prime Minister's Questions, when, as the head of the Labour Party, he would face off against a respectful Tory political adversary, rebutting and opining and arguing and deploying wit before Parliament and the British public.

Today, not so much. Blair faced the Chilcot Inquiry, intense questioning over Britain's decision to partner with the George W. Bush administration and invade Iraq in 2003. The Guardian's Jackie Ashley writes:

The body language said it all. Tony Blair began his day at the Chilcot inquiry visibly strained, even shaking, according to one television channel, which focused on his hands. There was none of the easy charm that we remember from his days as prime minister and he meekly accepted the constant interruptions from the panel, who started off determined not let him drone on for too long.

Across the pond, Barack Obama unexpectedly held his own version of PMQ. During a planned visit to a Republican retreat in Baltimore, Obama not only addressed the assembled members of the House, but answered questions -- and it got feisty. Here's one exchange Obama had with Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas.

OBAMA: Jim (sic), I know there's a question in there somewhere, because you're making a whole bunch of assertions, half of which I disagree with. [LAUGHTER] And I'm having to sit here listening to them. At some point, I know you're going to let me answer....

HENSARLING: That's the question.

You are soon to submit a new budget, Mr. President. Will that new budget, like your old budget, triple the national debt and continue to take us down the path of increasing the cost of government to almost 25 percent of our economy? That's the question, Mr. President.

OBAMA: All right. Jim (sic), with all due respect, I've just got to take this last question as an example of how it's very hard to have the kind of bipartisan work that we're going to do, because the whole question was structured as a talking point for running -- running a campaign.

The full video is here and the transcript here -- and it's worth watching and/or reading.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

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Decision 2008: The Ukraine 2010 edition

The Financial Times takes a look at the high-profile Washington players brought in to advise Ukraine's presidential candidates, who are headed for a run-off on Feb. 7. There's an interesting partisan breakdown between the candidates:

Paul Manafort – a Republican strategist whose firm, Davis, Manafort and Freedman, advised several US presidents – has turned round Mr Yanukovich’s fortunes. Mr Manafort’s team provided strategic advice to Rinat Akhmetov, the country’s richest man, before Mr Akhmetov introduced them to Mr Yanukovich in 2005. They have now helped propel the humiliated loser of the fraud-marred 2004 election into pole position in the country’s first presidential vote since the Orange Revolution.

AKPD Media and Message, founded by David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s senior adviser, has been helping Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s prime minister, who came second in the first round of voting earlier this month. She is also being advised by John Anzalone, who worked on the Obama campaign. [...]

The PBN Company, another US group, failed to restore the popularity of Viktor Yushchenko, the outgoing president. Although Mr Yushchenko also received advice from Mark Penn, campaign strategist to Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, his support plunged to about 5 per cent after his triumph in the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Hmm... so the candidate with an ex-Clinton advisor got knocked out in the first round leaving the Obama-associated advisors and the McCain-associated advisors to fight it out. Sounds familiar. It doesn't appear likely to end the same way, though.

Manafort's connections to Yanukovych have been a bit embarrassing for the Republicans since the Orange Revolution, which was staunchly supported by both the Bush administration and McCain. But given the Tymoshenko camp's campaign tactics, it's not the most savory association for the company to have. Though judging by former AKPD partner David Plouffe's speaking engagements, this group doesn't seem too squeamish about it's acquaintances on the post-Soviet world.