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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Friday, April 8, 2005; 11:00 AM

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took your questions and comments on politics, politicians and his latest columns.

The transcript follows

Terry Neal (post.com)

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Terry Neal: Hello everyone. Thanks for joining me for my regular weekly chat on politics. I'm looking forward to taking your questions, so let's begin.



College Park, Md.: I read your article a couple of days ago and totally agreed with you. One thing I want to point out is that the only time they have some minority journalists up there is when they have some iusses concerning minority. They make it sound like as if that is the only topic most minority journalists read, know and write about.

washingtonspost.com: In Punditland, a Little Imagination Could Yield Needed Diversity (washingtonpost.com, April 4)

Terry Neal: Thank you for your note. And I somewhat agree with you. It does seem like I get called by bookers more often when there's some sort of racial issue brewing--even though I write fairly rarely about race. For instance, a few years ago, during the whole Jayson Blair fiasco, I was invited to be on a couple shows (Nightline, Howie Kurtz's Reliable Sources, etc.) that have never called on me before or since.
I think other shows do a pretty good job of representing diversity, but often they may have one sort of token seat for a minority or a woman.
I think some networks in general are better than others. I've worked on and off under contract for CNN as a political analyst, and I do get called quite often from bookers from various shows (Headline News, Aaron Brown and others, to do non-racial political coverage).
So it's a mixed bag.


Atlanta, Ga.: Shouldn't Republicans be concerned that many Democrats actually want Tom Delay to REMAIN in power, if only because the Dems see a gold mine in 2006 if they can run every Congressional race as a proxy on GOP ethics scandals, one-party rule, Tom Delay and abuse of power a la the GOP in 1994.

Do you think savvy GOPers throw Delay overboard now, for the good of the party in 2006?

Terry Neal: I have talked to some Democrats who have told me privately that they believe the best thing possible would be for Delay to stay in office for at least a while longer--at least long enough that he can be made an issue of during the midterm elections next year.
I can't predict the future, so I don't know what will happen with Delay. My guess is that his folks will continue to rally around him unless something more damaging comes out or unless he's indicted. Or, of course, the polls start to suggest that he's a drag on the party. Both parties LOVE the polls. So keep watching.


College Park, Md.: Michael Steele for Senate... will he or won't he (or maybe should he or shouldn't he)? Your thoughts.

washingtonspost.com: With Sarbanes Retiring, Senate Interest Simmers (Post, March 28)

Terry Neal: I don't know...I don't cover Maryland politics closely enough to say that I'm 100 percent up on all of the news and speculation.
I do know Michael a little bit, and I wouldn't be surprised.
I got to know him about 10 years ago when I was covering Prince George's County politics for the Metro Desk of the Washington Post. He came to my attention as a young activist fighting the repeal of a long-standing property tax cap, known as TRIM.
He stood out to me even then, not only because he was a black Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic county, but because he was so clearly ambitious. I had lunch with him a couple times and used to talk with him by phone a lot as he profile rose in Maryland politics, and I always thought that guy would be going somewhere.
I haven't talked to him in a few years, not since he became lt. gov.
But it would not surprise me at all if he ran.


Laurel, Md.: A couple of weeks ago, Dan Froomkin cited this chart linking President Bush's approval rating and the price of a gallon of gasoline."

The distortion/error on WMDs aside; isn't the price of petroleum the #1 foreign policy issue to a majority of Americans? If they'd been told gas would go up 50 percent (from about $1.50-2.25 gallon in the last two years), they'd NEVER have approved of invading Iraq?

Terry Neal: Interesting question. I don't know that I would say "the price of petroleum" is the number one foreign policy issue. I still think that's Iraq. But I see that you are linking the war to Iraq to the increasing cost of oil. This is not my area of expertise, but I do feel safe in saying that I think that's an oversimplification. I think there are number of reasons, primarily having to do with output by OPEC and that sort of thing.


Columbus, Ohio: What is Washington's response to the "Curveball" report? Is anyone outside of the Bush Administration and their coterie taking the Curveball reports seriously?

washingtonspost.com: Panel Seeks Intelligence Culpability (Post, April 2)

Terry Neal: I think the media response, if that's what you mean, was somewhat subdued, because there's already been a lot of reporting about Curveball and that whole fiasco, even before this report came out.
What I'm interested in seeing is if the media accepts the intelligence commission's assertion that there was no undue political influence to interpret the data a certain way, or whether reporters and editors will continue to push for answers on this. It seems sort of amazing to me that there's been all of this great reporting about the efforts of Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith and others to circumvent the traditional avenues of intelligence reporting, but all of that seems to have been quickly forgotten just because the commission absolved the administration.
I hope the media continues to work as hard to get to the bottom of this story as they did to get to the bottom of whether Bill Clinton lied about whether he had sex with Monica Lewinsky.


Lima, Ohio: When the Bushes were shown on the Jumbo tron to the crowd and the Papal funeral, the crowd booed. Does the White house get that its policies are really loathed by the average guy in Europe -- do they care?

Terry Neal: I don't think they care. I think they believe that there job is to what's right for America, without worrying about public reaction elsewhere in the world. People can debate, of course, whether the administration is doing what's best for America. My point is just that this administration doesn't care about international perception of its policies. I leave it to each person to decide for himself/herself if that's a good thing or a bad thing.


Hamilton, Va.: Have any of the folks out in the conservative blogosphere who were prattling on about the fake talking points from Mel Matinez' ofice said "never mind"?

washingtonspost.com: Martinez Staff Probes Memo Origin (Post, April 8)

Terry Neal: No. They've just moved on to uprooting the next grand conspiracy of Liberal Baddies Seeking to be Mean to Conservatives.


New York, N.Y.: In your opinion, has Tom Delay become a politcally dangerous man to associate with and will his colleagues soon start to distance themselves from him? Or will they rally around him calling the accusations a Democratic smear campaign, but risking being associated with a scandal-a-day man?

Terry Neal: As I said before, I can't predict the future. That's why they call us journalists, not soothsayers.
For now, they're circling the wagons around their guy. But as you know, Washington is a funny place. At some point, if Delay's supporters begin to see him as a drag on the party, his support will evaporate. But I have no idea if that will happen.


Washington, D.C.: It seems ridiculous that the GOP which is the party of "morals" and "values" is trying to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate. do they not realize that something like this will have such a negative impact on our country? America is a country where even the smallest voice and opinion has a place, but, the GOP is trying to turn this country into an authoritarian rule where it doesn't matter what the minority says (albeit a 49 percent minority). This is simply ridiculous and I am fed up with their hypocrisy! Where is the accountability?!

washingtonspost.com: GOP Is Fracturing Over Power of Judiciary (Post, April 7)

Terry Neal: I'm not sure what the eliminating the filibuster has to do with "morals" and "values" per se.
First a few things: GOP leaders aren't seeking to completely eliminate the filibuster. They are seeking to eliminate it on judicial appointments. Their argument is that the filibuster in this case subverts the very principle that democracy is founded upon--majority rules.
The other side argues that the filibuster is a time-honored tradition of both parties, and a much need balance to tyranny by the majority.
I don't think my opinion on which side is correct is all that important. But I will say that the reason this has not happened yet is because Republican leadership does not have the votes. Apparently some Republican senators understand that power is not owned in this country, only borrowed. And Republicans could someday find themselves back on the short end of the stick, with the filibuster their only option against Democratic tyranny.


Silver Spring, Md.: Has the Bush family adopted Bill Clinton?

Terry Neal: That's hilarious.
No, I think Clinton and Bush I are trying to play the role of statesmen. It's nice to know that the partisanship can be put aside sometimes for a greater good.


Austin, Tex.: Iraq still shaky. Schiavo. Schiavo memo. DeLay. Social Security. Gas prices.

The list of actual and potential trouble spots for the Republicans (some trivial, some not) seems to be getting pretty long.

To put it in football terms, do you think a change is happening in terms of which team has the momentum?

Terry Neal: Thanks for your question. I have a column on this very subject that will be up on washingtonpost.com on Monday.
In a nutshell, all of those things are problems for the majority. Now, Congress's approval rating is at it's lowest point in decade...And Bush's current approval rating is the lowest at this point for a second-term president of any president in the modern era of political polling going back to WWII, according to Gallup.
But the momentum thing is difficult to answer. It's a long time to the midterm election and approval ratings fluctuate. Bush and the GOP could be in very good shape by November 2006. Who knows?


Cabin John, Md.: A veteran of Lousiana politics once reminded me that politicians can generally be forgiven either the vices of arrogance or corruption, but rarely both. Could Tom DeLay's threats to the federal judiciary ultimately be his undoing?

Terry Neal: I doubt it. I think a bigger concern for Delay is whether he'll be indicted by that prosecutor in Texas who has already indicted two or three of his associates.


Ft. Meyers, Fla.: Sometimes I wish politics was like hockey, in that you could be awarded a two-minute penalty and forced to serve time in the "penalty box." If that was the case, I'd have to nominate my home state Senator Mel Martinez a two-minute minor for his ridiculous "I didn't know" excuse regarding his staffer and the Schiavo memo. I voted for the guy, but I mean, c'mon, is a little accountability too much to ask of our politicians anymore?

Terry Neal: Yes, accountability is important. And journalists should push and push until they get to the truth. At this point, I think we have to take Martinez's word that he didn't know. But that doesn't mean journalists have to stop asking questions, to make sure that that's the truth.


Towson, Md.: Why does Tom DeLay think he can or should get rid of judges he disagrees with? Is this the height of arrogance that leads him to believe that if every and all judges don't do what he says he'll find a way to get rid of them? I would be willing to bet that 98 percent of the judges out there rule exactly how they should, based on the law. Its getting to the point where someone needs to step up on the other side of DeLay's argument.

Terry Neal: That's a good question. I think the whole idea of separation of powers was to insulate the judiciary from people like Delay.
Delay is right about one thing, though: There is a lack of direct accountability among the judiciary. But again, I think the founders of the country wanted it that way. That's why we don't have an election for the Supreme Court every four years.
The mighty powerful Delay and many social conservatives are mostly mad because the courts didn't rule the way they wanted them too. That to me is a sign that separation of powers works as it was intended.
As a side point, it has been noted in media reports that many of the judges who sided against Schiavo's parents were in fact conservative judges who had been appointed by Republicans. I suppose Delay's argument is that they need to be even more conservative, which is an argument that he should continue to make if he believes it. He has a right to make his case. And the public has a right to judge those comments and decide what to do about it, because Delay, unlike the judges he hates, does have to come before voters every couple years.


Alexandria, Va.: For Hamilton, we're actually waiting for the Post to publish a correction -- it seems the memo was not distributed by Republican leaders to Republican senators (as described by the Post), but by one junior senator to one Democrat.

Terry Neal: I am not the newspaper's spokesman on this issue. This is as much as I know: The story that ran in the Post did not say that Republican leaders had distributed the memo. That line was in an early version of the story, but that line was edited out of the story before it went in the newspaper. Apparently, someone neglected or forgot to take that line out of the story that moved on the Washington Post/LA Times newswire.
The Post moved this clarification on the wires last week:

"A Washington Post article about congressional intervention in the Terri Schiavo case (SCHIAVO-POST, moved March 19) included a description of a memo asserting that the action could benefit Republicans politically. The article moved by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service, an early version of one that appeared in The Washington Post, said the memo was "distributed to Republican senators by party leaders." The version of the article published by the paper did not specify the authorship and noted that the memo was unsigned. The authorship remains unknown./"

In addition, Mike Allen, the original author of the story, reported today that: "A Martinez aide who refused to be named said the departed aide, counsel Brian H. Darling, "may have disseminated to other offices" a memo that discussed the political ramifications of intervening in the case of Schiavo, the brain-damaged Floridian who died last month after she was taken off a feeding tube."

So I suppose the story continues. It's not my story, nor do I make decisions about corrections. But if it turns out that the memo was not distributed among Republicans, the Post will say so.


Terry Neal: All righty folks. I'm out of time and I need to run. It's been fun as usual. Take care and talk to you next week.



Arlington, Va.: "There is a lack of direct accountability among the judiciary." Unless, I'm forgetting my highschool Civics, the judiciary is not supposed to be "bothered" by the legislative brach based on whims. Are you saying the system of Checks and Balances aren't enough?

Terry Neal: No, I'm saying just that, the system of accountability in checks and balances DOES work. I was very clear about that. Go back and read what I wrote.

Now, I really do have to run. Take care,



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