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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Thursday, January 6, 2005; 1:00 PM

Who is likely to become the chairman of the DNC? How will President Bush govern during his second term? What issues will the new congress tackle over the next few months?

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal takes your questions on his latest columns and other political news.

Terry Neal (post.com)

The transcript follows.

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: Good afternoon everyone. It's good to be back with you for my regular weekly chat.
The chat will take a brief hiatus for a month after today. I'll be on leave for a few weeks, but then I'll be back on the scene mid-February.
So as the Black Eyed Peas say, "let's get it started in here!"



Richmond, Va.: So much of the media has likened Alberto Gonzalez being appointed Attorney Genera as 'The Returm of the Marquis de Sade.'

Yet, the American public remains almost silent, non- commital.

In your opinion, why is that so?

Terry Neal: Interesting question. Well, first of all, I'd say it takes a lot to break the through the media clutter these days. And the news cycle has actually been pretty busy for this time of year, with the Tsunami disaster all.
Beyond that, I think people are used to confirmation battles and usually don't get too up in arms until they become highly contentious. In this case, almost everyone predicts that Gonzalez will be confirmed, so most people probably figure, why get all worked up about it.


Avon Park, Fla.: Considering that the Democrats don't control anything in Washington, is it possible for them to generate news and get their message out? Does the press think to itself that whatever the Democrats propose isn't likely to be the law of the land since they don't have the votes to pass legislation?

Terry Neal: The short answer is, yes. The Democrats are already making news a couple days into the 109th Congress with their challenge of Alberto Gonzalez. There's also news about Sen. Boxer joining with Democratic House members to challenge the Ohio vote certification.
But I think what you'll see is that it's easier to create get your message out and create news than it is to accomplish results.


Sterling, Va.: Terry, what do the Democrats hope to achieve by bringing to the floor a debate on the voting irregularities in Ohio and forcing the House and Senate to meet in separate chambers? I don't believe anyone thinks that the election results will be overturned, so I suppose this is a symbolic gesture more than anything to remind the public how close this election was and that a significant part of the electorate does not approve of Bush's job as president.

Terry Neal: No, the challenge has almost no chance of success. But what can Democrats hope to achieve? Well, for one thing, they can mollify man of their constituents who are still angry about how their representatives (except those in the black caucus) sat on their hands and did nothing in 2000 when many think Al Gore won the election.
In fact, there are a good number of Democrats who are unhappy with John Kerry, thinking he folded his tent without a fight.
Democrats want people to know they still have some fight in them. And sometimes these symbolic battles can do a lot to energize people. On the other hand, the folks behind the Ohio movement are going to have to deal with a backlash of criticism among those who believe Bush won fair and square and that we need to move on.


DC: Why do you think the Republicans in Congress made such a big stink of Joel Hefley's investigation of Tom DeLay? What happened to their moral outrage after the Clinton years? Or is their morality divided between red and blue? Hefley should be sent a fruit basket for maintaining his scruples while his party abandoned theirs. Morality and ethics are not situation-dependent. There is right, and there is wrong.

washingtonpost.com: House Ethics Chair Likely to Be Replaced (Post, Jan. 6)

Terry Neal: Thank you for your question. I think the Republicans are treading on dangerous territory here. When Republicans were in the minority, they led the fight to toughen the ethics lawss. Now that they're in power, some want to gut the very same laws their predessors championed. Hefley believes his banishment was meant to send a message--don't cross the leadership ever, for any reason.
Just goes to show how easy it is to forget that power is not owned in a democracy, only borrowed.
It looks like the proposed ethics changes--which let's be honest, were primarily about protecting Delay--are on hold for now. But there will be a continued movement in some quarters to change the rules.
There are plenty of people within the GOP caucus who believe that it would send the wrong message to change the rules in this way. And there's is some grumbling about Delay as well. It'll be very interesting to see how it all plays out.


Columbia, Md.: Welcome back, and we will miss you (a strange way to start!)...

Any word on who President Bush will nominate for Homeland Security?

Terry Neal: Thanks you...

And I'm sorry, but I don't have anything juicy for you about the homeland security gig. Everything is pretty hush hush right now.


Arlington, Va.: Terry, I saw a number of Democrats appearing on talk shows complaining that Bush is insensitive because he didn't return from vacation quickly enough after the tsunamis hit.

I watched in shock and horror as Democrats tried to make political hay out of a tragedy. Using the tsunamis to score political points seems low, even for the Democrats.

And then we learned that Kofi Annan kept skiing for a couple days longer than Bush -- and Annan is the one who's supposed to be coordinating the international relief effort! Funny -- none of those Democrats appeared to complain about that.

Aren't these kinds of attacks disgusting?

Terry Neal: Well politics in general is pretty disgusting these days, on both sides of the fence.
But to play devil's advocate, there are many people who would say that anytime someone criticizes George Bush his defenders portray it as an abominable personal attack. These folks would argue further that this is merely a tactic to discourage and intimidate people from ever criticizing the president.
Here's the way I see it: The president's response to a disaster--whether you thought it was appropriate or not--is absolutely an appropriate discussion, whether that disaster happened in this country or elsewhere. That does not mean I agree with the criticism. What it means is, the president's performance is a legitimate topic of political discourse.


Washington, D.C.: Do you think that the Bush Administration and Republican Congress could change Social Security without some Democratic support? It seems that the Social Security issue is something that can unify Democrats against Bush's plans.

Terry Neal: I find it hard to believe that the GOP could change something as big and important as Social Security without a decent amount of Democratic support, and ultimately I'm certain the White House would try to push through a major reform on a straight party line vote. The president has made a big to do about getting some Dems to go along with things like No Child Left Behind and the Medicare reform bill. As with those issues, he knows he'll never get a majority of Dems, but I think the White House would work hard to be able to demonstrate some level of Democratic support.


Alexandria, Va.: Terry, are you a registered Democrat or Republican? If you're not registered as either, which side do you tend to vote for? Who did you vote for in the latest Presidential election? As citizens, voting is private, but you make you living as a commentator on all things political, so don't you owe us an answer?

Terry Neal: I'm a registered independent. I can tell you that much because it's public record.
I did vote this year, but I don't talk about how I vote. I am not, nor have I ever been an overt partisan.
My column is a news analysis column, which allows me more room to express a point of view than if I were a straight hard news writer, but it is not a straight opinion column, like, say Bob Novak or Maureen Dowd or something like that.
I did used to be a news reporter and my last job in that position was covering the Bush campaign in the 2000 election for the Post. I will tell you that I didn't even vote that year because I didn't want to be thinking about my personal opinion at a time when I was covering the election.
Some people, including Washington Post executive editor Len Downie, don't believe it's appropriate for news journalists to vote at all, and he doesn't. I wouldn't go that far, but I did make that personal decision in 2000.


Terry Neal: And with that, I've got to call it a day. Thanks so much for your great questions. It's been fun, as usual.
I'll see y'all again in the second week of February.
Take care,



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