White House Insiders
Friday, June 25, 2004; 11:00 AM
What is the latest buzz within the Bush administration? How is the White House handling the run-up to the June 30 handover of formal sovereignty in Iraq? Does Vice President Cheney need his mouth washed out with soap?
Washington Post White House correspondent Dana Milbank took your questions and comments on President Bush, the current administration and covering the White House.
White House Insiders is a new show featuring Washington Post staff writers Mike Allen and Dana Milbank. Every two weeks, one or both will take your questions on the White House, the president and the Bush administration.
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.
Dana Milbank: Good morning. Now let's try to keep this clean, please.
What do you think of the verbal encounter between cheney and Sen Patrick Leahy? What is your view of this breakdown of the tradition..
It's certainly the talk of the town this week. I doubt there's a breakdown in a tradition of G-rated language. The LBJ and Nixon tapes make that pretty clear. What's broken down is the overall civility between the two parties, and Tuesday's extraordinary scene on the Senate floor was emblematic of that. In the past decade or so, lawmakers have stopped socializing across the aisle--or socializing at all, as they get home to their districts at every possible moment. The result has been devastating for bipartisan cooperation in Washington.
Rumsfeld, Cheney, and now Wolfowitz have taken broadsides at members of the media. Do you expect a shift in media policy and access to the President leading up to the election.
There has been a bit of 'shoot the messenger' strategy from the administration lately. It's worth noting that Wolfowitz apologized for his remark saying journalists in Iraq are cowardly. Cheney criticized the press for distorting the findings of the September 11 commission staff, when in fact the press had accurately reported the staff finding that there was no collaborative relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein on the 9/11 attack or anything else.
Recently you wrote the following:
"The Sept. 11 commission reported yesterday that it has found no 'collaborative relationship' between Iraq and al Qaeda, challenging one of the Bush administration's main justifications for the war in Iraq. "
You have slammed the Bush administration for setting up less obvious straw men than this. Why do you say that this challenges Bush, when it in facts supports everything he has ever said on the matter?
Dana Milbank: Here's why.
Bush, in a February 2003 radio address, said: "Iraq has sent bombmaking and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training. And an al Qaeda operative was sent to Iraq several times in the late 1990s for help in acquiring poisons and gases. We also know that Iraq is harboring a terrorist network headed by a senior al Qaeda terrorist planner. This network runs a poison and explosive training camp in northeast Iraq, and many of its leaders are known to be in Baghdad."
Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg on Friday said: "We found no evidence of joint operations or joint work or common operations between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government, and that's beyond 9/11."
Regarding this morning's article about Cheney's use of an expletive, I thought it was a perfectly reasonable editorial decision to run the article the way it ran, with the expletive and all, but I've heard a lot of criticism (most of which is probably partisan). I'm just curious, however, about what kind of editorial discussion there was at the Washington Post regarding the article -- I think that's the first time I've seen that particular expletive used in a Post article. Was it put on A4 because of that? Etc.?
Dana Milbank: I'll leave the explanations of editorial decisions to my superiors, but as a historical matter, that expletive appeared in the paper in 1998 when it was used in the Starr report.
Before the momentarily famous Cheney expletive, the Vice President's conversation with Sen. Leahy is reported to consist of an exchange of complaints (from Cheney) about Leahy statements about Cheney's old company and complaints (from Leahy) about Republican statements about Leahy's old church.
Is that really all they talked about? All the merits of substantive issues aside it sounds like the Senate's presiding officer and one of its senior members were just talking past each other.
Dana Milbank: A metaphor for the current state of cross-aisle dialogue in the capital.
Long Beach, Calif.:
I understand you have an obligation to be as non-partisan and objective as possible but I believe that I AM being objective here: Isn't there a colossal double-standard in the way the press and the Congress treat this White House as opposed to the previous administration? I mean, look at the litany of secrecy and outright scandals like the Plame affair, the torture memos, etc. If this were Clinton he would have been impeached by now (if they tried to impeach him for a mere sex scandal). Give me something here beyond a skillful dodge like "we try out best to be fair and it's not my place to comment on these things." Please, something!
Dana Milbank: We try our best to be fair and it's not my place to comment on these things.
Actually, I think you need to split the press from the Congress. The reason you know about the Plame affair and the torture memos is because the press has reported on this. The difference is in the Congress; it is controlled by the president's party, so it is unreasonable to expect the same sort of scrutiny Clinton received. Democrats would no doubt have launched a flurry of investigations, but they don't have subpoena power.
Kansas City, Mo.:
Your column on the Leahy/Cheney exchange notes that Kerry used similar language in December. Was that reported in the Washington Post? I read faithfully every day, but that was news to me.
Dana Milbank: Kerry used the same naughty word in an interview with Rolling Stone. The Post did not repeat that word then, nor did it repeat the word when Bush used it in 1999 in an interview with Talk magazine.
San Antonio, Tex.:
Who pays Karl Rove's salary? The Republican party or the U.S. Government? How much does he make?
Like all White House political directors, Karl Rove is a government employee, and taxpayers pay his salary of $150,000 or so. I'm sure, however, that he would be delighted to accept additional contributions at:
c/o 1600 Pennsyvlania Ave.
Alexandria, Va. -- Retired Federal Criminal Investigator:
As a retired GS-1811-12, I note that addressing the President or Vice President the way Cheney addressed Leahy is actually an arrestable offense. It may not be a Constitutional requirement, but any direct "confrontational addressing" of a protected subject which is both obscene and implies anger may subject you to arrest; it will definitely get you an immediate detention, identification, name-check, and pat-down.
Dana Milbank: I suspect Senator Leahy is relieved that he did not reply in kind.
Why was it Vice President Cheney who gave the order to shoot down the airplanes on September 11? The press states there were communication problems with the President's office. I realize the day was chaotic, and I do believe providing for the security of the President had to be of the utmost importance. Yet, what was the communiations breakdown, or did the President, in attempting to control the confusion, delegate some responsibilites to the Vice President, or what happened? Further, does the Vice President technically have a military command capability as Vice President?
Bush and Cheney both told the 9/11 commission that they spoke by phone and Bush gave Cheney verbal approval to give the shoot-down orders. This was not clear to all who were in the room with Cheney, and one person in the room suggested Cheney call Bush and confirm the shoot-down order after he had given it.
When President Bush was running for election, he indicated that he had success in crossing the aisles between parties in Texas. However as President, he has had little success in breaking down the barriers between the parties in Congress. What has he done differently to break down the barriers in the Texas state congress that has not worked with the US Congress? And What is the problem here between these two parties that did not exist 10 or 15 years ago?
A very important question. It wasn't just Bush's assertion; he did have success across the aisle in Texas. The difference, apparently, is the parties are far less polarized in Texas, and even the Democrats tend toward the conservative side. That, and what I said previously about the complete lack of socialization between the two parties in Washington.
Lansing, Mich :
Hi Dana, have you heard any names of potential replacements for George Tenet ?
Dana Milbank: My colleagues this morning report that Porter Goss is willing and able.
How has the Bush administration's wide distribution of White House pool reports affect their content? Are reporters more/less likely to include certain information. They certainly are entertaining; given their tone, it's sometimes surprising that the administration releases them. Any thoughts?
And how do I get on THAT e-mail list?!?
This is a longtime inside-baseball contorversy. The White House, with the blessing of the White House correspondents association, emails "pool reports" (written by a rotating newspaper representative when space does not permit the entire press corps to be at a presidential event) to hundreds of journalists, administration officials, and even some Republican lobbyists and Hill staff. There's potential for the pool reporters to censor themselves because of the wide circulation, but it's difficult to know whether that happens in practice. And you don't really want to be on that email list. It's worse than spam.
What do you think of the decision to paint a Hillary wearing pants? I think she is the first one to do this. What if (hopefully sooner rather than later), women realize that there's nothing wrong with looking good and being strong and successfull at the same time and they stop with all the pants? If this does happen, then her portrait with the pants will look dated and too political. I think those portraits should be timeless and not reflective of any politics of the time.
washingtonpost.com: The Picture of Bipartisan Camaraderie (Post, June 15)
I think the real news is that the Bill Clinton portrait showed him wearing pants. And for that we are all grateful.
Thanks for your consistently excellent reporting.
What's your read on how the White House is feeling about the election? Are they feeling confident? Nervous? A mixture of both?
Dana Milbank: Thank you, mother.
The anxiety among Bush loyalists is that there are so many events -- notably in Iraq -- that are beyond their control and could continue to prevent them from spreading the good news about job growth. But while universally predicting a close race -- part of the expectations setting game -- I don't there is a worry that they could actually lose.
Des Moines, Iowa:
Can you explain why this week's Washington Post poll results and today's Gallup Poll results are very different. Specifically, the Gallup Poll shows Bush with a 2 digit lead in who would handle terrorism better while the Washington Post poll showed Kerry with a slight lead. Why is there such a drastic difference between the two polls?
Dana Milbank: I have consulted our in-house polling genius, Claudia Deane, who is both the brains and the beauty behind a Washington Post polling operation titularly headed by Rich Morin. She replies: "Good question."
The Gallup poll is not consistently more pro Bush than the Post poll, she points out, because we have Bush doing better on the economy and on Iraq. And Gallup has Bush's approval at 48, versus our 47.
Claudia posits that the difference may be explained by the timing of the 9/11 commissions staff report raising doubts about the Qaeda-Hussein link. The Post poll was being asked when that issue was hot, June 17-20, while the Gallup poll came later, June 21-23.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa:
Regarding Valerie Plame
Doesn't Russert, Novak, et al, know the name of the official(s) in the White House who leaked Ms. Plame's name and role at the CIA?
If the White House knows that the press knows the identity of the leaker, why doesn't the White House provide the information. Similarly, if the officials at the White House has signed waivers releasing the journalists from maintaining confidentiality, why doesn't Russert and Novak speak up?
Dana Milbank: It is a paradox that in this case, the journalists who know the most are the ones being questioned by the Justice Department, and therefore have a conflict of interest in reporting about it. On question two, maybe I'm out of the loop, but White House officials have not to my knowledge entertained Democrats' suggestions that they sign waivers releasing journalists from confidentiality understandings.
What is the latest on Condi Rice? I haven't seen much of her the past few weeks.
Dana Milbank: Don't worry: She gave an on-camera briefing yesterday. Off to Ireland and Turkey with Bush, starting today.
Dana, are women wearing pants still a political issue? Am I too young to understand this "concern"? Is it because I don't live near D.C.? Please explain this mindset, as I truly don't get it.
Dana Milbank: Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you knew. Nobody wears pants in D.C. anymore. I am typing this in my boxer shorts.
Well, thanks for tuning in.
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