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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Thursday, February 10, 2005; 1:00 PM

Have questions about the latest political news?

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took your questions and comments 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. I've been away for a few weeks, after the birth of my second child. And now I'm looking forward to talking politics with you all. So with that, let us begin.



Ellicott City, Md.: Is there any Secret Service questioning going on how a reporter could get in with a psudonym? Seems a slippery slope to start down.

washingtonpost.com: Online Reporter Quits After Liberals' Expose (Post, Feb. 10)

Terry Neal: This is a really crazy story. The NY Daily News has an interesting piece today about what some of the bloggers are turning up about this guy. I think Daily Kos is among leaders on this story.
One of the questions that will have to be answered is how this guy got a White House press pass. I have a press pass, and I know that Secret Service does a very thorough background check on everyone who applies for one. It would seem impossible to me to obtain a pass with a pseudonym. I suspect there's going to be lots more juicy details coming out on this one.


Chicago, Ill.: Hi, Terry --

I've been missing your reports, and glad to see you're back. Terry, the Bush Administration seems to believe that it has a lot of political capital from the recent elections. Nevertheless, opinion polls consistently show that the public gives the President only about a 50 percent approval rating, and many of his policies are very unpopular. Today's news about the true costs of the Medicare prescription drug program has to be bad news for the administration. Do you see any developing breaks in the ranks among GOP senators on this and the proposed retooling of the Social Security program? After all, Republican members of Congress have to face the voters in 2006, while the President does not.

Terry Neal: Thank you for your question.
I think my initial reaction to your question is that the president never has to worry about running for re-election again, so it doesn't matter much what his approval ratings are. He did receive slight bump in those numbers in the week after his well-received SOS speech.
Of course, if the president's numbers slip too low, it might send a signal to his members of his party in Congress that it's safe to distance themselves from his agenda. You've already seen some key lawmakers raising questions about the president's Social Security proposal (such as Rep. Bill Thomas and Sen. Olympia Snowe) and budget proposal (such as Sen. George Voinovich).
While we're certainly hearing some internal grumbling, it's clearly too early predict gloom and doom for the president, I think.


Clinton, Md.: What is Governor Ehrlich doing? This latest incident smells like "Nixon-win at any cost-the end justifies the means politics". When he was elected didn't he realize that he would have to compromise with Democrats to achieve anything? So far after nearly 4 years the only thing his administration is known for is proposing slots.

Terry Neal: Ehrlich is in a tough position, as the Republican leader of one of the most Democratic states in the country. Having said that, he seems to be having a tougher go of it than Mark Warner, a Democrat serving as governor of the GOP-friendly Virginia.
I covered the Maryland legislature when I first got to the Post in 1994. But it's been a while since I've spent a lot of time in Annapolis. I'm no expert on what's going on there now.
But I will say, at this point, no one has proven the governor was behind the effort to spread rumors about Mayor O'Malley's personal life. More damning details could emerge, of course. But at this point, you'd have to say the Nixon analogy is a stretch.


Fairfax, Virginia: In today's Media Notes Howard Kurtz offers his opinion that Baltimore Mayor O'Malley's criticism of President Bush's budget cuts was too stong, inappropriately comparing the damage the cuts will cause to the 9-11 attack. I fully agree with the Mayor's point of view and think Mr. Kurtz's reaction is indicative of his own generally pro-Bush perspective. Is Media Notes meant to be an op-ed platform for Mr. Kurtz's views or is it supposed to be a source of non-biased factual reporting about the media, including bias in the media?

washingtonpost.com: Deadly Analogy (Post, Feb. 10)

Terry Neal: I don't know, but you could ask Howie next time he's online to answer question, next Monday at noon.


Bowie, Md.: Reading things like Tim Roemer's Op-Ed today, the Democrats seem to think the most important place to make up ground is social/religious issues.

Have the Republicans won with their strategy of re-distributing wealth upwards and convincing the losers that the real issue is "values"?

Terry Neal: Thanks for your question. I read Roemer's op-ed a bit differently. What he was saying is that Democrats lost the presidency and lost ground in Congress because of the security issue.
He argues that Democrats are pre-occupied with the controversial social issues, such as abortion--noting the intense opposition to his DNC chair candidacy because of his pro-life views.
I believe Republican success is based primarily on the security advantage and the party's ability to portray itself on the ride side of the culture war.


Washington, D.C.: Regarding the prior question in which the recent Post article on Medicare costs was mentioned, the White House has criticized the accuracy of that particular piece by Connolly and Allen.

Is there any ongoing review of the accuracy/sourcing of the piece, particularly coming on the heels of the correction that the Post ran on reporter Jonathan Weisman's negative article on the President's Social Security proposals ("Benefit Cuts Would Offset Contributions")? Weissman's article also drew fire from the White House for its llack of accuracy, correct?

Terry Neal: The Post has stood by the Connolly/Allen report.


Washington, D.C.: If the negotiations regarding nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea continue to deteriorate, do you think Bush has enough "political capitol" to convince Congress and the American people that diving into another war -- or wars -- is necessary?

Terry Neal: That's too hypothetical for me, or anyone to answer. The administration has indicated its desire to seek diplomatic solutions to these crises. And it's hard to imagine the president pushing to launch two more wars in even larger, more powerful, nuclear-capable countries when the country can barely afford the two wars its already fighting.
I know Bush's most ardent critics will say that scenario is not hard for them to believe. But I think at this point, it's way too premature to even go there.


Philadelphia, Pa.: In the wake of the latest Washington Post poll on Social Security, does it surprise you that the Democrats apparently have framed the debate better? Bush has the loudest megaphone in politics and the grand stage of the state of the union in order to shape public opinion. But he hasn't done so. How could that be possible?

Terry Neal: That's an interesting question. But I would say that it's no surprise that there's skepticism and outright opposition to the president's proposal. It's a radical idea. By radical, I don't mean bad, I just mean, to propose major changes to a popular, successful government program that's existed for decades is radical.
But this goes to a fundamental difference in temperament and attitude between the parties that exist right now. Republicans believe they can change public opinion. Democrats don't seem to have that confidence. By the time the well-oil GOP PR machine is done, those numbers could be quite different.


Munich, Germany: How do you think that the administration is going to deal with a nuclear North Korea?

I was debating today, whether or not to buy my favorite canned oysters, which happen to be from The Republic of Korea (the only thing that I could find over here), but then I asked my self the question, "Is it wise to boycott a country that already has the nuclear bomb?"

Poverty is the mother of aggression, don't you think?

Terry Neal: Funny question, although perhaps not intentionally. North Korea is one of the poorest countries on the planet, and whether you eat their canned oysters isn't going to change that. One of the reasons it's so poor is because it has diverted what little national wealth it has to enriching it's loopy dictator and financing his wild-eyed weapons programs.
Having said that, I cannot predict how the administration will attempt to deal with the situation there.


Maryland Expat now in Herndon: I'm amazed at the gall of Maryland's Democratic outrage over "outing" Mayor O'Malley; this story has been circulating for months and has been the topic of dinner table conversation numerous times in my family with my (politically middle of the road) Mother and two (liberal) brothers-in-law, all Maryland residents (I'm the right wing wack job in the family). All of them have heard the stories; the alledged womanizing goes much further than the story of the TV reporter.

I'll give you a hypothetical: if the rumors of alledged extra-marital activity involved Republican Governor Erlich instead of Democratic Mayor O'Malley, both the "Post" and the "Baltimore Sun" would be on it with major investigations in a New York minute.

Terry Neal: I'll just deal with the latter part of your statement, which in my opinion is absurd. Neither the Post nor the Sun go out of their way to report about the alleged infidelities of politicians, and when they have, the politician in question has been named Bill Clinton.
I guarantee you, you never see in the newspaper one-tenth of one percent of the extramarital affair rumors that we hear about politicians from BOTH parties.
Now having said that, there are points were these stories become newsworthy, as the Ehrlich/O'Malley story has. But as a routine matter, reporters don't spend a lot of time trying to find out who governors and members of Congress are boinking.


Wilmington, Mass.: Congratulations on your baby. May it grow up and vote!

Terry Neal: Gracias!


Terry Neal: And on that note, I must say goodbye. It's been loads of fun! But I've got to run.
Take care, and let's chat next week, same time, same place.



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