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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Friday, April 22, 2005; 11:00 AM

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

A 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: Good morning everyone, and welcome back to my live weekly chat on politics. Lots of interesting things percolating out there, and I'm looking forward to chatting about it.
So let's do this.



Bowie, Md.: I read that the new Bankruptcy Bill was just signed by President Bush and was signed this past week. I also read that this seemingly "conservative" bill had the support of some top Democrats in the Senate such as Biden and Lieberman. What is you take is the bill, its effects on consumers, and most importantly the surprising support of top-level Democrats?

Terry Neal: Hi there. Thanks for your question. I actually wrote about the bankruptcy bill a few weeks ago when it came out of the Senate...Here are the first few paragraphs:


"Members of Congress, who continue to run up record budget deficits with their big spending ways, wagged a finger this month in the collective face of the American consumer and said, "Learn to live within your means, or else."

Republican leaders finally pushed changes in bankruptcy law through the Senate after decades of trying. They -- and the 18 Democrats who joined them in supporting the bill -- sent a clear message that the explosion of credit card debt that led to more than 1.6 million bankruptcies last year was entirely the fault of consumers, this being the era of personal responsibility and all. The House is expected to pass the bill soon."


What really jumps out at me about this whole issue is that the credit card and banking industries have been pouring millions and millions into lobbying this issue for the past decade. They finally got enough Democrats signed on to pass it. Of course, no politician will admit that he/she voted a certain way for money, but I think it's instructive in this case that Congress has placed all of its efforts on the consumer, and done absolutely nothing to reign in the predatory lending practices of the credit card companies.
Could this be because there is no lobby for broke people in Washington?


washingtonpost.com: If You Ain't Broke, Congress Has Fixed It.


Alexandria, Va.: Thanks for the Post's extensive coverage of Delay's House ethics problems. I look forward to comparable front page coverage of similar issues regarding Congresswoman Pelosi and other Democrats - Kurtz mentions them in today's on-line only column, but so far The Post is keeping the rest of its readers in the dark.

Terry Neal: This is the same old tired argument for equivalence that people on both sides of the aisle make...Because the Washington Post has covered DeLay's troubles so extensively, it automatically has to devote as much coverage to a Democrats problems--and to not do so is proof of bias. The media wrote 72 negative articles about Tom DeLay, therefore it must write 72 articles about Nancy Pelosi--and to not do so would be proof of liberal bias.
A few points I'd make here: DeLay has now been cited five times by the Ethics Committee. That includes three admonishments, one rebuke and one warning, I believe. So there's a context and a history established that explains why these new charges are receiving so much attention. The Ethics Committee suggested in its admonishment of DeLay last year that his behavior seemed to have a pattern.
So I don't think you're going to see the same level of coverage given to ethics allegation, whether it be of Democrats, such as Pelosi, or other Republicans. With DeLay, there's a totality issue.
But look, there are other Republicans right now in the Congress who have ethical clouds over them, and you're not reading about them either. So does that prove that the media has a pro-conservative bias? No. It just means that they aren't being accused of new violations after already having been cited by the Ethics Committee five times.
The second point I would make is, leaders are always held to a higher standard than back-benchers, and their troubles always generate a higher level of coverage. I don't recall too many conservative feeling sorry for Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright 15 years ago when he was being tormented by Newt Gingrich and his acolytes. And I don't remember any conservatives suggesting that the media ought to be fair and cover the ethical scandals of Republicans to balance its all-out coverage of the Wright scandal.
Now having said all that...I think Post and the media in general should hold all politicians accountable. There should be and I'm sure there will be some level of coverage of the ethical allegations of other politicians--both Democrats and Republicans--in coming weeks and months.


Iowa: In your opinion, will there be a tipping point when the White House backs off from supporting either Mr. Bolton or Mr. DeLay in their respective battles in Congress?

Terry Neal: It's hard to say. People who are familiar with my style in doing these chats no that I'm not big into trying predict the future. That's why they call us journalists, not soothsayers.
Whatever the case, my guess, and it's just a guess, is that unless something much more damaging comes out, the White House will continue to stand by Bolton. It's not the president's style to back down on things like this.


Springfield, Va.: Is the Bolton nomination in serious trouble? He does not sound like my ideal boss, but I'm also skeptical of 10 year old charges made by a Democratic organizer at the last minute - is Bolton getting the Judge Thomas treatment?

Terry Neal: Well, first of all, if that were Bolton's only problem then no, he probably wouldn't have a problem. Bolton is facing a heck of a lot more than that.
His nomination does appear to be at least teetering because two Republicans--Sens. Chafee and Hagel--have said in recent days they're concerned about his nomination. Bolton can't get out of committee if they defect.


Alexandria, Va.: I found this on CNN and was wondering when The Post was going to report on Democrats with ethics problems?

"The Washington Times reported House documents show a 2001 trip Tubbs Jones took to Puerto Rico was improperly paid for by lobbyists. A spokeswomen for Tubbs Jones denied the charge and blamed the documentation on "human error."

"Republicans say charges against Kanjorski date to 1998, when the 11-term congressman helped two Pennsylvania-based companies owned and run by his four nephews and daughter by earmarking more than $9 million in federal contracts and grants for the two firms."

"Kanjorski insisted he has not profited personally from those deals. The companies, Cornerstone Technologies and Pennsylvania Micronics, research water-jet technology."

Terry Neal: See my previous answer...
Let me ask this before I move on...How much have you read in the media about the pending ethics investigations of Republicans Bob Ney and Curt Weldon.
Not much...And for the same reason you haven't read much about Tubbs Jones...
There are 535 members of the House and Senate. Many, on both sides of the aisle, are under some sort of ethics cloud at one point or another. I don't think the national media pays any enough attention to any of them--on either side--unless it's a high-ranking leader, unless there is some sort of action by the Ethics Committee or a prosecutor or some sort of enforcement agency.
I suppose you're suggesting that because the Post has written a lot about DeLay, who is the second most powerful person in the House of Representatives, the national media has an obligation to devote an equal amount of news coverage to an ethics allegation against a back-bencher in the minority party who is known by no one outside of her congressional district.
Now keep in mind here, I'm only speaking for myself. It's not my job to speak for the Post. I don't know what the newspaper is planning in terms of future stories. And this is my perspective and my perspective only. You can disagree with me if you want, but that's where I stand.


washingtonpost.com: Hastert: Democrats protecting their own.


Takoma Park, Md.: Are you a registered Democrat or Republican, maybe neither? Who did you vote for in the last election?

Thank you very much.

Terry Neal: I'm a registered independent. And I don't talk about who I voted for.


St. Louis, Mo.: "Well, first of all, if that were Bolton's only problem then no, he probably wouldn't have a problem. Bolton is facing a heck of a lot more than that."

Like what? Willing to speak the truth about the U.N.? Upsetting the Liberal dominated main stream media?

The real issue isn't his demeanor as a boss. The real issue is the left-wing can't stand the idea of the U.S. confronting their friends in the corrupt and ineffective U.N..

Terry Neal: Thank you for offering your opinion. You have a right to it.
But I don't think Lincoln Chafee and Chuck Hagel have concerns about John Bolton because they're in colusion with the the evil baddies of the mainstream media.
And if you don't know what else Bolton is being accused of, you can read all about it in the paper. And if you don't believe what you read in the paper, you can go online and find transcripts of the Senate hearing and read about it in undiluted form.


Silver Spring, Md.:
I have been listening all around lately and I haven't heard anyone actually say anything legitimately positive about John Bolton since his nomination. I mean something other than "He would do a good job. He is qualified, etc." Those are not meaningful statements, they are just spin. Have you heard anything other than platitudes in his defense?

Terry Neal: Sure I have. Bolton is said to be a very intelligent man, with a strong knowledge of world issues, particular regarding nuclear proliferation and topics such as these. And the bigger point is, he represents the president's world view.
Now you may view those things as platitudes. And I'm neither endorsing nor disputing the positive things that have been said about Bolton. But to suggest that nothing positive has been said is not accurate, I don't believe.


Arlington, Va.: Maybe this is a strange question, but how much money would be needed to bankroll a "broke persons'" lobby?

Terry Neal: Haha. Hmmm...Well, let's see. The banking, credit card and retail industries gave $56 million in campaign contributions to members of Congress in last the last two-year-election cycle.
So I guess at least that much.


Bethesda, Md.: Nice column, but you didn't mention the main reason DeLay's "liberal conspiracy" cry doesn't hold much water. As a liberal, I desperately WANT Tom DeLay to stay in position as House Republican leader. I don't see around today a more fitting symbol of what the GOP really stands for: disdain for ethics and truth, a thirst for power, and anti-gay bigotry - all squirming under a cloak of medieval, anti-science fundamentalism. So I say, "More power to ya Tom. You just hang in there!".

Terry Neal: Thanks for offering your opinion. I'm hearing this sort of argument a lot.
But I'll stick with my argument...Cries of conspiracy are designed to do one thing: Deflect from your own problems and put your critics on the defensive. As I wrote in my column, this is common practice in Washington by both parties.
Jim Wright and his supporters tried the same thing, as did Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s.


Bethesda, Md.: It's reported in The Post today the Colin Powell has voiced concerns regarding Bolton. I guess he's a liberal also.

Terry Neal: Good point


Alexandria, Va.: What are your thoughts on Powell's Bolton comments? I would think they would have a greater impact than anyone else's. It is hard, in my opinion, to sustain the "liberal conspiracy" momentum if Powell says, "he is smart but has issues." And while I am a moderate liberal and regardless of the Powell's U.N. testimony fiasco, if Gen. Powell says someone is a big meanie, then I believe him. The same goes for my extremely conservative parents.

Terry Neal: Well, even after the reporting in today's Post and New York Times, it's still a tad bit unclear exactly what Powell said. But it is clear that it's not all positive.
Powell's insertion into this thing would naturally seem to make it more difficult for Bolton, because Powell is one of the very few people whose opinion is respected by many people on both sides of the aisle.


Terry Neal: All right folks, I've gotta rock. It's been fun. Lots of scrappy folks out there today.
Sorry I'm leaving so many questions on the board, but duty calls.
Until next week, peace out.



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