Post Politics Hour

Dana Milbank
Washington Post National Political Reporter/Washington Sketch Columnist
Friday, November 4, 2005; 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest buzz in politics? Start each day at wonk central: The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and Congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post national political reporter and Washington Sketch columnist Dana Milbank was online Friday, Nov. 4, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

The transcript follows.

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Dana Milbank: It's official: This morning's Washington Post/ABC News poll confirms that the Bush haters are more numerous than the Clinton haters ever were. Overall, the president's approval/disapproval is 39% to 60%. But 47 percent of Americans STRONGLY disapprove of Bush. That's his highest ever (it was only 3% after the 9/11 attacks) and significantly higher than Clinton's highest, 37 percent. And while President George H.W. Bush's support dropped as low as 33 percent, his strong disapproval never got higher than 24 percent.

What does this mean? Beyond the obvious bad news for President Bush, I think it's an indication of the extraordinary amount of bile and vitriol in the body politic right now. I see it every day -- from the exceptionally personal confrontation on the Hill this week between Reid and Frist, to the hate emails I get virtually every day from partisans on both sides. And those are the ones that get through the spam filter. I've asked the question screener to let through some of the nastier questions to give you an idea.

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Bethesda, Md.: How can you write such drivel about Judge Alito's nerdiness? And to criticize his suit and shoelaces? Have you looked in a (large) mirror recently?

Leave attempts at humor (if that's what you intended) to Kornheiser.

Dana Milbank: Excellent. Keep 'em coming.

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Arlington, Va.: Nice sketch on Alito and his tie. Going for snarky? Got insipid....

Dana Milbank: More! More!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Isn't it inherently misleading for The Post to run a poll that skews so far left? The number of persons who identify as Democrats seems to be almost 12 points higher than actually exists in the country.

Dana Milbank: No. What happens is when Bush is up, more people identify themselves as Republicans; when he's down, more people identify as Democrats. So if you weighted for what they call 'party ID' then you'd cancel out the actual shift in public sentiment. That said, when party identification is skewed wildly outside a usual band, they make some adjustments. But the results are consistent with other recent polls.

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New Haven, Conn.: On Thursday, the Post's Jim VandeHei reported that Karl Rove's future at the White House is in serious doubt. Today, the NYT's David Johnston and Dick Stevenson say that's not so. Who do you think is right?

Dana Milbank:

I'll go with the home team on that one.

Note that Scott McClellan did not deny the Post account in yesterday's briefing:

Q Can you comment on The Washington Post report that there is some considerations that Rove should be leaving the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. One, there's a lot of speculation going around at this time that relates to an ongoing investigation and an ongoing legal proceeding, and I'm not going to get into speculating about anything relating to that. You know, I will reiterate what I said the other day: there is no discussion of staff changes, beyond the usual vacancies that occur and beyond the ones we just announced relating to the vacancy that occurred in the Vice President's Office.

And I also pointed out that it's always the prerogative of the President to have a team in place that he feels best helps him advance his agenda and meet his needs. And we all always serve at the pleasure of the President, but that's just speaking more broadly and that's why I wanted to reiterate what I said the other day, that there is no discussion of staff changes, beyond typical vacancies and beyond the ones we've just recently filled.

Q So Rove might leave is part of a, sort of, natural staff turnover?

MR. McCLELLAN: See, this is a question trying to get me to play into all the speculation that's going on, and I'm just not going to do that. But that's why I reiterated the broader points that I've already made to you all earlier this week and those comments remain the same.

Q Well, the Post story, are you -- I'm not hearing a denial here.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm telling you I'm not going to get into all the speculation. Karl Rove is the Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the President. He continues to carry out his duties. But that's why I pointed out that, in terms of the question came up in the context of any discussion of staff changes, and that's why I reiterated what I said earlier.

Q Any discussion of an apology by him to staff?

MR. McCLELLAN: I've already addressed that question; I don't have anything else to add to it.

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Washington, D.C.: What is it with your nitpicking on the mannerisms of public officials? Do you really believe that by cruelly picking on people's motions and gestures that you are doing something that helps our society? It seems to me that all you are doing is further diminishing whatever respect is left for public officials, and making the officials wonder what is the point in serving their country if everything they do - even blinking - is subject to public scrutiny and ridicule.

Dana Milbank: Good effort. Thank you.

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Bethesda, Md.: I was under the impression that if Libby were convicted on all 5 counts, he could face 30 years in prison, but now I read in Carol Leonnig's article that he would likely face only 2 to 5 years. What gives?

Dana Milbank: I think the difference is between what he could get under sentencing guidelines and what he's likely to get if found guilty.

Speaking of Carol Leonnig, check her out in the photo on the front page of the New York Times today. She's the one in red, looking highly skeptical.

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Bowie, Md.: Just a thought. President Bush approval rating a 38% is still too high! I am waiting see when the latest timed terror threat will come that will boost his ratings. Stay tuned!! Karl Rove isn't done yet!

Dana Milbank: I'm marking you down as one of the 47 percent who "strongly disapprove."

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Washington, D.C.: Thank you for informing us about the secret prisons that we are operating outside the bounds of our justice system. The news came as a very sad shock. Since you broke this news, do you have any insight about whether public scrutiny might hasten the dismantling of the "black areas"? Are any people with the actual authority to change this policy making moves to do so? What a disservice to our democratic system of justice.

Dana Milbank: I would love to take credit for this but that story was done by my doppleganger, Dana Priest.

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Fairfax, Va.: Why doesn't someone do a careful analysis of Joe Wilson's story and those of his critics. They keep contradicting each other but we don't know the facts.

Dana Milbank:

Matter of fact, Walter Pincus and I did this last week. Here's the link:

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washingtonpost.com: Husband Is Conspicuous in Leak Case , ( Washington Post, Oct. 25, 2005 )

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Washington, D.C.: When a politician drops below 40% in the approval rating, shouldn't there be a criminal investigation of him personally? Bush seems to have more teflon than Clinton, Bush 41 (in the loop on Iran-Contra), Reagan (profits to contras in violation of Boland Amendment), and Nixon. Certainly George W. Bush can be investigated for some crime now that his disapproval ratings are so high.

Dana Milbank: This is a fascinating concept. But it would need congressional action. We'll call it the Gallup Independent Counsel Act.

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Jacksonville, Fla.: Hi Dana, I religiously read every one of your columns on The Post and check out your appearances of the Countdown on MSNBC. Something Keith mentioned in the show couple of days back caught my attention and am wondering if the MSM has not followed up on it. This is regarding to the stock held by Donald Rumsfeld in Gilead (which he was serving as Chairman before joining the administration). Is this a conflict of interest, especially since the President has called for more money from Congress for the pre-emptive war against bird flu? Also if there is an outbreak, what would be the administration's slogan?? ("Global War against Bird-flu - GWB!!)

Dana Milbank:

Rummy has recused himself from Tamiflu issues rather than sell his stock. This part of the "MSM" has covered it. Let's see if those dot-com wizards can find a link for this too.

I'll work on a slogan; suggestions welcome. But we will definitely smoke the culprits out of their coops.

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Vienna, Va.: Can you turn off your smart-aleck mode for a moment and give a serious answer? What purpose is there to harangue politicians for their clothes, their nervous tics, their blinking, etc.? Do you truly believe this educates the public and helps our culture?

Dana Milbank: Darn. OK.

Yes. I believe that journalists serve as readers' eyes and ears. My sketches are meant to give readers the sights, sounds, even smells, of Washington. So, yes: Non-verbal queues are useful in determining anxiety, comfort, sincerity, etc. When somebody is obviously comfortable in his own skin -- e.g. John Roberts -- I write about that, too.

So lighten up and stop kvetching.

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Boston, Mass.: Don't have the wit in me for a snarky comment. But a question - how viable would it be for White House correspondents to not participate in briefings? I read the transcripts, and it seems that it literally does no good for either McClellan or the reporters to bother asking questions. So why not just sit there? Are they professionally permitted to?

Dana Milbank: Don't worry: Plenty of snark in the question queue.

Some reporters have already voted with their feet; seats in the briefing room are often empty.

When I was on the White House beat, we did take some guerilla action -- not to protest McClellan's answers but to protest the president only taking questions from the wires and the networks. It got to the point where so many people stopped showing up for these events, the White House began calling to make sure we were coming. They needed the props.

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Washington, D.C.: If you were Scott, would you resign?

Dana Milbank:

Tough question -- and one you hear a lot of these days. He says he's not considered it, and he's calling on a reservoir of 'trust' he has in the White House press corps. Problem is, reporters like Scott personally -- I certainly do -- but that doesn't mean they trust his answers from the podium. Without question, Rove and Libby have left him with a gaping hole in his credibility. He needs to resolve that one way or the other.

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Ashton, Md: I seem to remember when Clinton was President and there was low unemployment and high economic growth, there were tons of "don't worry be happy," or "its the economy, stupid" stories floating around. How come we aren't given many stories about 4.9% unemployment or 3.8% growth?

Dana Milbank:

Interesting point. There are, of course, stories about the relatively strong economic growth and relatively low unemployment. But most Americans don't perceive that the economy is in good shape. Beyond that, economic growth has been decoupled from a president's political standing, to some extent. For Bush, it cuts both ways. The 2004 election indicated that people who would generally support Democratic economic ideas were voting Republican on national security and moral issues.

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Poughkeepsie, N.Y.: A while ago I remember Rove being talked about as kingmaker for 2008 Republican presidential candidates. Is he still in that position?

Dana Milbank: Well, here's the very latest from Argentina, where Bush was grilled about Rove today. Here's some excerpts from the

FDCH transcript:

QUESTION: Did Karl Rove tell you the truth about his role in the CIA leak case? And do you owe the American people an apology for your administration's assertions that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby weren't involved?

BUSH: We're going through a very serious investigation and I have told you before that I'm not going to discuss the investigation until it's completed. . .

QUESTION: You've taken a beating in recent weeks. What are you going to do for a fresh start?

QUESTION: Are there going to be any staff changes? Would it help if the special prosecutor would wrap up his probe quickly?

BUSH: Well, again, you're trying to get me to comment on the investigation, which I'm not going to do. And I hope you understand this: It's a serious investigation. And it's an important investigation. But it's not yet over.

Again, I think it's important for the American people to know that I understand my job is to set clear goals and deal with the problems we face. . .

QUESTION: OK. This is not a question about the investigation. But it's about Karl.

BUSH: It sounds like one, though.

QUESTION: Are there discussions in the White House about whether or not Karl will remain in his job?

BUSH: The investigation on Karl, as you know, is not complete. And therefore, I will not comment about him and/or the investigation.

BUSH: Again, I understand the anxiety and angst by the press corps to talk about this. On the other hand, it is a serious investigation, and we take it seriously. And we're cooperating to the extent that the special prosecutor wants us to cooperate.

QUESTION: The American people, though, are beginning to question your honesty according to the polls -- 58 percent. And your approval rate something at an all-time low primarily because, it seems, of this investigation. They are wondering whether you can keep on track and whether to believe you, sir.

BUSH: I know, I understand there's a preoccupation by polls by some. I think this may be the fourth or fifth consecutive press conference or semi-press conference that I've been asked about polls.

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Dana Priest: It really cracks me up how often people get you too confused in these chats. I'm guessing they haven't seen your pictures.

Dana Milbank: I'm afraid that I do not fare well when our photos are compared.

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New York, N.Y.: Dana, do you talk fast, type without looking down at the keys, keep a pencil tucked in your ear and chew gum? For whatever reason, I have this picture of you in my head typing away furiously at all these "injured" folks out there who don't like you commentary.

I say keep 'em coming! (as my eyes are twitching left right up and down with my mouth smirking off to the left)

Dana Milbank: Pretty much, with a mug of whiskey on my desk. Also I have a button missing from my jacket, a stain on my trousers and my shoes need a shine.

Thank you for the question. It has renewed my faith in humanity.

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