Post Politics Hour

Dana Milbank
Washington Post National Political Reporter/Washington Sketch Columnist
Friday, December 16, 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/Washington Sketch columnist Dana Milbank was online Friday, Dec. 16, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

Read the latest Washington Sketch , ( Post, Dec. 15, 2005 ).

Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com's Congressional Votes Database is now online. See how lawmakers voted on every bill since 1991 here.

The transcript follows.

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Dana Milbank: Good morning. Many of you out there in what my colleague John F. Harris affectionately dubs "the crankosphere" are evidently of the impression that the Washington Post political staff is distracted by internal battles with washingtonpost.com. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have focused this week on the Iraqi elections, in which the Froomkin turnout was much higher than expected. We have closely monitored the White House's about face on the Froomkin torture amendment. And today, I write from the Senate press gallery, where Froomkins are attempting to filibuster the Patriot Act.

With that, I will be happy to take your Froomkins.

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Washington, D.C.: Dana,

I saw the transcript of the White House press briefing yesterday, and it was painful reading Scott's responses as to tried to explain why the President could comment about Tom DeLay, but not Scooter Libby. Has the White House kind of painted itself into a corner on this one?

Dana Milbank: I thought Scottie's answer -- that it was "presidential prerogative" -- was about the most honest and straightforward thing he has said in a long time. There's no good way to explain why the president made an exception to his policy of not commenting on an ongoing investigation. The fact is, he's the president and he does what he wants. I could see this evolving into an all-purpose answer in the podium:

Why did we go to war in Iraq? "Presidential prerogative."

Why did the president authorize domestic spying by the NSA? "Presidential prerogative."

Why does Bush have "the Archies" on his iPod? "Presidential prerogative."

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Dana Milbank: By the way, make sure you see the grilling Brit Hume gave Bush about what's on his iPod, captured brilliantly by the Reliable Source this morning:

Bush : Beach Boys, Beatles, let's see, Alan Jackson, Alan Jackson, Alejandro, Alison Krauss, the Angels, the Archies, Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, Dan McLean. Remember him?

Hume: Don McLean.

Bush: I mean, Don McLean.

Hume: Does "American Pie," right?

Bush: Great song.

Hume: Yes, yes, great song.

Unidentified male: . . . which ones do you play?

Bush: All of these. I put it on shuffle. Dwight Yoakam. I've got the Shuffle, the, what is it called? The little.

Hume: Shuffle.

Bush: It looks like.

Hume: The Shuffle. That is the name of one of the models.

Bush: Yes, the Shuffle.

Hume: Called the Shuffle.

Bush: Lightweight, and crank it on, and you shuffle the Shuffle.

Hume: So you -- it plays . . .

Bush: Put it in my pocket, got the ear things on.

Hume: So it plays them in a random order.

Bush: Yes.

Hume: So you don't know what you're going to going to get.

Bush: No.

Hume: But you know --

Bush: And if you don't like it, you have got your little advance button. It's pretty high-tech stuff.

Hume: . . . be good to have one of those at home, wouldn't it?

Bush: Oh?

Hume: Yes, hit the button and whatever it is that's in your head -- gone.

Bush: . . . it's a bad day, just say, get out of here.

Hume: Well, that probably is pretty . . .

Bush: That works, too. ( Laughter )

Hume: Yes, right.

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Who am I?: The press hasn't written a story about I. Lewis Libby without including his nickname. So why no reference to his first name? Apparently he's been a little mysterious about what the "I" is for, which makes it all the more unbelievable that no reporter has tried to get a definitive answer.

Dana Milbank: As a matter of fact, I have known Scooter's first name for more than a year, but the administration asked me not to publish it on national security grounds.

Today, however, I am going to publish it.

The "I" stands for "Irve."

Now you can see why he goes as Scooter.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Wow, did you see how many anti-Harris comments there were after his Froomkin comment?

Note to self: if you ever need a raise, just have the ombudsman plant a story that the higher uppers aren't happy with your stuff. then watch the fireworks fly!

Dana Milbank:

Hmmm. Froomkin, Froomkin. Nope, name doesn't ring a bell.

Possibly "Froomkin" is a bastardization of our political editor's middle name. His pen name is John F. Harris, but he is known to all by his middle name, Furby.

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Washington, D.C.: The most recent Sketch told us how many times the President used the term "victory" in discussing Iraq, but not what the President meant by the term. Since, as you point out, the President makes "victory" a centerpiece of his Iraq PR campaign, can you shed any light on what exactly the President means by "victory"? Isn't it important to know what we are fighting for; or is Iraq just a Vietnam re-run about which Country Joe and the Fish once sang, "well its 1-2-3-4, what are we fighting for? Don't know, don't give a darn. Next stop is Vietnam."

Dana Milbank:

This is why the "victory" strategy is brilliant: As my sage colleague Al Kamen points out, Bush is taking the Potter Stewart approach. I don't know the definition of victory, but I know it when I see it. While the president has put himself in position of being the sole arbiter of victory, he has managed to make all his opponents appear to be advocating the opposite, which is defeat.

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Washington, D.C.: Dana-I know you aren't the proper person to vent my frustration with, but could you pass it along to the higher ups? I am going to boycott washingtonpost.com if they refuse to take that nasty toe nail fungus ad off the homepage. What gives? I need to see that while I'm eating my lunch? Look, we get it, they make medicine to cure people's nasty feet, now take it down or tell that gross company to change their add. I'm boycotting them too. I should point out I don't even know their name because I REFUSE to make eye contact. Is anyone else with me?

Dana Milbank: As it happens, I am the Post's main point of contact for toenail fungus complaints. And, in fact, the issue has been raised internally, by, I believe, our Baghdad correspondent, in her critique of the paper. I think this speaks volumes. She sees bloody bodies and dismembered limbs all the time, but she found the fungal ads disturbing enough to raise the matter.

I understand we will be phasing out the fungal ads in favor of an exciting new campaign from Preparation H.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Why does a story about the report that contradicts one of the President's main defenses relating to his decision to invade Iraq -- that Congress had the "same" intelligence that he did -- get buried on page 23 of the paper??

Dana Milbank: I thought that was a terrific piece by Dafna "Daffy" Linzer on the CRS report this morning. And I see it got "must-read" status in ABC's "The Note" this morning.

However, the judgment of the editors in infallible and it is pointless to question their infinite wisdom. I have not consulted with the authorities but am guessing they played it down because the conclusion is fairly obvious; Walter Pincus and I wrote on Nov. 12: "Bush and his aides had access to much more voluminous intelligence information than did lawmakers, who were dependent on the administration to provide the material."

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Bangor, Maine: Any new news on the Plame affair? When or is the grand jury meeting to determine Karl Rove's fate?

Dana Milbank: The grand jury is meeting as we chat this very morning. As for where this is heading, I will use by "reporter's prerogative" to say: I haven't a clue.

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Washington, D.C.: By publishing Scooter Libby's real first name, it's clear that you love Osama more than you love America. Clearly, learning that Scooter Libby's first name is "Irve" will damage the morale of our troops and destroy any shot Iraq has at freedom. Now that "Irve" has been exposed, terrorists will be emboldened.

Right now, somewhere, a bald eagle is crying.

Dana Milbank:

I recognize the risks, but this is the role of the press in a free society.

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Waterville, Maine: What do you think the revelations about the NSA spying on Americans will have on the renewal of the Patriot Act?

Dana Milbank: Funny you should ask. At this very second, Russ Feingold is railing about it on the floor of the Senate. We're expecting a very close cloture vote in the coming hour or so here.

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Dana Milbank: Update: Senator Salazar is up on the floor now, citing the Times-NSA report as reason to reject the Patriot Act deal.

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Boston, Mass.: This country is a wreck.

If we look at our leaders... torture, spying on Americans, bribes, fraud, outing of CIA agents, lying about stock deals, lying about wars...

If we look at ourselves.... our kids are fat, on prescriptions, and 1 in 20 can't read. We've got global warming, high prices, low wages, no health insurance, a housing bubble, and the gap between rich and poor is extreme.

Dana, make it all better, please. I can't take much more of this.

Dana Milbank: On the positive side, Speaker Hastert has saved Christmas by renaming the "Holiday Tree."

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Washington, D.C.: Dana,

Loved your column on Gail Norton telling those who would ask how long ANWR would supply the country, "it doesn't work that way". My question is, did she exhibit any shame when making this comment? Any shame at all?

Dana Milbank: No. In fact, she seemed quite indignant when the questioner (me) posed the question. I wasn't asking it as a loaded matter. She had said the ANWR oil would keep California fueled for 16 years and New Hampshire fueled for 300-something years, so I thought it natural to ask how long it would keep the whole country going. When she refused to answer and suggested that my question had certain hostile assumptions, I knew the number must be very low. And, indeed, it was not quite a year and a half.

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Iowa: A TV station in Wisconsin has sold "naming rights" to their newsroom to a local bank. Have you thought about selling naming rights to The Washington Post newsroom? Or perhaps naming rights to certain cadres of reporters? The possibilities are intriguing!

Dana Milbank:

After my Duke Cunningham Commode Fund failed to raise any money in a chat two weeks ago, I am a bit shy about proposing other revenue enhancing measures. However, for $100 I will name a question in the next chat after you, and for $1,000 I will name the entire next chat after you.

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Dallas, Tex.: No question. I just wanted to wish you a Merry Froomkin.

Dana Milbank: And a Furby New Year to you.

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Iowa: The ANWAR oil drilling provision escaped from the budget bill but now is being tacked onto the defense appropriations bill. Clearly, Sen. Stevens is persistent in pursuit of his pet projects. What ever happened with his multi-million dollar "bridge to nowhere" in the budget discussions?

Dana Milbank: As it happens, funding for the Alaska "Bridges to Nowhere" was killed after Senator Coburn objected to Stevens's pet pork project. But, perhaps because Stevens had threatened to resign if the money were taken away from Alaska, the state gets to keep the money to use for whatever it wants, including said bridges to nowhere. This is what passes for progress in the capital.

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Birmingham, Ala.: Has Cheney "endorsed" the President's reversal on the Torture Issue? Any comment at all?

Dana Milbank: They are not going to untie Cheney or turn the loud music off until he endorses the agreement.

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Madison, Wis.: Some of us here in the "devil's quarry" or whatever Bill O'Reilly called it the other day have noticed the extreme snarkiness you share with Messrs. Harris and Babington, and maybe VandeHei (shout out to Sconny, yo!). Is that some sort of prerogative for being a Post political reporter? Have you all started some Snark Club? If so, who's the club president?

Dana Milbank:

Yes, Tom Edsall is president of the club, which we call "Jumping the Snark." As for VandeHei, stop Badgering us, Cheesehead.

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Alexandria, Va.: OK, so torture is out. But we still can show them that toenail ad- that will make them talk, and fast..

Dana Milbank: Not necessarily. The Uniform Code of Military Justice allows the showing of toenail fungus ads only after all other measures -- including ads for intestinal remedies and adult incontinence products -- have already been applied.

At any rate, they're having the cloture vote on the Patriot Act now. I've got to dash. It's been a pleasure and, indeed, a Froomkin.

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