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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Wednesday, February 8, 2006 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 Congressional reporter Shailagh Murray was online Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 11 a.m. EST to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

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Washington, D.C.: So, what's this odd spat between McCain and Obama? I understand that Obama may have backtracked from supporting McCain's proposal on campaign finance reform, but McCain's response just seems over the top. Is there something else going on here?

Shailagh Murray: Good morning everyone.

Interesting how much attention this little spat is getting. I think what we have here is an attempt by one Senate starlet to tarnish another. But it's sort of hard to follow, right? You're not the only person raising questions about McCain -- that letter was a bit long and emotionally charged.

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Washington, D.C.: I read the letters back and forth between McCain and Obama, and frankly, thought McCain came off looking like nothing more than a bruised ego, whereas Obama was above the fray. Point, Obama, I thought. So I went home from work, and looked at all the CNN and MSNBC coverage, and you'd have thought Obama had mugged John McCain's grandmother.

Either I am missing something from the content of the letters, or the press really does show a ridiculous slant for McCain that I suppose, as someone who likes McCain, I hadn't paid attention to before.

Shailagh Murray: Clearly, there is some sort of mysterious connection between McCain and the news media. Perhaps if Obama runs for president and buys us donuts every day, he will get fawning coverage someday, too. Although he gets plenty of that already. It's possible I suppose that McCain has taken a sort of protective interest in Obama, wants to cultivate him as an ally, and this is his form of discipline.

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Iowa: Any updates on the Abramoff investigation reaching into Congress? (And the White House according to the Wall Street Journal.) Or has the replacement of the lead on the investigation slowed things down?

Shailagh Murray: I don't cover the legal aspects of this case, but I can tell you that on Capitol Hill, there is a growing sense that the Abramoff web may not have quite the reach that Republicans initially feared. That may also reflect the relatively tepid response that lawmakers say they are getting from voters -- with the exception of DeLay, of course, who appears to be real political hot water back home.

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Louisville, Ky.: The administration newest budget proposal is especially disgusting. Only defense spending and rich people get increases, while the poor are further marginalized. At what point do you think Kansas gets the message, and stops voting over silly "moral" issues and starts voting for its economic well being?

Shailagh Murray: For the same reason that wealthy Democrats consistently vote against their own economic well being, I imagine that "Kansans" will stick to their conservative electoral patterns. People have different priorities -- and a lot of folks think moral issues are paramount.

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New York, N.Y.: What is happening to your newspaper??? How the heck did it evolve into an arm of the Bush/GOP regime?

Today's head-scratching headline: "With Tribute, Bush Reaches Out." First of all, his speech fell with a clunk -- the reaction was polite, but nothing more.

You gotta go about 10 paragraphs deep to find out that the prez got verbally slapped repeatedly, with only the briefest mention of the reception the critical comments received.

This administration lies, bullies and obfuscates every day. They've pushed New Orleans off the table, they don't care about black people. THEY JUST DON'T. You know it, and if you don't you shouldn't be in the newspaper business. Then again, at least half the people in journalism today should clearly be finding another job.

How disappointing. Shame on you.

Shailagh Murray: Thank you for your input. But if you want real drama, follow our coverage of the D.C. City Council's baseball debate.

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Ontario, Calif.: Shailagh,

My friend and I are sincerely hoping that you'll be able to help us resolve a disagreement we're having. We've put our dispute to numerous Post chatters previously, but so far, no one seems to know who's right.

It concerns Bush's domestic spying program. She says that other presidents have asserted the right to conduct warrantless searches for national security reasons, and that some have signed Executive Orders authorizing warrantless searches. She also says that there is court support for this position. I say that Bush is the first president to conduct warrantless searches, that there are no court precedents supporting what he is doing, and that the program -- despite whatever Gonzales testified to the other day - is patently illegal.

Please help us. Who's right? We've agreed to let the Post Politics Hour call it.

Thanks you.

Shailagh Murray: Oh boy. I will give this my best shot: Jamie Gorelick, the deputy attorney general for Clinton, said in the early 1990s that a physical search of a home without a warrant was lawful under executive powers. But at that time, physical searches weren't covered by the FISA law. They now are, and Gorelick says her statements are no longer applicable. If anyone -- Justice Dept officials, other experts -- are reading this chat, please feel free to weigh in. Of course, it will go on your permanent record.

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Boston, Mass.: Bob Ney seems to be having real troubles, too, as your own paper is reporting: "Ney has pledged to run regardless but is trailing his two little-known Democratic opponents in internal GOP surveys." I'm not sure why you're minimizing the effect of the Abramoff scandal.

Shailagh Murray: I'm not minimizing the scandal, but trying to give you a flavor of the current political mood. They could put Ney away for 20 years, indict 20 current and former staffers, and the scandal could still have little impact on the November elections. It's possible that circumstances will change, the mood will shift, etc. All we have is where things stand today.

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Silver Spring, Md: I try to apply certain plausibility tests to the information I receive. For example, how plausible is it that there is only one Jack Abramoff? How plausible is it that there is only one Duke Cunningham? I know that it is not the Post's job to print random conjecture or slander, but it seems to me that we get caught up in a single case, when the indications are that the case highlights a pattern. Keep digging!

Shailagh Murray: Here's a bit of media self criticism. I'm not prepared to say that lots more lobbyists and/or lawmakers are greedy crooks. But I do think that the crusading spirit of many newspapers has been more or less snuffed out, either because the newspapers have disappeared, or because they have other priorities. For many members of Congress there's no local reporter keeping track of their golf buddies, legislative interests, campaign contributors, etc. They are never scrutinized. So who knows what they're up to? How many of you had huge parties in high school when your parents went out of town?

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Vienna, Virginia: I found the story in the NY Times to be very important that Congresswoman Wilson of New Mexico, a Republican member of the committee that oversees NSA and a former NSC employee AND former Air Force officer, is calling for an independent investigation of the current wiretap program. I didn't see this in The Post. What are your plans for coverage and what is the reaction to this news? For someone with this woman's credentials to break ranks and raise issues about this program seems to make her the John Murtha of this issue.

Shailagh Murray: I presume we will cover this, but am posting the message so folks know the story is out there...lots of e-mails on this one.

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Oklahoma City, Okla.: When Minnesota Democrats tried to turn the funeral of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone into a crass political rally, it probably cost them his Senate seat. Now former President Carter and other speakers use rites for Mrs. King to blast President Bush. Lots of folks think capitalizing on a decent person' s death the political gain is just plain bad manners. Will the Dems EVER learn????

Shailagh Murray: Another issue generating lots of mail this morning -- I'm sorry I didn't watch this because it sounds like it was quite an event.

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Washington, D.C.: I have a question that I have never seen addressed. Bush claims significant "war-time" executive powers. But Congress never declared war. How can Bush claim "war-time" powers when we're not at war. If Bush wants war-time powers, why doesn't he get Congress to declare war? This is really driving me nuts.

Shailagh Murray: My understanding is that Congress's authorization to use all necessary force against al Qaeda is considered tantamount to a war declaration.

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Richmond, Va.: "People have different priorities -- and a lot of folks think moral issues are paramount."

Exactly. Red-state evangelicals are not knuckle-dragging fools; they know what they are giving up. Evangelicals will vote Republican so long as Republicans convince them the Republican party will help them get what they want on values issues. Evangelicals view this as doing God's work. For evangelicals, if the choice is between doing God's work as they understand it, or not doing so in return for material gain, they will gladly suffer the consequences of giving up that material gain. They think that their reward for doing so will be all the greater. They view the promise of material gain in return for giving up their values as temptation and nothing more.

Shailagh Murray: An interesting reply...thank you.

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Alexandria, Va.: In reference to the previous question about warrantless wiretaps, President Nixon did it, and Martin Luther King was certainly followed by the same type of wiretapping.

Additionally, what do you make of Heather Wilson's motion to conduct a full investigation into the taps? Is she in trouble within her party? And do you think that this will provide the catalyst to lead to such an investigation?

Shailagh Murray: Heather Wilson, who is from New Mexico, is considered one of the more vulnerable Republican House incumbents. She is being challenged by Attorney General Patricia Madrid, who's been criticizing Wilson for going along with Bush on everything, in particular the war. So, perhaps Wilson's call this week is an indication that the issue is taking root out there in real America.

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washingtonpost.com: Campaign 2006: Key Races

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Wayne, N.J.: Do you think the fact that the Abramoff scandal hasn't made much traction with the general voting public is because the media has done such a great job portraying the corruption as bipartisan?

Shailagh Murray: I would bet lots of people just assume Washington is a pretty corrupt place, so they're not too surprised by it. Important to keep in mind: the torrent of corporate corruption over the past 10 years plus all the controversies related to the war have probably made people pretty cynical about authority in general.

Thanks to everyone for contributing...I'll be back a week from Monday. Cheers, Shailagh

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