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Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Monday, March 20, 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 Monday, March 20, at 11 a.m. ET .

The transcript follows.

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Frederick, Md.: Good morning Shailagh...who is Bush's strongest supporter on the Hill at this point in regards to the Senate? John Warner?

Shailagh Murray: Good morning everyone, sorry I'm running a few minutes late.

Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the big issues of the day: the Iraq anniversary, Bush's poll problems, the Feingold resolution, and so on.

As for the question below, I believe Bush's biggest ally in the Senate by about a million miles would be John McCain.

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RE-Katherine Harris: With her now running "I'm going to use the death of may father to my political advantage" campaign, will Katherine Harris' run for the Senate go down as one of the worst in history?

Shailagh Murray: Some fathers I suppose would be flattered by a daughter burning through her inheritance for a Senate seat. My father would not be one of those fathers, but hey, the rich are different from you and me.

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Washington, D.C.: I've been following new Sen. Bob Menendez since his appointment to the Senate. He's done a great job positioning himself on a big issue (port security) in an election year, as well as making himself "important" even as the most junior member. Does this happen when you have a smart member or a great staff, or is it a combination of both?

Shailagh Murray: Sen. Menendez was in the House for quite a while, and was a member of the leadership to boot. So he knows his way around the Capitol. That said, it looks like he could have a tough race for a full term -- he is not universally beloved among New Jersey Democrats, and his ability to win statewide has been questioned most infamously by former Sen. Bob Torricelli -- and say what you will about the Torch, but he was one shrewd political observer.

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New York, N.Y.: Before the invasion, Vice President Cheney said that we will be greeted as liberators. Ten months ago he said the insurgency was in its last throes. Yesterday, he said that both of these statements "were basically accurate, reflect reality."

Is the vice president the most clueless person on earth, or is he just a big liar?

Shailagh Murray: Here's how I look at that situation. Your kid is in 10th grade. Your kid is a C student. He/she is not an athlete, nor a gifted musician, basically not a standout in any way. Do you cash in the college fund and start shopping community college, or do you keep pushing, just in case something clicks? These guys have A LOT of time left in office. They can't concede anything.

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Poughkeepsie, N.Y.: "I believe Bush's biggest ally in the Senate by about a million miles would be John McCain."

Why is McCain so supportive of Bush right now?

Shailagh Murray: Two running theories: a desire to cultivate loyal Bush conservatives, particularly those with deep pockets, and/or a deeply embedded counterintuitive impulse.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Do you have any information on how much correspondence and telephone lobbying is going on from constituents to their Senators regarding the Feingold resolution? I support the resolution and called both of my senators (who are Republican, so just to let them know...), but am under the impression that there is a huge groundswell among Democrats for their party to stand in solidarity with Feingold on this issue. I'm aware of the polls, but believe that people who support Feingold are quite passionate. What is your impression?

Shailagh Murray: I will start by saying this: I wrote a story about Feingold last week that resulted in the angriest, most passionate email blizzard I have ever experienced. Clearly, this is an issue where blurry polls mask deeply held convictions on both sides, but particularly on the Left, where folks truly believe Bush is a war criminal.

That's a minority view. However, as Feingold points out, and I think he may be on to something, there has been a complacency in Washington since Sept. 11 that has extended with the Iraq war. Congress barely scrutinizes anything these days. Lawmakers in both parties are wary of undermining Bush when there are troops on the ground.

Talking to folks on the Hill, it is clear that the Feingold effort has touched a nerve in both parties. With Republicans, it exposes their great political weakness -- that they don't challenge Bush on anything. And Democrats are being pressed by their own base to stand up against Bush on this issue, to show they have backbone, and on the principle that in this instance Bush may in fact have violated the law.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: As to McCain you just said,

"Two running theories: a desire to cultivate loyal Bush conservatives, particularly those with deep pockets, and/or a deeply embedded counterintuitive impulse."

So you basically believe that McCain is full of it and his reputation as a "maverick" is a sham, right?

Shailagh Murray: Yeah, that's what I believe.

No, that's not what I believe, do you think I would declare McCain to be crazy on a company website? I was advancing a couple of theories that are floating around.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: The Philadelphia Inquirer provided a sensible discussion into the question of impeaching President Bush in yesterday's newspaper. It seems to me that outside the beltway the issue of censoring and impeaching the President is being treated without national panic, but within the beltway it is a radioactive subject that no one outside Conyers or Feingold will approach. My question: is this something on which the public may be ahead of Congress?

Shailagh Murray: Thank you for this thoughtful question.

Remember a while back, when the public was starting to go negative the war, but no one in Washington believed it, and it was considered radical to even suggest we'd ever leave the place?

I am reminded of that moment as I see all these folks squirm over the censure idea. Contrary to what you might expect of people who are willing to run for office, politicians are generally risk adverse, and don't like being first on anything controversial.

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Wilmington, N.C.: Your give up on university "or do you keep pushing, just in case something clicks?" way of thinking about the administration's intransigence is interesting. Do you think that analogy might be more apt if it included a risk of maiming and violent death? The reason I ask is that those results are happening every day, including right now, as we are here typing about the cashing in the college fund analogy.

Shailagh Murray: Yes, I realize that my analogy didn't take into account the gravity of war. But in a way, the war has become a sort of surreal feature of life in Washington, so politicized like everything else that when the VP speaks, it's assumed he's mouthing propaganda, and if a Democrat or someone else criticizes the war, he or she denounced as unpatriotic. If it all looks like political posturing from where you-all sit, I can assure you, it's even more so from our vantage point here in the belly of the beast.

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Zibo, Shandong Province, China: Donald Rumfeld said that "history is not made up of daily headlines, blogs on Web sites or the latest sensational attack. History is a bigger picture, and it takes some time and perspective to measure accurately".

First I agree with him that history is a bigger picture, but history is supposed to be able to teach lessons that we can use. It's apparent that Mr. Rumfeld and Mr. Bush slept through history class on the Middle East ,especially on Iran and Iraq. Did they look at the history of those two countries? Especially their political histories? If they had they may have discovered that a strong man has always ruled in that region. Democracy is unheard of in the Arab world. From the Shah of Iran, to Khomeni, from The sheiks of the Burbers and Bedowins in Iraq to Saddam. If they had taken the time to review the history then maybe they would have learned 3 years and 2,000 American lives ago that their plan isn't going to work.

Shailagh Murray: Life would be absolutely no fun whatsoever if we learned everything history has to teach us!

Thank you China. I like this Rumsfeld quote. Who wouldn't endorse that view? But the historical assessment of Iraq will be based on the facts as they are unfolding today, and the perception is that those facts are not tracking in the White House's favor.

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Mclean, Va.: Is Russ Feingold of Russellmania the only senator who actually takes a look at what is going on and then acts as their conscience dictates? Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Barack Obama--none of these guys will even said Boo, unless it is a politically calculated, cameras on, Boo! that might somehow serve to keep them in Congress. This is why people believe the Democrats are the party of no ideas. The Republicans may be the party of bad ideas, and it is time for someone to stand up. Like it or not, Feingold did. What do you say about the lack of concrete ideas coming from the Democratic leadership?

Shailagh Murray: To be fair to Democrats, neither party has an interesting and fresh slate of ideas. The difference is that Democrats have been scampering around trying to assemble one for months, all very publicly, in their usual navel-gazing, disorganized way. Feingold is taking a different angle -- that people aren't looking for brilliant ideas these days, but for backbone and leadership. He, and a lot of others in both parties, believe that's what voters will be looking for in November.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Rep. Murtha laid down the hard line yesterday.(I paraphrase)"Accept Rumsfeld's resignation. Convince Cheney to step down. The 2006 elections will be the Bush referendum, and you will lose big."

That is the story today. We don't have a parliamentary system where we can hold a "no confidence" vote. The 2006 elections are to be the national referendum on the Bush presidency, and there isn't any John Kerry to run against. Keep the cameras rolling, this is about to get interesting!

Shailagh Murray: Check out an interesting piece on today's WSJ editorial page, by Fred Barnes, arguing for a complete house cleaning.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: Hello and thanks for this discussion,

In yesterday's Ombudscolumn, Deborah Howell wrote:"There's one big intangible in all this: a paper's connection with its readers. Readers who feel respected and who love their newspaper don't depart easily. If Post journalists write every story, take every photo, compose every headline and design every page with readers in mind, and the newspaper is printed well and delivered on time, The Post will be fine."

Is this meant to be ironic? If she means this, why does she not respond to reader e-mails and concerns, or respond disdainfully when she does? Does The Post have some plans to improve the reader-advocacy situation that she is foreshadowing? I think a lot of long-time readers have been turned off by her aloof approach to the ombudsman position and feel anything but respected and loving towards The Post.

Shailagh Murray: I thought I'd end with this comment, in defense of Deborah and to vent for just ONE MINUTE about the absolutely overwhelming volume of hate mail that floods our way when a story irritates the bloggers. Let's just say it creates a distorting picture. I know I speak for my colleagues in saying I love hearing from readers; like these chats, it's interesting and useful to know how people interpret stories and news events, and to hear ideas that occur to them in their reading, etc. Unfortunately, normal readers now share the stage (or at least the inbox) with people who, let's just say, aren't open to other viewpoints, don't read newspapers to be informed, and who are predisposed to thinking reporters are biased, ignorant, or worse. When I was a reporter years ago in Florida, I lived next door to a great family; the husband was a detective, the wife drove a school bus, and every story I wrote, I knew they would read. That was a very useful image to keep in mind. The media world is obviously in the throes of huge changes, and our "base," to put it in political terms, isn't so easily defined.

Anyway, keep those thoughtful questions and observations coming. Thanks, and have a good week, Shailagh

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