Post Politics Hour

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Peter Baker
Washington Post White House Reporter
Wednesday, March 22, 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 White House reporter Peter Baker was online Wednesday, March 22, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

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Peter Baker: Good morning everyone. Thanks for joining us today. The president's on the road in West Virginia, the Supreme Court's in session and various congress people are doing the things congress people tend to do, so let's get started.

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Dover, Del.: President Bush was on his game at the press conference. He was emotional, sincere, and touched me when he said that if he didn't believe we could win he'd bring the boys home. I'm a believer! I have always backed him, but may have started to wander onto the fringes of questioning our strategy. No more. I'm with him, this country and our troops.

Peter Baker: Lots of reaction today to President Bush's news conference yesterday. As usual, it was dominated by Iraq. If you had a chance to watch, send in your reaction and I'll post a few.

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Brunswick, Ga.: Now that President Bush had stated that the next President will have to decide when to bring the troops home from Iraq, won't that question become a defining issue in the presidential primaries for every candidate in both parties? My personal feeling is this is Bush's war and he needs to get it over before he leaves office.

Peter Baker: Another view from the news conference. The biggest news probably was the president's statement that the question of when all U.S. troops would be out of Iraq "will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq." That's probably not really a surprise, in that most people in Washington have expected that at least some U.S. troops would remain there for many years (look how long we've stayed in Germany and Japan after World War II, or even Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War). But it was still striking to hear the president articulate it that way, making clear he does not view this as ending completely in the next three years.

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Tallahassee, Fla.: President Bush yesterday said that the decision to remove U.S. troops from Iraq may very well be up to future administrations or Iraqi governments. If pressure from the American public to withdrawal U.S. forces increases what avenues would Congress have to bring the troops home? Is the only route to simply cut off funding?

Peter Baker: In theory I imagine they could cut off funding, but as a practical and political matter, it's hard to see a Congress inserting itself that deeply into war decision making. True, the Constitution left it to Congress to declare war, but that hasn't really happened since World War II and in the modern era Congress has been extremely reluctant to try to force a president's hand in such a matter legislatively.

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Albany, N.Y.: Could you comment on the practice (or non-practice) of follow up questions at a presidential news conference?

So much of what Bush says in public is boilerplate and repetitive. It seems to this viewer/listener/reader that follow up questions, either from the original questioner or from the next man or woman called, could elicit some additional information or insight.

Thank you.

Peter Baker: Good question. Many of us try to follow up but it's not a given that we'll be able to. Those of us who are louder, more assertive or downright obnoxious have a better shot. It would be a good idea, if failing that, the next reporter might follow up on his/her colleague's question. But organizing reporters from different news organizations is like herding cats.

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Cortez, Colo.: I watched the President's news conference last night on C-Span. I never realized how carefully you all have to choose the words you use to ask your question. Helen Thomas finally got to ask a question but she gave him a word (want) he could spin on. He seemed very testy when he got a straight question he couldn't spin such as the question asked by the man from San Francisco.

Peter Baker: You do have to be careful in your wording, because he can seize on a particular word he doesn't like or agree with and focus his answer on debating that, rather than addressing the underlying issue.

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Ohio: Could you explain The Post's decision to slash part of its staff and turn around and hire an extremist bloviator to post his hate-filled divisive name calling blog on washingtonpost.com?

Your new blogger has posted patently false, hateful, divisive speech, and of course there's no comments allowed from the readers. Is this unilateral hatemongering the new face of The Post?

Does "striving for balance" take the form of hiring a right-wing mouthpiece to spew bile to "balance" out factual articles by potentially-left-leaning real journalists?

Should we, the readers, now give up on any semblance of integrity from the Post, or will the organization either hire a Blue State blogger or can the Red one?

Peter Baker: Lots of questions/comments on this today. I'm going to post one other and then respond.

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Richmond, Va: I just want to make a comment on all the complaints in yesterdays discussion group about WP adding a conservative blogger people- get a life! The Post is not a small publication; there is plenty of room to add diverse opinions in the section of the paper that is geared specifically for decisive opinions. I think it makes The Post a healthier paper. The people yesterday were acting like ALL there is within the pages of The Post is conservative writing. The Post has plenty of liberal bloggers to select from, adding a conservative blogger adds to the paper not takes away from.

Peter Baker: Thanks to you both for your interest. The Post did launch a new blog yesterday from a more conservative point of view. If you like it or don't like it, feel free to make that known to the people who have something to do with it. But that isn't me. I'm just a reporter. It does seem to me that if you don't like it, there's an easy solution -- don't read it. There's lots of different voices and sources of information and opinions on washingtonpost.com and if you only want to sample those that you agree with, feel free.

For those who want to lodge a complaint or offer a compliment, you can email executive.editor@wpni.com or go to the post site's main blog page, which we'll post after this answer.

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washingtonpost.com: New Blog: Red America

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washingtonpost.com: post.blog

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New York, N.Y.: In The Post piece this morning on funds going to Bush allies, the term conservative appears 14 times while the term liberal appears only twice. Yet groups such as Planned Parenthood is merely an "abortion rights group," and when complaints surface in the story from the Sexuality Education and Information Council of the United States (SIECUS), they are not liberal, merely "one of the most outspoken critics of abstinence-only sex education programs."

If the press is going to engage in labeling such groups (which I think they should), shouldn't it be even across the board? This happens every day in the Post, NY Times and the rest of the MSM.

Peter Baker: Hi, thanks for the question. You touch on a sensitive and tough issue for newspapers -- when do we label a person or an organization by political views? Some say we should never do it, but I think that can be a disservice to the reader. I agree that if we identify conservative groups as conservative, we ought to identify liberal groups as liberal. In some cases, though, that's not as easy as it sounds. I've found that many conservatives have no problem identifying themselves that way, but some liberals don't like the term or see themselves that way, others even prefer the term "progressive." So can we identify someone as believing an ideology that they don't say they believe in? The best solution is to say a group advocates a particular issue, rather than just say conservative or liberal. For instance, we can say "the NRA, a group that promotes gun rights," or "Handgun Control, a group that promotes gun restrictions." It's more precise anyway. As for Tom Edsall's smart story this morning, it probably uses the word conservative more than liberal because it's about conservative groups getting these grants. I don't think counting necessarily tells us anything in a story that's predominantly about groups on one side of the political spectrum.

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Tampa, Fla.: Has anyone asked Bush or the White House about what they think of the man on trial in Afghanistan who could be executed for converting to Christianity? It seems outrageous that the U.S. would not at least lodge a protest. Or is freedom of religion an ideal they are willing to compromise?

Peter Baker: It's a good question. I'm sure it will come up the next time we have a briefing with Scott McClellan. Since they're on the road today, there won't be another formal briefing until tomorrow. But my understanding is that Nick Burns, the undersecretary of state, addressed the issue yesterday at a briefing with reporters.

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washingtonpost.com: Grants Flow To Bush Allies On Social Issues (Post, March 22)

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Colorado Springs, Colo.: Comparisons between Iraq and the Cold War in Japan and Germany beg the question. We did not fight active insurgencies in either place. This will soon be the longest war in American history, I believe.

Peter Baker: Well, Vietnam lasted a decade (not counting the French war there before we arrived). Donald Rumsfeld has said on a number of occasions that insurgencies typically last a decade. "Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years," he said on "Fox News Sunday" last year.

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Ellicott City, Md.: Why does New York, New York require that all groups be labeled conservative or liberal? Some are neither. Planned Parenthood I thought were apolitical, or am I wrong here.

Peter Baker: Well, this is what I mean when I say this issue is difficult for journalists. Most people probably view Planned Parenthood as liberal, and they certainly advocate for policy positions that are generally liberal, but the organization itself may object and say, no, we're apolitical.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Why does the press give President Bush a pass on domestic surveillance without obtaining warrants. The issues is not whether or not to do it, the issue is why is it being done without a warrant, what is wrong with the FISA process, and how come this is not illegal?

Thank You.

Peter Baker: I can hardly imagine why anyone would think the press has given a pass on the NSA surveillance program given that it was the press that revealed it in the first place and has devoted acres of newsprint to it ever since.

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Oklahoma City, Okl.: When are we going to rename "Camp David?" It is a biased title where foreign U.S. policy is discussed and planned. How does a nation, Israel, get away with stealing land by murdering people and then enforcing their land grab by continuing the violence? This, all supported by our Bush administration. Then we wonder why the threat of terrorism still exists. When are Americans going to stand up and say that we no longer support this foreign policy?

Peter Baker: Hmm, not sure I see the connection. Camp David was named by President Dwight Eisenhower after his grandson.

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Washington, D.C.: How are Bush's approval ratings impacting congressional races and campaigns at this point?

Peter Baker: Hard to say. Some Republicans clearly are trying to distance themselves from the president. Not a single member of the Ohio Republican congressional delegation showed up when the president went to Cleveland this week. (They pleaded scheduling conflicts.) At the same time, polls show that congressional Democrats aren't doing any better than Bush in approval ratings. So at the moment it all still looks up for grabs to me.

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Peter Baker: For those who are curious, there has been a scare at the White House this morning over a suspicious package. Here's the latest on that incident.

washingtonpost.com: White House Sealed Due to Suspicious Package (Post, March 22)

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Bethesda, Md.: The cost of the Iraq War to the average taxpayer is now up above $1,500. I've calculated this from the totals allocated by Congress and an IRS figure of roughly 130 million taxpayers. Yet I never see the per capita expense spelled out by the mainstream media. Why is that?

Peter Baker: Maybe we're not good at math? We do report the overall costs. Just the other week in the Outlook section there was a graphic noting that in inflation-adjusted terms, the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has now surpassed that of the Korean War.

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Silver Spring, Md.: You point out that Sec. Rumsfeld has said that insurgencies often last ".. 10 years..". Not to beat a dead horse, but the Secretary once proudly told the country that he doubted this one would last six months. I find it intellectually dishonest to allow the administration to lower expectations for Iraq without acknowledgement of their earlier triumphalism and flawed predictions.

Peter Baker: We've pointed out on numerous occasions how the administration's optimistic projections have fallen flat -- including in a thoughtful piece in yesterday's newspaper by my colleague Jim VandeHei.

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washingtonpost.com: Old Forecasts Come Back to Haunt Bush Jim VandeHei (Post, March 21)

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Bedford, Mass.: It strikes me that Bush is waging a new campaign: the war on journalists. To be sure, some of the fake folksiness is intended to humanize him, but in the last two press conferences Bush has taken repeated digs at reporters--questioning their professionalism, fairness and seriousness. Do all Presidents do this? Does the press corp share the perception that the White House is trying to damage the credibility of journalists?

Peter Baker: All politicians take shots at the press, particularly those who are in political trouble. But I haven't taken any digs by the president at news conferences as especially hostile or anything. In fact, compared to most, Bush isn't particularly thin-skinned about reporters and doesn't seem to take what we write personally. As a journalist, I'm much more worried about attempts by the government to hunt down sources and hide information.

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Peter Baker: Well, once again time catches up with us before we can get to even most of the questions. As usual, it's been great. We really appreciate your interest, your insights and your inquiries. Keep coming back.

Best, Peter

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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. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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