Post Politics Hour

Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com Political Columnist/Blogger
Tuesday, March 28, 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.

washingtonpost.com Political Columnist/Blogger Chris Cillizza was online Tuesday, March 28, at 11 a.m. ET .

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The transcript follows.

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Chris Cillizza: Good morning. The resignation of White House chief of staff Andy Card this morning looks likely to be the dominant news story of the day but the debate over the depth and breadth of immigration reform, which is expected to begin today on Capitol Hill, is sure to claim center stage by week's end.

Lots of questions already in the queue so let's get to them.

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Washington, D.C.: I just saw the headline about Andrew Card resigning, and Bolten to replace him...do you get the sense that this is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? There doesn't seem to be any actual new blood or new ideas coming in.

Thanks!

Chris Cillizza: Lots of Titanic references inre the Card resignation/Bolten elevation.

While I don't think the switch will make President George W. Bush the "king of the world" (ugh) in the eyes of those in his party calling for new blood, it does signal that he is aware of his current political situation.

Card was clearly worn down from the incredibly long hours he was working as the longest serving chief of staff since Sherman Adams tenure in the Eisenhower Administration and Bush needed to make a change -- even if it was only a symbolic one.

The real question is whether Josh Bolten is the first in a series of changes within the White House inner circle or whether his elevation is an isolated incident.

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Pocatello, Idaho: Is Card the scapegoat for the Bush administration blunders and criminal acts (e.g.. unjustified preemptive war, torture, rendition, domestic spying, etc.).

Chris Cillizza: I wouldn't go that far but I would say that Card is clearly a loyal foot soldier in the Bush Administration and recognized that change was necessary to convince people that the president and the party was beginning a political comeback.

I think that Card's recognition of this political reality corresponded nicely with his weariness from more than five years in a difficult and stressful job.

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Rotterdam, N.Y.: Will Andy Card's decision to cash in his chips (couldn't resist the pun) make one single bit of difference anywhere except in the world of the prattling pundits and the White House elbow-to-the-throat types?

Chris Cillizza: And now for a gambling metaphor....

It's too early to know how Card's resignation will change the political debate -- if at all. Card is not a high-profile member of the Bush Administration and many average Americans may not even know who he is.

Again, I think Card's departure is important largely in a symbolic way. The departure of the White House chief of staff sends a signal that the President recognizes that change needs to be made in order to improve his political standing and that of the Republican party heading into the 2006 midterms.

Card is clearly not primarily responsible for these problems but Republicans are hoping his departure signals a new direction for the party.

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Arlington, Va.: The question of the morning...did Andrew Card jump or was he pushed? What changes will Bolten bring?

Chris Cillizza: One more on Card.

I don't think a screw up on his part led to his dismissal although I would leave a final judgment to my better informed colleagues -- Peter Baker and Michael Fletcher -- who cover the White House for the Post.

Rumors of Card's departure had been floated for months. Remember that the average tenure of a White House chief of staff is a little more than two years. Card more than doubled that average.

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Rochester, N.Y.: On immigration reform: are Tom Tancredo and others under real pressure from the White House to tone down some of their anti-immigrant rhetoric? Or is the White House trying to play both sides of the fence here by letting Tancredo say what the isolationist base wants to here while at the same making sure not to alienate Latinos, who are the fastest growing voting bloc? Is it even possible to do both or does something have to give? Also: how big will this issue be in the 2006 midterms?

Chris Cillizza: I don't think Tom Tancredo and the White House chat all that much. The lack of a relationship between the Colorado Congressman and the Bush Administration is no big secret.

Tancredo has long been out of step with the Bush folks on immigration and has refused to back down -- making him persona non grata at the White House.

I think immigration could well be a major issue in the 2006 midterm elections especially if Congress is unable to do anything to allay peoples' concerns about the national security risks posed by porous borders.

That said, barring some cataclysmic event, the major issue on voters' minds in November is likely to be our ongoing involvement in Iraq and the state of the economy. Any poll testing national priorities shows those two issues dominating the landscape.

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Washington, D.C.: Good morning Chris-

How informed do you think Americans are regarding the immigration issue and the un-documented population? I get the sense that it's not a huge concern for middle America, the Northwest, or the Northeast. Do you think I am misguided?

Chris Cillizza: I actually think immigration is on the minds of voters everywhere in the country regardless of geography.

While it's been a issue in places like California, Texas and Florida (among others) for a longer period of time, the influx of immigrants into this country (both legally and illegally)is now impacting states all across the country.

In middle America (Iowa, Kansas etc.) as well as the pacific northwest immigrants comprise a large sector of the agriculture industry. Any law that would force large numbers of these immigrants back to their country of origin would create a major hole in that industry.

Immigration has become a national issue.

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Bethesda, Md.: The Senate Democrats and Republicans seem to be caving in to the protests last weekend concerning illegal immigration. I cannot believe the citizens of this country want to give amnesty to 12 million illegal immigrants. The democrats want the Hispanic vote and republicans want support from their corporate supporters who hire illegals. In the middle are the vast majority of Americans who do not believe amnesty is an answer and believe crimes are being committed by the illegals and the companies that knowingly hire them. Don't both parties risk losing their major supporters while they placate these criminals?

Chris Cillizza: The immigration issue poses major risks for both Democrats and Republicans. The Post's Michael Fletcher and Shailagh Murray wrote a great story in today's edition detailing those challenges and how the parties are hoping to navigate them.

The problem for politicians is that there are huge special interests (the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce for example)who favor amnesty while there are considerable segments of their constituents who want the laws enforced and illegal immigrants sent back to their native countries.

Rarely in politics does a dichotomy like this emerge and, as you can tell by all the dithering of recent days, it makes politicians very uncomfortable.

If I had to predict what would come of this immigration debate, I would say very little. In an election year, anything other than incremental change around the edges of the issue would surprise me.

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washingtonpost.com: Tougher Enforcement May Jeopardize Support , ( Post, March, 28, 2006 )

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Chris. I was taken by the multitudes that came out to protest the House version of the immigration bill all across the country last weekend. Would you say there is a chance that their message is being heard by any senators this week, or will legislators be able to ignore these demonstrations? Thanks

Chris Cillizza: I, too, was surprised by the massive numbers that turned out in marches across the country.

I do think that politicians were watching these sorts of events closely and such a huge turnout by the Latino community against a strict immigration bill will give many Members pause when the debate begins in earnest later today.

Again, I think the strong feelings on both sides of this issue almost ensures that little substantive change is enacted this year. Politicians are wary of any issue in an election year that doesn't provide a clear win for them.

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Seattle, Wash.: Welcome back! I'm a resident in Washington State. How in danger is Senator Maria Cantwell? Her opponent Mike McGavick has gotten some decent press, but the local Republicans don't seem as jazzed about him as they have about other recent races.

Chris Cillizza: I can't do a live online chat without fielding a few purely political questions.

McGavick's challenge to Cantwell in Washington State benefits, I think, from the general dearth of top-notch recruits fielded by Senate Republicans in this election.

When I met McGavick in person last year I was impressed by him. He made his fortune in business but also has a political background having worked for former Sen. Slate Gordon. So, he is not likely to fall into the common trap of businessmen-turned-politicians to simply try and run a campaign like a company.

That said, Cantwell hasn't done anything to make her particularly vulnerable. She won by an extremely narrow margin in 2000 (knocking off Gordon) but she sits in a Democratic-leaning state and is likely to benefit from a national environment that favors her party.

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Des Moines, Iowa: The latest polls have the Iowa gubernatorial race tied between Culver and Nussle. Is this a problem for Nussle considering that his opponent became his running mate?

Chris Cillizza: The Iowa governors race is one of the most fascinating contests on the board for November.

Rep. Jim Nussle is probably the strongest candidate Republicans could have fielded (extremely strong fundraiser, base in a Democratic area of the state) and Democrats have a spirited three-way primary with Secretary of State Chet Culver (the son of former Sen. John Culver) as the current frontrunner.

I think polls that show the race between Nussle and Culver essentially tied should be taken with a grain of salt at this point. Neither man has really engaged the other and it's not even clear that Culver will be the Democratic nominee.

What the polls do show is that this race is close right now and will likely remain extremely close. Iowa is a battleground state on the national level so both parties want to elect a governor from their side in 2006 to help organizationally in 2008.

Expect major spending by the two national parties here when the fall rolls around.

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Washington, D.C.: Bill Frist's foray into immigration policy and politics with his own bill seems designed solely to enhance his presidential prospects. Is he at risk of hurting himself by seeming to make the majority leader's post a tool for his naked political ambitions?

Chris Cillizza: I think it's easy to see the actions of potential 2008 candidates on hot-button issues solely through the lens of presidential politics but I think it is a mistake to do so.

The reality is that oftentimes politicians make decisions based on their own beliefs not necessarily on what is politically expedient (GASP!). I am not naive enough to think that politicians don't take into account the political ramifications of their issue positions but I don't think that is the sole guiding force on what issues they decide to speak out on.

In that vein, I am willing to believe that Frist's stance on immigration is born not solely out of political expediency but rather from at least some sense of conviction on the issue.

Similarly, I would disagree with those who cast Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold's call for the president to be censured as a purely political gambit. I, for one, believe that Feingold truly believes the president has broken the law and should be reprimanded regardless of the political impact on his own presidential aspirations.

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Austin, Tex.: With all the talk about the Republicans possibly losing their majorities in both the House and Senate, how likely do you think that scenario will actually play out?

Chris Cillizza: Although I make my living by writing about events that are months and often years away, I think it's too early to make hard and fast predictions about whether Republicans will lose their House and/or Senate majorities in 2006.

Do I think it is possible? Yes. Do I think it's likely? No.

One factor to consider when trying to determine which party will control the House is that many filing deadlines have yet to close and until they do we won't know whether one party or the other was able to convince a top-tier recruit into the race at the last minute or whether a long-serving Member decided to bow out of a competitive seat.

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Central, N.J.: I have a 2006 election question: how are the "up for grabs" congressional districts decided? I have been surprised that my district (NJ 7th) is not considered in play in most columns I have read on the subject. My congressman (Ferguson) was elected only barely in 2000 and it is my understanding that NJ redistricted such that my district could be considered more Democratic now. I don't necessarily count the results of the past couple of elections (which went R) due to the terror issue. I would think my district at least has a chance to change to the blue column, I guess I have two questions: what do you think about my district, and also do you think more districts may be in play this year than people think?

Chris Cillizza: On its face, the 7th district in New Jersey should be competitive between the parties but Democrats have not seriously contested it since Ferguson won it narrowly in 2000.

The district was actually made slightly more Republican in the 2001 redistricting process, going from a 49 percent Bush district in 2000 to a 53 percent Bush district in 2004.

Democrats are running a state Assemblywoman against Ferguson but, to be honest, I haven't heard much talk about her in national Democratic circles.

Given the swing nature of the seat, however, a strong Democratic wave nationally could knock off someone like Ferguson.

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Washington, D.C.: Hiya Chris, how will Michael Bolton continue his musical career now that he is taking on additional responsibilities of Chief of Staff?

Chris Cillizza: All I know is that when it comes to Michael Bolton it that doesn't get any better than when he sings "When a Man Loves a Woman".

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Chris Cillizza: That's all folks! Please make sure to check The Fix daily (or hourly) to get the latest in political news and notes.

We are drawing ever closer to the election and I for one am getting more excited by the day. Looking forward to the next time we can chat.

Chris

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