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Dan Balz
Washington Post Chief Political Reporter
Monday, May 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 chief political reporter Dan Balz was online Monday, May 8, at 11 a.m. ET.

Political analysis from Post reporters and interviews with top newsmakers. Listen live on Washington Post Radio or subscribe to a podcast of the show.

The transcript follows.

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Dan Balz: Good morning to everyone on a chilly, damp morning in Washington. We had quite a newsy Friday last week with the resignation of Porter Goss and the Sunday talk shows stirred up more on the nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden to succeed him. Lots of politics cooking here and on the other side of the ocean, President Bush's ally in the war on terror, Prime Minister Tony Blair, is under pressure to step down and hand off power to Gordon Brown because of Labor's poor showing last week in local elections. So we'll get started.

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Vancouver, Wash.: Dan - If Karl Rove is indicted by the special prosecutor, would that side-line him for the 2006 election cycle ?

Thanks

Dan Balz: Yes. If Rove ends up indicted, he will have to resign his position at the White House and will be in no position to play an active role in the 2006 midterms. The situation is the same as with Vice President Cheney's former Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, who resigned immediately and has been preparing for his trial. There are a couple of other questions related to this wondering whether Rove could step down but end up over at the Republican National Committee. Highly unlikely.

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Baltimore, Md.: Mr. Balz: Re the president's presumed pick to head the CIA: I am now truly baffled. After sending morale plummeting with Porter Goss, the president now proposes to (1) send it plummeting even further by putting a military man in charge of a civilian agency and (2) choosing a man sure to create contentious confirmation hearings. Hayden is so contentious, in fact, that the head of the House Intelligence committee quickly went on record opposing him. This all seems amazingly tone deaf--but that's been this administration's shortcoming for some time now.

Dan Balz: The statement by House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra caught more than a few people by surprise and I suspect some of those were White House officials. There have been other military officers who have headed the CIA in the past. From what our intel team says, the issue is sticky this time because of the role Secretary Rumsfeld has played in enhancing the Pentagon's position in the overall intelligence community. As for contentious hearings, while that is possible, the White House may welcome further debate on the domestic surveillance program, believing that, while controversial, it is widely popular with the American people.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: In politics today, officially, there is no such thing as failure, incompetence, and accountability. I listened to the president today say that Mike Hayden is "supremely qualified." Everyone the president appoints is "supremely qualified" right up to the moment they resign "to spend more time with their families." After that, whispers of incompetence, and talk show speculation replace anything resembling an honest assessment of qualifications and shortcomings.

I have no idea how qualified Mr. Hayden is. What I do know is that it hardly matters because the official pronouncement is one of being "supremely qualified." I can only hope there is some reality behind the statement.

As you can see I'm very frustrated.

Dan Balz: Thanks for you posting. I'll post a few others that will give you all a flavor of this CIA matter.

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Bethesda, Md.: It seems that Republican's are promoting Hillary Clinton for president more than Democrats. Why is that?

Dan Balz: I wouldn't agree with that. Many Republicans I talk to see her as a pretty formidable general election candidate. She obviously carries enough baggage to cause many Democrats to wonder whether she is really the person to lead them back to the White House in 2008. But Republicans see her as someone who has star quality, who is a very disciplined politician and one who has been politically shrewd while in the Senate.

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Waterville, Maine: Dan,

Is the controversy over General Hayden's appointment likely to result in a "Harriet Miers" moment whereby the nominee eventually withdraws under fire and Bush is accused on cronyism or will the Republicans relent on this one?

Dan Balz: Far too early to tell. One key will be Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas. If he's firmly on board, Hayden's chances will be much improved. There is GOP opposition to Hayden, but at this early stage, it doesn't have the intensity we saw the day Harriet Miers was announced.

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Hampton Cove, Ala.: I am sick to death of all this talk of low morale at the CIA. They are a bunch of pampered aging hippies more worried about dental insurance and D.C. home prices than the safety of our country. Are these wimps supposed to be worthy of being spies? I hope someone compares their morale to that of double amputees home from Iraq. They have high morale and had to deal with insurgents, and the CIA has only had to deal with traffic around Langley and undermining a government they don't like, (the one elected by the American people). Their list of failures date back 20 years. Purge the agency, and we will be better off. Stop babysitting the yuppies at the CIA.

Dan Balz: Here is another view of the CIA matter.

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Avon Park, Fla.: As a Democrat it concerns me greatly that pundits and Democrats have raised expectations of November's elections so high. People seem to forget that redistricting has entrenched incumbents that make it hard for Democrats to knock out the 15 Republicans. If Democrats gain seats but don't win control of Congress, can they plausibly spin that into a victory for them?

Dan Balz: I think your concerns are legitimate. Democrats certainly will gain seats, but if they don't win back the House or Senate, they run the risk of losing the post-election spin wars. The chairman of the House Democratic campaign committee, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, had a meeting last week where he warned his folks not to be overconfident. At this point, it's too early to project how many districts truly will be in play in October.

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Bethesda, Md.: Have Pelosi and Reid been effective leaders in encouraging voters to view the Democratic Party more positively or are they functioning better internally with their Congressional colleagues? If the goal of these positions were to make a Democratic Congress most appealing to the American people in general, who would be the best at these jobs? In your view, who would be most effective externally? Thanks.

Dan Balz: Senator Reid and Representative Pelosi have not earned particularly high marks for their external performances as national spokespersons for the party, but that in part reflects the party's divisions. To be fair to them, Senate Minority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert have not been seen as strong performers on this front either. Reid and Pelosi have supporters within their respective caucuses and Reid did an effective job in holding Democratic senators together in opposition to the president's Social Security. But it's very difficult for an opposition party leader in Congress to serve as the party's spokesperson. As to who would be stronger, I think we'll have to wait for the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries.

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Boston, Mass.: Is there any way that Bob Ney can stick around to run for re-election with Neil Volz pleading? It seems somewhat fantastic that he would keep on running.

Dan Balz: Good question. We'll see soon.

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McLean, Va.: Do you think it is likely that Tony Blair will be forced out by his own party and if so, how do you think the relationship between the UK and the U.S. will change with Gordon Brown as the new PM?

Dan Balz: Blair said this morning that will not set a date for his departure, but seemed to go farther than he had in the past in making clear he will be gone well before the next election there. I believe the relationship between the U.S. and UK could change some with Gordon Brown as prime minister. Blair has stronger ties to Labor's left wing than Blair, but Brown has been a strong supporter of Blair's position on Iraq and he is far more a student of American history and politics than was Blair. In addition, all prime ministers see one of their responsibilities being to maintain good relations with the United States and certainly Brown would do that. If he takes over in the next year or so, the real issue will be his relationship with Bush's successor and whether the two of them will pursue a different path on some of these issues.

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Anonymous: Hi Dan,

Thanks for doing the chat. I know it's all fantastic speculation, but despite his statements to the contrary, do you foresee former VP Gore throwing his hat into the ring in the '08 presidential election? And if so, how do you think he would stand against those other more visible candidates like Vilsack, HRC, Edwards, Bayh and Warner?

Dan Balz: I think the chances of Gore running in 2008 are less than 50-50 but I suspect the reception to the new movie about Gore and climate change could have some influence on his thinking. If he joins the race, you would see him quickly consolidating a lot of support on the left and a race between Gore and Senator Clinton would be a clash that would rival if not eclipse the battle between President Carter and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in the 1980 primaries. People would pay money to see that play out.

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Montgomery, Ohio (suburban Cincinnati): Dan,

I was wondering if new White House press secretary Tony Snow is going to give up his moonlighting career as a radio pitchman? I'm writing this with some humor because I heard a radio advertisement for a company (I think it does lawn care) in Fairfield, Ohio, in suburban Cincinnati, that began "This is Tony Snow," and there's Tony extolling the virtues of the company! The ad ran just before the CBS News on WKRC-AM in Cincinnati. He grew up in Sharonville, Ohio, also a Cincinnati suburb, so the local connection is there.

I know he took a pay cut, but perhaps the press corps could tease him about how badly he needs the money?

Dan Balz: I didn't know he did that sort of thing, and I assume he'll have to stop that now.

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Atlanta, Ga.: I was watching the MTP appearance yesterday, and you mentioned unease about the economy; do you suppose it could help if Bush and the GOP strongly touted economic growth recently?

Dan Balz: The White House team wants to promote any good news on the economy because they believe the president isn't getting enough credit for continued growth and job creation. But they know that things like gasoline prices have a much greater impact on people's attitudes than GDP figures, so they have to talk louder and more consistently to get that message through.

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Clifton, Va.: Most special ops folks and regular military have little faith in CIA analysis. This is not a recent occurrence. As a junior officer and Navy SEAL I learned the hard way that CIA estimates and analysis weren't worth the paper they were written on. I had little faith in the CIA after that. I hated writing the letters to the parents because the CIA messed up.

Dan Balz: Thanks for posting.

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New York, N.Y.: Do you have a sense of the early reaction of Christian conservatives to all the recent talk about John McCain or Rudy Giuliani as GOP presidential candidates? Seems to me that they would have to swallow awfully hard to take either one as a standard-bearer.

Dan Balz: Neither will be the first choice of many Christian conservatives, particularly Giuliani because of his position on abortion and same-sex marriage. McCain is pro-life, Giuliani is pro-choice. What they want to avoid is becoming the target of an effort among religious conservatives to deny them the nomination. McCain will be speaking at the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University commencement this weekend. We had an interesting piece in Sunday's Outlook about McCain and Falwell and Falwell wrote an op-ed piece in Sunday's New York Times exploring some of this.

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washingtonpost.com: John McCain: Can He Be a Falwell Republican?, (Post, May 7, 2006)

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Fairfax, Va.: Isn't the Goss resignation rather abrupt and mysterious in that no reason for it was offered by the White House? Yet the mainstream media is not aggressively following up on the possible "backstory". When Eleanor Clift raised the possibility of a connection to the Cunningham scandal and prostitution, she was slammed on the McLaughlin show. Is anyone at The Post looking into why Goss left or do he and the President get a media pass on this one?

Dan Balz: We're exploring as many angles as possible.

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Arlington, Va.: According to news reports, Rove's plan for re-electing Republicans is to attack the prospective Democratic committee chairman as a way to bring out the base. This strikes me as a White House-centric plan that ignores the needs of the people running in various districts who would probably rather run on customer service. Will the candidates listen to Rove?

Dan Balz: You're right that the people who run the House Republican campaign committee want to make these races as localized as possible, but with the president's approval ratings as low as they are, there is no way to avoid the national climate. Rove laid out a strategy for Republicans earlier this year, saying they should make the election a series of choices between Republicans and Democrats on issues like terrorism, taxes, judges, etc. The Republican argument is, no matter what you may think of us, the Democrats would be worse on issues you care about.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: There's a lot of '06 excitement and coverage now, and I know election cycles have changed, but how much focus and interest have non-political junkie voters actually put into the cycle? In some races, the candidates aren't determined yet.

Dan Balz: It's very early, as you suggest. People have opinions about the Bush presidency, about the war in Iraq, about whether they think this economy is good, bad or indifferent for them. But at this stage, most people probably don't know who's running for the House. TV ads have not started in most races and won't for a number of months. That's why it will be after Labor Day when we'll have a better sense of what might happen.

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Ellicott City, Md.: I would think Rudy Giuliani's biggest issue with the Christian conservatives would be his adultery.

Dan Balz: Thanks for posting.

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For Hampton Cove: News stories from Dana Priest and many others paint a different picture of the CIA. Information supporting an invasion was publicized; information showing an invasion to be unnecessary was shelved. The CIA ombudsman said that he had never seen such pressure brought to bear on analysts to supply the desired answer. A new competing "intelligence" group in the Pentagon provides cover for claims by Rumsfeld and Cheney. Later, the CIA was blamed for providing faulty intelligence. After that, a new politically-minded appointee punished anyone not toeing the administration line. Experienced career officers left in droves, leaving a bunch of newly-appointed and promoted yes-men.

Dan Balz: Thanks for posting.

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Oxford, Miss: Just thought it was worth pointing out that it doesn't matter what anyone (even Republicans) in the House thinks about the CIA nominee. All that matters is that he be approved by the Senate.

Dan Balz: That's true, but if you saw a big reaction against Hayden among House Republicans, that would signal broader problems for his nomination. We'll see if that develops.

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Raleigh. N.C.: We know what George Bush picked as the best moment of his presidency, the day he caught a big perch. (I assume he misunderstood the question!) What would you pick as the best moment of his presidency? I'm asking you to think like a political reporter, in the moment, and not as an historian.

P.S.-I would have picked the speech he gave after Sept. 11, in Congress.

Dan Balz: An interesting question. My hunch is that those around Bush would say the best day of his presidency was Sept. 14, 2001, which was the day he spoke at the National Cathedral and then flew to New York and made those impromptu remarks with a bullhorn on the pile of rubble at the site of the World Trade Center. I'd be interested in what others would say. If you all have nominations, send them in. Also for his worst day.

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washingtonpost.com: Byron York , who authored the Sunday Outlook piece on John McCain, and Markos Moulitsos, who wrote about Hillary Clinton, will both be online today at 1 p.m. to take your questions and comments.

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Anonymous: With the advent of televised poker games, is there any chance that the poker parties at the Watergate can be televised on C-Span?

Dan Balz: Excellent idea. Do you think they'd get a good audience?

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East Lansing, Mich.: Ironic though it is, it feels like Al Gore's time has come (as in '08). I think there is a national level of empathy for his loss, especially with the the results of the last five plus years. Remember "Reformer with Results"? Plus, he seems so much more credible than the days of polo shirts and the mission to appeal to our feminine selves. I think he would be a fantastic candidate this time around.

Dan Balz: Thanks for posting.

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Orleans, Mass.: What do you think are HRC's chances of getting nominated in the 2008 Presidential race? There are a lot of us left-wing Democrats who have come to mistrust her because of her right-oriented stances like a flag-burning amendment and increasing (rather than decreasing) troop commitments in Iraq, and giving less than whole-hearted support to Roe.

Dan Balz: If she runs, her chances of winning the nomination are good, although as you point out, there is resentment on the left to her candidacy. Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos wrote a piece in our Sunday Outlook section making the case against her. We'll put up a link to it and I believe he's been doing a chat on the site that you might take a look at also.

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washingtonpost.com: Hillary Clinton: Too Much of a Clinton Democrat?, (Post, May 7, 2006)

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Harrington Park, N.J.: You just said that the domestic surveillance program, while controversial, is believed by the White House to be widely popular with the American people. Isn't it the job of the media to provide the public opinion data to refute that? Most Americans do support wiretapping, but only if there is a warrant. Is it not important that the media point out these distinctions in public opinion?

Dan Balz: What we try to do is provide an accurate sample of public opinion without prejudice, and we'll continue to try to do that on this issue and others.

We're now out of time. Thanks to everyone who joined in today and apologies to those questions I couldn't get to. We're always on line at 11 a.m. for questions. Have a good day.

Dan Balz

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