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Tom Edsall
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Monday, May 15, 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 national political reporter Tom Edsall was online Monday, May 15, 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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Pittsburgh, Pa.: What do you think will be the fallout when the first National Guard troop shoots someone (inadvertently or not) coming across the border? Will it help or hurt the GOP?

Tom Edsall: In the current climate, I'm not sure. It would not be the same as the uproar after the shooting of Kent State students in Richard M. Nixon's days (for those of you who can remember back that far). If a woman or child were shot, the reaction would be harsh, I think. If a single man, or group of men, were shot, I don't think the reaction would be as strong. It might, in fact, help the GOP in some areas, and hurt in others. This is a political, not moral, assessment.

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Miami, Fla.: The blogs are abuzz with reports of Karl Rove's impending (some say actual)indictment. What's the story?

Tom Edsall: I think we will know very soon, perhaps as soon as early afternoon. No guarantee, however.

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Roswell, Ga.: Thank you for taking questions.

The Post had an article on Friday about how most Americans don't seem to mind their call patterns being tracked in the name of fighting terrorism. My question is, why should we believe the President on what this info is being used for? I know how you all hate to use the "L" word, but he doesn't exactly have the best track record for being honest with the American people. Also, what happens to data that is collected that has NO connection to terrorism? Can't find any info on that yet.

Tom Edsall: Your question shows why Congress should hold oversight hearings on this program with testimony taken under oath.

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Iowa: What were the results of the Dana Milbank poll you conducted? I noted that Wonkette offered a somewhat similar (but highly frivolous) survey.

Tom Edsall: Dana did very well. Roughly 4 to 1 on the plus side. Very painful result for many of us. At least one colleague suggested that he had all his friends reply to the poll, but another pointed out that the number of people Dana can call friends is not large enough to tilt the outcome of a poll of more than five people.

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Tom: Is it true that Patrick Fitzgerald met with Karl Rove and his people at Rove's firm of Patton, Boggs over the weekend to try and reach a "deal"? I heard it from reliable sources and also heard that no deal was reached and that Fitzgerald could be indicting Rove as early as today. What have you heard?

Thanks!

Tom Edsall: Jim VandeHei, who has been ahead of his competitors on this story, has been trying to track down every rumor, including the one you cite. We have not been able to confirm the kind of detail you describe.

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Dunn Loring, Va.: Sorry to begin the morning with a gripe but isn't The Post a bit chagrined at their rushed polling on the NSA telephone database mining? Your poll showed the majority of Americans supported the actions but it was done before most of us had the time to digest the news. It was also done by phoning less than 500 people. Subsequent polling by Gallup and Newsweek show the exact opposite and they did the benchmark--about a thousand calls. Is Mr. Morin hiding under his desk this morning?

Tom Edsall: A number of people have asked questions about this Post poll. I am trying to get an answer from the people who run our polling operation and will try to get back on this before the chat is over.

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Washington, D.C.: I don't understand all the excitement about the deal to give D.C. a vote in Congress. Isn't this the same proposal that's been out there all along, to give Utah a seat to make up for its loss in the population dispute between that state and North Carolina the last time Congressional seats were redistributed? Why are people getting so excited about it now? It still strikes me as unfair to give Republicans a guaranteed seat in exchange for voting rights for D.C.

Tom Edsall: It's not a question of fairness, its a question of partisan power. The House has a slim majority of Republicans who would have to vote on the proposal. They are not going to give the opposition a seat with nothing in return. As I recall, this pattern was followed most of the time in the pre-civil war period with the simultaneous recognition of slave and non-slave states, and more recently with the recognition of Alaska (Republican) and Hawaii (Democratic). My history could be totally off the wall.

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Pittsford, N.Y.: From what we've heard, the NSA surveillance program has been successful in terms of thwarting potential terrorist attacks -- such as the truck driver who planning on blowing up the Brooklyn Bridge. Has any thought been given, to your knowledge, of using surveillance to deal with the illegal immigration problem? Couldn't they help track down illegal immigrants by investigating citizens and employers with a high volume of calls to Mexico?

Thanks again for these chats.

Tom Edsall: There are many steps that can be taken dealing with employers, including relatively simply follow ups on social security IDs that don't work. Critics of the program contend that the administration does not want to irritate its business supporters.

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Boston, Mass.: How do you think the President's massive, overwhelming unpopularity is affecting Congress? What kind of work do you see Congress getting done for the American people in the coming months?

Tom Edsall: The American people should not hold their collective breath, except recipients of capital gains and dividend income, who apparently will be protected from a rate increase for two more years.

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Derwood, Md.: What is your opinion on Kevin Phillips' new book, "American Theocracy"? Specifically, what do you think about one of the central themes in his book that our military went into Iraq to ensure that the oil fields would continue to be run by people friendly to the U.S. and that oil would continue to be sold in U.S. dollars, thereby propping up the dollar itself?

Tom Edsall: This is a line of inquiry that should have been followed much more intensely by the daily press than it has been to date. The Bush administration used its early post-9/11 popularity to deflect the question, and Phillips deserves credit for putting it on the agenda again.

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Boston, Mass.: Why was Dana Milbank so rude to chatters about Stephen Colbert last week? He was telling people to "get a life" and telling them they need help.

Methinks the green-eyed monster was rearing its ugly head.

Was Dana going to get the Correspondents Dinner gig before getting bumped by Colbert?

Tom Edsall: Dana, according to unreliable sources. tried to get the Congressional dinner gig and was turned down. When Dana tells people to get a life and to get help, that is a phenomena known is child psychology as projection. I sit near Dana, and the the green-eyed monster routinely raises its head.

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Richmond, Va.: Madeleine Albright recently voiced strong concerns regarding recent contracting activity among China, Russia and the oil producing nations.

In my opinion, she has made solid arguments in forecasting a situation where the United States could find itself locked-out of access to oil and natural gas. From what you are hearing, are the folks in town worried about the growth in energy deals that exclude the United States?

Tom Edsall: I am no expert, but you are citing what to a layman seems to be a very real problem with major consequences in the relatively near future. My non-knowledgeable impression is that not enough attention is being paid to this.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: A questioner just said,

"The Post had an article on Friday about how most Americans don't seem to mind their call patterns being tracked in the name of fighting terrorism."

Newsweek and USAToday conducted polls in the last day or so that found a majority of Americans DO mind that their info is being collected without their approval or a court's approval. Do you think the idea that this is a winner for the President might be wishful thinking on the right-wing side?

Tom Edsall: The very intelligent and gracious Claudia Deane of our polling staff wrote the follow in reply to an inquiry:

Yes, our Thursday night poll did show a much more positive reaction than the Gallup poll conducted on Friday and Saturday evenings or a Newsweek poll conducted Thursday and Friday nights.

I don't think it's a question of the number of respondents -- we do get a larger number of respondents for our 4 day projects, but 502 is a perfectly respectable sample size. The margin of sampling error on a sample of 500 is plus or minus 5 percentage points,not much different than the plus or minus 3 percentage points on a 1,000 person sample.

More likely some combination of 1) a learning curve as people come to understand the scope of the program, 2) question wording, and 3) question order.

We're looking into all these things now to see what else we can learn. The biggest difference between opinions the two surveys seems to be among Democrats, who were substantially more negative in the Gallup poll.

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Burke, Va.: With the arrest of Mr. Foggo (number 3 in the CIA) who is under investigation for corruption, have you looked into what the relationship was between him and Peter Goss, the director of the CIA. From reports I've read, they are close, and the sudden firing of Peter Goss was very odd.

Tom Edsall: The whole sequence of events was more than odd and I hope we and other papers don't drop the ball on this just because Foggo and Goss are out. The damage that was apparently done to a crucial agency at this time in history is extraordinary, and the mix of causes, from politics, to corruption, to incompetence, needs to be examined.

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Iowa: Al Gore opened Saturday Night Live with a monologue on what had happened in his Presidency thus far. It was both funny and heart wrenching. Do you think he is mainly out promoting his new global warming film, or is he entertaining serious thoughts of another Presidential run in 2008?

Tom Edsall: I think he is in the process of testing the waters. Once that process begins, even if very tentative at first, it is very hard to stop. It would not be surprising to see Gore in the race in 2008.

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Ohio: Greetings and Misunderestimations!

Could you explain to those, like me, who fail to understand... what exactly was Howard Dean trying to accomplish by going on the 700 Club and lying about the Democrats' position on gay marriage?

Was he honestly confused by the position? Was he just expressing wishful thinking that the position was anti-gay-marriage?

Is this going to prove a major negative for grassroot Democratic support?

Tom Edsall: For someone who has been deeply involved in the issue of gay unions and gay marriage, it was surprising to see Howard Dean mistakenly present the DNC position on these issues, especially on Pat Robertson's 700 club. Any Democrat going on that show would know that gay marriage would be one of the first questions asked.

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Arlington, Va.: Will the ethics clouds hanging over Cong. Jefferson (D-La.) and the democratic congressman from WV enable the GOP to avoid most of the corruption blowback?

Tom Edsall: Some, but not most. The difference is that the Democrats appear to be involved in, for a lack of a better expression, routine, individual wrong-doing. The problem for the Republicans is that the allegations of corruption against them are systemic and closely linked to the way they have run Congress and solicited financial support as a Party. The systemic nature of the GOP's problems includes the granting of lobbyists extraordinary power, the creation of the "K" street project to force lobbying firms and trade associations to hire Republican staffers, etc.

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Oxford, Miss.: If these blogosphere rumors about a Rove indictment are true, do you think the White House will keep it quiet for a few days to let the President's speech tonight gain a little traction? I'd think that if Rove was forced to resign today or tomorrow, the affect of the prime time Oval Office speech on immigration would be just about nil.

Tom Edsall: You're right that an indictment would overwhelm the immigration speech. I don't think, however, the White House can control the timing of the announcement, if there is an indictment.

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Boston, Mass.: I found it interesting that The Post was quick to splash poll results favoring government collection of phone records, when the wording the of the survey was suspect at best. Then, when new surveys, appropriately worded, show the opposite of what The Post so hastily published, I see nothing on the Web site. Very similar to Time claiming that the disclosure would actually provide Bush with positive reactions. Is the Post still feeding us the Bush line years after the Iraq war propaganda? I sure hope not.

Tom Edsall: In an earlier answer to a similar question, I said Claudia Deane had graciously supplied an answer. In fact, Rich Morin wrote what I put in the chat. Here it is again, and this is Rich's excellent and illuminating prose:

Yes, our Thursday night poll did show a much more positive reaction than the Gallup poll conducted on Friday and Saturday evenings or a Newsweek poll conducted Thursday and Friday nights.

I don't think it's a question of the number of respondents -- we do get a larger number of respondents for our 4 day projects, but 502 is a perfectly respectable sample size. The margin of sampling error on a sample of 500 is plus or minus 5 percentage points,not much different than the plus or minus 3 percentage points on a 1,000 person sample.

More likely some combination of 1) a learning curve as people come to understand the scope of the program, 2) question wording, and 3) question order.

We're looking into all these things now to see what else we can learn. The biggest difference between opinions the two surveys seems to be among Democrats, who were substantially more negative in the Gallup poll.

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Milwaukee, Wis.: Tom, thanks for all your fine work. The scoop about Vice-President Cheney annotating Joe Wilson's op-ed came out of Court filings in the Libby case. The blogs are tearing into those filings, because there is more there. I hope The Post does too.

Tom Edsall: Dick Cheney's role in this and other controversies deserves much more attention.

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Tallahassee, Fla.: Do the Democrats have a united policy on immigration as we approach the 2006 elections? Will this be a national issue or important only in the border states?

Tom Edsall: No to both questions. Immigration is, for example, a big issue in Georgia, which just passed pretty tough legislation.

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College Park, Md.: Americans love John McCain. Americans hate the Iraq War. John McCain loves the Iraq War.

How long can this go on?

Tom Edsall: A lot of questions about McCain today, on Iraq and on his speech at Jerry Falwell's Liberty U.

McCain is trying to do two contradictory things (not an impossible task for a politician): he wants to retain the appeal he had in 2000 as a straight talker who will not adjust his words and positions for political gain, and he is trying to win the Republican nomination. The nomination will be determine by voters and activists, many of whom do not like McCain because 1) he has voted against some of the Bush tax cuts, 2) he is the prime sponsor of campaign finance legislation seen by libertarians as an attack on free speech, and 3) he pointedly attacked Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in a highly publicized speech in 2000. McCain is now trying to thread about three needles as once, a tough task for anyone.

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Bethesda, Md.: You wrote a fine book on race in American politics, "Chain Reaction," about 15 years ago. I've noticed that racial issues have receded substantially in public dialogue since then. I can't think of anything that George W. Bush has done to appeal to racial resentment; even his administration's opposition to affirmative action has seemed half-hearted. That's quite a change from Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. More and more black politicians have shown some appeal to white voters. And big-city mayoral elections no longer fall rigidly on racial lines as they once did.

What has happened?

Tom Edsall: I don't want to duck this question, but I have written a book that is scheduled to come out in late August or early September called "Building Red America." It goes into great detail, perhaps too great detail, in answer to your query. In brief, one of the things that has happened with the growing polarization of the electorate is that voters now tend to bundle a whole group of issues together. When a politician takes a stand on one issue (gay marriage, the Iraq war, affirmative action) it signals their stand on the others. This is inadequate. Perhaps in the next chat I could go into this theory in more detail.

Thanks very much for joining me with you excellent questions, many of which should be answered by editors with the power to assign the stories you think should be done. See you in two weeks. Tom

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