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Post Politics Hour
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Charles Babington
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Wednesday, July 5, 2006 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest in politics? Start each day with 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 Charles Babington was online Wednesday, July 5, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

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Fairfax, Va.: Your article on gerrymandering referred in part to "Democratic cautiousness." I would like to suggest another possibility and ask what you think of: Democrats' failure to think of themselves as the opposition party. For example, top Democratic leaders have all now strongly endorsed Lieberman over Lamont although Lieberman's position on Iraq; his role in eviscerating the Democrats' filibuster weapon allowing the Rightward shift Alito and Roberts have already brought to the Supreme Court; and his help providing decisive votes for enactment of Rightwing economic legislation earlier this year raise the question whether too many Democratic leaders would rather stick with someone who votes with the Right on critical issues than take the opportunity to show a united front for a candidate who clearly wants Democrats to be a strong opposition party?

washingtonpost.com: Democrats Not Eager to Emulate Texas's Redistricting (Post, July 5)

Charles Babington: Hello Fairfax. I must take issue with a couple of your premises. First, not all prominent Democrats have said they will support Lieberman if he loses the party primary to Lamont. We have a story in today's paper in which Sen. Hillary Clinton says she will support the party nominee, whoever it is. Also, I think Sen. Lieberman's role as one of the bipartisan "Gang of 14," which averted a Senate showdown over judicial filibusters in May 2005, is open to other interpretations. There was a real possibility that the GOP's threatened "nuclear option" would have succeeded, eliminating the option of judicial filibusters altogether. In that light, Lieberman and the six other Dems who joined the "gang" may have done their party a service.

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New Hampshire: Hi Mr. Babington and thank you for taking my question.

Why do you think very few in the media reported Ken Lay's close relationship to the Bush family during the trial and now that he is passed, all the media are finally reporting it?

Is this a bit of compassionate conservatism too little, too late, or am I just jaded?

Charles Babington: You must have watched and read different media than I did during the Enron trial. I recall many references to Mr. Lay's ties to President Bush.

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Bellefonte, Del.: One more question on flag burning ... Isn't this just a case of political correctness run amuck? If I burn my own flag, I'm not hurting anyone (either physically or financially); all I'm doing is offending some people. Isn't the definition of political correctness as not engaging behavior and/or actions that offend somebody? Isn't this an example of hypocrisy, since it is the right wing that is so excited about banning flag burning, and the same right wing that rails on about the inappropriateness of PC.

Charles Babington: I covered the flag debate in the Senate, and (needless to say, I hope) I take no sides. The pro-amendment forces disagree with your assessment. They say the American flag is not like a "Down with Bush" sign, and more like a national monument. It's against the law to deface a national monument, and thus should be against the law to burn an American flag, they argue. Of course, a lot of people (and 1/3 of the Senate) agree with you.

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Washington, D.C.: I don't understand why women in the Senate don't get more coverage? Can they only appear on Larry King? More gravitas please.

Charles Babington: Sen. Clinton doesn't get coverage? Sen. Collins didn't get ample coverage when she headed the effort to revamp the intelligence community? Doesn't Sen. Feinstein appear on the Sunday morning shows fairly often (with Sen. Boxer not terribly far behind), and aren't they often quoted in the press on a variety of issues? Hasn't Sen. Snowe received significant coverage when she bucked her party's leadership and insisted on limits to tax cuts and limits to cuts in social spending? Do they get less coverage than Sens. Crapo, Akaka, Bunning, Enzi?

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Columbus, Ga.: I'm curious why there was no mention of the "mushroom cloud" in the article yesterday on Condoleezza. Shouldn't that be considered if she is a possible candidate?

Charles Babington: I'm sure Sec. Rice's "mushroom cloud" quote -- along with many others -- will be resurrected if she runs for president. My instinct is that she will not run.

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Bethesda, Md.: If the flag is a "national monument", may I fly one in my front yard and qualify for Park Police to protect my property and public funds to restore the front deck that the flag flies from? What a great idea!

Charles Babington: You could try. Please let me know how it goes.

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New Hampshire: Just a follow up on my previous question. Early on in the trial, I do recall references to the close ties between Lay and the Bush family. When Lay was convicted, there was almost no reporting on this particular aspect of the story.

What is your take on Joe Lieberman's decision to petition to run in the November election if he loses the primary? I am very interested to see if the democratic leadership-- the DSCC, DLC, etc. abandons him should he do so.

Charles Babington: An earlier posting noted that Democrats are beginning to split on the issue of Lieberman-as-an-independent. Polls suggest he would win the race in November either as the Dem nominee or an independent. And let's not get ahead of ourselves: He continues to lead Lamont in polls of Dem voters.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Re: flag burning...

How about a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting buying American flags from Chinese sweatshops? Does anyone else see the cruel irony in this? (In fact, the New Yorker recently had a cover story about this.)

Also, just curious...here at UM, we have a Babington Library. Is that named after you?

Thanks.

Charles Babington: Well, run your constitutional amendment up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes.... No, the library is not named for me, but I'll try to track down the relatives who funded it.

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Re: flag burning: It's interesting. I've seen more stories on homeowners not being allowed to fly the flag on their property due to HOA restrictions, etc. I've seen at least two to three stories in the past six months dealing with that "issue" and not one story showing an American burning the flag. Tell Congress I think they should debate HOA restrictions for a few days.

Charles Babington: You don't need me to tell Congress... They represent YOU!

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Long Beach, Calif. : Lost in the debate over the flag-burning amendment is the fact that last year, nationally, there were four flag desecration cases, most involving teen hooligans who ripped up a flag while trashing a back yard! BIG DEAL! Also, the fact the our flag is the only one that allowed itself to be desecrated, on a philosophical level, made our flag the best. THAT FACT IS NOT IN THIS DEBATE. Your opinion?

Charles Babington: The flag "allowed itself to be desecrated?" On a "philosophical level"? You have lost me.

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Baltimore, Md.: Do you believe the missile testing in North Korea will help or hurt the GOP's campaign of "trust us we're strong on national security"? Or does the electorate not pay attention to actions that far away, especially since the long-range missile blew up on launch? Thanks for the chat!

Charles Babington: That's a good question. Given that the North Korean's "long-range" missile quickly plunked itself into the Sea of Japan, I question how agitated the typical voter will become on this issue.

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Anonymous: Dear Mr. Babington,

Perhaps Re: flag burning is suggesting you mention it to Congress in the form of a question, as you're a professional journalist who is in a position to ask such things? The person certainly wasn't expecting you to represent his/her interests to Congress.

Charles Babington: OK... I asked quite a few questions about flag burning during the debate and vote last week, as did my colleagues in the press corps.

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Denver, Colo.: The Washington Post has a story on the front page today about the destructive acidification of the oceans. Are you seeing any movement in the upcoming elections to challenge the present Congress on its lack of environmental leadership and stewardship?

washingtonpost.com: Growing Acidity of Oceans May Kill Corals (Post, July 5)

Charles Babington: Hello Denver. It's my understanding that while environmental issues are very important to some people -- and somewhat important to a lot of people -- they rarely if ever seem to be the determining issue in close national elections. Issues about the economy, war and national security, gasoline prices, social issues such as abortion, public prayer, etc, rise above the environment on most voters' list of concerns.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Good Morning Mr. Babington:

My question is: what is the proper form of address (on the outside of the envelope and salutation) for a -former- vice president?

I've been looking for an answer to this question and I can't get a definitive answer...I've searched Google, among other search engines, for the answer to no avail.

I am sorry if my question is -a little- off topic.

Thanks.

Charles Babington: Off topic indeed, but that's OK. Of our living ex-veeps, two became president (Ford and Bush 41), so it's easy in their case: "Mr. President." The others were former senators (Mondale, Quayle and Gore), and I'd be surprised if they objected to either "senator" or "mr. vice president"

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Boston, Mass.: What's the word on the Hill about how sharp the shift in the Supreme Court has been? Are Democrats regretting not putting up a real fight against Alito?

Charles Babington: I think Democrats realize that no matter how big a fight they mounted, they could not have blocked Alito's confirmation. They don't have the votes.

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Louisville, Ky.: "They represent YOU!"

Oh, that's just so cute. I was wondering why my Congress decided it okay to sell out my financial future to credit card companies, allow Dick Cheney to keep his energy briefings private, vote pay raises for itself while keeping the minimum wage down, and gerrymander congressional districts so my vote doesn't really even matter anymore. You've just cleared it all up! It was because Congress was representing ME!

Charles Babington: It's called a democracy. We get the government we elect. Many people in the world would love that option.

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Follow up: Hey Charles,

Just want to respond to your response to me:

"You don't need me to tell Congress... They represent YOU!"

No they don't. I live in Washington, DC and have no representation.

Charles Babington: Touche'

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My Apologies...:

I made a terrible mistake. It's actually the Charles BABBAGE Institute here at UM...sorry, no Babington libraries...my apologies...

Charles Babington: I'll look them up nonetheless. thanks.

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Alexandria, Va.: Charles, I thought your story on Texas was missing something. Wouldn't the Texas GOP point out that the Congressional map there was overly favorable to Democrats for many years, out of proportion to its statewide and presidential voting for the GOP?

Charles Babington: They did make that argument. But you've got to be careful suggesting that congressional voting should match presidential voting. If it did, how could you explain Sens. Dorgan and Conrad in N. Dakota? Rep. Herseth in S. Dakota? Sen. Chafee in R.I.? As for "statewide" voting, the record is even more problematic. You've got GOP governors in Mass., Hawaii, Maryland, Conn., and Dem governors in N.C., Montana, Ariz, etc. etc... The point is: People vote for and against different candidates for different offices for different reasons. You can't conclude that a state that goes 55-45 Republican at the presidential level should automatically have a 55 percent GOP House delegation. Voters might make decisions that make it 70 pct. Republican. Or 40 percent.

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Mayfield, Ky.: Good Morning! I read an article last week about a land sale involving the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert; the article was by Shelia Murray. I can't find it in the Archives. Can you shed any light on this, what were the circumstances, etc. Thanks for taking my question.

Charles Babington: My colleague's byline is Shailagh Murray. Also, our first and most extensive article on the Speaker's land deal was written by Jonathan Weisman. That should help you locate them in archives, good luck.

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Charles Babington: Our time is up, thanks for all the good questions and comments. Tune in every day at 11 (EDT), and I'll chat with you in two weeks.

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