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Washington Week

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Gwen Ifill
Journalist, Moderator, "Washington Week With Gwen Ifill and National Journal"
Thursday, July 27, 2006; 12:00 PM

Each week, the country's top reporters join moderator Gwen Ifill for an in-depth discussion of the week's top news from Washington and around the world. The longest-running news and public affairs program on PBS, "Washington Week and National Journal" features journalists -- not pundits -- lending insight and perspective to the week's important news stories. Now, Ifill brings "Washington Week" online.

Ifill was online Thursday, July 27, at Noon ET to take questions and comments.

A transcript follows.

Ifill is moderator and managing editor of "Washington Week" and senior correspondent for "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." Ifill spent several years as a "Washington Week" panelist before taking over the moderator's chair in October 1999. Before coming to PBS, she spent five years at NBC News as chief congressional and political correspondent. Her reports appeared on "NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw," "Today," "Meet the Press" and MSNBC. Ifill joined NBC News from The New York Times where she covered the White House and politics. She also covered national and local affairs for The Washington Post, Baltimore Evening Sun, and Boston Herald American.

" Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal ," airs on WETA/Channel 26, Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ( check local listings ).

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Fountain Valley, Calif.: Hi Gwen,

Your show is great. I am a liberal living in a very conservative area of California (Orange County). I can tell you that very few of my conservative friends is happy with Bush. I heard that Michael Steele (Republican candidate for Senator in Maryland) called the "R" after his name a scarlet letter. Today there was a poll by NPR of the top 50 most competitive congressional districts where the Republicans are in trouble. I've always heard the axiom that "you can't beat something with nothing." I'm beginning to think that a cucumber could beat a Republican this year. Are you seeing the beginnings of a tidal wave?

Gwen Ifill: Hi everyone. Happy to be back.

Well, I think it may take a little more than a cucumber to beat a Republican this year. Many House races are competitive for reasons that have little to do with party affiliation. But there is no question that this a tough environment for Republicans. The only surprising thing about what Michael Steele said, is that he said it out loud.

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Bethesda, Md.: In state after state, proponents of same-sex civil marriage are losing their cases. Judges, even sympathetic ones, explain that this matter would better be decided through the legislative process. Do you think that such judges were spooked by the strong political reaction to the Goodrich case in Massachusetts? If so, is it proper for judges to consider the political reaction to their decisions?

Gwen Ifill: As far as I can tell, not all courts are acting for the same reason. In Massachusetts, for instance, the court overturned a law. In Washington state, they upheld a ban. It will be interesting to see what happens in New Jersey,which I believe is next up.

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San Francisco, Calif.: If you could assemble a "dream panel" from the past for Washington Week, who would you invite onto the show?

Gwen Ifill: C'mon now. That's like asking me to pick my favorite child. But it is true that WashWeek has had its share of stellar reporters at the table over the years -- many of them now retired and cheering us on from the sidelines.

Honestly, my favorite panel is made up of the smartest folks available to us from week to week.

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Newark, Del.: I watch your show every week and I enjoy it very much only because your guest reporters bring stories that are not reported anywhere. I get a fresh view from your show. Is it true that you are from Philadelphia and you are a daughter of a minister and where did you go to school?

Gwen Ifill: I am indeed a preacher's kid -- which means I've lived a lot of places. Philadelphia was not one of them, but my parents did live there for more than a decade after I was already grown and out of the house. I feel a special affinity, though, because that's where we all gathered for holidays for quite some time.

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Bethesda: I stopped watching your show because I don't see any minorities on your show. Do you have a final saying to what people you choose to be on the show? They are on the show because they are experts on certain topics but you can only find experts who are white? please.

Gwen Ifill: We select our guest panels from the best reporters available covering the biggest stories of the week. One of the critical shortcomings in the news industry is that there are not enough folks of color working in those roles. I find that to be a hiring failure on the part of news organizations.

That said, it takes more than merely being a good beat reporter to get on the show. A panelist also has to be able to tell the story to a television audience in a way that is clear, engaging and accessible.

But have no fear. We are always on the prowl for better ways, and better voices, to tell the stories.

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Alpharetta, Ga.: So, what's your reaction to the Lamont-Lieberman polling?

Gwen Ifill: I'm headed back up to Connecticut next week to see how things are shaking since our last visit last month. Lieberman clearly is in trouble, but I wonder if Lamont can capitalize on that? Especially if there is a three-way race in the general election...

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Regarding Michael Steele: Since Steele has already been mentioned, I wanted to get your opinion. I think Steele's staff intentionally leaked that he made those comments as part of a master plan. As a Maryland resident, we are a very democratic state. Steele is VERY conservative on many issues. For those that don't know much about him (like how he opposes stem cell research) these comments may make him appear more moderate and maybe attract some moderate voters. Particularly black voters in Maryland. Right now there are two potential opponents for him, one is black one is white. He is polling with 22% of blacks against the white candidate (Cardin) and 11% of blacks against the other black candidate (Mfume). Right now Mfume leads Cardin in the polls, which is good for Democrats and bad for Steele. I think this was an effort to bring out the black vote for him (hence his comments on Katrina). Your thoughts?

Gwen Ifill: If his staff leaked this by having the candidate sit down with reporters at a Washington steak house, it's the most hamhanded leak I have ever seen in nearly 30 years of covering politics.

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Washington, D.C.: So how come you weren't asked to be anchor of the CBS Evening News? You have a lot more credibility than Katie Couric

Gwen Ifill: I have a great job. Really.

And Katie, by the way, is plenty credible. I challenge you to do two to three hours of live TV, first thing in the morning, for 15 straight years. It's not for nothing that she got this gig.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Gwen. Nice to chat with you. Last week, President Bush, after snubbing them for 5 years, addressed the NAACP. Today, he signed the extension to the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act, legislation pushed this year by Republican leaders as a means to improve their standing among African American voters. My question is this: do you think that the passage of this legislation will have any discernable impact on the perennially low African American support for Republican candidates and their policies?

Gwen Ifill: I don't know, and wouldn't guess. But I suppose it couldn't hurt, could it?

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Anaheim, Calif.: I've always wanted to see outtakes of your show. Do Mark Shields and David Brooks get along personally? I am truly amazed that James Carville and Mary Matlin have been married for so many years. What are the people like when the cameras go off?

Gwen Ifill: Mark Shields and David Brooks, our regular Friday night NewsHour politics gurus, get along fine. We are a civilized program, and people behave accordingly.

You'll have to be a fly on the wall in someone else's green room to see fisticuffs.

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Baltimore, Md.: I enjoy watching your show. It's always nice to see a group of intelligent and articulate journalist sit together and discuss issues facing the nation without yelling and fighting each other. Please Keep up the good work.

Gwen Ifill: No yelling. No fighting. We get complaints from viewers if anyone even interrupts. Which is fine by me.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: I'm confused about something. Tony Snow said that Bush was going to veto the stem cell bill because he felt that destroying an embryo was murder. I would imagine that there was a meeting about what the president's response was going to be and that the murder statement was approved. Just guessing. Then after Bush vetoed the bill, Snow said that he overstepped his pay grade and that Bush does not think destroying an embryo is murder. Even though I disagree, at least the "murder" point was a reason for vetoing the bill. Maybe this question was asked of Snow and I missed it. If Bush doesn't think it is murder then why did he veto the bill?

Gwen Ifill: Tony Snow says he overstepped, and I take him at his word. The "murder" comment certainly did not jibe with anything I've heard any other administration official say on this subject -- including Karl Rove.

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Elkhorn, Wis.: What did you think of Bill Bennett saying the war on terror is WWIII. Are things really that bad?

Gwen Ifill: I think Bill Bennett and Newt Gingrich, and everyone else making the WWIII comparison, are speaking broadly. If WWIII means a ground war in Europe, or an air war in Japan, certainly that's not what they mean. If WWIII to you means that the next open-ended war involving multiple parties is the "war on terrorism," this may qualify.

As in all discussion, definition is everything.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm mystified by the way the Bush Administration has handled the Lebanon situation. Wouldn't they have been better off if they publicly acted appalled at Israel's actions while working behind the scenes to thwart a cease-fire.

Gwen Ifill: Honestly, I am not sure any of us knows what is really happening behind the scenes. The one thing we know for sure, is that we don't know it all.

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South Boston, Mass.: I'd read lately that there was a growing movement among neo-cons to oust Condi Rice from her current post (albeit while keeping her within the administration).

Given her popularity (especially as compared to other high ranking members of the Bush administration) is this a realistic possibility? Wasn't there murmuring about her being a possible Presidential candidate in '08 not too long ago? I guess I would ask, if this is scapegoating, isn't Condi an odd choice?

Gwen Ifill: That's all news to me.

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Louisiana, Mo.: Many conservatives want to eliminate PBS. How can they, in good conscience, go on your show when they want to eliminate you.? It doesn't make sense!

Gwen Ifill: Oh, I don't know that they want to "eliminate" PBS. Some would like to starve us to death by depriving us of public support...

But since when was inconsistency a hanging offense?

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Tucson, Ariz.: Hi Gwen, how does WW assemble their panels? Do you ask or do reporters request? Or some of both? How soon does the panel get assembled each week - especially since it's all based on what's going on at that moment - especially if something significant happens late in the week...

Gwen Ifill: We have a revolving stable of a couple dozen reporters whose work we track every week. We also read lots of newspapers and Web sites and watch a lot of broadcasts to see who's doing what. We do not meet to decide what the best "mix" is for the program until Thursdays. And then we keep our options open in case we get a better idea by Friday.

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: If Mexican banditos kidnapped a few Border Patrol agents, fired some shots across the Rio Grande, and demanded the return of Texas, could we bomb Mexico City and maybe have a limited ground incursion? I'm thinking maybe a fifteen mile buffer zone. Would this be morally acceptable, and if not, why is it okay for us to support this elsewhere by selling military hardware and $3 billion in aid?

Gwen Ifill: Ehud Olmert's only asking for a 1.2-mile buffer zone.

...which I fully realize is not your point. But surely you also understand that there's a lot of history here that you ignore when you make glib comparisons...

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Melbourne, Fla.: My question is with regards to rumors that Katherine Harris will likely step down after her primary in FL and the Republican party will introduce either the loser of the gubernatorial contest or even Jeb himself. Any comments or inside scoops. Ciao

Gwen Ifill: I don't know what Katherine Harris has planned, but you make an interesting suggestion. Are you, perchance, a Florida Republican?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Gwen. I understand you enjoy singing and would love to sing backing vocals. Who would be the singer you'd most like to back?

Gwen Ifill: Well, I missed my chance with Luther Vandross, but I could do a credible job with Patti Austin, since I already know all her songs.

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Las Vegas, Nev.: What do you think of the Democrats changing their primary schedule to have Nevada before New Hampshire. How could this change the dynamics of the primary process?

Gwen Ifill: I'll believe it when I see New Hampshire allowing it.

The only dog I have in this hunt, is that I NOT be the reporter who has to make the Manchester-Vegas dash to keep up with the candidates. Is there any chance there is a direct flight??

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Alexandria, Va.: Regarding, "Simmering Rage Within the GOP" by David S. Broder in today's WP:

I am surprised that there are Republicans that still exist who are so moderate as the gentleman Mr. Broder quoted. I thought all or nearly all Republicans want to eliminate aspects of the social contract that support average working people, like the minimum wage. What percentage of current Republicans actually support the minimum wage, Social Security (as it currently exists) and the like?

I started out as a moderate Republican myself, but was told by conservatives I wasn't welcome at party meetings when I said I supported public transportation funding. I was told public transportation was "Communist".

Gwen Ifill: Keep an eye on the House. Republican leaders there would dearly like to pass a minimum wage bill, if only to take that weapon out of the Democrats' hands.

(See: Voting Rights Act)

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New York, N.Y.: On the stem cell issue: has there ever been, that you're aware of, a proposed bill in Congress establishing a definition of life, in the civil sense? If not, why have the pro-life people shied away from this?

Gwen Ifill: I suspect neither abortion rights proponents nor anti-abortion proponents are particularly interested in having that particular fight. You have to ask yourself: who gains?

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Northridge, Calif.: I think a good, healthy, home grown cucumber could beat a Republican! Tip O'Neil said that all politics was local. That usually means pork. What pork can the Republicans deliver with such a huge deficit and the Abramoff scandal? I also think that this stem cell veto by Bush puts too many Republicans in a horrible box. Your thoughts.

Gwen Ifill: "Good healthy homegrown cucumber?" Are you talking Phil Angelides, California? The rest of us will certainly be watching to see if you're right.

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San Antonio, Texas: It was great fun to hear you on NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." I appreciate when journalists can keep a sense of humor (I often find myself chuckling on Friday nights, as well). It's an encouraging thought to hang onto as I finish J-school.

Gwen Ifill: PLEASE hang in there. We need more journalists who can keep things in perspective.

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Washington, D.C.: Molly Ivins called Tuesday for Bill Moyers to run for president, while at the same time admitting he would have almost no chance of getting a nomination. As a political observer what would you say is the reason our system precludes Moyers and others of the best and brightest among us from such leadership positions? Could the answer be that Moyers-like candidates are excluded because the nominating process is skewed toward the agenda of corporate business interests who, absent public financing, underwrite political campaigns?

Gwen Ifill: Or maybe that Bill Moyers has better ways of serving the public than becoming a politician??

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Ex-Washingtonian: No question, just a shout-out to your veteran VO announcer Paul Anthony, whose dulcet tones have bookended WW for decades. When we first moved to DC he was -- along with a couple of other "unknowns" named Ed Walker and Willard Scott -- a host on WRC-AM. After that station radically changed format (in 1971, I think), I recall watching Mr. Anthony on WETA-26, doing the first public TV pledge-break I'd ever seen. Now it's like a tiny bit of my former home getting to hear his voice each week -- smooth as ever!

Gwen Ifill: Shout out passed along. Isn't Paul the best??

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Detroit, Mich.: What led to the change in pictures and music used when changing from one topic to another on the News Hour? I miss the old music.

Gwen Ifill: It was time for a change. I like the new music and graphics myself, but a lot of viewers have expressed opinions similar to yours.

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American Univ., Washington, D.C.: I met Bob Edwards at a book signing once and stammered out a question asking if he thought there was hope for a strong future of public broadcasting. He said he sure hoped so. Thoughts? Do you feel any pressures from high places? By the way, fantastic performance on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me."

Gwen Ifill: I agree with Bob Edwards.

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Potomac, Md.: I understand it was the agricultural interests in the developed countries who ultimately 'torpedoed' the Doha talks. Which side - the U.S. or the E.U. - is more to blame? And, when's the next REALISTIC chance for such an agreement to be reached? Thank you.

Gwen Ifill: There has been finger pointing on all sides in this one. I wasn't following it closely enough myself. And in any case, I like to keep my journalists' finger in my pocket.

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Atlanta, Ga.: I watch Washington Week every week, and really enjoy the show. The Vice President seems to be less visible lately. Do you think this is a conscious decision by the administration, given he is a polarizing figure, or just the natural flow of politics? Do you expect him to become more visible as the election season heats up?

Gwen Ifill: Why, I saw VP Cheney only yesterday, sitting behind the Iraqi Prime Minister at the joint session of Congress.

The VP's schedule shows him traveling the country quite regularly on behalf of Congressional candidates. So he is not entirely off the radar.

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Washington, D.C.: One of the earlier posts asked about moderate Republicans: is there a party for simple moderates in this country? I want a prudent foreign policy, a balanced budget, and protection for the environment, so I am clearly not a Republican. I do not believe in gay marriage, am opposed to partial birth abortion, and think the teachers' unions threaten educational reform, so I can clearly not vote Democratic. Is there a party out there willing to represent the center?

Gwen Ifill: I think a lot of folks define their party affiliation more by issue, than by label. I know pro-environment Republicans as well as anti-abortion Democrats. Go figure.

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Bethesda, Md.: Ms. Ifill,

Great work that you are doing and I've followed just about every show you've done. What's your take on the current Middle East Crisis with Israel and Lebanon? Can this situation be salvaged by U.N. intervention and U.S. requesting cooperation from the those at odds? Can things get any worse? Your thoughts on the proposed increase in U.S. forces in Iraq.

Keep up the outstanding journalism.

Gwen Ifill: A lot to chew on there. I don't really have an answer at this point, except this disheartening one.

Things can always get worse.

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Chiba, Japan: Hi, Gwen. I'm a big fan of the NewsHour (broadcast here four times weekly) and Washington Week (via podcast). The NewsHour discussions fascinate me, especially the analyses with guest experts (generally I prefer the non-politicians) and the invariable depth of understanding shown by the correspondents (really all of you) as demonstrated by your thoughtful questions. I have wondered how stories are assigned. I've noticed that you tend to do a lot of Washington stories whereas, for example, Ms. Warner does a lot of Middle East stories, but this is by no means absolute. Do you each have your own expertise? Do you choose your own stories? Do you have your own contacts for the analyses? I assume a lot of preparation time goes into the questions; are the guests usually involved in shaping the discussion (ahead of time I mean)? I find some of the Supreme Court discussions especially interesting. Thanks for all you do.

Gwen Ifill: And thank you for watching.

There is no hard and fast rule for how stories are assigned at the NewsHour, except that Jim makes the assignments. We each have our areas of expertise, of course, but it's not unusual for Margaret to do politics, Ray to do foreign policy, and me to do a health segment. Same goes for Jeff Brown, our media and culture correspondent.

Mixing it up makes it more interesting for everyone.

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Wenatchee, Wash.: Who pays Karl Rove's salary and office expenses and what is his job description?

Gwen Ifill: Karl Rove is counselor to the President, and you pay his salary.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Do you think the Senate race numbers at this point in PA actually mean anything? Because races don't really get into full swing until later on?

Gwen Ifill: Give it until Labor Day, but after awhile some of these numbers do tend to harden.

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Baltimore, Md.: Do you plan to do a show on the United States' relationship with Israel (foreign funding, military support, etc)? The reason I am asking is because I am beginning to question this unquestioned relationship.

Gwen Ifill: We'll be talking about all of that, both on Washington Week and the NewsHour.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Well, Ms. Ifill, everybody's wondering whether Senator Hillary Clinton asked her husband to campaign for Joe Lieberman against challenger Ned Lamont, what's your best guess? Don't you think the former President is pretty much doing what they both think is best for the Senator's political career right about now? PS Love your chats!

Gwen Ifill: It's easy to forget that Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton voted the same way on the war, and unlike other Democrats, neither has repudiated that vote.

If Sen. Clinton said she would support the Democrat in the fall, is it conceivable she was just being a good Democrat?

Or is everything the Clintons do always suspect?

Just askin...

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Leesburg, Va.: What is it with this sudden rash of people running in a primary, then exiting before the general election (DeLay in Tex. and now, according to another question in this chat, Harris in Fla.) or saying they'll run Independent anyway if they lose (Lieberman in Conn.)I don't remember this kind of thing happening in previous election years, or at least not in races that were being reported on.

Isn't it cheating, in a way, to run a candidate, get nominated in the primary, then duck out so your party can substitute someone the voters never had a choice about? Or being a sore loser, in Lieberman's case, and running again even though you lost the primary?

Gwen Ifill: Cheating? I don't know. Sore loser? Maybe.

But it can't be the only time a candidates has sought to keep as many options open as possible.

Did it bother you when Lieberman ran for his Senate seat at the same time he was running for VP?

Was it smarter for John Edwards and Bob Dole to give up their Senate seats when they ran for higher office -- and then lose their national platforms entirely?

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Austin, Tex.: I am a HUGE fan of yours and love the thoughtful insight you and your guests provide on WW. Do you have any thoughts about the midterm elections in November and whether there might be a shift in power?

Gwen Ifill: Well, we're all in the wait and see mode, mostly because midterm elections are so darned tough to predict.

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Gwen Ifill: Thanks everybody. Sorry I didn't have time for all your questions.

Needless to say, we'll be focusing on the Middle East crisis tomorrow night on Washington Week...with John Harwood from CNBC, Peter Baker from the Washington Post, David Sanger of the New York Times and Richard Keil from Bloomberg News. We'll try to get to some more of your questions on our WW webcast. Send them to us through pbs.org.

See you then!

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