Post Politics Hour

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Dan Balz
Washington Post Chief Political Reporter
Tuesday, August 15, 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 chief political reporter Dan Balz was online Tuesday, Aug. 15, at 11 a.m. ET .

The transcript follows.

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Dan Balz: Good morning to everyone from Washington and thanks for tuning into today's chat. It may be August but there seem to be a good list of questions piling up here. We'll get going right away.

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Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.: Hi Dan,

As someone who would like to see some mass scale changes happen in Congress, I'm fearful that I'm going to be disappointed again. It seems that Rove is always able to allocate as many resources as necessary and do whatever is necessary to win the important battles. Is there any evidence that things look different this time around?

Thanks!

Dan Balz: No one knows at this point what the final outcome will be in November, but it continues to look like there will be significant losses by the Republicans. President Bush is still not able to push his approval rating above 40 percent (latest polls have him in the high 30s), a big majority of Americans say the country is off track, approval of Congress is lower than approval of the president. Whether that adds up to a shift in power in the House or Senate, I can't tell you, but Republicans seem very nervous at this point in the election.

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Avon Park, Fla.: Let me give the Washington Post credit for covering the incident in which Sen. George Allen made a racial slur at a campaign event. I think that this story should be given quite a bit of national media attention. Considering that he's a presidential candidate, why aren't TV networks exposing this more than they have?

Dan Balz: Our Virginia reporters know a story when it happens and the Post gave this prominent display on the front page. My guess is that TV will pick it up more today. This obviously will not help Allen's presidential chances.

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washingtonpost.com: Allen Quip Provokes Outrage, Apology (Post, Aug. 15)

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Washington, D.C.: Your weekend article on bipartisanship repeatedly stated that the electorate is fed up with partisan politicians and wants an end to the "politics of anger." But nowhere in your article do you cite any polling that supports your characterization of the electorate's supposed disaffection with partisanship. At a time when Democratic politicians in Connecticut and elsewhere are just beginning to act as outspoken partisans after five years of acquiescence to extremely partisan national one party Republican governance, the premise of your article seems aimed at undercutting resurgent Democratic partisanship by asserting that most voters really want accommodationist leaders who will work with the ruling party rather than leaders who will fight to throw out the ruling party. Given that one party Republican rule, with the exception of Bush's social security initiative, has gotten its conservative agenda in place as well as its conservative judges on the Court, what is the reason for your focus on bipartisanship just four months before the mid-term elections? Frankly, your whole approach seems to echo Rovian talking points aimed at reducing partisan fervor against Republicans.

Dan Balz: This is one of several questions this morning about a story I wrote in Sunday's Post about whether Liebeman's call for a campaign of "unity and purpose" is a harbinger of what someone will try to do in 2008. I got a ton of email, most of it critical of the story, similar to this question from Washington.

My assertion that there are a lot of Americans fed up with the current tone and style of politics is based on reporting over many months, in conversations with elected officials from outside Washington and in talks with ordinary Americans on their doorsteps or in shopping malls as I've made the rounds.

At the same time, there are many people, particularly Democrats, who are fed up with the president and want their elected officials to fight back. I wrote in the Sunday story that Lieberman is a flawed messenger for this "lower-the-temperature" message because he hammered Ned Lamont right after the primary, saying a Lamont victory would be cheered by those who allegedly wanted to blow up airplanes headed for the United States.

However, a number of prospective presidential candidates are looking at the question of whether they should emulate the Rove-GOP strategy of trying to maximize turnout of the party's conservative base by pushing issues near and dear to them, or to move away from that by trying to fashion a campaign aimed more at the dwindling band of swing voters.

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New York, N.Y.: I find it quite telling that Pres. Bush (through Tony Snow) has said he will no endorse the GOP Senate candidate in CT. Since Lieberman has stated many times he will caucus with the Dems if he wins, and with the balance of power in the Senate quite possibly at stake, how does it help the GOP if Lieberman is elected?

Dan Balz: Snow's language was positively bizarre, wasn't it? I think both parties are approaching this with some delicacy. Many Democratic leaders don't want to pound Sen. Lieberman for running as an independent because, if he wins, they want him caucusing with them and voting with them as much as possible. But the Republicans see an opportunity to use his defeat to paint the Democrats as extreme and that means saying lots of nice things about Sen. Lieberman.

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Arlington, Va.: I think the greatest irony of the Allen saga is that the kid he was trying to demean as being a foreigner is actually more of a Virginian than Allen is, since Siddhart is Fairfax born and raised and Allen is from California and just plays a cowboy boots wearing tobacco chewing facsimilie of the old Virginia.

Dan Balz: Thanks for posting.

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Culpeper, Va.: I was at a recent Jim Webb event, and there were several college age individuals present who were wearing George Allen stickers. One of whom was videotaping the entire event, including regularly scanning the audience. If his own campaign is doing the same thing that he accused Webb's campaign of, why bother pointing it out (much less with juvenile name calling)?

Dan Balz: This is now common practice in campaigns. Each side sends someone out with a video camera to capture everything the other candidate is saying. It's a way of gathering intelligence and, occasionally, capturing something the candidate regrets saying -- as was the case here. Most candidates take this in stride, but not always.

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New York, N.Y.: What happened to Valerie Plame investigation, what happened to Frist insider stock investigation, what is going on with Abramoff investigation? Nothing?

Dan Balz: The Plame prosecutors are preparing for trial with I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff. No news of late on the Frist investigation. The Abramoff investigation continues, with the latest sign of its activity the decision by Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio not to run for reelection because he may have legal problems to deal with soon.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Are you and your colleagues at all skeptical when Cheney speaks?

Dan Balz: Yes.

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Kamuela, Hawaii: For the past six years, the Democrats have been not only been the minority party but a particularly feeble minority party. An opposition party should be able to keep issues that it deems important before the public. The Democrats might be best named the "anti-Bushies." Why have they been so feeble despite a following of almost half of the electorate and based on their performance out of power, can we as citizens have any confidence in their ability to govern should the voters decide to throw the other scoundrels out?

Dan Balz: It's difficult for any minority party to mount a consistent opposition because there are so many power centers. Without the White House, the House or the Senate, the Democrats have no recognized leader. The presidency is a powerful institution in part because it attract a tremendous amount of attention. Presidents have no trouble getting heard. Opposition parties often do. Beyond that, Democrats have had a long, long debate about Iraq that has hampered their ability to explain clearly what they would do if they were in power.

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Boston, Mass.: A quick Lieberman question. You wrote: "The Lieberman campaign, fearing that low voter turnout in the primary would favor Lamont, had plans to build a get-out-the-vote operation bigger than any seen in a state race in Connecticut. But in the face of discouraging polls, campaign officials concluded this week that the money likely would be wasted."

Did they end up scaling back their GOTV operation, or was that disinformation?

Dan Balz: They did scale back, and yet Sen. Lieberman probably had a larger get-out-the-vote operation than he has used in past campaigns. Because he didn't really have opposition in recent elections, he has never really had an election-day operation of any significance. But the campaign was preparing to spend a lot of money to build an organization almost overnight. In the end, they scaled back, took some of the money that was to go to turning out the vote and put it into television. One reason they decided not to go ahead was their fear that, with the voters moving toward Lamont, they might end up turning out voters previously identified as Lieberman supporters who in the end were probably Lamont voters.

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Silver Spring, Md.: The "anti-semitic" rantings of drunken Movie Star Mel Gibson got and continues to get more coverage in the Washington Post and other papers than a U.S. Senator calling a dark skinned person a monkey and welcoming him to America. The tone of the story on Allen's monkey comment made it seem like politics as usual while you would have thought the reaction to Gibson would lead you to believe that Mel was a U.S. Senator. I guess the outrage meter doesn't register for Indian Americans the way it does for Jewish people or we expect more from movie stars than U.S. Senators.

Dan Balz: I thought out story was quite straightforward and not as you characterize it. I also disagree with your other assertions.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Polls are suggesting that Pres. Bush got no bounce after the London terrorist plot (note the recent CBS Poll showing no change in Bush's approval rating and no change is his rating on dealing with terrorism). Any sense as to why there hasn't been a rally-around-the-leader type of effect one may typically expect in this type of situation?

Dan Balz: You raise an interesting question. I suspect one reason the president's poll numbers didn't rise perceptibly is that this was an alleged plot, not an actual terrorist attack. Second, the politics of terrorism have changed over the past few years, in large measure because of Iraq. Many Americans see the issue differently and many have pretty fixed views of the president at this point.

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New Hampshire: I appreciate Culpeper's question, but do not consider the racial slur Allen employed as "juvenile name calling". Macaca (macaque) despite Allen's professed ignorance and protestations to the contrary, is a racial epithet and slur of Belgian/French derivation and should be characterized as such, in my honest opinion.

http://dictionary.laborlawtalk.com/ethnic_slur#M

Macaque - Belgium (French) - an Arab or a Negro; derived from macaque monkeys

Dan Balz: Thanks for posting.

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Anonymous: The rap against the Dems. is that they can't explain what they would do about Iraq...other than possibly set time tables that the GOP describes as cut and run. My question is when the Media points this out, why doesn't it also point out that there seems to be a lack of a coherent plan by the president...stay the course seem inoperable on so many levels, yet Bush, Snow, etc. continue to say it with few in the media pushing for an explanation of what it means today, little less next week or next year.

Dan Balz: I think the press has repeatedly questioned whether the president has a coherent plan for success in Iraq. It's obvious that many Americans don't believe he does.

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Horsham, Pa.: In the wake of the Bush administration's engineering of the Israel-Lebanon U.N. resolution, it looks like the Commander-in-Chief has a lot of new critics - from the right.

National Review: "the Bush administration's project in the Middle East will require the same sort of expedient we have just seen in the Israel-Lebanon conflict: a papering over of what is essentially a failure."

Peter Brookes, Senior Fellow, Heritage Foundation, NRO Symposium: "If there is a clear winner in this war, it's Iran."

Powerline blog: "Over at NRO's corner, John Podhoretz contends that this would mean the end of the Olmert government. I'm tempted to suggest that our government, having seemingly lost its will to oppose (or even to let others oppose) our deadliest enemies, deserves the same fate."

This talk is coming from among the same group that insisted for the last five years that such attacks are dangerous and wrong and that talk of American defeat helps the terrorists.

Dan Balz: The president has been getting a fair amount of criticism from conservatives on his foreign policy. The Post's Michael Abramowitz recently wrote about this and we'll post a link to the story.

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Chicago, Ill.: The chairman of the GOP was on Meet the Press on Sunday and also completely dodged the question of whether he was supporting Schleisinger in Connecticut. Clearly the GOP hierarchy has consulted and believes it is a two man race between Lieberman and Lamont and they want Lieberman to win.

Dan Balz: I think you have cracked the code here. It's not likely that Connecticut is going to elect a little-known Republican to the Senate. Given that, the president and GOP officials obviously prefer Lieberman to Lamont.

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washingtonpost.com: Critics Cite 'Constrained' Mideast Policy (Post, Aug. 6)

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Bethesda, Md.: Dan--

Thank you for your great political reporting.

The Philadelphia suburbs are shaping up to play a potentially pivotal role in the make up of the House of Representatives. Historically Republican Montgomery County, PA provided John Kerry with much of his margin of victory in 2004. In 2006 Montgomery County and surrounding jurisdictions are getting much national attention again. How do you rate the Democratic challengers' chances against incumbent Reps. Gerlach (PA-6), Fitzpatrick (PA-8) and Weldon (PA-7)? Do these Democrats really have a reasonable shot at winning?

Dan Balz: Thanks, Bethesda, for your kind words. Pennsylvania is a real target for the Democrats for precisely the reason you mention, which is that the Philadelphia suburbs have moved away from the Republicans in the past decade. I would put all those seats at risk, with Rep. Gerlach probably the most vulnerable, followed by Rep. Weldon and by Rep. Fitzpatrick.

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washingtonpost.com: Conservative Anger Grows Over Bush's Foreign Policy (Post, July 19)

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Atlanta, Ga.: Any chance of action on the illegal immigration front before the elections?

Dan Balz: It appears unlikely although there are some Republicans who hope they can get action on some kind of bill. That bill probably would deal with border enforcement first and other issues later. It's not clear that kind of bill can win passage in both the House and Senate.

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Arlington, Va.: What a huge contrast between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's stance on the recent Lebanon operation and that of President Bush and, even more so, Vice President Cheney regarding Iraq.

"There have been failings and shortcomings," Olmert, with deep circles under his eyes and a haggard look on his face, told a special session of the Israeli parliament. "We need to examine ourselves in all aspects and all areas. We will not sweep anything under the table, we will not hide anything. We must ensure that next time things will be done better."

Will we ever hear such words from anyone in the Bush administration? Or are they too vested in cheerleading the Iraq effort (and painting for political reasons those who actually want America to "do better" as giving aid and comfort to Al Queda) to understand the extent to which even the U.S. public, many of whom honestly believe in exceptionalism (and we really are a great country, in relative terms), now yearns for some straight talk?

washingtonpost.com: Olmert Accepts Blame For Operation's 'Failings' (Post, Aug. 15)

Dan Balz: Posted without comment.

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Cottage Grove, Minn : Any chance Ed Rendell will run for President?

Dan Balz: Gov. Rendell probably would like to run for president but at this point I doubt he'll go for it.

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Port Jefferson, N.Y.: I haven't seen much in the way of post-election campaign analysis of the Lamont and Lieberman campaigns (beyond the Iraq issue). Is it just me or did Ned Lamont thoroughly out-campaign a 3-time incumbent who had a well-established political machine? What are the implications for the next round?

Dan Balz: We'll have to end with this one.

Ned Lamont ran a better campaign than Joe Lieberman. He focused principally on the Iraq war, on Democratic anger at President Bush and on connecting the incumbent to both. In a state where almost 80 percent of Democratic primary voters oppose the war, Lieberman was on the wrong side of the dominant issue of the campaign. Beyond that, Sen. Lieberman had lost support in Connecticut over the years by doing what some long-time incumbents often do: fail to pay attention to people at home.

That as far as we go today. Lots of unanswered questions left in the pipeline and I wish I could have gotten to more of them. Come back tomorrow and Peter Baker will be here to take your inquiries.

Have a great day.

Dan Balz

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