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Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Monday, January 8, 2007; 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 Shailagh Murray was online Monday, Jan. 8, at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

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

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Shailagh Murray: Good morning everyone, it's been a while and I'm glad to be chatting again. Bring on the questions.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: What are republican members of Congress saying about the "surge"? Are their answers different if they are on the record or off the record?

Shailagh Murray: It's not just about the surge. It's the degree of confidence in White House leadership on the war. The surge has opened that can of worms, and the big concern, at least initially, has been that it'll prove too little too late.

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Riverdale Park, Md.: Hello Shailagh,

A peeve: Whenever you and your colleagues report on the proposed surge in troop numbers, please tell us the fraction the surge represents.

An additional 10,000 soldiers might sound a lot, but if it's only 10% of the total already there, the surge is really a trickle and is unlikely to accomplish much.

NPR's Marketplace provides a good example. Whenever they report on the Dow Jones Industrial Index, they give the percentage change and the absolute change.

Shailagh Murray: Apropos of my last response....

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New York, N.Y.: When Bush addresses the nation about his latest strategy in Iraq, it is reported that there will be billions of dollars in aid for jobs, construction, etc. Do you think the American people are going to say wait a minute, what about jobs right here at home? health care for the millions of uninsured? the millions who go to bed hungry every night?

Shailagh Murray: I would be plenty of members of Congress will be echoing that sentiment too.

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Warrenville, Ill.: Thanks for taking this question.

Yesterday's "Salt Lake Tribune" reported that "President Bush has lost majority support on Iraq from residents of the reddest state in the nation." A recent survey revealed that "Just 41 percent of Utahans say they support Bush on Iraq..."

This week President Bush will likely address the nation to propose a new plan for winning in Iraq. Presumably the President and his counselors believe that such an announcement will gain him more public support. But if he is losing the faith of people in Utah-"the reddest of states"-can he really expect to reclaim the support of less red Americans? Can he really ignore the "thumpin" that Republicans received last November? (Even he last month admitted to reporters that we're not winning the war.)

The Democrats' options seem limited, and they certainly don't want to appear to withdraw support from our brave men and women fighting in Iraq. But what real options do they have? And what options do Republicans in Congress have?

Shailagh Murray: One could certainly argue the Iraq strategy should be determined by the military and others who are running the war, and not by public opinion. We were just noting in the newsroom that that we hadn't seen polls since the surge idea started floating around, but support for troop increases generally has been well below 20%.

You ask what the two parties can do -- and I don't think there's a great answer, other than asking the tough questions that Congress has failed to address since the war started.

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Alexandria, Va.: I understand Congressman Bill Jefferson was given a standing ovation from his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, despite the $90,000 the FBI found in Tupperware in his freezer. Why do these details of Democratic ethics problems seem left out every time media personnel recount how Speaker Pelosi will bring "ethics reform" to the House?

Shailagh Murray: I once met the friendliest bank robber. Just because you're a crook doesn't mean you're not thoughtful or interesting or fun to hang out with.

Not that I'm referring to anyone in particular.

Regarding Rep. Jefferson, I take issue with your observation. I've written or co-written numerous stories, including for the front page, on this case, and we have included it in numerous other stories, including a page one piece last week (not by moi) on how Pelosi handled this case.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: During the '04 election President Bush criticized John Kerry for advocating that the military needed more people and just 18 months ago Bush said it would be dangerous to add more troops into Iraq. What has changed and why should anyone believe this man?

Shailagh Murray: Good question. Therein lies Bush's central problem: credibility.

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Washington, D.C.: Why is the occupation of Iraq still called a war? The war has been over for a long time. It certainly makes it more politically palatable for the President and other supporters of the American invasion of Iraq to call it a war, but do you think the media should continue to term it as such?

Shailagh Murray: I really don't think there's a hidden political meaning in calling the Iraq conflict a "war." Actually I think occupation, given the current circumstances, may be a little generous.

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Washington, D.C.: I am somewhat surprised at the debate about the surge. In October, The Post's own polling showed that 19% of voters favored an immediate withdrawal. Yesterday, CNN reported that more than 50% want an immediate or by year's end withdrawal. Still, the politicians debate more or less, not sooner or later. Why won't the politicians follow the polls when it comes to leaving Iraq?

Shailagh Murray: Would you want a department store manager or orthodontist running the Pentagon? I don't think so. The reason that many politicians are squeamish about hard and fast goals of any kind in Iraq is that there is no simple response or solution -- it would have emerged by now. A withdrawal by year's end carries enormous, very serious implications.

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Davis, Calif.: Why do you think Pelosi passed over Harmon for the Intelligence Chairperson?

Shailagh Murray: Because her term was up, and because Pelosi doesn't particularly like her, so why should she do her any favors?

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Falls Church, Va.: Which ticket is more electable: Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton? and why?

Shailagh Murray: Have you seen Obama's bathing suit photo in the current People? Check it out. Very presidential.

That's a joke, for all you sensitive souls.

Hmmm, I think there's a little too much starpower aboard that ticket, no matter which way it flips.

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Washington, D.C.: In response to New York, it would be nice if "the American people" would acknowledge that we cannot mend a state as thoroughly destroyed as Iraq with troops alone. That aid money for jobs and construction is part of the rebuilding that is critical to try to end a crisis situation. Of course our government needs to help Americans in need, but that doesn't mean it should ignore Iraqis, whose dire condition at the moment is basically our creation.

Shailagh Murray: A very thoughtful hometown comment, thank you.

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New Hampshire: Morning, Shailagh. So glad to have you back.

Umm, what is it with Lieberman and McCain and their new and shiny BFF status? Both of them were published in The Post recently advocating an escalation to the already failed Iraq occupation... Are they running for 2008 already on the backs of our troops and the hundreds of thousands of dead folks? Don't they know that the American people spoke on November 7th? And why do they and this administration refuse to engage in honest diplomacy (as advocated by the much vaunted, delayed-til-after-the election ISG report)? I found General Clark's piece in The Post today much more in line with reality and the electorate.

Shailagh Murray: It was interesting, watching both McCain and Lieberman address this subject on Friday. What a lonely planet they occupy...yet there was a contrast. McCain I felt was more willing to criticize the administration, more frustrated by disposition, than Lieberman, whose true believer demeanor hasn't changed much in two years.

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Glenside, Pa.: Most GOP surge opponents are long-time critics or blue state Republicans. How likely is it that a red state run of the mill Republican who's largely stood by the President will come out against the surge?

Shailagh Murray: Likely. Just wait. We've already heard rumblings. This one is a stretch, even for the party faithful.

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Chicago, Ill.: Thanks for taking my question and Happy New Year. It seems that it is now the Democrats (or possibly Congress as a whole) who have to walk a real tight walk on Iraq, if the President insists on maintaining the status quo or even increasing troops with his "surge" option. Cutting funding for the war seems to be a non-starter as the Dems will then be accused of undercutting the troops in the field. However, not standing up to Bush on Iraq will really piss off the voters who gave Congress to the Dems for the first time in 12 years due, in large part, to their unhappiness over the war. If the Dems can't or won't cut funding, what can they do to get Bush to see reason or to stop him from keeping on the same path or making things worse?

Shailagh Murray: Wow, we're almost 100% surge today. Not that I mind.

Regarding the Dems, they would be most effective if they focus on building a thoughtful, bipartisan base of opposition, for instance including folks like Chuck Hagel. This week's Senate hearings will be fascinating, and will go far to set the tone.

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Fairport, N.Y.: Hey, I stole this question from The Note, but I think it is a great question, so I thought I'd ask it:

Is the White House at all in control of any of the leaks that have come out about what might be in the President's plan, or is this all just old-fashioned, pre-43-style leaking?

Shailagh Murray: I had that thought myself, because it's so unusual to see leaking of any kind from these folks. This latest round has the appearance of a controlled leak, but of course I don't know for sure.

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Wilmington, N.C.: Pelosi v Harman:"Because her term was up, and because Pelosi doesn't particularly like her, so why should she do her any favors?"

Might she have also felt Harman demonstrated a lack of effectiveness in that position?

Shailagh Murray: I meant "like" in a very broad way that included the policy front.

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Washington, D.C.: There's a dentist running Jordan and people seem to like it.

Shailagh Murray: I bet the coverage for braces is better there.

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Fairfax County, Va.: Well, when even George Will describes the situation in Baghdad as a Shiite-Sunni equivalent of Stalingrad, with our troops in the middle, that says as much (probably more) as most of the whisperings of nervous GOP politicians.

Shailagh Murray: Good one.

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Washington, D.C.: Shailagh,

While many have expressed doubt about the simple capacity of the U.S. military to come up with 20,000 extra troops, the US Army, in its characteristically ingenious way, has come up with a human resource method not much contemplated this side of seance-land: it is inviting the dead and seriously wounded to re-enter the combat lists. This story was reported by AP and by other outlets.

Shailagh Murray: Thank you for noting it.

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Rockville, Md.: The polls do change a lot and to use them would be like following a weather vane. Most people like a plan and will suggest changes if it is not working.

Shailagh Murray: Where are all the crazies today? You people all sound so reasonable.

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Reston, Va.: Shailagh, thanks so much for taking questions.

I keep reading that the Democrats plan to pass stem cell research legislation in the first 100 days. Would it be politically smarter to fund research on less controversial amniotic fluid stem cells (showing the public they can be grownups and do what makes sense rather than just playing divisive partisan politics) or to force a show down with the President over embryonic stem cells?

Shailagh Murray: This new development with amniotic fluid would seem the ideal foundation to relaunch the stem cell debate. We'll see.

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Baltimore, Md.: If the opinions and tone of today's chatters is projectable one would have to think that the Republican party leadership will be lining up behind Chuck Hagel.

Shailagh Murray: We'll see the alliances taking shape in the next few days. Stay tuned.

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San Jose, Calif.: Could you enumerate at least some of the "tough questions" the Congress (or whoever is supposed to deal with them) needs to deal with about Iraq?

I always hear this phrase, in government, media, and in corporations I work for, when either someone wants to justify a weak political position, or justify a salary for which they aren't qualified, or when someone wants to claim that all is not as it seems. Usually, all is just as it seems. In Iraq, there are no good options, and there is no novel solution that will come out of dealing with the "tough questions" other than for the executive branch to deal with the tough reality that it has failed. That isn't something the Congress, Democratic or Republican, can change. My 2 cents.

Shailagh Murray: And thank you for weighing in.

By tough questions, I am referring to the basic Congressional oversight role of determining how all that Iraq money is being spend, what are the consequences for military readiness, other engagements like Afghanistan. That's the bedrock of our form of government, and it actually has a constructive goal: it brings other voices into the process. I can assure you that no one is doing this to justify their salary.

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Anonymous: How about a Hagel/Webb ticket? I'm sure Webb will jump ship soon enough for that to happen, don't you think?

Shailagh Murray: Hagel/Webb! You heard it here first!

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Tenafly, N.J.: How much of Obama's potential bid for the presidency is of merit and how much is just buzz? I see more of an Edwards/Obama or Obama/Edwards than the Clinton combo the previous post suggested. Do you think voters would be wary of two lawyers in the exec branch?

Shailagh Murray: Nah, everyone goes to law school now.

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Re: Jefferson: Let's grant that The Post has covered the Jefferson mess. Have you seen that carry to news magazines or TV news?

Shailagh Murray: Look, I have enough to do just getting my own stories reported and written! But I do think it's an interesting story and I am stunned by the relatively little coverage it has attracted.

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Falls Church, Va.: An earlier commenter wrote: "when even George Will describes the situation in Baghdad as a Shiite-Sunni equivalent of Stalingrad..."

Will has long opposed the Iraq war. This is not any sort of shift in position for him.

Shailagh Murray: Thanks George.

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Ft. Wash, Md.: I don't support this war in any way shape or form. However, I do think that since the US has gone into Iraq and basically upset everything the US bears a certain responsibility to correct the situation. Calling for an immediate withdrawal is a simplistic solution to the problems in Iraq. Though I also have no confidence that Bush and his gang will be able to present and execute anything resembling a plan to resolve the situation over there. The "surge" sounds like another in a long line of missed opportunities and blind paths.

Shailagh Murray: Thanks for weighing in.

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Ashburn, Va.: Is it possible that Bush will advocate an Iraq strategy (i.e. the surge) that will be so unpalatable that it won't be approved, so that he can then blame the policy failure on Congress? Or am I being too cynical?

Shailagh Murray: Yes, you are being too cynical.

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Lake Luzerne, N.Y.:

Why do we care so much more about Iraq, where our elected representatives have little influence, compared with affordable health care?

Shailagh Murray: Because the security of the most unstable part of the world is at stake.

That's all folks, great to hear from you, and thanks for the many, many thoughtful comments and questions. See you in a couple weeks...Cheers, Shailagh

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