Post Politics Hour

Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Friday, January 12, 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 Jonathan Weisman was online Friday, Jan. 12, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest political news and The Post's coverage of politics.

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.


Lake Luzerne, N.Y.:

Most of the Congressional Dems (Reid especially, but also others) sound so lame when challenged to offer an alternative to Bush's Iraq plan. They eventually mumble something that sounds a lot like the Study Group plan. Why don't they simply endorse the Study Group plan (with appropriate caveats), and then say that if Bush won't listen to his own handpicked commission, he's clearly not interested in what Democrats might have to say?

Jonathan Weisman: Many of them have, but the feeling, as expressed by Senate Majority Leader Reid yesterday, is that they are elected members of a legislature, not responsible for drafting detailed foreign policy.


Seattle: Hello Jonathan. It seems the question du jour is who, among Senate Republicans, is likely to break with the Prez and support an anti-escalation resolution? Are there enough to support a cloture motion? Thanks.

Jonathan Weisman: I can name at least six, and as the weeks go on, that number will grow. Even Senate Minority Leader McConnell said yesterday he didn't know if he had the votes to sustain a filibuster. That's bad for Bush.


Cambridge, Mass.: Thanks for taking questions. The "surge" hearings in Congress remind me of the astonishment I feel when I read about how strong a candidate Condie Rice would be if she were to decide to run for president. Next to Cheney no one has had more influence on Bush than Rice as NSA in concocting the failed policy to begin with, and next to Rumsfeld no one has had more of a role in failing to execute foreign policy than Rice as Secretary of State.

What exactly does she bring to the table besides loyalty to Bush and Cheney, and what value does that currency have these days (or more important in 2008 or even 2012)?

Jonathan Weisman: Condy ain't going anywhere in 2008 and after yesterday, I think she could think of no better place to leave than Washington. I agree that the taint of the Iraq war has crippled what political ambitions she might have had -- and I don't think she had any. Ditto poor Colin Powell. The big question is, what impact will it have on John McCain.


Washington: Love your hair! What salon do you use in D.C.?

Jonathan Weisman: Ya gotta be kidding! Actually, I have gone for years to a wonderful woman named Donna, who gives a mean scalp massage as well.


Oxford, Miss.: Hey there, young buck, riddle me this: What's the point of this non-binding resolution Congress is toying with? I heard Rahm Emanuel on the radio yesterday trying to explain how the resolution would express the Sense of the Congress, which is all fine and good assuming the President cares about the Sense of the Congress. I'd say he's proven that he doesn't. So what do they really expect to accomplish here?

Jonathan Weisman: The White House sees plenty of point. The elected Congress of the United States delivering such a visible rebuke to the commander in chief would be chilling, especially if many of his own party join in. It might not stop the president, but no doubt, it would embarrass him.


New York: Good Lord, why doesn't Lieberman make it official and just become a Republican? I have never seen anyone work so hard to undermine the party he is in (I know he "technically" is an Independent). I have relatives in Hartford and some of them are suffering from severe buyer's remorse.

Jonathan Weisman: Ah, how quickly we forget Zell Miller!


San Francisco: G'day, Jonathan -- appreciate your taking my question this morning. Where are the senior GOP Senators on the "surge?" I haven't heard from Warner and Stevens. Have you?

Jonathan Weisman: Good question. I'm listening to Warner right now. He seems pretty open to it, but he is asking some tough questions. I haven't heard from Stephens.


Fairfax, Va.: Ultimately it may be hard for the Dems to cut off the surge because Bush would veto any restriction within a spending bill and the Dems are afraid of the label of "abandoning" the troops (i.e. they won't cut off funds entirely for the war). So is this all a big show so the Dems can satisfy their base and avoid any responsibility for the catastrophe that is likely to follow?

Jonathan Weisman: Jack Murtha is convinced Bush cannot veto the war supplemental, especially if passage is delayed and money starts running thin. That's why he believes roping off funds for the "surge" but amply finding 132,000 troops in Iraq could actually become law. I agree Bush probably can't veto the bill, but he will have Senate Republicans doing his bidding to stop Murtha's efforts to pull shut the purse.


Washington: Looks like Speaker Pelosi was bought off by a large corporation in her district, and what a surprise, no coverage in The Post? The minimum wage increase includes all of our territories, except American Samoa. One of the biggest opponents of the federal minimum wage in Samoa is StarKist Tuna, which owns one of the two packing plants that together employ more than 5,000 Samoans, or nearly 75 percent of the island's work force.

StarKist's parent company, Del Monte Corp., has headquarters in San Francisco. No coverage of the hypocrisy this morning in The Post, which just proves my point -- biased anti-republican paper.

Jonathan Weisman: Dude, I was the first to write on this. See below (man, I enjoyed this question)

HEADLINE: Minimum-Wage Bill Stirs Controversy in Pacific Islands;

Democrats Aim Raise for Northern Marianas but Not Samoa

BYLINE: Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post Staff Writer


After years of protection from the likes of Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff, employers on the Northern Mariana Islands would finally have to pay workers the federal minimum wage under legislation before the House tomorrow.

Democrats have long tried to pull the Northern Marianas under the umbrella of U.S. labor laws, accusing the island government and its industry leaders of coddling sweatshops and turning a blind eye to forced abortions and indentured servitude. But Abramoff, the once-powerful Republican lobbyist now in federal prison, spent millions of dollars from the island and its business interests currying favor with Republicans, aligning support with conservative interest groups and thwarting every effort to intervene in the Northern Marianas' economy.

But Republican leadership aides accused the Democrats of using a double standard by imposing the higher minimum wage on a government with a Republican representative to the United States while continuing to exempt a territory with a Democratic delegate. American Samoa and the tuna industry that dominates its economy would remain free to pay wages that are less than half the bill's mandatory minimum.


Warrenville, Ill.: Mr. Weisman -- thanks for taking this question.

The political atmosphere in this country seems to have changed dramatically since the 2004 presidential election. Mr. Bush's affect in his prime time address this week seems to have telegraphed both rigidity and weakness. (One pundit said that Bush was talking to his base, nobody else.) Members of both houses of Congress -- and from both parties -- not only were unpersuaded by the address but seem to have been offended by it.

To an outside observer (like me) the changes in the political atmosphere seem both poisonous and promising. The Democratic Party has selected Denver for its 2008 convention; the announcement of venue was contained in a statement celebrating increased support for Democratic candidates in the West. Congressional responses to the President's escalation finally seem to have justified the President's 2000 description of himself as "not a divider, but a uniter."

Do you think that the current mess actually might begin to heal the divisiveness and nastiness that has infused into political arguments in this country? Or is this seeming comity only the result of desperation of both Democrats and Republicans? Do you think that politics will soon revert to an unprecedented level of hostility?

Jonathan Weisman: My colleague, Dana Milbank, said this morning that President Bush has managed to finally unite Washington -- against him. The president's approval ratings are in the low 30s. Some polls have him even lower. I think the poison is actually draining, as Republicans grown increasingly worried about standing up for the White House.


Registered Republican in Florida: "The big question is, what impact will it have on John McCain." Senator McCain might as well go back to his ranch in Arizona and start clearing brush and bush... he is toast now.

Jonathan Weisman: Maybe. But don't count him out. With his ardent followers, he scores points just by standing firm.


Lieberman...: Agreeing with Republicans (or, in this case, the President, seeing as how not all Repubs agree with him!) on one issue doesn't make one a Republican. Lieberman has a pretty liberal voting record. He's not a Republican. If someone is pro-choice does that automatically make him a Democrat, even if he votes the Republican party line on every other issue? You get my point. It drives me crazy.

Jonathan Weisman: Right. I don't know of a single vote Lieberman has taken that has broken with his party on economic, social or environmental policy. I challenge someone to find one.


Oxford, Miss.: Speaking of hair, I used to be a staffer in the Senate and I'd get my haircut in the basement barber shop of the Russell Building. Those guys were fantastic! I didn't care how they cut my hair, but the stories they told were incredible. Great place to get some inside dirt.

Jonathan Weisman: I've got too much left for those guys.


Richmond, Va.: There's an article in the Los Angeles Times this morning that suggests the "surge" is just a stalling tactic in order to prolong the war so that the Democrats can take the fall for the inevitable failure (a strategy devised by Kissinger and Nixon, which according to the article worked well for the Republicans at the time). Surely the Democrats are aware of this, right?

Jonathan Weisman: Well, President Bush was pretty up front when he said the decision to pull troops out will be made by the next president. And I'm not sure Democrats take the fall. History has recorded Vietnam as Lyndon Johnson's folly, not Richard Nixon's. (He had follies of his own)


Fort Washington, Md.: In the world of Congress, do the Democrats plan to abide by filibuster agreement that was struck last year?

Jonathan Weisman: Nah. The world has changed.


Potomac, Md.: The Democratic Party better watch it with this talk of stopping the troops surge, not to mention the plan to make reservists serve 24 months at a time rather than twelve.

When you have a lazy labor force, what do you do? You crack the whip and take away their comfort level. Same thing here. The President reads the stories about troops sitting in their La-Z-Boys in their "forward base camps", playing Nintendo and watching "Pimp My Ride". The American people read those stories, and know it's the soldiers who are losing this war and hurting our stock portfolios, all because they're too lazy to go shoot someone.

The Democrat Party can stand up to the President, but that means they stand for the lazy people in society. We all know how that turned out when Carter and Kennedy stood with lazy people against Reagan.

Jonathan Weisman: I hope you're kidding.


Dallas: You type fast. Is good.

Jonathan Weisman: Two fingers on each hand and lots of practice.


New York: I don't support the troop escalation, nor do I support the Democrats blame-it-all-on-the-Iraqis "strategy." I am fed up with the disingenuous "America first" pandering that the Democrats are spewing right now -- yes, the US did make a sacrifice in terms of its soldiers and money, but accusing the Iraqi people of being ungrateful and threatening to abandon the country serves no purpose except to appear un-Bush. This is not a strategy. What we need is a radical shift in our foreign policy that embraces multi-lateralism, dialogue, diplomacy and fairness with respect to human rights (i.e. a balanced position on Israel-Palestine, and the end of the cozying up to repressive dictators such as Mubarek and the Saudi royals). Neither party is willing to do that, and until then Iraq will remain a quagmire.

Jonathan Weisman: Actually, there is a ground swell in both parties for a real diplomatic initiative with Syria and Iran, as well as a re-engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. As for blaming the Iraqis, they do seem to be killing each other at a remarkable clip.


Takoma Park, Md.: Dear sir ... have any Democrats in Congress considered a bill that would put a limit on the number (or length) of rotations soldiers can be forced to do in Iraq? Wouldn't it be nearly impossible for the President to veto such a bill? This would essentially guarantee a staggered pull out from Iraq without coming across as de-funding the troops.

Jonathan Weisman: That is one of the options that Rep. Jack Murtha is thinking of attaching to the next war funding bill. He'd also like to say no troops deployed for the "surge" can be taken from Army or Marine units that are not certified fully combat ready and further deployments of National Guardsmen and Reservists could be severely limited. The impact Murtha wants is to make it impossible for Bush to deploy the troops without running afoul of Congress. Republicans think Bush will just veto the bill, but Murtha is counting on the president being so desperate for the money that he'll have to sign.


Washington: I wrote the post of the Pelosi double standard. Your article is 80 percent about what Republicans did, and about 20 percent on what is happening now. You never once mention it is Pelosi's home district, nor do you mention the company is based in San Fran. It is basically bashing Republicans, with one little side note at the bottom about the new bill.

Jonathan Weisman: I looked at Del Monte, which is San Francisco-based, but Del Monte executives have given to Republicans almost exclusively and have given nothing to Pelosi or the major Democratic committees. If they had, we would have printed it, but our standards are a little higher than the guilt-by-association standards of our competitor.


Washington: Now that Donald Rumsfield is out of power who is running the new Team B? Rove? Leo Strauss from his grave? Machiavelli himself perhaps?

Jonathan Weisman: Nobody is in charge.


Washington: "Even Senate Minority Leader McConnell said yesterday he didn't know if he had the votes to sustain a filibuster."

B-b-but, surely the Senate GOP would never lead a filibuster. Isn't that unconstitutional traitorous subversion of our Founders intent? Where is the Gang of 14 when you need them. Can we look forward to another drawn-out debate over the "nuclear option?"

Jonathan Weisman: McConnell made it clear it would take 60 votes to bring a resolution of disapproval to the floor. He will make the argument that such a vote has no place in war time. But alas, he may lose.


New York: Still very little media attention to Afghanistan, even though a senator (Hagel?) pointed out yesterday that Bush plans to pull troops out of there for Iraq. Why isn't Bush's lack of interest in pursuing bin Laden causing a bigger stir?

Jonathan Weisman: Hey, a photo of troops deploying to Afghanistan dominated our front page today.


Denver, Colorado: There seems to be a policy developing out of President's speech that does not include working regionally with all the neighboring countries in the Middle East. Instead, the Bush Administration's policy seems to be to challenge Iraq and Syria even more. I've never seen the US in a more dangerous and escalating predicament and at a greater distance from the rest of the world. How does Congress feel about this aggressive policy?

Jonathan Weisman: Very, very worried. For the first time, I've been hearing lawmakers openly fretting about possible attack plans on Iran. I don't believe it, but the concern is palpable.


Rockville, Md.: I was in Vietnam ('73-'75) when the U.S. Congress refused to enforce a good peace treaty to show the Nixon/Ford administration up. Now we seem ready to toss away a significant effort because of a President in disfavor. How did this come to be? Why not give us one more chance to correct the problem? Is political victory for the Democrats more important than our national interests. Or do you think a compromise can be found for a slower disengagement?

Jonathan Weisman: The president will probably get his one last chance, if for no other reason than most of the troops will be there before Congress can vote to block them. Both parties are watching their political back sides on this one, and they would say the American people have spoken already -- in November.


Crestwood, N.Y.: All the buzz is that the Mother of All Wag the Dogs is on the way, in the form of a preemptive strike on Iran. What would happen in Congress if this occurred?

Jonathan Weisman: The buzz in certain circles, yes, but it's a bit absurd. What troops would the administration use?


Scarsdale, N.Y.: I enjoyed your colleague Sudarsan Raghavan's article today following Apache Company on patrol. However, the soldiers need to be courtmartialed for questioning the President. They also point to the President's recognition of the real problem in Iraq. Does Spec. Caldwell care about doing his job, shooting terrorists? No, he worries about whether he'll get to see the birth of his child in seven months, as though that matters when compared to the epoch struggle against Islamic terrorism we face today. Oh, and he says "I want to go back and play my PlayStation". Some kind of soldier. U.S. Unit Patrolling Baghdad Sees Flaws in Bush Strategy (Post, Jan. 12)

Jonathan Weisman: OK, Scarsdale, suit up. Baghdad needs you.


Claverack, N.Y.: Last I heard, Chuck Hagel was sending out signals that he wasn't going to run for president. I hope he's reconsidered, because it would be both a shame and a mistake.

Six months ago, maybe it looked like there was no way the senator could distinguish himself enough from McCain. Now the differences couldn't be more stark: McCain supports the surge, and Hagel thinks it's the worst idea ever. Hagel is uniquely positioned to be both an unimpeachable conservative and a credible anti-war Republican, and that could be a very strong position come next January.

Jonathan Weisman: Hagel said definitively that he will not run. But there's always the vice presidency. (His problem is, McCain has cornered the market on the plain-spoken Republican maverick. But if McCain keeps sticking with the president on the war, an opening could come like a gaping wound.)


Re: Lieberman: Didn't Lieberman support the Catholic Hospitals who didn't want to offer rape victims emergency contraception? I remember he said something to the effect of if the rape victims didn't like it, they could take a cab to another hospital. I hardly think that makes him pro-choice. Has anyone mentioned he is reneging on his pre-election pledge to investigate Katrina and demand documents from the White House? Your comrades at Newsweek had that scoop.

Jonathan Weisman: Alright, I think you got me on that one.


Paris, Miss.: We're making Leo Strauss jokes now? That must be an online chat first.

Jonathan Weisman: First one on one of mine!


Ellicott City, Md.: So if 21,500 more troops is good, why not more? Wouldn't that be better? Since the number was not devised by the generals who have been saying more troops are useless, why not the home run with the most troops to definitely win?

Jonathan Weisman: Bravo, Sen. McCain! Seriously, you have a point. Military experts are saying 21,500 is not enough to do the job, but will be enough to stoke more unrest.


Re: Secretary of State Rice: Secretary of State Rice surely has had a hands-on influence for every aspect of the Iraq strategy right from the beginning -- and yet, none of the negatives seem to stick to her (grilling yesterday notwithstanding). Why?

Jonathan Weisman: She has a soothing tone and a womanly touch. Rumsfeld just rubbed everybody the wrong way, and let's not even talk about Cheney's demeanor.


LaVale, Md.: To completely change the subject from Iraq: I saw the YouTube tape of Mitt Romney debating Ted Kennedy back in 1994. He comes off as very pro-choice and pro-gay. Now that he wants to run as the darling of the religious right, he merely says that he was wrong back then. Really? He sounds like he knew what he was talking about in the tape. Was he wrong because now he needs to have completely different positions for the constituency he hopes to cultivate? And why would that constituency ever believe him?

Jonathan Weisman: You've pinpointed his major vulnerability in the primary campaign. His Republican rivals will savage him with those YouTube clips.


Anonymous: You think an attack on Iran is absurd? No troops needed, just B-2's and carrier aircraft. This is why, for the first time since the invasion, Patriot anti-missile batteries are being deployed into Iraq. They may not strike, but the option is obviously being kept open. Any new word on the U.S. raid on what Iran calls their consulate in Iraq? If the Iranians do anything to retaliate for that, watch out!

Jonathan Weisman: Do you remember the Chinese at the Yalu River? One B-2 bomb in Teheran and our 150,000 troops will be swamped by the Revolutionary Guard.


Lake Luzerne, NY: I disagree about "poor" Colin Powell. His Bush 41 counsel on Iraq looms as heroic today, and the Bush 43 words he would have to eat will go down easily with most when he becomes a Dem and testifies at one or more "What Went Wrong" hearings about how Cheney warped the CIA. He just oozes principled leadership, and he's still half of my dream '08 ticket: Vilsack/Powell.

Jonathan Weisman: Interesting. But you really think his performance at the UN on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction will be forgotten so easily?


Alexandria, Va.: Any chance the 110th will require Bush to seek a new Iraq Resolution? Given that the last one specifically authorized Bush to remove Saddam as a "threat to national security" and bring Iraq into compliance with UN mandates, it does NOT cover our current activity.

Jonathan Weisman: That is under discussion, but I doubt it will happen. Too many bad Democratic memories of the last one.


New York: Nixon gets the blame for prolonging the war for four years, waiting until just before the 1972 to have Kissinger say "peace is at hand". In the final analysis the Republicans (Nixon and Ford) followed McGovern's plan to just up and leave Vietnam, only difference is that they waited to make sure lots more Americans got killed first. Sure looks a lot like the Bush plan.

Jonathan Weisman: That may be the historical truth, but is it the historical zeitgeist? I agree that Nixon deserves to be remembered for his secret plans, his bombing of Cambodia, et al, but I stand by my statement that historical zeitgeist sees Vietnam as LBJ's war.


Texas: John - 30 seconds, if I may? Scarsdale: Both my brothers served in Iraq. Both missed their children. Both saw death. Both caused death. Both served bravely. Both reserved judgment, did their jobs, served their country. Both also played PlayStation, listened to music, read every magazine I could ship them. They don't stop being men -- or, in some cases, boys -- simply because they are soldiers. If you think otherwise, I would suggest you join them and see for yourself. Otherwise shut up.

Jonathan Weisman: Scarsdale, meet Texas -- preferably not in a dark alley.


"Womanly touch?": The Secy Rice I saw yesterday on C-span was petulant, evasive, and dismissive. Other than more hair and better legs not much of an improvement over Rumsfeld. I don't think she'd last two weeks in the white-hot spotlight of a presidential campaign. Fox News notwithstanding.

Jonathan Weisman: OK, but no comment on the legs.


Washington: Whoa .. the blame-the-Iraqis strategy is not a Democratic Strategy. In fact, it's been used by pundits and politicians on the Republican side as a way to try to distance themselves from the blame of a poorly run war.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) followed by noting: "People in South Carolina come up to me in increasing numbers and suggest that no matter what we do in Iraq, the Iraqis are incapable of solving their own problems through the political process and will resort to violence, and we need to get the hell out of there."

"If the Iraqis are determined and decide to destroy themselves and their country, I don't know how in the world we're going to stop them," said Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.).

The turning point in the blame game seems to have occurred in early October, when both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) went public with their frustrations, warning the Baghdad government that it must do much more much faster.

Jonathan Weisman: I agree completely.


Raleigh, N.C.: Thanks for allowing us to tap into your inside knowledge. If the Iraq war was not an issue, what issues, in your opinion, would Congress be tackling instead? I'm wondering what the political "opportunity cost" is of all these hearings and debate on Iraq. (I'm not complaining, as Iraq is clearly, far and away, the No. 1 issue. I'm just wondering what other problems the Congress would be working on.)

Jonathan Weisman: Good question. You may not know it but the House voted this week to implement stringent new homeland security measures, raise the minimum wage and allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research this week. Today, it will vote to require the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare. The real problem with the Iraq debate -- and Democratic leaders know it -- is it is taking all the attention away from their carefully crafted legislative blitz. The other big issues so far unaddressed and unremarked on are the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program and last year's military commissions bill.


Rockville, Md.: "they would say the American people have spoken already -- in November."

True. But most ran on the idea of "new directions." They did not say "rapid withdrawal" or what ever choice they actually favored. More voters can favor "new direction" if the candidate is not so specific as to what they mean. I have wondered how they would decide exactly which was the new direction. Now I know.

Jonathan Weisman: That is true. Most Democrats did not run on withdrawal. That is why Democrats are harping on stopping an "escalation" and avoiding the topic of the 132,000 troops already there.


Baltimore: Jonathan: Thank you for pointing out the grim tactical realities of an air strike against Iran. The Iranian military ain't the demoralized, weakened Iraqi military we faced in 2003. I really believe any outright aggression by U.S. forces would lead to a huge loss of American troops. If Bush thinks he has problems with the country now, let's see him deal with 1,000 dead soldiers and Marines from a single day's engagement.

Jonathan Weisman: I don't know the math on casualties, but I do think the consequences would be swift and severe.


Fairfax, Va.: Is it realistic to hope for Mark Warner as a VP nominee for the Democratic ticket in 2008, or do you think he will wait until some of this nightmare has blown over, run for governor again and then in 2012 run for national office?

Jonathan Weisman: I think it is very realistic. A governor from the new south, especially to round out a ticket topped by a northern senator. Richardson, governor of New Mexico, serves much the same purpose.


Anonymous: Jonathan: Do you remember the Chinese at the Yalu River? One B-2 bomb in Teheran and our 150,000 troops will be swamped by the Revolutionary Guard.

The problem is that over desert, human wave attacks do not stand up well to cluster bombs. Gruesome, and I hope to God it never happens, but militarily that is the fact.

Jonathan Weisman: Yes, but even the administration says a whole lot of Iranians have already infiltrated Iraq and are already making mischief. I wouldn't put too much faith in military technology. Look what happened to Don Rumsfeld.


It's July 2008...: You're Barack Obama, you ran for the nomination, and you won. Who do you pick as your running mate?

Jonathan Weisman: Warner of Virginia or Richardson of New Mexico, governors and chief executives from key regions.


Katy, Texas: Republican, Bush voter but never an ardent supporter. What Republican has the personality to be a top contender and has been on the right side of the debate? I think voting initially for the Iraqi action would be OK if the person could show that they were pushing for more oversight. Was there ever a Republican congressman that wanted proper oversight early on?

Jonathan Weisman: Good question. Ah, if only Chuck Hagel could be persuaded to run. Sam Brownback, with his stunning statement issued from Iraq on the night of the president's speech, showed a side that I had never seen.


Chicago: Dean chose Denver -- he offered his reasons. But what about the logistics problems? Do they basically have a year and a half to figure that out?

Jonathan Weisman: Hey, Denver is a big city with a huge airport and the convention will be well before the first blizzard. I'm sure it will go fine. (Unless the speeches suck)


Wilmington, N.C.: "McCain has cornered the market on the plain-spoken Republican maverick."

Is he? A "plain-spoken Republican maverick", I mean.

Jonathan Weisman: As I said, the reputation may be slipping.


Pittsburgh: I think the most dishonest answer given by Secy Rice yesterday was in answer to a question about projected casualties associated with the planned escalation. She said she didn't think anyone generates numbers like that. What a crock. The DoD certainly has projections on casualties -- they've surged troop levels five times since the war's inception. Do you think Congress will follow up on this line of questioning?

Jonathan Weisman: Yes, but I don't think they have to. That answer does seem ridiculous on its face.


Minneapolis: I guess I don't see a problem if Iraq is taking the "spotlight" away from what's being worked on now; Medicare, stem cell, etc. If the 110th Congress is actually working on something that's a huge change from the 109th.

Jonathan Weisman: That ultimately was the Democratic leadership's decision. Iraq was going to grab the headlines, like it or not. They may as well be big players in the debate. In the end, Congress's track record is compiled when the year is up, not necessarily when it's underway.


I don't get...: ...the new line from the White House that letting the government negotiate lower Medicaid drug prices is "against the free market". Companies negotiate lower prices for material they purchase in bulk every day. This doesn't pass the snicker test (and I'm not talking peanuts, nougat and caramel).

Jonathan Weisman: Well, in their defense, the private insurers do seem to be doing a pretty good job negotiating prices. Prices have been lower and savings have been higher than anyone initially predicted. The biggest concern is probably choice. If the government drove to hard a bargain, drug companies could walk away from the table on their most lucrative products, figuring seniors would find a way to buy them on their own.


Lake Luzerne, N.Y.: A Congressional resolution against the surge and a near-miss on a funding cutoff actually helps Bush by putting more pressure on Maliki to deliver results. The Iraqis in power may object to U.S. troops, but I'll bet they're scared to death about a big cut in U.S. money.

Jonathan Weisman: Good point, but that assumes Maliki has the power and authority to do what needs to be done. That is the biggest question on Capitol Hill.


Rockville, Md.: "Do you remember the Chinese at the Yalu River?"

I served with Army intelligence officers who were there and who told MacArthur to stay away from China. I also knew infantry soldiers who had a long slog to get out of that trap. Good point. But I am not so sure that the Guard could run over our troops. We do have firepower and perhaps some weapons not yet seen.

Jonathan Weisman: Good to hear from you Rockville. But as I said, Iran has assets in the Iraqi Shia community that even the administration acknowledges. They are already there.


New York: Will Schwarzenegger's plan to move the California primary to February go anywhere? Seems only fair.

Jonathan Weisman: Don't put anything best the governator, the Republican with the plan to beat global warming and guarantee universal health care.


Washington: Why is it we could invade without a plan but can't exit without a plan? Why not just concoct a rationale that fits with our objective of leaving now and then keep the bull flowing until we get everyone home safe for Christmas 2007? Once we have everyone home and safe, we can discover that what we believed was all wrong and it is the Iraqis who will suffer the consequences.

Jonathan Weisman: Declare victory and leave. I guess that may be the inevitable solution, but nobody wants to face up to it yet.


Carlsbad, Calif.: From USMC (ret). Having spent a considerable amount of time on the ground in Iraq in '04-'05, I would ask anyone in Congress how they can possibly envision a successful campaign when there has been neither recognition nor support for the private (logistics and security) sector in Iraq, which operates in a void the military cannot fill. Secondly, how is it that Congressional representatives, many of whom possess advanced degrees, have yet to understand that providing the Iraqi people with a great opportunity to participate in the democratic process could not possibly mature justice sector, which as I understand it might take years to develop in a region possessing little experience?

Jonathan Weisman: I leave it to our elected representatives to read your astute questions, Carlsbad.


Wheaton, Ill.: Mr. Weisman -- as a gay man I find the current political situation fascinating. The President and his party have demonized gay people -- winning elections by appealing to citizens' ignorance of gay people and by claiming that allowing us to marry would destroy every heterosexual marriage in the country. (The Republicans seem to believe that if homosexuality were not stigmatized that everyone would find it so appealing that no one would stay heterosexual.)

Given that gay people are always convenient targets, when do you think that the Republicans are going back to attack gay people? How soon will the Republicans decide to use us to help Americans ignore the mess in Iraq?

Jonathan Weisman: I don't know. The attacks didn't work so well in November, and ah, what to do about Mary Cheney's baby!


Sewickley, Pa.: Do you see a serious effort to get Iraq and Afghanistan war funding on-budget?

Jonathan Weisman: Yes. I think that has bipartisan support.


Anonymous: "But you really think his performance at the UN on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction will be forgotten so easily?"

I can forgive him for saying what he thought to be true at the time. His "Powell Doctrine" about having enough force to complete a war quickly is one we need to remember. That still holds up well.

Jonathan Weisman: Draft Colin!


Silver Spring, Md.: Lieberman: Faith based initiatives, parental notification -- all these things seem pretty mainstream. He backed the Schiavo intervention, which most House Dems didn't, and about 70% of liberals rank and file opposed. And Iraq is a major issue. He also voted for Bush's present AG.

Jonathan Weisman: On that note, I acknowledge defeat and call the discussion to a close. Have a great time following politics on It's always entertaining.


New York: Not a question -- just a compliment. Thank you for your many thoughtful answers to our questions. I read this Political Discussion everyday, and it's clear that some WP participants put more energy and thought into it than others. One or two of your colleagues seem to think they are here mostly to entertain and make a joke in nearly every response, wasting all of our time. Others are much more respectful, but only manage to answer a dozen or so questions during the hour. Thanks for another great chat, Jonathan.

Jonathan Weisman: Alright, one more to publish.


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