Post Politics Hour

Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post White House Reporter
Tuesday, January 16, 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 White House reporter Michael Abramowitz was online Tuesday, Jan. 16, at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

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North Dartmouth, Mass.: Mike: As Bush gets more emperor-like,what is the chances that Nancy Pelosi will put impeachment back on the table? How else can we stop this runaway train?

Michael Abramowitz: Good morning everybody. I am already getting a bunch of questions, so let's get into it.

Impeachment is not on the table, and I doubt it will be short of unforeseen circumstances. The Democrats saw how impeachment seemed to hurt the Republicans more than the Democrats, and they don't want to go there.

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Raleigh, N.C.: If I were a retiree living in the D.C. area who was a total political geek, what one or two sets of hearings should I attend to be most likely to see history being made? This of course will factor in both the issue and the personality of the committee chair.

Michael Abramowitz: I am not sure how much history will be made, but for pure theatre, I suspect the Senate Foreign Relations committee hearings offer the best opportunity of fireworks this winter. You have a number of people running for president, and the Republicans on the committee, like Hagel and Lugar, tend to like to mix it up with the administration.

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Richmond, Va.: President Bush talked about deciding to go ahead despite the Democrats' objections, but he didn't mention the public's. Have you any explanation of why he left that out, and why?

Michael Abramowitz: I think the president has been very clear that while he has to pay attention to public opinion, he does not view that as determinative of how he makes decisions. So I am not surprised he did not allude to that in his speech.

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New York: If Bush started the Iraq war to spread democracy and liberty, why didn't he start with his friends in Saudi Arabia or Egypt?

Michael Abramowitz: Well that's a good question and gets to one of the tensions in Bush's foreign policy. It's interesting to note that Condi Rice showed up in Egypt yesterday and did not talk much about the political repression in that country, as she has on previous occasions. Things are so dire in Iraq that I suspect the administration will be focusing mostly on getting help to stabilize that country and will be putting aside, at least for now, what the White House calls the president's freedom agenda.

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Work with Congress: Considering the public's foul mood after the Administration and a GOP Congress amassed deficits and failed to even complete the budget process, isn't there a sizable risk here -- that in trying to play the blame game, Bush will cement the perception that the GOP cannot handle fiscal responsibility?

washingtonpost.com: Burden Set to Shift On Balanced Budget (Post, Jan. 16)

Michael Abramowitz: I tend to think the budget deficit is not typically a big political issue. What got the Republicans in trouble last year was the perception that spending was out of control, and politicians were willy-nilly inserting special pork projects ("earmarks") into the budget bills. That's why you saw the president last week making a renewed focus on reforming the earmark and budget process. But I am not sure the deficits hurt him politically, though that is separate from whether or not he has been running a good fiscal policy.

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Chicago: Now that Barack Obama is in the presidential race, where do you think he ranks among those already declared? Who gets hurt by having Obama in the race? Who doesn't declare as a result?

Michael Abramowitz: I would say he ranks in the top three Democratic contenders, which also include Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. I suspect Edwards is hurt by Obama's entrance in the race, because it makes it much harder for him or any other candidate not named Clinton to get a lot of attention.

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New Boston, N.H.: Given the high profiles of the people involved and the unpeeled layers of what many see as a pattern of incalculable deception and incompetence in the White House, how much of a chance is there that some sensational tidbit of information will come out of the Libby trial that will mandate prosecution of this president and vice-president? Or is it generally expected that administration officials will take the fifth amendment and that, if convicted, Libby quietly will be pardoned?

Michael Abramowitz: I have not been following the Libby case closely, but my sense if that if there were some sensational tidbit it would already be out by now. It will be interesting, though, to hear from some players we have yet to hear from, in particular Vice President Cheney--who seems likely to testify on Libby's behalf.

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Vernon, British Columbia: Good morning, and my wish is that yesterday everyone had at least one minute of retrospect of the message and legacy of Dr. King. And my question, is it probable, or even possible that Sen. McCain "wobbled" on the "torture bill" in exchange for being assured that more troops would be sent as he has always called for? It has been bandied about that President Bush has had this "surge" plan since the summer but waited, for obvious reasons, until after the mid-terms. I hope I don't sound like a conspiracy nut, but it just seems to fit. Thank you, Michael.

Michael Abramowitz: I don't think you are a conspiracy nut, but I don't see the evidence for this theory. I am not sure McCain "wobbled" on the torture issue, and I suspect he may be privately unhappy with the scope of the president's "surge" plan, which is not as ambitious as I think he would prefer.

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Fairfax, Va.: After refusing to join the anti-war cause for so long it appears Hillary is now scared. It's not the calculation pervading all things Hillary that is annoying, it is the obviousness of it. "Let's see, how do I not get trampled in the primaries? I know -- I will go to Iraq for a day (just a day, because I have stuff to do in Manhattan) and say I'm shocked, shocked to see how much things have deteriorated. Well, who knew they were going to get this bad? Now I have no choice but to call for a withdraw." Isn't this transparent to even the mildly cynical?

Michael Abramowitz: I agree with you that she is in a very difficult spot politically. With Obama against the war from the beginning and Edwards long since conceding that his vote for the war was a mistake, she is definitely on the right of the Democratic field on this issue. And that probably is not too comfortable given where the party is now on this issue. It's interesting to note that she has just postponed her press conference about Iraq today until tomorrow. So we'll have to wait another day to see how she spins her trip.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Michael -- What's your take on how the recent executions in Iraq are impacting public opinion here on the war? Even if Hussein et. al warranted punishment, I wonder if the average American sees the barbarism and wonders why the heck we're doing there, and if this is the type of government we're trying to prop up at the expense of an ever-growing number of American lives.

Michael Abramowitz: That's a good question. I don't have a good take on public opinion on this particular issue. It does seem to me that the way these executions were carried out will raise questions in peoples' mind whether the Iraqi government is really about reconciliation or about pursuing a narrow sectarian agenda. It's interesting that even President Bush, who has obviously been very supportive of the Maliki government, has criticized the way the Hussein execution was handled.

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Greenbelt, Md.: Am I the only one driven completely insane by Obama's lack of experience?

Michael Abramowitz: No. I think that's going to be the major hurdle for his candidacy.

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Rockville, Md.: It seems likely that the President will get his "last chance" to calm Baghdad and (by extension) the rest of Iraq before we leave. How will the Post monitor events to report promptly if the plan is working or not? Secretary Gates said we should know in a few weeks if the plan is working. Is this a major turning point?

Michael Abramowitz: The Post and other news organizations will be monitoring this very carefully, since it is clearly the big question. We have several very brave reporters now in Baghdad focused on this very question. They have already done some good stories in the past few days on this issue.

I think one problem for the president is that the patience of the American people has worn very thin on Iraq, but that it will almost certainly be years, not months, before the situation becomes truly stable. So he may not be allowed the time politically his generals feel may be required militarily to see things work. And of course, the Iraqis are not tied to our timetables either.

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Washington: The post-Bush era is quickly approaching. How much longer can the President realistically impose his will as he is still doing with the "surge"? I would guess that by next summer, he is going to be not just a lame duck but a crippled one and that the US international position is going to be very weak as a result. No one will listen to him at that point and we will have even more trouble rallying friends or coercing enemies.

Michael Abramowitz: I think the issue of lame-duckness is a real one. At some point, the rest of the world, lawmakers and the American public will tune out the president. I don't believe we have reached the tipping point yet, and I don't know when we will. It does seem to me that the president still retains considerable powers, and that it will be hard for Congress to stop him on the war, even if that were its inclination. A key variable is the view of congressional Republicans. If they turn on the war en masse, which they have yet to do, Bush will find his political situation truly parlous.

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Prescott, Ariz.: In your answer to Vernon, BC, you said that Sen. McCain may be privately unhappy with the scope of the escalation. I would like to point out that McCain was saying 20,000, 20,000, 20,000; until it became apparent that we were going to send about 20,000 more troops to Iraq. As one example I dug up using Google for 1 minute, here is what he said to the NY Sun in October:

"Roughly, you need another 20,000 troops in Iraq," Mr. McCain said Friday during a visit to northern New Hampshire.

Now that we are sending 20,000, he is trying to say he wanted more (in what I speculate is a craven attempt to have a position that has and will always be hypothetical, meaning it didn't fail) and you guys are letting him. No, this is his doctrine and you shouldn't let him weasel out of it.

Michael Abramowitz: Thanks for the alternative view on McCain.

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Future Press Conference by Bush?: Are there plans for the President to do a press conference with the media about his Iraq plan, besides 60 Minutes? Speaking of 60 Minutes, my wife and I almost fell out of our chair with the "Iraq owes America a big debt of gratitude" statement from Bush. Something about how it came off just didn't sit well with us. It seemed dismissive of what they are having to deal with in regards to the violence in their everyday lives and they should be thanking us for it!

Michael Abramowitz: I would suspect we will hear from the president in a press conference pretty soon. He tends to follow up major speeches with press conferences, but he does not give the press a lot of advance notice.

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Washington:"I have not been following the Libby case closely, but my sense if that if there were some sensational tidbit it would already be out by now."

I don't understand what you're trying to say? Where would the sensational tidbit come from? Leaks from Fitzgerald's office? You may be right (if that was your implication) but he seems a far different bird than Starr was.

Michael Abramowitz: I guess what I was saying that I am not anticipating some revelation that would be even more politically damaging to the White House than the information that has already come to light. But I am just guessing here.

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Williamsburg, Va.: Some worry about Obama's lack of experience, since he only had eight years in the Illinois House and is in his third year in the Senate. However, didn't a former President come into office with only eight years in the Illinois House and two years in Congress?

I think Abraham Lincoln did ok.

Michael Abramowitz: That's the frequent counter-argument you hear.

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St. Louis: Hi, Michael. I've heard many analysts say there are no good options going forward in Iraq. Then I hear the White House and others critical of Democrats for not offering a plan. Wouldn't any plan the Dems offer be shredded by the right? Aren't the Republicans just saying "give us something to criticize you for"?

Michael Abramowitz: There are not good options. Most of the Democrats seem to be in favor of a phased withdrawal from Iraq, so that is a "plan" though one not as detailed as the White House would want

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Crestwood, N.Y.: Good morning. What is your best guess as to how the Democrats would react to a US air strike on Iran? Wouldn't people like Steny Hoyer, Jane Harman, and Nita Lowey support it? If you were Karl Rove, wouldn't this be a good Hail Mary pass for Bush to throw at this point?

Michael Abramowitz: Interesting question. I think that there are a number of Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, who have been critical of the administration for not being sufficiently tough on Iraq. They may well support strikes at some point. But I suspect the reaction now would be we have not done enough diplomatic work so military action is premature.

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Garner, N.C.: Barrack is running for President. Will he be scrutinized for having used cocaine? Or will the media give him a pass because he has star quality?

Michael Abramowitz: Well, we have already written one story about this at the Post, a few weeks ago, by Lois Romano, so he is not being given a pass. I suspect there will be more about this issue if he goes ahead and jumps in the race.

That's it for time--thanks for all your questions. See you in two weeks.

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