Post Politics Hour

Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Monday, March 5, 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, March 5, at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

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Shailagh Murray: Morning! A bit late getting started, sorry about that. Let's hear what's on your mind.


Portland, Ore.: I've seen very little coverage of the two pieces of proposed legislation in the Senate concerning reinstating habeas corpus for terror detainees -- one from Sen. Dodd and another one from Sens. Leahy and Specter. Both would change portions of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. What is the current status of these bills, and do they have a chance of getting passed? Thanks for taking my question.

Shailagh Murray: Both of these efforts are very much in the mix, and although they aren't likely to pass, they are expected to surface at some point soon. All three of these senators could be described as highly motivated on this issue -- in particular Dodd, who of course is running for president.


Rochester, N.Y.: Hey, Shailagh, glad you're back. No one else at The Post will take my questions anymore.

What do you think of the stories this weekend about Rudy Giuliani's estrangement from his son Andrew? How big a story is this in terms of likely media coverage and potential harm to political ambitions? On a scale of 1-10, 1 being the least important (say, the $400 billion dollar budget deficit or the fact that we no longer have any civil rights in this country) and 10 being the most (say, Britney's shaved head or astronauts stalking in diapers), where would you rate this story? Does it have the potential to morph Giuliani from "America's mayor" into "America's ex-husband"? More broadly, what would a Giuliani nomination mean culturally? Would it represent a real change for a party that runs on "God, guns and gays" to nominate a thrice-married man who stayed with gay friends for six months and supports gun control? Would this be a sign that David Broder-style centrism is in ascendancy -- or a sign of the apocalypse? Noticeably Absent From the Giuliani Campaign: His Children (New York Times, March 3)

Shailagh Murray: That's because you asked 20 questions! But what you're getting it as the central issue surrounding Giuliani -- will all the personal/professional/ideological loose threads eventually cause him to unravel, or does America's mayor transcend that level of scrutiny? We just don't know at this point. I expect this will become clear once he starts acting like a typical candidate -- you know, pandering to Iowa farmers and whatnot.


Washington: Here's a nice big general question for you: How are things settling down in Congress now that they've had a little time to get used to all the new faces and office spaces? Are people trying to play nice, or is sand still getting kicked?

Shailagh Murray: It's quite a civilized environment, actually. Partly that's because the war is the dominant issue, so the lawmakers are acting more like grown ups. The House Republicans have assumed more of a partisan opposition role on the war but they're in such disarray they're not very effective.


Philadelphia: Shailagh ... nice to put a face with a name. Have you talked to either Sen. Domenici or Rep. Wilson, both of New Mexico, or their offices about their involvement with the firing of U.S. Attorney Iglesias?

Shailagh Murray: Sen. Domenici issued a lengthy statement yesterday, which we linked to on our Web site, but so far no news from Heather WIlson, who apparently made the first phone call. I expect we'll talk to both of them today, because the House and Senate have votes this afternoon. This is a very serious issue -- what they apparently did is a big, big no-no.


Winnipeg, Canada: We have read a lot in the post lately about nastiness in left-wing blog sites. During the weekend, however, at the CPAC event, Ann Coulter made a homophobic slur against Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, and received a roar of approval for it from the crowd. It seems to me that institutionalized nastiness of the type displayed during the weekend is an order of magnitude more serious than a few extremists posting on a Web site. Am I missing something here? Start Spreading the News (Post, March 5)

Shailagh Murray: Whatever anyone thinks of Ms. Coulter, her entire shtick is the deadpan ridiculous statement. That's how she markets herself.


Washington: Good morning! I'm sitting here enjoying my morning coffee, and laughing. Even the venerable NPR has a story talking about the "showdown" between Obama and Clinton (sorry, to me a showdown consists of debate) where clearly this was an occasion where both candidates equally respectful, positive, and self-serving.

What got me laughing is how the early entrance of all the candidates has created an American Idol type of campaign. The better singers (excuse me, orators) get early hype, the slow winnowing of hopefuls who can't pass the early judging (i.e., fundraising), and eventually we'll have rounds where the viewers get to vote (okay, we'll call them primaries). Finally, we'll al gather around the TV to watch the final results show. And as with other reality shows, the media will focus more on the backstage conflict (e.g., Geffen) than on the actual talent and vision. Must be something in my coffee this morning...

Shailagh Murray: I agree -- it's one thing to bill that event in advance as a showdown, but it sure didn't unfold that way. In fact, I think some of the substance got short shrift. Obama in particular gave quite a compelling speech, the substance of which was more or less ignored.


Winnipeg, Canada: With respect, I was not talking about Coulter's shtick -- I was talking about the approval she received from the gathering, and tacitly from the organizers who booked her. David Letterman has a shtick, too, but it didn't get him on the CPAC agenda, and it would not gain him thunderous approval from the crowd. Do you not think that the popularity of the Coulter shtick is worrisome?

Shailagh Murray: I guess I expect both the extreme right and the extreme left to have cruel fun at each other's expense.


Princeton, N.J.: Could you be a bit more specific about the habeas bills? Why don't you expect either to pass? Votes? Veto? Some of us are very incensed about this.

Shailagh Murray: There is no schedule, as far as I know, but I wouldn't be surprised if Dodd's bill pops up as an amendment on the war supplemental.


Roseland, N.J.:"A big no-no"- you've repeated the phrase I've constantly heard used in context with Sen Domenici's call to the fired prosecutor. But what does that mean? Is it out-and-out illegal for a sitting senator to directly contact a prosecutor? Does it violate Senate rules? Does it matter what was talked about? Does it matter, as the senator says, that he "made no threat," or is the call itself presumed to be threat enough? What are the consequences of this "big no-no"? Is this a matter for an ethics committee or a special prosecutor?

Shailagh Murray: This is the Keating Five all over again. Under Senate and House ethics rules, you're not allowed to pressure federal regulators, law enforcement officials, etc., on official business like a rule-making process or an investigation.


Right-Wing v. Left-Wing Nastiness: Both are nasty -- the right is up-front about it (perhaps even revels in it) and the left likes to hide it.

Shailagh Murray: More on Coulter.


Yelm, Wash.: Shailagh, does the super-extended 2008 presidential campaign mainly benefit the GOP by offering them an opportunity to rehabilitate their candidates' connections to the troubled era (2000-present) of GOP dominance? What with almost wall-to-wall coverage on cable news already and plenty of time for right-wing radio to try to change the narrative, will Americans just get bored by the whole affair?

Shailagh Murray: I don't think the schedule benefits or hurts anyone or any side in particular. It does present many new challenges that some candidates will manage better than others. You could argue that the longer the campaign season, the more opportunity a lower-tier candidate has to get noticed -- but on the other hand, if they don't raise a lot of money pretty quickly, they won't be around long enough to surge.


Scarsdale, New York: I find Hillary Clinton's direction to the Wellesley library to suppress her senior thesis on Saul Alinsky to be very troubling. Doesn't this attempt to hide information indicate that she won't hesitate to do so as President? She is manipulating the information available to us. Also, she seems to have declared her husband's impeachment off-limits to other presidential candidates. Who does this behavior remind you of? Could it be ... President Bush and his formerly heavy clamp on the media about war news, Guantanamo Bay, secret camps, etc.? It's just such an unsavory way for her to relate to us, the people. Reading Hillary Rodham's hidden thesis (MSNBC, March 3)

Shailagh Murray: I'm not sure what to make of this development, but on the surface it seems very weird.


Washington: I find the Post's coverage of Defense Secretary Gates' swift action to fire some in the army leadership rather intriguing. How much of a honeymoon do you think Gates is being given because he is the not Don Rumsfeld? With Abu Ghraib, the President supposedly expressed confidence in Rumsfeld and refused to accept the Defense Secretary's resignation. Now high level people are finally being held accountable by the new SecDef, as they should, but I can't help but feel that the White House is partially trying to make up for letting low level people bear the brunt of past failures of leadership and wants to show that things are different now, especially given that the war is going badly. At the Pentagon, Gates Seen as Liberator (Post, March 5)

Shailagh Murray: There's always the possibility that the White House actually doesn't want to fail in Iraq, and in turning to Gates and others is trying to correct itself.


Clifton, Va.: And a Happy St Patrick's Season to you. The quality of military medical care has been awful for as long as I can remember -- I know many a retiree who pays for health care as a Fed or Department of Defense contractor so that they don't have to use military medical care. My fiancee is in the U.S. Army, and the Army destroyed her shoulder with a botched surgery two years ago. She now has two tumors in her neck and shoulder and suffers from PTSD, and her shoulder still hasn't been fixed. I told her when we get married that there was no way I was going under the military medical system, and if the Army said anything she better be ready for a court-martial because I would tell her C.O. where to go! I am a DOD employee and will keep my insurance. Problem now is that most military medical facilities except for the Air Force's are overburdened with casualties and wounded, and a system that was just barely adequate is collapsing. And yeah, heads should roll for poor planning etc. Have CHAMPUS take care of dependent and retiree care at civilian medical facilities only -- no care at military medical facilities for retirees and their dependents and for current active-duty dependents unless its a Level One trauma case and the base hospital is closest. Let them go out in the civilian world. No elective surgery for active-duty military until things get better. 'It Is Just Not Walter Reed' (Post, March 5)

Shailagh Murray: What makes you think I'm Irish?

I find this story so impossibly depressing. But, perhaps the Walter Reed meltdown finally will address some of these problems that you're raising. When I was a cub reporter in Florida years ago, veterans regularly would show up in our newsroom with their medical files, desperate for help in navigating the VA system. Those were the good old days, apparently.


Carrboro, N.C.: Thank you for taking my question. Congressman Murtha was said to spend a lot of time at Walter Reed, visiting wounded vets, and maybe others in Congress did as well. My question is. how could conditions at Walter Reed and for vets generally come out as a bombshell in The Post. Shouldn't Congress have known about this before? Wouldn't wounded vets be a key constituency that Congress would pay attention to?

Shailagh Murray: I admit the same thought crossed my mind. How could this possibly have been so obvious, and yet so overlooked? I don't get it either.


Washington: So Shailagh -- who do you think won the battle of the Dems yesterday in Selma. I heard some clips of Hillary speaking in the church and it was truly cringe-inducing. Didn't hear any tape of Obama -- was it a draw? The pressure by Bill on John Lewis was interesting, very "Sopranos." Too bad the meaning of the day in Selma got lost in the shuffle.

Shailagh Murray: Yeah, check out Obama's speech. It was interesting. As for the Sopranos analogy -- we ain't seen nothing yet.


Re: Coulter: The right doesn't "revel" anymore than the left in Coulter-esque nastiness -- As a conservative Republican, I find some of her remarks abhorrent. She's made tasteless comments for at least the past two years at CPAC. Several bloggers, including Michelle Malkin and some folks at NRO, have condemned her comments.

Shailagh Murray: I'm actually a bit mystified why she's gotten so much attention. This is her business model. It's hardly representative of the way conservatives think.


Mayfield, Ky.: Ms. Murray: The Senate will start hearings on the Federal prosecutors firing on Tuesday and my question is, could any testimony in the hearings result in any legal action against members of the executive or judicial departments? Thanks for taking my question.

Shailagh Murray: Here's an interesting political twist to this story: Pete Domenici is a Senate legend, widely liked and clearly in the sunset phase of his career. He says he's running again in 2008, but he has some pretty serious health problems, and lots of people aren't sure he'll go through with it. Bottom line is, he is not the ideal partisan target -- he's a member of the club, and he's an old man. I'll be interested to see how hard the Democrats go after him.


Washington: Hi, Ms. Murray! How do you cover the Hill as a reporter? Do you hang out at the Capitol all day, or do you make rounds to the various staff buildings (Hart, Rayburn, etc.)? Who's your big source of info: members, staff, press secretaries, the Capitol Hill police? I hope your whole day doesn't consist of reading members' press releases (for your sake).

Shailagh Murray: I'll tell you this: working in the Capitol is a real pleasure. It's beautiful, you can talk to anyone you want, and it's about 10 blocks from my house. As a work environment, it's the opposite of the White House -- relaxed and open.

As a matter of fact, I have to run up there now. Have a good week everyone and thanks for participating. Cheers.


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