Post Politics Hour

Peter Baker
Washington Post White House Reporter
Wednesday, April 25, 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 Peter Baker was online Tuesday, April 24, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in 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.


Peter Baker: Good morning, everyone. I'm filling in today for Chris Cillizza (around here, we just call him "Fix") after he filled in for me yesterday. President Bush is talking malaria today, Congress is preparing to vote on the war, Vice President Cheney and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are dusting off from yesterday's scuffle over who's more clueless and Democrats are in a tizzy over Rudy Giuliani's latest campaign trail comments. So let's get started.


Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning! Bill Richardson has separated himself from the pack of "others" on the Democratic side. Whether he can join the Chosen Ones remains to be seen. Which of the Republican "others" has the best chance of duplicating Richardson's movement?

Peter Baker: Good morning. Interesting question. How has Bill Richardson separated himself from the pack at this point? In terms of polls and fundraising -- the main criteria at this point in the process -- he's still way far back. The same is true of a number of other potentially credible Democratic and Republican candidates. Does he have a chance to break out? Maybe. Debates are one way that second-tier candidates can make an impression. But it's an uphill battle. As for the Republican side, the main candidates that some focus on other than the top three are two who have not yet announced, Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich. Not to say that either would necessarily win the nomination, but they both poll well enough to be serious players at least.


Philadelphia: Did you happen to catch Laura Bush on the "Today" show today? She said that in the course of the war no one had suffered more then she and her husband had. Is she serious? Can you imagine if this was Bill Clinton's war and Hillary said that?

Peter Baker: Lots of outrage this morning on comments by several politicians. I'll post a few.


Arlington, Va.: What do you make of the outrageous statement made by Sen. Hillary about comparing herself to Harriet Tubman, a former slave? While it might not be as disgusting as Don Imus, how can she rationalize comparing a white woman who never suffered under slavery to a woman show did? Any backlash on Hillary, or will the African-American community of Sharpton and Jackson ignore this?

Peter Baker: Here's another.


San Francisco: Rudy Giuliani has some nerve claiming that a Republican president would anticipate and stop a terrorist attack. President Bush didn't anticipate or stop the anthrax attacks or the September 11 attacks.

Peter Baker: And yet another.


New York: It's astounding how the media is playing Reid's Iraq comments as somehow hurtful to the Democrats. Why don't the media elite actually get outside the beltway and talk to real people, or at least read the polls.

Peter Baker: And another.


Annandale, Va.: How is the "Bomb Iran" controversy playing with Republicans? It might make them like McCain more.

Peter Baker: And one more. Lots of pols saying lots of things that have got people's juices flowing.


True or False?: I read in the Los Angeles Times that Rove is finally going to be investigated. I haven't scoured The Post yet -- is this true? Low-key office launches high-profile inquiry (Los Angeles Times, April 24)

Peter Baker: Actually, Scott Higham and Robert O'Harrow, two of our ace reporters who have been out front reporting on this story, wrote about the Office of Special Counsel investigation in yesterday's paper. We'll see if we can post a link.

_______________________ GSA Briefing Now Part Of Wider Investigation (Post, April 24)


Washington: Peter -- I hate to do this, but I'm going to ask one of those media bias questions. What excuse could there possibly be for Susan Schmidt and James V. Grimaldi to never use -- not once-- the word "Republican" in today's article about a "former Hill staffer" who is pleading guilty to accepting bribes. It's because of junk like this that the public (as opposed to us annoying partisans) comes away with the "everybody does it" belief. Grrr. This is a Republican scandal, and it should be reported as such. Period. Former Hill Staffer to Plead Guilty in Abramoff Probe (Post, April 24)

Peter Baker: Well, you'd have to ask them about that, but honestly I don't think there's been much confusion about the nature of the Jack Abramoff scandal and which congressmen have been most entwined in it.


Santa Fe, N.M.: Kucinich doesn't have a prayer of actually getting Cheney impeached -- but I applaud him for trying. How do you think the Cheney impeachment will play out?

Peter Baker: It's great grist for the party's base but there's no sign that it would actually go anywhere.


Santa Fe, N.M.: You mentioned that Democrats are in a "tizzy" over Giuliani's comments (basically saying voting for a Democrat is voting to have another 9/11). Shouldn't they be?

Peter Baker: Not for me to say. It's part of his standard stump speech and he's making the argument that policies Democrats have advocated would put the nation on "defense" instead of "offense" in the war on terror. Democrats this morning, including Barack Obama, say this amounts to fear mongering. Here's a sample of the back and forth:

Giuliani on the Democratic candidates: "If one of them gets elected, it sounds to me like we're going on the defense. We've got a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. We're going to wave the white flag there. We're going to try to cut back on the Patriot Act. We're going to cut back on electronic surveillance. We're going to cut back on interrogation. We're going to cut back, cut back, cut back, and we'll be back in our pre-September 11 mentality of being on defense."

Obama on Giuliani: "Rudy Giuliani today has taken the politics of fear to a new low and I believe Americans are ready to reject those kind of politics. America's mayor should know that when it comes to 9/11 and fighting terrorists, America is united. We know we can win this war based on shared purpose, not the same divisive politics that question your patriotism if you dare to question failed policies that have made us less secure."


Richmond, Va.: Every President elected in my lifetime has been an executive branch politician. The nominated "legislative branchers" -- Kerry and Dole come to mind immediately -- have flamed out badly in the general election. Are there any rumblings that this troubles the Democrats, seeing as how all three front-runners are Senators?

Peter Baker: You're absolutely right, of course, that no one has gone directly from the Senate to the White House since Jack Kennedy in 1960. The rest were all current or past vice presidents or governors. This election will challenge that, of course, since as you say all three top-tier Democratic candidates are current or past senators (as is John McCain on the Republican side). Running for president as a senator has the drawback of putting a long voting record on the table for dissection, distortion and debate. But it may be that governors or mayors have the drawback of not having as much experience in foreign policy and national security in a time when those issues are paramount. History is a guide but it doesn't necessarily mean it will repeat itself every time.


Los Gatos, Calif.: Good morning. If people are this agitated about the presidential election in April 2007, what are we in store for in the next 18 months? This is frightening.

Peter Baker: We're in for much, much more of the same, it seems. This is certainly the most intense a presidential campaign has gotten this early; at times, it has the feel of a campaign just a few weeks from the election. It may be, though, that there will be a period where it calms down later this year before intensifying again as the first caucuses and primaries near. Stay tuned, we're in for a heckuva ride.


Ames, Iowa: Thank you for speaking on our campus last week for the First Amendment Week festivities. Any farewell comments you'd like to make about former Prime Minister Yeltsin, who is being laid to rest today? Gun Salute as Russia Buries Yeltsin (Reuters, April 25)

Peter Baker: Thank you for the note, and for the invitation. I very much enjoyed the event at Iowa State University last week; it was a terrific crowd. As for Boris Yeltsin, he was a complex figure in a complex country, at once the hero on the tank who struck the death blow against the Soviet Union and at the same time the drunken, ill, sometimes oafish leader who presided over a period of chaos, crony capitalism, economic dislocation and vast corruption. In the West, we remember the man on the tank; in Russia, they remember the man on the sauce. And the different perspectives help us understand why Russia and America have a difficult time in their relationship even today.


Arlington, Va.: Peter, on the Zachares story, it is very clear that the man was a Republican. He worked for Don Young, a Republican from Alaska, and got a job through the Bush administration. I think the complainer, like a lot of us, just wants to get mad because a story isn't written exactly as he wishes. He/she should write his/her own blog and be done with it.

Peter Baker: Well, I think you're right that when we're mad about an issue, we often wish a news article were written more to reflect our strong feelings. That's what columns, letters to the editor and now blogs are good for, to let us express those passions.


Rockville, Md.: Not my candidate but ... "We know we can win this war based on shared purpose..." If we are not united after the next election, we will not win anything ever again. Oversimplification has ruined the debate we should have had or be having doing now. "He lied and people died" is a prime example.

Peter Baker: Thanks for the comment.


Arlington, Va.: Considering this administration's track record with military issues (poorly equipped troops, extended tours, the stop-loss order, the Walter Reed fiasco, this terrible Pat Tillman story, etc.), how long can the Republican Party continue to portray Democrats as the ones not supporting the troops? Has there been any slide in military support of the Republicans? Panel Vows to Pursue Tillman Case (Post, April 25)

Peter Baker: I haven't seen any polling among members of the military lately, but certainly a significant part of the high-ranking military establishment has increasingly voiced its dissent, most recently retired Marine Gen. John Sheehan, who turned down feelers to become the war czar for the White House. How that sentiment represents the broader military I'm not sure.


Cincinnati: As a practicing Catholic who generally votes Republican, I feel too much is made of the evangelical vote and not enough of the Catholic vote -- they make up at least 20 percent of the population. That said, I think we Catholics have a tough choice. We're pro-life and oppose same-sex unions, which rules out such nominal Catholics as Giuliani, and all of the Democratic candidates. On the other hand, I appreciate candidates who --like John Edwards (despite his haircut!) advocate a social justice program. Where to turn?

Peter Baker: Well, for Catholics as for many voters, no single candidate may represent the full spectrum of positions they might want. Elections often come down to picking the candidate who comes closest to your highest values, rather than someone who agrees with everything you believe.


State of Denial: Breaking news -- House panel votes to grant immunity to Gonzales aide Monica Goodling. In practical terms, this is not good for Monica's boss, right?

Peter Baker: Probably not. Even if she doesn't have information that's damaging to Attorney General Al Gonzales, it will keep the issue on the forefront when she testifies, and it's clear Gonzales and the White House were hoping this would just start to fade away after his own testimony.

House panel votes to give Gonzales aide immunity in prosecutors' firings

BC-Congress-Subpoenas, 5th Ld,380

EDS: ADDS 3 grafs to UPDATE with Republican comment.


Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - A House committee voted Wednesday to grant immunity to Monica Goodling, a key aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales during the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. She had refused to testify, invoking her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

The 32-6 vote by the House Judiciary Committee surpassed the two-thirds majority required to grant a witness immunity from prosecution. A separate vote to authorize a subpoena for Goodling passed by voice vote.

Democrats said the votes were necessary tools to force into the open the story of why the prosecutors were fired and whether they were singled out to influence corruption cases.

The votes instruct a House lawyer to seek an immunity grant from a federal court. The grant would not take effect unless Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., chooses to issue Goodling a subpoena compelling her to testify, Conyers said.


Washington: I heard on NPR this morning that Jim Gilmore is announcing for the presidency. That made me chuckle. What does he think he can bring to the race?

Peter Baker: At the moment, he brings an asterisk in the polls. I ran into Governor Gilmore at a Republican cattle call in Iowa this month and he said no one should underestimate him. He then gave a speech portraying himself as the true conservative in the race, as opposed to the frontrunners, whom he belittled as "Rudy McRomney." But he didn't exactly set the room on fire.


Washington: Regarding Zachares, as far as identifying him by party, isn't there always a risk not necessarily being correct when staffers are concerned? When I worked on the Hill I was never actually a registered Republican, even though my senator was. If my name had come up in some news story, it would have been inaccurate to identify me as such. Sure, I worked for and campaigned for Republicans, but I never actually was one.

Peter Baker: You raise a good point. The important thing, presumably, would be to identify for whom a staffer worked.


Washington: Without having heard Hillary's Tubman comment (full disclosure), the obvious difference with Imus would seem to be that Clinton was holding up Harriet Tubman as a figure of admiration and emulation whereas Imus was using the Rutgers women as objects of denigration.

Peter Baker: I'm afraid I haven't heard the comments either, but I'll post this to give another viewpoint.


Woonsocket, R.I.: Not to keep picking at a sore spot, but since a major GOP talking point about the Abramoff scandal was "He donated to Democrats too" (a point which received considerable play in the media), it shouldn't be taken for granted that everyone knows that the staffer was a Republican. Journalists do have a tendency to assume a level of knowledge on the part of their readership that may not be there, in some cases! Political junkies who participate in chats like these are the exception, not the rule. Perhaps The Post should do some surveys to determine how well informed their readers are -- not just people on the Hill, but those across the nation.

Peter Baker: I understand your point, but I don't think the involvement of Democrats has received disproportionate play in the media. The stories have tracked the events -- when a congressman or an aide or a lobbyist is indicted or convicted or forced to resign, there's a story. So far, that's been people like Jack Abramoff, Mike Scanlon, Bob Ney, Tom DeLay, Susan Ralston and so on. And any story of any consequence on Abramoff has made clear he was a Republican lobbyist.


re: Yeltsin: I will never forget waking up by chance at about 3 a.m. one day and turning on CNN hoping to be lulled back to sleep -- only to see live video of tanks barreling down a big street and an announcer saying these Soviet tanks were headed for the "White House" ... (which was apparently the name of the building). A very surreal moment, as I had no idea I was seeing Russia and not Washington!

Peter Baker: Yes, in Moscow, the White House was the parliament building at the time (today it's the headquarters of the prime minister). It's a much more massive (and ugly) building than our own White House.


Raleigh is right: Bill Richardson has separated himself from the second tier -- he's somewhere between the top three and the others. I don't know if this shows up in polling, but if you look at reports, perception and his staff, he is clearly not in the same basket as Biden/Dodd/Kucinich. The question is where does he go from here -- the role of "not Clinton or Obama" is already filled by Edwards, and it's too much to hope that the top three all burn out.

Peter Baker: That may be, though I'm sure Senators Dodd and Biden would disagree. We'll see. Thanks for posting.


Re: "Buying the War": Bill Moyers will have a program tonight on PBS about how the media helped to "sell" the Iraq war. This isn't the first time this criticism has been leveled, and I was wondering whether you and your colleagues at The Washington Post have talked about your role in that "sale" and what safeguards might be in place now to try to "never do it again"?

Peter Baker: I was overseas during the buildup to the war, so I wasn't involved in the coverage of the administration and the arguments at the time. But the paper has written about this issue extensively, particularly Howard Kurtz, our media writer.


Money as a Benchmark: Just curious -- is there any evidence that correlates the voting patterns of contributors to presidential campaigns to those of non-contributors? In other words, if a candidate successfully gets contributors to support him/her, does it necessarily mean that voters in general also will be supportive?

Peter Baker: I haven't seen any empirical studies on that. I think it's probably more intuitive -- if Candidate X gets 100,000 to crack open their checkbook compared to 50,000 for Candidate Y, it indicates a certain level of enthusiasm that would be helpful in terms of the energy and work required to make a campaign successful. It's also a line of argument for Candidate X, whether it turns out to be true in the long run or not. I'm guessing Howard Dean had an impressive list of contributors but in the end couldn't translate it into the Democratic nomination.


re: Cincinnati.: I am Catholic also, but I have a question that I hope you can answer. How does same-sex marriage affect you personally? I mean, it is not like they are asking to be married in the Church. They are just asking for the same rights as any other heterosexual couple gets. You do not need to be in their bedroom and they do not want to be in your bedroom either.

Peter Baker: Some comments for Cincinnati. I'll post a few.


Los Angeles: To the comment about the Catholic voter. Even though I am not Catholic, I am a Christian and I know that when you cast a vote, there never will be a perfect candidate to vote for. However, I would hope that a person would consider what each party stands for and the candidate and how they would help or hurt the country as a whole instead of just picking out a few issues that are in disagreement with yours.

Peter Baker: Here's another.


Alexandria, Va.: On Yeltsin's funeral, it looked like it was a religious ceremony -- is that the case, and if so, when was the last time a Russian leader had a religious funeral?

Peter Baker: Yes, he lay in state at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow as part of a full Orthodox Christian burial ceremony. Our successor in Moscow, Peter Finn, reports this is the first such burial for a Russian leader since Czar Alexander III in 1894.

_______________________ A Final Farewell as Yeltsin is Laid to Rest (Post, April 25)


Pittsburgh: Is there anything you and your wife miss about living in Russia? I'd like to visit but it sounds like a scary place.

Peter Baker: We do miss living in Russia, actually. It's a fascinating, complex, dynamic society with a rich history, literature and culture. Moscow is more livable than ever; something like 400 new restaurants open every year, you can see world-class music performed at the Conservatory for two or three bucks, some of the best museums in the world are there. And let's face it, it's an important story right now.


Boston, Mass.: The comment, according to the NY Daily News: "This reminds me of one of my favorite American heroines, Harriet Tubman," the senator told 1,800 cheering supporters when her mike was restored.

" 'She made it to freedom after having been a slave and she got to New York and she could have been so happy ... but she kept going back down South to bring other freed slaves to freedom.

" 'And she used to say, "No matter what happens, keep going," ' Hillary Clinton said. 'So we're going to keep going until we take back the White House!' "

I shudder to think what would happen if public figures are not ever allowed to invoke heroes from history in speeches.

Peter Baker: Thanks for passing this along.


Vienna, Va.: Good morning, Peter: Dan Froomkin had a link to Henry Waxman's letter to Andrew Card yesterday, requesting his voluntary testimony regarding lax treatment of classified information by White House staff, and the apparent stonewalling by the White House Security Office of legal oversight by other agencies. I wonder if you would comment on this and whether you think this will gain traction as an important issue -- or are there too many other issues (Gonzales, the Surge, etc) dominating journalistic attention these days for that to happen? Committee to Consider Four Subpoenas to Further Investigations (Oversight Committee, April 25)

Peter Baker: Chairman Waxman's letter made some interesting allegations but was fairly vague and unsupported so we'll have to watch to see if his investigation turns up more concrete information. As you note, there are a lot of issues to follow these days. Elizabeth Williamson wrote a fascinating piece on the front page of today's Post about the proliferation of Democratic investigations of various issues and the hiring of so many more investigators.


Clifton, Va.: Are the Dems worried that a combination of a Supremes decision on the Second Amendment and the shootings a Virginia Tech may make gun control an issue in 2008? The ACLU and far-left seem to want to ban all guns -- especially handguns, like the U.K.! Nothing will get out the bubba vote quicker than if you try to take away our guns! I don't own any guns but I seriously am considering buying several before my psych records get on the database! H&K Mark 21 etc. The ACLU and far-left haven't told us how they will collect all the illegal guns! Try to get mine!

Peter Baker: There doesn't seem to be much indication that gun control or gun rights will play a major role in the 2008 election despite the Virginia Tech shootings and the appeals court decision on the D.C. gun ban. That may change, of course, but the Democrats don't seem that eager to make a big push on gun control and the Republicans currently have a frontrunner in Rudy Giuliani who's on record as supporting gun control.


New York: Not sure if you are a "Daily Show" fan, but Stewart's interview last night with John McCain was in my view one of the best. Stewart asked hard questions and refused to take the usual spin as an answer. I have to ask, what does this say about the current state of journalism when we turn to comedians to conduct the most thorough interviews? Video: The Daily Show With John McCain (The Daily Show, April 24)

Peter Baker: There are lots of good questioners in journalism. I'll take Tim Russert over any comer any day of the week.


Atlanta: Good Morning, Peter. I went to dig out my old copy of "The Best and the Brightest" by David Halberstam and could not find it. So, I go to Barnes and Noble the Web site to purchase and found this under Critic Reviews: "For anyone who aspires to a position of national leadership, no matter the circumstances of his or her birth, this book should be mandatory reading. And anyone who feels a need, as a confused former prisoner of war once felt the need, for insights into how a great and good nation can lose a war and see its worthy purposes and principles destroyed by self-delusion can do no better than to read and reread David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest." -- John McCain

Because it's been at least 25 years since I read this book, am I "mis-remembering" that it is about the screw-ups and dishonesty and poor decision making on the part of Kennedy's, then Johnson's Cabinet in the Vietnam War? If that's the case, doesn't it make anyone wonder what McCain has to say about this now, considering he is supporting the same type of people and circumstances that got us in to Iraq? Do you think maybe one of you folks could ask him sometime? Seems like he really didn't learn much from the book.

Peter Baker: That's fascinating, isn't it? I'm sure that's an issue Senator McCain will be addressing in some form or another during this campaign -- how does he see the lessons of Vietnam in terms of the current war? He has a powerful perspective as a former POW, but as you say, many Americans are looking at Iraq these days through the lens of the failed venture in Vietnam. Both President Bush and Senator Reid invoked Vietnam just the other day in their debate over funding for the Iraq war. So I imagine we'll see more discussion of Vietnam and its echoes today.


Atlanta: Gonzales vs. Rumsfeld? I can never figure out why the administration appeared to bow to pressure and got rid of Donald Rumsfeld in such a hurried manner -- the day after the elections and a week short of his being the longest-serving Secretary of Defense. I would have thought the administration would have been every bit as stubborn and contemptuous as they are over the calls for Gonzales to resign. What do you think is different between the two cases?

Peter Baker: In fact, President Bush resisted getting rid of Secretary Rumsfeld for many months, refusing to do it during moments when a lot of people were calling for his head and choosing to do it on his own timing. The same may happen with Attorney General Gonzales; the president may refuse to succumb to pressure now, when the heat is on, and then we may see Gonzales ease out sometime down the road.

_______________________ Revival of Oversight Role Sought (Post, April 25)

Peter Baker: Here's Elizabeth's story.


Bethesda, Md.: FYI, the national ACLU is neutral on the subject of gun control. I doubt they are teaming up with this group "far left" to raid private homes collecting guns. I for one feel much safer that the previous chatter is going to go on a gun buying spree, however.

Peter Baker: Thanks for posting.


Peter Baker: Thanks everyone for the great questions today. Wish we had more time as always. Have a great day and tune in again tomorrow.




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