Post Politics Hour

Shailagh Murray
Shailagh Murray

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Shailagh Murray
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Thursday, May 17, 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 national political reporter Shailagh Murray was online Thursday, May 17, at 11:00 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

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.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Shailagh Murray: Hey everyone, sorry I'm a little late ... I will hurry to catch up with your questions.

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Jackson, Miss.: How widespread is the sentiment among Republicans on Capitol Hill that they would prefer the Bush presidency to be over now? (An anonymous House member was recently quoted expressing this opinion.) Will this Republican opposition to the White House ever "come out of the closet"?

Shailagh Murray: That process is slowly under way as we speak. Sometimes I think we expect big dramatic shifts in politics, but usually it's more of an evolutionary process. And every time there's something like the Comey testimony, the Bush administration inches further towards the dustbin. People just can't believe this stuff.

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Minneapolis: What is your sense of what Congress actually wants to accomplish with and in the wake of Comey's extraordinary testimony? Is it simply getting Gonzales's scalp, or are they actually trying to dig in and see what was done with the program that operated, unfettered and apparently illegally and quite possibly in contravention of fundamental American freedoms, for two-and-a-half years?

Shailagh Murray: Does Gonzales has a scalp? It seems welded on pretty tight. As for the facts of Mr. Comey's testimony, I don't know where they will lead. I think the lawmakers still are trying to digest such an extraordinary tale.

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Floris, Va.: As I recall, the White House told Congress that if they didn't get the military supplement by mid-April they would have to curtail operations in Iraq. Now it's a month later and new dire deadlines are out there. Why hasn't the press called the administration on this hyperbole?

washingtonpost.com: Pentagon Says Funding Delay Would Affect Rotations, Training, Repairs (Post, April 1)

Shailagh Murray: The budget experts say that the money will run out more in the June/July timeframe. And besides, this pressure doesn't have to exist -- Bush is the one who decided to fund the war through these piecemeal emergency bills. That's always risky, 'cause Congress only can move so fast on anything.

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Arlington, Va.: We've heard a lot in the past few weeks about benchmarks for Iraq, yet there has been very little discussion about what the benchmarks actually are. From what I've heard, one of these benchmarks is a hydrocarbon law that privatizes Iraq oil to foreign companies with no requirements that they hire Iraqi workers or reinvest in the country. So, please, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm trying to get this straight -- we're holding the Iraqi government accountable for exporting their oil to foreign companies?

Shailagh Murray: Here are the benchmarks in the Warner amendment that the Senate voted on yesterday. They are more or less the same as the other lists floating around:

-- complete constitutional review
-- enact de-Baathification law
-- enact hydrocarbon law on equitable distribution of energy resources
-- enact legislation on forming semi-autonomous regions
-- establish provincial election laws
-- establish militia de-armament program
-- shore up Iraqi security forces in various ways
-- ensure minority rights
-- allocate $10 billion in Iraqi money to reconstruction

So, now you know the benchmarks.

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Columbia, Md.: Hello. When does it go from "people just can't believe this stuff" to something more tangible and forceful? I can't believe this Comey testimony stuff, either. Are details going to come out that will force more tangible action on the part of Congress in regard to this administration? Or is this Washington-as-usual? Thanks.

Shailagh Murray: They're sifting through the testimony to determine whether the facts add up to anything. It's kind of like a criminal investigation. You can't just bust down the door and start arresting people.

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Sacramento, Calif.: What exactly did Giuliani do during/post 9-11 that allows him to assume the mantle of security guru? The guy was the outgoing mayor of one of the cities that was attacked ... that's it! From where I sit, he did what any elected mayor should have done and nothing more. Why is doing your job now cause celebre for Republicans these days?

Shailagh Murray: Have you seen that Republican lineup? I liked Letterman's line: "They looked like the evil law firm in a John Grisham movie"

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Arlington, Va.: Has there been any mention of the idea that we can't leave Iraq because with three MIA there (presumably alive)? Wouldn't that be viewed as abandonment?

Shailagh Murray: I don't think we'll be out quite that fast. But I do think the fate of those soldiers could have a big impact on the war debate, depending on the outcome.

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Seattle: Okay, maybe I am naive to hope for this, but has anyone in Congress come out and said: "Hey, high gas prices are great! They might drive you out of your wasteful SUVs and into economical cars that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and help save the environment."

Shailagh Murray: Only the usual Left Coast types.

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Plainsboro, N.J.: There is all this speculation about third-party/independent candidates for the 2008 presidential sweepstakes: Chuck Hagel, Michael Bloomberg, etc. Why isn't anyone mentioning the possibility of Al Gore as a third party candidate, even as a Green Party candidate (there is a lot of irony in there somewhere)? After all, for a third-party candidate to have any chance, he/she would need a lot of money and a network of operatives that could work to put the candidate on the ballot in all 50 states. Who would have a better network than Al Gore?

Shailagh Murray: There's a lot of dreaming going on out there.

If Al Gore decided to run for president, and that's a big if, I think he would be in it to win it, as Madam Clinton says. Which means he wouldn't run on the Green Party ticket.

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The clear sign of our future Iraq plans: Shailagh: Al Kamen's column yesterday provided clear evidence of what the Bush administration really wants to do in Iraq. Forget any pronouncements they might make about reconsidering things in September -- we'll be opening a massive embassy compound in August, a 27-building complex with more than 1,000 workers. By the way, that project is basically on schedule, as compared to anything else going on in the country. How many soldiers would we need to keep in Iraq to protect such a compound? If the media focuses on the compound when interviewing both the administration and the various presidential candidates, we'll have a better idea of everyone's real future plans.

washingtonpost.com: World's Biggest U.S. Embassy May Not Be Quite Big Enough (Post, May 16)

Shailagh Murray: I think the two-month Iraqi government holiday also is a pretty good indication of where things are headed.

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Arlington, Va.: Are the Dems getting nervous that so far they are batting .000 on their "Six in '06" pledge? When are they likely to raise their average to a stellar .167?

Shailagh Murray: Good question. The intention is to get serious after the emergency spending bill is resolved. So, we'll see. I can't believe they haven't produced a minimum wage bill yet.

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Annapolis, Md.: Do you see any signs that many congressional Republicans will retire in 2008? How demoralized are they?

Shailagh Murray: They are down but not out. Heavy, heavy pressure from the committees for them to stay put. We're all watching the old guys, like Sens. Warner and Cochran, but often it's the younger fellas in their 60s who jump at this stage, knowing they're unlikely to become committee chairman and that they have 10 or 15 years of private-sector earning potential.

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Bush and Blair: I'm trying to watch their press conference while monitoring this chat and I can't focus on them. They both seem so irrelevant now, especially because they keep saying the same things they've said for years now about Iraq, with little if any recognition that it's not working. It's really a bad thing for all of us for these two leaders to be so minimized, but it's really their fault.

Shailagh Murray: That's kind of how I feel about "American Idol" now that Melinda is gone.

But you are right, Blair's departure really is the end of an era. I was living in Western Europe when he was first elected and boy, was that huge. Can't believe it was only 10 years ago.

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Washington:"Good question. The intention is to get serious after the emergency spending bill is resolved. So, we'll see. I can't believe they haven't produced a minimum wage bill yet." Didn't they pass it but the president won't sign it? I thought they did all six of the ones they talked about but because the president won't sign them, it's as if they haven't done anything. Can you let us know?

Shailagh Murray: The minimum wage bill has been stuck in a House-Senate conference for weeks, so it hasn't been sent to the president yet.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Will there be an opportunity for any political reporters to catch a Presidential candidate unfiltered, as many did John McCain in 2000? Or has the "macaca moment" entirely permeated the presidential campaigns, making them completely wary of the unscripted?

Shailagh Murray: Oh don't worry, there will be plenty of raw material this cycle too.

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Oakton, Va.: Has Shaha Riza, Wolfowitz's "girlfriend" in the World Bank ethics scandal, paid any price in terms of pay or influence in her job at the State Department? Will her pay be lowered in response to the unfair raise (and no taxes!) that she got because of Wolfowitz's intervention?

Shailagh Murray: I confess that I'm avoiding Wolfowitz questions. Too much righteous indignation, and it's become a proxy war against the Bush administration. But I would draw attention to our excellent editorial, published yesterday, that points out the rot in all corners of this sorry scandal.

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How many of six to the president?: The previous question is a good one. Of the six bills pledged in '06, how many have gone to the president?

Shailagh Murray: None.

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Warrenton, Va.: What explains the apparent yo-yoing of the poll results, especially among Democrats? I have noticed a pattern where Obama seems to close the gap with Clinton in some polls (smaller, less reliable ones?) but then Hillary, as in the just released Harris poll, jumps way out in front again. Note that Hillary rarely exceeds 40 percent (and is usually in the low to mid-30s) in the Democratic polls, so there still is a large anti-Hillary contingent in the party. Your comments? Thanks.

Shailagh Murray: The polls are interesting now only in the broadest sense -- for instance, as you pointed out, Hillary seems stuck in the high-30s just about everywhere. Other interesting numbers are the favorables -- that can be a better reflection of voter sentiment. It's curious that Obama isn't moving much, despite all the hype, but then nobody is spending serious money yet on ads. It's the lower-down candidates who can benefit or lose out from poll movement at this point -- i.e., if Edwards starts slipping in Iowa, that could spell big trouble for him because he's got so many eggs in that basket.

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Richmond, Va.: Re: Jackson, Miss. -- yes, the Republicans need to distance themselves from Bush over Iraq, but not over everything regarding terrorism. Regarding the Ashcroft-Comey incident, remember that Bush's first goal has been to protect Americans against terrorists, including those over here already. We should have just made it easier by excluding all Arab Islamies from the country already -- then we wouldn't have to spy on them so much. And look at the recent indictments for a terrorist attack just last week.

Shailagh Murray: As my regular chatters know, I have a soft spot for the capitol of the Confederacy. (Update from Shailagh.)

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Paul vs. Rudy: Shailagh: Much of the media reaction (especially the TV "brains") has claimed that Rudy had the best moment of the night with his visceral reaction to Ron Paul's comment about how our ongoing flyover bombings of Iraq, in part, fueled al-Qaeda's efforts leading up to 9/11. What these so-called pundits failed to realize is that Paul was making a valid point: our actions overseas have consequences which need to be considered before conduct these actions. Any chance you and other reporters can spark a real debate on this topic among the candidates?

washingtonpost.com: Republicans Debate Their Conservative Bona Fides (Post, May 16)

Shailagh Murray: That reminds me of Obama's response in the first debate, where he took a more cautious view of retaliation. Wind back to 9/11, and Bush's deliberate consideration before attacking Afghanistan widely was praised. But debates simply are not conducted on that level -- they are comic books, not novels.

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Irvington, N.Y.: Thank you for taking my question. It seems that in the past 40 years, a politician's ability and willingness to forge a compromise has led to the voting public forming a negative perception regarding that politician's leadership abilities. The conventional wisdom would have you believe that a senator's voting record, which by definition includes compromise positions, is an albatross. Do you think this represents a real shift in the expectations of the voting public, or is it a symptom of the cyclical nature of American politics?

Shailagh Murray: Thanks for your thoughtful question. I think people are fundamentally conflicted about what they want from politicians. They want pragmatic and sensible. They also want to fall in love. Few are willing to make the investment it takes to weed through the superficial nonsense, the squabbles and the gotcha moments, to consider the substance that virtually every candidate has to offer. Plus they want to be entertained.

Probably not a very satisfying, but it's a big topic.

Take care everyone, and see you soon.

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*Shailagh Murray: I should have added that I don't endorse the sentiment of Richmond's comment.

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