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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Friday, May 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 congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman was online Friday, May 25, 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.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Jonathan Weisman: Hello everybody. I see lots of questions lined up, and since I was a bad boy and was late last time, I'll jump right in.

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Orlando, Fla.: I want to know why Congress didn't jump on Monica Goodling's testimony about caging? Aren't they aware that it is illegal? Thank you.

Jonathan Weisman: They jumped on lots of stuff. I thought Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama won the prize for best performance as a grand inquisitor. So what is this caging thing?

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Boston: You know the $500 million pirate treasure found off Florida? John Edwards owns nearly 10 percent. Isn't it terribly horrible that a really rich guy like Edwards says he wants to do something on the growing financial inequality in this country and then goes out and finds millions in doubloons?

washingtonpost.com: John Edwards Stakes Claim on Pirate Booty (TheStreet.com, May 23)

Jonathan Weisman: The guy is amazing, you have to admit. But give him credit: I'm sure when he invested in a bunch of treasure hunters, he wasn't expecting a pay out like this.

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Baltimore: Is it true that the immigration bill's so-called enforcement triggers are measured by appropriations rather than by a reduced inflow of illegal immigrants?

washingtonpost.com: Worker Visas Intensify Debate on Immigration (Post, May 25)

Jonathan Weisman: That's partially true. Some of the provisions, such as the hiring of additional border guards and the funding of detention beds, were to be done by appropriation. But by voice vote this week, the Senate adopted an amendment that said the triggers only could be tripped after the DHS, in consultation with the GAO, certified that the government has "operational control of the border." It could actually be a big deal, as that could take years. But there wasn't even much debate on it.

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South Orange, N.J.: Thank you for taking my question. Assuming the situation on the ground in Iraq is status quo through September, the president continues to veto Iraq spending bills tied to timelines, the Democratic leadership can't muster the necessary votes to override the veto and U.S. public opinion remains solidly anti-war, could the Democrats end the war simply by not passing the necessary funding?

Jonathan Weisman: They could, but don't count on it. The expectation is that Republicans would begin to bail by September, absent a dramatic change on the ground. Democrats will search for whatever policy prescription can get enough Republican support to force Bush's hand.

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Atlanta: Jonathan, I've worked with senators and representatives, their staffs, and political appointees. I must say the individuals that scared me the most were the appointees, followed closely by the staff people. The congressmen know that they are in politics and that it is a process, but the others really are naive -- true believers in many instances -- and very easily manipulated by their bosses. Being as close as you are in your position to these "players," do you think we as a country should worry about how our government is being run?

Jonathan Weisman: Monica Goodling's performance at Justice should probably scare us all, but I must say, on Capitol Hill the long-time staff members tend to be the most knowledgeable, pragmatic people around. What I hate is when newly elected members rout out the long-timers and replace them with neophytes.

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Alexandria, Va.: Is the sparrow that pooped on Bush yesterday running for office? I think it stated its views on the administration more clearly than Congress.

Jonathan Weisman: Published as-is.

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Atlanta: Jonathan, why is it that rich people can't be Democrats or care about the poor without being called hypocrites, while one can be a rich Republican and not care about the poor without any negative connotation at all?

Jonathan Weisman: I understand what you're saying, and I tend to agree that the press has been a little silly at times with John Edwards. The fact that he worked for a hedge fund doesn't make his advocacy for the poor less valid, any more than fundings from the Gates Foundation are tainted by Bill's mansion in Redmond.

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Bethesda, Md.: How does the President know that al-Qaeda wants to kill David Gregory's children? Is there any indication that he has specific intel on this point?

washingtonpost.com: In the Rose Garden, It Was All Al-Qaeda (Post, May 25)

Jonathan Weisman: Don't be silly. David Gregory is everyman, the very incarnation of you, me and your next door neighbor -- even if he does speak French.

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Impeach Bush! Impeach Cheney! Impeach Gonzales! Impeach Rice!: I don't think it should happen; I just wanted to see what it took to get a comment posted on this chat. Back to work...

Jonathan Weisman: Because I take these questions as they come and don't filter through, I can congratulate you on your achievement.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Jonathan -- Thanks for taking my question. Already Bush is talking about what a rough summer it's going to be in Iraq, in advance of the big showdown yet to come in September about what progress is being made ... what's the strategy here? "I told you it was going to be tough, but we're about to turn yet another corner, we need to hang in there, otherwise they'll come over here, etc., etc.?" In the words, are we going to see that moment of truth pushed back even further, into 2008 perhaps, when he dumps the whole thing on the next president?

Jonathan Weisman: My guess: lower expectations, and if things really are going badly in August and early September, say "I told you so -- how 'bout another six months?"

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New York: This is more a legal question than a political question. Given that Monica Goodling has admitted to violating the rules (and possibly the law) in hiring and promotion decisions at DOJ, can the affected career attorneys sue the DOJ and/or Goodling?

Jonathan Weisman: It would be hard to sue Monica Goodling, now that her testimony has been immunized. I suppose you could sue the DOJ if you failed to get a job, but you'd be broke by the time you got a ruling.

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Rockville, Md.:"More clearly than Congress?" How bad is this split in the Democrats? Don't people see the progress they are making? I sense children saying "are we there yet?"

Jonathan Weisman: I don't think the Democrats are very split. The House vote yesterday for the war funding was virtually identical to the vote in 2002 to authorize the war, with most Democrats against. The vote on the McGovern amendment to begin withdrawing troops in three months really was striking. That showed real movement.

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Biloxi, Miss.: Jonathan, truly, does anyone really believe the Republicans in Congress are going to switch course in September? Is anyone taking bets on this, because I'm ready to lay a lot of money on "no change"!

Jonathan Weisman: I think you have a good point. The Democrats keep laying down their policies without consulting with the likely GOP defectors, then hoping they'll just show up for the vote. I really don't think they'll get a lot of Republican votes until they forge an antiwar bill in consultation with the likely suspects.

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Rochester, N.Y.: Is the Iraq War funding bill a victory for Bush?

Jonathan Weisman: I would say it is. He held firm, the Republicans held the line, and the Democrats did something they thought they wouldn't have to. Pelosi's top aides had told me a few weeks back that the timelines were going to be dropped -- something lots of bloggers said was a lie. But I was told she would insist on real consequences for missed benchmarks. When the Republicans suggested tying benchmarks to non-military aide, Pelosi's staff scoffed, because that amounted to virtually nothing once funding for the training of Iraqi security forces was taken out of the equation. Yet that's what they got.

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Edwards and Being Rich: Kurt Vonnegut summed it up quite nicely: "I'm lucky enough to have known a great president, one who really cared about ALL the people, rich and poor. That was Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was rich himself, and his class considered him a traitor."

Jonathan Weisman: There ya go. And I don't recall people at the time complaining too much about Clinton's Treasury secretary, former Goldman Sachs chairman Robert Rubin.

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Washington: Okay, I admit it. I'm also a graduate of Messiah College (Ms. Goodling's alma mater) and I grimace at the references to our school as "home of the Fighting Christies." The irony is that Messiah college is a pacifist, anti-war, social-justice toting, fairly liberal institution ( especially compared to Regent and their ilk). Is there any chance I will be able to raise my head highly as a grad? I realize Ms. Goodling has become an icon of all that is wrong with the Bush administration and I can't really argue with that. What are the chances of Democrats in town throwing away my resume at the sight of those dreaded words?

Jonathan Weisman: Lucky for you, Ms. Goodling seems to be most noted for her Regent law degree.

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Fort Myers, Fla.: Although I don't know much about the D.C. Sparrow, I like his ideas so far. Can you tell us more about him? Has he set up a PAC?

Jonathan Weisman: Alas, he has taken flight, with no forwarding address.

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Arlington, Va.: I understand the Dems don't have the votes to pass a bill with an Iraq pullout date and override a Bush veto, but what prevents them from simply not sending up a bill with funding to continue the war? After all, they do control the House and Senate (although tenuously in the latter). Or is this question not that simple?

Jonathan Weisman: Of course they could have done that. But the president would have had next week to highlight every time a training exercise had been cancelled, a piece of needed equipment was left in a hangar somewhere, safety gear had gone unpurchased. I think they understandably were worried about the political repercussions.

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College Park, Md.: Any chance that ethics reform in Congress will continue? I think there should a five year gap between serving in Congress (including staff!) and lobbying. Also, there should be no immediate family members of Congressmen (including girl/boy friends) lobbying Congress. Am I out of touch with popular opinion on this? I would think most voters agree with me...

washingtonpost.com: Ethics Legislation Easily Passes House (Post, May 25)

Jonathan Weisman: The fact that the House had to drop the provision extending the revolving door prohibition from one year to two was pretty shocking. Last year, ethics bills passed the House and Senate, then went nowhere. I think the Democrats will be under a lot of pressure to get a bill to the White House, but we shall see.

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Re: Impeach Bush! Impeach Cheney! Impeach Gonzales! Impeach Rice!: Now he's just being silly. No one's seriously advocating that Dr. Rice be impeached.

Jonathan Weisman: Maybe Rice-A-Roni, though.

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Desert Hot Springs, Calif.: Just curious, are the fifty other Democratic senators pleased with Sen. Reid's leadership at this point? He may be a master strategist and politician but he certainly does not project those qualities on a 22" TV screen.

Jonathan Weisman: No, he doesn't, but all the Senate Democrats knew about his glowering visage and his almost inaudible voice before they elected him. There was a little grumbling for awhile, especially while he was having so much trouble just getting a minimum wage bill passed. But I think he's being given the benefit of the doubt.

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Raleigh, N.C.: So, all the Democrats who voted to support the war back in 2001 and 2003 now oppose it because it is politically advantageous. However, we seem to ignore the elephant in the corner. Since the beginning, Bush has stated that the enemy is al-Qaeda and fundamental Islamist. Almost daily, Iran is escalating themselves and threatening to attack Israel. It is all part of the war on terror. What is the Democratic plan when that does happen?

Jonathan Weisman: I was struck yesterday by how passionately House Republican Leader John Boehner made that point. But Democrats -- and many others -- would answer that the fight in Iraq is draining resources from the fight against al-Qaeda and unquestionably has strengthened Iran. Meanwhile, Iraq has been the greatest recruiting ground al-Qaeda has known since the Soviets were in Afghanistan.

These are tough issues, and I think both sides need to be recognized for the legitimacy of their views.

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Sparrow:"Alas, he has taken flight, with no forwarding address." Well, of course he has. They're surely lining a cage for him at Gitmo, if Cheney doesn't get him first...

Jonathan Weisman: He don't need no stinkin' habeas corpus.

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South Arlington, Va.: Jonathan, the lawsuit should be filed by the ACLU (with some who was not hired) as a class-action by those who were turned down by the DOJ for those positions in which we know Monica (from a fourth-tier law school) had her hand in. That will produce the records necessary to ascertain the discrimination against those not perceived as conservative.

Jonathan Weisman: Could be, but I doubt they'd have standing without representing an aggrieved applicant. Anyone wanna step forward?

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New York: Do you think history will view Mr. Bush as a moderately influential official in the Dick Cheney administration?

Jonathan Weisman: I'll let historians decide that.

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Olney, Md.: As a daily reader of the Politics chat and an avid watcher of "Hardball," "Countdown," etc., it dawned on me last night about the Iraq spending bill, benchmarks ( not!) that the Congress, Senate, etc., have no clout, no guts ... we really don't need them at all because POTUS is going to do what he wants to do -- laws and policies and procedures be damned. It's a darn shame.

And -- Mr. Weisman -- I hope your daughter is well. I read your article and was heartsick for you and the wee one.

washingtonpost.com: Where Did the Doctor Go? (Post, May 20)

Jonathan Weisman: Thank you for your concern for my daughter. Needless to say, I share it.

I agree that this three-month showdown over Iraq has shown that President Bush is very much a power figure in Washington, but I was struck the other day that Republicans in the House have taken to calling the Senate immigration bill the Kennedy-Bush amnesty bill. If that doesn't show declining clout with the GOP, what does?

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Impeach Melba! Impeach Ice Cream!: Impeach Cobbler! All Democrats want is a rhubarb!

Jonathan Weisman: Enough! You're testing my first-come, first serve rule.

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North Carolina: Will you please explain to me what "crime" was actually committed at the Department of Justice? It appears to me that the Democrats are just out to invalidate almost everything Bush has done. However, U.S. Attorneys serve at the President's discretion. That means that they can be fired for whatever reason the President wants. Clinton fired the entire staff. Isn't this simply a Democratic ploy to discredit this administration?

Jonathan Weisman: Now, we know there really was a crime that appears to have occurred. It is a violation of civil service law to question applicants for career position about their political affiliations. Monica Goodling has done so. Beyond that, U.S. attorneys are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president. That said, if they were selectively fired to bolster the political purity of a department that is supposed to serve the nation, not a political party, that is an issue we all should be concerned about.

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Alburgh, Vt.: Isn't tying some loss of non-military aid to failed intent like slowly abandoning the will to have the Iraq the administration sought through electoral process? What's the likelihood of a strongman to replace al-Maliki instead; there's a Vietnam overtone if there ever was. ... By the way, how's that all-out support for Petraeus going down for the Dems now, too!?

Jonathan Weisman: Democrats were concerned that cutting off non-military aid, especially the training of Iraqi security forces, would be counterproductive to getting the U.S. out.

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Margate, N.J.:"The irony is that Messiah college is a pacifist, anti-war, social-justice toting, fairly liberal institution." Well, I taught at Messiah for almost 20 years, and lots of its students are not pacifist, anti-war, social-justice toting and fairly liberal. Neither are all of its faculty, though some are.

Jonathan Weisman: This is well outside my knowledge sphere, but if you see the Messiah at college, let me know.

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New York: Lately I've been seeing Chris Dodd all over the place (Bill Maher, "Meet the Press," "Hardball") and the more I see, the more I like. Any chance of him breaking out? (And no, I'm not his mother...)

Jonathan Weisman: Okay, Mrs. Dodd. What you're seeing is the use of free media by a candidate conserving what little cash he has to impress the likes of you. There's still a lot of time, and who knows? Maybe these two new Hillary books will cause her to spontaneously combust.

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Greenwich, Conn.: How do we know that the president and his hand-picked generals will give us an accurate report in September? Why will this time be different?

Jonathan Weisman: We don't. That's why the House Republicans who went to see Bush earlier this month said Petraeus, not the president, has to be the one to deliver the news.

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Chicago: Jonathan, why isn't the press reporting that Mitt Romney has a son named "Tagg?"

Jonathan Weisman: There, I just did.

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Rochester, N.Y.: What's your take on all the support Goodling got from Republicans in the House? Are they serious? They can't be, right?

Jonathan Weisman: It was kind of embarrassing, wasn't it?

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Washington: Jonathan, I think the lede paragraph in your earlier article was inartfully worded, but I congratulate you on getting the first scoop. However, did you just reveal your sources when you said "Pelosi's staff"? I thought your article said congressional leaders, and many assumed it was Hoyer's staff. My question is, if you can reveal that now, why didn't you at the time, which would have added credibility? I think this is one of the problems with granting anonymity unnecessarily.

Jonathan Weisman: Good question. They were very, very cagey back then, but since the timelines were dropped they've been saying: "Hey, what's the big deal? Why is this news? We told The Post about it weeks ago."

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Atlanta: Let me second the motion on the ethics bill. A lot of Democratic voters are going to be angry at Democrats for not passing a tougher bill. We are tired of business of usual in D.C., not just of Republicans. A good start would be to pass an ethics bill with real teeth.

Jonathan Weisman: I think a lot of the Democratic freshmen are hearing that sentiment.

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Kansas City, Mo.: So both Monica Goodling and Monica Lewinsky got immunity for testifying (although before different places). Without the grants of immunity, who faced more jail time for what they allegedly did?

Jonathan Weisman: My guess? Lying before a grand jury will get you more time in the pokey than lying before Congress. Everybody lies in Congress. (Just kidding, Rahm!)

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New York: Jonathan -- there's an element of the Immigration Bill before Congress that I'm not clear on: Those who are currently in the country illegally would receive the new "Z Visa." They then would have to return to their country of origin to apply for U.S. citizenship. My question is, do they simply have to "touch base" in their country of origin, apply, and then return to the U.S.? Or would they have to wait in their country of origin until their application was approved? (Which could take years, theoretically.) Do you know the answer?

Jonathan Weisman: This is all very confusing. The head of an illegal household would have to return to his or her home country and apply at the closest U.S. consulate for a green card, not for citizenship. For Z Visa holders, the skids would be greased and the process is supposed to take just a day. They then immediately could return to the United States with green card applications for their whole family. Once getting the green card, they could work toward citizenship, like any other green card holder.

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Lexington, Ky.: Did the Iraq supplemental bill that just passed yesterday contain funds for energy assistance for low income households? The previous bill, which the President vetoed, did but I had not heard about whether it was contained in this bill or not. Thanks.

Jonathan Weisman: Wow, Lexington, you are watching this closely. Actually, that provision, Low Income Heating Assistance, was one of the few domestic spending pieces that was dropped before passage, at White House insistence.

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Dale, Texas: At times you have to swallow bitter draughts to keep moving. Your comments on Pelosi today made sense to me, and I understand the difficulties of getting a noose on Bush 43. But isn't there some way to pin him down on some issue that will show the power of the congressional majority? Would a no confidence vote on Gonzales at least rescue Congress from the look of a helpless giant?

Jonathan Weisman: If Bush just ignored such a vote, which of course he would, I think Congress would look even more powerless. They just have to keep pressing on Iraq.

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Why oh Why Can't North Carolina:...read a durned newspaper and get over that old canard. Hey North Carolina, Bush fired all the attorneys when he took office too. So did Reagan. But Bush is the only one to fire individual attorneys for a non-egregious reason (i.e. hitting a stripper).

Now to my real question. The blogs are abuzz, both on the right and left, about Bush's signing a directive that he would be in charge of setting the constitutional government aright in cause of a disaster, whether caused by a terrorist or natural causes. There's some grumbling that this directive could lead to dictatorial powers. Are they reading that directive correctly, or is it just a planning mechanism?

Jonathan Weisman: While I have no doubt the president has made such a signing statement, I wouldn't get too carried away.

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Follow-up from Washington:"Good question. They were very, very cagey back then, but since the timelines were dropped, they've been saying, "Hey, what's the big deal? Why is this news? We told The Post about it weeks ago."

Thanks for answering my question. I assume this means they requested anonymity. This may require a longer answer than you can provide, but what was your rationale for providing it? By the way, I think that it is pretty pitiful if what you are saying is true and that was a trial balloon followed by a bunch of lies that caused people to question your motives. I think this is the key reason you should grant much less anonymity.

Jonathan Weisman: My rationale is that I don't have a rationale. We're having a chat. Actually, Pelosi's staff never requested a correction for the original story. They wanted a clarification to make it clear they had not offered the concession on timelines at the face-to-face meeting with the president. And though Pelosi told fellow Democrats everything was still on the table, never once did they say they would try to ram through mandatory timelines again.

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Reston, Va.: Thanks for taking my question. You and I have a lot in common -- typing fast and tendinitis and...

Anyone with brains know that Republicans are not going to change their opinions about the war in Iraq or bringing back troops, and are going to be behind the president. What options do Democrats have other than sending bills to the president only to be vetoed time and again? How can they show people they are effective, that they are working for the people to bring on some positive changes?

Jonathan Weisman: I think the pattern we just saw will be repeated. If Republicans don't break away, Congress will keep sending one bill to be vetoed, then negotiate out the next.

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Reston, Va.: Hi, Jonathan. So do the two books about Hillary by two presumably objective reporters have anything positive to say, or did the writers of today's article just choose to focus on the negative in the books?

Jonathan Weisman: I think The Post's story made it clear that at least Carl Bernstein's story was "not unsympathetic." Hmm, is that good grammar? We didn't see much of the sympathy in the story (or the non-unsympathy), but it's a very long book.

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New York: As I understand, there is an internal investigation at Justice Department looking into the hiring conducted by Ms. Goodling. Could not the evidence that turns up as the course of that investigation be used to prosecute Monica? Or does her immunity deal rule that also?

Jonathan Weisman: Good point. The immunity conferred on Ms. Goodling extends only to her testimony before Congress. Anything that is independently turned up, ever in an interview with Goodling outside the Capitol, could indeed be used against her.

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Atlanta: Romney picks on McCain a good bit for immigration, but Giuliani not so much. Obviously McCain was more high-profile in this past year, but do you think Giuliani's position on this issue essentially will go unnoticed.

Jonathan Weisman: It's last-man-standing. I guess Romney wants to take down McCain, and if he succeeds, Rudy's next.

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Alexandria, Va.: Re: Ethics in Congress -- I think rules about earmarks in bills (including when they are officially entered into the bill and identifying who they are for) should be a part of this. I was watching something about it on CNN last night and it's atrocious how things currently stand.

Jonathan Weisman: The earmarks rules were adopted by the House in the first week of this Congress, but I'm not sure they will be followed in spirit.

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Re: Atlanta on Edwards: Here's the difference between Edwards and Gates: Gates is rich, but uses his money to help the less fortunate. Edwards is rich, but wants to use taxpayers' money to help the poor. There is substantial hypocrisy: before asking others that are less well-off than you to give, perhaps he should do more himself. How about he give all his assets less $1 million to charity before asking taxpayers (via campaigning) to give their hard-earned dollars?

Jonathan Weisman: Well, he does support keeping the estate tax!

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Re: Caging: You ask "So what is this caging thing?" Caging is when voters are essentially targeted for disenfranchisement -- they are sent registered mail by the GOP and if they're not there, they're taken off the rolls. Tim Griffin (whom Goodling worked for) is alleged pretty convincingly to have been involved in doing this. Here's a link.

Jonathan Weisman: Ah yes, now I remember. But I'm not sure Monica Goodling would be responsible for Tim Griffin's activities.

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Crestwood, N.Y. : Good morning Jonathan! You're one of the few honest ones left! (I'll leave that mysterious.) In today's Washington Post article about two critical Clinton books being rushed out to publication, Mr. Solomon states that Jeff Gerth is an "objective" source that the Clinton campaign will have difficulty brushing off. Gerth is the questionable character who almost single-handedly flacked the Whitewater farce for years in the New York Times. Sort of a domestic Judith Miller. I'm for Richardson, not Clinton, but this is just silly. Are the Clinton Rules being rolled out again?

Jonathan Weisman: You may have noticed today's story in The Post gave a lot more ink to our alumnus, Carl Bernstein. Jeff Gerth is a tough reporter, and he has taken quite a few shots at Republicans too. But I tend to agree that his early Whitewater stories have been pretty discredited.

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Greenville, S.C.: Jonathan -- do you think it constitutional, not to mention fair, that Arizona has three U.S. Senators while South Carolina has only one?

Jonathan Weisman: Hah, that is a good one, but I'm not sure our fellow chatters would get the joke. I like Lindsey Graham, but he really does have to work on that image thing with his bud, McCain, doesn't he?

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Kettering, Ohio: Hi Jonathon! So, what's a big-time reporter like you going to do on this extended weekend coming up? Enquiring minds want to know (Philly Inquirer minds that is). Have a good one no matter what you do.

Jonathan Weisman: And on this note, I bid you adieu. Actually, I have nothing much planned. But it should be hot. The pool is open, and the kids want to go swimming for the next three days. I'll be looking like a prune by Tuesday.

Have a great holiday, everyone!

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