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Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Monday, July 2, 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.

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Washington Post congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman was online Monday, July 2, at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

Political analysis from Post reporters and interviews with top newsmakers. Listen live on Washington Post Radio or subscribe to a podcast of the show.

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Jonathan Weisman: Yowza, it's Monday. We're batting out of order. The first string is on injured reserve. The second string is tuning up for the All-Star Game. So you're stuck with me. Let's go!

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Westwood, Mass.: Who have been some of the more dysfunctional political duo's in our history in terms of the detrimental effect of their interaction on our national interests? Nixon/Halderman has to be up there, but Bush/Cheney are making a run for the top. The Gellman, Broder and Baker pieces in The Post in the past week highlighted how perfectly wrong Bush and Cheney are for each other and our country at this moment in history. What other duo's can compare? LBJ/McNamara (Vietnam)?

Jonathan Weisman: Clinton/Lewinsky, Gingrich/DeLay, Abramoff/Ney, Lincoln/Johnson. Take your pick.

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Boston: From a political standpoint (and maybe from a legal perspective if judges took into account some form of cost-benefit analysis) wouldn't the Congressional Democrats be better served by leading with the administration subpoenas related to potential illegal National Security Agency wiretapping rather than whether political factors influenced decisions about political appointees? If they lose the public opinion battle over who is being reasonable on the U.S. Attorney issue first then the public may write off the second wiretapping subpoena battle as another partisan overreach. If the Dems misplay their hand on this, it will set additional executive privilege precedent for many years to come. It may be worthwhile to wait a month so they can play their stronger card first.

Jonathan Weisman: Interesting point -- but from a political standpoint, here's where you may be wrong. For all of the alleged abuses of power regarding Guantanamo, detainees and warrantless wiretapping, the administration's defense always will be "we were just doing what we thought was necessary to defend the nation." And a huge number of people will buy that over a legal dispute regarding that old parchment document known as the Constitution. The U.S. attorneys issue appears to be all about politics and amassing power. That's safer ground for the Democrats.

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Philadelphia: What are Joe Lieberman's motives for continuing to back this war in Iraq? There is almost a super-majority of Americans who are against this war and who want to get our troops out. There are countless military experts, scholars and retired military generals who believe this war was incorrectly planned and incorrectly run. Does he care about America or Israel? And I ask this question as an American Jew. It is sickening to hear people like Bush and Lieberman who want to continue this fiasco and allow hundreds of Americans and thousands of Iraqis to die every month.

Jonathan Weisman: Philly, all I got to say is: motives, schmotives. With all of the political factors amassing against Lieberman at this point, couldn't it be that he just believes passionately in what he's saying?

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Chicago: This might be an off-the-wall question ... but, it's something I was wondering. What is the impact (if any) of Nancy Pelosi's rise to the speaker's office on Hillary Clinton's campaign? Do you think that the electorate connects the two things at all? I doubt that most people in America could name the Speaker of the House (Gingrich might have been an exception) ... but do you think that having a woman in that role helps alleviate some concerns among voters who would be hesitant to vote for a woman? On the other hand, among women or Democratic activists, do you think that they feel either more or less urgency to elect a woman president?

Jonathan Weisman: I actually have been thinking about this, because I am working on a along Pelosi piece. I do think having a woman in the speaker's chair psychologically eases Hillary's path. People subconsciously are accepting a woman in the third-highest position in elected government. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think it has a subtle effect.

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Rockville, Md.: In some ways I have lead a sheltered life (not that it kept me from going to Vietnam for three duty tours) but I find the rhetoric directed against the president to be way over the top. Do you think this is one reason he could not get the immigration bill through the Senate? I mean, we can verbally destroy the president, but do we really want to? Would we be better off if the critics had stuck to the issues?

Jonathan Weisman: I'm not sure the rhetoric against President Bush is any worse -- frankly, I think it's less vitriolic -- than the attacks on President Clinton. I was listening to a broadcast the other day by Michael Savage against Trent Lott, where he called him a nightrider with a noose and a tree, a thug, a Mafioso, alluded to Hitler, etc. Most people don't hear that sort of stuff, but the ones who do can't help but be affected. It seems nothing is off-limits.

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Pittsburgh: Okay, I admit it, my head is spinning after reading "Angler." The administration argues that the war authorization included the legal foundation for warrantless wiretaps. Where are we on that? Is that why Congress wants to repeal the initial authorization so Cheney/Bush can't use it as the basis for who knows what?

Jonathan Weisman: It's a new reason, I suppose, but it was not the motivation. The folks who proposed deauthorization felt that the goals of the first authorization -- making sure Saddam Hussein was not a threat, removing weapons of mass destruction -- have been met. We're freelancing now.

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Astoria, N.Y.: Interesting piece on Bush's frame of mind this morning; I always have felt that Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld felt, at the end of the day, that history was their real judge and that the day to day "white noise" of think-tanks, op-eds and the like just needed to be ignored in order to make the big, sweeping changes they envisioned coming into office. I'm sure he understands the political dumps he's in, but has his faith in his overall vision been shaken, do you think?

Jonathan Weisman: I think Peter Baker's story did show us that President Bush is not quite as sure of his position -- in contemporary politics and policy as well as history -- may not be as secure as he gives off.

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Bethesda, Md.: Jonathan -- how about the timing of the incidents in the U.K.? Right after Britain gets a new prime minister ... do you think that was intentional?

washingtonpost.com: Seven Suspects Held in British Bomb Attempts (Post, July 2)

Jonathan Weisman: Oh, absolutely. I'm no spook, but you've got to think this was al-Qaeda linked terrorists letting Britain know they're not off the hook just 'cause Blair is riding into the sunset. Luckily, so far, the U.K. is blessed with incompetent terrorists. Knock on wood.

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Midwest: During the 2004 campaign, we had raised terror alerts on a regular basis and now that there have been actual confirmed events/plots in the U.K. and Scotland, we don't deign to elevate our terror alert status. Have the criteria changed, or just the political imperatives?

Jonathan Weisman: I was just talking to a reporter here who said the FBI is far more nervous than the Homeland Security secretary is letting on. Chertoff said there were no actionable and credible reports of active plots -- but you don't know what you don't know, as Rummie once said.

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Regarding Your Response to Boston:: "We were just doing what we thought was necessary to defend the nation" was a likely justification for internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. It was much later when the nation came to their senses. Maybe the Supreme Court agreeing to take another look at the detainee issue is an indication of the nation returning to our senses again and not accepting doing anything in the name of national security.

Jonathan Weisman: My point exactly. At the time the country went along with the internments, and to this day, history does not seem to make that shameful episode too much of a black mark on FDR.

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Pelosi Effect: Actually, Pelosi's prominence is helping Americans recognize what it would be like having a strident, ineffective, Angry Leftie in the presidency. Gender means less in this context than you might think. By the way, Jefferson/Burr.

Jonathan Weisman: Hamilton-Burr. If you look at polling, I think you are overstating the Pelosi effect. Her positives are around where Gingrich was at this time in his speakership, but her negatives are very low. That tells me most Americans aren't giving her much thought.

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Sewickley, Pa.: The "Angler" paints Attorney General Gonzales as a mere pawn used time and again by truly powerful figures like Vice President Cheney and his minions. Has the Gellman/Becker piece further eroded his credibility, or is that just beating a dead horse?

Jonathan Weisman: I think the dead horse may be the operative animal here.

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New York: Jonathan, what do you think the effect of the immigration bill failure/debate will be regarding the Latino vote in 2008? Do legal immigrants and naturalized citizens (read: voters) feel they've been maligned, or do they believe the debate was not about them? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Immigration Bill Dies in Senate (Post, June 29)

Jonathan Weisman: Hard to say, but I think in a few key states -- Arizona, New Mexico and a few other places -- the immigration bill failure will have a negative effect on Republicans. I am basing that on Pete Wilson's fortunes in California, where he rode an anti-illegal immigration wave to re-election but really hurt the Republicans in the long run. In politics, the long run may be 2008.

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Philadelphia: Thanks to all of you reporters for the fantastic job you're doing in covering the White House and Congress; keep up the good work in keeping us informed, to the best of your abilities. What kinds of tips/information re: The Vice have your fellow reporters (and sources) been writing to you about? Are you finding more information flowing and a bit more easily, now that the curtain has been whipped away from the Wizard? Or are things drying up as (presumably) The Wrath of Cheney is expressed?

washingtonpost.com: Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency

Jonathan Weisman: Thanks for the encouragement. If you read the Angler series closely, it's clear that much of the information came from former Justice Department and White House aides. There's a critical mass of burned formers now. I've been a little shocked by liberal bloggers who have criticized us for not getting this information out earlier. that ignores how difficult the information is to come by.

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Oooh, Hamilton/Burr!: See, we could cut through a lot of the current acrimony with dueling. Harry Reid and Dick Cheney at twenty paces? You know who my money's on.

Jonathan Weisman: Cheney's good with the bird shot, but Reid was a boxer. Choose your weapons.

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Reading, Pa.: Jonathan: Is it fair to criticize Hilary Clinton for some of the decisions she made while a partner at the Rose Law Firm? What about her time as First Lady (of Arkansas and the U.S.)? Stuff that didn't matter as a candidate's wife should matter when the person is the candidate -- right?

Jonathan Weisman: I certainly think her time at the Rose Law firm is fair game, because it gets to character, and character matters for a president.

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Incompetent U.K. terrorists?: I beg to differ. Don't forget what happened two years ago this week.

Jonathan Weisman: I'm only referring to the perpetrators of the past seven days.

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Clifton, Va.: Jonathan -- I'll bet you $100 to your favorite charity and you $100 to mine that there will be terrorist attacks right around the inauguration of Hillary in 2009, within five to seven days each way. And predictions are 5,000-10,000 Americans will die in these attacks. Also, there is a better than 50 percent chance of a successful terrorist attack around the election in November 2008.

Jonathan Weisman: I don't bet on the macabre.

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U.K. Attacks: At dinner Saturday with a Brit friend who is very opposed to the UK's support of the War on Terror, I asked her perspective on the day's attacks: "If they keep attacking us, it will be harder to bring our troops home." Sweet kid, but sort of missing the point, no?

Jonathan Weisman: I think that's a very defensible position. Terrorists struck Madrid just before an election, and it probably swung the vote against Bush's ally in Iraq. But the Brits are a different lot, stiff upper-lip and all that. They may say they don't want to look like they are knuckling under. That said, I think the die is cast on some troop removals. They'll say they are being pulled out precisely to strengthen the U.K.'s own war on terrorism.

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Washington: What's Peter Baker like in person?

Jonathan Weisman: A sweeter guy you will never meet. And I'm serious.

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New York: Jonathan, right now on the radio I'm listening to a debate about the fairness doctrine, which apparently Dems want to reinstitute. I think they're hot on it because of all the talk-show rhetoric that helped kill the immigration bill. Any chance of this? Frankly, I haven't missed it -- should I have? P.S. Just because I'm listening to the radio doesn't mean you don't have my full attention...

Jonathan Weisman: This is a load of silliness. A few Democrats -- Sens. Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein -- have mentioned bringing back the fairness doctrine. That came in the wake of Trent Lott saying Washington had to do something about Talk Radio. But the House last week voted overwhelmingly for an amendment blocking any reconsideration of the fairness doctrine. It's a lot of fun for conservatives to use to whip up indignation, but it's not going anywhere.

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Anchorage, Alaska: Re: Dead horse AG -- the problem for up-and-comers like Gonzalez is that the aristocracy in this country (e.g. Bush, Rockefeller, Ford) will use anyone and anything to keep their grip on power. The servant class are led to believe that they're equals. They are not -- not in the eyes of our lords and masters. Perhaps poor Fredo is starting to learn this repeated lesson from history. One may eat at the master's table, but one shouldn't consider himself one of the family. It ain't Oliver, after all. G.W.B. -- alas poor Fredo, I knew him not-so-well.

Jonathan Weisman: Wow, class consciousness in Anchorage. I thought Alaska was where you go to get away from such distinctions.

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Anonymous: Thanks for your recognition of Lieberman's speaking out of conviction instead of expediency. That is what we always say we want, even though we don't really mean it if we disagree.

Jonathan Weisman: We always like it when the rhetoric strikes our own ideology, but when it rubs the wrong way we are quick to look for ulterior motives.

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Hamilton, Va.: Re: Your response to the first question, I think the Clinton/Lewinsky matter has been taken way to far. It will be a historical fact because of the impeachment but I think that Ken Starr's Ahab-like obsession with Clinton and the damage it did to the body politic will be the lesson there. Why people were so aghast at sexual impropriety then accepted the run-up to the war and the rest of this administration's activities is beyond me.

Jonathan Weisman: It was taken so far that it is now a punch line. That was a joke.

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Up Early in Honolulu: What does it take to be included in the Democratic debates? Mike Gravel seems like a breath of sometimes fresh air, but he went round the bend a couple of times on Thursday -- how many platforms is he going to get before he's politely excused from the process?

Jonathan Weisman: Good question, and I don't know. I guess he'll drop out when he runs out of money, but for now the debates are the best thing these fifth-tier candidates have.

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Florissant, Mo.: Here's a question from what is now the dark past. Has anyone ever explained how Harriet Myers could have been nominated for a Supreme Court? Was Rove off that week? Was Cheney cleaning his hunting rifle? How did Bush stray so far off the reservation of political savvy on that one? Thanks.

Jonathan Weisman: Miers, my friend, Miers. The best guess is that Bush's loyalty to his friends goes so far beyond political expediency and long-term machinations. Think Fredo Gonzales.

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Reston, Va.: Just a comment. I can't recall how the electorate of Connecticut public voted for Lieberman, in terms of percentage. How many Dems voted for him? They all must be crying rivers now, thanks to his Republican-in-Democrat's seat actions.

Jonathan Weisman: Lieberman's Democratic opponent took a sizable majority of Democratic votes. Lieberman won on Republican and independent votes, with some Democrats to give him a comfortable margin.

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New Jersey: Jonathan, any advice for a soon-to-be college sophomore aspiring political reporter?

Jonathan Weisman: Get internships now -- this summer if you can. I don't care if it's at a weekly suburban freebie. Your future in this dying field relies on your clips.

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Atlanta: A lot of people bring up Obama doing well with money, but lagging in polls. This may actually make sense. Obama typically does well with more-educated and affluent Democrats, no? It may be that fundraising doesn't reflect the sentiments of white, less-educated Democrats.

Jonathan Weisman: That's a theory, but you have to look at his donor base. He's getting a ton of money from first-time donors in small chunks via the Internet. It's Hillary who pulls in the big bucks from the high rollers.

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St. Peters, Pa.: The fairness doctrine is so twentieth century. What we need now is the "Fair and Balancedness Doctrine."

Jonathan Weisman: Right you are, Rupert. Good luck with the Wall Street Journal.

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Bethesda, Md.: Jonathan, given your comment about the timing of the U.K. bomb plots and the new government, how do you think this impacts 2008 and 2009 for the U.S.?

Jonathan Weisman: It doesn't. There will be plenty of intervening attacks that do, I'm afraid.

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Washington: I was very disappointed that none of the Democratic presidential candidates commented on the District's lack of full voting rights and statehood during the Tavis Smiley forum Thursday at Howard University. Is the issue that low on the totem pole? Three D.C. members of Congress (at least one representative and two senators) would be no doubt Democrats ... I just don't understand it!

washingtonpost.com: Democrats Address Race Issues In Debate (Post, June 29)

Jonathan Weisman: These guys are trying to appeal to the nation, not our measly sliver. That said, sure, they'd love D.C. statehood, but Washington is arguing now regarding the constitutionality of giving us one lousy vote in the House, offset by an extra Republican from Utah. Statehood almost certainly would take an amendment to the aforementioned piece of parchment.

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Westcliffe, Colo.: See if you remember this exchange re: Senate to revisit immigration and pass it this week:

Westcliffe, Colo.: And if my grandma had wheels, she'd be a wagon!

Jonathan Weisman: We shall see, Westcliffe. We shall see.

Are we seeing now, JW?

Jonathan Weisman: I said we shall see and we saw. Your point?

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Oxford, Miss.: I think the flip-side is true regarding Pelosi-Clinton too. The "Nancy Pelosi" House is a term that those on the right use to criticize the whole Congress. They say it's because she's "liberal" but there's certainly an element of "she's just a bleeding-hearted woman" in there too. I think if Hillary Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, you'll see a lot of attack ads lumping her together with Pelosi.

Jonathan Weisman: Maybe down in Mississippi. I think in most places you'd hear, "Nancy who?"

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Jonathan -- thanks for taking my question -- I always appreciate your quick wit and perspective. Even though it was just one article rather than a series, I found Peter Baker's piece today much more disturbing than the articles on Cheney, which to me just confirmed what I already believed and suspected. I found the idea of GWB musing with intellectuals in a state of tranquility while we have total failure in Iraq and soldiers dying daily to be almost more than I could take. Here's my question: how do you reporters get this stuff? How do you get people inside the White House to talk? Of course you have sources who won't be named -- that's understandable -- but when they provide information, what's their motivation? Are they so fed up that they're trying to undermine the administration?

washingtonpost.com: A President Besieged and Isolated, Yet at Ease (Post, July 2)

Jonathan Weisman: Peter followed a lot of leads and talked to people involved in Bush's sessions with scholars. He knows Bush's friends. And people are eager to talk these days. It's our job to ask everyone we know what they know -- and if they don't know something, who does. You follow the string and hope there's something on the end of the line.

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Pelosi: I'm looking forward to your article on Pelosi. From the time that she became speaker, I thought she'd be a better choice as president than Clinton. My suspicion is that many of those labeling her a "San Francisco liberal" wouldn't be able to make the pejorative stick once her profile was raised. Can you compare the two women? Or is that part of your up coming piece?

Jonathan Weisman: That's not part of the piece. Nancy Pelosi is all about exercising power in the background and making very-high-stakes decisions. Hillary Clinton is far more political -- more public but actually a lot more cautious.

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Baltimore: Re Alaska and the aristocracy in this country: I was shocked recently to learn that the president's grandfather, Prescott Bush, far from being a New England aristocrat was actually a tire salesman at the time he met his future well-connected, wealthy wife who set him on the path to the Senate. The Bush's are, in fact, not blue-bloods, but not quite nouveau riche.

Jonathan Weisman: I'll take your word on that.

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Marshall, Va.: Jonathan you write " I certainly think her time at the Rose Law firm is fair game, since it gets to character, and character matters for a president."

I think Clinton was ranked as one of the most influential attorneys in American during her time at Rose. But Bush was a remarkable failure as a businessman, with numerous bailouts from daddy or daddy's friends. Cheney was under investigation for asbestos law violations. Why wasn't their character questioned during 2000? And when it became clear by 2004 that because were manifestly incompetent, why was their character judged to be steadfast and resolute, not delusional?

Jonathan Weisman: Well, about 49 percent of the country did not deem Bush's character as steadfast and resolute. Remember, the president's approval ratings were already below 50 percent at the time of the election. 

As far as Hillary, I did not say her record at the Rose Law Firm was all bad. Far from it. In 1991 and 1992, I was a reporter at a little newspaper called Education Week. I covered education reform efforts in Arkansas, but frankly, Hillary was more of a known quantity in Washington than Bill was. She has been prominent in policy circles for a very long time.

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Baltimore: I know that the 2008 election is gearing up and that it'll soon be all about the next crop of candidates, but I'm a Democrat and I have a lot of Democrats as friends and I get the distinct sense that a lot of Democrats aren't ready to stop being angry about the current administration. There's a lot of anger and ill will, I think. My question: Do you think this irate-with-Bush feeling will hamper Democrats as a party in 2008? Or, what will help Democrats to just get over it? Thanks.

Jonathan Weisman: I think that irate-with-Bush feeling will be the best thing the Democrats will have going in 2008. The question will be the same as in 2006 -- ready for a change?

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Chicago: Despite being a partisan Democrat, I must admit to being slightly underwhelmed by the changes I have seen in this Congress. Aside from the first 100 hours of the session, I have yet to see our votes in November manifest themselves in any landmark legislative victories. By contrast, there have been important successes on the nonlegislative (i.e., investigative) side of the ledger, and -- for any of you inside the Beltway who are wondering -- these are being noticed out here in middle-America. Congressman Waxman and his staff, in particular, seem to have done an exceptional job. Could you comment on the extent to which these investigations can help satisfy an electorate that voted for change last year? How much can they make up for a lack of legislative victories? In the end, it's possible that these investigations may be enough -- they are a crucial step in re-establishing a system of checks and balances and co-equal government that had been absent on the Hill since 2001. Maybe that's the most important contribution that the Democratic majority has made -- and not a bad one at that. Your comments?

Jonathan Weisman: I think they do have to get some legislative successes. The Democrats will get some credit for bills that get vetoed, but they have to show they are competent enough to get them to the president's desk. A big part of the slippage of Congress in public opinion polls is people like you, who had high hopes for the Democratic majority and have been disappointed in their inability to create real change real fast.

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More on Burr: Just a reminder that Jefferson had to put up with Burr, his unwanted vice president, for four years -- a most unpleasant political bed that forced an electoral amendment. Burr-Hamilton was more spur-of-the-moment, though obviously more fatal in the outcome.

Jonathan Weisman: I love history, don't you?

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Oxford's Projecting Sexism: It's not the woman thing. It's the flaming angry liberal thing. Does Oxford really believe we won't put Gore or Obama next to Pelosi in the "you vote for this, you deserve this" ads?

Jonathan Weisman: By the summer of 2008, Gore and Obama will be far better known than Nancy Pelosi.

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Re: Pelosi Effect: It's always amusing to hear the party of Gingrich/Delay/Lott/Limbaugh/Coulter/et al accuse Dems of being "strident" and "angry." (It's even funnier that they portray negativity as a terrible thing that will turn off voters/TV viewers/radio listeners.)

Jonathan Weisman: It all depends on where you get your news, don't it?

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New York: Is there resentment in the U.K. among politicians and the public toward the U.S. over this weekend's attempted terror attacks? If I was British I'd be very resentful right now toward the U.S. and Blair for getting them involved in Iraq. It seems the U.S. is determining the policy and the U.K. is getting all the blowback.

Jonathan Weisman: As I am not in the U.K., I don't think I can give you an answer. Calling all U.K. chatters: Answer poor New York ASAP.

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Washington: Hi Jonathan. Thanks for taking my question. So is Hillary Clinton still the front-runner for the Dem nomination? She has lost the money primary to Obama two quarters in a row. She is behind Edwards in Iowa, and the majority of recent South Carolina polling shows Obama in the lead. Does leading in New Hampshire and the national polling really justify the frontrunner label?

Jonathan Weisman: I still think she has the mojo. Remember how Howard Dean became this huge phenom by harnessing the Internet and getting a rush of small donations? I'm not saying Obama will yield a scream, but the parallels are apt.

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Glenside, Pa.: A lot of people bring up foreign policy and social issues in terms of the GOP nod. What about "economics" Republicans, those who want low taxes and believe in the free market? Don't they make up a good chunk of the GOP base?

Jonathan Weisman: Giuliani is counting on those to carry him over. All of the candidates can talk tough on terrorism, but Rudy needs the libertarian types who really don't care about his stands on abortion and gay rights.

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Seattle: Baltimore is nuts. Prescott Bush was given a job in the steel industry by his well-connected father Samuel. The Bushes in America date back to the Mayflower. I have no idea where Baltimore is getting his or her information, but it is very wrong.

Jonathan Weisman: Ah, Seattle, you have revived my preconceptions.

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Arlington, Va.: Can you explain why Washington "areas" are called "Wards"? It makes the population sound like children who need a mommy.

Jonathan Weisman: I can't, but I'm sure we have some city reporters who could. By the way, I'm a ward of a ward in the District of Columbia.

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For Baltimore: You reading of the Bush family is incorrect. Prescott Bush was a financier on Wall Street in the '20s then, a Senator from Connecticut. His father was a railroad equipment manufacturer in Cleveland, I think. That would be Samuel Bush. He got the contracts for brakes and couplings on railroad cars that carried Rockefeller oil. The aristocracy goes back a long way. Even further on the Walker side. Read books, not the New York Post.

Jonathan Weisman: Okay, just keep 'em coming!

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Anonymous: Jonathan: Does it seem to you that John Edwards is smiling a lot less than he did when he ran in 2004? It looks to me like he's not having as much fun or something, and it even shows at the debates.

Jonathan Weisman: This has not been an easy campaign for John Edwards -- $400 haircuts, a wife with inoperable cancer, Ann Coulter attacking him over his dead son -- and it's going to get worse. Would you be smiling under the circumstances?

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Bel Air, Md: I thought cloture was to a vote to end debate on a bill, which requires 60 votes to pass? Once it passes, a simple majority is required to pass the bill. Why did the immigration bill have two cloture votes (June 26 and June 28)?

Jonathan Weisman: In the Senate, cloture must be invoked to do just about anything if a dug-in opposition will not allow unanimous consent on routine procedures. The first cloture vote you refer to was a motion to bring the bill back to the floor. That got 60. The next was a motion to cut off debate and proceed in 30 hours to a final vote. That failed.

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Fairfax, Va.: Given the dramatic turn to the right the Supreme Court has taken thanks to Roberts and Alito, will centrist Democrats who refused to derail Bush's nominees by using their filibuster power have to pay any price from the party's leadership or from voters?

washingtonpost.com: A Rightward Turn and Dissension Define Court This Term (Post, July 1)

Jonathan Weisman: Ah, no. I heard Patrick Leahy on "Meet the Press" deflect a question about whether he regretted voting for John Roberts' confirmation by saying he regretted his nomination, not his confirmation.

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Bow, N.H.: How big a problem/constraint is pay-as-you-go? I have a sense that the energy tax bill failed in large part because the need to pay for the breaks for alternatives and renewables under pay-go exposed them to the wrath of the oil companies and doomed the bill. In a similar vein, what are the prospects for Alternative Minimum Tax reform this year (and how will it get paid for)?

Jonathan Weisman: Ah, the last question -- and it harkens back to my days as an economic policy reporter. Pay-go is significant for tax cuts because it automatically requires a 60-vote margin to pass unless the cuts are "paid for" with equal tax increases -- and tax increases are very hard to pass. Sixty votes and the constraint is waived. That said, most things need sixty votes in the Senate, so it is a hurdle, but no higher than a lot of other hurdles.

Thanks everyone!

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