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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 6, 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 staff writer Jose Antonio Vargas will be online Monday, Aug. 6, at 11 a.m. ET.

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Jose Antonio Vargas: Apologies for the delay. Still in Chicago -- was here for Yearly Kos -- and was having some laptop problems. Thanks for joining us.

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Gettysburg, Pa.: Good morning Jose and thanks for taking my question -- two key factors in the Republican race: When will John McCain finally drop out and when will Fred Thompson step in? Seems with the favorable press Thompson's wife is now receiving from The Post coverage on Sunday and Robert Novak's recent column -- Thompson should step in no later than Labor Day. What's behind his timing, in your view?

Jose Antonio Vargas: Thanks for the question. Sen. McCain seems determined to stay on the race for as long as he can, his recent spate of troubles notwithstanding. He's opted out of the Iowa's straw poll, scheduled for Saturday as has Fred Thompson, who's yet to formally announced his bid. And, yes, with all the press he's getting -- and his decent, if not stunning, fundraising figures -- all roads point to his announcement. Labor Day is not too far from now.

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Long Island, N.Y.: Is Romney's Fonda/Strangelove quip likely to define Obama negatively, for Democratic opponents as well as Republicans?

washingtonpost.com: Democrats Targeted In GOP Debate (Post, Aug. 6)

Jose Antonio Vargas: The big target right now, for both Republicans like Mitt Romney and Democrats like Sen. Hillary Clinton, is Obama, who is amassing more grassroots support, online and offline, than most of the candidates. And Romney's Fonda/Strangelove comment -- "I mean, in one week he went from saying he's going to sit down, you know, for tea, with our enemies, but then he's going to bomb our allies," Romney quipped -- is proof of how much candidates want to tarnish Obama's image. Negatively, of course.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Did you question any of the "1,500 conventioneers" about the lack of "African American, Latino or Asian" attendees? If yes, what were some of the main reactions? If no, why not? Given this country's history of racial discrimination and the wrong-headed acquiescence by political parties for such a long time until the Civil Rights movement, one would hope that today's political organizations are sensitive to the importance and positive contributions of inclusion. It would be a shame and a major step backwards if political blogging turns out to be the last vestige of White males.

Jose Antonio Vargas: Thanks for the question. All in all, I interviewed nearly 30 conventioneers for the piece. I attended nearly half a dozen panels on Saturday. And the reaction from them was two-fold: Some were genuinely surprised, such as Bernita Smith, a blogger in Atlanta who writes about Georgia politics. And some were more frustrated, such as Jenifer Fernandez Ancona. She asked me: "Why is the blogosphere, which is supposed to be more democratic, reinforcing the same white male power structure that exists?"

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Washington, D.C.: Just an aside regarding Jeri Thompson, but can you imagine Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, or even Barbara Bush acknowledging living with their boyfriends? How will Ms. Thompson's background play in the "Heartland"?

washingtonpost.com: The Rise Of Jeri Thompson (Post, Aug. 5)

Jose Antonio Vargas: Now that's the big question. But then again this is 2007, a different time, a different era. Thanks for your post.

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Eagle, Idaho: I'm sure I won't be the only one who asks this, but here goes: Who do you think benefited and got hurt the most in yesterday morning's ABC's "This Week," debate? And, why?

Jose Antonio Vargas: Thanks for the question. I'm not sure if anyone really benefited. Mitt Romney, who's leading in Iowa, played it safe, even cautious, and stuck to his talking points. His attack on Obama was something to take note of, as was his statement about his stance on abortion, "I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they've been pro-life longer than I have." His change of heart in this matter will continue to haunt him, no doubt.

I kept paying attention to Sen. McCain, who stuck to his guns about Iraq.

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Guangzhou, China: If Al Gore were to announce his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President within the next three months, what would be his probability of winning? And what do you think is the latest date he could announce and still have a reasonable chance of winning the nomination?

Jose Antonio Vargas: Thanks for the question, all the way from China.

The money is on Al Gore not running for president. Here's why: First, the Democrats have a wide, competent field to choose from and the base is excited with the candidates. (And wait 'til New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg throws his hat in.) Second, Labor Day is coming up, and we haven't heard any specific steps he's made (hiring consultants, opening offices, whatever) that would lead us to believe that's he's eyeing a run. Thirdly, in some ways, he's an international figure now. Why risk it?

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Falls Church, Va.: Can you explain why none of the Democratic Presidential candidates have a logical and common sense approach to illegal immigration? Why the disconnect with the majority of U.S. citizens?

Jose Antonio Vargas: That's a very good question -- and, frankly, I don't have an answer to it.

Look at what happened to Sen. McCain because of his staunch support of the immigration reform bill, which, of course, he co-authored. It cost McCain dearly, especially in Iowa. Immigration is a complex subject that, for now, Democrats, for the most part, are safely trying to ignore the issue.

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Richmond, Va.: Was it smart politics or weakness that the Democrats voted to give Bush everything he wanted on the warrentless wire tap? As a Progressive, I was shocked that the Democrats didn't have the courage to stand up for our basic liberties over fear of "seeming" weak on fighting terrorism, why they couldn't -- once again -- frame the debate that you can have both.

washingtonpost.com: Warrantless Surrender (Post, Aug. 6)

Jose Antonio Vargas: Smart politics? Lack of leadership? What was that? Congressional Democrats, I think, will take a beating on this from their constituents come campaign season. Thanks for the question.

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Chantilly, Va.: This morning your headline writer wrote: "At Yearly Kos, Mostly White Males." By that measure shouldn't you also write, "At Iowa Republican debate, all White males?" At least Kos is agonizing that there are not enough women or minorities blogging. Will Tom Tancredo bemoan the fact that there are no Hispanics running in the Republican ranks?

washingtonpost.com: A Diversity of Opinion, if Not Opiniona(Post, Aug. 6)

Jose Antonio Vargas: This is a very good point. My goal in writing the piece was to hone in on the convention and get people talking. Thanks for posting.

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Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: On Sunday morning -- what a ridiculous time for a presidential debate -- the GOPers (Republican presidential candidates) laughed at Democrats and the 67 percent of Americans who oppose the occupation in Iraq, and carried on like frat boys at a football party.

When do any of these guys get serious about the job of running for president? They just can't sit in the back benches with the rest of the brat pack and spit-wad everything they disagree about with the rest of the nation and the world. Can they?

The primaries are in five months. Isn't it time for the Republicans to uncarbon-copy themselves? Otherwise the ballot might as well say: "Any one will do."

Thanks much. H.L.B.

Jose Antonio Vargas: Thanks for the comments. There's a joke that the top-tier candidates sound like Rudy McRomney. And, judging by the latest Washington Post/ABC News, where only 19 percent of Republicans are likely to vote in the Iowa caucuses say they are very satisfied with the field, GOPers are none too happy with the pack.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I wonder whether Rep. Tancredo even thinks before he talks, and realizes that he may have given instant credibility to terrorists by saying that the U.S. should bomb Mecca if attacked by terrorists, and that this threat could deter attackers. So terrorists do care about protecting holy sites? They really are religious warriors? Tancredo's statement would, I think, be more likely to inflame anti-American sentiment in the Moslem world, including Iraq, than it would be to deter terrorists. If terrorists threatened to attack the Vatican, would we be deterred or angered?

Jose Antonio Vargas: A very interesting observation. It's my view that all politicians, calculating as they are, think before they talk; now what they say is entirely up to them. And Rep. Tancredo's statements, about immigration and terrorism, strike me as controversial.

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Richmond, Va.: It seems to me like the President, come September, is going to say that the "surge" is working and that we need to give it more time. If this were to happen, do you think Congressional Republicans would stand up to him and force him to change his policy?

Jose Antonio Vargas: Thanks for the question. If President Bush makes the argument that the "surge" is working, you can bet that Congressional Republicans, many of them already quite nervous about retaining their seats, will be none too happy.

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San Diego, Calif.: Nearly 200,000 missing weapons in Iraq? How's the administration going to spin this, considering that probably more than a few of the missing AK-47s are being used to target our soldiers and Marines?

washingtonpost.com: Weapons Given to Iraq Are Missing (Post, Aug. 6)

Jose Antonio Vargas: Now there was a whopper of a story, surely the talk of the day.
Like you, I'm eager to hear how the administration explains this.

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Long Island, N.Y.: I'm concerned about the "your greatest mistake" question, which Giuliani, at least, parried amusingly and thus avoided answering. Are such questions appropriate journalism, where you are effectively asking a candidate to either waffle or else give information to opponents?

Jose Antonio Vargas: Thanks for the question. When it comes to debate questions, I'm all for anything that reveals personality. And Giuliani's answer -- "To have a description of my mistakes in 30 seconds?" he asked -- showed that he's very much aware of the rap against him (his familial woes, for example) and I think he played the question off nicely.

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Dale, Texas: Thank you for being online. And sharing your expertise.

Does the conservative, very conservative, radical conservative blogosphere have the equivalent of the Convention you write about? I know they are there; I try to dip into their world from time to time. Do they not convene to exchange views?

Jose Antonio Vargas: Great question. (And I wouldn't call it "expertise"; I'm just trying to report as much as I can as honestly as I can.)

I asked prominent conservative bloggers this question on The Trail, the political team's daily diary, and one of them, Robert Bluey, director of the center for media and public policy at the Heritage Foundation and a contributor to the conservative site RedState, thinks the Republican's answer is CPAC -- the Conservative Political Action Conference, founded in 1973. "While it was started long before anyone had ever heard of blogging, it's been catering to bloggers for years," Bluey told me. "At this year's conference, blog row was overflowing with political bloggers and candidates making pit stops to make their case to the new power players."

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Milwaukee, Wis.: Terrific editorial today in the Post:

"THE DEMOCRATIC-led Congress, more concerned with protecting its political backside than with safeguarding the privacy of American citizens, left town early yesterday after caving in to administration demands that it allow warrantless surveillance of the phone calls and e-mails of American citizens, with scant judicial supervision and no reporting to Congress about how many communications are being intercepted. To call this legislation ill-considered is to give it too much credit: It was scarcely considered at all. Instead, it was strong-armed through both chambers by an administration that seized the opportunity to write its warrantless wiretapping program into law -- or, more precisely, to write it out from under any real legal restrictions."

We just lost the fourth amendment, so I hope you will stay on this.

washingtonpost.com: Warrantless Surrender (Post, Aug. 6)

Jose Antonio Vargas: Thanks for the comment. The editorial and news side of The Post, as you know, are separate and independent. But the editorial struck the right chord for many.

Thanks for joining us. And sorry for the delay!

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