Post Politics Hour

Anne Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 13, 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 Anne Kornblut will be online Monday, Aug. 13, at 11 a.m. ET.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Anne Kornblut: Good morning all! Hope everyone is having a good start to the week. Happy to get started. ... Please send all your questions. Lots of political news happening for a Monday in August.

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Oxford, Miss.: Wait, Tommy Thompson was running for president?

Anne Kornblut: Now, now. ...

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Pikeville, Ky.: Why is there not more coverage of Democratic presidential candidates other than Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards? I'd like to hear more about all of them. Is there a consorted effort to not cover the other candidates?

Anne Kornblut: That's a good question (and one aired by the rest of the campaigns a lot of the time). We've been trying to pay as much attention to the others as we can, and have gone out and done stories on Sen. Chris Dodd, Sen. Joe Biden, Gov. Bill Richardson and others, but it's true that a lot of the early fascination in the public (and thus from us) has been toward the top tier. Hopefully all these debates will mean more opportunities to talk about the rest. Thank you for mentioning it.

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Salinas, Calif.: Hi Anne. So, the question on everyone's lips: does Karl Rove figure there are enough key Bush appointees in place on the federal court to uphold his executive privilege shield now that he's chosen to step out of the bunkered White House to become a citizen again?

Anne Kornblut: This is the big news of the day, that's for sure. We've got reporters working on what his resignation means on the investigative front... Stay tuned.

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Washington, D.C.: In The Washington Post article about Karl Rove leaving, The Post's stripes really showed. "Karl Rove, who escaped indictment." Are you kidding me? Escaped? How did he escape? He was innocent and therefore wasn't indicted. By reading the article, you would think Rove was this evil man who was guilty, which may be the view of the blogosphere, but shouldn't be represented in a mainstream publication like The Post. Please explain. Karl Rover, love him or hate him, is one of the brilliant political minds ever.

Anne Kornblut: We are definitely going to be talking about this a lot the next few days. On your particular point, the fact that Rove had been investigated for so long did mean that a certain point indictment was very much a real possibility -- hence the use of the word "escape." But I think you will also see a lot of emphasis in the next few news cycles on the successful work Rove did for President Bush as well.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Who is likely to fill the duties left by Karl Rove, and more importantly, is there anyone that can command the president's attention to the degree that Karl Rove was able to get his points through to the president?

washingtonpost.com: Karl Rove, Adviser to President Bush, to Resign (Post, Aug. 13)

Anne Kornblut: We've been wondering this ourselves here in the newsroom. A lot of Bush's top political command have already left: Dan Bartlett recently; Sara Taylor; even Meghan O'Sullivan, who had handled Iraq. Karl is far and away the most irreplaceable of that bunch. That said, many of his duties were political, most useful during a campaign season and Bush doesn't have any of those left. I'd also say it's a safe bet that even after Karl leaves, he will not ever be far from the president's ear.

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Oxford, Miss.: Maybe I'm the only person with this view today but I don't see Rove's resignation as that significant at this point in time. He's pretty much lost his high standing since the 2006 congressional elections. And what really is there for him to do these days now that Bush can't run again, Cheney isn't running, and all the Repubs are trying to distance themselves from the administration? I think this resignation was inevitable nine months ago. If anything, I'm surprised he's lasted this long.

Anne Kornblut: A good point, and the flip side to some of what others are saying. And in truth, he's been there for seven years -- a long time in that pressure cooker. Thanks for the thought.

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Seattle, Wash.: Anne -- of all the chats I read, yours is the most informative and least "snarky" for those of us living outside the Beltway. Please do more of them! My question: how did Nicholas Sarkozy adjust to Texas after Maine -- and how did he wangle two invitations to both places? Also, what issues were raised in discussions that might indicate a realignment of relationships between the U.S. and Europe? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: The Art of the Campaign (Post, Aug. 12)

Anne Kornblut: Thank you so much! I actually don't think Sarkozy is making it down to Texas, but maybe I missed something. He did, though, have lunch with Bush in Maine on Saturday, and seemed to enjoy himself. Because this wasn't an official diplomatic visit -- the French Embassy even told me they had no information on the trip! -- there wasn't much in the way of a read-out afterward, except to say that the current president, former President Bush and Sarkozy spent time talking just the three of them during the visit to Walker's Point. When asked what he wanted to talk about, Bush mentioned Iran as a possible subject, so I'd say it's a safe bet that occurred. Thank you for the question.

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Silver Spring, Md.: How could you write about the "Seinfeld election" of 2000 without acknowledging the role of the media (i.e., you) in setting the agenda for that election? Surely you recognize that the fixation on Al Gore's wardrobe and alleged lies was not organic, but was a creation of the media? Your article seemed to be a cheap attempt to blame the public for your institution's failings, a common problem these days in the media.

washingtonpost.com: The Art of the Campaign (Post, Aug. 12)

Anne Kornblut: This is a completely fair question. I don't think it is helpful to lump "the media" into a single category -- some reporters did certain kinds of reporting in 2000, and others did others -- but I understand the resentment many people feel toward the coverage of that year overall. At the same time, though, many political operatives themselves struggled to bring meaningful definition to that race, even in hindsight; there was (they say) a degree of detachment in the public. In any event, your point is very well taken.

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Prairietown, Ill.: Not being indicted does not mean you are innocent, does it?

Anne Kornblut: I think that is true. But I am not a lawyer.

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Niles, Mich.: At the end of Bush's press conference, he never grasped the final question he accepted from David Green of National Public Radio about "Accountability" -- his unsteady answer even had some sort of implied doomsday for "your children." Did I miss something?

Anne Kornblut: I liked that David Greene question, too, and I didn't hear a clearer answer than you did, either. Keep listening -- I bet someone will ask it again.

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New York: Thanks very much for taking questions.

Has there been a hint from anyone in the White House of who they would prefer to be the Republican presidential candidate?

What was the menu for Sarkozy's lunch? Just curious.

washingtonpost.com: Elusive first lady sets tongues wagging in France (Reuters, Aug. 13)

Anne Kornblut: The menu! I always love the menu. The Bushes served hamburgers and hot dogs, fresh Maine corn, tomato salad of some kind, and some berry dessert. It was really casual, from the sounds of it.

On a more serious note: The White House has NOT suggested a preference in the Republican field, though obviously they say they would want a winner. We know from reading the tea leaves that although Bush and Sen. McCain had a rocky history, after the 2000 race, they patched things up really well in recent years -- and Bush is grateful now to McCain for sticking his neck out on both the Iraq war and on immigration. But at the same time, there are ex Bush aides all over the place -- some working for Romney, others for Giuliani, others for Fred Thompson. I would love to know what Bush is saying as he sits at home watching the GOP debates on TV in the White House residence. ...

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Santa Fe, N.M.: To add to what Oxford said, it's also worth noting that Rove chose to resign when the heat was off him. We haven't heard Democrats clamoring for his resignation for quite some time now and so he managed to eliminate any satisfaction his detractors might get had he resigned when the heat was on. In other words, it's not like Gonzalez resigning now.

Anne Kornblut: This is a great point, and I think it is actually meaningful. Like Rumsfeld before him, Rove is not the type to cave to pressure to resign; he was always more likely to go of his own volition rather than Democratic demands. And so we see him doing so (and, I might add, at a time when no one is in Washington and most people are paying attention to their summer vacations, not politics).

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Washington, D.C.:"President Bush came to office after the so-called 'Seinfeld' election -- the mindless campaign of 2000, a race filled with chatter but fundamentally about nothing, like the hit television show."

I wonder if you could tell us what made the 2000 campaign a race "about nothing"? Specifically, what role the press played in making it a "Seinfeld" election?

Anne Kornblut: Thank you for reading my piece in Outlook and taking the time to write in. It's a good question -- and worthy of a longer discussion than I can do here -- but in short I would say what I said earlier, that it was an election in which the two candidates had a hard time narrowing the focus to a single issue or group of issues that captured public imagination. At the same time, there were (as there always have been) stories of a, shall we say, less than weighty nature -- about the candidates' physical appearances, and so on. But I don't think that is what fundamentally made it about nothing. I think the pre-9/11 era had much of the nation not focusing on what was at stake, the way the country does now.

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Boston: With Rove's resignation today, I was curious to know if you thought we are in long-term cycle of far wing base focus or if we will see a return to more moderate encompassing politics in the next five to 10 years? Is the current polarization of the electorate permanent or temporary?

Anne Kornblut: I love this question, and the short answer is: who knows? What everyone has been trying to figure out is whether Rove's drive-up-the-base theory of politics worked, or whether it was a temporary fix. I think, with the election pretty much in full swing, we will start to see what politicians think fairly soon.

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Washington, D.C.: Well, I guess everyone can stop complaining for a little while that the media is spending too much time covering the 2008 presidential election so early.

Anne Kornblut: Perhaps. It's interesting that everyone complained there wasn't enough coverage in 2000, and then started complaining of too much coverage in 2008! We are, I assure everyone, trying to get it right.

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Charleston, S.C.: Anne,

Is there any chance Rove will end up running one of the presidential campaigns? Any speculation on this front?

Anne Kornblut: I would be shocked if he did -- not just because he's spent the last decade doing so (and it is grueling work) nor because he really actually does have a family he wants to spend more time with (usually a phony excuse, but in his case true) but also because he is something of a radioactive figure at this point. Most of the GOP candidates seem to be going to great lengths to distance themselves from this president, and hiring Rove would achieve the opposite effect.

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Arlington, Va: We don't know what the issues will be that will be hyped for this election. But, in terms of elections about nothing, even weighty, important sounding discussion like the Democrats are having now over whether to use nuclear weapons are really about nothing.

Anne Kornblut: How so? It actually struck me that discussing US policy toward nuclear force was a pretty substantive approach.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Anne,

Thanks for taking the time to chat.

So you always see conservatives citing studies alleging that X percent of reporters voted for Democrats in the last election to prove that the media is biased. But most reporters at The Post (at least the ones who do these chats) say that they don't vote. Are these types of studies out-dated? Do you vote? What percentage of The Post's political reporters would you say cast a ballot in the last election?

Anne Kornblut: Thank you for the question. I think it has to be difficult to measure "political bias" in reporters -- mainly because there really aren't that many political reporters in existence, and is it really fair to skew the outcome of such a study by including what the arts reporter or the Wall Street reporter thinks politically? Anyway, to answer your question: I do not vote in a race I am covering and so I won't be voting this year. Mostly it's not out of some moral superiority but because I have a terrible poker face, and could never look someone (i.e. a future president) in the eye and be honest if I knew I had voted for or against them. So it's safer for me not to.

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Margate, N.J.: Washington's comment that Rove is "one of the brilliant political minds ever" is certainly accurate. But "brilliant" is not the same as "infallible." Rove may think that McKinley was a genius, but more than a century after the man's death the historical record doesn't seem to support Rove's assessment. More importantly, Rove's idea that we are on the cusp of a new political "realignment" is highly dubious -- and Rove's own weaknesses have made such a realignment even less likely.

Anne Kornblut: I think that's a good point. It will be really interesting to see how Rove himself sizes it all up, should he write a political memoir someday.

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Tampa, Fla.: Ron Paul didn't do so great in the Ames poll, but he has tons of campaign cash! Does anyone really expect him to drop out, ever? Also, from a reporter's perspective, does he liven up the race or not?

washingtonpost.com: Romney: Win Not Hollow (AP, Aug. 12)

Anne Kornblut: I'm mainly covering the Democrats (and falling back on years of covering the White House here on the Rove story) so I don't know all the ins and outs of the Paul candidacy but I can certainly say as a close-in observer that he livens up the race, especially by bringing really engaged voters into the process. Good question.

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Richmond, Va.: There is nothing that Karl Rove has done that is not calculated. So, what is the buzz on why he is leaving? Oh, and his statement that he knows people will speculate that he is trying to avoid Congressional subpoenas is silly. For sure that is one reason, but first, can he? and second, what else? Will he be advising the Republican party against who he said in his WSJ interview was the inevitable candidate, Clinton? Given his track record, the resignation at this time seems so ... well ... nefarious.

Anne Kornblut: Another Rove question! As ever with Karl, there is going to be a lot of second-guessing and analyzing his decision to leave now, and whether his comment about Clinton as the inevitable nominee is intended to boost her, in an attempt to help guide her toward the Democratic nomination, because he thinks she is beatable. I will say this much: Rove has been saying how formidable a candidate she could be for many years (since it's not as if her candidacy was a recent surprise). Will he want to stay engaged in GOP politics after all he's been through, investigation-wise? We'll find out. ...

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Seattle, Wash.: You just wrote "I don't think it is helpful to lump "the media" into a single category." Fair or unfair, this is what the public does and thus it seems that it should be the burden of all you guys who want to be seen as doing good work to point when other parts of it are sloppy or simply wrong. Why, for instance, does it seem the press attacks blogs but hasn't really called out the fact that the "Naomi Wolf told Gore to were earth tones" was, in fact a complete fabrication? Do you personally do anything to make sure the media takes responsibility for its own flaws?

Anne Kornblut: This is a really good point -- completely fair. I honestly spend an exorbitant amount of time just reporting on what is happening in politics -- including running from Iowa to New Hampshire, flying on airplanes, working pretty much every weekend -- so it's true I do not spend a lot of time personally fact-checking my colleagues. But I do try to get things right myself, and do feel confident that the papers I have worked for (including The WP and the NYT) do all they can to make an imperfect system better every campaign cycle. I really do, and I know how hard that may be for some to believe, but I really think it's true.

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Atlanta: I'm sure you will have a billion questions on Rove. My question: what happens to the money Fred Thompson has raised if he decides not to run?

Anne Kornblut: I have absolutely no idea. Let me find out.

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Sarkozy: I was watching the French news Saturday night and saw a story re Sarkozy's visit with the Bush's -- the newsreader said that Cecilia Sarkozy declined to come with her husband because she had a "sore throat" (as did her children). The underlying message seemed to be that Cecilia did not want to be photographed hobnobbing with the much despised W -- in this case the "sore throat" seemed a stand in for nothing to say.

Anne Kornblut: Interesting -- the White House had told us (the press corps) that they weren't feeling well but didn't specify the ailment. But perhaps there were other motives... At the end of the day, there certainly were some lively pictures of her husband out there with Bush, riding around on a boat on the water!

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Baltimore, Md.: Correct me if I'm wrong, but last I checked Karl Rove's family consisted of a wife and one son, who's college-aged. If his son is (presumably) going off to college in the fall, isn't Aug. 31 a silly time to be quitting in order to spend more time with him?

Anne Kornblut: My understanding is that Karl's son is already in college, maybe a sophomore or a junior by now. But he's away in Texas, and Karl's wife has been basically on her own all these years as he has been traveling and working nonstop. I know it is always treated with skepticism when politicians say they want to spend more time with the family, but in this case, I can see Rove wanting to really do so, perhaps maybe even move back to Texas to be closer to his son.

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Indictment: For Prairietown: an indictment means that a Grand Jury determined there was enough evidence of a crime to proceed with charges. So you're right that just because you haven't been indicted doesn't mean your innocent; it means there isn't enough evidence of guilt to proceed. On the flip side, just because you're indicted doesn't mean you're guilty. That's for a jury (or a judge) to decide.

Anne Kornblut: Thank you! Understood.

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Shrewsbury, Mass.: I'm with you. Publicly discussing the use of nuclear weapons should always be on the table.

Who wants a mindless Armageddon? Other than the Rapture types, that is.

Anne Kornblut: Agreed.

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Washington, D.C.: There is a lot of buzz around Mike Huckabee's surprise showing in Iowa. If that translates into a nomination in the long run, what effect would it have on our standing in the world? I suspect we will ridiculed if one of the nominees does not believe in evolution.

Anne Kornblut: That's a really interesting question, especially in a campaign cycle when how the world views the U.S. -- particularly on the Democratic side -- is an increasingly viable issue. I'd keep an eye out for how the Democrats respond to this one.

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Anonymous: Simply because one chooses not to vote in an election doesn't mean that they don't have a bias. If we are truly honest, everyone has a bias. You can't cover politics, be as in the loop as you are, and not have an opinion. Either you think going to war was the right thing to do, or you don't, you can't be ambivalent.

This "I don't vote therefore I am neutral" stance is just a crock. Is Dan Rather unbiased? How about Katie Couric? Please.

Anne Kornblut: It's a very fair point -- and we don't have time for a full philosophical discourse here, but I do agree that people are inherently biased, bringing their past experiences and intellect to every situation they encounter. The best any of us can do is to try to neutralize our biases when necessary, so they don't get in the way of good reporting, and to be self-aware. Or at least that's my view.

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Walnut Creek, Calif.: Hi Anne -- Thanks for answering questions. Mine is this:

Given that a useful objective for 2008 is to avoid another "Seinfeld election", an election about what amount, in the end, to non-issues, what specific steps are/will you and other reporters taking to ensure that you assist the American people in focusing on issues that matter in their day to day lives?

Anne Kornblut: It's a good question. I think this election is already very much about a lot of serious issues -- the war in Iraq, foreign policy, for starters -- and the candidates have been focused on serious matters from the outset. We've already seen (and covered) health care speeches, economic speeches, debates about Pakistan and nuclear weapons -- and it's not even Labor Day the year before the election.

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Elkton, Va.: Will Karl Rove avoid any legal responsibilities or consequences for the things he has done by leaving the White House?

Anne Kornblut: Another Rove question ... time will tell.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Karl Rove? Isn't he leaving because he's accomplished all that he set out to accomplish -- a permanent Republic majority and a brief Iraq war -- or did I get that backwards?

Anne Kornblut: Funny. ...

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Bel Air, Md.: Apparently Tommy Thompson is calling quits, which might surprise many people -- that he was actually in the race.

Why do these third tier candidates go through the vanity of the campaign, raise funds from the people who "believe in them", perhaps incur some debt by the time they throw in the towel?

Or as the Linda Chavez article shows, is there something tangible to be made during, and more importantly, after, the brief campaign?

Anne Kornblut: I'm actually glad to see third tier candidates in the race. It would be regrettable if candidates only ran because they could be assured of winning. And sometimes candidates at the lower end actually rise up and get somewhere (think Clinton in 1992). You know?

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Do you know if Clinton is planning on releasing a health care plan as Edwards and Obama have done?

Anne Kornblut: It's unclear. She had said she would at a certain point, but so far she has done the cost-savings measures piece of it. The last time I checked they did not have a date for it.

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Washington, D.C.: What impact do you think Mike Huckabee's surprising second place showing in the Iowa Straw poll will have on his presidential campaign? Do social conservatives give him another look considering the top tier (Romney, Thompson, Giuliani) isn't exactly ideologically pure?

Anne Kornblut: It's a great question. What is amazing to me is how volatile the Republican field has been, especially compared with the Democratic one (at least according to the national and state polls). What was once a party that respected hierarchy now seems to be having a free-for-all. Remains to be seen whether the same will be true on the Democratic side eventually.

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San Antonio, Texas: Isn't the new push to get at illegal aliens through their employers going to cause some real financial pain for a lot of Republican businessmen? Who will then put pressure, backed by campaign donations, on a lot of Republican politicians?

How is the White House going to deal with this? Or do they care anymore?

Anne Kornblut: Well, the White House, as you point out, is approaching the immigration issue the only way they can after Congress didn't act -- by going at it unilaterally. There really isn't much left in the way of political consequence for the White House if the approach is unpopular among Republican business leaders. But as you say, it could affect the campaign eventually. So far, though, it hasn't done much for Sen. John McCain. ...

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Excelsior Springs, Mo.: Were the YouTube debate questions presented by the public a prompt for reporters like yourself to begin asking serious questions of the candidates? It seems like Big Media reporters avoid getting to the root of the problem, instead deferring to secondary questions.

Anne Kornblut: Well, I guess I would respectfully disagree; we do, in fact, spend a lot of time trying to get honest answers out of these candidates. What I think the YouTube debate did (and I loved) was it forced the candidates to answer to and be accountable to "real people" asking the questions. It is much harder to ignore an average voter than it is to sidestep or condescend to a reporter, given how demonized the mainstream reporters have been.

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Anne Kornblut: The hour is up! Thank you so much everyone for participating today. It's a big news day ... so stay tuned. And I look forward to hearing from you next week. Cheers, Anne.

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