Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 14, 2007; 11:00 AM

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Paul Kane: Good morning folks, big news is happening everywhere. The Phillies are in town for a big three-game set with the Washington Nationals, the Eagles preseason has begun and there's talk that Springsteen will in DC in mid-November. Oh, politics? Yeah, that Rove guy is leaving the White House, Democrats still are demanding he answer their questions and we are officially one month away from a potentially war-altering progress report on how the "surge" is working in Iraq. Oh, and in the really big news, the Iowa State Fair is debuting a new food-on-a-stick option today: potato lollipops. Wow. Let's get to the question! -- P.K.

_______________________ Democrats Continue to Seek Testimony From Rove (Post, Aug. 14)


Washington, D.C.: Why aren't we seeing more coverage of the ballot initiative in California that would change the winner takes all provision of that state's electoral policy? Aside from the New Yorker, which had an excellent piece on this thinly guised Republican ploy to steal the next election, I haven't seen a single article on the subject. Why isn't this a big deal?

Note: I am all for changing the winner takes all way in which the electoral college functions, but it is only fair if all the states change at once. At which point we might as well finally do away with the dubious electoral system altogether.

Paul Kane: The California ballot initiative is a very complex topic that, while potentially seismic in its importance to presidential politics, is still a long ways off from coming to fruition. For those not paying attention, California R's are trying to set up a system, similar to that of Maine and Nebraska, by which it's not a winner-take-all format for the state's 55 electoral votes in presidential races. This would be bad news for Democrats, who've been able to rely on the Golden State's bounty as more than 1/5 of what they need to clear the 270-hurdle for winning 1600 Penn Ave. However, some contend this would be more competitive if it was spread to allow electors to be assigned by which candidate wins which congressional district. (Calif. has about 20 solid Republican districts.)


Crestwood, N.Y. : Paul, the dead enders, the hard core 30 percent, the GOP voters who will never abandon their beloved George Bush, no way, no how -- what candidate are they supporting? Has anyone polled this?

Paul Kane: Those hard-core conservatives who still tell pollsters they support Bush don't have a candidate for the moment in the GOP field. They're searching right now, but coming up empty. The real conservatives in the race -- Brownback, Tancredo -- lack the gravitas of a real winner, while the others -- McCain, Rudy, Fred Thompson -- all have checkered pasts. Ultimately, this is going to be a forward looking election for Republicans, who are gravely disappointed with the way this second term went for Bush. That's why McCain, over 70, longtime national figure, is not doing so well -- he's yesterday's news.


San Francisco, Calif.: Did the White House make a deal with Harry Reid that there would be no recess appointments in August? (And welcome to the chat! Is this your first?)

Paul Kane: Ah, a question from the Golden Gate Bridge. Yes, there was a man-to-man agreement that there would be no recess appointments over the break. Of course, Harry Reid once famously called Bush a "liar" and never apologized for it, so maybe Bush will just ignore the quote-unquote handshake agreement with Reid on recess appts! Not my first chat, FYI, but my first in a while, and I think, with the focus on issues dealing with Congress this fall, you'll be seeing more of me in these chats. Feel free to check out my blog.


Ft. Myers, Fla.: If McNabb goes down this year (God forbid), will it be Feeley or Kolb?

Paul Kane: Don't even make this joke, okay? Let's make this bet right now: McNabb will start and play QB for the Eagles longer than Congress will be in session this fall. So, if McNabb goes down for the season as QB in week 10, in Nov., and Congress doesn't adjourn sine die until after thanksgiving, I lose. But I'm not losing this bet. He'll be playing QB into January. (FYI: My guess is Congress adjourns sine die the last Saturday before Christmas.)


Washington, D.C.: Wow ... pretty harsh words on Karl Rove from The Post. It's funny because you in the media always tried to pin things on him. There was blame, and then the AG story ... which always confused me why the media allowed this to play on since firing the attorneys wasn't even illegal. Through it all, Karl Rove beat the media at every turn, which is why I think the media has done such a good job playing up the evil genius role. Today's columns, as usual, were a cheap shot void of substance and just a blind attack that has characterized the Posts move from a newspaper to a left-wing publication. How could any journalist not simply state that Karl Rove is one of the biggest political geniuses of the 21st century? What Karl Rove Didn't Build (Post, Aug. 14)

Paul Kane: Rove is one of the political geniuses of the 21st century. There. Said it. I hope you're happy. Unclear whether most journalists would admit this, but I will: Rove did some things brilliantly from the standpoint of political tactician. And one could argue he did more with less (in terms of his candidate, the horse he rode) than any political strategist of the last 30 years. But Rove proved to be a disastrously bad policy person, the portion of the portfolio he added after the '04 elections. He pushed for the WH to go first with Social Security reform, which failed miserably and served as a real starting point for Capitol Hill Dems and their outside allies to rally together and realize Bush was beatable. Bush has not a single second term accomplishment to show for his 2 1/2 years, immigration being the most recent failure. Rove has to take his share of the lumps for these failures.


Cortez, Colo.: I had hoped the Democratic congress would, even though they didn't have enough of a majority to make meaningful change, keep presenting thoughtful bills without earmarks or pork to the President for his veto. What happened? Couldn't Speaker Pelosi or Senator Reid control their caucus? Did they never really mean it to begin with as Rep. Murtha seemed to be saying?

Paul Kane: Earmarks are not considered a big problem by most members of Congress, that's the dirty little secret of the 21st century. Pelosi and Reid, by the way, came up through the ranks as members of the Appropriations committees, which is in charge of doling out earmarks. They are far from the ideal leader one would be looking to in terms of killing off earmarks. To be sure, however, for the first time ever we do now have sunshine on earmarks, names are attached to these provisions, which is a big deal. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a middle-of-the-road nonprofit, is doing amazing work in publishing this data. And remember, they helped take down Duke Cunningham and are now pillorying Murtha. Bipartisan.


Washington, D.C.: The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner published an editorial yesterday suggesting the public should not rush to judgment on Ted Stevens and that his committee chairmanship is critical to Alaska. What will happen if the the feds do indict the senator? Do the Senate rules force him to step down?

Paul Kane: Stevens is no longer chair of anything, since the Ds took control. However, he's still the top Republican on the Commerce committee, and, more importantly, the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense. If indicted, he would likely be forced to yield those positions, but there is no formal rule in place for Senate Republicans the way there is for House Republicans and Democrats. (Remember: we haven't had an indicted senator in a corruption probe since Harrison Williams in the early '80s from ABSCAM. This stuff just doesn't happen in the Senate nearly as much as the House.)


Boyds, Md.: In a recent online interview with The Washington Post, Congressman Van Hollen was asked why Congress was taking the month of August off when there was so much work to do (appropriations, Iraq, global warming, illegal immigration, etc). He replied Congressmen need to spend some time in their districts. Yet he has no events at all scheduled in his district this month. He is apparently overseas. What is up?

Paul Kane: Well, Van Hollen should probably get a pass on this issue more so than any other member, but for the half dozen or so that also sleep in their district every night. CVH is a 30-40-minute ride away from the Capitol to his district, so he's there in his district every day. Besides his current political title of chairman of the DCCC, CVH considers himself a real foreign policy wonk, his true first love. (He was a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.) So if he's traveling abroad, it's most likely the intense wonkish travel that legitimately expands a member's understanding of larger geopolitical issues, not a luxury trip sponsored Jack Abramoff's ilk.


Washington, DC: If the September Iraq progress report shows little to no progress on the training of Iraqi security forces and no change in the level of sectarian violence, do you think many of the '08 GOP incumbents will switch their votes?

Paul Kane: Yes, if the Petraeus report is not positive I would expect a significant number of GOP defections. On the House side, there are a dozen to 20 Republicans who sit in questionable seats yet who haven't opposed Bush on the war, folks like Ferguson, Walsh, Shays, Gerlach, Pryce. But these are people who may want a middle ground to jump to first. There's a real divide strategically among Democrats about whether they should allow middle-ground amendments such as Salazar-Alexander and Nelson-Collins. The Joe Biden camp believes that, policy wise, Republicans need to move onto something in the middle first, before they completely reject Bush. The Chuck Schumer camp believes that no middle ground should be offered, that it gives Republicans a political safe haven from which they'll never move over to completely opposing the war.


How about a: Special prosecutor permanently devoted to the continuing investigation Congress and it's money changers?

Republican or Democrat or American. It wouldn't matter to me, just so long as the guy was competent ... and vicious.

Paul Kane: There already is a permanent special prosecutor. It's called the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section. Some of the most honest, nonpartisan prosecutors in the world man that section. They have employed some of the most stunningly aggressive tactics ever against Congress in pursuit of these investigations, including a 10-hour raid on the home of the longest serving Republican Senator ever and wiring up the chief of staff to Rep Bob Ney in his final days in office. This is an aggressive unit that doesn't need any more power.


In flyover land: I don't think Karl Rove was really such a brilliant strategist. If he was, he would have realized the gift that Bush received after Sept.11 when Americans, and indeed the world, were united in grief and resolve. We could have accomplished some great things had he possessed the vision to bring us together for the common good rather than calculating the points at which to chip away at the sense of unity leaving just enough support to win a few more elections.

Paul Kane: Apparently I need to go back to my "genius" comment and explain. I'm crediting Rove with "genius" status based solely on the idea of political wins and losses. Beating Al Gore, with all the advantages of incumbency Gore essentially had, was a huge victory. And getting 62 or 63 million people to vote for Bush was a victory of epic political portions -- he found 12 million new voters for Bush.

From the tactical side, he performed great work, and every Democrat who appreciates the craft of politics respects Rove's work in this manner. On inauguration day 2005, I got the pleasure of covering the post-speech lunch in the Capitol's Statuary Hall. Bill Clinton sat at the same table as Rove, and those two didn't shut up the entire time I watched them, giddily talking back and forth as if their wives weren't even there, two of the smartest people in politics talking like school kids. Those two are both political geniuses -- with lots of baggage as well.


Hell's Kitchen, NYC: Noam Scheiber has some analysis of the Ames poll in The New Republic, but the most interesting part was his description of the attitude of the press to Huckabee's strong showing:

"A final thought: The political press is absolutely head over heels for Huckabee. (There were high-fives all around when it became clear he'd finish second.)"

Do you know if that's true? If it is, is it ever appropriate for our political press corps to act in this manner? I was gob-smacked by this news item, personally.

Paul Kane: Huckabee has been continually impressive in formats such as debates, which the media have covered extensively. Way too extensively, actually. So Huckabee might have some fans among the political press corps. But no, I've no evidence that reporters literally high-fived over his second place showing. Political press can't help but fall for some candidates they fall, the key is not letting it slip into the coverage. In this day and age, with so many blogs covering those who cover politics, bias will be exposed.


Pittsburgh: If Rove is such a political genius, why are both houses of Congress back under Democratic control, with promising prospects for the Democrats to regain the White House on Jan. 20, 2009?

Paul Kane: I think the war is the single most important reason why Democrats took back the House and Senate, as well as why they're so well positioned for winning the WH in '08. And that's the one area of policy that Rove has had no real power overseeing. All the other areas of Republican problems -- Katrina, corruption on Capitol Hill, corruption in the administration -- all spun from the basic principle that the war was so unpopular.


Arlington, Va.: The most fascinating thing in yesterday's Post is how Linda Chavez and her family parlayed some PACs into a respectable living. Although I may not be giving her enough credit, I presume that others have figured out this way to bilk the true believers for their livelihood. I hope that Matt Mosk and other Posties go behind the scenes to show how the money is being distributed on all of these operations.

Paul Kane: If you read Matt's story closely, you'll see there are more than 2,700 of these PACs, with probably 2,300 or so that almost never get looked at by the political press corps. It's very difficult to monitor these things, very difficult reporting. Matt did a great job fleshing out how sometimes PACs are not all they're made out to be.


Anonymous: From your Aug. 9 article: "But Reid has been prone to folding quickly when he realizes defeat is at hand, which he did immediately after the Iraq withdrawal amendment failed a few weeks back, giving up on the underlying annual Defense authorization bill and not allowing other Iraq-related amendments.

Ornstein noted that Pelosi had little choice on the FISA legislation but to push the Bush-preferred version because Reid had "already caved"."

I get the feeling you're trying to tell me something. Is Reid a quitter? A pragmatist? Democrats' Victories Mixed With Hard Lessons on the Limits of Their Power (Post, Aug. 9)

Paul Kane: One thing Harry Reid is not is a quitter. He loves to talk about his amateur boxing background, and that applies to the way he plays politics. No, not a quitter. But there's a pragmatic streak to him sometimes that doesn't come across very gracefully, which is what occurred in mid-July, after the much-ballyhooed all-night Iraq debate. He lost the vote on Levin-Reed for withdrawal timeline, then just folded up on the overall Defense authorization bill without allowing any other Iraq amendments. It didn't look very pretty, allowed R's to portray him as a childish loser who couldn't get his way. But, what he was really doing, was delaying the fight till after the Petraeus report, when he thinks he'll have a more practical chance at defeating R's.


Roseland, N.J.: Looking to the logistic of the "surge progress" report in September. Do we have a date? Is there going to be an actual written report, or is it just going to be Gen. Patreus talking to the press/president/testifying to Congress? To what committee would he report? And would that committee be interested in other witnesses with alternate viewpoints, perhaps from the British armed forces?

Paul Kane: Just double-checked with my Post colleagues Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray. Jonathan notes the report must first be delivered to the Pentagon's Central Command, then it will come up to Congress for much-hyped hearings, presumably before the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

And Shailagh pointed out a really interesting report that's flying beneath the radar right now: A GAO report on benchmarks for progress over there, due to be delivered to the Hill Sept. 1.


Rochester, N.Y.: I couldn't help but notice that Bush's voice quivered and perhaps even broke when he was discussing Karl Rove yesterday. Can you recall a single instance where the president displayed this kind of emotion when discussing the war in Iraq or the thousands of American servicemen who have died in the war in Iraq?

Paul Kane: Yes, Bush has displayed emotion plenty of times on Iraq and the war on terror. His '04 convention speech was filled with emotion on those issues, plenty of pauses as he composed himself. For a tough-guy demeanor, he's had plenty of near-tearful moments over the years. That's probably not the answer anti-war activists are looking for, and it's no substitute for policy, but the man has been emotional.


Oxford, Miss. : As a Philly boy myself I'm very disappointed in you saying that McNabb will be playing QB in January. He'll be playing QB in February! Feb. 3 to be exact.

Paul Kane: I'd like to thank you, Oxford, Miss., for reminding me the Super Bowl is in February. Yep, the Eagles versus the AFC champion on Feb. 3 -- which just happens to be two days before the mega-Super-Tuesday of Feb. 5, which is the day that will likely be the final determination of who the nominees are on each side for the '08 presidential.


Paul Kane: Alright folks, it's been a blast, but I've gotta run. Sorry I couldn't fill you in more on the fried Oreos and potato lollipops at the Iowa fair, but I'm Hill-bound, not out on the trail. Be sure to check up on my blog thoughout the month, but the posts will be a bit slower. Once Congress is back in session, post Labor Day, there will be plenty of news to fill up many and all comments sections and online chats like this one. See you soon. -- P.K.


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