Post Politics Hour

Michael Fletcher
Washington Post White House Reporter
Thursday, August 16, 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 White House reporter Michael Fletcher will be online Thursday, Aug. 16 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Michael Fletcher: Hello, all. Sorry I'm late. But things move a little slower down here in Crawford, Texas. Anyway, let's get started.


Annandale, Va.: Thank you for taking my question, Mr. Fletcher. As a supporter of Barack Obama, I am confused about the relevance of national polls, which showed HRC steady and leading, and local/state polls, which show that this is not a race that is anywhere close to its end. What is your take on all this? Which polls, if any, matter, and are these really partisans who are releasing these numbers?

Michael Fletcher: To the degree that polls matter, I have to say it is the state by state polls that count most. After all, there is no national primary. Also, imagine how everything -- including the national polls -- changes if one of the candidates wins two straight early primaries. Of course, national polls give you some sense of a candidate's overall strength, but the nomination is won state-by-state.


Florida: Now that we know that Rumsfeld, in fact, resigned the day before the election, do you think that Karl Rove was the one who decided to sit on the information? If so, this would be another example of how "brilliant" he really is.

Michael Fletcher: I don't think the letter changes anything. Politically, it would not have mattered if, say, on Election Day President Bush had announced Rumsfeld's departure. In fact, he would have been accused of unfairly trying to sway the election. I bet if Rove had his way -- speaking strictly politically here -- he would like to have seen Rumsfeld gone before Labor Day to remove one albatross from around the necks of GOP candidates.


Boston: Have Hilary Clinton's negatives gone down at all since she launched her presidential campaign (as her spokesperson suggested in response to Rove)? What were Bush's negatives during the 2004 campaign? Any sense of which president had the highest negatives during a campaign but still was elected?

Michael Fletcher: I don't know those numbers off hand. I know Mr. Rove has said that if Sen. Clinton wins the nomination, she would be the nominee with the highest negatives since Jimmy Carter. The implication there is clear and, frankly, self-serving coming from a GOP strategist. But I, for one, am skeptical of those kinds of comparisons. There is a new landscape this year -- as there is with most every presidential election -- and so far Sen. Clinton has proven to be a steady candidate despite her refusal to apologize for her Iraq war vote and a strong campaigns by Sen. Obama and former Sen. Edwards.


Washington, D.C.: I swear I've heard both Cheney and Tony Snow talking about how they were waiting to hear what Crocker and Petraeus were going to put in their big report to Congress about whether we were hitting our benchmarks in Iraq; and today's Post reports that, well, actually, the administration is writing the report at the White House. So, were we all being lied to or bamboozled or what? When you write about the report next month, are you going to be calling it the "Petraeus Report" and if so, isn't that awfully misleading?

Michael Fletcher: I would not have expected anything less. After all, President Bush is the commander in chief. He is not going to recluse himself from the biggest issue facing his administration. Hopefully, though, the report will reflect what Gen. Petraeus is seeing on the ground in Iraq. That's what will matter most.


LaVale, Md.: Good morning and thanks for chatting. It seems like the GOP presidential candidates and Karl Rove have been making a lot of comments about certain Democratic candidates. The Rove/Clinton spat being the most recent. Have you heard anything about the GOP hierarchy having made a decision about who they think would be the weakest candidate to face in November and doing things to try to get that person the nomination? Is the scuttlebutt that the GOP really thinks that Hillary would be the easiest candidate to beat so they desperately want her to get the nomination or is it that they are petrified of taking on the Clintons again?

Michael Fletcher: I think they want to plant negative ideas about any Democratic candidates. It is what they do, just as the Democrats would do regarding Republicans. With Sen. Clinton the apparent front runner, it serves GOP interests to characterize her candidacy as "fatally flawed." I bet if Sen. Obama were perceived as the front runner, we would be hearing a lot about his supposed flaws. Same for Edwards or Biden or any of the others. That's politics. It's hard for me to say which candidate, among the frontrunners, the GOP would prefer to face because they all bring legitimate strengths and weaknesses.


Warrenton, Va.: Given the poll results reported in The Post today, why do the Democrats fail to see how disliked and distrusted Hillary Clinton is among independents and Republicans, who together comprise the majority of the general electorate. Obama has more room to grow as a candidate than Hillary does in this respect. This may be why he just stated this week that he can unify the country better than Clinton can. Also, Clinton's continued flip-flopping on foreign policy positions increases her given vulnerability on the trust factor.

Michael Fletcher: I think many supporters of Sen. Clinton feel that she has the best experience and expertise. They say she has be demonized for years and that some of her negatives may evaporate as people get a closer look at her. We'll see.


Rochester, N.Y.: You write "Hopefully, though, the report will reflect what Gen. Petraeus is seeing on the ground in Iraq. That's what will matter most."

I agree. How will reporters try to determine to what extent it does reflect what commanders see on the ground and to what extent it's just a Bush/Cheney-ordered whitewash?

Michael Fletcher: I know that our Pentagon reporters will be checking with our sources there. In addition, major news organizations have people on the ground in Iraq and while that offers a limited view, it is a view nonetheless. So we'll be working to reconcile what the White House reports with the other evidence that is available.


Washington, D.C.: The Post article today on Rumsfeld's pre-election resignation contains the following quote from President Bush on why he told the press that Rumsfeld was staying on, "I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign," Bush said when asked about the statement by reporters. "And so the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer."

Is it my imagination, or did Bush just flat out admit that he lied to the press in response to their questions about it? Not split hairs in his response (as the Attorney General seemed to be trying to do before Congress), or tried to weasel around it, or tried to suggest that the "foreseeable future" wasn't all that far ahead in Washington politics, but just out and out lied? If so, what's the point of even showing up to press conferences anymore and asking him questions? Rumsfeld Resigned as Defense Secretary on Day Before Elections (Post, Aug. 16)

Michael Fletcher: Clearly, he was intentionally misleading, at minimum. But to be fair, I guess one thin reed the president can grasp here is that Mr. Gates had not yet accepted the job when the president was asked about it and Rumsfeld was technically in place. Say Gates didn't take the job, maybe Rumsfeld would have been around for a while.


Naylor, Mo.: It is somewhat funny that people are trying to psychoanalyze Karl Rove's departure from the White House. What do most Washington insiders believe to be the real reason why Mr. Rove left?

Michael Fletcher: Many people feel that the need for "Rovian" tactics is now diminished at the White House and that was a good time for Rove to go. He has some family issues to contend with and he seemed to want out. Plus, he may be more of an asset to the GOP as kind of a free agent strategist than he would be were he to remain attached to the White House. His departure also removes a big target for congressional investigators looking at all kinds of alleged misdeeds by the Bush administration. While those investigations will continue, they may lose some of their importance with Rove gone. With 17 months to go it is clear the administration is mainly about defending its achievements -- No Child Left Behind, tax cuts -- and trying to salvage something that looks like victory in Iraq. Meanwhile, they will try to re-brand the GOP as the party of fiscal prudence while attempting to paint Democrats as weak on national security. That strategy is in place and Rove is not needed to lead that fight.


Baltimore, Md.: Michael: The stock market has had its five worst consecutive days in five years (and seems poised for a sixth.) Have political reporters discussed among themselves how the presidential race is likely to be affected if the U.S. economy is well into recession by November '08? Thanks.

Michael Fletcher: Not that I've heard. This is all still happening and so far we're back to 2006 levels on the stock market. But if the stock market slide continues, I'm sure that will become an issue.


Dryden, N.Y.: I would love your opinion on a statistic. Much is made of the fact that my Senator Clinton overwhelmingly carried N.Y. in the last election. Curious, I checked the actual vote and discovered that she received almost 700,000 fewer votes in 2006 than in 2000. That's an amazing drop off in support, hardly an indication that she won people over. Instead, it seems a lot of people just stayed home.

Does this statistic mean anything at all? Does it puncture the senator's "I Made Then Love Me" story line?

P.S. I voted for her twice.

Michael Fletcher: Fewer people tend to vote in non-presidential years and when a candidate is perceived as a runaway favorite. So I would not read too much into those numbers.


Washington, D.C.: Congressional staffer friends of mine called me about Rumsfeld's resignation three times. In 2005, in June 2006 and on the day before election day in 2006. I thought everyone in this city knew he made several resignation attempts before the president accepted it. Why the hub-bub over this non-issue resignation letter?

Michael Fletcher: I don't view the letter as a big deal. It's more a thing to complete the historical record. Also, I have not heard much hub-bub about it.


Sewickley, Pa: Mr. Bush has lately fallen back on touting a "strong" economy. During his tenure, just over 4 million private-sector jobs have been created while the Clinton economy had produced 17.5 million private-sector jobs during the equivalent time frame. Now credit markets are in disarray and the stock market is going in the toilet. What successes will the president talk about if he is invited to speak at the Republican National Convention?

Michael Fletcher: Hmmm, we'll have to wait and see about that.


Rolla, Mo.: "I think they want to plant negative ideas about any Democratic candidates. It is what they do, just as the Democrats would do regarding Republicans." Okay, Guiliani is the front runner -- which Democratic campaign, not counting the blogosphere, is planting negative ideas on him? Without specifics, this sounds like an auto-political-balance reaction on your part.

Michael Fletcher: Really? Do you have any doubt that the Democrats will attack Guiliani if he emerges as not just the front runner but the likely nominee? I don't. Anyway, gotta run to a briefing. Thanks for the questions.


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