Broder on Politics

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David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, August 17, 2007; 12:00 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, Aug. 17 at noon ET to answer your questions about the world of politics, from the latest maneuverings on Capitol Hill to developments in the White House.

Broder has written extensively about primaries, elections, special interests and the business of politics. His books include "Democracy Derailed: The Initiative Movement & the Power of Money," "Behind the Front Page: A Candid Look at How the News Is Made" and "The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point."

washingtonpost.com: Fred Thompson's Gamble (Post, Aug. 16)

The transcript follows.

Archive: David Broder discussion transcripts

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Richmond, Va.: I was wondering if -- despite the objections by a lot of Democrats to Bush's warrantless wiretapping and other shaving of civil liberties in the name of "national security" -- the Democrats, should they win the White House, actually would overturn some or all of the present administration's programs? In other words, wouldn't it be in their interest (to shore up their image as tough on security) to avoid undoing them?

David S. Broder: Welcome to everyone. I look forward to your questions and comments. I can't honestly speculate about the answer to your first question. But I think a Democratic president would be under pressure from Democrats in Congress to re-examine some of the national security measures imposed by this administration.

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Detroit: Mr. Broder, honestly, how can Bush make no comment whatsoever on the recent truck bombings in Iraq that killed some 400 people?

washingtonpost.com: Toll in N. Iraq Passes 250; Attack Is Deadliest of War (Post, Aug. 16)

David S. Broder: It is hard to understand his silence about these outrages.

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Re: Campaign attacks: Please help me out here: When candidates like Clinton start running ads against Bush and Romney starts attacking Obama, aren't they doing what a presidential nominee would do, had they been chosen? In other words, doesn't campaigning like that make them look as if they already are the nominee for their parties for president instead of just candidates for the position?

David S. Broder: Yes, it does, and I'm sure their strategists think it an advantage when they are debating the political opposition, rather than members of their own party.

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Chicago: Anyone really believe Tony Snow's claims that he's resigning as Press Secretary for "financial reasons?"

washingtonpost.com: "Is Tony Snow about to bail?" (bottom of page) (Post, Aug. 17)

David S. Broder: I do not know that Tony Snow is leaving for any reason. That is speculative as far as I know.

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Chicago: Mr. Broder, doesn't today's Post story on Mueller's notes directly contradicting Gonzales' congressional testimony signal a huge problem for Bush? After all, what this story means is that the White House knowingly broke the law by operating the NSA program in violation of FISA and/or Justice protocols. Comment?

washingtonpost.com: FBI Director's Notes Contradict Gonzales's Version Of Ashcroft Visit (Post, Aug. 17)

David S. Broder: The White House has not been able to get its story straight on what happened in the hospital room or what was going on with the wiretapping program. That is why congressional committees and the press will keep digging at the story.

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Seattle: If things continue the way they are going for Thompson, looks like his gamble won't pay off. How does he back off then without losing face? Can he say "I took a long leisurely look at it but decided I really didn't want it enough" without making people mad?

David S. Broder: The clear impression I have after a long interview with Sen. Thompson last week is that he is not backing off, but will enter the race next month with rhetorical guns blazing. We will see if he is as good as his word.

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Princeton, N.J.: From Gail Collins' New York Times column yesterday: "What is the best thing about Fred Thompson? Many people believe he's rather lazy. Given the main Republican candidates' current positions, we might want to consider rooting for the one likely to make the least effort." You give some wild goals Fred has. What in his Senate career (especially his quitting) gives any evidence to show that he has the energy or the dedication to achieve these or any other goals?

David S. Broder: Very little in his Senate career indicates that kind of commitment. That is what I found most surprising about our conversation. The proof will be in what he actually does, so your skepticism may be well justified. I am prepared to believe that he has found a new motivation.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Please explain the reason the Post decided to run an article making fun of Fred Thompson's first name? I know it wasn't in the political section, but there is no reason to do that other than to create a negative image of the man.

washingtonpost.com: Fred, Fred, Fred: Thompson's Challenge Has a Name (Post, Aug. 12)

David S. Broder: I thought it was a silly article, but pretty harmless fare for a quiet August feature section.

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New York: David, as Dean of the Washington Press Corps, what do you think about asking the presidential candidates (both Republican and Democratic) the following question: Considering recent controversies, would you support legislation to turn the Justice Department into a more independent agency -- like the Federal Reserve -- with an Attorney General who serves a fixed, renewable term, similar to the FBI Director?

David S. Broder: I think it's a good question to put to the candidates. Jimmy Carter suggested such a move when he was president.

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Pittsburgh: Will the press have an opportunity soon to ask the president about the military suicide rate? As the wife of a soldier, I hope the president will be called on to talk again about shared sacrifice. As I recall he has previously cited paying taxes and being inconvenienced at the airport as examples of how Americans are sacrificing.

David S. Broder: I don't know when Bush will have another news conference, but that would be an excellent question for his next session with reporters.

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Baltimore: Russia recently announced that they plan to resume regular long-range flights of their bombers carrying live nukes. This was a key portion of the easing of cold war tensions, and signals a ratcheting-up of pressure. How have the candidates said they would deal with a resurgent Russian Empire's belligerent posture?

washingtonpost.com: Russia Orders Long-Range Bomber Patrols (AP, Aug. 17)

David S. Broder: I can't claim to know all that the candidates have said on this subject, but my impression is that much too little discussion of trends in Russia has taken place so far. The Iraq-Afghanistan situation has preoccupied the foreign policy debate.

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San Francisco: Is anyone keeping track of Congressional travel this month? There seem to be a lot of military-guided trips to the Green Zone; is this propaganda/preparation for next month's White House report?

David S. Broder: You are right that many members of Congress have gone to Iraq this month. I think it is a good thing they are getting a first-hand view of the situation.

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Edification, please: "David S. Broder: I think it's a good question to put to the candidates. Jimmy Carter suggested such a move when he was president." My civics classes are many years behind me ... does this actually require congressional action? Can't the President reorganize his executive departments as he chooses?

David S. Broder: Changing the statutory term of the attorney general to overlap that of the president would require a change in statute. Otherwise, the office automatically turns over with a change of administration.

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Bismarck, N.D.: My concern is that we'll get so tired of the campaigning that some unknown with a strident message will nip in at the last minute and claim the election. Is there any way to guard against that?

David S. Broder: The mechanics of getting on the ballot in 50 states is an expensive and time-consuming process, so it cannot be just a lightning strike. I think people take the choice of a president seriously, and are not likely to be swept off their feet by some quick-hit artist.

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Fairfax Station, Va.: During the 2000 presidential campaign, you stated on one of the Sunday news shows, when asked, that you felt then-candidate Bush was smart enough to be President. After what has occurred in the past seven years, do you still believe that?

David S. Broder: Yes.

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Raleigh, N.C.: What do you think of turning to the Petraeus report? Is it already tainted?

washingtonpost.com: An Early Clash Over Iraq Report (Post, Aug. 16)

David S. Broder: No. I expect him to be characteristically honest and balanced.

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Tysons Corner, Va.: I'm not a Fred fan yet, but the Senate is a lousy place to get big things done. It's just not set up that kind of leadership. I never really get why anyone wants to be a senator, when the jobs of governor or president offer so much more ability to get something accomplished. So I wouldn't necessarily think that one's efforts in the Senate offer a full picture of someone.

David S. Broder: I agree that executive leadership is quite different from what makes for success in the Senate. That's another good reason not to assume that the two are equivalent.

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Anonymous: On Congressional Iraq travel:"I think it is a good thing they are getting a first-hand view of the situation." Is it fair to describe such a presumably controlled presentation as "first-hand"?

David S. Broder: Smart members of Congress go beyond the official briefings and use their eyes and ears to learn everything they can when they are on the ground in Iraq or other countries.

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San Francisco: How likely is Gen. Petraeus' and Ambassador Crocker's report to be filtered through the White House lens in favor of more surge? Whose nonstarter idea was it to have only the secretaries of State and Defense testify on Capitol Hill about the report? Hasn't the entire country been prepared -- by President Bush himself -- to hear from Gen. Petraeus?

David S. Broder: Congress will hear directly from Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. That is the whole purpose of the exercise in having them report in September.

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Sewickley, Pa.: Wondering if Republicans in Congress stopped returning Karl Rove's phone calls and that is why he resigned? Wasn't this administration always a little ham-handed in its relations with its own party caucus?

washingtonpost.com: The Rove Legacy (Post, Aug. 15)

David S. Broder: I don't know about "always" but lately the communication problems from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other have been pretty bad.

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Wheaton, Md.: In the pre-recess rush to get Congress to enact a bill permitting the Administration to bypass the FISA court, did the administration get 535 healthy legislators to grant powers that one rather sick Attorney General refused to give?

David S. Broder: I think there are some aspects of the bill that was rushed through that are very questionable. That's why I'm glad Congress is going to go back and take another look at what it has done.

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Baltimore: Petraeus may be as honest and balanced as he likes, but he's not the one writing the Petraeus Report. It's being written by the White House, he just gets to read it in public. How trustworthy is that?

David S. Broder: I would suggest you wait and see what the report has to say before passing judgment on its credibility.

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Anonymous: "The clear impression I have after a long interview with Senator Thompson last week is that he is not backing off, but will enter the race next month with rhetorical guns blazing." Your column made Thompson sound like his "rhetorical guns" were loaded with BBs. Was there something in his demeanor that really sold you that I couldn't pick up in the column?

David S. Broder: Loaded with BBs? I like the phrase. Let's see what he does when he announces. I am not promising or promoting him, I just want to see what he does.

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Atlanta: Do you think the Romney-Giuliani fight makes the GOP less favorable to Hispanic voters?

washingtonpost.com: Romney, Giuliani Escalate Their Immigration Fight (Post, Aug. 17)

David S. Broder: Yes -- and to anyone else seeking a little consistency in positions over time.

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Exeter, N.H.: Has Fred Thompson been any more specific about his ideas on the revenue side?

David S. Broder: Not that I am aware of. But there will be many opportunities to pin him down.

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San Francisco: Have you talked to any Congresspersons about their home visits? Are constituents using this August recess to meet with their representatives and senators on the war, the rushed FISA bill, or Alberto Gonzales's continued tenure at Justice? I'd sure like to know what electeds are hearing from those they represent.

David S. Broder: I have talked to a few members, but we'll have a much better idea when they come back after Labor Day.

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Re: Justice Department's Independence: While it's a good idea at first sight, the problem with this solution is that the attorney general is in the line of succession for president and might be considered a constitutional officer. It might take an Amendment to give the attorney general a fixed tenure. Do you think there is enough outrage at what Bush has done to the Justice Department for an amendment to pass?

David S. Broder: No, I do not. And I think it is a close question whether the Justice Department should not be ultimately accountable to the president, elected by the people.

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Seattle: I was talking to a friend about the presidential nominations and he professed not to know much about any of the candidates, saying that he'd let the people in Iowa and New Hampshire take care of it. Do you think having certain states dominate the primaries has caused many other voters to tune out their civic responsibilities?

David S. Broder: No, I do not. I think the news from Iowa and New Hampshire is consumed across the country and is absorbed by other voters as part of their own decision-making process.

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Prescott, Ariz.: You wrote about Fred Thompson making a long-awaited debut into the presidential race. I have one questions about this: Right now, being unannounced, he may only raise money for exploratory purposes; in return he doesn't have to fully file with the FEC as to who has given him money. At this point he has raised more than $3 million and spent less than $1 million, proving he is raising more money than he needs to explore his possibilities. Does it raise criminal or ethical issues that he is raising more money now than he really needs to fund his exploratory committee?

David S. Broder: No, I don't think it raises criminal or ethical issues. It is a well-established precedent for exploring a candidacy, but now the time is coming for him to declare his intentions and move to full disclosure.

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Wheaton, Md.: With regard to the issue of surveillance, I am trying to figure out how the passage of six months will materially change the situation, aside from the lack of an imminent recess. If the Democrats in the House can hang together long enough to pass a "Constitutional Surveillance Program" (my coinage) and dare the Senate to pass it and the president to sign it, would this break the stranglehold the administration seems to have on this issue?

David S. Broder: The second look can provide an opportunity to look at the legal and constitutional questions with a clearer view than the first time around. I don't know that the outcome will be different.

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Baltimore: I don't get it Mr. Broder, why is it you think Hispanics want illegal immigration and broken borders? Why is trying to save the republic somehow anti-Hispanic?

David S. Broder: I think Hispanics, like other Americans, want a just and lawful society. And that is what comprehensive immigration reform is aimed at producing.

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Ottawa, Canada: Yesterday washingtonpost.com's Mr. Froomkin wrote the following: "But now it turns out it that White House aides will actually write the 'Petraeus Report,' not the general himself." How can this report be considered as an unbiased assessment of the situation?

David S. Broder: I would suggest to Mr. Froomkin or anyone else that he not prejudge the report.

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Baltimore: Re: Your Fred Thompson interview -- I am a liberal Democrat, but must admit I was taken with one phrase he used, about not trying to "clever my way to the nomination." Sounded to me like an implicit criticism of calling oneself a "compassionate conservative."

David S. Broder: That is certainly not a wild misinterpretation of what I thought I heard, as well.

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Pittsburgh: Military officials have been on record saying that the surge cannot continue past next spring. Gates has said he will not extend tours again. And War Czar Lute has said we may want to reconsider a draft. Should Americans be connecting these dots?

David S. Broder: I find no interest in the resumption of a draft at the Pentagon or any other part of the military-political establishment.

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Rosslyn, Va.: What's the likely fall-out from Congress's current dismal approval ratings in the next election? I often hear people talk of "voting them all out of office," but how often does something like that happen in practice? Seems like we see a lot of the same faces over and over again, so maybe the old adage about all politics being local applies.

David S. Broder: I think it would be a mistake to assume that everyone gets voted back into office if the public disapproval of Congress continues at this high level. It is very possible that the system is reaching the breaking point and people may be ready to try a different approach.

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Washington: What are your thoughts on Florida Rep. Gus Bilirakis' staying true to his word and shaving off all of his hair for a charity?

washingtonpost.com: Picture Him Bald (Palm Beach Post, Aug. 14)

David S. Broder: Good for him for keeping his word

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Princeton, N.J.: In a wonderful column today, Gene Robinson makes the following point: "The bombings Tuesday looked more like an act of genocide, an attempt to erase as many Yazidis as possible from the face of the earth. The motive for this atrocity might not have been political but religious; it might have been the work of Muslim fundamentalists trying to settle a centuries-old local grievance, rather than the work of Muslim fundamentalists trying to drive the Americans out of Iraq or establish a new caliphate in the Middle East. The point is that here in Washington, we talk about Iraq as if we were intimately familiar with all its fractures, fissures and fault lines."

Here are some more examples: Recently 155 people were killed by a bomb in Amerli, a village in the far North. This village was inhabited by a Shia sect. What were they doing there? What was their history? We don't know? On Jan. 28 a small army of some Shia sect almost annihilated units of the Iraqi Army just 15 miles outside Najaf. They were training for an operation to kill the Grand Ayatollah Sistani. If they had succeeded, there would have been "rivers of blood" in Central Iraq. Who were these people? What was their history? We do not know. What of the chaos in Basra where there are no Sunni, no al-Qaeda? What of the vast ethnic cleansing in Kirkuk? We are a bull in a china shop, and we should get out.

washingtonpost.com: In Iraq, Shattering Villages and Illusions (Post, Aug. 17)

David S. Broder: The examples that you and Gene Robinson cite show the dangers of occupying a country whose history and culture we do not understand. It is a bloody mess we have gotten ourselves into.

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Charlottesville, Va.: The attorney general is in the line of presidential succession only because of an act of Congress, not a constitutional provision. Therefore, if Congress passed a law changing the term and powers of the attorney general (or reorganizing the Justice Department, etc.) it also could change the succession law. The Attorney General's job and the Justice Department were created by Congress. Please see 28 U.S.C. Sec. 501 et seq.

David S. Broder: That is correct, but it still would take at least a statutory change to change the status of the attorney general and the Justice department.

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Miami: It really annoys me how while Obama's short foreign policy experience always is mentioned, the media mostly ignores the fact that Romney and Giuliani have no foreign policy experience whatsoever. Obama is on the foreign relations committee, after all. On a related note, it is pretty ironic for people who thought that if only we started a war in Iraq, the country would magically become a Jeffersonian Democracy to be calling Obama's foreign policy views naive.

David S. Broder: Thanks for injecting some balance into the discussion of foreign policy credentials. I have to sign off now and go back to work. Nice chatting with all of you.

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