Post Politics Hour

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Dan Balz
Washington Post Chief Political Reporter
Monday, August 27, 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 chief political reporter Dan Balz will be online Monday, Aug. 27, at 11 a.m. ET.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Dan Balz: Good morning to everyone. Much earlier today I was going to start by saying we were at the beginning of a slow week in the political world. Then the news broke about Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. So, welcome to a busy Monday in Washington. There aren't many people around this week and everyone who is seems to be working on this story. But there is other political news out there and so we'll get to your questions on the attorney general, the campaign and whatever else may be on your mind.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Why drag out Attorney General Gonzalez's suffering to only end his service at this time? What does it mean that, other than Michael Chertoff, there seem to be so few names around to take his place?

Dan Balz: That's an excellent question. The resignation came only after Gonzales had done great damage to the administration and the president who appointed him as the first Hispanic attorney general in history. The president obviously bears some of the responsibility -- for deciding to elevate Gonzales to such a sensitive post and for not pushing harder in some way for an earlier resignation. But loyalty is a prized attribute in the Bush White House and especially with the president.

As for replacements, the danger the administration faces is in nominating someone who provokes a long and nasty confirmation battle. From the White House perspective, Democrats are the ones eager for a political confrontation. From the Democrats' perspective, the administration is on trial in proving it will not seek another person whose political loyalties lie mainly with the president. There are not that many people out there who would be trusted by both sides.

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Bangor, Maine: With the departures of Harriet Miers, Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales, does the President have any close aides who were with him when he was governor of Texas? Looking forward, who are the president's closest advisers on domestic issues?

Dan Balz: There are a few left. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was Bush's education adviser while he was governor of Texas. Clay Johnson, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, is an old and trusted Texas friend. Karen Hughes is still at the State Department. But in general, the Texans have emptied out of the administration.

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Salt Lake City: Do you think there's any similarity between the Gonzales resignation and Rumsfeld's, in the sense that when the resignation calls were loudest Bush refused on principle to let them go -- and/or did not to be seen as caving to Democratic pressure -- then went ahead and let them go after the clamor had died down?

Dan Balz: They are similar in this regard. They came long after they should have. Bush would have been better served had he asked for Rumsfeld's resignation after his reelection in 2004, and he would have been better served had Gonzales decided much earlier that he had become a political liability to the administration.

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Washington: Do you think Gonzales timed this to happen during a week when fewer people would be paying attention? Lots of people are on vacation the week before Labor Day (if I-395 is any gauge).

Dan Balz: The decision to resign now gives the administration an opportunity to have a fresher start after Labor Day. But the reality is, no matter when these events occur, there is no way to shove them under the rug. The resignation will set in motion a potentially long struggle over a successor that will last into the fall.

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Seattle: Is Gonzo a victim of something unseen, or of Bolten's demand that anyone in the White House who wasn't staying the distance leave this week?

Dan Balz: I think it's fair to say he is a victim of his own actions. He was involved in controversial activities and proved incapable of offering consistent explanations that reassured his critics. Republicans believe he was the victim of partisan Democratic attacks and certainly there were partisan politics involved. But mostly this was about Gonzales's stewardship.

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Apple Grove, Md.: Did Gonzales's resignation come as a surprise to everyone in Washington? It seemed from all of his comments and actions that he would limp through the end of Bush's second term. Why do you think he left now?

Dan Balz: It certainly caught everyone by surprise, yes. It seemed as if he was determined to hang in as long as he could and the president seemed willing to allow that. So what triggered all this isn't immediately clear. Perhaps we'll learn more through the day and in coming days.

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Bangor, Maine: Could the President submit a controversial conservative like John Yoo as a recess appointment?

Dan Balz: I wouldn't think so. Based on what Democrats are saying today, that kind of appointment would be seen as needlessly provocative.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Are the resignations of Rove and Gonzales going to make it more or less difficult to get at the truth of the White House's involvement in the Justice System? Why? Is their plan simply to reduce the heat, or is it more sinister?

Dan Balz: The investigations into the firings of the U.S. attorneys will continue. Whether they turn up additional information isn't clear.

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Washington: Would Chertoff have confirmation problems if, as widely assumed, he is nominated for the attorney general job? Clay Johnson is reported to be the choice to replace Chertoff at the Department of Homeland Security; would he be likely to have any confirmation problems? Thanks.

Dan Balz: Secretary Chertoff could run into some problems if he were nominated to succeed Gonzales. Clay Johnson likely would have far fewer problems as he has been a low-profile official throughout his time in Washington.

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Kensington, Md.: The newest Strategic Vision poll has Bill Richardson running just 9 percent behind the leader (Edwards) at 23 percent to 14 percent, with Obama and Clinton in between them. He raised almost as much cash as Edwards last quarter. Are the "top three" becoming a "top four"?

Dan Balz: Gov. Richardson is anxious to make the Democratic nomination battle a four-person contest and he has had some success in moving up. John Edwards has flagged in national polls but his campaign is largely predicated on a victory in the Iowa caucuses. His advisers do not believe his national numbers will undermine his standing in Iowa, where he continues to have a pretty good base of support. Some Iowa Democrats who are working for Edwards's rivals, however, think he could see some erosion later this year. Richardson hopes to benefit from any slippage by any of the leading candidates.

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Dallas: Could this resignation (along with some other key Bush alies) be a move by the White House to remove some of the charged figures so Congress will focus on getting some work done?

Dan Balz: I'm not in a position right now to speculate on possible replacements. Our White House and Justice Department reporters are working on that now and we should have something more concrete later in the day.

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Dunn Loring, Va.: Dan: Iowa has never elected a female governor, never elected a female senator, and is one of just four states that have never elected a congresswoman. The number of women in the state legislature is tiny -- less than a dozen out of 100 by my count. The highest office a woman ever has attained in Iowa was Attorney General, and that was back in 1994. With those stone-cold facts on the table, how can Hillary Clinton win the Iowa caucuses in January, no matter what the polls say? Is this a female "Bradley effect" in the making?

Dan Balz: This is an interesting set of facts and they are well known to the Clinton campaign. Her advisers long have seen Iowa as the most difficult of the early states, not simply because of those facts but also because there is no Clinton network of longstanding in the state. She may be the frontrunner nationally, but she is having to earn her support in Iowa week by week.

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Sewickley, Pa.:"They the resignations of Rumsfeld and Gonzales came long after they should have." I get the feeling that the administration has been so insensitive to the needs of Republicans in Congress that they now find themselves isolated from their own caucus and that explains many of the recent departures -- especially Rove's. How do you see the administraion's relationship with congressional Republicans?

Dan Balz: The relationship between the White House and congressional Republicans has not been good for a long time. This only made it worse. Congressional Republicans have been asked to remain loyal to the president on Iraq, even as they have seen public opinion shift dramatically against the war. The White House, in the estimation of people who know Capitol Hill well, took congressional Republicans for granted and did little to build a mutual relationship of trust.

At this point, however, the White House may be more sensitive to improving that relationship. Ed Gillespie, who recently came aboard as White House counselor, is a veteran of Capitol Hill and has good relationships with many members there. Josh Bolten, the White House chief of staff, also has been sensitive to the need to improve those relationships. We'll see if there is a change in tone coming.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Dan -- thanks for your reporting and for taking my question. I have a question unrelated to the attorney general's resignation: what's your sense of how the White House is reacting to Sen. Warner's calls for some troop withdrawals from Iraq (putting aside the usual surface "we appreciate his views" that is usually offered)? Why haven't we seen more Republicans who want cover moving over to Warner's side, or is that yet to come?

washingtonpost.com: Warner May Back Democrats on Withdrawal (AP, Aug. 27)

Dan Balz: Senator Warner is an influential voice on Iraq and military matters and his statement provided a clear jolt to the administration. What he asked for, however, was a relatively modest and mostly symbolic move -- the redeployment of a limited number of troops as a way of sending a signal to the Iraqi government of growing impatience in the United States over the lack of political reconciliation. I think many Republicans are waiting for the report from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker in September, although much of that may already have been telegraphed: some progress on the military front, little or no progress on the political front.

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Deerfield, Mass.: What advantage does the president secure from this long-distance telephone resignation when both he and the Congress are on vacation -- i.e "they are all absent"?

Dan Balz: No particular advantage in doing it this way. The only advantage is that Democrats can no longer call for the resignation.

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Anchorage, Alaska: Didn't Carter have the same problems with his Georgia mafia? And didn't most of them leave far ahead of the collapse of his first and only term? So the lesson is: don't hire your friends, neighbors, and servants?

Dan Balz: President Carter did have problems with his Georgia friends and advisers. President Clinton had problems with some of those who came with him from Arkansas. All presidents have to balance friendship and loyalty with competence and independence when selecting those who will serve in an administration.

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Re: John Warner: Everyone is saying that John Warner's suggestion to pull out 5,000 troops is another kind of break with the WH. But as venerated as this senator is, why did he wait so long? This war has been going on for five years -- my sense is that he wants to help Republicans, not necessarily the war. In short, he may be lauded for something that is quite too little, too late. Or put another way, the media and every political pundit should perhaps be talking about what he didn't say all these years, and not what he said the other day.

Dan Balz: Posted without comment.

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Washington: Would it be against the rules to simple appoint an interim AG? Perhaps a current Justice Departmen employee who might know what they are doing?

Dan Balz: The president has named Paul Clement, the solicitor general, as interim attorney general and has asked him to serve until a replacement has been confirmed by the Senate.

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Dan Balz: We're out of time. Thanks to all for participating today. We'll keep updating you on the Gonzales story throughout the day on washingtonpost.com and on The Trail, our daily diary of the 2008 campaign. We'll also have the latest in campaign news. I hope everyone has a great week ahead and a good Labor Day holiday.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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