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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 29, 2007 11:00 AM

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Washington Post staff writer Paul Kane was online Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

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The transcript follows.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Paul Kane: Well, Monday sure was a great way to come back from a beach vacation -- and no, I'm not still bitter about the lack of sun. First day back we had an embattled attorney general finally resign and a GOP senator admit he'd been busted in an undercover sex sting in an airport men's restroom. Wow. So much for an August "recess."

Meantime, my Phillies are starting to rally with Chase Utley's return and Ryan Howard's hot bat, the NFL season is just days away from trying to rid itself of the dog-fighting stain of Michael Vick. And man oh man, Springsteen's coming to Washington for a -- get this -- Veterans Day show at the Verizon Center. I can only imagine the full anti-war imagery Bruce will put on display that night -- conservative fans of the Boss may want to avoid that show.

Okay, my 20-ounce Starbucks is at my side as well as a big fat Firehook Bakery cookie -- off to your questions!

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Arlington, Va.: Will Larry Craig survive a primary challenge, considering that the Idaho Values Alliance says he should resign now?

Paul Kane: It's not clear yet whether Craig is running for re-election; he said yesterday he will decide next month. I think the next few days and weeks will go a long way toward deciding that question. The fact that his top GOP colleagues essentially threw him under the political bus yesterday was a sure sign of their feelings. And one of the five signatories to that statement calling for a Craig ethics investigation was John Ensign, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the top GOP campaign strategist who normally would be in charge of assuring Craig's re-election. Hard to tell right now if he'll run again.

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Austin, Texas: How do you judge which is the greater offense between solicitation of prostitution (Vitter) and disorderly conduct (Craig)? Well, if your primary concern is the number of U.S. Senators with an "R" after their name, it depends on whether your state has a Democratic or Republican governor to fill a vacancy caused by removing a miscreant from the Senate. Aren't the Republicans in the Senate abandoning Craig primarily because they want him out and a clean Republican incumbent in as quickly as possible, in order to have the best chance of holding the seat? Weren't they in lock-step support of Vitter because of exactly the opposite reason?

Paul Kane: Vitter's "sin" -- his word, not mine -- happened more than three years ago, at least that's what he said. Because it happened while he wasn't a senator, there's no real basis for an ethics investigation, and the statute of limitations had expired for a criminal probe. His GOP colleagues did not rally behind him, they simply kept their distance and let him deal with it himself.

Amazingly, Vitter seems to have Catch-22ed himself into a bizarrely perfect situation politically -- he can't be touched criminally or ethically and he has 3 1/2 years before he has to face Louisiana voters again. Craig's not so lucky: He's up for re-election this cycle, and yeah, the GOP is tossing him aside for now. If Vitter were up for re-election this cycle, I'm not sure he'd be getting similar treatment from his GOP colleagues.

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Floris, Va.: Paul: Sen. Obama did not attend the cancer forum put on by Lance Armstrong Monday; Clinton and Edwards did. The forum was broadcast live on MSNBC and widely reported on by both radio and television. Do you think Obama is making a mistake by passing up this exposure to millions of citizens? I notice he's also refusing to appear at the AARP forum (in Iowa yet) in September, which will have the same effect. What is his strategy in these cases -- do his people feel he's overexposed?

Paul Kane: A week or so ago Obama essentially announced that he'd had enough with all of the forums, debates and meet-the-candidate events. He's doing all the DNC-sponsored debates -- something like eight more -- but he pretty much said he was not going to go to every single interest group's forum. Personally, I think very few people have watched/paid attention to the debates and forums at this point. I have spoken with some of the most intensely political members of Congress -- bold-faced names on both sides of the aisle -- who simply laughed at me when I asked if they had watched any of the presidential debates.

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Washington: PK -- has Larry Craig's wide stance managed to push the Gonzales resignation off the front page?

washingtonpost.com: On Way to Gonzales Vote, Craig's GOP Star Extinguished (washingtonpost.com, Aug. 28)

Paul Kane: This was one of the favorite details I discovered in my reporting of this entire escapade -- Craig was connecting flights in Minneapolis so he could make it back to Washington to cast his vote for Attorney General Gonzales on that June 11 no-confidence vote. If not for that vote, it's possible Craig wouldn't have been coming back to Washington at that time and might not have ever run into the undercover cop in that particular men's room stall. And yes, Alberto R. Gonzales is no longer a front-page story, thanks to Craig. But whoever is chosen as the new AG, that will be huge news.

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San Francisco: Do GOP Senate wives get special training for the press conferences Mrs. Vitter and Mrs. Craig have endured this summer?

Paul Kane: The Senate spouses club sure has had a rough time of late, from Mrs. Craig to Mrs. Vitter to the wife of Ted Stevens, who had to endure a 10-hour-or-so raid on her home in Alaska. It's been tough sledding for them. Then again, maybe their Senate spouse colleagues hold seminars on how to deal with scandal, failure and redemption -- Mesdames Clinton and Dole sure could teach the other 90-some spouses a thing or two about that.

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Washington: What is your sense on the Hill as to the likelihood that the president will be conciliatory in his pick for attorney general? Is he willing to start a firefight on his nomination, or will he pick someone that everyone can agree on?

washingtonpost.com: Bush May Fight for New Attorney General (Post, Aug. 29)

Paul Kane: This is the $64,000 question of the moment. Very interestingly, Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein told myself and Jonathan Weisman in separate interviews Monday that if Bush picks a consensus AG, that the spirit and drive of the Dem investigations into the U.S. attorney firings likely would dissipate. Chuck Schumer said that! This guy's made his political living off of this scandal. Not only that, Schumer signaled to me that he likes Paul Clement, the solicitor general who will be acting AG. Clement is a former Judiciary Committee senior aide, who worked for John Ashcroft on the panel when he was a senator.

These are very interesting times at the White House.

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Pittsburgh: I lived in Virginia from 1982 to 2001. With Pat Robertson ninety miles to the east of us and Jerry Falwell ninety miles to the west of us, my husband and I watched the ascendance of the Religious Right in Republican politics. We marveled as the GOP used merchandising techniques to brand itself as the party of moral superiority. Is there any chance this era is coming to an end? Will voters, in your opinion, still consider the GOP "the moral values party"?

Paul Kane: I think people for the foreseeable future will associate Republicans with strong social values while also realizing that there are a large number of hypocrites within their midst. Ultimately, social values voters care about policy -- the policy of moral Christian values. And they will continue to vote for a conservative candidate who will vote policy-wise the way they prefer (opposed to gay rights, opposed to abortion) even if they suspect that deep down this "conservative candidate" might not be so righteous. Conservative value voters will continue to vote for the closeted hypocrite rather than vote for the more personally righteous liberal, because no matter how personally righteous that liberal is, he/she will not vote in Congress the way conservative value voters want them to vote on key issues such as gay rights and abortion.

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Bruceland: Or Bruce could do what he used to do 25 years ago and merely honor the veterans who have fought, without commenting on whether the war has been a good idea or not. I guess that's too much to ask in these polarizing times.

Paul Kane: Personally, I'd prefer a politics-free show by the Boss -- only because I know how much his now-openly liberal rants during concerts grate on my friends who are Republican and also huge Springsteen fans.

We all know Bruce always has been liberal, no secret there, but part of the magic of his songs in the '70s and '80s was the storytelling in them of pain and heartache and searching for something more, without expressing his own view of right or wrong. A pro-life person can listen to "The River" and see it as an opus against teen-age sex, a tale of two youths ruining their lives by getting Mary pregnant -- no wedding day smiles, no walk down the aisles. A liberal can see "The River" as a tale of a gritty America gone wrong, where a hard-working young man gets stuck in a dead-end town because of an evil corporate America.

Ah whatever -- I just want good seats to the Nov. 11 show. Anyone out there willing to help?

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Fairfax County, Va.: I was moved by Senator Tim Johnson's return to the public spotlight yesterday. He's obviously made huge progress but isn't yet the man he was. Based on the coverage, I assume he will be showing continued substantial improvement, month by month. If he were up for re-election a year or two later, I'm sure he'd have no problem, but I worry about the fact that the full-tilt Senate election campaign is just about to kick off with him still recovering his verbal speed. Given the incredibly tight election results for this seat in the past, how do you think this will play out in South Dakota? And, on the reverse side, how does this affect his opponent's ability to campaign against him?

washingtonpost.com: Ailing S.D. Senator Vows to Run Again (AP, Aug. 29)

Paul Kane: Tim Johnson's speech yesterday was moving, and his return to the Senate will be greeted with open arms on both sides of the aisle. He's a genuinely sweet man, to the point where he and John Thune have a pretty solid personal/professional relationship now, even though they fought a bitter race in '02 (Johnson won by just over 500 votes) and Thune then ousted Johnson's best friend in the Senate, Tom Daschle, two years later.

As for Johnson's '08 prospects, it's all up to him and his recovery. So long as he feels strong enough to run, and so long as he keeps making progress, he'll be in strong shape to win. The South Dakota GOP has been ailing of late in terms of top-flight candidates to take on Johnson -- and let's face it, he's a tough person to attack on the campaign trail. In a tough environment for Republicans, it's tough to see how he can be beat at this point.

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Seattle: Is there a pool for Sen. Craig's resignation? I'd like to put a (slightly used) Powerball ticket on Friday at 7:01 p.m.

washingtonpost.com: Idaho Senator Asserts: 'I Never Have Been Gay' (Post, Aug. 29)

Paul Kane: To quote a great movie of my childhood: "Gambling is illegal at Bushwood sir, and I never slice."

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Anchorage, Alaska: Are no women or minorities on anyone's short list to be Attorney General for the remainder of the Bush administration?

Paul Kane: Not true, women and minorities have been mentioned. Fran Townsend, the president's White House homeland security adviser, has been touted in some corners, as has Larry Thompson, the former deputy attorney general. Whatever else you want to say about this administration, the race/gender breakdown of its cabinet has been as good or better than any administration in the past, on a pure numbers basis. This administration has been packed with cabinet members who are women and minority from the outset ... Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Gonzales, Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, Education Secretary Rod Paige .. plenty.

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Staunton, Va.: Wouldn't reopening Craig's case be the worst thing for him? (Maybe he only suggests it because he thinks it will not actually happen.) When the arresting officer starts being very explicit as to the details of the hand gestures and the foot movements of both Craig and the typical bust, it only damages Craig more. No normal person using the bathroom moves across the partition.

Paul Kane: Yes, Robert Barnes, The Post's distinguished Supreme Court reporter, spoke at length with a Minnesota legal expert yesterday who said that the best case scenario for Craig would be that a judge would allow him to reopen the case -- but then he'd have to bear the publicity of a public trial, which would be a political nightmare.

Regardless, it won't matter. Legal experts say there is zero chance this guilty plea is overturned.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Mr. Kane, I wish you wouldn't refer to conservatives as unique in possessing "strong social values." I suppose a comfortable shorthand for people like me is "religious left," but rest assured, I vote my values: tolerance, peace, and equality in the eyes of G-d and under the law. All of us vote our values; it is conservatives alone who claim to have a monopoly on the concept.

Paul Kane: No disrespect meant to the religious left, but in political shorthand I think we all are referring to the same thing when we say social values voters or conservative values voters or Christian conservative voters -- we're talking about people opposed to gay rights and abortion, first and foremost.

Democrats for a decade now have been grappling with how to appeal to people's inner religiosity without offending their hard-core base, which by and large doesn't like religion mixing with politics. Clearly, Barack Obama is the most comfortable Democratic candidate talking about religion on the stump in a very long time. If Obama wins the nomination, it will be interesting to see how his religious overtures ring with independent to conservative voters in the general election.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Reports today are that President Bush intends to ask for an additional $50 billion for Iraq, sensing that the Democrats will capitulate, since they still don't want to be seen as "soft" on terrorism (see: okaying wiretapping legislation). Are the Dems just giving Bush a little here and there, and waiting for the next 16 months to pass? Also, do the Phillies try to play Tad Iguchi at third, or continue to go with the triumvirate of Dobbs, Helms and Nunez?

Paul Kane: The Democrats have bifurcated their political brains when it comes to dealing with President Bush on foreign policy. When it comes to Iraq, they stand and fight as long and as loud as possible. They are going to the mat this fall to try to stop this war.

But when it comes to issues that are tools in the war against al-Qaeda -- domestic eavesdropping, FISA reauthorization, Gitmo, secret prisons overseas, torture of prisoners -- they get very, very weak in the knees. The reason is very simple -- the voters also have bifurcated their views on this issue. Polls show that the public hates the war in Iraq, but polling on the fight against al-Qaeda shows Bush has a strong hand on this issue.

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Boston: Go Phillies! On another note, I often have heard that Pennsylvania Gov. Rendell has national political aspirations (I especially remember a Weekly Standard piece from many years ago comparing him to Clinton). Have these cooled since he became governor? Was there any hint of him running in 2008 or being on potential vice presidential candidate lists?

Paul Kane: Fast Eddie Rendell is a political favorite of mine, took over my hometown in the early '90s when it was basically bankrupt, rolled over the entrenched unions and began rebuilding the city and crafting a national image for himself. (His rise also coincided with the incredible run by the '93 Phillies, from last to first and on to the World Series -- and, now, by the way, Phillies fans have welcomed Mitch Williams back into the fold as a local commentator on WIP sports talk and on the local cable channel covering the Phightin' Phils. Boston fans never would have done that with Buckner!)

Anyway, Rendell's political career is likely to come to a close at the end of his term -- his national ambitions have cooled. Maybe he'd be a cabinet secretary in a future Democratic administration, but honestly, I think his most public posture in his post-gubernatorial career is likely to be as a local commentator on Eagles games. E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!

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Gambling is illegal at Bushwood: A great "Caddyshack" quote. Here's my fav Ted Knight quote from that film -- apropos to any of our senators and representatives who find themselves out of work: "Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too."

Paul Kane: "He was night-putting, just putting at night ... with the 15-year-old daughter of the Dean." -- Ty Webb, "Caddyshack."

Larry Craig, I guess, could be accused of attempted "night-putting" with an undercover police officer.

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Bethesda, Md.: If Schumer and Feinstein are seen to be offering an olive branch, isn't that likely to make Bush more combative rather than less, in light of his record since becoming president?

Paul Kane: Well, this is the interesting flip-side to the AG nomination pick. Bush could offer an olive branch, yes, and the investigations might cool down. But he's so low in the polls, so down on his luck, that a fight with Congress about a qualified nominee might be one way to try to expose Democrats for congressional overreach. Ted Olsen is one of the nation's greatest lawyers, hands down, but he's highly controversial. If Bush picks Olsen, that shows that he's hoping to spark a fight with Congress and is fully engaged in a chess match trying to get Dems to over-reach. Not sure that will happen, but it's possible.

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Washington: As a reporter, do you think that you'd have to consider an underlying motive from a source before deciding to publish a story like Sen. Craig's or not? Do you ever fear that you are being used for another's purpose? Would there ever be a point where you stopped running these stories? Thanks.

Paul Kane: This question, I presume, goes toward the Idaho Statesman's investigation of Craig. Here's the thing that hasn't been explained and answered fully, to my thinking: The paper says it was a "five-month" investigation, and we know from published reports they were here in Washington in December investigating Craig's sexuality. We also know they interviewed Craig in May, which would seem to be five months into the investigation. So, they interviewed the guy in May, he denied being gay. The paper then basically sat on the story, because all they had was an anonymous few sources and a full-throated denial from the senator -- that was the responsible thing to do. The paper, apparently, killed the Craig-is-or-isn't-gay story -- until he pleaded guilty to something incredibly similar to what their anonymous sources said took place.

The guilty plea triggered their story. Without the guilty plea, there's no story. We journalists investigate stuff all the time that we eventually decide isn't a story. And that's what the Statesman appears to have done, until Craig pleaded guilty.

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Dryden, N.Y.: All over America women (including me) are asking their husbands if they have a "wide stance." Seriously, forget the shabby crime -- how does Senator Craig survive the sheer hysterically, sickly funny nature of what he has set in motion?

washingtonpost.com: A Senator's Wide Stance: 'I Am Not Gay' (Post, Aug. 29)

Paul Kane: Yep, these are our readers and questioners at washingtonpost.com. God bless you all.

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New York: I love how Romney completely distances himself from Larry Craig. I am not crazy about Bush, but I think he would have been more loyal to someone who, until a few days ago, had been part of his campaign or inner circle. What Romney said disgusted me even more than what Craig did or didn't do. Nice of you to be a friend, governor.

washingtonpost.com: Romney: Craig's Actions 'Disappointing' (washingtonpost.com, Aug. 28)

Paul Kane: Romney and Larry Craig were never friends, to be sure. They have no real political allegiance; it was a marriage made of convenience (Sorry for the pun.) and when it was no longer convenient, Romney threw him under the bus. Most endorsements for presidential campaigns are based on raw political motives; some are made by real political affection and friendship. Trent Lott and John McCain are truly good friends. Dick Durbin truly believes Barack Obama should be president. But most other endorsements are purely political convenience, and either the endorser or endorsee would be willing to throw the other aside whenever they see fit.

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Paul Kane: All right gang, another hour has passed, and this chat has come to a close. As always, I appreciate the questions. Be sure to check the blog for the latest on Larry Craig, the next AG nomination and all sorts of other fun stuff in the days and weeks ahead. And I can't believe Nov. 11 is 2 1/2 months away, a doubleheader day of the Eagles-Redskins game and Springsteen. Can't wait.

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