Post Politics Hour

Shailagh Murray
Shailagh Murray

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Shailagh Murray
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Monday, October 1, 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 national political reporter Shailagh Murray was online Monday, Oct. 1 at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Cheers, Shailagh. The Post reported yesterday the Republican leadership was considering open hearings on Sen. Larry Craig's arrest and investigate previous behaviors concerning his social life. Are the GOP leadership bluffing to force Craig resign, and do you believe it will work?

washingtonpost.com: GOP Is Ready to Roll Out the Klieg Lights for Craig (Post, Sept. 30)

Shailagh Murray: Good morning everyone. I had a computer problem -- sorry I'm running a little late! Let's get started with my favorite subject ... Larry Craig.

No, the Republicans aren't bluffing about open hearings. They point out the Sen. Boxer, who now chairs the ethics committee, pushed for the same treatment of Bob Packwood. They hope -- underscore hope -- that the potential humiliation will nudge Craig toward the door. But it hasn't worked so far!

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Henly, Texas: Either the blocking of cloture by the Republican minority in the Senate or a Bush veto can stifle just about any Democratic initiative from Congress. So why doesn't the Congress load everything it wants onto something Bush has to have -- like funding for Iraq? A veto then means he ends his own war (or "doesn't support the troops"). Can he really justify killing his "essential" Iraq funding just to keep a few lower-middle-class kids off of SCHIP? Is he willing to abandon the "Coalition of the Willing" just to keep from raising taxes on cigarettes and the fortunes of gadzillionaires? Please tell us the answer, oh wise one!

Shailagh Murray: Oh wise one ... yeah, right.

What you propose is certainly a winning strategy, but it would be tough to pull off. For one, appropriations bills aren't supposed to make policy, so that limits what you can do with them. The other problem with the Iraq funding bills is the troop element -- many Democrats are reluctant to press that hot button, which is why Congress backed down earlier this year, after Bush's veto of the emergency spending bill. You regular chatters know I'm a broken record on this subject, but don't be deceived by the Democrats' supposed Senate majority -- when it comes to anything controversial, Republicans really do have the upper hand.

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Baltimore: Regarding the promised SCHIP veto -- is there really any political down side for the lame-duck Current Occupant? Except perhaps the legacy of disastrous decisions domestically as well as abroad?

Shailagh Murray: I like that: "Current Occupant." What's interesting about the SCHIP battle is how normal it is -- this is what we'd be dealing with all the time with Bush and the Democratic Congress, if there weren't an Iraq war. Democrats vs. Republicans on social and fiscal policy, tussling over PBS funding, Amtrak, all the usual stuff.

I'm sure conservatives are reassured that Bush still has some fight in him, but would prefer that the issue involve something other than poor children.

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Re: Craig and Hearings: Why would the GOP want hearings into Craig? The best they could get was increased media attention and then he resigns in disgrace, while the worst is that they appear all-but-openly homophobic and Sen. Craig fights back using dirty tactics. What's the win?

Shailagh Murray: I think they're expecting him to want to spare his family the further humiliation. I don't get the sense that Republicans are worried about the homophobic taint -- they see bathroom sex as sort of occupying a different category.

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washingtonpost.com: We're getting a lot of questions this morning about how the media operates. Try clicking here and sending them to Howard Kurtz's discussion, which starts at noon today.

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Seattle: How much of the lopsided partition vote was GOP Senators signaling a desire for a change in Iraq, and how much of it was just political cover disguised as a nonbinding resolution?

washingtonpost.com: An Unlikely Vote Forces No Change (Post, Sept. 30)

Shailagh Murray: That's an excellent question. Obviously there's no way to know for sure. My interpretation of the outcome was that it showed a frustration among many Republicans with the lack of progress on the non-military front, and perhaps was meant to send a message to Bush to invest more energy on the political/diplomatic side.

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Helena, Mont.: More a comment than a question, but do you think the administration knows how lame it is to threaten vetoes on appropriations bills now after signing everything the first six years, no matter how large or how inane (bridge to nowhere comes to mind, but transportation bill was also loaded with lots of goodies)? Now Bush is fiscally conservative?

Shailagh Murray: Yes. I think Bush lost lots of credibility with real fiscal conservatives in Congress during his first term, when he refused to put the brakes on spending.

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Gainesville, Fla.: I really enjoyed your piece yesterday on Johnny Isakson. While he supports the War he "resents" all the oxygen debates about the war is sucking out of the Senate's schedule. Are there any other Republican Senators you plan on profiling soon, and will they too "resent" their time being wasted on debating the billions spent in Iraq, not to mention the thousands of deaths?

Shailagh Murray: I think Sen. Isakson's concerns are pretty widely held, including among some Democrats -- not that time is being wasted on the Iraq debate, but that until there are signs of some sort of breakthrough, there's a lot of other business that deserves Congress's attention.

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Prescott, Ariz.: Hi. Another Larry Craig question: He recently got subpoenaed in the corruption trial of Brent Wilkes (one of Duke Cunningham's bribe buddies). What are the chances that he is trying to hold on tightly to his Senate seat so he can use a bunch of congressional immunity mumbo-jumbo to keep himself out of a corruption investigation?

Shailagh Murray: That's an interesting question, and I don't know the answer. I'm throwing it out there for others to consider.

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Rochester, N.Y.: A few weeks ago you said you thought the US health care system was superior to that of Europe. If this is true, why does the U.S. always finish so low in the World Health Organization rankings?

Shailagh Murray: Not better! Just different! Because our economies and populations are so different.

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Leesburg, Va.: It may be that the Republicans feel they could weather open hearings, but -- on the flip side -- is there any reason to believe that Sen. Boxer would support them this time? I don't think an open hearing designed to embarrass someone for homosexual behavior would play well with her constituents. It would probably be better to just let the media push the story if Craig tries to stay in the Senate.

Shailagh Murray: There's no way to know where this is going, because the ethics committee members aren't talking. I think Republicans are hoping the judge in Minnesota will reject Craig's petition and he will follow through with resigning and that'll be the end of it. If he resists at that point, then they will try to take it to the next level.

As an aside, I would note at how deftly the Democrats have played this -- they've barely said a word since the scandal broke.

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Pittsburgh: Have all the juicy investigations just sort of fizzled or is Congress gearing up to uncover all sorts of nepotism, rascalism, and malfeasance? I'm thinking Dusty Foggo and hooker/poker parties at the Watergate with the Dukestir. Also, Baltimore needs to give Garrison Keillor proper attribution for the "Current Occupant." Thanks for these chats, Shailagh.

Shailagh Murray: Lots of good questions today -- thanks, folks. There do seem to be an unusual number of juicy, potentially career-killing rumors swirling around these days. But retirements may be a better gauge than the hearing docket at this point -- i.e. Ted Stevens.

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Tampa, Fla.: What is it about D.C. that makes it such a thoroughly corrupt city, professionally and socially?

Shailagh Murray: Very simple. Everyone here is spending other people's money.

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Baltimore: For Leesburg: I don't think Barbara Boxer will hear much from her gay constituents about Sen. Craig. Anyone who follows Doonesbury knows that its principal gay character has been fulminating about Sen. Craig giving the impression that all gay men seek furtive assignations in public toilets. It's a very, very small subculture.

Shailagh Murray: Thank you for this comment. I totally agree, it's an excellent point that goes to the heart of this scandal.

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Senatorial "Immunity Mumbo-Jumbo": If such a thing exists, I'm sure Ted Stevens would love to know about it. The only such protection afforded to members of Congress of which I am aware is the "Speech and Debate" clause in the Constitution. Although it has been interpreted broadly by the courts, I don't think it would help a senator avoid testifying under subpoena when he is not the target of the investigation.

Shailagh Murray: Thanks for this...

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Washington: Re: The Nebraska Senate race -- reports a week ago said that Sen. Kerrey was leaning against running. Have you heard anything new on this? Thanks.

Shailagh Murray: That's our sense, that he won't run. But he's not an easy guy to predict.

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Chaska, Minn.: It has been suggested by various pundits and Democrats that the reason they will not vote to cutoff funding for the Iraq war is two-fold: not wanting the appearance of weakness/not supporting the troops, and believing that that even with a funds cutoff George Bush would continue the war. Could he really continue the war if the Congress did not appropriate more funds?

Shailagh Murray: Not after a certain point, although certain Pentagon accounts would run dry more quickly than others.

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Fort Pierce, Fla.: Hello Shailagh, I have a question that has been eating at me for some time now that has to do with our voting system. Why does the voting process have to be soooo secretive? I have never had someone tell me "it's none of your business" after asking them whom they voted for, have you? It makes one wonder doesn't it? My suggestion would be to have a booth for each candidate, that way everyone would see which candidates were getting the most votes by looking at the lines.

Shailagh Murray: I can't imagine why anyone from Florida would ask such a question!

We have certainly become a full-disclosure culture in recent years, but there is something deeply personal about voting, so I don't think we will be going to a public system any time soon.

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Maplewood, N.J.: Re: Tampa -- and then again, in Washington you have a full-time, highly motivated, public and private investigative core. If the same attention were focused on Tampa or Des Moines or Fernwood we'd most likely see the same degree of people acting -- like people.

Shailagh Murray: My gosh, lots of insightful comments from readers today! Thanks.

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Deft Democrats:"I would note at how deftly the Democrats have played this -- they've barely said a word since the scandal broke." Wow, those are words I thought I'd never hear. I agree with that too. The Republican infighting on the Craig issue is doing more than any Dem could do.

Shailagh Murray: I give credit where and when it's due.

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Ballston, Va.: How did the discussion of funding cutoffs devolve into potential harm to the troops?

Shailagh Murray: Because the funding pays for weapons, armored vehicles, food, and other battlefield essentials.

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Washington: How serious do you think the Christian Right leaders are about backing a third-party candidate if a pro-choice Republican wins the nomination? Does that only apply to Giuliani, or could Romney be hurt by that as well considering his evolution on the issue?

Shailagh Murray: This is an interesting subject. Giuliani's current strength in particular is so mystifying to so many Republicans -- but their commitment to the cause is in conflict with their desire to win.

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Anonymous: Hi, Shailagh -- interesting article Saturday. I do have a question because it seems we see the situation differently. In the article, you wrote the following in your voice: "Senate Democrats' failure to reach agreement with wavering Republicans. ... Last week, Democrats failed to pass a proposal to bring home most troops by next June and to narrow the U.S. mission. ... Both sides were optimistic about a deal until Republican negotiators demanded that the timetable be pushed from June to sometime after the 2008 presidential election. ... But even with the additional six months, Voinovich could not promise Levin a large number of Republican votes."

It seems to me the GOP is hunkering down against an onslaught of overwhelming public opinion from left, right and center. How does the GOP senators filibuster of these proposals represent a failure on the part of Democratic senators? If the "wavering Republicans" needed to overcome the filibuster will not allow cloture on a timetable that starts 18 months out with the next president, what exactly is their offer in this compromise?

washingtonpost.com: Democrats' Chances to Alter Iraq Strategy Dwindling (Post, Sept. 29)

Shailagh Murray: It depends on whether you want to win the ideological argument or the legislative battle. To win the latter, you have to deal with 60 votes. Republicans did not invent that, although the current minority has certainly worked the filibuster strategy to great effect.

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Washington: Bigger disappointment: Fred Thompson's listless presidential campaign, or the New York Mets, who blew a seven-game lead in less than three weeks?

Shailagh Murray: Well, I'm a Yankees fan, so of course I'm not surprised. And I realize this disclosure will give a lot of you a whole new reason to fill my inbox with hate mail.

But I will close on this note: I drove to Philly yesterday for the last Nationals game and it was really something to see that stadium erupt. Nice to see real joy for a change, and I'm not referring to the D.C. sports environment.

Cheers to all, and have a lovely post-season. Feel free to write back and jeer in two weeks if the Yanks are toast.

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