Post Politics Hour's Daily Politics Discussion

Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post White House Reporter
Tuesday, January 8, 2008 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 Abramowitz was online Tuesday, Jan. 8, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

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____________________ Recent articles by Michael Abramowitz:

On First Trip to Israel, Bush Hopes to Inject Vigor Into Peace Talks (Post, Jan. 8)

In a Shorter War, the Numbers Might Have Added Up (Post, Jan. 7)

As Bush Heads to Mideast, Renewed Questions on Iran (Post, Jan. 7)


Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning! The way Bush is being shunted aside in the news and in the campaign is remarkable. It strikes me as much more pronounced than in 2000 or 1988. Do you agree? If so, is the Bush administration okay with that, or are they striving to get back toward the center of the national conversation?

Michael Abramowitz: Good morning everybody--I am already getting lots of questions about New Hampshire, which is obviously the big news in the political world today (though rivaled here by the resignation of Joe Gibbs.)

I will try to do my best, but my focus has been getting ready for a trip this week with Bush to the Middle East. For that reason, I am acutely aware of the premise of your question, but my sense that what is happening, in terms of Bush being shunted aside, is pretty much par for the course in the eighth year of a presidency. There's obvious interest in what is going on in foreign policy, but for the most part, the nation's interest is rally focused on looking ahead rather than at the incumbent.

My sense is that the White House is pretty realistic about this--they are trying to be creative about staying in the news, but they understand that the public's attention is largely going to be elsewhere. That doesn't mean they don't want to try to get some things done, but their ambitions have certainly been tempered.


Crestwood, N.Y.: Michael, thanks for your time. Throw away the results of Iowa and New Hampshire -- do you think, at this point, that there are enough party bigwigs in both parties who now have serious doubts about this current system and are ready now to make serious efforts to enact reforms along the lines of the Delaware Plan? This is the scheme where about a dozen of the smallest states vote in February, followed by the next dozen smallest in March, etc., so all fifty states would vote within a four month period? It also gives dark horses the chance to gain momentum, and prevents this year-long silliness. It makes a heckuva lot more sense than giving Iowa and New Hampshire this amount of absurdly disproportionate power, no? More on the Delaware Plan (Wikipedia)

Michael Abramowitz: I have a sense that a lot of people think the system is a bit nuts, for the reasons you suggest. But this is a complaint every four years, and each cycle the system seems to get worse, not better. So I am not expecting major changes the next time we elect a president.


Boston: "Joining us today is Michael Abramowitz (sigh) a print journalist from The Washington Post." So, how did this week's episode of "The Simpsons" go over in the newsroom? Also, do you think the appeal of the insurgent anti-establishment candidates (Huckabee, Obama, Edwards, Paul) in the primaries also reflects a distaste for all the corporate media and the conventional boardroom bias you, Romney and Clinton et al reflect?

Michael Abramowitz: I just saw a clip of this from YouTube -- that's pretty funny.

But the reality is that I and my colleagues are not really only print journalists anymore. I write for the Web, I do Web chats, I go on TV and radio. So I actually think that "Simpsons" episode is a little off the mark.


Dryden, N.Y.: What a New Hampshire primary! As White House reporter, do you think the Clintonistas missed an important change in the political winds in Carol Shea-Porter's insurgent win of her New Hampshire House seat last November? Clinton's supporters in New Hampshire are too savvy not to have known about its implications. Were the suits in Washington simply too arrogant to read the tea leaves? Thank you for these enlightening chats.

Michael Abramowitz: I don't know about that particular win, but it certainly seems like the appetite for a new face and change was much more powerful than the Clintons anticipated. Whether they can adjust in time or make an effective counter-argument is the big question now.


Asheville, N.C.: When the U.S. switched its policy in Iraq to counterinsurgency, in order to reduce U.S. casualties there, do you think voters lost interest in it then? If not, what to you has caused the lapse in published concern?

Michael Abramowitz: It is interesting that there appears to be less overt media and public attention to Iraq in recent months, and I suspect it has to do primarily with the fact that there is less violence than there was a year ago. Also, Bush has changed policy to a certain extent: Troops are coming home and not being replaced.

I also feel, and I can't prove this, that voters and the political system understand that policy towards Iraq will not more fundamentally change until Bush is out of office. So my guess is that they are taking a look at other issues now.


Princeton, N.J.: Since you're getting ready to go to the Mid East, here are some questions on Iraq: How does encouraging Sunnis in Anbar to form militia (with out without police uniforms) aid reconciliation? How will this idea work in the cities -- Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk? Anbar has less than 5 percent of the people of Iraq and is almost entirely Sunni. How can events there have a great affect on the rest of the country? What is the objective now in Iraq -- a loose confederation of antagonistic tribal and city states? Who will have the power to get the states with oil to share the wealth? Is the success of the "surge" just another example of the "Big Lie"?

Michael Abramowitz: Iraq is clearly a backdrop to this trip -- the president will be meeting with Petraeus and Crocker in Kuwait on Saturday -- but it is not the focus. I would say the two big themes are Palestinian-Israeli peace talks and the rising power of Iran in the regime. It will be interesting, nonetheless, to hear what the president has to say about Iraq if only because it is the one year anniversary of his "surge" proposal.

I think the questions you pose are completely the right questions, but I would be lying to you if I pretended I had good answers. There indisputably has been an improvement in security in Iraq in the lpast year, but whether the gains are sustainable -- and whether politicians can take advantage of it to achieve national reconciliation -- is not certain to me at all.


Hilton Head, S.C.: Thank you for taking my question. Do you think that any foreign policy moves at this point in the administration will be effective? It seems from my readings, that either this administrations message is old and tired, or that the leaders of many of theses nations (especially in the Middle East) realize that in about 300 days there will be a new administration to deal with.

Michael Abramowitz: I think there is something to be said for the premise of your question. I think you could make a reasonable case that the second term of Bush has brought a much different foreign policy on a host of issues, North Korea, Iran, Middle East, relations with Europe, Iraq, and so on. But I do think other countries are beginning to tune the White House out and are making their own calculations about how to deal with an Obama/Clinton/McCain/Huckabee/Romney administration. That said, if there is some kind of crisis -- a confrontation in the Gulf? -- this president will have to handle that. So he still has considerable power until Jan. 20, 2009.


Alpharetta, Ga.: How unrealistic is Huckabee winning the GOP nod? It seems quite far fetched, but he's actually leading national polls

Michael Abramowitz: Great question. I don't think you can rule it out at all, if for the only reason that he appears to be the best candidate in the GOP field right now. Meaning, he is a terrific politician who has a gift for making people like him. I suspect one candidate, probably McCain (but who knows) will emerge as the alternative, and there will be a great battle for another month or two or three.


Anonymous: I am saddened by the fact that the media are focusing attention so much on personalities and who-is-ahead-this-minute in the primary races that we are hearing so little about the candidates¿ positions. Obama is described as inspiring, but what are his beliefs/positions? I do not know. Huckabee is described as affable, and his gaffes make news, and when he says he wants to get rid of the IRS he gets applause, but I have not read his explanation of the increased sales tax he wants to replace the income tax (I have seen estimates of the new sales tax needing to be as high as 50 percent to offset lost revenue, but the absolutely staggering impact of such a sales tax increase is not the subject of any analysis I have seen). Wait, Hillary may have cried -- now that is important. Criticism Aside, 'FairTax' Boosts Huckabee Campaign (Post, Dec. 28)

Michael Abramowitz: This is a traditional and, in my view, fair criticism of the way the media covers elections. We do write about the candidates' positions and their biographies, but much less than we do about the process of the race. We still have 10 months to go to election day, however, and I am sure the nominees of both parties will be vetted properly by the news media and others. I certainly hope so!


Winnipeg, Canada: The most-emailed story on The Washington Post's site is McGovern's call for impeachment of Bush and Cheney. If a trailing candidate for the Democrat party were to endorse impeachment, what effect do you think it would have on that candidate's fortunes? Why I Believe Bush Must Go (Post, Jan. 6)

Michael Abramowitz: I don't think it would have much effect. I don't sense a groundswell for impeachment right now -- though there are surely those who would like to see it happen.


Toronto: Has the United States ever explored the possibility of changing its political system to a parliamentary democracy? The biggest plus would be that elections last four weeks instead of four years. It seems to me that this protracted process bores the crap out of the media and they feel the need to create drama to keep everyone amused. Any thoughts?

Michael Abramowitz: It never seriously has been explored, and it's not going to happen.


Arlington, Va.: On the Iraq question and less media coverage, don't you think less coverage now denies the positive coverage to help the Bush administration be seen more favorably for putting into place the troop surge, and the State Department's success in getting opposing sides to start working together in power-sharing and less violence to achieve those goals?

Michael Abramowitz: Let me revise my remarks a bit. I do think we still are doing a lot of great reporting from Iraq -- witness a first-rate piece this morning by my colleague Sudarsan Raghavan about the so-called Sunni "Awakening."

I don't know about the premise of your question: Less coverage also could mean fewer hard-hitting pieces trying to poke behind the rhetoric of the administration.


Kansas City, Mo.: I was in Iowa during the holidays, and in talking to people (both Republicans and Democrats) it seemed like there wasn't much interest in discussing Iraq, that no matter how well it goes in the future people have decided it was a mistake to go into Iraq in the first place. Is this the reaction in New Hampshire also?

Michael Abramowitz: I think you raise a good point that I probably should have made in my earlier post on Iraq.


Alpharetta, Ga.: Do you think Hillary Clinton's campaign regrets competing in Iowa at this point?

Michael Abramowitz: Probably, given what has happened. But I have no real insight here.


Roseland, N.J.: Just curious if you'd read Gloria Steinem's op-ed in the New York Times today. She argues that if a woman with Obama's experience and resume announced her candidacy for the presidency, no one would take her seriously; therefore the gender barrier is harder to overcome in politics than the race barrier. Women Are Never Front-Runners (New York Times, Jan. 8)

Michael Abramowitz: I did read that piece and found it interesting and provocative.


Miami: Thanks for taking my question. How much extra security is required now for President Bush, and do all the press travel on Air Force One, or do you have a separate plane for all the press? Does that include camera crews, or just print reporters?

Michael Abramowitz: There is a lot of security for Bush -- I can't say whether it is "extra."

Most of the press, correspondents, camera crews and producers travel on a separate charter. There's a small "pool" that always goes with Bush on Air Force One.


Pittsburgh: Whatever happened with President Bush's threatened pocket veto? Because the Senate still technically was in session through the holidays, I didn't think Bush could do that, any more than he could make a recess appointment (which to my knowledge he didn't).

Michael Abramowitz: Well, as is typical in Washington, there is an argument about that. The White House essentially pocket-vetoed the defense bill (not signed it), but also sent a veto message back to Congress -- apparently to cover themselves either way. I suspect this issue will become moot after Congress takes out the provision the White House deems offensive -- language making it easier for plaintiffs to sue Iraq and other countries that have been accused of being behind terrorism in the past.

That's it for time -- great questions today, and perhaps we will be chatting next from the road. Cheers.


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