Post Politics Hour's Daily Politics Discussion

Paul Kane
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Thursday, January 24, 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 congressional reporter Paul Kane was online Thursday, Jan. 24 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

The transcript follows.

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Paul Kane: Good morning, readers. Lots of news out there today -- including a new stimulus deal, the FISA debate in the Senate and, lo and behold, a little presidential campaign out there that lots of people seem to care about. Oh, and the ongoing investigation into Heath Ledger's death!

Lets go straight to the questions, folks.


McLean, Va.: Paul: What's the real feeling among congressional Democrats about Bill Clinton's actions on the campaign trail? I'm disgusted and fully prepared not to vote for Hillary if she gets the nomination (and I'm a Democrat!). Do they feel that people like me are anomalies or are they really worried? Will this push them into open support of Obama?

Paul Kane: I think Democrats up here on Capitol Hill forgot how just plain tough Bill Clinton could be. Remember, for the last seven years Clinton has been party elder statesman -- he has been the guy who jumped in and told people to cool it down, tone down the rhetoric. But, back in the '90s, this was the toughest Democrat alive. He was the first to give "War Room" a campaign definition. Now they're remembering that side of Clinton. Sure, some would like to cool things down a bit; then there are folks like Joe Biden, whom I spoke to yesterday and who understands the old mantra that politics is war without blood. What does Biden think of this fighting? He called it "patty-cake."


Silver Spring, Md.: Thanks for taking my question. Three weeks after the Republican Iowa Caucus, (and other sites) still show the results as only being 98 percent complete. The Democrats, who had twice the number of voters Republicans did, were able to reach 100 percent within 24 hours. I realize 2 percent is not going to fundamentally change the outcome, but hundreds (perhaps thousands?) of voters who bothered to show up for the caucus are being ignored. What is up with this? Sorry for not getting you a response sooner, Silver Spring, I was waiting on our politics staff. The problem basically is that we are dependent on the Associated Press for our data, which automatically feed into the tables on our site. The Associated Press tells us they have not received full data from the state party.


Gibson, Mo.: The news of Governor Matt Blunt's decision not to run for a second term for governor of Missouri was a big surprise. Gov. Blunt's campaign had taken money from Jack Abramoff in 2004. Is this another casualty of the Abramoff scandal, and do you see Reps. Jo Ann Emerson or Roy Blunt leaving Congress to run for governor? The Fix: Missouri Governor Race in Chaos After Blunt Announcement (, Jan. 23)

Paul Kane: I'm far from an expert on Mizzou politics, but I've done my share of coverage of the Abramoff scandal. I don't think Matt Blunt is at all a fallout from that. He grew increasingly unpopular down there for a variety of reasons that are mostly homespun. As for the impact in Washington, his decision is big news, because two of the names at the top of the GOP backup candidates list are Emerson and Rep. Kenny Hulshof. Both are likable people who come across as smart and levelheaded. Hulshof has served on the ethics committees that reprimanded Tom DeLay for his misdeeds. They could be jumping from life in the House minority for gubernatorial bids.


Santa Fe, N.M.: So we have politicians asking, with feigned horror, why we should send "tax rebates" to those who pay no income tax, only payroll tax. Why don't they just get honest and say either "we're sending out money to everyone" or "we're sending money out to our favored groups"? I guess I know the answer to that, but I'd like to hear what you have to say. The economists' arguments seem logical -- sending out money to those most likely to spend it will have the greatest effect. And please, whatever happened to compassionate conservatism? Or compassionate anything in politics?

Paul Kane: From the version of the story on right now:

Under the tentative plan, families with children would receive an additional $300 per child, subject to an overall cap of perhaps $1,200, according to a senior House aide who outlined the deal on condition of anonymity in advance of formal adoption of the whole package. Rebates would go to people earning below a certain income cap, likely individuals earning $75,000 or less and couples with incomes of $150,000 or less.

Workers would have to have earned at least $3,000 in 2007 to receive the rebates, the officials said.


Houston: Do you think the quick governing action by the president and Congress to seek a fix on the economy will help the Republican Party, or do you think the Democrats will not accept this and will try to degrade the efforts to fix the economy?

Paul Kane: This stimulus deal -- reached quicker and in more bipartisan fashion than anything since post-Sept. 11 -- is going to be a win for both sides politically. Shows Bush is still relevant and willing to make deals when he has to, and it shows Pelosi-Reid can govern to some degree.

It also shows that those two sides are willing to, for now, reject the catcalls from their presidential candidates. It will be interesting to see if that is still the case six months from now.


Houston: Hello Paul. The Los Angeles Times is reporting today that Barack Obama on six different occasions in his Illinois Senate career claims he "pushed the wrong button" on while voting, including on some high-stakes issues. Afterward he requested that his "true intent" should be recorded, but according to the rules the original vote still stands. It is obvious he tries to have it both ways. I sure hope we do not have to explain to Putin one day that, oops, he pushed the wrong button! What do you make of this? Obama said oops on six state Senate votes (Los Angeles Times, Jan. 24)

Paul Kane: I really don't know the rules of the Illinois legislature, and this is not a defense of Obama, more an explanation of the rules here in Congress. Folks, you'd be amazed how many times these men and women here vote the wrong way. If they make a good-faith effort soon enough after a vote, it officially is switched here in the U.S. Senate.

On the House side, you vote with an ATM-style card, punching it into a slot, then pushing the green (yea) or red (nay) button. If you hit the wrong button, then you have to go to the clerk's desk and get in line for an official green or red card and stand in line to switch your vote.

Happens a lot more than you'd realize.


Boston: Has Dana Milbank's study of the District's political tribes uncovered any Senate ritual for the inevitable return to the chamber of the vanquished presidential hopefuls? It has happened often enough you would think the tradition loving Senate would come up with some odd custom to needle or comfort their colleagues upon their return. How about Sen. Byrd as Darth Vader: "Chris and Joe ... (breathing noise) ... come back to the dark side..."? Discussion Transcript: Milbank on 'Homo Politicus' (, Jan. 23)

Paul Kane: Not to tout my own story here, but why not.

That's a story about Dodd and Biden's return this week to the Senate. It's really not an odd ritual at all, considering 16 current senators have run for the White House. This is a regular ritual, every four years, senators leaving for the trail and coming home to the warm embrace of cloture motions. As Dodd happily was fielding questions from dozens of reporters yesterday, a female TV reporter whispered to his top committee staffer: "He's in his element."

"Getting there, he's getting there," the aide replied.


Washington: What Bruce Springsteen song best describes the current state of Rudy Giuliani's campaign and why?

Paul Kane: It's hard to say which Bruce tune reflects Rudy's imploding campaign. Certainly not "Born to Run". I think you'd have to think of something circa "Darkness on the Edge of Town" or "Nebraska." Nope, I got it -- from "The River": "Wreck on a Highway."

For what it's worth, my friends are bailing on me for the Springsteen trip to Dublin over Memorial Day weekend. Anyone interested in going?


Washington: Is there any conceivable path to the nomination for Obama that doesn't require him to win the California primary?

Paul Kane: The Golden State is gold politically for Obama if he can draw millions of independent voters -- who've favored him in every early battleground state -- into the Democratic primary there. This is one of the states where independents can vote in the primary on Feb. 5. Of course, even if he doesn't win there or New York, Obama can pick up a good chunk of delegates to mitigate his losses -- 30 percent of delegates in California are awarded strictly to whoever wins a plurality, then the remaining 70 percent are apportioned out by district.


Alexandria, Va.: Why so little discussion on the politics of retroactive telecom immunity -- in particular, why Reid, Rockefeller and Feinstein have aligned themselves with Bush? Further, why isn't The Post following the journalistic adage to "follow the money" being thrown at these senators?

Paul Kane: Reid, for what it's worth, personally is opposed to immunity for the telecoms in the FISA reauthorization bill (currently being debated on the Senate floor). He has allowed the bill written by Rockefeller, which includes immunity, to be the main bill considered. For what it's worth, I can speak very bluntly on this one: No man named Rockefeller is capable of being bought off with political contributions. Guy has more money than every person reading this chat combined -- unless, unbeknownst to any of us, Warren "Big Post Shareholder" Buffet is reading.


Jackson, Miss.: What's happening to the newest senator, Roger Wicker of Mississippi? Does he get Trent Lott's committee assignments? How much influence will he have over the next year? Influence and seniority are important down here in Mississippi.

Paul Kane: Right now it looks like Wicker will get Trent Lott's slot on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, I'm told. That's key to issues related to the Gulf coast, and also puts him at the center of many telecom issues. Otherwise, Wicker really is just trying to get his feet wet, not make any goofy mistakes and prepare himself for a full election bid that may come as early as March 19, depending on the legal dispute down in Mississippi. For now, he's assembling a cracker-jack staff, I'm told, including a good communications office.


Savannah, Ga.: Speaking of sitting members campaigning, who does their work for them while they're out on the trail? Does it bother their constituents not to be represented? My boss sure wouldn't like it if I went AWOL for a year and a half, trying to get another job.

Paul Kane: Here's our database of those who've missed the most votes. As you'll see, John McCain -- more than 56 percent of votes missed in the 110th Congress -- is creeping up on Tim Johnson for missed votes, and, dear lord, Johnson missed most of 2007 because he suffered a brain aneurysm 13 months ago. Yes, when out on the trail, these senators abandon the day job, no doubt. Their staffs stay on top of things -- or at least they're supposed to -- and leadership monitors vote counts. When votes are really tight, they get the word that they have to come back for a roll call when it really matters. Keep your eyes on the highly politically charged FISA votes in the next eight days -- will Obama, Clinton or McCain return to the chamber, giving up precious campaign time to cast votes for or against those bills?


Reading, Pa.: Paul: To what extent are Republicans stoking the fires of friction between Clinton and Obama in hopes of crippling the Democratic nominee for November? Do you believe they would prefer Hillary as the nominee because she has so much baggage?

Paul Kane: Honestly, the Republicans are trying and trying to stoke the fires here, but to little effect. This is a real live intramural Democratic food fight. Each time we post something online about the latest charges and counter-charges, the Republican National Committee tries to weigh in on the story and get their comments into the story. Most of the time we just leave them out because there's not enough space because the Clinton-Obama camps have beat each other up so well.


Another view on Clinton: Thanks for the chats, Paul! I'm actually glad to see Bill Clinton unleashed. It's good to see a Democrat who is not afraid to roll up his/her sleeves and get scrappy, especially given the ways in which the Democratic congressional leadership of Reid and Pelosi have refused to use confrontation and bare-knuckled tactics against obstructionist Republicans. And, seriously, any "Democrat" who is considering not voting for Hillary Clinton if she gets the party's nod really isn't much of a Democrat at all. Just my two cents.

Paul Kane: Let's address the Reid/Pelosi issue. I think the liberal base for several years fell in love with Reid, particularly as minority leader, for his tough talk: calling Bush a "liar," Clarence Thomas a "disgrace," Greenspan a "hack."

As minority leader he was great at blocking everything, but it seems he was too good as minority leader. Slowly but surely through 2007, it seems, the base grew disenchanted with Reid -- and I think that's because of a lack of understanding how difficult it is to actually pass things in the Senate under these cloture/filibuster rules. Notice that Reid again attacked Greenspan yesterday, blaming him for the mortgage crisis and economic disarray because he was too busy attending "cocktail parties" earlier this decade. Feels like that comment, 1 1/2 years ago, would have gotten the base really fired up and happy for Harry; now, it seems like no one's paying attention.


Palo Alto, Calif: Hi Paul, Thanks for taking my questions. First, who's ahead overall right now? I assume Obama is going to cream Hillary in South Carolina, but what about the rest of the country? Second, why does the press seem to focus on trivialities in campaigns, rather than issues like economic policy, plans for ending the war, differences in health care plans, etc.?

Paul Kane: I can't tell who's ahead, I can just say that Clinton has more delegates (when those who have endorsed her are included, those public officials known as superdelegates). As for the coverage, honestly, it's difficult for our team of reporters on the trail day after day to keep focused on the policy substance, on the Democratic side anyway. Among Clinton, Obama and Edwards, there are not many policy disputes; the candidates generally acknowledge this.


Kennesaw, Ga.: Why has the press not asked any questions concerning global warming and the loss of civil rights? Are the candidates ignoring these issues? Is the press unable to ask them pointed questions on these two vital questions? I am an independent voters and would like to know any of the candidates' views.

Paul Kane: On global warming, the Democratic candidates are all pretty close together, having endorsed the Warner-Lieberman bill that passed out of the Environment and Public Works committee late last year.

If you want to see a big differential on policy regarding greenhouse gases, check out the GOP primary. There, McCain is very much a centrist and has worked with Senate Democrats on these issues. It's something that grew out of his true-blue maverick period, shortly after losing the '00 primary to Bush. Romney and others unsuccessfully have tried to pound McCain on this issue, although it may have had some effect in auto-loving Michigan.


Milford, Conn.: How are the watered-down stimulus rebates likely to play in the election? They seem like too-little-too-late for the economy, but June is closer to November than April or May...

Paul Kane: These rebate checks will be interesting to watch in terms of political effect. The last time they were sent out, in 2001, the entire economy issue got swamped shortly thereafter by Sept. 11. So it's hard to measure what impact they will have this time, and events here and abroad likely will set the tone for the campaign. I think the overall state of the economy on Columbus Day will mean a whole lot more to what voters are thinking than whether they get an $800 check in May or June. By Columbus Day that money will be long gone, spent on paying down debt or on something more tangible.


Princeton, N.J.: But look, Reid/Pelosi just gave up extending unemployment benefits. This is a method that not only gets the money into the economy quickly, but has the biggest multiplier effect, i.e. $1 of unemployment benefits stimulates as much as $1.78 (about) of rebates. This is an example of why liberals like me are pissed off.

Paul Kane: This stimulus plan is not perfect for either side -- far from it. To get the rebates for those that don't pay income taxes, Democrats gave up extended unemployment benefits, yes. It was a give and take, and they got something rather than nothing. Worth watching if this is a one-time deal or the sign of more to come.

Let me retell an anecdote from a year ago, when Bill Clinton -- yes, him again -- was more in his elder statesman mold. He went to the first post-majority House Democrats retreat last winter in Williamsburg, Va., and he told them something about compromise and sacrifice: "If you can't get a dollar but you can get a dime, take a dime every time."

This stimulus plan is a dime. Democrats don't have many dimes to show for '07, and I sure don't see any dollars either.


Anonymous: How about from "Born in the USA" -- "I'm Goin' Down"?

Paul Kane: Hahaha. Very funny.

Okay, folks, with this question/comment about Rudy's '08 campaign from "Anonymous," I'm going to depart. Thanks always for throwing in your questions, sorry for those that I didn't get to, but lots of you had/have similar questions about the Obama-Clinton dustups.

It's been great, and I'll be back in two weeks, which happens to be two days after the mega-primary day of Feb. 5. Also happens to be four days after the Super Bowl. Prediction: Patriots 28, Giants 24. The Evil Empire narrowly secures a perfect (if greatly tarnished) season.


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