Post Politics Hour
Thursday, February 7, 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, Feb. 7 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.
The transcript follows.
Paul Kane: Good morning, gang. Another Thursday, another bit of awkward machinations on the Senate floor as it considers a stimulus bill and FISA reauthorization. "I have a way forward, but we don't have a way forward," Harry Reid said 30 minutes ago, opening the chamber. I feel like that statement may just sum up everything there is to say about the Senate.
Okay, speaking of awkward, Obama and Clinton made nice in the Senate last night during a stimulus vote, unlike "the snub" from last week. The budget was released earlier this week (prompting a collective yawn from Congress, which views Bush as a pure lame duck at this point). And most of America still is stunned by the New York Giants Super Bowl win -- while Arlen Specter figures out how to get back at the Patriots for beating our Eagles in the Super Bowl three years ago. Go Snarlin' Arlen! On to the questions.
Richmond, Va.: Can you explain this: Why would the GOP block a bill for a stimulus package that included provisions for low-income seniors, disabled veterans and the unemployed, when this same GOP has a president with consistently low approval ratings and which is likely to suffer huge losses in the next election? In other words, why oh why are they sticking with this present formula of White House dictates?
Paul Kane: Thank you, Richmond. And hey, Richmond, remember to vote Tuesday in what we here at The Washington Post have dubbed the "Potomac Primary" for Maryland, the District and Virginia. (Those NBC types are calling it the Chesapeake Primary, or Chesapeake Tuesday. Hello? The bay is nowhere near the District of Columbia, while the Potomac runs for hundreds of miles along Virginia and Maryland, serving as the key tributary that both unites and divides the two states, with the only exception being the few miles of coastline that is Washington. So yes, Potomac Primary.)
As for the stimulus, this whole process felt a lot like the Iraq votes of last year. Bush put a line in the sand, said we wouldn't cross it, and a huge majority of Republicans stuck with him. There's a saying/feeling among us scribes here in the Senate press gallery: It's easier to get 80 votes on something than it is to get 60 (meaning that something has to be overwhelmingly bipartisan, or it's just not getting through the Senate).
Fairfax County, Va.: Why is Gerry Connolly announcing for Congress the one week that all the political news in Virginia and even in the nation is going to be about the Obama-Clinton primary battle here? Or is there a reason this is clever timing that I am not thinking of -- maybe more media coverage of Virginia (in general) now? It seems like poor timing, at first glance.
washingtonpost.com: Connolly to Run for Congress, 'High Expectations' in Tow (Post, Feb. 7)
Paul Kane: I have not covered Connolly, so I can't get into his head on this one, but I assume this has nothing to do with maximizing public attention. This is probably a strong-arm to tell any other Democrats considering the run that yes, he's in this race, and the rest of you should get outta the way. Sometimes pols do things with different audiences in mind. This move likely was designed to speak not to the millions of Northern Virginia residents, but rather to the 1,000 most important Democrats in that district. He's in it, he's in it to win it, and the rest of you should get the heck out of Gerry's way.
Avon Park, Fla.: Do you think that if Ted Kennedy had endorsed Barack Obama sometime last year instead of right after South Carolina Obama would have been better off in Massachusetts? I think that the fact that he didn't allowed Hillary Clinton do build a substantial lead there. So by the time Kennedy did endorse, people's support for Clinton had already hardened.
Paul Kane: Ah, a question for the ages -- when to endorse, how to do it, how to have the most impact? A lot of second-guessing is going on with Kennedy's endorsement because he didn't deliver for Obama in the Bay State. Yes, clearly it didn't pan out for a win there, and Clinton won decisively -- but, at the same time, had Kennedy endorsed Obama back in say, October, it would not have gotten a third of the attention compared to the coverage of the endorsement on Jan. 28.
The reality is, endorsements from politicians don't affect the margins that much; there just aren't that many people who say, "Teddy's backing Barack so I will, too." These endorsements draw attention, giving voters a chance to look again at the candidate, sometimes creating second and third chances for a candidate.
Now, I'll say this: I think union endorsements matter because they can put foot soldiers on the ground for a candidate weeks and months in advance, laying the grassroots groundwork to provide wins. And in Las Vegas, timing was everything -- the culinary union endorsed Obama just 10 days before the Nevada caucus, and they just didn't have enough time to do the groundwork to put him over the top.
Rolla, Mo.: Are we having fun yet?
Paul Kane: Yes, Rolla, this is about as much fun as political geeks like us can have. You know how I spent my pre-Super Bowl hours on Sunday? Building my own Excel spreadsheet of the pledged delegates at stake for Tuesday night, and then on a second spreadsheet the number of delegates at stake the rest of the way in the Democratic race. It was actually cool to do. Yeah, I'm a dork, but I've known that for about 30-some years now. The rest of you are jealous and kinda wish I'd e-mail you my delegate spreadsheet. Not happening.
Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning! The left blogosphere really went after Dan Lipinski, and unlike Lieberman-Lamont, failed miserably. Any idea what happened? And any implications for Wynn-Edwards?
Paul Kane: Ah, local politics. On the ballot Tuesday isn't just the Potomac Primary for the presidential races, but out in Prince George's County is a primary rematch pitting incumbent Rep. Al Wynn (D) against environmental activist Donna Edwards. She nearly beat him in '06 and is back for more, with lots of support from antiwar and environmental activists.
This race shouldn't be seen so much from the establishment-versus-blogosphere prism. In fact, the larger forces at work here can be seen in the Clinton-Obama race. Wynn is a solid Democratic incumbent who's with the party on well in excess of 90 percent of the votes, but he's part of the old guard, and he's cast some votes viewed as moderate-to-conservative by the left; most importantly, he voted for the Iraq war resolution. This makes him similar to Clinton in that regard, while Edwards is running as the Obama of the race -- opposed to the war from the outset, and candidate of change, change, change. Now matter how much Wynn recants his Iraq vote -- he supports impeachment of Cheney, for instance -- her campaign hangs that vote on him relentlessly. If turnout is overwhelming because of the Obama effect in this largely African-American district, it could bring out a slew of voters who've no allegiance to Wynn. That could spell trouble for him.
San Francisco: Hello, Paul, and thanks for chatting today. Mitch McConnell seems to be going out of his way to make poor Harry Reid's life very difficult, first on the PAA and now on the stimulus bill adjustments, then probably later on the PAA. Has comity in the Upper House completely broken down? Is there no more Senate collegiality?
Paul Kane: That's a great question, whether collegiality has completely broken down -- or whether it ever really existed as good as they say it did back in the "old days." I think the place is working, to a large degree, the way the founders intended it -- giving serious privileges to entrenched minorities. I know that the right and the left hate to hear that, but liberals have to take a real deep breath these days, look at the statements they've made the past year ... and then go back and reread some of the comments conservatives made about the Senate three years ago. Do it, and you'll understand how frustrating the place is.
In the spring of 2005, Senate Republicans came thisclose to ending filibusters on judicial nominations. Harry Reid, in May 2005 during that fight, said that it would take a "miracle" for Democrats to be in the majority after the 2006 elections, but that someday they eventually would be back in charge and that Republicans would want to filibuster some Democratic president's judges. Well, "miracles" do happen, I guess, and to be sure, a President Clinton or President Obama no doubt will have some of their judicial nominations met with a GOP Senate filibuster. And liberals will have to take a deep breath when that happens and say, "well, this is what we wanted to happen in '05."
San Francisco: Thanks for joining us to chat today, Paul. Can you tell us anything more about this juicy NRCC scandal that's all hush-hush on Capitol Hill? Seems like some GOP members who've been secretly briefed on the fraudulent audit are talking about it. Why would they do that?
washingtonpost.com: House GOP Group May Be Fraud Victim (AP, Feb. 1)
Paul Kane: Yeah, this is really bad news for House Republicans. They've kept a really tight lid on what exactly happened here, both for political and legal reasons -- they don't want to say or do anything to ruin the criminal investigation -- but wow, it has been a really bad year from a political infrastructure standpoint for House Republicans. They've lost 28 people who announced they're either not running for re-election in November, are running for another office or just plain quit mid-term. And the Democrats are killing them in fundraising. So, they're trying to keep the full extent of this fraud from going public, for the moment. I'll be looking into this more in the days ahead, hopefully I'll have some answers soon.
"Wasteful" earmarks?: I understand that Bush says he's planning to issue a signing statement blocking funding of earmarks that were not explicitly approved by Congress. If, hypothetically, such an earmark survived an amendment by Jeff Flake to remove it from H.R. 3043, would that be sufficient protection from the signing order? And why do I have this gnawing feeling that Democrat-sponsored earmarks will be disproportionately not funded compared to Republican ones, in this election year?
Paul Kane: In his final year in office, Bush issues this threat to earmarks. I don't think Congress took this very seriously, quite frankly, and I don't think those that are GS-levels in the agencies take it very seriously either. The big long-term danger to earmarks is a President McCain, because Sen. McCain truly has tried to wage war against earmarks for 15 years or so. If he wins he will make it a hallmark of his presidency to try to destroy earmarks.
Reading, Pa.: Paul: None of your colleagues will touch this one but I think you're made of stronger stuff. Ohio, which famously gave Bush the 2004 election, looms large as a place Clinton could wrap things up. Isn't voting machine fraud still rampant? Why should anyone trust these "results"? By the way we Pennsylvania folk like to refer to our senior senator as "Darlin' Arlen."
Paul Kane: Sorry Reading, Ohio is not at all where Clinton could wrap things up. We've done a bad job of explaining this, but it is now basically mathematically impossible for either Clinton or Obama to win the nomination through the regular voting process (meaning the super-delegates decide this one, baby!).
Here's the math. There are 3,253 pledged delegates, those doled out based on actual voting in primaries and caucuses. And you need 2,025 to win the nomination.
To date, about 55 percent of those 3,253 delegates have been pledged in the voting process -- with Clinton and Obama roughly splitting them at about 900 delegates a piece. That means there are only about 1,400 delegates left up for grabs in the remaining states and territories voting.
So, do the math. If they both have about 900 pledged delegates so far, they need to win more than 1,100 of the remaining 1,400 delegates to win the nomination through actual voting. Ain't gonna happen, barring a stunning scandal or some new crazy revelation.
So, they'll keep fighting this thing out, each accumulating their chunk of delegates, one of them holding a slight edge and both finishing the voting process with 1,600 or so delegates. And then the superdelegates decide this thing.
That's the math.
Schoolhouse Rock: Where's that cool little "bill" cartoon from the 1970s to explain to kids how Congress legally challenges a president who disregards parts of laws it passes through signing statements? Can you help us out?
Paul Kane: Here you go. Take your pick of which song fits your "bill." Sittin' in committee on Capitol Hill ...
Oh, found this. Good stuff.
Princeton, N.J.: Yes, but when the Democrats get 60 votes in 2010, then. ... Seriously, I've been saying it's impossible for the Democrats to get 60 votes in 2008, but after looking at the turnout on Tuesday, I'm beginning to wonder now if senators like Lizzie Dole, Mitch Himself, the new guy from Mississippi (Wicker?), Smith from Oregon and -- who is that guy from Wyoming? -- are going to survive.
Paul Kane: Princeton, Princeton -- go back to what I wrote earlier. Take a deep breath. You sound exactly like Republicans in 2003 and 2005! This idea that one side or the other is getting to 60 in the Senate is so far-fetched that it defies logic.
Post-2002, Mitch Bainwol -- who was the architect of Senate Republicans elections that year, now a top lobbyist for recording industry -- did a PowerPoint exhibition for top GOP officials and showed how the trends of voting showed that, definitely, the Republicans were on their way to getting very close to 60 seats. He did this by looking at people like Tom Daschle, Tim Johnson, Max Baucus and Kent Conrad, all Democrats from conservative states, and reasoned that over time those incumbents either would grow tired of life in the minority and retire, leading to GOP wins, or be taken out by insurgent GOP challengers. It worked ... in 2004. Then the voters pivoted back and voted Democrats into the Senate in places like Montana and Virginia. This dream of 60 seats is basically, just that, a dream.
Bethesda, Md.: How does a candidate get superdelegates? And can superdelegates change their mind up to the last second?
Paul Kane: Superdelegates can back a candidate one day, then back another candidate the next day, and still another the day after that. There are 796 of them (excluding those from Michigan and Florida), and they are Democratic members of Congress, Democratic governors and elder statesmen of the party (Gore, Bill Clinton, Tom Daschle, etc). The largest bloc of them are just old fashioned rank-and-file local activists, 411 of them being members of the Democratic National Committee. When people say the words "brokered convention," this is what they mean -- the superdelegates deciding this whole thing. That's because the superdelegates do not actually cast their votes until the convention in August in Denver. Sometimes you'll "delegate counts" put out by the AP and by CNN and washingtonpost.com that show Clinton about 100 delegates ahead of Obama at the moment -- that's actually an unofficial count, because it includes those superdelegates who have said publicly they are backing Clinton or Obama. But -- this is important -- they actually haven't backed anyone just yet, they could change their mind and support the other candidate at any moment.
San Diego: Do you think Obama's current advantage in fundraising translates to an enduring edge in the coming primaries?
Paul Kane: Um, according to the e-mail I got from Phil Singer of the Clinton campaign at 11:39 a.m., her $money problems seem to be diminishing by the hour. Here's the key sentence:
"The Clinton campaign today announced that it raised more than $4 million online in the day after polls closed on Super Tuesday. It was Hillary's biggest single day of contributions since the campaign's launch."
Re: "Take a deep breath": Look, if you're gonna start expecting congressmen to start acting rationally, you may as well switch over the Arts & Living desk.
Paul Kane: I don't really read books -- I read tons, mostly newspapers, magazines, blogs, political newsletters, spreadsheets -- but I'm really bad at reading books. I'd feel guilty working for any paper's "Arts" section.
Seattle: Math question: Considering the next states to have GOP caucuses or primaries, what would be the earliest possible date for McCain to get past the 50 percent mark in delegates? And then what do you think will be the earliest plausible date?
Paul Kane: It looks like between now and March 4 there are about 550 delegates up for grabs. I guess if McCain were to win 400 or so of those delegates, he can get to the GOP's magic number -- and about a handful of those states are winner-take-all, so he needs to score wins in those. And yes, for those wondering, I checked my spreadsheet. Seriously, build your own spreadsheet. All the cool kids are doing it.
Paul Kane: Alright gang, it's just past noon. Time for me to get to work -- although, as I look at the Senate, we've just entered into another quorum call. Could be a while again before we know what's happening, I guess. Oh well, I'll see you all in two weeks. Can't believe I went an entire hour without any Springsteen questions. See you after the big Potomac Primary!
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