Washington Post White House Reporter
Tuesday, March 4, 2008 11:15 AM
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Washington Post White House reporter Michael Abramowitz was online Tuesday, March 4 at 11:15 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.
The transcript follows.
Avon Park, Fla.: The chances are that even if Hillary Clinton wins both Ohio and Texas, she'll still be behind in the delegate count. Given that, could it be possible that the news media will overstate those two victories? I know that it will be a psychological boost to her, but she probably won't make a big dent in Obama's delegate lead.
Michael Abramowitz: Good morning, everybody. It's a big day in politics, and we have a lot of questions about the presidential race and a bunch of other things.
I think that if Clinton wins Texas and Ohio -- a big if -- that will properly be seen as a big deal and will be played that way. As you suggest, it likely would make only a modest dent in his delegate lead, but it certainly would give her the ability to make the case that she had proven an ability to win in the biggest and most important states for the Democrats this fall -- and so the campaign would go on, and the battle for superdelegates would heat up.
Kensington, Md.: Reading Dana Milbank's piece on the heated Obama press conference (replete with Milbank's trademarked semi-satire) it all suddenly came into focus for me. Who is this Obama rogue to think we Americans even have a better nature, let alone that it is his place to reach for it? How dare he? There must be something shadier going on in his Rezko dealings than has been uncovered -- something that makes him just as rotten as Clinton, McCain and the rest of us.
And if it's not there, then it's probably lurking somewhere in those kindergarten essays -- which after all have barely been mined. (Come to think of it, all of our kids are probably vile beasts too, if we look at them hard enough.) Let's find something thin but sticky to smear the man with, hmm? What a glorious day for humankind. (I have no question.)
washingtonpost.com: Ask Tough Questions? Yes, They Can! (Post, March 4)
Michael Abramowitz: As you have no question, I will let your comment stand. Thanks for writing.
Alexandria, Va.: How will the networks handle the Texas results tonight? Will they begin reporting results after the primary closes, or wait until every caucus has closed? How will they report these two numbers -- side by side, or just the primary vote? The answers to these questions could be critical to how the results are "spun," but I have no idea what they are planning to do.
Michael Abramowitz: This is a good question, and I don't have a definitive answer for you. I am sure they will report both, starting with the primary results after the polls close -- and then caucus results as they come in. But you are right: It's certainly possible that Clinton could win the popular vote, while Obama wins more delegates thanks to the two-step primary-caucus system.
Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning! Why in the world are the Dems caving on telecom immunity? Substantively, they couldn't be more right. Politically, well, what is Bush's approval rating? Further, polls show that Congress's ratings are low because they aren't standing up to Bush enough.
Michael Abramowitz: It's a little murky what's going on right now, but you are correct: The Democrats typically have folded in the end on such things, largely because no matter Bush's low popularity they have not wanted to be exposed as soft on terrorism issues. And in the case, the Democrats are divided on the proper course -- remember, Rockefeller and other Senate Democrats have endorsed a plan that calls for immunity.
The whole situation brings to mind an adage popularized by former GOP Majority Leader Dick Armey, which roughly goes "pain is inevitable, suffering is optional." The risk for the Democrats right now is that they may have chosen a path in with will get both pain and suffering (if in fact they cave in the end).
Washington: This brief is a perfect example of why anonymous news sources have become thoroughly discredited. Why are reporters still quoting "senior administration officials" when they are feeding you bad information, and why does this particular official remain anonymous even after the president himself has contradicted him or her?
washingtonpost.com: No Decision on Troop Cuts (Post, March 2)
Michael Abramowitz: I think you raise an important issue. Let me lay out the facts as I see them in this case.
I know the official being quoted. This was not an idle conversation with a low-level person, this was a very senior person making comments at an authorized administration briefing, and making an interesting point not once but several times. It is a person with a good track record of being credible.
It's interesting that the president pushed back, but it could well be that he does not want to be boxed in on his decision-making. It's very possible that the unnamed official offered a good window into where decision-making stands now, but went out in public with more than he or she was supposed to.
I think you are right to be skeptical about the frequent use of anonymous sources, but I don't think this is one of those cases.
Dallas: I know this may be a little off topic, but do you think that these mass shootings (a fast-food place yesterday) will become a topic in the election? They seem to be a biweekly occurrence now.
washingtonpost.com: Paramedic Slain at a Florida Wendy's (AP, March 4)
Michael Abramowitz: I agree it's interesting, but I doubt it will become a big issue, unless the Democrats decide they want to make gun control a big issue again -- and I don't see that happening.
Philadelphia: Did you eat BBQ with McCain on Sunday?
washingtonpost.com: The Trail: For McCain, a Different Kind of Grilling (washingtonpost.com, March 2)
Michael Abramowitz: Not me. My friend and colleague Mike Shear did. I was in Crawford with Bush: we didn't get any barbeque.
McLean, Va.: Michael: Your argument that Clinton wins, no matter how small, in both Ohio and Texas would "properly be seen as a big deal" makes no sense under the Democratic Party system. You have to win big to get a margin in delegates, and if she doesn't get a margin in delegates, she doesn't catch up. If she doesn't catch up, she loses.
Michael Abramowitz: Well, Obama cannot win the nomination with only pledged delegates either, so in the end it will come down to who can win the superdelegates. If Clinton wins almost all the big states -- California, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania -- she will have her own case to make.
Of course, she actually has to win those states. We'll see tonight.
Arlington, Va.: so if this person was making statements at an official briefing, why is he or she given anonymity? If it's official, it should all be on the record, no? This isn't some whistle-blower who needs anonymity for protection.
Michael Abramowitz: That is a fair point, and one on which there is a lot of debate in the media. (I was not at this briefing but have attended other background briefings.)
I think the reality is that these background briefings can be useful, and that administration officials are more candid than they would be if they were to be quoted. (As in this case.) That's a fact. Another factor is that it's not like the White House does not offer ample opportunity for on-the-record questions. There are two on-the-record briefings a day, and the president does submit to regular questioning. If these things were not going on, I would be extremely sympathetic to your point.
But my personal belief is that we would not get as much information about what's going on if everything were on-the-record. But I definitely think it's a close call as to what the proper approach is. It is not cut-and-dried.
Orlando, Fla.: Good morning. Have you heard the (good?) news that our governor is promising a repeat Democratic primary for us Florida Democrats!? And if this do come true, would this give additional incentive for Hillary to stay in the race, even if she loses one of the big states tonight? Pennsylvania is still down the road.
washingtonpost.com: Florida Primary Do-over? (Fox 35, March 3)
Michael Abramowitz: I have heard that the governor has said he is willing to do this: Again, it really depends on what Clinton does tonight that will make it clear what's going on. If she does not win at least oneof the big states tonight -- or possibly even both -- it is probably over.
Vienna, Va.: Mike: Inside the Democratic Party, how important is it really who wins the big states your referenced (California, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania)? Texas is probably a sure thing for the GOP, and Ohio is always a tossup. California, New York and Massachusetts are sure things for the Democrats. Are they going to overrule the will of the majority of the voters just because Clinton wins Ohio? Also, do you buy into the report by Tom Brokaw this morning that Obama has 50 more superdelegates ready to commit after today's results? I do. I think the party bigwigs want to see Clinton's campaign miss one more benchmark (winning big today) and then they're going to go to him. Your thoughts?
Michael Abramowitz: I don't have any inside information here, but I suspect you are right -- that many of the party bigwigs think, at least privately, that Obama would be the stronger general election candidate and would like to see this end tonight.
I guess my only point is that if (if, I repeat) Clinton wins most of the big states, it may suggest she has a certain general election appeal that can't be discounted.
Prescott, Ariz.: I don't think you see the problem with the anonymous sources. You describe the event as an "authorized administration briefing." Having an "authorized" briefing while giving it the air of anonymity is contradictory and crazy; it allows the administration to propagandize that it is doing two opposite things (in this case draw down troops or not draw down troops), judge the reaction and go from there. You all sit there and happily play the game and it does absolutely no service to educating the public.
Michael Abramowitz: You raise a reasonable point, but I think you overestimate the design behind what the administration is up to. I think right now there is a debate within the administration about what to do about Iraq -- i.e. how many troops to withdraw. I think you have been catching a whiff of that in the story you object to, and many other stories.
One completely reasonable point is to say the media should not go to any briefing that is not on the record. My personal belief is that we would not have as much information for readers if we took that approach, but that we need to use that information carefully.
I am afraid I am now out of time. Thanks for all your good questions today.
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