Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Thursday, March 6, 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, March 6 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

The transcript follows.

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Paul Kane: Greetings, Post-dot-com readers. News is breaking out all over the political scene these days, with most attention focused on the never-ending Clinton-Obama race. But even on Capitol Hill, while the news tends to be about what is not accomplished, stuff is happening. Democrats today pulled from the floor, for the second time in two weeks, a bill to start a new ethics office. The Senate is grinding through a bill on consumer product safety which, if passed, could have more far-reaching consequences to day-to-day lives than anything Congress does this year (think about all those kids biting on toys made in China). Okay, I've got the Starbucks venti at my side. On to the questions.


Washington: I think Hillary was sporting some great music at her victory rally on Tuesday. What do you think, Paul?

Paul Kane: Okay, this is cool coincidence. I actually just popped on Springsteen's "The Rising" on my iTunes to start off as my music of choice for this chat, as an homage to Hillary Clinton's victories Tuesday. Not sure how many people noticed -- Bruce fans in The Post newsroom sure did -- but Clinton took the stage to "The Rising" after winning Ohio on Tuesday night. It was an interesting choice, as the Boss has been something of a musical hero to the left for years now. (Kerry used his "No Surrender" as his campaign fight song.) But, "The Rising" as a song is about firefighters running into the towers on Sept. 11 and, ultimately, perishing -- running into an inferno knowing that they won't come out alive. There's a lot of spiritual-ethereal quality to the song. It's about the most real form of heroism anyone can know. But it was an interesting choice for a campaign fight song: is Clinton, despite her victories, running into a tower of flames?


Gulfport, Miss.: Mr. Kane, is it possible to access the names of the charities to which Sen. Obama donated the Rezko funds? I think this is a very important point as to who both he and Rezko are. It would be an above-board disclosure if the amounts also were listed. Say what you will, this is not a racist request! Thank you.

Paul Kane: I don't question anyone's racial motives because of a question like this, don't worry. And the answer is yes, you will be able to access those records of where Obama's Rezko money went, which charities. It will be difficult to find in the Federal Election Commission reports and campaign files, but there is a section under disbursements that deals with outgoing money. They will be listed as donations to charity, which might not be a precise one-to-one match on the Rezko money, but will be close.


New York: Apparently, according to an article in The Post today, the "FBI Chief Confirms Misuse of Subpoenas." It seems the mere fact that government officials in the Bush administration and soi-disant "independent" U.S. senators like Arlen Specter deny wrongdoing and assure us that their powers are being exercised in secret only for our own good, doesn't actually mean that this is true.

I'm shocked! Maybe the only way to ensure that vast surveillance powers aren't abused is to have something like an independent check on how those powers are exercised -- a check from, say, one of the branches other than the one exercising those powers? Wouldn't that be a swell idea? FBI Chief Confirms Misuse of Subpoenas (Post, March 6)

Paul Kane: Yes, well, that's an interesting observation -- irony intended, I'm sure. But that's what the debate has been about for roughly seven months now in terms of the foreign surveillance bill (FISA), with Democrats trying to establish more checks and balances on how the intelligence community spies on us, domestically speaking. Instead, the entire debate now has focused on whether the telecoms should get full retroactive legal immunity for their cooperation with the CIA and NSA in the months and years after Sept. 11.


Dale, Texas: Cornyn (R-Texas) is widely considered to have a lock on his place come next November. Have you heard anything to counter this assumption? Noriega, the Democratic nominee, is an appealing candidate, but unknown. Cornyn is acting like he has an opponent, spending money, getting his name out there, etc.

Paul Kane: John Cornyn, sorry to say to Lone Star State Democrats, largely will coast to re-election this fall. He's still popular, and Texas is, well, Texas -- friendly turf for Republicans. Moreover, the thing to remember is that the Democrats at this point already have more than a half-dozen or more targets to go after: open seats in Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico, and incumbents in Maine, Minnesota, Oregon and Alaska. Hard to envision Chuck Schumer being willing to invest a ton of money in such an expensive place as Texas.

Regardless, every U.S. senator will run scared, simply for fear of a Macaca Moment. They all -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- saw George Allen's implosion in the summer and fall of '06 and said "there but for the grace of God..."


Dryden, N.Y.: Thanks to The Post for this morning's riveting story of dissension and troubles in the Clinton campaign. Two things struck me -- the disloyalty of her people who leaked to the press, and the total mismanagement the story detailed. This seems to belie Clinton's argument that she is experienced, as she does not appear to have the skill to manage her way out a proverbial paper bag. Do you see this failure as a possible problem for a future Clinton campaign that will have to deal with the Congress you cover? Even in Victory, Clinton Team Is Battling Itself (Post, March 6)

Paul Kane: I confess to not having completed this story yet, but I would add one caveat to the entire political history of the Clinton family: This is the way they always have operated. Bill Clinton always had warring internal battles, fights between competing advisers, secretly talking to some advisers while others weren't even aware so-and-so had been put on the payroll. I'm not saying this is a good way to run a campaign, but it has been the modus operandi of the Clinton family for a very, very long time.

Put it this way: In '96, when Leon Panetta left as chief of staff, Harold Ickes, then deputy chief of staff, found out from the media that he wasn't getting promoted to the top job. Where's Ickes today? Right at Hillary Clinton's side, engaging in another brutal turf battle.


Arlington, Va.: Good morning and thanks for taking our questions. Foreclosures have hit all-time highs, and instead of focusing on solutions and issues, Obama is talking about tax returns? This is exactly why Americans are fed up with politicians.

Paul Kane: I know voters often decry the lack of substance in campaigns, but in this primary it's hard to often discern that much of a difference between the candidates' proposals. My colleagues Jonathan Weisman and Anne Kornblut dug into the Clinton and Obama economic plans and unearthed this really "newsy" headline: Clinton, Obama Offer Similar Economic Visions (Post, Feb. 15)

With such similar proposals on policy, that leaves little room to differentiate one's self from the opponent -- unless you start talking about stuff like Rezko or tax returns.


Whittier, Calif.: Hello, Mr. Kane, I love the chats, and thank you so much for your wonderful contributions to them! I was wondering if there were any rules regarding the timing of the selection of a vice president. I ask this because it seems to me that once a nominee picks a running-mate, the other party can tailor their nominee selection process based on who the opposing party picked, so the party that picks first is at a disadvantage because they don't know who the other party's nominee will be. What are your thoughts on this?

Paul Kane: It's pretty simple in terms of when a veep nominee must be picked: by the second-to-last night of the convention. John McCain now has until Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2008, to select his running mate; that is the night when the vice presidential nominee will give his/her acceptance speech. In recent cycles we've known the nominee usually a week or three before the conventions begin.

Think how different history might have been had Reagan been able to come to terms on a power-sharing deal with Ford, and Bush 41 never got the veep nod.


Chicago: Are there any debates between Clinton and Obama scheduled before Pennsylvania? Will there be at least one before April 22?

Paul Kane: As of now there are no debates on tap, as far as I know, but there are no contests for six full weeks between Tuesday and Pennsylvania on April 22. So I imagine there will be some sort of debate.

By the way, note to my former classmates at La Salle High just outside of Philly: I really don't want to talk about politics at our 20-year reunion on April 19. I know it's gonna be three days before the Pennsylvania primary, but our reunion is supposed to be fun. Let's just talk about the Phillies instead.


Anonymous: Do you think Tuesday's results actually will help Obama? Neither Obama nor Clinton have performed well as a front-runner.

Paul Kane: Losing is only helpful in teaching you lessons from which you can learn, so that you're prepared for the next fight. However, Tuesday was Obama's chance to ensure that he wouldn't actually have to fight Clinton anymore. So no, losing on Tuesday was not helpful for Obama.


Rezko = Whitewater?: From everything I've read on the Rezko stuff, it appears that there's no "there" there. It's just like Whitewater -- something a little financial and confusing, that reporters can latch onto to imply wrongdoing that doesn't actually exist. Any way you can tell me what, exactly, Obama is accused of here? And then tell me if the accusations are true? Should be easy enough to do, right?

Paul Kane: It's very important to note that Rezko is standing trial for charges related to extortion and other crimes from work related to state-government issues. Here's a link to an New York Times story on it.

Obama is not accused of doing anything wrong himself, but clearly Rezko is accused of trying to do things wrong for Obama -- such as allegedly illegally steering contributions to Obama and the Illinois governor, and buying property next to Obama in a purchase deal that allowed the Obamas to buy a very nice home.

It's important, then, to question why Obama didn't have red flags go up in dealings with someone who now sits in a federal courthouse standing trial.


San Francisco: Is anyone going to follow up on this story from The Globe and Mail regarding the real story on the leak from the Prime Minister's office regarding the Democratic candidates and NAFTA? It appears that a staffer from the Clinton campaign was mentioned and curiously the whole flap got used against Obama. Come on guys, get with it! And as an aside why does no one seem to understand why a conservative prime minister in Canada would want to mess with the election in the States? Duh. 'NAFTAgate' began with remark from Harper's chief of staff (Toronto Globe and Mail, March 5)

Paul Kane: I know that many people out there love the intrigue behind the scenes of how a story ever got planted, but I really don't think this issue about Obama's adviser's comments to a Canadian diplomat caused him to lose the Buckeye State by about 10 percent; I mean, John Kerry had the ability to say that if roughly half the people inside Ohio State's football stadium on a given Saturday in the fall had switched sides to vote for him, he'd be president. Obama got thumped in Ohio, plain and simple.

And that Globe and Mail piece was really complicated. Kinda like last week's "Lost" episode. Was that episode a flashback/flash-forward? Was Penny in the future and the past? Really confusing.


Delegate debacle: Who is charged with finding a solution to the matter of the Florida and Michigan delegates being seated or not seated? Howard Dean? The Democratic National Committee conglomerate? What possible compromises might be achieved?

Paul Kane: Ah, this is the key question of the moment in the Democratic nomination fight. The congressional delegations of Michigan and Florida met last night to talk about this. The states' governors are issuing statements. Howard Dean is talking to congressional leaders about this. Everyone's talking, but no one has an answer for the moment.

The best-case compromise involves what our current president calls a "do-over," with both states holding a second round of primaries or caucuses, but the Democratic parties of Michigan and Florida refuse to pay for them. meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee still is cash-strapped so it can't pay for the new elections. Very confusing times there.


Minneapolis: Rezko's purchase of the land next to Obama's home didn't "allow" Obama to buy the house. They were on the market as two separate properties, and the property owner has said that Obama had the highest bid for the home. Don't spread misinformation!

Paul Kane: Sorry, Twin Cities, but the Rezko purchase was critical to the Obama family's ability to buy their home. The deal was simple: Someone had to buy both lots. Here's how the New York Times described it: "Mr. Rezko's involvement was important because the owners of the house and the lot had stipulated that neither could be sold unless a deal for the other closed on the same day."

It appears the purchase prices were acceptable -- essentially market value. That's not the political issue -- it's essentially whether Obama entered into a transaction with Rezko. Hey, I'm not saying he came anywhere near committing a crime or even an actual ethical breach here (if he were pushing legislation to benefit Rezko, then there would be a legal-ethical issue here), but Obama has said time and again this campaign is about judgment, not experience. He wants to say he has the judgment to be president, to know on Day One not to start a war like the one in Iraq. The Rezko issue is a question of Obama's judgment in his personal financial dealings. Why get involved with someone who has a shady background?


Realitycheckville: "Regardless, every U.S. senator will run scared, not for anything other than fear of a Macaca Moment. They all -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- saw George Allen's implosion in the summer and fall of '06 and said, 'there but for the grace of God'..." Let me get this straight: all 100 U.S. senators are capable of letting slip a racial epithet at a moment's notice? Come on, there's not that much bigotry in the Capitol.

Paul Kane: Haha. Nice try, but you know what I meant -- every senator is capable of just slipping up, screwing up, falling asleep at a local chamber of commerce event, doing something really silly that, in this YouTube age, can turn you into a free-falling politician desperately trying to hold on to your seat.


Re: No contests for six weeks?: Wyoming and Mississippi?

Paul Kane: No disrespect meant to those two fine states. I was counting six weeks from March 11, after Mississippi votes, until April 22.

True story: Three of our most bleary-eyed reporters, who have been on the road following the candidates around were gathered around the office Tuesday night, dreading the fact that this campaign is going on and on -- not because they side with one candidate or the other, but because they are just exhausted from following the candidates all over American and from living out of suitcases. It was basically midnight, and we were all tired. I consoled them by saying "hey, no big races until Pennsylvania in seven weeks, you can get some rest." It then took us five minutes to figure out how many days that added up to (49). We're not good with math, us reporters.


Concord, N.H.: One issue with holding new Michigan and Florida primaries is who will pay the multimillion dollar price tag. Can a handful of big-bucks Soros-types step up and pay the cost of holding the elections? Or would that violate campaign finance laws?

Paul Kane: These are federal elections, run by the states, so I'm not sure what the rules would be on who could finance them (federal election laws only allow donations of less than $30,000 to party committees, but some states allow unlimited donations). But the reality is, no one would want to have the decisive primaries to be financed by billionaires, because the appearance would be terrible and the Republicans would kill the Democrats for it. Ultimately, the financiers of "do-overs" -- if they happen -- would have to be one of the following three: the DNC, the state governments, or the state Democratic parties.


Paul Kane: Alright everyone, I'm checking out now. Thanks for the questions. Can't believe we've still got a Democratic primary going on and will continue to have one at least through the next three or four chats that I do. See you in two weeks.


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