Post Politics Hour

In the Loop: On the Hill by Lois Romano
Lois Romano (Julia Ewan - The Washington Post)
Lois Romano
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Tuesday, April 1, 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 national political reporter Lois Romano was online Tuesday, April 1 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Lois Romano: Good Morning everyone. Thanks for being with us today.


Portland, Ore.: Hi Lois -- thanks for taking my question. Rasmussen is reporting today that Sen. Obama is now only five percentage points behind Sen. Clinton in Pennsylvania. This is down from her double-digit lead a few weeks back. I realize that "one swallow does not a Spring make," but do you see the race in Pennsylvania tightening?

Lois Romano: At least one other poll also has the race tightening. It will likely tighten more- Sen. Bob Casey is a biggest vote getter in the state and his endorsement of Obama will help. I don't know if Obama can overtake Clinton because she's strong the state. But he just needs to come pretty close to ensure he stays ahead in the delegate count, and to show that he can perform well in large states.


Silver Spring, Md.: I saw that CBS reported that the Clinton campaign is not paying many of its bills to vendors. Is The Post working on confirming or debunking this story? Cash-strapped Clinton fails to pay bills (Politico, March 30)

Lois Romano: A number of news organizations have quoted numerous small vendors complaining that they are getting stiffed by the campaign, so its hard to argue with the veracity of the reports. The Clinton campaign has not addressed the charge directly, instead saying: "The campaign pays its bills regularly and in the normal course of business, and pays all of its bills."


Toronto: Good morning, Ms. Romano -- thank you for doing these discussions, which are always informative and entertaining. I have two related questions for your opinion. Firstly, surely there is no way the Democratic Party officials (including superdelegates) could allow votes from the sham Florida and Michigan "primaries" to be counted. I mean. the laughter and scorn and outrage would be heard around the world. True?

Also, for those two states to have their delegates seated at the convention, the only workable and fair suggestion I've seen is -- split the delegates 50-50 between the two candidates -- then seat them. Surely, given the circumstances, this would have to be seen by any rational person as completely transparent and fair. Why isn't there a huge hue and cry to have this done this way? Thanks very much for your time.

Lois Romano: The Democrats are indeed very sensitive to the mess they are in- and they know they just can't seat those delegates when Obama wasn't even on the ballot in one of the states. Clinton has balked at a 50-50 split because she gains nothing from that and she believes she won those states. But I'm quite certain that some how, some way, those delegates will be seated at the convention.


Winnipeg, Canada: I realize this is speculation, but with polls saying that the primary race in Pennsylvania is tightening, what would the effect be of an Obama win there? Where would the goalposts move to?

Lois Romano: Hard to say. Clearly, he would be in a virtually unbeatable position. But Sen. Clinton made clear this week that she will stay in the race until the last vote is cast.


Ferguson, Mo.: Morning, Lois. here's a tactical question. Don't you think the Democrats would be wise to use someone like Max Cleland, a paraplegic Vietnam vet whom the Republicans ousted in 2002, to go on the stump and attack McCain's candidacy? It would be a kinder and much more subtle kind of Swift-Boating, implying that just being a suffering vet doesn't entitle one to higher office. Thanks.

Lois Romano: Max Cleland will likely go on the stump for Democrats to tout the party's national security and defense credentials. But Cleland won't attack McCain's service to his country or his patriotism because those kinds of attacks defeated Cleland.

There's an unspoken bond between Vietnam war veterans.


Cambridge, Mass.: Will this really be the week when Clinton releases her tax returns? Also, what is taking so long? Clearly it's not the simple act of photocopying the documents and posting them; that only would take a few minutes. Thank you.

Lois Romano: Your guess is as good as anyone's on when we'll see them. What's taking so long is that lawyers are likely pouring over them to make sure no errors were made. Errors can be corrected with the IRS -- with penalties -- anytime. Sen. Clinton did release her White House log books when she was first lady, which gave people something to chew over for awhile while she gets her returns in order.


Free Ride?: According to Air America Radio's (and MSNBC's) Rachel Maddow, "the default position of the press toward John McCain is so positive that unless other candidates actively and specifically are going after him all the time, his free ride takes him right to the White House." Do you agree or disagree with her perspective?

Lois Romano: That may have been true in 2000 when he was the insurgent again George Bush, but he has been getting more scrutiny since he became the nominee-in-waiting. Also, their may have been a lag in the scrutiny because the main story line on him this year has been his spectacular comeback from the brink of death.


Potomac, Md.: Lois, do you think Barack Obama wants to have it both ways? On one hand, he sends his supporters to make public statements pressuring Sen. Clinton to drop out of the race, but on the other hand he comes out and makes a public comment stating that Sen. Clinton should not drop out of the race. Which is which? Either he is not managing his supporters very well, or he wants to have it both ways.

Lois Romano: Of course he wants it both ways. Politicians never want to be caught doing their own dirty work. He'd love her to drop out -- why wouldn't he ? Then he'd be free. But to say that straight out, would seem like he's denying the democratic process -- or worse yet, that he's worried.


Re: "There's an unspoken bond between Vietnam war veterans.": I do not doubt the assertion that Cleland would not attack McCain's service to this country, etc., but I would like to point out that the above statement is wishful thinking. When Cleland was viciously attacked, he was done so by Republicans who were using Vietnam vets. Ditto for the Kerry Swift Boat attack.

Lois Romano: Very good point. What I should have said is that they likely have a collegial and respectful relationship because they served together in the senate.


Phoenixville, Pa.: So Chelsea Clinton was hit with another Monica Lewinsky question. First of all, she claimed that the affair was a private matter, but considering that the trysts between the then-President Clinton and the intern occurred in the Oval Office, isn't it a matter of public interest? Secondly, Chelsea was quoted again yesterday as saying that she doesn't think people should "vote for or against my mother because of my father." But in 1992, her father was campaigning on a "buy one, get two" theme. So, isn't it fair to consider how the former president fits into the equation when deciding whether or not to vote for Hillary? Channel '08: Is It Fair to Ask Chelsea Clinton About Lewinsky? (, March 26)

Lois Romano: He was president and she is running for president, and he was impeached over his affair with Lewinsky. So any questions about the matter are within bounds. That being said, its terribly sad that a child has to be asked those kinds of embarrassing questions about one's parents.


Silver Spring, Md.: Thanks for taking my question which concerns Florida and Michigan delegates. I envision a scenario where these two states are allowed to seat their delegates at the convention, but they are not allowed to vote in the first round. After that vote, neither candidate will have the 2,100 votes required to attain the nomination, at which time there will be a second vote during which delegates will not be bound by the results of their state's primaries -- they'll be able to vote any way they want. Florida and Michigan delegates will be allowed to vote in this round. So my question is, how are/were these delegates chosen? Were they chosen in January, when Obama didn't campaign, or are they being chosen in the future? The "makeup" of those delegates could be very important.

Lois Romano: Thank you for the question -- and I'm not clear. I believe they are already chosen, and that they are committed on the first ballot, but not on the second.

Anyone out there have more detail?


Cambridge, Mass.: Whatever happened to the "clump" of superdelegates that were rumored to be ready to jump behind Barack Obama after Texas? Did they get behind him? I kind of stopped paying attention because of burnout, but thought about it this morning and wondered what happened...

Lois Romano: It seems to have been a rumor.


Cabin John, Md.: Re: The Florida and Michigan problem, let's say that after the major primaries (North Carolina and Indiana), Obama has the lead in pledged delegates (and the popular vote) no matter how the past few primaries come out and no matter how Florida and Michigan are treated. (This is the likely outcome, right?) Then the obvious solution is for the superdelegates to say the race is over and that Obama is the winner. Then they can just seat the current Florida and Michigan delegates as were apportioned in the faulty primaries. Who would care? Isn't this the obvious solution?

Lois Romano: Yes, I would think that once the race is declared over, few will care about seating the delegations. But the Clinton are doing all they can to hold back the superdelegates on the hope Michigan and Florida will break for her in a big way. As long, as the delegate count is relatively close, Clinton will stay in the race.


Jacksonville, Fla.: Will Obama's lack of military experience have any negative effect on his ability to stand up to McCain's foreign policy experience?

Lois Romano: The McCain campaign will use Obama's overall thin government resume to try and show he's unqualified to be president. Foreign Policy experience will be a huge part of that strategy to discredit Obama. In addition, they will portray him as a Chicago liberal who does not represent mainstream America.


Arlington, Va.: Vendors to political campaigns that complain about not getting paid promptly only have themselves to blame. As a veteran of numerous campaigns in the '80s (it's a young person's game), I can tell you that any firm that doesn't get paid up front by a campaign is a rookie or a fool. When push comes to shove, a campaign will spend the money they have where it will do the most good -- which means TV buys and polling, not to vendors whose services already have been received and aren't needed in the near future. It may not be right, but it's a fact of life in a campaign. It doesn't mean that they won't ever get paid, but it means they won't get paid until the end of the campaign.

Lois Romano: Thank you for the comment.


Fairfax, Va.: Lois-I need to start by saying I am an independent with no dog in the hunt. I think it's time that the Democrats get smart about what is going to happen. I agree with Karl Rove when he said that both Democratic candidates are fatally flawed (anyone who can get George W. Bush elected three times deserves respect). They are going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, to use a sport phrase. As much and it pains me to think this, I think the right person would be Al Gore. Seems he still wants to run -- he never definitively has said no. What are the chances of a third candidate coming out of this mess?

Lois Romano: There is virtually no chance of a third candidate emerging. And Al Gore has said no repeatedly.


Centreville, Va.: With the race obviously continuing, do you think the campaigns will begin to chill out and not attack each other so much and begin to focus on John McCain? I think the Democratic Party as a whole doesn't realize that voters are pretty tired of this. We want to start running against McCain. Fatigue could set in. What do you think?

Lois Romano: To some extent they have been focusing on John McCain -- as well as on each other. For a time, surveys showed that voters were still very much interested in hearing out both Clinton and Obama. As long as the race seems to be close, voters will hang in there out of fairness. If one or the other breaks away into a large lead, then watch for the public to get tired of the loser pretty quickly. No one likes a spoiler -- but we're not quite there yet.


San Francisco: Speaking of candidates' daughters, we see and hear lots about Meghan McCain, but not so much from her sister Bridgette. Is the McCain campaign keeping Bridgette out of the public eye after what Cindy McCain refers to as the "devastating attacks" in 2000? Thanks for chatting today, Ms. Romano -- always appreciated. Meghan McCain Offers Her Own Straight Talk on The Campaign -- And Who Wears The Best Shoes (Post, March 26)

Lois Romano: Perhaps. But she's also younger that Meghan, and still in school.


Louisville, Ky.: Hello, Lois. Thank you for taking questions today. Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea are all in the area this week as the May 20 Kentucky Primary election will be the first in my lifetime that actually will help decide a race. There is great speculation about how or if this matchup between Obama and Hillary will end. It seems to me that one bit of allegation or gossip regarding Bill's extramarital endeavors could sink Hillary almost overnight. What do you see as the possibility of another Jennifer Flowers or Monica accusation involving former President Clinton?

Call me cynical, but I'm surprised nothing has surfaced about this since he left the White House. Is he more careful, or has he really changed since then? I voted for Bill by the way. A large part of the Clinton years in the White House involved those sorts of allegations such as Paula Jones, etc. What are the odds that the Republicans have the women ready to bring out for the cameras once Hillary is the nominee? Even a woman later proven to be lying would do wonders to hurt Hillary's chances and possibly sink her.

Lois Romano: Since Hillary Clinton decided to run for president, Democrats have privately worried about the issues you mentioned. Who knows if there's anything out there -- its all speculation.

I think we are way beyond gossip sinking her -- but a verifiable scandal would hurt any candidate.


Rolla, Mo.: That "child" is a 28-year-old consultant at a prestigious firm who is a campaign operative. She can handle it, and should expect it.

Lois Romano: Okay -- just to clarify for all of you cynics out there: Even at 27, Chelsea she is still their child. And I stand by what I said: It's hard for a child of any age to be asked those kinds of questions about a parent.


St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Lois -- thank you for taking my question. Sen. McCain reportedly is "surprised" by what's been going on in Iraq, but because everyone is focused on the Obama/Clinton fight to the finish, no one seems to be challenging him on what exactly he means, and why -- given his vaunted foreign policy expertise -- he seems not to understand the very complicated situation there. I realize that eventually there will be a Democratic nominee and there will be a debate on the issues. Here's my question, though -- will that later debate have less of an impact the longer the Democratic fight goes on? In other words, can McCain use this time to "inoculate" himself against charges that his positions are not clear? How does he do that?

Lois Romano: No, he can't inoculate himself. Look, once this Democratic fight is resolved, everyone will forget about it and focus on the general election horse race and McCain will have to be very clear on where he is on Iraq. "Surprised" won't cut it.


Lois Romano: Well, we're out of time. Thanks so much for joining us today. I wish I could have gotten to more of your great questions. Try my colleagues at this same time, Monday through Friday. See you in a couple of weeks.


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