Post Politics Hour

Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post White House Reporter
Thursday, May 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 White House reporter Michael Abramowitz was online Thursday, May 1 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

The transcript follows.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Michael -- thank you for taking my question. It's the fifth anniversary of "Mission Accomplished," which has gone down as a huge embarrassment for this administration. How will they respond today? How do you think it be used against Sen. McCain in the upcoming election?

Michael Abramowitz: Good morning everybody.

I don't expect you will hear a lot from the White House about this anniversary today, though the president's critics on the Hill and elsewhere already are having a field day. White House press secretary Dana Perino already has acknowledged this week it was a mistake and that the White House will get beat up because of it. I think McCain certainly will be attacked on the war during the campaign but I doubt that he will be blamed for "Mission Accomplished," because he was always more sober than than the White House about progress in Iraq.


Santa Fe, N.M.: Your article yesterday on President Bush's statement on the Syria site attacked by Israel neglected to note that his words were almost identical to those of the briefers on the CIA video released last week. Why didn't reporters press him on the discrepancies in that video that are being uncovered by the blogosphere -- like that the reactor hardly looks "similar" to the Yongbyon reactor, or that two guys standing together is hardly evidence of nuclear collaboration? Bush: Revealing Reactor Was Meant to Pressure N. Korea (Post, April 30)

Michael Abramowitz: It doesn't seem particularly surprising that the president's commentary on this subject would reflect what he is being told by the CIA. I was not at the press conference, so I can't speak to why there were not more questions on this (though I would point out there were many different subjects discussed).

As you suggest, some smart blogs have raised the question of whether the alleged reactor is smaller than the Yongbyon reactor -- though the CIA came out afterward and reaffirmed that it was the same size. I suspect we will know more as this story develops in the next few weeks.


Washington: The suggestion of a gas tax holiday is interesting to me -- not because I think it's a good policy (it's ridiculous and unhelpful, as a matter of fact), but because basically Sens. McCain and Clinton have proposed a policy that would begin and end before they become president. How seriously should we take such proposals, especially when they aren't exactly going back to the Senate to push these things? It seems like it's entirely talk! Clinton Gas-Tax Proposal Criticized (Post, May 1)

Michael Abramowitz: Well, they are still senators, and so are theoretically in a position to push the idea if they wish. And they certainly are not escaping scot-free for the proposal -- which is being hammered by various editorialists.


Minneapolis: How do you think the Republican Party is going to handle the public handing of the baton from a hugely unpopular Republican president -- who nevertheless is still worshipped by the Republican base -- to their presidential candidate whose, policies are essentially similar to Bush's but who has to run far and fast from that hugely unpopular president? What is going to happen at the Republican National Convention? Will Bush get his speech at 11 p.m. Saturday night or what?

Michael Abramowitz: That's a great question -- I think they are somewhat ambivalent about how to handle this. McCain has not hesitated to bash the administration -- for instance regarding its handling of Katrina -- but he also has moved closer to Bush on other issues in recent months, like taxes. I think the one thing that may be of benefit to the GOP is that the networks are so dramatically cutting back their coverage of the conventions that it's very likely there will be no coverage, or very little coverage, of the president's speech.


St. Francis, Ark.: I saw Hillary being interviewed by Bill O'Reilly on Fox News. Why is the GOP's favorite person to hate being interviewed by O'Reilly? Is Hillary that desperate to win by doing the interview? White House admits fault on 'Mission Accomplished' banner (AP, May 1)

Michael Abramowitz: I was intrigued by that too -- I think she is figuring that there may be some moderate Democratic voters in North Carolina and Indiana who watch O'Reilly. Obama was on Fox too, over the weekend, so there seems to be some loosening of the anti-Fox strictures among Democrats.


Boston: Michael, how happy are Democratic representatives from Indiana and North Carolina and all the other "forgotten" states to have so much Democratic Party action in their home states? Do they think this activity today portends well for November?

Michael Abramowitz: I am sure this attention is unexpected and welcome. I suspect that both Indiana and North Carolina will be tough for the Democrats to add to their column in November no matter what is happening this week and next.


San Francisco: Finally, someone (a Raw Story blogger) in the White House press room asked a question yesterday about the Pentagon's psyops program with retired generals acting as force multipliers. We still don't know if the program was known to or approved at the White House. Why didn't any of the regular White House press corps ask this question, and will any of you follow up?

Michael Abramowitz: Well, I think that's a good question and probably ought to be asked. Perino did not make it clear yesterday whether the White House knew about this program or authorized it.

I think the real problem here was a lack of transparency about what was going on with these retired generals -- I don't think it's particularly surprising that the Pentagon would try to get its point of view across to these former officials.


Arlington, Va.: Has there been any information from the polls to tease out why Bush is so unpopular? It might appear obvious, but it seems to me that people might support his policies while not supporting him. There is a reason, after all, that he won in 2004. Even the Iraq issue might be less of a problem that it appears, if McCain can convince the majority he's more likely to have success than Bush. Thus, if McCain were to run as "just like Bush, but competent," he might get a lot more support than folks assume right now.

Michael Abramowitz: I have been wondering the same thing. My own guess is that Iraq has come to be seen as such a debacle by most Americans, and they blame Bush for that -- and there's little he can do to repair that. But I do think McCain has an opportunity to make a fresh case on a range of things, and it's not clear to me at least that he won't get ample support. I think the election will be very close.


Montreal: Why are the networks cutting back convention coverage? Both conventions feature parties with potential internal splits going on, and both have featured unusually divisive primaries (remember Limbaugh and Hewitt on McCain)? What's the rationale?

Michael Abramowitz: Well, in the past several conventions everything pretty much has been scripted, and there hasn't been much real news other than the acceptance speeches. But obviously the Democratic convention could be a lot more interesting this year, and if so, I expect there will be more network coverage.


Fairfax, Va.: Romney and McCain are campaigning in Michigan. Any word if the two are getting along better than when they were competing for the nomination? What benefit does Romney bring to the ticket, other than being a somewhat known entity?

Michael Abramowitz: I think Romney and McCain probably get along better now than some of their aides. I do think Romney would bring something to the ticket -- some name identification, as you say, but also he's an attractive personality, a former governor with business experience and appears to be liked now by conservatives. I expect he will be considered very seriously by McCain.


It's not the generals being pro-Pentagon: It's the lack of disclosure. For instance, if the guy in uniform saying we should invade Iraq is a founding member of "the committee to liberate Iraq," the viewers deserve to know. Were the networks duped, or were they duping the viewers? Either way it's a vital news story.

Michael Abramowitz: I agree with this. That's what I meant by lack of transparency.


Arlington, Va.: Re: Syria. At some point, it comes down to whether you trust the government and the CIA or not. While I can understand some of their concern, the idea that blogs or the general public have a right to classified material and can make the same judgments as the CIA is absurd. The blogosphere just doesn't have the same information, nor do they have a right to it.

Michael Abramowitz: Well, I certainly think the blogosphere or the traditional news media are entitled to analyze and scrutinize what the administration is putting out, especially given its recent track record on intelligence. But as you suggest it's hard, because we don't have access to the information the CIA has. In some ways, it does come down to whether you trust what the government is saying about these matters.


Arlington, Mass.: I don't understand why John McCain is not doing better in the fundraising department. I thought Republicans were suppose to be very generous with their candidate? Bush, for all of his lack of popularity, is still able to raise millions of dollars. What gives?

Michael Abramowitz: I am not sure I understand it either -- I suspect it may have to do with the lack of confidence among Republicans that they actually could win this fall. I sense that is changing, and perhaps McCain's fundraising will improve as a result.

I need to leave now. Talk to you soon.


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