Post Politics Hour

 Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman. (Julia Ewan - Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)
Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Friday, May 2, 2008; 11:00 AM

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Washington Post congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman was online Friday, May 2 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

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Jonathan Weisman: Ahhh, sorry. I'm late. I'll start right away.


Boston: In your sister publication Newsweek, Post columnist George Will demonstrates he clearly has no concept at all on how Social Security taxes work. However, he trots out a scenario I have heard a few GOP flacks use: a married couple -- one a cop, one a teacher -- both with long tenures and higher pay, and how they would be hit by removing the Social Security earnings cap from it's current $102,000. Now, I know from your intelligence and your wife's economic wisdom, you know better. I just wonder how many reporters will be duped by this erroneous GOP talking point, as has Will in such and obvious and embarrassingly public fashion? Questions for Obama (Newsweek, May 5 issue)

Jonathan Weisman: How many reporters have you seen jumping on it? Look, among reporters who cover issues like Social Security earnings caps, there's a pretty clear understanding that the median income in the United States is around $44,000. Certainly, an income over $100,000 is pretty common on the coasts, but we're not so stupid that we believe we are representative.


Philadelphia: Let us try and put the conspiracy theories to rest. If Ms. Paltry already had turned over all her phone records to ABC, there would be no need for any foul play, as ABC already has what information anyone possibly would need. Am I correct in asserting this? Finally, how long should it take for a verification that the suicide note(s) (what does "approximately two" suicide notes mean, anyway?) were indeed written in her own handwriting?

Jonathan Weisman: Forget the conspiracies. She already had gone through the trial. All the information to be had was had. In fact, the trial was disgraceful -- in that the only people who were disgraced were those in Ms. Palfrey's employ, not those partaking.


Baltimore: Is ABC breaking campaign finance laws by broadcasting the Hillary town hall meeting with softball expert George Stephanopoulos, who used to work for her?

Jonathan Weisman: No, but one can only wonder.


New York: I'm well aware that the establishment media loves drama, and let's face it, the Clintons provide endless amounts of it. But while the drama is swirling, it seems like Obama just keeps moving toward the nomination. He has stayed focused. His campaign has been free of internal warfare. They've been able to largely ignore the hysterical punditry, who shouldn't have any role in the Democratic nomination process anyway. As the New York Times put it, the Obama campaign is rolling along. Do you agree? Clinton May Be Hopeful, but Obama Rolls On (New York Times, May 2)

Jonathan Weisman: We too noted the phenomenon. Yes, the odds get longer every day for Clinton to get the nomination, but even if Obama has sealed up the nomination, it is worth questioning whether he is backing into it. If he does poorly Tuesday, he's got a tough one coming next Tuesday in West Virginia. Next up would be Kentucky, where he is way, way behind, and Oregon, where is is ahead. But because Oregon reports late, the news cycle that morning is likely to be a big loss in Kentucky. Then comes another tough one in Puerto Rico. By June 3, he could be on a nasty losing streak, unless he seals it in Indiana.


Re: Social Security and Will: Interesting that you tout the knowledge of reporters about this issue, while missing the basic point: Will claimed that changing the cap would affect this couple because of their total income, but in fact the cap applies to individuals' incomes. That's what's most egregiously wrong about Will's point. Do you understand this?

Jonathan Weisman: Well, my friend, I must admit I did not read the column. If he did somehow combine their incomes, then say they would exceed the cap, he is full of something. Yes, the Social Security earnings cap applies only to individual incomes, regardless of whether you file jointly.


Fairfax, Va.: People still listen to George Will? I would have thought most people stopped doing that after he couldn't interpret the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen songs.

Jonathan Weisman: Take Me Out To The Ball Game


Gainesville, Fla.: Obama is way ahead in delegate counts because of the early caucus and primary votes, but once the media started vetting him, he has had a rough time in the last primaries, especially in the big states. If the early primary voters knew what they know now, would he still have won those races? Why should the superdelegates base their vote on how the early uninformed voters acted? As an example, Bush won the election in 2004, but with what has happened since, he couldn't be elected dogcatcher in Crawford, Texas.

Jonathan Weisman: You make a strong argument for Hillary Clinton, but the superdelegates keep moving Obama's way, despite his recent troubles. They are now tied on Capitol Hill among declared supers, and I'd venture to say he is well ahead among undeclared. Her overall lead in the superdelegate race is down to something like eight.

They obviously are making a different calculation than you are.


"Baltimore: Is ABC breaking campaign finance laws by broadcasting the Hillary town hall meeting with softball expert George Stephanopoulos, who used to work for her?": No, but ABC is breaking the economic laws of television. That may be the lowest-rated broadcast of all time (at least of those that don't involve hockey).

Jonathan Weisman: I must admit, I almost never watch TV on Sunday mornings. Don't people have better things to do?


Richmond, Va.: Now might be a good time for Obama to say the founders had it right when they opted for the separation of church and state with people like Hagee and Wright out there. The voters might actually agree, and it would put put McCain in a bit of a spot with the far right.

Jonathan Weisman: I don't think that would put McCain in a bit of a spot at all. It would cede the ground to him. Remember, Obama has made talk of faith a signature for him, a way of separating himself from other Democrats. He's not going to give that up now.


North Adams, Mass.: Given Obama's stronger condemnation of Rev. Wright earlier this week, very few have commented on the potential for problems for Obama within the black community because of his comments. What's your take on this?

Jonathan Weisman: He has no problem with the black community. He just won 92 percent of the black vote in Pennsylvania, and the more people talk of superdelegates giving Clinton the nomination the more aggrieved the African American population gets.


Philadelphia: What is in fact a scandal? I've seen the term used to describe Obama's pastor -- who seems provocative enough but hardly scandalous. By the current measure, though, one would think that proposing a tax cut that would offer a pittance to consumers (a pittance that quickly would turn into nothing whatsoever), or a health care plan that would disqualify the proposer from coverage under it -- to be scandalous. Or is there another word for it? Any chance that these issues could receive the same airplay as Rev. Wright? Cause I think they matter a lot more to our common good ... or am I being elitist?

Jonathan Weisman: You are an elitist. You probably eat arugula too.

I don't know what a scandal is, but I know it when I see it. By media standards, it has to catch fire -- and tax proposals are not very incendiary.


Fairfax County, Va.: Sorry, Jon, you must get this question all the time, but which are the state primary polls that reporters really trust? I go to realclearpolitics and I see Zogby and Rasmussen (both encouraging this morning in North Carolina for Obama), but I don't know if the insiders are taking these into account or don't see them as the strongest indicators. Thanks for your guidance.

Jonathan Weisman: I don't trust robo-polls, because I would never answer one, and I can't believe anyone else would. So beware of Rasmussen and beware of Survey USA. The problem is, they're the only ones that consistently do state-by-state polling.


Vicksburg, Miss.: While I'm sure the Clinton camp is delighted she is doing so well with the non-college-educated white population, it has to be a source of frustration/embarrassment that her candidacy isn't embraced by the well-educated, right?

Jonathan Weisman: Wrong, you go where the votes are. As Adlai Stevenson said when he was told he was the thinking man's candidate, "yes, but I need a majority."

He probably ate arugula too.


Anonymous: If Hillary wins big in Kentucky, West Virginia and Puerto Rico, will her campaign state that these wins are meaningless because they won't vote for Democrats in the general? Does Puerto Rico vote in the general?

Jonathan Weisman: A win is a win; context is malleable. And Puerto Rico does not vote in the general.


Baltimore: First Mrs. Clinton sits down with Richard Mellon Scaife. Then she does an interview with Bill O'Reilly. Does this demonstrate guts, in your view, or a complete lack of principle?

Jonathan Weisman: It demonstrates politics. When you're running behind, there's no such thing as bad publicity.


Lame duck session: What, if any, legislation might actually become law before the end of the current administration, not including funding bills? Webb's GI bill, or something like it? Credit card regulation? Likely nothing?

Jonathan Weisman: Webb's GI Bill probably will become law by mid-summer; I think they will try to do housing legislation pretty quickly; the farm bill will get done ... and of course, war funding.

I don't think there will be much of a lame duck session at all. The legislative calculus all year has been," let's wait until there's a new president."


Arugula Meme: Let's not forget, when Obama made his famous comment about arugula in Iowa, he was speaking to arugula farmers. 'Kay?

Jonathan Weisman: Do you eat Belgian endives? They're really good with a dollop of goat cheese and chives.


Re: 100 Years in Iraq: Jonathan, just continuing our conversation about McCain from last week, I have some fodder you (and the chatters) might be interested in -- my question is, where is the "straight talker" I've heard so much about? After all, foreign policy is easy when you just make it up as you go along, isn't it? To wit: "In 2005, McCain decided Iraqis resent our military presence, so we should reject a Korea-like model for long-term troop deployment. He insisted that 'U.S. visibility' was detrimental to the Iraq mission and that Iraqis were responding negatively to America's presence -- positions held by both Obama and Clinton."

In 2006, McCain reversed course, and embraced the Korea model for a long-term military presence. In 2007, McCain reversed course again, saying the Korean analogy doesn't work and shouldn't be followed. "Eventually I think because of the nature of the society in Iraq and the religious aspects of it that America eventually withdraws," McCain told Charlie Rose last fall. And in 2008, McCain reversed course yet again, deciding that we should be prepared to leave troops in Iraq, even if it means 100 years or more.

Jonathan Weisman: Ah, you are hitting on precisely why this extended Democratic campaign has been so good for Sen. McCain. He's not getting a whole lot of attention.


Cynical or Impotent: You Decide.: The way I see the North Carolina ad flap, either McCain was cynically trying to "denounce" ads he profits from, or else was just plain impotent and can't stop them. One or the other. Am I missing something?

Jonathan Weisman: I say the former. This whole thing works very much to his advantage. He denounces the ads, looks like he's high-minded, and they run anyway. Parfait!


Fairfax County, Va.: The earlier poster's suggestion of voters' remorse (they voted for Obama, now they wouldn't -- or they voted for Clinton, now they wouldn't) seems hard to really pin down, but surely we have some indicators: The two candidates remain fairly even in the national Democratic polls, although those fluctuate; delegates for each candidate who are making their way through the tortuous process in past states are not defecting and are continuing to show up for each all-day event they have to go to; a poll in New Jersey showed that a number of Clinton voters now wish they had voted for Obama. Of course, the allegedly changed minds of people who already voted are in no actual way relevant to winning the nomination unless we're just making this up as we go along. But the evidence also doesn't show they have changed.

Jonathan Weisman: Posted as is, though I might add, the national polling in the last few days shows a definite pro-Clinton swing.


Fairfax, Va.: How about this for an attack line on Obama -- "Even Dukakis won West Virginia!"

Jonathan Weisman: Hey, I was in West Virginia for an Obama campaign swing. He was campaigning pretty hard. He can't dismiss the place once he plants the flag.


Washington: Please help me understand how Hillary Clinton gets the nomination without the help of a ton of superdelegates.

Jonathan Weisman: You don't need help -- you've got it. Superdelegates can vote as they please, even those publicly committed to Obama. If Clinton goes on a roll, having won Taxes, Ohio and Pennsylvania, she then wins Indiana (maybe North Carolina?), West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico, and pulls an upset, say in Montana, and the polling shows she has opened big leads on Obama and McCain, they could move en masse to her. There's no evidence that is happening, but it is theoretically possible.


Dover, Del.: It's pretty much conventional wisdom that the Obama campaign organization has been well-run, while the Clinton group is quite dysfunctional ... how much of a factor is this playing into the superdelegate thinking when weighing which of them might run a better general election and a tighter White House?

Jonathan Weisman: I don't think that's playing much of a role, though someone wrote a column saying that Obama has shown he effectively can run a very large, difficult organization -- namely his campaign.


Gainesville, Fla.: Granted, the superdelegates continue to flock to a weakened Obama. As it clearly has been shown that he represents the far left of the Democratic Party, and does not have the backing of the women, middle-class workers or the elderly, he almost certainly will go down to defeat in November. The Democrats should have learned by now that they can't get a far-left elitist elected to the presidency. As an independent, I am one who will base my vote on who I think is the most experienced and effective candidate. Unfortunately, in this campaign, my choice is very limited.

An ideal situation for me would be for the Obama-Clinton fight continue until the convention, where neither will have the required 2005 delegate votes. The convention then would be able to pick a candidate who can win in November. Contrary to what Obama says, you have to play politics if you're going to be a successful politician and get results.

Jonathan Weisman: Let me guess, iceberg and a cold Bud.


Oakton, Va.: Jonathan: I don't know if I'm allowed to criticize Dan Balz, the dean of all things political for The Post, but here goes. In a blog post yesterday, he said the following about Sen. Clinton: "By almost any measure, she met expectations in the Keystone State, after exceeding them in Ohio and in the popular vote in Texas." Really? So the expectations were she'd only improve by nine delegates in Pennsylvania? And she exceeded them in Texas because she won the popular vote and lost the delegate battle? The only meaningful measure, in my humble opinion, is delegate count. Based on the rules and schedule set by the party from the start and accepted by the candidates, he has a lead that is virtually insurmountable. I think the media, in their quest to keep this hot story alive, sometimes lose sight of this. A Tipping Point for Obama -- or Just a Dip? (Post, May 1)

Jonathan Weisman: I understand that from an Obama perspective, anything less than a big double-digit win in Pennsylvania did not meet expectations. But the fact is, her win in Pennsylvania bolstered her momentum and set off a chain of stumbles for Obama. I agree with Dan.


Lexington, Mass.: Jonathan -- Speaking or arugula (well, really, Belgium endive) -- I heard McCain mention eBay as a potential way for Americans to weather this economic storm. He said several million people already earn their primary income from eBay -- so why not more of us? This strikes me as a very similar tone-deaf comment to the one Dukakis made to Iowa farmers about growing Belgium endive. Your thoughts? (And don't you think this would make a great commercial by MoveOn or the Democratic National Committee?)

Jonathan Weisman: I thought that was pretty funny too, but one of his top economic advisers is eBay's CEO, Meg Whitman. She has been whispering in his ear.

Again, if the Democratic campaign had not turned into a death match, captivating the nation's (or at least the media's) attention, perhaps that comment would have yielded more notice.


Anchorage, Alaska: How often do the candidates post their fundraising data? Weekly? Daily? Monthly? Not as required by law, but as required to keep the focus on their momentum in pulling in checks. Thanks.

Jonathan Weisman: Quarterly, my friend. And good morning, Anchorage.


What if?: Hi Jonathan. What if the Republicans had retained majorities in the House and the Senate? Wouldn't we see a spate of legislation right now to codify a panoply of Republican wish-list items?

Jonathan Weisman: Yes, so what?


Fairfax, Va.: Do you know if Rev. Wright was involved in helping Obama get his start in Chicago politics?

Jonathan Weisman: I don't think he was. Obama already was getting involved in local Chicago politics when he joined the church. It gave him more grounding in the community for his organizing, and a leg up in politics.


Chicago: Good morning and thanks for taking questions. What is the status of the recent proposals to do something about Michigan's and Florida's delegations to the Democratic convention? Michigan proposed a compromise between the positions of the two camps, and Rep. Kucinich had an interesting proposal to seat the delegations based on opinion polls conducted in both states. Is the decision on what to do now up to the credentials committee? Any scuttlebutt on what proposal, if any, is likely to prevail?

Jonathan Weisman: Good question, and I still don't know. Howard Dean has assured both delegations they would be seated. He said it's really up to Obama and Clinton to decide how they will be apportioned. That means they probably won't be until one of them seals the nomination -- probably sometime in June.

You can bet they will be apportioned in such a way that has no impact on the winner.


Prescott, Ariz.: A Survey USA poll from Oregon today has Obama up 50 percent to 44 percent, and because Oregon is very white, he also wins whites 50 percent to 44 percent. Now, Oregon as a state is even poorer per capita than Ohio, so we have a lot of low-income whites who are pro-Obama. I thought you guys said he can't win low-income whites?

Jonathan Weisman: His problem is with white, working-class, less-educated voters, especially Catholics in industrial and post-industrial middle-sized cities. Moreover, the poorer parts of Oregon, in the state's eastern half, are Republicans. They wouldn't be picked up in a poll of Democratic voters.

Oregon is right in Obama's wheelhouse.


Trivial, annoying ... policy?: When confronted by the fact that their coverage of politics is frequently trivial and annoying, many in the media argue that they only report that way because the voters make their decisions based on trivial and annoying issues. But there's no doubt that, with proper press coverage, the gas holiday could be one of those trivial and annoying issues that comes to stand-in for broader character failures or narratives or whatever. Is that because the media thinks policy is trivial and annoying?

Jonathan Weisman: No, and I think you're just trucking in conventional wisdom, not fact. On the gas tax holiday, The Post has had a front-page story on its wisdom and politics, a Fact-Checker item, an editorial, several columns and assorted blog posts, all dissecting the policy more than the politics. We just had front-page stories on McCain's health care proposal and his change of heart on tax policy. I would suggest you read the paper, not just the political chats, before you pass judgment on our content.


Washington: Re: The "independent" poster from Gainesville: Look, I am a left-wing Democrat who nonetheless wishes Joe Biden or Chris Dodd were in this fight because I think either of them would have a greater chance of winning than Obama or Clinton, but that is not how politics works. Obama and Clinton raised the money, they got the votes and it is down to the two of them. The idea that, at the convention, the Democratic Party suddenly would say "I know, let's name Jim Webb" is utter fantasy in 2008.

Jonathan Weisman: Well said. A pollster friend of mine said this was the year the Democrats should have put up the boring white guy. Mark Warner would have sailed into office. But that's not how the voters saw it, so what are ya gonna do?


What-if redux: The point on which I thought you might want to discourse was we would have a very active Congress making Bush tax cuts permanent, legitimizing a long-term role in Iraq through approval of agreements with the Iraqi government, etc.

Jonathan Weisman: But when the Republicans had control, they tried to make Bush's tax cuts permanent, legitimize war aims, etc. And they ran into the same problem the Democrats face now. The Senate filibuster.


Jonathan Weisman: Hey guys, I've been corrected. Fundraising disclosures were quarterly last year. They are now monthly.


Olney, Md.: I know eBay is famous for people selling off their unwanted items, but it is also used by many small retail and wholesale businesses as their Web portal. My wife has been buying Canadian Chocolate Smarties for years from a candy seller on eBay; he is certainly not selling his leftovers from Halloween.

Jonathan Weisman: I know, believe me: I have a kid, and toy stores abound. But I think the criticism was valid -- for the guy struggling in Stockton, Calif., or Scranton, Pa., being told to open a shop on eBay is probably cold comfort.


Re: Eastern Oregon: Oregon's primary is closed. Republicans in the Eastern part of the state are not voting in the primary and were not included in the Survey USA survey.

Jonathan Weisman: That's what I said!


Arlington, Va.: With so many Republican senators stepping down this year, (Domenici, Allard, Warner and others), what is the chance that there will be enough Republicans who will win or hold seats in order to become the "Dreaded 40," meaning a total loss of power to stop the 60 Democrats from overriding any chance of filibuster?

Jonathan Weisman: Slim to none. Let's look at it. The Democrats are ahead and I think at this point likely to win Senate Republican seats in Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico and New Hampshire. That gives them 55 (counting Lieberman). They have a very good shot winning Ted Stevens' seat in Alaska, with a good candidate, Anchorage Mayor Begich and ongoing Republican scandals in the state. They have a chance in Minnesota, though Franken has been slipping of late, and Oregon, though they still don't have a candidate to beat Smith. The Susan Collins race is not getting traction in Maine, but I guess it remains a possibility. If all those go the Democrats' way (unlikely but possible), they're up to 59, assuming they hold Mary Landrieu's seat in Louisiana.

Then you're looking for a Royal Flush, maybe a win in North Carolina or Kentucky? Not very likely.


Branding Hype, or Vice-Versa?: While citing McCain's purported "brand" as a "maverick," in articles and on TV (and, yes, sometimes on these chats, too, Mr. Weisman!) I never see journalists acknowledge their own role in promoting that "brand." Nor do they point out any of McCain's actions that challenge that "brand," such as McCain's rightward shift on high-profile issues such as immigration and taxes, and his growing list of falsehoods. What gives?

Jonathan Weisman: Ah, the old blinders. First of all, I personally have written that McCain's maverick views on taxes seem to have disappeared.

We have been pretty tough on his recent health care speech. But I have covered McCain and Congress for 12 years. I watched him battle his own party on tobacco, on campaign finance, on torture and taxes. Don't tell me those fights didn't happen -- I was there.


Arugula: What role is Axelrod likely to play in an Obama administration? David Axelrod, the Man With Obama's Game Plan, Is Also the Candidate's No. 1 Fan (Post, May 2)

Jonathan Weisman: Good question, Arugula, and one I have asked myself. I think the guy is a political animal, and a Chicagoan at that. Now, I know Rove was also political and hard to picture outside Texas, and he went to the White House. But my guess is, if Obama were president, Axelrod would stay exactly where he is. He just gets to raise his rates.


Alexandria, Va.: Are you hearing any fallout on the Fossella DWI? Rep. Fossella Arrested on DWI Charge (Post, May 2)

Jonathan Weisman: He's got a press conference this afternoon, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is ready to pounce. Their problem is that the Democrats still are fighting a primary battle. Sound familiar?


Washington: Hi Jonathan. Is it true that a lot of the superdelegates are holding back from supporting Obama because they are "afraid" of the revenge of the Clintons (see "Richardson, Bill" or "Judas") if Hillary wins the nomination? Whoever says "all politics is local" got it wrong -- all politics is like high school, cliques and all. Your thoughts?

Jonathan Weisman: Okay, folks, lots more questions in the queue, but I am out of time. So let me answer this.

Nah, that's ridiculous. They are worried about the political ramifications from their voters and the GOP, not the Clintons. I've spoken to many of them. The attitude is, let's see how the voters decide. Let's not make waves. Let's go with the winner when there is a winner.

Profiles in Courage.

Goodbye all.

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