Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Washington Congressional Reporter
Thursday, May 29, 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, May 29 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

The transcript follows.

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Paul Kane: Good morning, folks. Sorry if there was some confusion as to who was leading this chat, Shailagh Murray or myself. There was some misunderstanding as to whether or not I was still on vacation in the Emerald Isle, but I'm here, I'm back in Washington after a long, great weekend in Dublin. (The Guinness is better, or at least it seemed that way, and, more importantly, Bruce Springsteen's just as good if not better in Ireland!)

Interestingly, did any of you hear about the political party that has had a long hold on power but is now floundering amid campaign debt, infighting over who should lead the political party committee, and the dramatic loss of a special election that was considered incredibly safe territory for the party in power? No, not Republicans, I'm talking about the Labour Party of Gordon Brown in the U.K. Pretty funny parallels to what's going on in the States as to what Brown is suffering from in London.

Okay, on to the questions.


Salinas, Calif.: Other than the sheer enjoyment (or horror, depending on your perspective) of watching the current Scott McClellan imbroglio unfold before us, do you think his revelations will offer any further impetus in putting Karl Rove in a chair (and under oath) before Henry Waxman's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform? 'Disillusioned' McClellan Defends Memoir (Post, May 29)

Paul Kane: Lots of McClellan questions today, I'll do my best to answer them, but it's hard for me to do so on some levels because I've never been a White House correspondent.

As for Waxman, I don't think this book is any more or less likely to land Rove in the testifying role before the Oversight committee. The chairman already had Rove in his cross-hairs before the book came out, as did House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers. This is going to be a protracted negotiation, so we'll see how it ends.


Northfield, Ill.: Good morning. In rebuking McClellan's assertions in his book, the Bush people have been scathing in their denunciations of him, but have any of them said he lied?

Paul Kane: I've yet to see any instances in which a current or former Bush official contradicted facts in the book. I think they disagree with his interpretations of how events unfolded. But no one has said, Scott lied because this meeting or that meeting never happened, or he wasn't actually in that meeting.


Belfast, Maine: In the coming weeks there will be many days when there's little real political news about the Republicans or Democrats to report. Any chance that one of The Post's political staff might do a piece on what the Green Party, for example, is up to? (I've asked this question during six earlier Post political chats and have gotten no response, a fact I find interesting in itself.)

Paul Kane: I'll happily answer this one, and I'll be brutally honest. We don't have enough resources to cover your party. it's that simple, and if that infuriates you, I'm sorry. But that's life. The Green Party and Nader got plenty of coverage in '00 when, at the least, he had the chance to play a decisive role in some states. So far, there's little indication that the Greens will have any major impact on the '08 election. Until you can demonstrate that there is some level of support for your party, our paper isn't going to spend precious resources reporting on whatever it is you're doing. I'm sorry, but we're a business, and lots of my colleagues are walking out the door under volunteer buyouts. We don't have the resources to cover you guys.


St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Paul -- thank you for taking my question and for chatting today. I'd be interested in your overall take on the impact of the McClellan controversy on both of the president campaigns. Does it help the Democrats by putting the attention on something other than their inability to come to a conclusion about whom the nominee will be? Does it hurt McCain because it reminds voters that he's a member of the party in power, or does it give him an opportunity to separate himself from the very unpopular president? How might he go about doing that, if he can?

Paul Kane: Any time over the next 5-6 months that the focus of the national debate centers on the Iraq war, it's probably a good thing for Obama and congressional Democrats. Despite a somewhat militarily successful surge, the war itself is still not popular with voters.

Any time over the next 5-6 months the focus of debate centers on a former inner circle Bush adviser accusing the administration of tricking Americans into supporting the way, it's a very good thing for Obama and congressional Democrats.


Washington: Looking at the most recent Rasmussen daily polls, I see that Hillary manages a tie today against McCain, but Barack is down by five points to McCain. What piqued my interest was that while Hillary had a "highly unfavorable" rating of 32 percent (i.e., as I see it, people who never will vote for her) Barack was at 35 percent. On Jan. 30, as we entered primary season's main show, Barack's "highly unfavorables" were 20 percent and Clinton's were 35 percent. Is this something superdelegates may be watching?

Paul Kane: I've spent the past several months talking to as many super-delegates as any reporter in America, I'd guess, since I cover on a day-to-day basis about 280 of them here on Capitol Hill.

I hate saying this, because all the Clinton people are going to flip out and say, You're biased, you're biased, you're biased. So go ahead and flip out if you want, but the simple basic truth is that the super-delegates stopped paying attention to the Clinton-Obama race about a couple days after the Indiana and North Carolina primaries.

They've stopped paying attention to the primary, and instead they're focused on an Obama-McCain matchup in November. That's the basic, simple, definitive reality that has happened in this race. The "undecided" super-delegates at this moment are not going to "decide" any time soon, because to them the race is over, they're just waiting for Clinton to drop out.


Washington: I am decidedly not a fan of the Bush administration, but does anyone find it disingenuous that Scott McClellan is blaming the media for not digging deeper on Iraq? I mean, he didn't even know it was all a ruse, and he actually had access to the intelligence. I haven't read the book, so I may be missing his larger point, but yeesh -- pot, meet kettle.

Paul Kane: I love any questioner who wants to actually defend the media!

It is a good question, though, and one that will play out over the next few days, but ultimately, I think this will be a temporary tempest in a teapot. McClellan is giving voice to what roughly 60-65% of the country already believes is the truth. Yes, it's important because it's coming from a former Bush insider, but ultimately, he's saying just what a large percentage of voters already believe to be the truth. So I don't see this being a major, long lasting "scandal".


U.S.: Paul, will Congress be taking any action on immigration this year? I'm actually really happy to see the INS has been taking the issue of illegals using false documentation as seriously as it should, but doesn't it give the GOP the higher ground on this hot-button issue?

Paul Kane: The desire on Capitol Hill to take up such a hot-button issue as immigration is slim to none, and slim left town a few months back. At this stage, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid both believe they are going to have significantly larger majorities in January.

In the worst-case scenario, under Pelosi and Reid's thinking, they'll have a President McCain who also supports their preferred style of immigration reform, and McCain is just easier for them to deal with than Bush. In the best case scenario, the Democrats have huge majorities and a President Obama.

So, in that case, they could write a bill themselves practically with minimum input from Republicans.


Centreville, Va.: I was surprised and disappointed that The Post did not seem to address the Gallup poll yesterday which seemed to say Hillary Clinton had somewhat of an advantage over Barack Obama in the so-called swing states. The news of that poll was bandied about all day on the political blogs, and I have to say the Obama supporters seemed to be getting the worst of it. (Or is it "worse" with only two candidates in the poll?) Hillary Clinton's Swing-State Advantage (Gallup, May 28)

Paul Kane: Again, don't yell at me because I'm only the messenger here. But the super-delegates have moved on, they're no longer looking at how Hillary Clinton fares in battleground states against McCain. This is very hard for Clinton supporters to hear, I'm sorry, but the super-delegates are not paying attention to your candidate anymore. These head-to-head matchup polls (Clinton v. McCain, Obama v. McCain) are not having the impact on people's thinking anymore.


"We don't have the resources to cover you guys.": Paul: With all due respect, do you really expect us to believe that? I'm not a Green Party member and in fact hate Ralph Nader for helping elect George Bush in 2000, but the Post will have more than one person covering both of the major campaigns. They certainly can find someone to do some reporting on the Green Party. Tip: How about interns?

Paul Kane: Nope, sorry, not happening. It simply doesn't make financial sense to dedicate very slim resources to a party that's getting less than one half of 1 percent in polls. There's a whole World Wide Web out there, and for now minor party candidates are going to have use the Web to push their agenda.


Roseland, N.J.: John McCain's suggestion that both he and Barack Obama visit war-strewn Iraq together: Can you think of an idea the Secret Service would veto faster?

Paul Kane: Yeah, that idea did make me chuckle. No way Secret Service allows such a thing.

Remember that market visit McCain did in Baghdad in early '07? He had a battalion of guys protecting him, not to mention choppers flying overhead. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) described it as like any "Indiana market". Um, no, not really.


Anonymous: Is Gordon Brown actually suffering the wrath the Brits feel about Tony Blair following the Bush war machine propaganda in such lockstep, or is he just not charismatic enough for our cousins overseas? I mean, he's a natty dresser and all, but he's no Maggie Thatcher if you know what I mean.

Paul Kane: I read the Irish and British press takes on this, and it seems that Brown is suffering from both of these fates. Clearly, there is some Iraq hangover over there, and that's clearly Tony Blair's decision. But also Brown seems to just not have the same level of charisma. The headline in the Irish Independent one day was: The Problem Is Nobody Likes Him.


Baltimore: As the number of former Bushites continues to "defect," and with increasing past proximity to the president, how can the public really accept their credibility? Although I think what McClellan writes is a lot closer to the truth than what he used to spout as press secretary, I can't help but think he's taking full advantage of political winds to drive up exposure and ostensibly profits. In short, how extensive will the damage of all these negative stories regarding Bush and the Republicans be? Is a Democratic victory in November assured?

Paul Kane: I can't say for certain the Democrats are assured of victory in November in the presidential race,but it's getting close to that in terms of the House and Senate races. There, the Democratic advantages are so substantial, so structural, the Republicans are now just hoping for only modest Democratic gains in the House and Senate.


Arlington, Va.: I wouldn't vote for him, but in line with Green question, would The Post give some coverage to Bob Barr and the Libertarians, or at least some analysis of the impacts the Libertarians and Greens have on the candidates?

Paul Kane: You know what was amazing about the Bob Barr nomination to the Libertarian ticket? It took him six rounds of balloting at the party's nominating convention to secure the nomination. Here's a guy who was once considered an important player in congressional politics, helped lead Bill Clinton's impeachment, and yet here he is now, so politically down and out, that the only way he could secure the Libertarian nomination was by offering his veep slot to the guy who lost out on the fifth round of balloting. I find that amazing.


Chicago: Hi Paul. Is Geraldine Ferraro acting on her own or is she being encouraged by the Clinton camp? They don't seem to be restraining her at all. She is absolutely livid about the tremendous benefits Obama derives from being black and the tremendous burden of being a white former first lady. Is she crazy?

Paul Kane: I really can't speak for what motivates Ferraro, but I can assure you that the passions are very high among Clinton supporters about this nomination fight. They're very, very angry, this was an incredibly close race, and they want their candidate to win. Faced with a party establishment that has decided that the nomination fight is now over and that Obama will be the party standard bearer, Clinton's people are lashing out. It's fairly understandable.


Kansas City, Mo.: Regarding McClellan and the press not asking enough questions on the war, some did -- at least Bill Moyer on PBS pointed out the work by Knight-Ridder (McClatchy) and The Post's Walter Pincus. The problem was that too few people saw those reports -- Pincus's were buried and McClatchy doesn't have a wide presence. If Woodward and Bernstein's reports were as buried, Watergate would have been a minor story. Not sure why the rah-rah stories got more exposure.

Paul Kane: Journalism has done a horrible job of explaining itself to its consumers. It's hard to explain how decisions are made, sometimes it's pure chaos, on the fly, seat of the pants stuff. Sometimes, it's very thought out, planned, which stories are on A1, which are deep in the paper.

But, pretty much all the time, with a Republican or a Democratic administration, the way editors make their calls on what gets more prominent display is the prominence of the people saying something. Because Cheney would go on "Meet the Press" and say these things, it got more prominent coverage than lower level CIA, State Dept folks questioning it, particularly those that were doing so on background anonymously.


Washington: "Paul Kane: I can't say for certain that the Democrats are assured of victory in November in the presidential race, but it's getting close to that in terms of the House and Senate races. There, the Democrats' advantages are so substantial, so structural, that the Republicans are just hoping for only modest Democratic gains." How does this synch with the fact that Congress's approval ratings make Bush look beloved?

Paul Kane: Because Congress has two parties in it, and in every single poll I've seen for the past two  years, the congressional Republicans always fare very, very poorly, much more so than congressional Democrats.

Plus, a lot of the anger at Democrats is basically angry liberal base voters that are upset that Pelosi and Reid haven't impeached Bush and Cheney. Those are voters who are not going to be voting for House and Senate GOP candidates any time soon.

No, the Pelosi-Reid Democrats are not popular, but congressional Republicans are way, way, way more unpopular right now.


Atlanta: Bob Barr! Cynthia McKinney! Hooray for Georgia!

Paul Kane: Ladies and gentlemen, these are our readers at


Helena, Mont.: Kind of hard to think that Montana is now a "battleground" state. Ads are being run for both candidates. Obama has been here twice and is coming a third time. Hillary has been here once, Bill twice, and Hillary is coming a second time. Good times!

Paul Kane: Well, Montana had its spot in the political sunlight two years ago with the Burns-Tester race, so this isn't completely new territory for you folks. although, I guess having the high profile people there campaigning is a new twist. I still can't believe Jon Tester stayed out of this endorsement game.


Lashing out?: Why? I know that there are many out there who vastly prefer Sen. Clinton to Sen. Obama. I know they think that she's more qualified and better-equipped to beat John McCain in the general election. I know they think that Clinton has been unfairly treated by the media and that the primary system is all screwed up. I've heard all their arguments. And I don't doubt that they genuinely believe all of these things. My question, though, is this: What realistic outcome are they still holding out for?

Paul Kane: They want their candidate to win. I'm not sure they know how that outcome would occur, but they want Clinton to win, it's that simple. If Obama was losing this campaign by just as narrow a margin, his supporters would be just as upset. It's important for Obama supporters to realize just how narrow a victory he appears to have pulled off, rather than running around the country acting like they blew out Clinton. If she had been semi-competitive in the post-Super Tuesday states in February -- rather than losing them all 60-40 or worse -- it's highly possible she would be the nominee.


Washington: Regarding the increasingly limited reporting resources of The Post, I find myself in a bit of a quandary: I subscribe to the print edition of The Post even though I don't read it because I know you need the revenue, but it won't be worth the money if the amount of unique, non-wire-service, content decreases too much. Are the buyouts coupled with a strategy to make The Post sustainable as a news-gathering organization, or not?

Paul Kane: Look, the Post won six Pulitzer prizes for 2007. Yes, these buyouts stink because really good people are leaving, but this is a phenomenal news organization that is building something different for the future. I personally think that you have to understand that newspapers no longer exist -- we're all media organizations. And, to the extent of that's the wave of the future, I think the Post and are way ahead of their competitors in understanding that and building toward the future.


Learning from History?: In private communication in 1966, Nixon said the Vietnam War couldn't be won, and yet he spent the next seven years red-baiting anybody who said so, and -- once in office -- let literally millions of people be killed rather than lose the wedge it made between Democratic voters, lying the entire time. Based on the latest McClellan "revelations," do you see any parallels to the situation we find ourselves in today?

Paul Kane: I would be stunned to learn 10 to 15 years from now of any self doubt in President Bush, in the Iraq war or in his approach to diplomacy writ large. This has been a supremely confident president. Rightly or wrongly, it seems pretty clear that he believes victory is achievable. To his critics and opponents of the war, I'm not sure what would be worse to learn: that Bush never wavered in his belief that the war was a good effort, or that he really did privately have doubts about things and knew the war wasn't going to be successful?


Paul Kane: Okay everyone, time for me to run. Unlike Springsteen -- who played seven encores Sunday night -- I can't go on forever. Gotta get back to work.

It's been a great chat, and remember, Congress will be back in session next week, with the Senate taking up a housing bill. Fun times.

_______________________ Upcoming Discussion: Slate's Weisberg on McCain (, today at 1 p.m.)


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