Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Thursday, June 12, 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, June 12 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

The transcript follows.

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Paul Kane: Good morning, folks. It's 11 a.m. here on Capitol Hill and, well, not much is happening. Later this afternoon the House will hold a vote on extending unemployment insurance benefits, which will set up another showdown between the White House and ... congressional Republicans. Increasingly, that's the big battle on policy these days, with Republicans trying to decide how and when to separate themselves from President Bush. Also, later this afternoon the National Republican Congressional Committee will brief reporters on the results of their final audit, showing just how much they allege was taken from them by a rogue treasurer. Ben Pershing has the preliminary results at Capitol Briefing: $725,000, at least that's the amount that the GOP has pegged it to; an FBI investigation continues and could turn up more stolen money as well.

On to the questions!


Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning! McCain is running a lot stronger than his legislative brethren. How closely is he working with Republicans in Congress in swing races to try to get them re-elected?

Paul Kane: Honestly, for all the talk from House and Senate Republicans about how good McCain is for them in down-ballot races, there is little indication of any real political coordination among these groups yet. I'm told about daily conference calls among the top strategists for McCain, the RNC, House and Senate Republicans, but that's about it. We've yet to get any real indication that McCain plans to campaign with and for congressional GOP candidates. And, to be blunt, why would he? This morning a new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll out has the disparity between generic House Democrats and generic House Republicans as Democrats plus-19 points! The generic ballot question is always a tricky one, because we are not asked generically who to vote for, but when Democrats are ahead by 19 points -- 52 percent to 33 percent -- that's a sign of bad times for Republicans on the Hill. McCain wants to be far away from them.


Arlington, Va.: As a woman, I'm offended to be the focus of political outreach strategies now that our female candidate has conceded. It smacks of the sexist attitude and media coverage that was extended to Hillary during her campaign. Where were women when the real decisions were being made?

Paul Kane: I'm sorry. I understand you really wanted Clinton to win the nomination; watching your candidate come so close to winning and failing is often harder than when your candidate -- or your favorite sports team -- just performs terribly and flames out early. But am I understanding your question accurately -- and, by all means, Clinton supporters, chime in here and let me know if you agree with this sentiment -- that you're saying you would simply prefer now that both candidates ignore women voters? Now that it's just the two male candidates remaining, you want them to ignore the concerns of women voters?


Anchorage, Alaska: Now that Dick Cheney has called for domestic oil drilling; what are the chances that this effort will gain steam? Cheney Pushes for More Drilling (Post, June 12)

Paul Kane: See my earlier answer in which I detailed how poor congressional Republicans are doing in the polls. (Here's the link, FYI, to the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll.)

Basically, Cheney is amazingly unpopular. Stunningly unpopular, really. If he's pushing for something right now, given the way Democrats view him, you can be darn sure it will not happen.


Washington: Maybe this is too deep in the weeds for an election season, but I find McCain's health policy just terrifying. Are Republicans in Congress trying to get rid of employer-based health plans and have everyone negotiate with the insurance companies, like McCain? Is this something that they pushed when they were in control of Congress?

Paul Kane: The reality of this general election season is that those on the left who sincerely fear McCain's pronouncements on domestic policy can sleep well at night. Nothing he says on domestic issues really has a bearing, as there very likely will be a strong Democratic majority in control of Congress for at least the first four years of a potential McCain administration. So his policy pronouncements this summer and fall really jwould ust be starting points for any protracted negotiation with Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid. And ultimately either nothing will pass, or some compromised version would pass.

However, those of you on the right who are truly fearful of Obama's domestic policy pronouncements have true reason to be afraid, be very afraid. An Obama White House likely would have for at least the first two years a very robust Democratic Congress that could enact his agenda, with only the senatorial filibuster as a backstop.


Boston: I have a question about an older story. Karl Rove and Harriet Meyers et al have been cited for contempt by Congress. Bush has said that his Justice Department will not prosecute them. Do you think an Obama Justice Department would?

Paul Kane: I have asked this question to top Democratic legal experts on and off the Hill -- whether a new administration could take up the contempt cases against Rove and Miers. There appears to be little agreement about how that could/would work, but ultimately a claim of executive privilege would continue to stand even after leaving office, so they still have the same ability to claim the privilege. Now, would this change the contempt proceeding, given that the House has voted to say that claim was invalid? It's very confusing. The experts seem to think it's highly doubtful -- for political reasons -- that a new attorney general would start off his/her new term by launching a criminal contempt case against former Oval Office aides of the opposing party. Just wouldn't feel like a fresh start, they say.


New York: Paul, can you top-line one or two key policy differences between Bush and McCain? From what I've seen, McCain agrees with Bush on economic policy, tax policy, foreign policy, national security policy, judicial policy, health care policy, immigration policy and housing policy. So is it really irresponsible to argue that McCain offers the nation more of the same?

Paul Kane: Honestly, this is going to sound really, really cynical, so I apologize in advance if it does -- it's not meant to say that McCain's not telling the truth, blah-blah-blah.

The key difference between McCain and Bush is their essential reference points of what they care about in terms of policy. McCain really doesn't care about domestic policy, it's not something he ever has focused on in his 21 years in the Senate. He's a foreign policy hawk, out of birthright and personal background. So, when he appears to be mouthing the standard GOP talking points on taxes and health care and judicial nominations, I'm not so sure that I believe him. Ultimately as a president, those are the areas where I think President McCain would be very willing to buckle on and come to terms with a Democratic Congress. However, because foreign policy is in his blood, that's the one area where I think he won't give an inch to Democrats. Bush, on the other hand, pretty much was unwilling to give in on anything in eight years, except education and immigration.


Chicago: Election politics aside, is there any indication of changing attitudes toward Cuba by either party? Who would be more flexible in changing decades-long policy of isolating the Cuban government, post-election?

Paul Kane: Obama is more likely to craft a new Cuba policy, for two reasons: age and politics.

Age -- He's 46, and wasn't even born at the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion. (I'm not 100 percent certain of that, it's possible he was an infant, so don't shoot me if I'm slightly wrong.) He doesn't have the cold warrior instinct of the presidents of the past 50 years.

Politics -- At this moment McCain is viewed as having a clear edge in Florida, particularly among Cuban-Americans in South Florida. McCain likely would feel a need to support their cause, and their cause is still generally one of isolating Cuba. If Obama becomes president without having won Florida, it's doubtful he would feel any allegiance to those voters in South Florida, and he would be more free to execute a different policy.


Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: If the Republicans get forced onto the endangered species list in November, is there a group of new Republican leaders the country hasn't heard of who will form a new party? I don't mean removing themselves by forming a New Republican Party, but grimacing and seizing the difficult, daunting task of raising their party from the ashes of arrogance, avarice, stupidity and ignorance. To do this, they'll have to politically kill off the hangers-on, and I can turn on C-SPAN to see just who they are. So, is there a group of men and women like that left in America? People most of us have never heard of? Who? Thanks much.

Paul Kane: Eric Cantor (45), Paul Ryan (37), Adam Putnam (33), Pete Roskam (46) and Kevin McCarthy (43). Those are some of the smartest people in the House, on either side of the aisle. Aside from Putnam (No. 3 in House leadership), none of them hold elected leadership positions -- but they are the wave of the GOP future. Those are the guys who will run the House one day. They are smart, forward-looking and understand how to communicate a message -- and they are all Republicans.


You're Breaking My Heart Here: I'm going to hold my nose and vote for McCain specifically for the judicial nominations. As a conservative, I can't really find any other reason to vote for him. Are you telling me we're more likely to have someone like Miers as the next justice, even with McCain nominating?

Paul Kane: Yeah, sorry, didn't mean to break your heart, but I just don't think McCain is going to be nominating the likes of Justice Alito. I think Roberts, yes, because John Roberts was the single greatest nominee that ever walked the face of the earth -- calm down liberals, I'm not talking about his views and his jurisprudence, I mean from the standpoint of presentation, charm, all of it. He was scary good. But someone like Alito -- very obviously a hardcore conservative -- might not make the cut with McCain. And McCain's not a guy who I would expect to be willing to spend lots of political capital on a judicial nomination fight. So, no Alitos, no Scalias, not necessarily a Miers or Souter, but probably lots of Anthony Kennedys.

Now, if that breaks your heart, think about the other option: a President Obama nominating a Justice Clinton (Bill or Hillary!) and having him/her sail to confirmation.


Fairbanks, Alaska: Does Chris Van Hollen have it easier this time around than Rahm Emanuel had when he was Einsteining the congressional races for the Democrats? Either way, why haven't these two rock stars been up for consideration as Obama's vice president? They both know their way around Congress -- blindfolded. That would auger for a real knockout punch against the GOP come governing and legislating time next year and beyond. Good session.

Paul Kane: I long have said that Washington, above all else, is an expectations town. Meet expectations, you're a star; exceed them, you're a rock star; fail to meet them, you're moving home in a U-Haul.

Rahm had it easier than Chris Van Hollen, in that his expectations weren't nearly as high. All that he had to do was win 15 seats, put the Democrats in the majority and he was considered a success. He doubled the total he needed, and was a rock star. Now Van Hollen's expectation level appears to be growing every day. At first he just had to hold the majority, but by late last year he had to win a few seats. Now it's almost as if he needs to win 20 more seats to hit his expectation level, and that's hard to do -- especially in an election cycle when you've got 20 or so freshmen defending their seats for the first time in somewhat difficult terrain.

P.S. -- To be clear, Rahm and Chris Van Hollen probably have name identification around 10 percent, so no, neither of them is going to appear on any veep lists. Besides, having the presidential nominee from the Daley Machine in Chicago already is daring enough, you can't put two Daley Machine guys on the ballot.


Do you hate walk-off grand slams as much as I do?: Politics is in a dead zone right now, and I needed to vent about the Phillies!

Paul Kane: Nothing puts fear in my heart -- nothing -- more than these words: three-game series against the Marlins in Miami. Seriously. Why, why oh why do the Marlins always beat the Phillies? It's so bizarre -- so uncanny that they could be 45 games below .500 and we could be on a 50-game winning streak, and they'd take two of three against us. In fact, if I weren't such a Phillies fan, I'd probably fly to Vegas the next time these two teams play and bet huge amounts of money against the Phillies and walk away a rich man.

You want to win Pennsylvania in the fall, Barack Obama? Promise to pass legislation moving the Marlins into the American League -- that'll give the Southeast Pennsylvania male vote.


Washington: Any more talk about others being ensnared by the Abramoff probe, or is this pretty much played out?

Paul Kane: There's plenty more to come from this investigation, folks, it's just that the wheels of Justice -- as construed in the RFK building -- turn very slowly. Rep. Doolittle, whose home was raided more than a year ago, still is in the crosshairs of investigators, whose two most recent convictions appeared to be angled at pressuring a former Doolittle-aide-turned-Abramoff-protege into pleading guilty himself. And there's still a whole Tom DeLay offshoot of this investigation as well.


Northern Virginia: I always see questions on these politics chats regarding Northern Virginia congressional races and the impact that Virginia has on the general election. Jim Webb this, Tim Kaine that. Only 3 percent turnout for the Fairfax primary the other day? What a joke. Whoever is president has little impact on day-to-day quality of life in Fairfax County. Heat, election overload, whatever. What a shame. Connolly Wins 11th District Primary (Post, June 11)

Paul Kane: Yeah, that's a pathetic turnout number. It just goes to show, for all the hype of the Obama-Clinton primary, that energy hasn't transferred to other races yet. But the Northern Virginia seat is going to be a hotbed -- Connolly starts as the front-runner, but I'm told to expect a very nasty race there with lots of negative campaigning against Connolly's tenure as Fairfax County executive. Fun times ahead.


Syosset, N.Y.: Paul -- really interesting answer you gave about the new generation of young, Republican leaders-to-be. What's the list on the Democratic side?

Paul Kane: Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (41), Artur Davis (40), Jesse Jackson Jr. (43), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (37), Kendrick Meek (41) and Brad Ellsworth (49). Those are just a handful or more of folks who will be the next generation of House Democratic leaders. Some of them, however, are smart and ambitious enough that they will be running statewide for senator or governor before you can blink. But that collection of folks above is smart and understands the nexus of politics and policy, and knows how to raise money and build political organizations. Through all those hours and hours of Judiciary Committee hearings on the U.S. attorney scandal, we reporters would wait and wait until Davis finally got to ask questions, cross-examining witnesses like he was Lt. Daniel Kaffee. Herseth easily could be governor of South Dakota before you know it.

Best of all, she's kind enough that she didn't cut in front of me a couple months ago while I was trying to catch a cab to go to a Wizards NBA game. That's more than I can say for the other half-dozen lawmakers who cut past me like I was invisible and took cabs right away from me. See -- I have very low standards.


Fairfax County, Va.: To answer your question, Senator Obama was born on Aug. 4, 1961. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred over two weeks in October 1962. So, I would agree with you it probably did not have a big influence on his political thinking. Also, now we know he has a birthday coming up before the convention. My idea is, let's all pitch in and give him an ideal running mate. The gift that keeps on giving!

Paul Kane: Ah, a birthday gift. Interesting. You know what else is interesting -- this whole idea that Obama will take the nomination Aug 28, the 45th anniversary of MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Meanwhile, a week later McCain takes his nomination on the same night as the Redskins-New York Giants NFL season premier. As an Eagles fan, I know what I'll be most interested in that night.


Chicago: Rahm can't be Obama's vice president -- the president and the vice president can't be from the same state.

Paul Kane: Yep, good point, although it seems as if there are ways of getting around such a silly constitutional issue, given how they declared that Cheney was really from Wyoming even though he basically lived in Texas in the 1990s. They could declare that Obama's real home was in Hawaii, or declare that Rahm's real residence was his Capitol Hill apartment in the basement of Rep. Rosa DeLauro's house!

Kidding, everyone, kidding. This isn't going to happen -- Rahm wants to be speaker, not veep.


Re: Virginia Primary: Seems if you want to increase turnout in a primary, you would have all those races at the same time. Why did Virginia (or some parts of Virginia) have a separate primary this month? More elections means more money spent.

Paul Kane: Okay, I'm taking this as my last question. The reason Virginia had separate primaries was because they moved their presidential primary up sooo far -- Feb. 12, the Potomac Primary -- that they felt it wasn't fair to hold a congressional primary so early in the year. Across the Potomac, Maryland held its congressional primary that day -- and, with a huge turnout of voters who probably wouldn't have been there on a normal congressional primary, Donna Edwards ousted incumbent Al Wynn in the primary.

Different states did it differently; it's all in the eye of the political beholder.

Okay, time to get off to some congressional press conferences. I'll see you all in two weeks. Keep reading.


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