Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Friday, June 27, 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 Friday, June 27 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

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Paul Kane: Good morning folks. Sorry I wasn't around yesterday, but I was under the weather and had a doctor's appointment. As is, today gives me the chance to provide a full download on the last few weeks of congressional action -- and unlike most times, there was actual action, real bills getting passed, etc, first and foremost the last war funding bill for President Bush ever. The Democrats went 0-for-the 110th Congress in their effort to force any changes in his war strategy.

Meanwhile, the Senate is now on the verge of passing a new FISA law and housing legislation. And here's to Jim Webb, just 18 months into office and he's passed a piece of major legislation, the hallmark sort of stuff that usually takes decades for most lawmakers. Now, on to your questions. --pk


Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning. John Ensign is stopping a bill single-handedly; why can't Russ Feingold stop the FISA bill single-handedly?

Paul Kane: Ah, this is a great question with a complicated answer. Ensign is holding up the housing bill as he demands a vote on an extension of tax cuts for companies in renewable energy industry, and Feingold is holding up the rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 over the immunity provisions for telecommunications companies.

The truth is, both men have been equally successful so far at delaying passage of these respective bills. This is life in the Senate, where things take unanimous consent; and if you don't have what we call "UC", then you have to go through a painstaking series of parliamentary hoops to pass something.

In these particular cases Ensign does have some extra support behind him in the likes of Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint, fellow conservatives, so combined they can use more parliamentary maneuvers than Feingold can -- because he doesn't have much support behind his efforts on FISA. Chris Dodd kinda backs him, but most Democrats now appear to recognize that they're going to lose on this issue, and especially now that Obama supports the FISA re-write, they want to put a bad issue behind them.


Cleveland: So do you think gun control is going to be the big wedge issue this election year? The GOP under Rove always was effective at exploiting wedge issues and painting Democrats as flip-flopping elites. I see that particular meme already is starting to take hold in the media with Obama.

Paul Kane: Yesterday's ruling was an incredibly important one here in Washington; rarely does the Supreme Court issue such an important ruling that actually impacts the day-to-day lives of everday citizens of the District. Our front page today had 5 bylines on that incredibly important story: Robert Barnes, our esteemed Supreme Court reporter; Dan Balz, our senior national political correspondent; Keith Richburg, our senior reporter based in New York; and Robert Pierre and Michael Birnbaum, a pair of Metro desk aces.

So, considering how important the ruling was/is in every sector of life here at the Post, you assume this is going to be a big issue in the campaigns, right?

Don't bet on it.

The Pelosi and Reid Democrats have largely given up on gun control as any form of legislative issue for the left. Not only have they given up on promoting gun control, they now openly court candidates who LOVE guns to campaign in conservative districts. While I was in Baton Rouge covering the special election for the 6th district there in early May, Don Cazayoux, the Democrat, had commercials with him walking in a field toting a shotgun. I'm not making this up.


Washington: Paul, what's your forecast on what bills will make it through Congress in the remaining weeks in July and when they return in September? Is there a strong desire to leave Washington and get on the campaign trail among members, or are the Democrats determined to pass a bill or two to spotlight differences with the president? Thanks

Paul Kane: Once the House and Senate come back from their weeklong July 4th break, the onus will be on the Senate to pass FISA and housing legislation. In addition, there's a big fight brewing over this Medicare price reduction that is going to hit doctors on Tuesday. The Democratic "fix" to that problem failed by 1 vote last night, they even brought Clinton and Obama in but still fell 1 vote shy.

Honestly, if all that gets passed, don't hold your breath for anything else. Democrats will try to pass again SCHIP, the children's insurance program, but otherwise they're just gonna punt on everything else until the next president settles in and they, presumably, have larger majority margins in each chamber.


Reading, Pa.: Paul, if you get the chance, can you ask Jim Gerlach where we stand on the Schuylkill Valley rail line? Seems to me the federal government should push mass transit proposals more aggressively at this time. Thanks!

Paul Kane: Hmmmm, the Schuylkill Valley line? Not sure where that ranks in terms of highway and rail projects, I'm a suburban Philly brat, myself, so I grew up taking the R5 line into town. The next round of highway/public transit legislation starts in 2010, fyi, so that's your target date for getting real federal funding for the project.


Edgartown, Mass.: Hi -- just saw your colleague's story about Sen. Clinton returning to work. Do senators get paid when they are campaigning for another office? Presumably they are not "working" at the job the voters elected them to. Thanks. To the Loser Go the Spoils (Post, June 25)

Paul Kane: Sorry, Edgartown. Lawmakers get their salaray -- almost $170,000 -- whether or not they show up to vote.

John McCain, for example, has not shown up to vote in the Senate since April 8. No lie. I think he's been in the Senate chamber just 3 days this year. Clinton and Obama have been marginally better.

Coincidentally, Clinton's big "return" to the Senate began Tuesday morning with ... her missing a vote! She actually misesd 3 of the first 4 votes this week. Some return to her day job.


Webb: Is he more valuable to the Democrats in the Senate, or as No. 2 on the presidential ticket?

Paul Kane: I'm not yet a believer in the Webb balloon for Veep. I understand that he fits the bill for a lot of reasons -- great military background, from a key swing state, he's still new to the Senate and he's a fresh face -- I also think that he's still sooooo green as a politician that it's hard to justify putting him on the ballot. The 1st rule of a Veep pick: Do no harm.

I'm not sure Webb can meet that 1st rule, even though he more than qualifies on some of the other rules.


St. Paul, Minn.: As I look at the swing states in this election, I see four of the "swingiest" with Democratic Senate candidates handily beating the Republican. Do you think there could be "upward coattails" to Obama from Warner in Virginia, Udall in New Mexico, Shaheen in New Hampshire or Udall in Coloroado?

Paul Kane: The upward coattails thing is something that's bubbling up now in conversation, particularly with Warner, an insanely popular former governor, in Virginia. While I think that could be the case a little bit in the Old Dominion, I've yet to see anyone make a sound case for how that will play out in other states.

I mean, this presidential campaign is going to be 24-7 saturation bombing covered by all news outlets. I think people are going to the polls in November, first and foremost, to vote for Obama or McCain. Period.


Orlando, Fla.: Do you know if candidates have to submit proof of citizenship for running for office? If so, have you verified Obama's?

Paul Kane: Come on. Seriously? Folks, this is a real question from a real reader of

I chose to answer it just so others can see what goes through some people's minds.

Of course, the left is just as guilty. There are some who've tried to say that since McCain was born in the Panam Canal he can't be president.

Get over it, folks.


Falls Church, Va.: There has been internet chatter about Hillary Clinton running for Senate Majority leader next term. Is there any foundation to this? Would she get more than one vote? And would Schumer's head come off? Reid seems to have the caucus in order ... why would they want the glare that Clinton brings?

Paul Kane: No one inside the Senate actually talks about this. This is one of those things that has been floated by Clinton supporters who have no understanding of the inner workings of the Senate. People have to spend years and years and years of doing the dirty little things of the Capitol to get to these leadership posistions. Harry Reid was the ethics committee chairman -- most thankless job in the Senate -- and he was on the Appropriations committee, doling out funds to colleagues whose support he would later need. He served as whip, spending about 8-10 hours a day on the Senate floor jamming up the parliamentary works when Republicans were in charge. Mitch McConnell served two terms as Senate GOP campaign chairman. He was chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee, doling out office and parking space and other goodies. He also chaired ethics and was an appropriator.

Hillary Clinton has not a single -- NOT ONE -- of the tasks I've listed above for Reid and McConnell. No one in the Senate believes she is ready for the job of majority leader, least of all Clinton herself.


The First Rule of a Veep Pick: Do no harm: Let's call in the Cheney Rule and then classify it.

Paul Kane: Well, to be fair, Cheney met the "PK's First Rule of Veep Pick" as a candidate for Veep. In '00, and again in '04, he acquitted himself fine as a candidate.

Just all that other stuff that didn't go so well.

PS -- If you haven't read it yet, please read Dana Milbank's "Sketch" of Cheney's chief of staff appearing on Capitol Hill yesterday. I'm told by reporters that were there that this is spot on in terms of how much indignity Addington thrust toward the lawmakers.


Monmouth, Ore.: Good morning. On a scale, which is the more important news from yesterday: the Supreme Court ruling on guns or the stock market's plunge? It seems that Republican arguments that the ruling affirms their views will be offset by Democratic arguments that the stock market also affirms the eight years of GOP economic stewardship. Personally, I care much more about my retirement, college and other savings funds than I do about my rights to go bag a deer 24/7 ... but I guess if the Republicans stay on, I might have to take up hunting to afford meat. Thanks.

Paul Kane: Ultimately, the state of the economy is going to be far more determinative to how the key independents in this race vote than gun rights. Democrats just have no plans, none, to push gun control legislation, so it's not really going to be an issue, in the presidential or congressional elections. It was a huge, huge ruling by the Court, one that will live with us as a society for a long time. Just not in this campaign season.

At a press conference yesterday, House GOP Whip Roy Blunt was asked about the gun ruling and potential congressional action and its impact on the races. So confident he is that the public is on his side, the gun owners side, Blunt said flatly: "I welcome that debate."

he then said he didn't expect there to be such a debate.


University Park, Md.: What are your opinions on the pros and cons for Chet Edwards as a vice president for Obama? The Sleuth: Pelosi Touts Texas Rep. Chet Edwards For Veep (, June 25)

Paul Kane: Pelosi has been pushing this all week. It started Monday night, then again Tuesday morning. Tuesday, it was at a breakfast event with a couple dozen reporters, and afterward, as she was leaving, a reporter for McClatchy tried to press her on Clinton for Veep -- and outta nowhere she started talking about Chet Edwards. Finally, after Pelosi left, I went back to the other reporters just to clarify that she was advocating Edwards for Veep. Very weird.

It's not going to happen, period. I think Pelosi just wants to put House members in the mix, to give her caucus some bona fides. And I'm told she just genuinely thinks he's a great member, serving in what is believed to be the most Republican district in the nation represented by a Democrat. He also served on the Appropriations committee for years with Pelosi and John Murtha, a close Pelosi confidant, so my guess is that's where they bonded.


Raleigh, N.C.: Thanks for answering my "hold" question. This is a comment, not a question. As the Web site has virtually unlimited space, and the paper does not, has considered creating a sort of FAQ about the workings of Congress and the bureaucracy? If well done, it would be the "go-to" place for that kind of information, invaluable to engaged citizens and bloggers everywhere.

Paul Kane:

I'm not sure how many readers are aware of this site above, which is just great, frankly. Its corresponding site for Senate info is just dropping Senate in for House. Also, the 110 in that address above is a reference to the 110th Congress. Information on previous Congresses can be reached by just substituting in 109 (for 2005-2006) 108 (2003-2004) and so on.

There's a gold mine of information there, folks. Go all crazy citizen journalist if you want. You live in Minnesota and want to know how often Norm Coleman voted with GOP leadership when he first arrived in 2003-2004, compared to his newfound independence these days? It's all there.


Washington: With Sens. McCain and Obama running for president and many members of Congress facing tight races for re-election, when do you see leaders in the House and Senate decide to wrap things up this fall? As early as September, or later than that? Thanks.

Paul Kane: Nancy Pelosi told us reporters at this breakfast Tuesday that there are just 6 weeks of the legislative season left -- 3 in July, when they return from the Fourth of July recess; 3 in September, after they return from the recess for August and the national party conventions.

That means Sept. 26 is the target adjournment date.

I bet that probably slips by a week or so as the congressional leaders sit around in the Capitol trying to hammer out the final details of a so-called "continuing resolution" that will fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, rather than trying pass all of the annual appropriations bills.


Concord, N.H.: Shaheen's bid to unseat Sununu isn't going to be easy. The entire state legislature flipped wildly blue in the last election cycle. Since then, taxes have gone up along with food, gas, etc. It's not necessarily the Democrats' fault, but there will be backlash against the Democrats trying to get elected or re-elected, including senatorial races.

Paul Kane: I keep waiting for the movement in this race, to see John Sununu get closer to Shaheen. I assume it will happen, but also, there are times when it just never happens.

In 2006, people kept saying Rick Santorum would get close to Bob Casey, and same with Mike DeWine and Sherrod Brown. In fact, the voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio soundly tossed Santorum and DeWine from office.

Yes, I expect Sununu to close that gap. But, time's starting to get late.


Albany, N.Y.: It doesn't seem like the House Judiciary Committee got Addington and Yoo to say anything at all that they didn't want to say. Is there any other format available to the committee -- fewer people, or the more effective questioners given more time to build a documentary record that would be harder to dodge? Or is every member likely to insist on their five minutes of fame?

Paul Kane: My great friend and colleague John Bresnahan of Politico, who was on hand for yesterday's testimony and sat next to me during countless hours of the US attorney hearings last year, has a "unique" idea: Return to the days when committee counsel asked most of the questions.

We're doubtful the members would ever go for it, because they'd be seeding the spotlight to a staffer. But, having 1 person for each side ask most of the questions, focused and intense, well prepared, might be the best way to elicit information. Think of it like Russert and "Meet the Press". If Russert had to share those one-on-ones with 5 different reporters angling to get their time on camera, they wouldn't have been half as illuminating.

Also, looking back on last year's US attorney hearings, the two best moments in all of them were when Democrats willingly gave up their time and allowed one very smart colleague to ask all the questions: Artur Davis (D-Ala.), on the House Judiciary Committee, getting former DOJ counsel Monica Goodling to admit Alberto Gonzales may have tampered with her testimony; and Chuck Schumer's 20-minute questioning of former deputy AG James Comey, when Comey told that amazing story of rushing to John Ashcroft's hospital bedside to confront Gonzales and WH chief of staff Andy Card.

Something both parties should do more of, long form questioning by the smartest member of their committee.


Fairfax, Va.: Paul, as our resident expert on all things Springsteen and politics, can you explain to me why each of the big three Democratic candidates chose to use the Boss's "The Rising" at their campaign rallies? Obviously Springsteen has a huge following on the left, but the same song too?

Paul Kane: Hah! FYI: I just bought floor seats for the Springsteen show in Richmond in August. Won't be nearly as incredible as the Sunday night show in Dublin over Memorial Day weekend. That was something to behold.

Why Bruce? Why 'The Rising'?

for Obama, no one may connect better with the white working class folks he's had troubled connecting with than springsteen, who's spent decades spinning musical tales about their lives. And "The Rising", I guess, is the most recent popular song that both longtime Bruce fans and newcomers recognize. That's my guess.


Paul Kane: Alright gang, thanks for the questions. Great session. I'll be back in two weeks, back in my regular Thursday slot, and it'll be just a few days before my birthday, so I should be in a good mood. Have a great Fourth of July. See you soon. --pk


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