Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Tuesday, July 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 Tuesday, July 29 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Paul Kane: Good morning folks, sorry I'm a few minutes late getting started, some timing and technological problems. I'll give you an extra question or two at the end to make up for it. Well, it's the last week of the summer congressional session and, well, it's nothing like last year's final frantic week before the August recess. Back then the House and Senate were passing major ethics laws, temporary intelligence surveillance rewrites, energy legislation, some appropriations, lots of stuff. This week, they're going out with a whimper. Most activity is focused on politics: Obama's here on the Hill today, Dems and Republicans are measuring each other up over who will take a bigger hit for not doing anything on energy.

On another note, big things happening: Springsteen closed out Sunday night's show in the Meadowlands with Rosalita, the Hacks (congressional reporters) beat the Flacks (press secretaries) in softball last night on the National Mall and the Phillies open a series tonight in Nationals Park, hoping to get back into 1st place. Now, on to the questions. --pk


Washington, D.C.: Ugh. Is there a less inspiring choice for VP than Kaine? It's not clear to me he's popular enough in VA to really help there. At least, he's no Warner.

Paul Kane: OK, lots of Tim Kaine questions this morning. Let me start by saying, Come on, people, anyone with a name like that is gonna be at the top of my own personal Veep list!!!! (To be clear, I know of no relations between the Kaines and Kanes; the folks at Ellis Island really screwed things up for all of us, though, creating so many different spellings of such a simple name.)

I would encourage readers to Google "The Case for Kaine" and "The Fix" to read Chris Cillizza's take on Kaine as Veep. He's an interesting choice, but, as this reader notes, might not be overwhelmingly inspirational. Then again, with Obama at the top of the ticket, I'm kinda thinking there's already enough inspiration.


Anonymous: Good Morning Paul. How do you see Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore) re-election? A poll said he was trailing his opponent by 2 percent.

Paul Kane: Ah, the best sleeper Senate race in the country right now. I think this will be the race that is the equivalent to Tester-Burns from '06. These are two good candidates -- Smith spent the 1st five years of this decade voting a bit more conservative than his state's political ideology, but the past 3 years he has aggressively moved back to the middle and he's now firmly planted in the ideological sweet spot of his state, and he's adamantly opposed to the Iraq war. Jeff Merkley is the state House speaker, with lots of connections to the Democratic Party there, lots of institutional knowledge. Smith has all the money he'll ever need. I think this is going down to the wire. If the race is all about Smith and his votes in '01-'05 in favor of most Bush administration policies, then Merkley can win. If it's about how Smith has become an independent voice for Oregon, then he wins.

Either way, it's a close race, in my estimation.


Washington, D.C.: Why would Kaine want to take the VP spot? Wouldn't that burn bridges with Va. Democrats by giving his office to the Republican Lt. Governor? The Democrats would only control the State Senate, by a slim margin, setting themselves up for a tough road in 2009. It would be one thing if Kaine was leaving office in 2009, but his term doesn't expire until 2010.

Paul Kane: Um, seriously? Why would he take the VP slot? Because it would make him the 2nd most powerful man in the world. At that point, I don't think Kaine would be too concerned with what the Tidewater area Democrats think of him anymore. Besides, the Lt Gov would only have the governorship for 1 year, at which point Dems would have an even chance of winning it back.


SW Nebraska: Earlier this month, the left wing blogs were saying that McCain hadn't voted since April 8. Is that still true?

Paul Kane: Yes, Ben Pershing of's Capitol Briefing blog and I have been steadily tracking McCain's anti-Ripken performance in the Senate. McCain far and away is in the lead.

Now, to be fair, when you're in the minority your vote isn't as necessary as the majority. Oftentimes, Harry Reid needs Obama back in the Capitol to try to get to 60 votes on issues Democrats are trying to move, so that's a large part of the reason why Obama has a better voting record. Mitch McConnell almost never needs McCain's vote.

Still, it's a fun streak to watch -- April 8, McCain's last Senate vote.


Seattle, Wash.: Republicans set a record number of filibusters this session and yet it might be one person, Senator Colburn, that places so many of the Senate's rules in jeopardy. What's your take on him? Senate's 'Dr. No' Spurs Showdown Over Spending (Post, July 28)

Paul Kane: Tom Coburn is possibly the most fascinating person in the Senate, for so many reasons. I know the liberals will go absolutely bonkers -- yes, you're going to go bonkers -- when I write this. But in some ways Coburn reminds me of Paul Wellstone. He's an ideologically pure person who tries to prevent the majority from acting its will, and, more importantly, he's willing to buck his own leadership and keep up fights even when he knows he's sure to lose, in the process still shaping legislation. Wellstone would grab the floor and fight and fight and fight. It often ended up being on the losing side, but sometimes just because he fought, an amendment or two were added to a bill, or some provision was stripped from it.

Those sorts of senators, right or left, always fascinate me.


Undisclosed location: In yesterday's chat, Dan Balz stated twice that he was in an undisclosed location. Is he traveling with Vice President Cheney now that he's back from covering Sen. Obama's trip?

Paul Kane: If Dan won't tell you his location, I'm sure as heck not going to tell you his location! I hope, after following Obama all over half the world, that he's somewhere on a secure, undisclosed beach sipping rum-based concoctions and getting ready for the 10-week sprint from the day the Dem convention starts till Election Day.

Fun times.


Boston: Why aren't there criminal implications for the illegal hiring practices at Justice?

Paul Kane: Oh, there are plenty of criminal implications for the DOJ's IG/OPR report, just not from the IG himself. Inspector General Glen Fine does not bring criminal cases, really, just does investigations and makes recommendations. It's entirely possible a special counsel could be appointed to handle this entire mess. Clearly, it would be a problem to have anyone internally at main Justice to criminally investigate an investigation of main Justice. But there are more facets of the IG/OPR report to come, most particularly those focusing strictly on former AG Alberto Gonzales and his potential obstruction of aide's testimony and possible perjury to congresisonal committees. This could be a long ways from finished.


Chicago: Hey Paul, why has Hillary Clinton not been seen since Unity, New Hampshire? Why has Bill yet to give an in-person endorsement of Obama?

Paul Kane: Hillary Clinton has been seen plenty since Unity -- right here in the United States Senate. She's here doing her job, see, doing what the people of New York elected her to do. She goes to committee hearings, she gives floor speeches and she votes. To some degree I almost feel sorry for her in the post-campaign aspect; if she wasn't in the Senate and instead was out campaigning, people would get angry and write that she's campaigning to be Veep and trying to upstage Obama; if she stays here in the Senate and does her real job, people ask why doesn't she do more for Obama.

As for her husband, he's his own political beast.


Bethesda, Md.: OK, so we know how long it's been since McCain voted. Has he been attending any committee meetings or hearings? If not, which ones has he missed?

Paul Kane: He hasn't even blinked at a committee hearing room since the spring, when the Armed Services Committee (on which he's the top Republican) heard from our top military and diplomatic personnel in Iraq.

Pretty much the same for Obama, that same day Foreign Relations -- on which Obama is very junior -- heard the same testimony.


Planet Earth: Paul : Why do yout think the American media is supressing former astronaut Edgar Mitchell's claims that we have been visited by aliens ? Is this just another case of no one wanting to do anything about illegal aliens or is it something more sinister ?

Paul Kane: If you can connect me with some of these aliens, I'm happy to do some reporting on them. Do you think they have elections like we do? Are their 527 groups on other planets that run "shadowy" advertisments attacking candidates without ever identifying who their donors are?

Is there an FEC in outer space? And if so, is it just as weak and inefficient as ours is here?

Sorry, these are the questions that go through my brain when I've just downed a venti Starbucks.

_______________________ The Case for Tim Kaine (Post, July 9)

Paul Kane: Ok folks, here's the link to the Cillizza post on Tim Kaine. Also, you'll find a link there to the 'Case Against Tim Kaine.'

Man, you're all really fired up about my "long, lost cousin". Settle down, people, don't get to whip-sawed by the Veep speculation. Tomorrow, there could be a story that says Sam Nunn's really under consideration, blah-blah-blah. While at Roll Call, above my desk hung a New York Post cover with the screaming headline: IT'S GEPHARDT.

That "report" said John Kerry had settled on former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt as his running mate.

Hours after the Post put that cover out, Kerry picked John Edwards. It's not worth all this time beating yourselves up over the choice.


Iowa: Is there any chance 4th District Rep. Tom Latham can be defeated by Ms. Greenwald? Having Karl Rove here fundraising for him, given Rove's record, really stuck in my craw. (Not to mention the folks who tried to conduct a citizen's arrest of Rove and were arrested themselves.)

Paul Kane: I don't know all the dynamics of this particular race, but let me say this about Iowa -- god bless its redistricting system. All 5 districts are reasonably competitive.

Subscription required above, I think, but that shows that all 5 seats had results with the winner receiving less than 60%; Latham won 57% last time. So, he should be OK this time around. You'd have to see what the "Obama Factor" is there. Does he bring out thousands of new voters, like he did at the caucus, and sweeps to victory? Time will tell.


Fairfax, Va.: Haha, but I bet Kerry wishes he picked Gephardt!

Paul Kane: Um, I'm not sure Gephardt would have added anything more to the mix than Edwards did, really. He's a really smart guy but never had much in the way of inspirational qualities. Now, as for '08, Gephardt is definitely not in the mix. He's a lobbyist, not only that, but he's also a registered foreign agent helping the Turks beat back a resolution accusing them of genocide against the Armenians a century ago. In this environment, no registered foreign agents are going to be in anyone's cabinet any time soon, let alone be a veep.


Washington, D.C.: Yo, PK, did you catch The Boss on 60 Minutes this past Sunday? Your take on your man's politics? I thought it was a good interview myself. What's he got cooking for the fall campaign?

Paul Kane: Um, I gotta take 1 Bruce question. No, I didn't watch the 60 Minutes re-broacast -- because I was AT the show in Giants Stadium while CBS was re-airing that interview. Don't expect Springsteen to do any big concerts for Obama, I think the last time around with Kerry was emotionally draining, in part because he lost. Also, Kerry and Springsteen have known each other since the No Nukes concerts of the late '70s and early '80s, and Springsteen's work trying to benefit Vietnam Vets from back then, which Kerry helped him on. Bruce has no such relationship with Obama.


Wait, here's an even better idea: McCain should pick Kaine as his running mate, instead, so that the signs could say "McCain-Kaine." Then you could cover the campaign, so you could say, "here's Kane on the McCain-Kaine campaign...."

Paul Kane: If he picks Kaine, how tired are we all going to be of the headlines reading: CITIZEN KAINE.



Or, in some alternative weeklies: DRIVING THAT OBAMA TRAIN, HIGH ON CO-KAINE.

I can go all day with this people, I'm reliving some childhood taunts.


Baltimore,: What's up with the Coburn Omnibus? Is there a worse way of getting a piece of legislation named after yourself?

Paul Kane: My good friend and competitor Carl Hulse of the New York Times, in his competing A1 profile of Coburn, labeled it the "Tomnibus". I liked that, but I'd yet to hear it widely enough in circulation for me to use.

It should be the anti-Coburn omnibus.

For the record, Coburn has no problem with these profiles of him. We gave him plenty of space to explain his views on federal government and its spending and its deficits. There are millions of people that read these Coburn stories and said, Attaboy, Tom.


Central Mass.: PK, I think I have a crush on you! But that's beside the point... Question: I am a McCain supporter, but am nervous about the debates to come in the fall. He comes across so awkwardly. Obama delivers a great speech, but how is he at thinking on his feet? Will he clobber McCain in the debates?

Paul Kane: I've never been to Central Mass but have recently been considering a road trip! Kidding.

The debates will be remind me of the Gore-Bush debates in which it will all be about expectations. Except expectations will be somewhat low for each candidate: Obama will have to look like he actually understands policy, and McCain will just have to not look old.

Should be entertainging.


Washington, D.C.: Paul, Have Senator Collins re-elect prospects dropped a bit? How is Tom Allen doing as a candidate? Thanks

Paul Kane: This is the 1 race right now that, with some truth serum, Democrats will admit that they're very disappointed in; Allen just has not closed this race in any appreciable way in recent months, while all sorts of other Democrats in seemingly tougher states -- Mississippi, North Carolina -- have shown growth against incumbents.

Part of this is a credit to Collins, who for 12 years has always been a centrist moderate and who has pretty much always been in the sweet spot of Maine's political ideology. However, part of the Allen problem is the Maine press corps. There are not many politcal reporters up there, now that the Portland Press Herald has closed its DC bureau there is not a single reporter in the entire state who covers the congressional delegation down here, so no one can explain to voters the intricacies of what matters and what doesn't matter down here.

This is a problem for Allen -- and, it's going to be a bigger problem for the state of our democracy as other papers close bureaus and there's less scrutiny of Congress from home-state papers than at any time in 100 years.


Speaking of Wellstone: Are you hoping to have Al Franken in Wellstone's seat? What would you expect of him?

Paul Kane: Can't say what I would think of a Senator Franken, it would just seem, well, odd. Not odd in a bad way, or a good way, just odd.

As for that race, for those of you that like politics as sport, that's the race to watch this year. Franken has said and done plenty of things that controversial -- not paying taxes, comic sketches that are at the least a bit more edgy than usual -- and this gives Coleman the opportunity to define Franken and put him on the defensive. Franken will hit back with allegations that Coleman is getting a low rent apartment on Capitol Hill from a friend, and add it all up, you've got the makings for a potentially highly negative race.

This is not your standard "Minnesota Nice" sort of campaign. Could be very fun to watch.


Silver Spring, Md.: Why not let the delegates at the conventions pick between a narrowed field of candidates for Veep?

Both candidates went through a very public primary campaign to gain their party's nomination. Yet when it comes to picking the person who could become president or have enormous power in their administrations the public gets shut out and the decision is made behind close doors. So let's open it up to the conventions. Wouldn't that be fun?

Paul Kane: Um, yeah, that would be fun. But picking your running mate is the 1st big decision you get to make as nominee, and it's actually a pretty good indicator of the sort of president you will be. I kinda like the process just the way it is, thank you.


Advancing America's Priorities Act: Only three republicans voted for cloture on the so called "Advancing America's Priorities Act", Smith, Coleman and Warner. I think this shows how worried Smith and Coleman are about November but I don't get Warner's vote seeing he's not up for re-election. Why'd Warner vote for cloture?

Paul Kane: I'd have to triple check all 35 bills, but it's entirely possible that some of those bills were authored by John Warner, or he's a main cosponsor. As a retiring senator, Warner may only have a few more weeks of legislative activity in which to pass laws that will shape his political legacy. That's my best guess as to why he voted with Democrats yesterday.


St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Paul -- Thank you for taking questions today. I know that all eyes are on the election, but we also learned yesterday that the Bush Justice department broke the law in its hiring practices. So does anything happen now to Monica Goodling and company? Criminal prosecution? Censure? Disbarment? Or does the whole thing, like the e-mail investigation and any number of Bush scandals, just fade away? Washington Sketch: Another Monica Problem (Post, July 29)

Paul Kane: One final DOJ question. This reader raises one key thing --disbarment. With an IG report like this, there's plenty of basis for someone to file a complaint against Goodling and Sampson, in the states they are licensed to practice law, and get them disbarred.


Baltimore: McCain isn't looking too healthy these days, and just yesterday he had a 'benign' tumor removed. If he were to drop out due to health reasons, who would the Republican convention pick?

Paul Kane: People, people, people -- McCain is not dropping out of this race. It's actually still a close race if you'd bother to look at the polls. And besides, there's no one on the GOP who would be doing any better right now.


Paul Kane: Alright folks, time to get to work. This was a bonus chat, since it's the last week of congressional session we threw me into the mix. You probably won't be hearing from me for another 3 or 4 weeks now in these chats. It's been great. Now, let's say it all together: Go Phillies. -- pk


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