Post Politics Hour

Michael Abramowitz and Lois Romano
Washington Post White House Reporter; Washington Post National Political Reporter
Tuesday, September 2, 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 White House reporter Michael Abramowitz and Post national political reporter Lois Romano will be online live from the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., on Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the president and vice president's Monday night speeches and the rest of the news from the convention and the campaign trail.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Washington: How could the post publish on A1 that story about earmarks with Gov. Palin and hide the fact that not only that Biden secured $86 million in earmarks this past year, but that his son makes a $1.2 million salary as a lobbyist. Talk about in the tank -- this type of reporting is insulting. Palin's Small Alaska Town Secured Big Federal Funds (Post, Sept. 2)

Michael Abramowitz: Good morning everybody from Minneapolis, where this has been a most unusual convention so far.

We have done reporting on Biden's son before--just after he was named as Obama's vice presidential nominee. So we are going through the normal course of reporting out the background of vice presidential candidates. I am certain there will be more on both candidates.

_______________________ Biden Family Financial Connections Detailed (, Aug. 28)


Boston: The 25 percent of Americans who support President Bush are the most hard-core Republicans in the country. How are they going to feel about having John McCain exclude their hero from the convention?

Michael Abramowitz: I am not certain they are excluding the president. It appears the president may be addressing the delegates in some fashion this evening, perhaps by satellite video. We will probably know the answers in the next hour.


Florissant Valley, Mo.: Morning, Lois and Michael. It's rare that I agree with Bill Bennett, but he said on CNN that Barack was right -- the Palin pregnancy should be off-limits. So why can't the media leave it alone? I guess some folks are gleeful that this abstinence-only lady failed with one of her daughters, but that's hardly something to hold against her. I say keep it private and let folks make their private judgments.

Michael Abramowitz: I suspect you would find some sympathy in the media for your point of view. But the fact of the matter is that the McCain campaign was the one that announced this information, so it would be kind of hard for us to ignore the news. The real question is are there other issues out there that could be damaging to the GOP ticket and whether the McCain campaign adequately vetted her. That's what we will be seeing play out in the next few days.


Floris, Va.: Campaign finance may no be your game but maybe you can explain this -- McCain raised $47 million in August but doesn't he have to spend it all by Thursday? Then he gets public financing, right? So, where does the money go that he doesn't spend? Also, is it legal to pay forward stuff, like office rent through the end of October?

Michael Abramowitz: I am fortunately sitting next to our campaign finance guru Matt Mosk, so I think I can give you answers to your questions. My understanding is that most of that $47 million has already been spent. There will probably be about $10 million left over, and the McCain campaign is allowed under law to transfer that money to state party committees in key battleground states for use in the fall election.


Ellicott City, Md.: I'm so completely baffled by the Sarah Palin story that I can't put a coherent question together. So let me ask this instead: Why is President Bush addressing the convention at all? I thought Hurricane Gustav gave a convenient excuse for all involved. Did he want to do it, or did the Republican National Committee decide they couldn't avoid having the president address the convention, and ask him?

Michael Abramowitz: He is the sitting president. He is still pretty popular in his own party. It would have been a bigger unwanted story for the Republicans if he wasn't coming or speaking.


Milwaukee: I am curious as to what the general vibe is at the convention. From the footage I've seen on TV, it seems low-energy -- especially in comparison with the Democratic Convention. I'm sure the Gustav worry caused some of that, but do you agree that the "vibe" seems off? Or is it just not translating to TV well?

Michael Abramowitz: It's really hard to tell because until now we haven't really had a normal convention. Yesterday we had only a rump session with a very warm reception for the First Lady and Mrs. McCain. We will have a better sense when they resume normal programming today.


Raleigh, N.C.: Hi Michael and Lois. This question may seem irrelevant to political discussion, but here I go anyways: I was talking with my young, white male friends, and they are totally ga-ga over Sarah Palin. It occurred to me that Sarah Palin is the anti-Hillary type of woman. I think it is a mistake for the press to keep thinking that Palin is going to help get Hillary voters; I think the McCain camp knows that her appeal is with the "Maxim Magazine" voter, the suburban Mom, the young, independent-woman type under age 45 years.

My girlfriends keep talking about how she dresses a lot more stylishly than Hillary. They were getting kind of sick of seeing the pantsuits. Having said all that, let's put it on the table: Do you think Sarah Palin's style and fashion will help or hinder her the campaign for the White House? P.S. My friends love her red shoes!

Michael Abramowitz: Let's put aside the question of whether she is qualified to be vice president or not (and I know we will not reach consensus among our readers on that!). I watched her opening speech when she was introduced by McCain last Friday, and I thought she did very well and made a much better first impression than, say, Dan Quayle, who looked like a deer caught in the headlights when he was first introduced by George H.W. Bush in 1988. I suspect she will be very appealing for many voters.


St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Michael and Lois -- thank you for taking questions today, and I hope you are finding St. Paul a hospitable place. Among the reasons given in support of Gov. Palin's foreign policy credentials are that she is the commander of chief of the Alaska National Guard and that Alaska is next door to Russia. These talking points seemed to be getting repeated over and over, without much else to amplify them. Aren't all state governors commanders in chief of their respective National Guards? Isn't that largely a ceremonial role? And I'm sorry, but the Alaska/Russia connection seems somewhat of a stretch to me, unless I'm missing something.

Michael Abramowitz: I have to say I agree with you that all this seems to be a stretch. You are right that governors are the head of the national guard in their states, and you're right that Palin has not had much to do with Russia policy over the last few years. Her foreign policy credentials seem pretty thin right now.


Philadelphia: So if Alaska seceded from the Union while Ms. Palin was Vice President, would she have to resign? Seriously, what of the story that she's a (former?) member of something called the Alaska Independence Party? I suppose it might help the ticket in the South... John McCain's running mate Sarah Palin was in Alaskan independence party (London Telegraph, Sept. 2)

Lois Romano: Good morning everyone. What a great day to take questions. Thanks for joining us.


San Francisco: President Bush and John McCain trumpet the success of the surge, but it hasn't accomplished most of the goals that President Bush said it would. For example, we just turned over the security responsibilities in Anbar Province to the Iraqi government, making it the 11th province we've handed over out of 18. When he announced the surge in January 2007, President Bush said the Iraqi government would "take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November." That's November 2007, not 2008. Uncertainty After Anbar Handover (Post, Sept. 2)

Michael Abramowitz: It is certainly true that the administration has missed many of the benchmarks it set for itself on Iraq policy. The question is whether the overall conditions are better and things are going in the right direction. I guess which is more important depends on your overall perspective.


Now Rudy!?: What is going on with the disorganized mess we call the GOP? Will Rogers is spinning in his grave. Obama runs one of the most meticulous, well-disciplined and strategic campaigns ever seen and McCain just muddles through one mess after another. Has anyone ever dumped their keynoter on the day of the speech before? The Fix: GOP Convention Back on Track -- With Changes (, Sept. 2)

Michael Abramowitz: I think we are just learning the schedule--so it appears Rudy will be speaking at some point. They couldn't go on with the convention as scheduled given the hurricane, and I guarantee you that if the hurricane happened during the Democratic convention, they would have had to adjust too.


Silver Spring, Md.: Why didn't the McCain campaign announce on Friday that Palin's daughter was pregnant? Waiting until after all the Internet rumors to release the news seems to have made the story more significant. This could have been handled much better by McCain, Palin and their staffs.

Michael Abramowitz: I think this is a reasonable point. Its usually better to get all the information out on your own terms before somebody else does it for you. It would have been pretty hard to hide this until election day.


Carrollton, Texas: So, with the Republican convention going quiet, any chance we'll hear more word about Paul's rally tonight? From the ticket sales it seems that there are still plenty of frustrated conservatives out there.

Michael Abramowitz: I believe one of my colleagues is covering it--so look for coverage on the web and in the paper tomorrow.


Santa Barbara, Calif.: Did no one in the McCain campaign anticipate that when you pick a virtually (nationally) unknown vice presidential candidate right before the convention, that magnified and sensational news about that person's past -- true or not -- would dominate the convention?

Lois Romano: They say they were braced for this-- and knew the news of the pregnancy would come out.


New York: What are the Republican Party's rules concerning replacing a vice presidential nominee after the convention? I understand McCain's wishes would be respected, but presumably there is some formal mechanism here.

Michael Abramowitz: We're looking into that. I am not sure of the rules: In 1972, when McGovern had to replace Tom Eagleton as his running mate after the convention, it was the Democratic National Committee that was charged with approving his replacement.

Folks, thanks for all your good questions--I am turning you over to my friend Lois.


Concord, N.H.: Media-hounding the Palin child would be despicable, but I'd think questioning Sarah on how her policy of abstinence-only education jibes with her experience with how that has worked within her own family is absolutely valid. It's easy for legislators like McCain to vote for doubling abstinence-only education funding while cutting family planning education when they don't have to deal with real-life consequences. Now she does. Don't abstinence-only states typically have higher rates of teenage pregnancies? This is going to be a divisive issue for women, and it is a big deal.

Lois Romano: Very good point. The message boards on all the stories raise this issue. Coming from a Christian values family that supports abstinence, people are wondering if the teenager had any education--from home or school- about pregnancy prevention.


Dallas: How long does it usually take to complete the vetting process for a vice president?

Lois Romano: It depends-- but usually a month. The campaign maintains it didn't miss the pregnancy, the trooper investigation or Todd Palin's DWI 20 years ago. Whether they were prepared for the distraction is another story.


Baltimore: Lois, I love you dearly but I have to take strong exception to something you wrote today: You characterize Palin's decision to give a speech and then get on an eight-hour plane flight while her amniotic fluid was leaking as "feisty and fearless." It's not -- it's stupid, reckless, and could have serious health consequences for the mother and the baby. My obstetrician told me to get to a hospital immediately if my fluid started leaking. Once it starts, your risk for infection skyrockets. Please take an opportunity to educate your readers -- in a situation like Palin's, don't be stupid. Don't risk yourself or your baby like that. Gov. Mom (Post, Sept. 2)

Lois Romano: I appreciate your comments and others have made the same point.


Houston: Is Sarah Palin's family supposed to be on stage with her when she gives her speech tomorrow? I believe I read they were home in Alaska yesterday. Do you think Palin will keep her kids out of sight -- all of them -- for the rest of the campaign, and that the emphasis on "supermom" will go away? If so, what does she replace it with to appeal to voters?

Lois Romano: I am told they will be back for her speech.


New York: Today's story by Lois Romano exemplifies how horrifically bad the media today. You can bet your bottom dollar that there was no newspaper in America that had a question mark about whether Obama "can have it all" when he has two kids and is a senator, or whether that is "too much." Can you get any more sexist in your coverage of Gov. Palin?

Oh, and by the way -- Gov. Palin never told Alaska Airlines that she was in labor when she flew back to Alaska to have her son because she wasn't in labor. She had a slight leak of her amniotic fluid -- that's not labor. Even People Magazine gets these details right -- is it too much to ask that The Washington Post to get it right too? I'm sincerely disgusted.

Lois Romano: A 'slight' leak? Her water broke, she had a high-risk pregnancy and she flew eight hours.


Atlanta: Does it say anything about the other vice presidential possibilities (Romney, Pawlenty, Lieberman) that the McCain team knew about the pregnancy and still decided not to pick any of them?

Lois Romano: Not really. He wanted a woman and he wanted an evangelical. She fit the bill.


Orlando, Fla.: Regarding Ms. Palin, what does she know about the lower 48 states? Where has she visited previously? How does her experience in Alaska with all the oil money translate into issues in Pittsburgh, Orlando and St. Louis? Has she ever worked with African Americans or Hispanics? What about mass transit, farming, banking and immigration? Does she see Alaska as very different from the lower 48?

Lois Romano: Those are all very good questions that no doubt will be explored in the next 60 days and during the debates. Alaska is a small population state, and she will be pressed on many urban issues-- not to mention foreign affairs.


Dunn Loring, Va.: Lois, regarding your article today, have you ever inquired into the breastfeeding practices of a Democratic politician?

Lois Romano: To my knowledge no Democratic politician has announced to People magazine that she breast feeds. If Gov. Palin doesn't view it as an invasion of privacy, neither should you.


Garland, Texas: Did McCain ever consider Kay Bailey Hutchison as his vice president? She seems a perfect fit.

Lois Romano: I'm sure he did but the political word is that they don't have great chemistry.


The most serious criticism of Sarah Palin...: seems to be her involvement with the Ted Stevens 527 organization. Why isn't this getting more attention? Because it's not "sexy"? Because it's harder to understand? The Trail: Palin Was a Director of Embattled Sen. Stevens's 527 Group (, Sept. 1)

Lois Romano: Give everyone time to digest everything. She just got named Thursday and there's been quite a bit of news, wouldn't you say?


Wheaton, Md.: The New York Times is reporting that the McCain team is busy vetting Palin, on the ground up in Alaska -- now. Was this an impulsive pick that perhaps was announced prematurely? I had heard (last week) that McCain was making the choice independently of his aides, but didn't imagine he was "flying in the dark" quite this much. Disclosures on Palin Raise Questions on Vetting Process (New York Times, Sept. 1)

Lois Romano: I'm not sure impulsive is the right word. She was on the list but not a serious contender. Perhaps as they went through the choices she jumped out as someone who would satisfy the Christian conservatives and make a splash.

The campaign says they they knew all this about her--but its hard to imagine they were braced for the distraction.


For what's worth: Lois: I think the pregnancy announcement actually will help Palin. It will divert a little attention from her woeful lack of credentials, allow her to give a warm, fuzzy hard-to-criticize speech at the convention, and enable her to play the victim when somebody inevitably goes too far in questioning her daughter's actions. It also will slow and overshadow the media's reporting on the many flaws in her story: that she pushed for earmarks as mayor, was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it, is dealing with the Troopergate investigation, etc. I say it actually buys her some cover.

Lois Romano: well, not for long. There's a limited among of resources that will go into covering the pregnancy. The media and the Democrats will turn to her record fairly soon.


Boston: If the McCain campaign knew about Bristol's pregnancy ahead of time, why didn't anyone tell her child's father to take down his MySpace page before the story broke? It has since been taken down, but only after being quoted all over the Internet, profanities and all.

Lois Romano: In fairness, I think political campaigns are just coming to terms with all the various ways the Internet can trip them up.

Simply stated: they didn't think of it.


Lois Romano: Thank you for your questions on this brief chat. See you back here next week.


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