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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Monday, November 10, 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 Shailagh Murray was online Monday, Nov. 10 at 11 a.m. ET to answer readers' questions about the latest news from Washington and the campaign trail.

The transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Tulsa, Okla.: When is Comrade Obama going to start moving us to collective farms?

Shailagh Murray: Good morning everyone. The world looks a little different, doesn't it? But I can see that some of us are struggling to move beyond the campaign rhetoric. Tulsa, that "socialist" riff was so October. Wait until you see what kind of budget he produces.

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Chicago: Thanks for taking my question. Was there a result last Tuesday that really really surprised you, like you woke up Wednesday morning and said to yourself, "wow I never saw that coming"? I think it was the convicted Ted Stevens possibly getting re-elected.

Shailagh Murray: Good morning Chicago, and thanks for the question. I was surprised that a few of those Republican senators didn't hold. I expected more ticket-splitting as it became clear Obama was going to run away in the presidential race. In particular, I thought Gordon Smith and John Sununu could rebound -- they both seemed to match their states pretty well, and their rivals weren't new faces or particularly tough politicians, a la Kay Hagan in North Carolina.

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Fairfax, Va.: The phrase turning up in a lot of liberal pundits' columns lately is "The New New Deal." Fareed Zakaria, no liberal, made a point yesterday about differentiating the economic crisis we're in now from the situation Clinton was in after getting into office in 1993. Interest rates were much higher, so he and Greenspan put a greater emphasis on deficit reduction. Now, though, interest rates already are very low, and many are calling for huge public investments in infrastructure. How feasible are such plans, and is it smart policy to prioritize them over deficit reduction?

Shailagh Murray: This will be the central debate once Obama takes office.

It's hard to predict how this economy will respond to any form of government action. Expect to see a combination approach of new tax policy, investments in infrastructure as well as energy, but also some sort of government reform agenda that signals Obama's commitment to deficit reduction. This is an issue he talked about all the time on the campaign trail, and his economic advisers are the same Clinton folks who made it happen in the 1990s. The trick will be to sell the whole agenda, though, because there aren't majority constituencies in Congress for doing this piecemeal -- i.e. if he tried to pass an infrastructure plan that adds to the deficit, the House Blue Dogs would howl.

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Helena, Mont.: What is meant by "far left" in this country? How would the electorate know if the Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration had embraced the far-left agenda? I know two things: They won't do a coronation ceremony in the Senate for Sun Yung Moon (or any other religious leader) and they won't pass legislation to keep a woman in a vegetative state on life support. They are also unlikely to put the fate of a fetus over the health and life of a woman. So what are the left's equivalents of these far-right agenda items? I just want to know what the pundits are warning us against.

Shailagh Murray: Oh, let's see, how about extending government aid like health care to illegal immigrants? Or repealing the Defense of Marriage Act? Or rewriting trade deals to include business-unfriendly labor provisions? Or enacting punitive environmental laws? I'm just warming up.

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Anonymous: Do you really believe Obama is staying out of the Reid/Lieberman talks? In this matter, does Lieberman have Joe-mentum or is his stock falling?

Shailagh Murray: Put it this way: I'm sure Harry Reid is confident that he has his party's full backing. I mean, come on -- among other things, Joe Lieberman's behavior suggests he has no interest in running for re-election, certainly as a Democrat. They gotta punish him, and it has to hurt.

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Central Massachusetts: Where is Howard Dean? Why so quiet? What happens to the Democratic National Committee now -- does it move its operations back to Washington or is it staying in Chicago? Thank you.

Shailagh Murray: Howard Dean is rolling on his back like a new puppy, gleeful that his 50-state strategy has been vindicated. Of course, he was such a poor performer on the dollar side that he never will get credit for his strategic vision. The DNC will be rebuilt in Washington early next year, under the tight grip of the Obama White House.

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Iowa: As one of the millions of modest donors to the Obama campaign, I was amazed to receive an email from President-Elect Obama at 11:14 p.m. on Tuesday night thanking me for my help. In light of today's Washington Post article about how they are hoping harness these Internet connections in some way, what do you see as effective ways to use this bank of supporters?

washingtonpost.com: Under Obama, Web Would Be the Way (Post, Nov. 10)

Shailagh Murray: Imagine the force that 10 million could exert, say, on Congress, in the midst of a battle about raising mileage standards for cars. Or as a fundraising engine for up-and-coming Democrats around the country. Or as a volunteer army for a cause that Obama is advocating.

I'm biased because I wrote that story, but I think this is a political breakthrough on a scale that we haven't quite digested. The implications are so vast.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I would think Jesse Jackson Jr. would be the obvious person to replace President-Elect Obama in the Senate. What are considered his weaknesses?

Shailagh Murray: I'm just throwing this out there, but maybe his lightning rod father?

The battle for Obama's Senate seat is the great political story out there now, for all of you suffering from withdrawal. That and what happens to the Alaska seat if/when Ted Stevens is expelled -- hello Sen. Sarah!

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Winnipeg, Canada: Do you think that Afghanistan will be to President Obama what Vietnam was to President Johnston? By that, I mean a foreign quagmire preventing him from achieving ambitious domestic goals.

Shailagh Murray: Apparently there is that potential. It could be that Bush gave Obama a great gift by making the surge happen, so U.S. troops can be diverted sooner rather than later to that simmering cauldron.

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Detroit: Labor is a big part of the Democratic coalition. Their main legislative initiative is the Employee Free Choice Act, which the business community and Fox News spent a lot of time and money in the campaign trying to demonize. Obama voted for the bill last year and promised to support its passage as president. If and when it gets introduced in 2009, it likely will be a high-profile and aggressively lobbied legislative campaign. What's your sense on where this will fit into the timing of the Obama administration's legislative initiatives? Does he try to fit it into the overall framework of economic recovery proposals early on in 2009, or does he punt it down the road to stand on its own later in 2009 or 2010?

Shailagh Murray: Remember the question earlier about the liberal agenda that conservatives fear? Add this to the list.

This bill will pass, and it likely will pass early -- not because Obama wants it so badly, but because so many House and Senate Democrats do. But Democrats will have to restrain themselves on these payback bills, because there's no better gift to Republicans' 2010 candidates than overreaching.

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Northville, N.Y.: I can't remember a transition where every single little damn thing was so minutely puzzled over and examined. This is ludicrous and foolish. The man is not even going to be president for ten more weeks! Can we get you people a hobby?

Shailagh Murray: You seem to think we want to be at work a week after ending the longest two years of our lives?

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Bowie, Md.: Comparing McCain to Bush in 2004, I think his biggest percentage pick-up (other than his home state) was Louisiana. Is there something to the accusations that the state is rebuilding its housing in such a way as to discourage blacks from moving back, and is this something an Obama administration would stop?

Shailagh Murray: I am assuming that McCain's gains in Louisiana are tied to a Katrina-related population shift, but I am have not heard anything along these lines. This election has left us with some interesting maps to study, though.

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Washington: Of all the candidates' claims during the campaign, the one that most rang hollow to me was Obama's "I'll invade Pakistan to find Osama bin Laden." How would you quantify the likelihood of Obama launching a manhunt for Osama, especially one involving incursions into Pakistani territory? Thanks.

Shailagh Murray: I think his position was more along the lines of "if we know where bin Laden is and the Pakistani government won't act, then we will." I'm pretty sure any U.S. president would be inclined to do the same thing. What do you think your re-election chances would be if you didn't?

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Laurel, Md.: I read two Democratic strategy books since 2004 -- "Take It Back," by CNN pundits Carville and Begala, and "Whistling Past Dixie" by Thomas Schaller. The former suggested adding nod to cultural conservatism, arguing that Southerners could be amenable to the Democrats' economic message if they could pass the pro-religion and pro-patriotism filtering issues. The latter suggested essentially winning the rest of the country by running against the South. I'm not sure which of these strategies they used (if either), but McCain's electoral map sure looks like the Deep South plus the wheat-growing areas.

Shailagh Murray: The notion that Democrats could give up on the South is -- and always was -- ridiculous. What do people think the modern South is, Faulkner country with strip malls? This is not some nation of quadrants -- certainly not these days. My theory is that one of the reasons Obama won in places like Ohio is because Ohio voters saw him being accepted broadly across the country. That was his whole message -- that political boundaries are artificial. And it turns out he was right.

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Baltimore: Re: Louisiana's population shift, my brother retired there and he said that, after Katrina, there was a huge jump in demand for housing in Lafayette. The demand was coming from well-to-do white people from Mississippi who did not want to risk going back to the Gulf Coast.

Shailagh Murray: Thanks for this.

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New York: "I can't remember a transition where every single little damn thing was so minutely puzzled over and examined." You have to have a memory span of less than four years not to remember this. I remember every single election was followed by exactly what is going on now.

Shailagh Murray: Well, Clinton did name members his team until well into December. But he also gave us gays in the military right up front, which kept reporters busy.

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New York: Shailagh, what is the reaction to Henry Waxman's interest in John Dingell's Energy and Commerce post? I always have thought there was too much grey area in Dingell's auto interests and the Energy and Commerce Committee, especially now with our national mandate for change. I like the sounds of Waxman in that position. Your thoughts?

Shailagh Murray: This is why I love Congress -- now here's a fight.

I can assure you that Henry Waxman isn't doing this because he expects to lose -- although the auto industry's problems could change the dynamic somewhat. But this committee will be ground zero in the House for Obama's energy agenda. Another fascinating subplot: Obama's congressional liaison, Phil Schiliro, is a former Waxman man.

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U.N.?: Who are the leading candidates for United Nations ambassador under President Obama?

Shailagh Murray: I'm thinking Susan Rice.

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Re: Faulkner country: You write "what do people think the modern South is, Faulkner country with strip malls?" Yes, that's exactly what it is. I lived down there and liked it, but that's how I would describe it.

Shailagh Murray: Maybe so, but the population is a lot more diverse -- and Charlotte, N.C., looks like Paris compared to ... a few cities in Rust Belt swing states that I won't mention.

Gang, thanks for participating. I hope you all voted. And whatever side you were on, weren't we the lucky ones to have lived through this wild campaign?

Cheers, and see you in a couple of weeks.

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