Post Politics Hour's Daily Politics Discussion

Paul Kane
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Wednesday, November 26, 2008 11:00 AM

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Washington Post Congressional Reporter Paul Kane was online Wednesday, Nov. 26 at 11 a.m. ET to answer readers' questions about the latest news from Washington and the transition.

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Paul Kane: Good morning and an early Happy Thanksgiving. Wow, as I type, Barack Obama is doing his 3rd straight news conference. Man, if only he keeps this up during his White House tenure; yet somehow I don't think that's gonna happen. Anyway, it's the holiday season, Christmas jingles fill the air, my friends in Maple Glen, Pa., will gather at the Tavern tonight and, no doubt, recall the time Father Ed caught them sneaking onto the roof of St. Alphonsus up to no good. (Ace still blames Kev for getting caught, I think.) It's a time of tradition and yuletide and merry-making -- unless you're in Minnesota nervously watching the Senate recount or in Georgia trying to get voters to the polls for a run-off election on Tuesday. The political season is still in full swing. A lobbyist told me yesterday it feels like triple overtime. Amazing. Ok, on to the questions. --pk


Houston, Tex.: Paul, there's been a minor debate going on this week in the Wash Post politics chats. Several commenters assert that Senate seniority is determined by date of election (i.e., the most recently elected senator in a state is the junior senator). But I say, and online sources back me up, that the senior senator is the one who has served the longest. (Example: Fritz Hollings was always the junior senator from S.C., not the junior, then the senior, then the junior, etc.) What say you?

Paul Kane: Yeah, I'm not sure I fully understand the nature of this debate, but I was sitting next to Shailagh Murray when she was doing this chat yesterday and she mentioned this to me. Look, I don't know what the online sources say, and I don't know what the debate has centered on, but I can assure you this: the senior senator is the senator who has served in that particular seat the longest. Chuck Schumer, elected in 1998 by defeating Al D'Amato, is the senior senator from New York. Hillary Clinton, elected to Moynihan's seat in 2000, is the junior senator from New York.
That's that. Now, that changes if someone leaves the Senate and comes back a few years later. Frank Lautenberg, first elected in 1982, retired in 2000 and Jon Corzine won his seat. Two years later Robert Torricelli -- oh, how I miss his crooked ways -- quit his re-election bid in disgrace, and Lautenberg came out of retirement to win his old rival's Senate seat. For the next few years, Corzine was the senior Senator from Jersey and Lautenberg was the junior senator. (North Dakota has a similar situation going on, in which Conrad was elected to a seat and vowed to retire if the deficit wasn't reduced; he stuck to his word and retired, allowing Dorgan to win that seat. Conrad returned less than a year later when an opening came up; so, Dorgan is the senior senator from North Dakota.)
Is that clear?


Bethesda, Md.: Jack Goldsmith argues in today's Post that there should be no new torture probes because those already under way are sufficient. I haven't combed through the probes that are underway. Do you believe they will get to the bottom of what happened or will the White House plead Executive Privilege and then everyone will conclude "nothing bad happened" like so many previous probes? Personally, I think this is so serious that if it changes how people act, as Goldsmith warns, then great because the world needs to understand that the U.S. does not condone torture. No New Torture Probesl (Post, Nov. 26)

Paul Kane: This is one of the great unanswered questions about the Bush White House. How will these probes be handled, will they continue? I can assure you Democrats on the Hill can't wait to have Eric Holder's guys get into the Justice Department's legal counsel office and just see what's in there. Will the legal disputes go on, the privilege claims? I don't know. I suspect we're going to learn a lot of new information about all of this stuff.
In the '70s Congress created the Church committee (or was it a commission?) that, even after Nixon left office, was designed to be a clearinghouse to investigate all the abuses, so there could be a full accounting of what went on. Some on the Hill talk about that now, but there's been no concrete proposal.


Senior/Junior Senator: The right answer to the question is: "The financial sky is falling! Why do you care?"

Paul Kane: hey, I don't care all that much, I agree with your sentiment. But I know it's something that's popped up in recent chats, and I consider myself the King Geek of all nerdy trivia about Capitol Hill among us Post people.
Just wanted to offer my take on this all.


Baltimore, Md.: When Obama started rolling out his picks for the cabinet and the White House Staff, the House Minority Leader John Boehner seemed to comment negatively on each one, especially Rahm Emmanuel as chief of staff. I don't recall the Democrats being so critical of Bush in the last transition, but maybe I'm wrong. Why do you think Boehner was being so prickly? Do you think he feels the need to fight Obama every step of the way, regardless of the actual picks? It's not like Obama was going to select an all-Republican team. Do you think he's going to continue to offer his two cents on every pick? If he was in the Senate and actually had a say, I could see some reason for it, but he isn't and it appears to just be sheer partisan sniping. What do you think?

Paul Kane: Sorry Baltimore, you've just conveniently forgotten the past. Do you not remember how incredibly toxic the entire political environment was in December '00/January '01?
Man, that was brutal. It was about stolen elections, Florida recounts, all that stuff. John Ashcroft, their former colleague, only got 58 votes for confirmation and folks like Ted Kennedy were urging that they filibuster him.
However, they did confirm a bunch of Bush's nominees right away, on Jan. 20, 2001:
Agriculture- Ann Veneman
Defense ­ Rumsfeld
Commerce ­ Don Evans
Energy ­ Spencer Abraham
Treasury Paul O¹Neill
State ­ Powell
Education ­ Rod Paige


Fairfax: What will the Senate (and the media) need/want to know about former President Clinton's activities with his foundation should Sen. Clinton be tapped for secretary of state?

Paul Kane: I think the big question is where did President Clinton's money come from? Both in terms of all his speaking gigs and donations to his presidential library/foundation. I think there have been some real questions raised along those lines. Sure, we know he's gone overseas and does speaking gigs for hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think there's always been an assumption that the foreign governments pay him, but, in fact, I imagine quite often it's a foreign corporation. What were those corporations, who are they connected to?
Going forward, I think it's safe to assume that he can no longer accept any foreign payments for speeches, nor can he accept donations from overseas, if Sen. Clinton becomes secretary of state. You just can't have America's top diplomat benefiting personally from foreign cash payments. Incredibly unseemly.


still basking in the glow of the World Series trophy: Are the Phils going to try to sign Manny? We could see 75 homers in that bandbox.

Paul Kane: Ok, my last few chats haven't had many Phillies questions, not since the day after the Series and we did an all-Phils chat. Here's my take, and this is what makes Philly sports fans what they are (miserable SOBs).
I don't want Manny. Once we got out and sign Manny, then we become the Yankees and Red Sox. Maybe I'm an idiot, but what was so amazing about winning the World Series this year was winning with a team of our guys, not some collection of free-agent signings who we got because we were willing to spend more money than the rest of the league. Let's face it, our entire infield came up through our minor leagues but for Feliz, and then Burrell was our guy and Victorino and Werth were cast-offs.
I know I'm naive. But that's what I think.
Interestingly, Ed Rendell was in the capitol the other day lobbying for stimulus money, and he told me he thinks Andy Reid stinks this year as coach. Count the gov as a McNabb defender. Let's see how Obama handles the Philly sports scene when Rendell hosts him at an NGA event next week.


Kettering, Ohio: Hi Paulie, I am impressed you are here with the rest of us poor schlubs who have to work today. Since Obama was widely seen as the MSM's candidate, will he receive a longer honeymoon than normal? With the present difficulties with the economy, I suspect he will not enjoy the traditional three to six months of good press, even if he avoids gaffes like Clinton or a terrorist event like Bush.

Paul Kane: Honestly, I think the honeymoon will come to an end shortly. If you saw any of that presser just now, my old coworker Ed Henry of CNN went after Obama pretty hard on how he could claim to be the candidate of change and yet stand up there day after day and announce these old Washington hands as his economic advisers. (To Obama's credit, he gave it back to Ed pretty darn good!)
I think that's a sign of the times, where things are headed.


Richmond, Va.: Okay. I sorta understand why Obama wants to keep Gates on (too disruptive with two wars, etc., to change too quickly), but why would Gates want to stay? After all, he disagrees with Obama (at least in the details, which make a difference). In short, what does he get out of staying?

Paul Kane: By all accounts I've heard, Gates believes in the Pentagon, believes in the troops, believes in the cause. People on the Hill here seem to think he thinks he's the best guy to wind the war down in the best manner possible. It might not be the outcome he wants overall, but he'd rather be the one winding it down and see it through to its fruition rather than hand it off to some Democrat who, in his mind, doesn't know what they're doing.
Breaking news alert: some people in Washington really do care, really do believe in what they do.


Anonymous: Late last week, Chuck Hagel was mentioned in a news story as a possibility for National Intelligence Director, and I thought it sounded like a good fit (e.g., non-partisan use of intelligence), but today's "Post" story mentions Dennis Blair as a frontrunner. No mention of Hagel. With Gates as the token Republican in the cabinet (probably), is Hagel out? Officials: Obama to ask Gates to stay at Pentagon (Post, Nov. 26)

Paul Kane: The talk on Hagel really was brief, wasn't it?
I don't know if he'll get a job or not. I think he screwed up and shoulda pulled a Lieberman, basically right as Powell endorsed Obama, Hagel should have as well.
I mean, Mrs. Hagel donated to Obama as far back as Feb. 10 or so, the day before the Potomac Primary. I'm told she drove around northern Virginia with an Obama for America bumper sticker all year.
Hagel should have tried to cash in a political chit sooner than that.


New York: If you listen to Rush Limbaugh, you know that Obama is the cause of this financial meltdown. But Mr. Kane, we both know the truth. It's the Phillies' fault. Nature rebels against the Phillies winning a championship. God is really, really angry at us.

Paul Kane: You know, a lot of people wanted to compare this election cycle to 1980, McCain as Carter, Obama as Reagan.
The incumbent party was overseeing an energy crisis (most of you probably don't even remember the odd/even gas rationing of '78/'79), a Middle East crisis (the hostages) and the Soviets/Russians invaded a neighboring nation to spark an international crisis. Meanwhile, the guy with very little experience was really charismatic, but no one knew whether they wanted him to actually be president.
It was a really close election, until the final weeks, when it broke for the new guy, Reagan won going away, just as Obama did. And then the first 2 years of Reagan's administration, that was a grueling recession.
you know what else happened in 1980?
The Phillies won their only other World Series.


Tell Us More Please: I forgot about all those Bush 2000 Cabinet picks who were confirmed on January 20, 2001. Does that timeline mean there was no confirmation hearing at all for those choices, or did the Congress do that ahead of January 20?

Obviously the names approved on January 20 must have enjoyed wide support, so a confirmation hearing would be a formality, but I was just curious whether some minimal hearing is normally held for each nominee, or simply deemed not necessary for some consensus picks at the start of the new administration.

Paul Kane: People forget, but the Senate after the '00 elections was 50-50, and the congress gets sworn in in early January, so for a brief 17-day run the Senate Democrats were the majority (based on Al Gore's tie-breaking vote).
So, in a show of good faith, Democratic committee chairmen held nomination hearings for the GOP cabinet picks, and they moved them very quickly.
But yes, a hearing for every cabinet pick is an absolute necessity. The Senate committees even hold hearings for deputies and other sub-cabinet picks.


No free agents?: How could you forget Lidge? Without him you're toast!

Paul Kane: We traded for Lidge, gave up Michael Bourne (sp?) and someone else whose name I forget. Basically, he was a cast-off, the Astros didn't want him.
And to the Red Sox fan and your little-man MVP, sure, he's home grown, but otherwise, the '07 team was made up of guys like Schilling and Beckett and Manny, big-money signings.


Boston, Mass.: Does keeping Gates mean keeping all those Cheneyite undersecretaries immediately under Gates?

Paul Kane: Our story today said that the Nos 2 and 3 would be Dems, definitely, and most other deputies would be replaced.


Washington, D.C.: Hank Williams Jr. has announced his candidacy for Senate from Tennessee in 2010. The only problem is, the next Senate election in Tennessee is Sen. Bob Corker's seat in 2012. Is Hank getting an extraordinarily early start, or is he unaware that senators serve six-year terms? And would Sen. Williams still do Monday Night Football riffs every week? Hank Williams Jr. Plans to Run for U.S. Senate (CMT News, Nov. 17)

Paul Kane: Don't believe everything you read, especially when you're cross-referencing topics. This is a country music writer who doesn't know a thing about politics writing about politics -- that's like actually taking my words about the Phillies, Eagles and Springsteen as the gospel truth.
Alexander just got re-elected to a 6-year term, and Corker's safe through 2012. Hank Jr. ain't running for the Senate any time soon.


Sagamore, Maine: Do you think Obama understands that this is a center-right country? I'm concerned that many of his proposals, such as his tax plan and economic plan, veer too far to the left?

Paul Kane: Personally, I"m not sure this is a center-right country. I think the last 2 elections have proved that, for now, that's not the case. Those that say it's a center-right country base this on exit polls showing that roughly 23% say they are liberal, 33% say they're conservative and 44% say they're moderate/centrist/independent.
The problem is those 44% don't appear to be very independent anymore; 2 elections in a row they've tilted very liberal.


Washington, D.C.: How much of a disaster will this upcoming inauguration be? Can the city government, MPD and Capitol Police start to be remotely competent and handle this event properly?

I think the Obama Team should ignore organizing these balls and make their singular focus on how they get four million people into the city, set up screens, etc., so folks that make the trek can see something, and get folks out of town.

How about Obama does a tour of the eastern seaboard in the runup to the inauguration, holding massive outdoor speeches in major cities, so that those within driving distance get to see the newly elected President, and then do the smart thing and watch the inaug in the comfort of their home?

Paul Kane: I live 4 blocks from the Capitol. It's gonna be a mess, plain and simple. The stories from my family and friends in Philadelphia, when 1 million or so people went to see the Phillies parade, were disastrous. Public transit was a complete disaster.
In crowds that big, taking subways/trains is NOT the thing to do. Drive in as close as you can, park, then walk. That's the best option. Stay away from the subway/Metro. That's my advice.


Washington, D.C.: Happy Thanksgiving Eve. Like a lot of good Dems, I began throwing a little money Jim Martin's way when things started tightening up in Georgia, and now I'm on the e-mail list. It looks like, since they went into runoff mode, there's been a switch in campaign managers. What's the story on that?

Paul Kane: I don't know the precise hierarchy of who's who and doing what in the Martin campaign. But suffice it to say, in run-offs, what always happens is the best talent from all the other Senate and White House races parachutes into these races to help out. Some end up getting higher profile roles because they're so smart. Some just walk the streets. It's fun and chaotic.


Bowie, Md.: Now that Rep. Waxman has now become chair of Energy and Commerce Committee, does he give up his other committee chairs?

Paul Kane: Waxman is giving up the gavel at the Oversight committee. Edolphus Towns, a 74-year-old 13-term member from New York, is likely to get that chairmanship, he's next in line. But, there's talk that others might challenge him, in the generational type challenge that Dingell faced. We'll find out for sure the week of Dec. 8.


Cabinet Picks: We were discussing the cabinet picks so far at my work, and while we all agree with the people picked, we thought the cabinet assignments were odd -- which made us wonder about the thought process behind cabinet assignments. Some are good fits, but my thinking was that Hillary Clinton would have made a good HHS Secretary, and Bill Richardson as secretary of state. Thoughts?

Paul Kane: Why would Clinton be a good Homeland security fit? Frankly, she never really did a single thing on those issues. That's stuff involving ports and immigration and FEMA. She didn't do much as a senator legislatively, but what she did do focused on the Pentagon and Armed Services Committee work.


Washington, D.C.: Post Headline: Bush Pardons White House Turkey

So he pardoned himself, huh?

Paul Kane: Funny. hah-hah.

And he managed to pardon the turkey without any bad photo op mishaps in the backdrop, the way Palin did!


Falls Church, Va.: Has Joe Lieberman given any indication where he stands with respect the Georgia Senate run-off? Is he supporting Democrat Jim Martin or McCain friend Saxby Chambliss?

Paul Kane: I don't believe Lieberman's made any pick in that race publicly, but I'm sure if asked, at this moment, he'd say he supports Martin. I don't think he can afford to get into any more trouble with his colleagues.


HHS: Paul, HHS is Health and Human Services. That's what the other questioner was suggesting for Hillary.

Paul Kane: Oh, my bad, my bad, I read that too quickly.
Yes, HHS, not DHS. Sure, she'd be a better fit to run health-care legislation. But in this case, Obama's put his loyalist, Tom Daschle, in charge of that. He's most comfortable with someone like that running his most critical domestic issue, as opposed to someone who was a rival.


Winnipeg, Canada: Okay, I started all the hoo-hah about junior and senior senators. I apologize to everyone for any upset I caused. I was trying to understand why people were saying that Hillary Clinton would not be happy to remain a junior senator from New York. I was trying to understand what that meant in a practical sense; What privileges or powers does a senior senator have that a junior does not? Why is seniority so important?

Paul Kane: Ok, Winnipeg, no worries on this.

Here's the deal on this issue, overall. There is no actual grants of privilege to being senior/junior senator from a state. Frankly, this whole idea that Hillary Clinton even needs a leadership title or a subcommittee chairmanship is just silly. If Hillary Clinton wants to be a force in the US Senate, it's up to her. If she wants to just stand on the floor and make herself a dynamic force on every piece of legislation, she can do it, because the Senate gives each and ever senator such power.
Tom Coburn has become one of the 3 or 4 most powerful Republicans because of just that reason. He says 'no', and the whole Senate grinds to a halt.
Russ Feingold is the liberal version of Coburn.
Those two guys don't hold any leadership posts, no real powerful subcommittees. But they are forces to be reckoned with.
Hillary Clinton can be a dynamic force if she wants to in the Senate.
The truth, I suspect, is that she really doesn't want to put in the work here that it requires.


Boston, Mass.: Things to be thankful for... If you are an American: the discipline, rigor and apparent competence of the incoming administration. If you are a Democrat: Howard Dean's "50-state strategy" If you are a Republican: it was only 4-6 years ago that someone was writing the same articles about the impending demise of the Democrats. You'll be back.

Paul Kane: Thanks, Boston.
That's a wonderfully bipartisan note to end on.


Paul Kane: Ok folks, Springsteen's "For You" -- the Hammersmith-style version he played in Richmond -- is finishing up on the iTunes, and it's time to say goodbye.
I'll miss hanging with my hometown friends at the Maple Glen Tavern tonight, but I can't wait to see the nieces and nephews at my sister's tomorrow. And by Friday, it'll be time with the friends I grew up with; I hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving yourselves, travel safe and sound, and remember to give thanks for what we have and keep in your thoughts those that are struggling in these really hard times. --pk


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