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Robert Barnes
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Robert Barnes
Washington Post Congressional Repoter
Monday, December 8, 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.

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Washington Post congressional reporter Robert Barnes was online Monday, Dec. 8 at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Robert Barnes: Good morning, all. I come to you this morning from the Supreme Court, where the justices have just denied consideration of one of the claims that Barack Obama lacks the citizenship requirement to become president. Don't think this will end this internet controversy, however. I'll do my best to answer your questions about politics, the court or whatever. Those of you interested in the judiciary will want to be sure to read the work of two colleagues on the front page today, examining President Bush's success in changing the federal bench, and the opportunities that await Obama.

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washingtonpost.com: 44: Supreme Court Declines to Hear Obama Nationality Case (Post, Dec. 8)

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Alexandria, Va.: When are you going to report the Supreme courts meeting on December 5, 2008 regarding Obama meeting the requirement of being a natural born citizen as required by the U.S. Constitution?

Why is there no news on all the court cases that have been filled in regrads to Obama's birth certificate and if he is a natural born citizen

Have you given up your responsibility of reporting the news?

washingtonpost.com: 44: Supreme Court Declines to Hear Obama Nationality Case (Post, Dec. 8)

Robert Barnes: Perhaps this will answer your question.

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Sothfield, Mich.: Why do you think Congress is putting so much pressure on the automobile companies to come up with a plan for restructuring and they did not require the financial institutions to do the same in order to get bailout money. Is there a double standard here?

washingtonpost.com: The Fix: Week in Preview: The Politics of a Bailout (Post, Dec. 8)

Robert Barnes: I think we, and others, have discussed this before. The bailouts are extremely unpopular with voters, and members of Congress wants to make sure they can go back home and defend whatever action they take. I also think--and this is just a guess--that officials feel more comfortable discussing the problems of Detroit than, say, derivatives and the mysteries of Wall Street.

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New York, N.Y.: Don't the stresses induced by the length of of the present Interregnum (11/4/08 - 1/20/09) point the way to a (further) reduction in that time frame? In 1937, the March 7th Inauguration date was moved to January 20th. Why not effect a similar reduction now? And why is there a paucity of discussion in the press of such an obvious solution?

Robert Barnes: There are certainly good arguments for shortening the time span, especially in critical times such as these. On the other hand, it takes time to put together a government, as the incoming administration has shown even at the relatively quick pace it has adopted. Remember, too, the last time we had an election without the incumbent running. We didn't know who the president was even going to be until mid-December 2000.

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Crofton, Md.: Why the silence from Justice Thomas and the Obama citizenship question?

Robert Barnes: Perhaps this question was asked before today's action was clear. But none of the justices explained their decisions not to hear the application, which is standard procedure. The court gets thousands of petitions each year, and hears between 70 and 80.

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Washington, D.C.: Speaking of the Auto bailout, the feds are crying because they want to be paid for not working on the 26th of Dec. -- Hey Feds GO TO WORK you will still be paid for not working -- just like every other day --- DEC 26 is not a Holiday -- How may feds have been laid off?

Robert Barnes: Yikes! This seems a bit more like a comment than a question, but I bet there is a lively response to this from federal workers out there.

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Arizona: Does the Beltway interior view President-elect Obama's recognition of the working men and women taking a stand at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago as one of the signs of change coming with this transition?

Robert Barnes: Well, I think certainly Obama is going to be approaching some issues from the worker's point of view, especially when it is a hometown concern. He has also made clear workers must be part of the solution in fixing the problems in some of the nation's struggling industries--including making sacrifices. For those as unfamiliar as me with the Republican Windows case, here is a story from the Chicago Tribune.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/chi-window-company-protest-08-dec08,0,622291.story

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Brampton, Ontario: Does President-Elect Barack Obama have a policy on Kashmir?. In the current state of affairs between India and Pakistan would this not be an opportune moment to try and have these countries resolve the Kashmir issue. Once the Kashmir issue is resolved the relations between India and Pakistan would be smoothed. Their will be an end to the proxy war these two countries are carrying on in Kashmir. The people of Kashmir desire their right to Independence and hopefully President-Elect Obama will honor this right.

Robert Barnes: As you probably know, Obama has said he considers the issue critical in resolving differences between India and Pakistan, and before the election even mentioned naming Bill Clinton as a special envoy to the region. Not sure how that would sit with the incoming secretary of state. I imagine anything of substance on the issue before Jan. 20 will fit into the "one president at a time" rubric.

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Chicago, Ill.: In the really fascinating article about ideological warfare on the federal bench, the writer notes about a conviction that was reinstated when heard en banc after the 3-judge panel initially overturned his conviction that "At trial, however, prosecutors presented no evidence that the gun was his, and the daughter's accusations to police were admitted at trial even though she refused to testify." Would the reason she did not testify have anything to do with laws many states have admitting testimony from women in domestic violence cases?

washingtonpost.com: The Politics of the Federal Bench: GOP-Appointed Majorities Winning Ideological Battles at Appellate Level (Post, Dec. 8 )

Robert Barnes: I probably shouldn't offer a guess, because I really don't know. Sorry

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Washington, D.C.: You might want to explain to your readers that Justice Thomas's action in referring the Obama-citizenship petition to the whole court was a routine case-handling procedure for the over 10,000 petitions that the S.Ct. receives. It was in no way an indication that he believed the petition had merit.

Robert Barnes: Yes, I think I did say that in the blog item, but thanks for reinforcing.

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Washington, D.C. (a Fed): Last I heard, I have to take personal leave for 12/26. Who's crying to be paid for not working that day? Define the issue rather than slamming all of us bureaucrats, please.

Robert Barnes: There's one view from the federal workforce.

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Fairfax, Va.: Any guesses about Supreme Court retirements coming next year? Does Souter really want out of D.C.?

Robert Barnes: There was another question about this--including inquiring about Justice Thomas's health--so I'll try to answer both here. Predicting when justices will retire requires a crystal ball far clearer than mine. For instance, everyone was caught by surprise by the last one, when Justice Sandra Day O'Connor retired. It is well documented that Justice Souter doesn't spend any more time in Washington than he has to, retreating to New Hampshire as quickly as he can. But he would also be the senior justice on that side of the ideological divide if Justice Stevens, 88, is the first to go. He might enjoy assigning writing responsibilities for his side. Don't be surprised if there is no retirement at the end of the year.

And as far as I know, Justice Thomas is just fine. But health is one of many, many subjects the justices don't like to talk about.

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Iberia, Mo.: Has Louisiana forgotten Katrina? How could the voters there turn out two Democrats and elect two new Republicans for the U.S. Congress?

Robert Barnes: It seems pertinent that one of the two was under indictment, don't you think?

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Washington, D.C.: So Bob,

Is Cao the Lampson of 2008, i.e. someone who rode a number of incredibly fortunate circumstances in, and likely will ride out in two years when those circumstances do not repeat themselves?

Robert Barnes: This is in reference to our previous question, about the Republican who unseated Rep. William Jefferson. You're right that it is a very Democratic district. But he seems like a man with a fascinating story. Let's let him take office before showing him the door, although I will acknowledge that is probably not the sentiment at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

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Nebraska: U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan is refusing to offer her resignation. Is this just to embarrass Obama if his administration fires her and point out that Obama "does it, too" or is she just "mavericky?" How many of the U.S. Attorneys get rehired?

Robert Barnes: Not very many, although there are some career Justice officials who sometimes manage to hang on.

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Dec 26th: Not a fed worker, but have chime in a bit more pleasantly than the last poster. Dec 26th is not a holiday and you shouldn't be paid for not working. I'll be paid, but that's because I have to come in to work.

Re: the banking and auto bailouts

I know that the change in tone and oversight between the 2 bailouts has been mentioned before, but I don't see any reporters pressing polls on the failure of the banking bailout. Why can't we force the banks to use our taxpayer money to unfreeze credit lines? I'm appalled that the administration has not taken action on this.

Robert Barnes: Thanks for the question, but I believe I have seen a number of my colleagues, at the Post and elsewhere, doing a pretty good job of playing watchdog on the financial bailout. It seems there have been a number of questions raised about the structure put in place by Congress to force some of the things you suggest. Perhaps that is one reason lawmakers are asking more questions about the auto bailout?

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Mount Rainier, Md.: RE: Iberia MO's comment about Katrina -- No one from my home state, including any of the expatriates, has forgotten Katrina. Congressional Representatives had ZERO to do with the botched response -- that was all the executive branch at both the state and Federal Level. Rep. Jefferson lost his job because 1) he was under indictment for corruption, and Louisiana voters are (finally) getting tired of corruption; and 2) the demographics in his District changed a small percentage after Katrina.

We will never forget Katrina -- the real question is will you?

Robert Barnes: One Louisiana ex-pat heard from.

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Frederick, Md.: Isn't the Supreme Court feeding the conspiracy theorists by passing on the nationality cases w/o comment? Seems to me they'll just be able to spin it as more cover-up.

Robert Barnes: The Supreme Court does not take cases to educate the public--believe me--but because justices think there is an important issue that needs a decision. Rightly or wrongly, the cases on Obama at the court are generally deemed to be inconsequential enough that even lawyers for Obama, McCain and the Justice Department have declined to get involved.

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Florissant Valley, Mo.: Morning, Robert. Here is a long-range, tax your memory question. I recall during the Reagan era that much was made of the number of conservative judges President Reagan was promoting to the various federal benches. Can you, a quarter of a century later, see any consequences from those choices? Are the courts ruling more conservatively? Will President Bush's appointments continue that process? (I don't mean the Supremes; I mean the lower echelon whose cases often move on to the high court.) Thanks

Robert Barnes: I think the stories in the Post today answer some of your questions. What's really interesting is that three members of the legal team in Reagan's administration--Scalia, Roberts and Alito--are now on the Supreme Court.

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Nationality lawsuits: Your blog comment just tantalized us! How on earth can someone claim that McCain too is not a natural-born citizen?

Robert Barnes: He was born when his father was stationed in the Panama Canal zone.

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Robert Barnes: I'm afraid our time is up. I'm sorry I didn't get to all the good questions; there's never enough time. Be sure to post them to my learned colleagues who man and woman this chat during the rest of the week. Take care, be safe.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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