Post Politics Hour

Perry Bacon
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Thursday, January 8, 2009; 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 buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Perry Bacon, Washington Post national political reporter, was online Thursday, Jan. 8 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest transition and executive branch news.

A transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Perry Bacon: good morning. I'm Perry, one of the political reporters here. I've been writing the last days about the bizarre Burris drama, which has now shifted to Springfield for a bit. Looking forward to your questions.


Columbus, Ohio: Hi Perry, This is really more of a comment than a question. In Dana Milbank's column today about the Senate deciding to seat Roland Burris, it said, "Score one for the Illinois governor, who, on his way to likely impeachment and possibly the slammer, managed to outwit the leadership of his party." I'm a bit confused about how he really outwitted anyone. It seems to me that he simply did something he was told not to do (appoint someone to the Senate seat) and the Dems, for whatever reason, felt that they ultimately had no choice but to comply. To use the word "outwit" implies that he is somehow superior or more clever than the Democratic senators. All he's doing is being defiant. I think saying that he outwitted anyone is giving him more credit than is due. Democratic Senators Yield to Burris (Post, Jan. 8)

Perry Bacon: Well, Dana is a columnist, so can take more liberties in describing a situation, but I completely agree with him that Blagojevich seems to have flummoxed Democratic leaders. They ordered him not to appoint anyone and promised not to seat anyone he selected, but spent yesterday in retreat as other Democrats questioned them. Blagojevich is being defiant, but so were the Democratic leaders; it's not clear they have the right to block an appointee from an elected governor who has not been convicted of anything.


Tampa, Fla.: Re Jeb Bush and 2010 Florida Senate race:

Now that Jeb has dropped out, Alex Sink seems the front runner. How much of the Obama Florida organization will remain intact to help her, assuming she wins the primary?

I think that would be key for Sink to win. The Florida Democratic party shriveled up after the GOP and the NAACP cut their deal on redistricting in 1992. It gave the GOP total control of the Florida Legislature, and they've used it to build and fund a massive apparatus. The Dems have nothing like it, or did until the Obama campaign.

If Sink has available to her the Obama apparatus, she'll have a great chance. If not, she'll face a well-funded and experienced GOP machine.

Perry Bacon: I can't say I know exactly how many of Obama's operatives from 2008 will be in Florida in 2010, but Obama's team is already taking over the DNC, not just Tim Kaine, but the people who oversaw their strong operations in a bunch of swing states. Here's a good story that gets into some of that. ((

Sink is considered a very strong Democratic candidate, but the key thing in 2010 is likely to how Obama does in his first two years. Florida is very closely divided politically, so Obama's approval ratings will be very important in determining if Republicans or Democrats are more fired up on Election Day down there.

_______________________ The Organizing DNC; The Future Of Obama's Campaign (The Atlantic, Jan. 5)


Richmond, Va.: Bottom line: Blago 1, Senate Dems 0, right?

Perry Bacon: I wouldn't put it so bluntly, since Harry Reid will be in the Senate six months from now, while Blagojevich may not be governor then. But the embattled governor did manage to create an awkward political situation for Reid, who seemed a little annoyed when a reporter on Capitol Hill asked him if he was outfoxed by Burris and Blagojevich.


Arlington, Va.: It will only get worse for Harry Reid when the recording of his phone call to Blago suggesting that only a white candidate would be electable is released. What are the chances that the Democrats dump Reid for another leader during this Congress?

Perry Bacon: Actually, I think this was part of what pushed Reid in the first place. The Chicago-Sun Times broke a story that Reid had called Blagojevich and advocated a few candidates to take the Illinois Senate seat and opposed others, including Emily Jones, Danny Davis and Jesse Jackson, Jr., all of whom are black. It's not unusual at all for Senate leaders to be involved in picking candidates, and there are lots of reasons that all three of the people Reid is said to have opposed might not have been good candidates to win a statewide race in Illinois. He was making a political calculation that I'm sure many people in Washington would agree. But at the press conference yesterday, I was struck that Reid and Durbin mentioned several times without any prompting that this situation had nothing to do with race. Because it was Obama's Senate seat and Bobby Rush's comments when Burris was initially picked, race was a part of this even before the Congressional Black Caucus got involved.


Raleigh, N.C.: Here's something from an article I saw.

"History demonstrates that presidents who seek the advice of members of the Senate prior to submitting a nomination frequently see their nominees confirmed more quickly and with less controversy than those who do not," Specter (R-Pa.) said.... "In contrast, on the nomination of Mr. Holder, President-elect Obama chose not to seek my advice or even to give me advance notice in my capacity as Ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which is his prerogative."

How sincere in Sen. Specter in stating that lack of notice is his reason for opposing Holder?

Perry Bacon: Senators get annoyed when they are not consulting on matters related to their committees; Dianne Feinstein dominated the news for a day by bashing Obama's pick of Leon Panetta to head the CIA. One of her big complaints was she had not been consulted on the pick. I suspect that Specter, if he votes against Holder at all, will state around reason, if only because it looks petty to say you voted against someone because you didn't get a courtesy call. Republicans have some real concerns about Holder's role in the pardons in the last days of the Clinton presidency. I think Specter's point, to be fair to him, is that by talking to key members of committees, a president can figure out which nominees would be adamantly opposed by the Senate and select more popular ones. Specter made the same argument when President Bush was making Supreme Court selections.


Rochester, N.Y.: BlagoGate, BurrisGate, CommerceGate, is too early to declare the Obama presidency a scandal-ridden failure?

Perry Bacon: In a word, yes. We've made a big deal of the Commerce flub for instance, but how many people, even in Washington, could name the current Commerce Secretary? (Carlos M. Gutierrez) Burris has been an interesting story, but if the governor or the lt. governor of Illinois end up getting someone in that seat who they appointed, it will be a liberal Democrat who will vote with Senate Democratic leadership most of time, just like Obama did before. These are all interesting stories, but the most important thing happening in Washington is the debate over spending $800 billion, a very large amount of money, to help the economy.


Reston, Va.: Who will be the leader of the Republican Party once Obama takes office? There isn't exactly a Newt Gingrich or Tip O'Neill among the GOP leadership.

Perry Bacon: This is a very interesting question, and one Republicans are actively grappling with. I wrote a story over the weekend (

about the debate over who will be the next chair of the Republican National Committee, which has been a proxy for the larger question of how should the Republicans start shaping their future. My guess is a figure will emerge from their House leadership as a key leader; the current betting seems to be on Eric Cantor, the No. 2 man in GOP leadership in the House. But I think there's likely to be three different leaders: Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP leader who has the power and the votes to make Obama negotiate, Cantor or one of the younger GOP members of Congress, and one of the Republican governors who is considering a presidential run, like Jindal or Pawlenty of Minnesota.


Philadelphia, Pa.: What is the latest news in Pennsylvania politics? I understand I should go ahead and take down my Chris Mathhews for Senator sign from my front lawn?

Perry Bacon: Yes, the reports are that the MSNBC host is not going to run. With Matthews out, I'm sure lots of Democrats will look to run for that seat. Specter is a pretty popular figure there, but if Obama has a good two years, Democrats could win in Penn.


SW Nebraska: Wow! I really have to be amazed that the Senate Dems have finally decided to stand up to the president and provide real oversight. It's great to see them do their jobs. But, where were they the last 7 plus years when the president was George W. Bush? Do we really need Republicans when the Democrats are so willing to take on Obama?

Perry Bacon: I think this has been a very interesting week for the Obama administration, even though it hasn't even started yet. I think you're watching Democrats in Congress declaring "we matter too." You had the Feinstein flap over Panetta. And my favorite remark of the week not related to Burris, in which Reid told the Hill newspaper "I do not work for Barack Obama. I work with him." There is this misnomer that whenever a party controls Congress and the White House, things go much smoother. Not true. 2005-2006 was full of Republicans telling President Bush they didn't agree with him, and President Clinton's time with Democrats in control of Congress was not easy either.

_______________________ After Eyeing a Senate Run, Chris Matthews to Stay at MSNBC (Post, Jan. 8)


All we are saying...: Perry: We aren't hearing a lot about withdrawing troops from Iraq. I know the economy is a daily concern but won't the dollars being used to maintain peace in Iraq be better spent here at home? Why isn't Obama saying that now as he did during the campaign?

Perry Bacon: I agree with that Iraq seems to have fallen out of the discussion. I think getting this economic package passed is the first priority for Obama's administration, but after saying every day he will get troops out of Iraq, I'm sure he will work on that too. I'm not sure that of this notion that you save money at home by pulling troops of out Iraq. That will be true in the long-term yes, but starting a withdraw and actually completing it will be quite expensive.

_______________________ Six Vying To Become The Next RNC Chair (Post, Jan. 3)


St. Paul, Minn. : HI Perry -- Thanks for taking questions today. Here in Minnesota we are severely recount-fatigued, with no end in sight. Without getting into the legal specifics, is there a sense in Washington that this is a lost cause on Coleman's part? Are any Republicans (privately, of course) feeling that it might better for the overall image of the party and in the interests of moving on for him to concede? I wouldn't think so, but just thought I'd ask...

Perry Bacon: My colleague Chris Cillizza is reporting that some in the GOP are floating Coleman's name for RNC chair, so there is no some thinking that he won't be a senator whenever this ends. That said, Republicans in Washington have nothing to lose by allowing him to fight on. If Coleman wants to governor of Minnesota, it might be better to concede, but I'm not sure.


Los Angeles, Calif.: There are reports in Another Newspaper this morning that President-elect Obama proposes to change how domestic security issues are handled within the White House. Are there any proposals for large scale overhaul at the Dept. of Homeland Security which often seems to be an unfocused mess?

Perry Bacon: Yes, there's a good story on this in the NYT by one of our old colleagues Peter Baker, a great reporter and all-around nice guy. This could be a tricky thing for Obama. Whether or not it's the right decision in a bureaucratic sense to get rid of the White House homeland security position adviser position and fold that into the National Security Council is a complicated question, but it could be tricky to explain as a political matter.


Detroit, Mich.: Honestly -- for the first time in our history, Americans have elected the first African-American president. Yet, the Congressional Black Caucus is now playing the race card accusing Democratic members of the Senate of being racists by not sitting Roland Burris? This is beyond ridiculous and started with the biggest hypocrite of all, Bobby Rush. In 2004, he had the opportunity to support an African American to the Senate. Instead of supporting Barack Obama, he chose his white opponent Blair Hull.

Perry Bacon: I actually think what's happened here with the Congressional Black Caucus is a bit more complicated. The members of the CBC have pressed for his Burris to get seated, but they have made a strictly legal case (it was a legal appointment) not a "we must have a black senator" kind of argument. Bobby Rush has been alone in his tone, essentially comparing Democratic Senators to Bull Connor.


Princeton, N.J.: Sen. Harkin was on C-Span this morn talking about health care. Now he's a good guy, but he refuses to face facts. Other wealthy countries get better health care as measured by all the basic public health statistics and they pay less than half per person what we do. We can't afford our present mess and Obama is just putting band aids on a rotten system. We need an efficient government-run single payer system like Medicare for All which we could do for less money than we are now spending. Is this a failure of democracy?

Perry Bacon: You should watch the confirmation hearings toward with Tom Daschle today, as he will be the health guru for the administration. Single-payer won't happen now because it's too radical of a shift; one of the most difficult problems with health insurance reforms is that people who already have good insurance (the kind of people who give money to campaigns, vote, send questions to online chats at the Washington post) don't want anything to muck up their insurance. So I expect Obama to look for ways to reduce the uninsured problem through federal funding and then try to reform the overall system through better use of technology and other more small-bore things.


Charleston, S.C.: Obama is the first senator since John Kennedy to be elected directly from the Senate to the presidency. What dynamic, if any, does this bring to the confirmation process and his overall legislative agenda?

Perry Bacon: I think this is a great unanswered question. Obama served in the Senate, but for a very short time; I suspect he ran for president so soon in part because he was aware doing big things in the Senate take so long and often gets bogged down in procedural matters. He knows the players and they know him, and I think that experience will help in some ways, but it's not a requirement. President Bush pushed through a lot of agenda items in his first two years despite a Democratic Senate and the fact that he was not a Washington figure.


New Hampshire: Boehner and McConnell continue to make statements suggesting that they're interested in delaying any "spending" as they've suddenly discovered the gospel of balanced budgets -- who knew? -- but it is really a good tactic to be seen as opposed to solutions to the country's pressing problems? I know the thought is that it will play well with the base, but the base isn't their biggest problem. Is there some other calculation at play?

Perry Bacon: I think their strategy will be a little more subtle than simply opposing. They will pick up some proposed spending that sounds like pork and bash it, with the goal of getting both the total number of spending (now slated at something like 700 billion) down a peg and to try to get more of that money into tax cuts rather spending projects. I think they are wary of sounding like the "do nothing" party in the midst of the economic crisis, but at the same time are aware GOP voters hated the Wall Street bailout and are in an anti-spending mood.


Perry Bacon: Folks, the time for my chat has run out. Thanks for all the questions. All best. Perry


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