Washington Post Politics and Supreme Court Reporter
Monday, January 12, 2009 11:00 AM
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Robert Barnes, Washington Post Politics and Supreme Court Reporter, was online Monday, Jan. 12 at 11 a.m. ET to answer questions about the latest news from Washington, the court and the transition.
A transcript follows.
Robert Barnes: Good morning. We were treated to the quadrennial inauguration-practice photo of someone wearing a sign stating "Pres-elect Your Name Here" so the swearing-in has to be close. President Bush said farewell (at least to the press) this morning and PEOTUS Obama picks up the paper each day to find more problems confronting him, from the economy to how to change the nation's terrorism policies to whether to investigate the previous administration's controversial programs. Me, I want to know when the White House will celebrate college football's new champions, the University of Florida Fighting Gators.
And the Supreme Court got into politics last week, taking a case to decide the constitutionality of a central provision of the Voting Rights Act. Election law experts say it will be the most important case in their field since Bush v. Gore.
What's on your mind?
Avon Park, Fla.: Why is it that people are treating Barack Obama like he's the president before he gets sworn in? People are outraged that he isn't speaking out more on the Middle East situation or even the economy. In previous transitions the president-elect has deferred to the outgoing president on certain policies. Why not this one?
Robert Barnes: That's true, but I think Obama has raised those expectations himself. He clearly believes that he must move fast on the economy, and has no time to wait until he is sworn in to formulate his program and begin selling it to the public and Congress. He takes a selective approach to his one-president-at-a-time policy, which is of course his option.
washingtonpost.com: Justices Will Hear Challenge to Voting Rights Act (The Post, Jan. 10)
Montgomery Village, Md.: Robert -- This may not be a SCOTUS question, but could the whole Blago/Burris issue have been moot if Barrack Obama have remained a senator a bit longer? If his seat wasn't open, Blago could have talked all he wanted, but there would not have been a vacancy to fill. Was Mr Obama until any kind of legal obligation to resign so soon? He wasn't officially elected president until last week! I realize that no sitting senator had been elected president since JFK and as a result there was little recent precedent. Also, I know that seniority in the Senate is a big deal even when it is a few days or weeks more than someone else, but it seem all of this -- or much of it could have been avoided. Your comments?
Robert Barnes: You raise an interesting point about Obama's early resignation, but I don't know that it would have avoided the situation. The governor would still have the appointment to make at some point. Seems to me the Illinois legislature could have moved more quickly to change the law if it didn't want the governor to make the appointment.
Washington, D.C.: Will Bush be the least tapped president in modern history? Do you foresee Bush going abroad to broker a piece deal or to head up a financial crises meeting?
Robert Barnes: I guess I don't. But who knows, there might be an issue where the fit is right. Presidents like to appoint past presidents to things, especially when the appointment can give a bipartisan sheen.
Tampa, Fla.: How aggressive do [you] see the Dems on putting balancing the federal judiciary by appointing judges who are as far to the left as the Reagan/Bush I/Bush II appointees were to the right? Or will the Dems roll over in the name of bipartisanship?
In particular, could the Dems get Sens. Specter, Collins, or Snowe to vote for cloture on appointees?
Robert Barnes: Well, you assume that Republicans would filibuster judicial confirmation votes, something I'm not sure they will do. Obama certainly has a strong environment for getting his judicial appointments through, although senators protect their power strongly. As you know, Obama taught constitutional law and has a deep interest in the subject, so everyone will be interested in his nominees. But, as you'll see in an upcoming question, he has not exactly thrilled liberals with some of his cabinet and administration choices.
Princeton, N.J.: Look, I'm not opposed to Obama picking people who are from the Clinton administration. What I'm unhappy with is the fact that these people were wrong. Why not a S of S who opposed the war? Why not Paul Krugman who foresaw the collapse at Treasury? Why have the lady at SEC who voted for deregulation? And so on?
Robert Barnes: Obama has clearly put a value on experience in choosing his administration, perhaps with an eye to those who can be immediately effective. He has said that he will set the policy, and they will implement it. It will be fascinating to watch. And for all the talk about the moderation of the newcomers, there can be little doubt they are much different from those they replace, wouldn't you agree?
AG Nominee: Is it just a little preposterous that after what Congress and Arlen Specter let get through (torture, habeas, etc.) in the Gonzales and Mukasey hearings, they are now going to stomp their feet on Holder's minor political trivia?
Robert Barnes: One man's "minor political trivia" is another's scandal, I suppose. I'm sure Holder was aware he would get some tough questioning when he agreed to the appointment. I haven't heard many who think the hearings will not lead to his confirmation.
"Office of the President": Obama's podium has helped give the impression that he's already in office -- he had to know that the word "elect" is blocked by the on-screen graphics, so the podium reads "Office of the President" -- very clever.
Robert Barnes: Well, anything's better than that mock presidential seal he used briefly during the campaign.
Evanston, Ill.: Presuming he wins the Senate seat, Al Franken will go a long way towards replacing the comic fodder that Bush has so dutifully supplied. Is there any chance Franken will surprise and be a boring senator? In addition to Bush, Larry Craig, Ted Stevens, William Jefferson, Dick Cheney and Tom Tancredo will be missed.
Robert Barnes: I'm guessing he will not be boring. Let's hope the caution during the campaign was just an act. Characters are in short supply in the United States Senate.
Oakton, Va.: Robert, Thanks for taking my question. I thought that Bush's performance at the press conference this morning was dreadful, right down to his referring to Coast Guard pilots as "helicopter drivers," a common insult to aviators in military circles. Your take?
Robert Barnes: I'm sure his supporters and opponents will find much ammunition in that news conference. It was interesting to see the flashes of anger, and it seemed to me he was almost reluctant to have it end. Selfish I know, but I wish presidents would do more of those. I don't have high hopes they will become routine for the incoming president. (I also like that Bush jokingly used the word "misunderestimated," but I'm a sucker for anyone showing a little humor.)
Arlington, Va.: Why is the Post ignoring the ethics investigation of Rep. Rangel that seems to have never happened? Didn't Pelosi promise it would be complete by January 3 before he started wielding power as a committee chair during this congress? I'll add that to the missing Dodd mortgage files (promised 8 months ago!) as another Democratic scandal the Post chooses to ignore
Robert Barnes: I will pass along your concerns to the editors, but I think there is a lengthy list of Democratic officeholders who could refute your general accusation. Specifically on Rangel, I think because the investigation was expanded in mid-December, there were doubts it would be done by early January, but I'll try to find out from my colleagues if we know more than that.
He takes a selective approach to his one-president-at-a-time policy, which is of course his option. : Selective and smart, one voice to the globe, you can have multiple opinions on domestic policy. Got it, our shore, multiple voices, external to the globe, one voice....standard stuff here Mr. Barnes, you know this already.
Robert Barnes: Thanks for writing.
Worcester, Mass.: Regarding Montgomery Village's question about why Obama resigned his seat so soon: I've heard and read from several sources that he resigned early so that his replacement would have more seniority in the Senate. It didn't work out that way, but still . . . being sworn in even a day or two earlier than your peers gives you a seniority bump that's useful for committee assignments and so on.
Robert Barnes: I thought Congress did away with that. Perhaps it was just the House. I bet someone knows.
Washington, D.C.: What are the chances that the Roberts court inhabits an alternate reality where racism is no longer a factor?
Looking at the recent election returns and the percentage vote for 'the black guy' I notice a trend. The southern states that are under Voting Rights Act review all seemed to go red.
The Republican party's 'Southern Strategy' has been in the news a lot (David Broder wrote an interesting article on it. Add link?) Is this Supreme Court likely to turn a blind eye to the institutionalized racism on view in the GOP?
I realize that the 14th Amendment has been getting an interesting interpretation, evidenced by Bush-Gore decision, but will the Roberts court take this last chance and give a precedent- setting decision?
Robert Barnes: I think it will be a fascinating case because it carries so many issues, including Obama's election. The numbers I've seen show a wide range of how white voters viewed Obama in those states covered by "preclearance" provision of the Voting Rights Act. In some, such as Alabama, he did far worse than Kerry four years earlier. In others, such as South Carolina, he did about the same, or perhaps a little better.
One thing we know is that the Supreme Court has taken a great interest in race, and Chief Justice Roberts is emerging as a strong critic of race-based remedies.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: "Why is it that people are treating Barack Obama like he's the president before he gets sworn in?"
I think it's different this time due to the combination of multiple crises that must be managed and a president no one expects to do squat. Since the election, everyone seems to be running out the clock, waiting for Obama to take over -- even Bush. Is it me, or does it seem like this guy can't wait to get out of there?
The nation is impatiently tapping its foot.
Robert Barnes: I certainly think the worsening economy, and the fact that the new president and Congress face immediate decisions on how to fix it, has made this transition different from others.
Baton Rouge, La.: I laud President Bush for making a smooth transition for President-elect Obama. Do you agree?
Robert Barnes: The president said that would be his goal, and there has been little criticism from the Obama folks about how it has gone.
Robert Barnes: That's it for today. Thanks for your time, everyone. I look forward to doing this again.
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