Post Politics Hour

In the Loop: On the Hill by Lois Romano
Lois Romano (Julia Ewan - The Washington Post)
Lois Romano
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Thursday, January 22, 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.

Lois Romano, Washington Post national political reporter, was online Thursday, Jan. 22 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


Lois Romano: Good Morning Everyone. Thanks for joining me today. We've had an exciting and historical week here in Washington. I hope I can add some insights.


New York, N.Y.: Hi, Lois. I'm hoping you'll take this question, even though it's a bit stinging. I'm trying to get my head around the fact that the D.C. establishment (and certain of your colleagues') conventional wisdom is that it would be a bad idea to prosecute members of the Bush administration for authorizing torture. But I've also read that under the terms of international agreements that we are signatories to, that the Obama administration has an obligation to investigate the Bush/Cheney alleged crimes? So how does the law jibe with D.C.-establishment's commonly held viewpoint that investigations would be counter-productive?

Lois Romano: I'm sure they are looking into the law and reviewing options and responsibilities-- and there may be a time to focus on the issue you raise. But I think right now, President Obama wants to follow the concerns of most americans--which are the economy and health care. Starting a partisan fight- even if it is legal- would be a major distraction for him and likely not sit well with millions of Americans who are out of work and losing their homes.


Fairfax, Va.: Why does Caroline Kennedy have to drag her uncle's illness into her "decision" to withdraw as a potential Senate nominee? It's obvious that Paterson had decided to go in another direction, and that she needed a face-saving way of bowing out preemptively, but why couldn't she just use the "need to spend more time with the family" excuse. It just comes across as unseemly to exploit Teddy's condition like that.

Lois Romano: No one doubts that she has a deep and painful concern for her uncle who is quite ill. I don't view that as exploitation. It would seem logical to assume Patterson decided to go in another direction-- but no one knows for sure.


Concord, N.H.: The WaPo article this morning on the technologically backwards state of the White House was interesting. I'm curious if the new staff will just have to suck it up and make adjustments. I love texting with my phone, my Gmail account, my Facebook page and all that lightning communication but I'm not allowed to use any of it at work.

Maybe Obama's IT team should look back as recently as this general election, where Sarah Palin and her staff had their personal e-mail accounts examined. Of course, much like the Bush administration, they were using those accounts to conduct government business to escape the auditing their work accounts are subject to, but there is a reason you don't get to have a technology free-for-all at work.

Lois Romano: They wont suck it up. They will update the technology as soon as possible because that is the hallmark of their communication and success in reaching American people. I don't know of any Obama people routinely using personal accounts to circumvent auditing. To the contrary, in experience, I've been told to use official channels. In some cases, there is a gap as the government gets set up. For example, the transition email accounts have been suspended and not everyone has been assigned a government account. In this case, some staff use their personal email merely for logistics.

_______________________ Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages (Post, Jan. 22)


Minneapolis, Minn.: Hello over there,

Just curious. Do you know who the two negative votes came from on Clinton's SOS confirmation. Thanks.

Lois Romano: David Vitter and Jim DeMint


Silver Spring, Md.: Thanks very much to you and Dana Priest for anchoring the Post's streaming video coverage of the inauguration. It was a refreshing change from the network and cable channels' coverage.

Lois Romano: Thank you for saying. We had fun.


They didn't even let him get past the oath:: Some guys in my office are talking about how Obama screwed up the oath, how the "liberal press" are blaming it on Roberts, how Obama flubbed it and Roberts had to correct him... blah blah. Any talk of 'No-It-Was-Obama's-fault' in the media or talk radio that you've heard?

Lois Romano: I only saw one blog that blamed Obama ( which is not to say there are not many)

Anyone who looks at the replay knows that Roberts messed up first.

Obama pointedly stopped to let Roberts correct himself.

After that, it just got confusing.


St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Lois -- Thanks for taking questions today, and thanks for your very good live coverage on Tuesday. How long do you think the oath do-over debacle will continue to get attention? I'm sure there are will always be that small group of folks who question the legitimacy of Obama's election, just as there were with Bush, but I'm worried this is just going to give them more ammunition for more nutty theories making their way into the blogosphere. Given the gravity of the nation's problems, the last thing we need is another distraction. Obama Sworn In Again, With Right Words (Post, Jan. 22)

Lois Romano: Its over. That's why they did it again yesterday.


Now that Kennedy is out of the running . . .: What is your gut feeling on who will be nominated? Is Cuomo out due to the governor's announced desire to replace Clinton with a woman?

Lois Romano: Its been pretty hard to read the tea leaves on this because there are so many agendas. Cuomo is far from out-- he seems to be the choice of the people of new York according to polls- so the governor cant ignore that. I would say he's the front-runner.


Sewickley, Pa.: Can you imagine the howling if a Democratic Chief Justice had messed up the oath of a Republican President? I know it's small and a little petty, but I really really feel like Chief Justice Roberts robbed millions if not billions of people here and abroad of a moment that should have been wonderful. Instead it was an idiotic stumble.

Lois Romano: and that's all it is- a stumble. Obama is president.


Oakland, Calif.: Ms. Romano, thanks for holding forth. What's your best guess -- with the clear understanding it's a guess -- as to whether President Obama will truly be able to usher in a new era in Washington of bipartisan approaches to pressing national problems? Is it naive to believe it's possible after the record of the past 16 years?

Lois Romano: Yes, it would be a guess. Every president has vowed to bring change to Washington and to the highly politicized process of governing. But speaking as someone who has lived and worked in Washington for awhile, there was a time when we saw a far more collegial relationships between the parties. Former Liberal House Speaker Tip O'Neill was one of the first people to rush to Ronald Reagan's hospital side when he was shot in 1981. My view is that it cant get much worse than it is today. Obama comes to office as a popular president and, at least for a while, republicans will step lightly in challenging him lest the American people will lose patience. That being said, the new president has a narrow window to show what he can do.

So the answer to your question: I think he can usher in change if he acts swiftly and executes his plans as flawlessly as he executed his campaign.


RE: White House in the dark ages...: This article just highlights the surprisingly old and unwieldy technology that permeates the federal government. If taxpayers only knew the way hardware and software are distributed and maintained in the a federal employee who is decidedly less efficient as a result, is there any chance that our new president will update the culture of technology throughout the executive branch versus just the WH? Wasn't there talk of a "technology czar"?

Lois Romano: I didn't say it was wrong or right. I said that it my experience, the obama team is not using personal email for official business.


Falls Church, Va.: What does the pay freeze really mean? They're all starting new jobs anyway, right? Does it mean staff expected to start at a new, 2009 rate, but will be paid at the 2008 rate?

Lois Romano: it means there will be no raises, no cost of living increases until they review the budget.


Red Tunnel of Joy: "Given the gravity of the nation's problems, the last thing we need is another distraction." Would a formal investigation called for by Feinstein of why a couple of thousand people out of 1.8 million were unable to use their Purple tickets qualify as a distraction. There were lots of people, plans fall through as so often they do. What's the outcome? Do we do the whole thing over for the people in the purple tunnel? They'll probably be put into another line of bailout "victims" for refunds for their trip.

Lois Romano: That was very unfortunate and sad for many people. I still haven't see a satisfactory explanation about what happened. But you're correct in assuming it cant be redone. Hopefully, the mess up will enlighten future planners.


Reston, Va.: Lois, do you think President Obama will face more challenges dealing with a weakened and fractured Republican party, or with dealing with an "empowered" Democratic majority who may push for a more aggressive and liberal agenda than Mr. Obama is willing to pursue.

Lois Romano: He will obviously face more challenges within his own party. The republicans are pretty out of it right now in terms of power and message and PR. They will have trouble- at least initially- taking Obama on. The left flank of this own party, however, could cause problems if their priorities are different from his.


Salary: I am very much appalled by the salary the U.S. president makes. Has there not been serious consideration in Congress to give the president at least 1 million?

Lois Romano: Thank you for raising that. It does seem low considering what they do. But that being said, they have virtually no expenses. Very nice housing, food, utilities and transportation are included on the deal.


Washington, D.C.: Did the former senator from New York make any recommendations on who should replace her, or has the new SoS not offered an opinion on her successor

Lois Romano: I had understood that she initially suggested Nita Lowey --but that was a long time ago.


New York, N.Y.: What? The Obama administration can't tackle domestic issues like health care and the economy and still conduct investigations into war crimes? How do you figure that?

Lois Romano: As I said, the American people don't want to watch a partisan brawl right now- which is what that would turn into.

I also noted that the Obama administration are likely looking at the law and options.


London: As a follower of American politics...Americans confuse me....they elect Republicans and Democrats...who have two different philosophies. yet voters expect...quick problems...which are impossible because of ideological deadlock....

Lois Romano: True- but when the party in power controls the white house and the legislature, it becomes easier.


Presidential Pay: While they may not make what some would consider a significant amount of money while serving as president, they seem to do fairly well after they leave office. One of the perks of being a former president, no?

Lois Romano: Certainly that was true of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. I assume Bush will do well with speeches.


Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Lois, thanks for the chat. Do you believe Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats will try to seat Al Franken before the Minnesota Supreme Court makes a ruling in Senate race's legal issues? Thank you.

Lois Romano: not sure they can while its still in the courts


New York, N.Y.: I want to ask you about one particular section of Obama's remarks yesterday. Apparently he plans to open up some of the secrecy of the Bush administration to the light of day. Does Obama have the power to reverse "executive privilege" calls by Bush, or does Bush still have control over what he wants to keep secret?

Here's the part of the statement that caught my eye:

"Going forward, anytime the American people want to know something that I or a former president wants to withhold, we will have to consult with the Attorney General and the White House counsel, whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of law."

Lois Romano: That's a good question. I would seem that if Bush exacted rules for executive powers, he can be covered by those rules. In other words, I'm not sure Obama can overturn those rules and make them retroactive.


Former Liberal House Speaker Tip O'Neill was one of the first people to rush to Ronald Reagan's hospital side when he was shot in 1981: Didn't Republican (and Mormon) Orrin Hatch rush to Democrat (and Catholic) Ted Kennedy's side when Ted was stricken at Tuesday's luncheon? My understanding is that they have been great friends in real life for many years, and that Kennedy credits Hatch with helping Kennedy become sober in the early '90s.

Lois Romano: Correct. They have been close friends- and he did rush to his side.


New York City: Why would anybody (but the media) care about "what Americans want to watch"? And who are you to tell us what we want to watch anyway, Lois? Your own paper today reports on your own polling, which shows that a majority of Americans (50-47 percent) believe that the Obama administration should investigate whether the Bush administration's treatment of detainees was illegal. Investigations might be uncouth for the establishment in D.C., but it's necessary to ensure it never happens again. WaPo-ABC poll on Gitmo (Behind the Numbers, Jan. 21)

Lois Romano: To Be clear for this question and any past or future questions on torture:

I have no position on whether Obama should or shouldn't investigate Bush's torture policies. None. I am not allowed to have a position.

In addition, I do know know enough about the law or the Geneva Conventions to have an informed judgment on what the new administration should do.

My simple point was that the new administration MAY want to use its resources AT FIRST on the economy, while ALSO examining how to proceed on the torture question.

BUT MAYBE NOT. Maybe, they'll jump right into investigating the Bush practices.


Lois Romano: Thank you all for joining us today. See you in a couple weeks.


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