Thursday, February 26, 3 p.m. ET

Washington Week With Gwen Ifill

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Gwen Ifill
Moderator, "Washington Week With Gwen Ifill and National Journal"
Thursday, February 26, 2009; 3:00 PM

Each week, the country's top reporters join moderator Gwen Ifill for an in-depth discussion of the week's top news from Washington and around the world. The longest-running news and public affairs program on PBS, "Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal" features journalists -- not pundits -- lending insight and perspective to the week's important news stories. Now, Ifill brings "Washington Week" online.

Ifill was online Thursday, February 26 to take questions and comments. She also discussed her just-published book, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, which was reviewed in Washington Post Book World.

A transcript follows.

Ifill is moderator and managing editor of "Washington Week" and senior correspondent for "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." Ifill spent several years as a "Washington Week" panelist before taking over the moderator's chair in October 1999. Before coming to PBS, she spent five years at NBC News as chief congressional and political correspondent. Her reports appeared on "NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw," "Today," "Meet the Press" and MSNBC. Ifill joined NBC News from The New York Times where she covered the White House and politics. She also covered national and local affairs for The Washington Post, Baltimore Evening Sun, and Boston Herald American.

"Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal," airs on WETA/Channel 26, Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. (check local listings).


Gwen Ifill: Hello folks. Happy to be back.


New York: Gwen, I'd like to know your opinion of Michael Steele, the new GOP chairman and the first black to hold that position. What do you think he will do to widen the GOP tent? Will we see more African-Americans at the next Republican National Convention? Thanks.

Gwen Ifill: Michael Steele was, of course lieutenant governor of Maryland not that long ago. Since then, he has been a pro-business GOP activist. (You may remember he was the speaker who started the "Drill, baby, drill" chant at the Republican National Convention.

When I interviewed him last year for my book (forgive the plug: "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama), he admitted that it was "embarassing" that less than 2 percent of the 2,300 delegates to the 2008 convention were African Americans.

It will be interesting to see what he does about it.


Anonymous: Can you do a segment on your show on earmarks? Really, I've actually viewed appropriation bills and committee reports. Other than the occasional egregious $10-20 million for buildings with no supporting operating plan, it's often an endless list of $500K to $1.5 million allotments for a bunch of local organizations you can tie directly to committee members. Many of these southern Senators don't have issue with sending federal dollars home at all. Shelby for one is very generous with school in his state.

Gwen Ifill: The dirty little secret about earmarks? In city hall or at the state house, they're called "constituent service." People LIKE getting bridges and community centers, and they like it even better when someone else pays for it.


Phoenix, Ariz.: Gwen, is there one dream journalist you would like to have on Washington Week who has never appeared?

Gwen Ifill: Actually, we have pretty good luck getting the journalists we want to appear on Washington Week. Most weeks, we can't fit everyone we'd like to hear from around the table.


Park Ridge, Ill.: Is there any chance you will invite a blogger/journalist to be a panelist on Washington Week in the future? Considering that blogging is the future of journalism, you might want to give someone that chance.

Gwen Ifill: Blogging is the future of journalism? That may be so, but I'd like to see a few definitions first. Of blogging. And of journalism.


Richmond, VA: Gwen,

Can you explain to me all the fuss about Jindal's performance?

I thought he was off the hook and displayed hip-hop sensiblities that play well with urbanites and suburbanites alike. ;)


Gwen Ifill: Do we listen to different hip hop radio stations?


Arlington, Va.: Should I be offended that the Republican party is now promoting its prominent minority members in Steele and Jindal? I'm not a political junkie, but Jindal was somewhat condescending with his "we can do anything" and references to civil rights and Black accomplishments. This is a time for solutions. Being local, I've seen Steele constantly in the co-pilot chair selling the company line. It just seems odd for the party that finds a lady to run on the presidential ticket, now they are promoting their own shades of brown. Is it a minority thing or a quality thing?

Gwen Ifill: Keep your mind open to the possibility that Steele is the chairman because he figured out to get enough votes, and that Jindal was the party spokesman this week because he represents a new breed (and I mean in thinking and expression) of Republican.
To assume that everything is about race or gender is to see the world a little too narrowly for my taste.


Lake Luzerne, NY: Theory: Sens Snowe and Collins were deputized by GOP leadership to vote for stimulus so that party would be seen as objecting, but not obstructionist. But Specter voted on his own. Your view?

Gwen Ifill: Gee, I just don't know. But why is it your opinion that the women could only do what they were told, but the man was courageous and independent?


California Gov. vs. Louisiana Gov.: Watching Sunday morning shows with Arnold and then Jindal, I am impressed that Arnold keeps saying what is best for the citizens, not political ideology. I can see what is wrong with the Republican Party. I feel sadder and sadder. They don't get it and ranting and raving doesn't endear the Party to me. Cutting taxes doesn't help when folks don't have a job and did we forget that a major bridge fell and killed people? Can we use the stimulus money just to fix the infrastructure and get people back to work?

Gwen Ifill: I don't have an opinion on your opinion. But I do find it interesting to see governors in the forefront of these arguments.


Atlanta, Ga: I'm amazed at the tone towards the Obama Administration when he's only been in office 35 days or so. I know he is a big boy and all, but folks are attacking him as though he is the cause of our economic condition or as though he should have fixed it by now. My question is how should they handle reiterating the fact that this is an inherited situation and how others failed to act before them? who should speak to that aspect? Should that be Obama speaking directly, Biden, Hill operatives, etc.?

Gwen Ifill: I agree that the President is a grown man. And as near as I can tell, he has been doing a perfectly serviceable job of defending his approach to the economic crisis. If you listen to his speeches closely, you will note he seldom fails to mention that he inherited all this.
But you do understand that people are allowed to disagree?


Pacifica, California: Much as I rely on programs like yours to stay informed, and other online services, I am saddened and frightened at the prospect of losing newspapers. What can be done to save papers such as the San Francisco Chronicle and others who have lost so much financing from advertising which has moved to the internet?

Gwen Ifill: I too am saddened and frightened at the straits newspapers find themselves in. Having spent half my career in print, I am still addicted to reading a paper and discovering myself drawn into stories I might not necessarily have clicked on online.


Norton Shores, MI: Timothy Geithner is the only Treasury official listed on the Treasury's webpage of officials. What the heck is going on?? Why is it taking 5 weeks to fill those positions, and shouldn't we be concerned?

Gwen Ifill: I remember walking the halls of the Bush Treasury Department shortly after Paul O'Neill was installed, and seeing the same thing. It takes longer than one might imagine to fill up those offices.


Western Washington: Gwen,

What do you think of all this Twittering (Tweeting?) by Congressmen during the President's Speech? It seems pretty rude to me.

Gwen Ifill: me too.


North Bennington, Vermont: Can Republicans actually block the President's initiatives and enjoy popularity given the despair that may confront the nation?

Gwen Ifill: Setting aside for a moment your use of the word "block" is fair to say that Republicans and Democrats are on the hunt for the correct balance to strike right now. Stakes are high for everyone, especially since the President appears to be the only politician anywhere enjoying high approval.


Charlotte, NC: CNBC's Rick Santelli's rant clearly hit a nerve. It was almost impossible not to hear about it. It was discussed on practically every news program, except for Washington Week. Why? Was it too low-brow for the high-brow Washington Week reporters or was there something else going on?

Gwen Ifill: What? You needed to hear more about it? Really?


New York, NY: Hi Gwen,

How long can the Republican strategy of just saying no to the stimulus continue and will we see them changing any of their positions or rolling out a plan of their own?

Gwen Ifill: Crystal...ball...cracked. Cannot...predict.


Chicago, IL: Don't you think that an immediate switch to bi-partisanship is unrealistic and rather the shift to bi-partisanship will have to be more incremental over time with prodding by the electorate and the president?

Gwen Ifill: Early going suggests that Ds and Rs may have different ideas about exactly what constitutes "bipartisanship."

So like all things, this will likely take time.


New York: Gwen, just a comment. I want to say how impressive your panels of reporters are every week. I never miss a chance to hear what they have to say. This goes ditto for the NewsHour's use of experts, historians, beat reporters, local reporters, editorial writers, etc. to probe the important stories of the day. I think it distinguishes PBS among all the broadcast news shows. You are very important to my understanding of the world, and I make sure to keep up my public TV membership no matter what. Thanks for all you do.

Gwen Ifill: You are SO welcome.


Dix Hills, Kentucky: So the Congresspeople who get aisle seats in order to shake the President's hand and have 2 seconds of face time - do they have to camp out overnight to get those seats, like shoppers at Best Buy on Black Friday? It seems equally ridiculous.

Gwen Ifill: Pretty funny.

I heard that one lawmaker showed up at 8:30 a.m. on the day of the speech to discover others had been there at 8 a.m.

It is an odd custom. Mobbing the President for autographs afterward also lacked a certain dignity.


SW Nebraska: Looking at I see that Republicans are availing themselves of this service far more than Democrats. do they have more time for twittering or are they thinking that twittering will give them an advantage?

Gwen Ifill: I am a neanderthal on this. Or just way too busy.

Why tweet when I can chat with you?


"Thanks but no thanks"?: Do you think that, when the rubber meets the road, those six Republican governors who are now claiming they'll decline part of the stimulus funding for their states on principle -- especially unemployment money -- will change their minds, in order not to commit political suicide if they ever plan to run for election again? I noticed, e.g., that Governor Jindal was talking as though he's more concerned about the tax-paying segment of his state's population than about ALL of Louisiana's residents (some of whom don't earn enough to pay taxes, but still vote).

Gwen Ifill: The rubber has already hit the road for some of them, including governors from south Carolina and Texas.
I guess the idea sounded better than the execution.


St. Paul: Hi Gwen -- Great to hear you on our local public radio station the other day. I wonder what your thoughts on the Republicans flailing (my view) around try to find a message. Sen. Bunning's prognostications on Justice Ginsburg's life expectancy and Sen. Shelby's playing cute with the long- discredited questions about the president's citizenship don't seem to be the way to go, if you ask me...

Gwen Ifill: All I can say is it's a great time to be a reporter in Washington.


Bethesda, Md.: Hey Gwen - A (sort of) News Hour question here. Do you ever hear from or see Robert MacNeil? What is he doing these days?

Gwen Ifill: Robin is happily ensconced in New York, doing occasional special projects for MacNeil Lehrer productions and writing books. Every now and then he makes a surprise drop-in at the NewsHour offices -- and I swear he looks younger each time.


Philadelphia: It seems that President Obama has been very visible during his first weeks in office with lots of press conferences and public appearances. Does he risk being over-exposed? Should he take a little break to let people absorb everything he's laying out?

Gwen Ifill: Speaking strictly as someone who firmly believes that, when it comes to information, more is more...I would never ask for less. Keep it coming, Mr. President.

(Matter of fact, President Obama will be sitting down for an interview with Jim Lehrer for tomorrow night's broadcast!)


Fairfax, VA: How are you enjoying being a NYT best-selling author and doing a book tour?

Gwen Ifill: LOVING every minute.


Port Ewen, NY: Gwen, Years ago, my young daughter was diagnosed with a pretty serious condition for which there was no one answer, but only one treatment could be used at a time. The well intentioned suggestions from friends and relatives soon made me resent them and their advice. I find myself feeling much the same today. We have voted on a remedy, let's stop diluting the treatment and give it a fair chance to work. I find myself cringing when Boehner and others get on their soapboxes. Do they risk destroying the Republican party? Why don't these naysayers simply shut up and wait for results that may prove them right? It seems that they are making it too easy for the R's to share the blame if the stimulus package does fail, since they have diluted the treatment.

Gwen Ifill: I cannot recall a time when naysayers in Washington -- or in any democracy for that matter -- "simply shut up."
In politics -- unlike perhaps in medicine -- that's not the deal.


Boston: I don't need bipartisanship as it currently seems to be defined. I just want civility. Let's not define high speed rail money as a mag-lev train from Disney World to Las Vegas or swampland protection as saving mice. Or setting up strawmen in lovely speeches which you than easily knock down. I want honesty and politicians talking through the various options and hard decisions and I'm more than happy to hear them use big words when they do. That's what I always thought Obama meant by post-partisanship.

Gwen Ifill: OK.


Clifton, Va.: I heard there were layoffs at your station. Is everything okay at Washington Week? It's a shame what is happening to journalism.

Gwen Ifill: We are dealing with the tough economy like everyone else. Not to worry. Everything will be OK at Washington Week.

(But if you find any spare change in the couch tonight, save it for the next pledge drive!)


Providence, RI: Gwen, are there any aspiring GOP leaders out there in the wilderness you're keeping an eye on? Or, more generally, do you agree that it's likely to be the governors who will rejuvenate the party? Thanks for the chat.

Gwen Ifill: We always keep an eye on governors. Their ears are closer to the ground, and they have the advantage of having to make tough choices -- like actually balancing budgets. I won't name names, though. That would jinx them for sure.


Greenfield, Mass.: Hello, Ms. Ifill: There are things in life I will never have the opportunity to do, such as play in a foursome with Tiger. In that vein, I expect that I will never be invited to appear on Jon Stewart's show. Tell me, if you would, what was it like. Is it as much fun as it seems to be? Thanks Video: Gwen Ifill on The Daily Show (Jan. 27)

Gwen Ifill: It was a BOATLOAD of fun. Jon Stewart is as smart anc charming as he is handsome.

(Does it sound like I'm angling to be invited back?)


Minneapolis, MN: Regarding the definitions of bloggers v journalists, I suspect the original questioner was angling for representation by media voices working in an online-only capacity who do not work for traditional media outlets. In other words, someone from a site like Talking Points Memo, Politico, Five Thirty Eight, etc. The folks at TPM seem to be the best example of non-journalists doing high quality investigative journalism using new media.

Gwen Ifill: We do have reporters from Politico on the panel. In general, we follow a reporter's work, rather than picking from selected news organizations. But there is no hard and fast rule.


Richmond, Virginia: I am one of those evil greedy people who makes $300,000 a year. I drive an eight year old Toyota pickup, I live in a $250k house and live rather spartan. I employ 29 people in my construction business. Now....under Obama, people like me (small business owners) are going to really hold back on hiring new people or any sort of expansion. Obama is hoping those people making $250,000 will foot the bill, tax wise, for this outrageous spending. However, I think those of us making that amount of money is deceasing, and Obama will make sure we continue to decrease. Do you see any backlash from this? Or did I just wake up in a bad mood this morning?

Gwen Ifill: I think there will be some measure of backlash, but the President would rather duel with you than with the 95% of Americans who earn less than you do.

And, I can imagine you did wake up in a bad mood this morning when you ready about the new budget blueprint.


Austin, Texas : Thank you for your speech at the LBJ School last week, I too am a believer in Barbara Jordan. How do you think she would operate in the this era of polarization? Would she be just another "race" politician or more?

Gwen Ifill: Was she ever "just another race politician?" I think not.

And what does that even mean?


Upper Marlboro, MD: Gwen, according to today's Post, people are sufficiently worried about their financial condition that they are foregoing manicures, dying their hair at home, and planting tomatoes. Yet they are still willing to spend big bucks to have a service clean up their dogs' poop from their lawns. Can you give us your trenchant analysis of this resistance? Home Economics of Anxious Times (The Washington Post, Feb. 26)

Gwen Ifill: What, something like if they cleaned up their own dog poop they would need the manicures?

I got nothing trenchant for you. Sorry.


Baltimore MD: Re the two female senators from Maine: Gail Collins wrote a column in the NYTimes in which she outlined all the horrendous problems facing the federal government. Then she said:

"Now for the good news. Washington is being run by Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins."

Very funny. And close to the truth.

Gwen Ifill: Gail Collins cracks me up too.


Gwen Ifill: Thanks everyone. This has been a delight as usual.

We'll tackle the very considerable news of the week tomorrow night with Dan Balz of the Washington Post, Peter Baker of the New York Times and Martha Raddatz of ABC News.

See you then!



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