White House Watch

Dan Froomkin
White House Watch Columnist
Wednesday, February 25, 2009 1:00 PM

What's going on inside the White House? Ask Dan Froomkin, who writes the White House Watch column for washingtonpost.com. He was online Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 1 p.m. ET to answer your questions about the White House and his latest columns.

The transcript follows.

Dan is also moderator of the White House Watchers discussion group and deputy editor of Niemanwatchdog.org.

Click here to read past White House Watch discussions.


Dan Froomkin: Hi everyone, and welcome to another White House Watch chat. My blog today leads with a post in which I look at how central it was to Obama's argument last night that the Bush administration so utterly failed to rise to the challenges facing the nation that we are now facing "a day of reckoning."

I'd love to hear your reaction to the big speech. Your thoughts on whether Obama's first month has lived up to your expectations. And whatever else is on your mind.


Helena, Montana: Ben Pershing and Perry Bacon have stated in their chats these week that the Republicans are trying to fire up their base and that is why they are so negative on the stimulus, etc. If I read things correctly, the Republican conservative base is only about 25 percent of the electorate. If they fire up that and alienate the other 75 percent, what have they gained?

Dan Froomkin: It's safe to say that the GOP is in crisis, and lurching around to find its voice. But as I wrote yesterday the latest poll numbers suggest that its decision to redefine itself in opposition to Obama and his stimulus package may simply accelerate its transformation to a regional party without much of a national foothold.


Jindal : This is a great day to be Sarah Palin.

Dan Froomkin: True. As of this morning, she's a distant second in the most-mocked Republican contest. But don't count her out in the long haul.


Albany, NY: Mr. Froomkin and Post on-line people:

Kudos on the "print all posts" function. I got set in the way that I read Froomkin, so even after the conversion to a more traditional blog format, I still get to read the material in the old format. Nicely done.

Dan Froomkin: Thanks. I still owe you readers an update on what's changed since we launched the new blog format, and what we're still working on. I've gotten lots and lots of complaints, and we're trying to make some adjustments.

A lot of you apparently missed being able to read my whole "column" in one long take -- especially those of you who got used to printing the column out to read offline.

The first thing for everyone to know is what Albany here is referring to: There is now (thanks to Opinion producer Mike Corones!) an easy way to see all the day's posts, in their entirety, on one page. Just click on the link that says "Print All Posts From XXX Date", either in the left column or at the bottom of every post. That will not actually print anything -- it will just take you to a page with all the day's posts on it that you can read or print as you choose.

There are also some advantages to the new format. For one, if you want, you can now come earlier in the day and at least see a few items. This is really useful to me when there's something I need to weigh in on right away, before it becomes old news.

For another, if you're interested in a certain subject, you can easily dig more deeply. For instance, click on the

Looking Backward

link to see all my posts about the last administration. This will become more and more valuable -- I hope -- as we go forward.

Also, each item now has its own comments thread, which means the comments are (most of the time) much more focused. I would love to see comments bloom, so please give them a shot. Any of you who blog can link to specific items. You can post them to social networking sites. (Hint, hint.)

But to those of you who are upset, I apologize. I never imagined that clicking to read the end of a post would be so disruptive to the reading experience, but apparently it is. And I'm trying to figure out ways to limit that. (Today, for instance, you can read my whole day's work with only two clicks back and then forth -- which is comparable with the four clicks it used to take to read five pages.)

Some of you seem to be landing on individual posts -- rather than the "main" page -- and then complain that I'm not writing as much. Click on the banner to go to the "main" page or bookmark it, at


or, if that's too much trouble,



Finally, to those of you who complain that the day's product doesn't seem quite as coherent or comprehensive as it used to, please consider two things: 1) There is so much more going on right now than there ever was in the Bush era, it's hard for anyone -- that means me -- to keep up with it all. And 2) to be honest, I'm not entirely sure what to make of this guy yet. Bush I pretty much had pegged.

So stay tuned. Bear with me. And keep your thoughts coming.


Farmington Hills, Mich.: Dan,

I have to say that I don't care for the new column format. It seems harder to read all your posts and the flow of the blog is really interrupted for me. I like the old way better, but who know maybe I'll get used to this.

After hearing Obama's speech yesterday I'm wondering if you believe he has the ability to change conservative thinking to accept government as long as it is good government. Can he move us beyond ideology in regards to the size of government and make us more pragmatic? Do you see this change happening or are the dividing lines too entrenched?

Dan Froomkin: As for your comment on the format, thanks. Perhaps we'll meet half way or something.

Your question is an excellent one. Certainly, there's no evidence yet that the Republican


is the least bit interested in moving beyond ideology at this point. They see Obama's pragmatism as liberalism in sheep's clothing -- and they aren't entirely wrong. And consider that contempt for government is sort of a hallmark of modern Republican politics.

But I also think it's possible that Obama is shifting the political center while the Republican leadership isn't looking. And that might spell real trouble for them.


Boston: Hi Dan, and compliments on the blog. I just read Dana Milbank's piece about all the twittering twits at the speech. Do you find their behavior as appallingly immature as I do?

washingtonpost.com: Milbank: A Tale of 140 Characters, Plus the Ones in Congress

Dan Froomkin: Thanks. I thought that piece was a hoot.

And as a journalist, I'm in favor of more public communication by our leaders, even if it's appallingly immature. Heck, especially if it's appallingly immature.


What Should I do?: Look, I want the economy fixed as much as the next person. Gov. Jindal seems to think that there is something I, as one of the American people, can do to fix the economy. I am a can-do type of person. So please just let me know what Jindal wants me to do and I am on it.

Because otherwise the statement about not wanting the government to solve the economic crisis but the American people seems like a talking point and not an action item.

Dan Froomkin: Gov. Jindal would presumably like you to get a big tax break and spend that money somewhere.


Jindal vs. Palin: I bet Jindal could tell Katie Couric which newspapers he reads, and name some Supreme Court decisions besides Roe v. Wade with which he disagrees. And I bet the RNC doesn't buy him clothes, either!

Dan Froomkin: I don't believe Jindal is being mocked as a lightweight. More goofy and anachronistic.


Shepherdstown, W.V.: Dan - Always enjoy your analysis, and I thought your posting about the speech was quite accurate. My question is, did you see the president talking with Sen. Shelby (R-Ala.)? Do you think he apologized to President Obama for casting doubts on his U.S. citizenship? That appears to be an issue that just won't die - I saw on a blog that some soldier is suing for the right to examine the birth certificate. I mean, gimme a break!

Dan Froomkin: Thanks. Obama apparently doesn't take any of that stuff personally. Which I just don't get. But I think it serves him extremely well.


But I also think it's possible that Obama is shifting the political center... : I think this is a great point, Dan. The MSM and the cable shows keep focusing on the fact that Obama is not getting much support from Republicans. They don't seem to connect that with the fact that there are demonstrably fewer Republicans than in the past and that the further away from Capitol Hill you get, the more Republicans you do find willing to give Obama some support.

He's already got the Dems and, most importantly, independents. Even with just a few Republicans supporting him, Obama and his party are developing a strong base from which to govern and win future elections.

Dan Froomkin: I think you may be correct, but I think any such reality will take a long time to penetrate the Beltway. The inside-the-Beltway mentality seems inimically linked to cable TV -- and cable TV shows no signs of adjusting its practice of "balancing" everything along the Bush-era right-left axis.


Washington, D.C.: "transformation to a regional party without much of a national foothold"

Come on Dan, take of your partisan hat. People were saying that about Dems just four years ago. Fortunes change. Once the stimulus money runs out, and these programs are either cut right back or taxes have to be raised to maintain levels...well see what happens.

Dan Froomkin: You are absolutely right that things change. Keeps people like me in business.


Jindal on SNL?: Who do you think will play Jindal on the next Saturday Night Live? What do you predict the skit will be?

Dan Froomkin: If they can get him...


New York, New York: I tried to watch the speech last night but my attention drifted away with the theatrics and the resounding sense of deja vu in the rhetoric department. I've been reading bits of it today. I know this will sound amazing given the reviews but I think Obama badly needs a new speechwriter. He still sounds like he is in campaign mode most of the time and I'm tired of all the recycled bon mots of others.

I feel like I don't really hear his voice in spite of the fact that I agree with him on the urgency of making huge change now. Especially with health care.

I've had a mixed response to him these last few months. In November I was really happy with all the clarifying solid expectations that he was building. Then he started choosing his cabinet and many of them seemed like retreads (Daschle in particular) and not very dynamic (Geithner). Oddly, Hillary seems to be the most fully developed cabinet member. Maybe it's because he chose to appoint cabinet and shadow cabinet members and that made them all seem fuzzy.

I think he's been very successful on the social elements - introducing his family as the first family and making nice with the locals. Policywise he's all over the map - one day liberal and the next conservative. I'm hating all the bipartisan stuff that's just further diluting things like the stimulus package and allowing the camera struck to grandstand day after day. It makes it hard to believe that he has core values when he bends over so much for these guys. Muddled, that's my response.

Dan Froomkin: I actually got a sense of a return to core values last night, but I think you raise some interesting points. For instance, I agree that there is, in a lot of places, a lot of muddle.

There are two possibilities. One is that Obama's thinking is muddled. The other is that this is a communications problem.

So what you see as a problem with his speechwriter, I see as a problem with giving a speech. What I want is to hear about his thinking directly from his brain, as he responds to and engages with an intelligent interlocutor. That's why I was so disappointed by his

press conference

earlier this month. (And why I was so taken with his

interview with columnists

a week later.)

What I'd really like is for him to sit down for lengthy interview with a series of really knowledgeable beat reporters. Then we'd be know what's muddled and what's not.


Arlington, Va.: Could you please corner Robin Givhan and ask her opinion on Michelle Obama's bare armed dress? It seems to be the number one topic around my office.

Dan Froomkin: Givhan has already weighed in on the arms. After all, this isn't the first time. "When she bounded onto the stage in her sleeveless dresses, with her muscular post-Title IX arms in full view, the definition of a strong woman changed," Givhan wrote about Michelle the day after the inauguration.

But this is really not my area of expertise.


San Jose, Calif.: Hi Dan,

You haven't skipped a beat since the new administration came to the beltway. Keep up the good work.

What do you make of the things, national security matters in particular, on which the Obama Administration has NOT changed course from the previous administration? Specifically, the two court cases happening in my neck of the woods: the case of Jeppeson, the CIA contractor accused of planning extraordinary rendition flights and the case of the telecoms and their immunity to their possible involvement in a conspiracy to violate the fourth amendment, both of which the new justice department is taking the same position as the old justice department--they threaten national security secrets. Both plaintiffs' claims are legitimate, and in the case the telecoms, the judge is already questioning the constitutionality of the telecom immunity law. Your coverage of these cases has been great, but it seem that perhaps too much focus has been on what Obama is doing differently, and more focus should be on what is the same, and why.


Dan Froomkin: Thanks. I am, bluntly, shocked. I don't get it. And you know what else I don't get? Why they aren't explaining their position. Where's the vaunted transparency?

I weighed in on some of those issues



There's a theory which is that the Obama folks are just trying to buy a little time to firm up their positions, but that theory is wearing thin.


Vienna, Va.: I still don't understand why the President is stressing bipartisanship. He is basically stating that the last eight years were a tragic error. And does it even matter? Can't he get everything done with just the Democrats?

Dan Froomkin: He does need a few Republican votes in the Senate.

But I think a lot of people may be overlooking the significance of bipartisanship as a strategy, rather than a real goal. In

Ryan Lizza

's recent New Yorker profile, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel argues that the press has misunderstood Obama's push for bipartisanship. "The public wants bipartisanship," Emanuel tells Lizza. "We just have to


. We don't have to



Look at it that way, and the strategy seems to be working

very well indeed



New York City: So what do you think W watched last night? Do you think he watched the speech or not? And I can tell by the way you write that you miss the man terribly. I'm sorry.

Dan Froomkin: I try not to think of him too often. Which is becoming easier all the time. It's only been 36 days -- but it feels like longer, doesn't it?


Philadelphia: What do you think of Robert Gibbs? Is he providing sufficient information? Does he seem to have the proper amount of access?

Dan Froomkin: Honestly, I'm disappointed. But I haven't given up. The guy has so darn much access, he ought to be providing a heck of a lot more information. But these are early days, still. It's not entirely unreasonable for his first impulse to be to deflect. Maybe that will change over time.


not muddled: Maybe the issue is that we still hear with the same old ears - deciding whether an idea is liberal or conservative, rather than looking to see whether it will work. I thought THAT was the point of bipartisanship - if it's a good idea, use it, regardless of who thought it up first.

Dan Froomkin: Maybe. But it would be hard to argue that his bank rescue plan isn't a bit of a muddle right now. And why is he so resistant to nationalization? I'm not at all clear on that.


Sarasota, Fla.: Other than one comparison of Obama's delivery to Bush's "tongue-tied" efforts in the past, I saw little reference to the fact that Obama did not use the teleprompter during the whole speech. I thought his command of the topics, and delivery,were superb. Your thoughts?

Dan Froomkin: Ah, but he most certainly did use the TelePrompter. That's explains why he shifted from side to side rather than looking straight at the camera. TelePrompter's on each side.


Chicago: A week or two ago you did a column about Obama's meeting with national columnists. I read the transcript and was shocked that NO ONE asked about torture, rendition and what his thoughts were on prosecution.

Total lovefest: asking him softballs.

Was also glad to see you cite Greenwald's piece that the media is kissing up to Obama as they did to Bush. Did you also see the David Cay Johnson piece which paints a picture of an inexperienced yet arrogant press shop at the White House that refuses to go on the record or even give their names and titles.

Your thoughts?

washingtonpost.com: Dan: Obama: I Won't Play Washington Games

David Cay Johnson: Who's Undercutting Obama? (Columbia Journalism Review)

Dan Froomkin: Yes, the questions could have been quite a bit tougher -- especially considering how hostile one of the columnists had been in her column. But it was still quite interesting.

As for the evolving relationship between the press corps and the White House, I find it absolutely fascinating and very important, and I'm sure I'll be weighing in on it in the future.


Brooklyn, NY: I love your column, but try as I might, I cannot warm up to your new format. It is more cumbersome to read, what with clicking back and forth to finish one entry before being able to read another entry, and I find myself petering out without finishing each entry or even all the entries for each day. When your column appeared complete on line every afternoon that was never a problem-- it was truly a better read. Might there be a way to access it in the old format as well as the new one?

Dan Froomkin: See above, about the "printer-friendly version."


Dan Froomkin: OK, I have to run. Thanks for all your questions and comments. E-mail me any time at froomkin@washingtonpost.com. See you again here in two weeks and every weekday at washingtonpost.com/whitehousewatch.


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