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Post Politics Hour
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Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Wednesday, February 25, 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 in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post national political reporter Perry Bacon Jr., was online Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss President Obama's address to Congress on the state of the economy, the GOP response, the latest on Sen. Roland Burris, now with another call for his resignation, and more.

A transcript follows.

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Perry Bacon Jr.: Good morning. I"m Perry Bacon, one of the political reporters here and looking forward to your questions.

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Waterville, Maine: When is President Obama going to announce his new pick for secretary of HHS? Is Sibelius still in the running? She has seemed to fall off the radar in recent days. In his speech last night, Obama certainly provided a forceful argument for health-care reform. But without a leader at HHS who is a consensus builder this already difficult task will be that much harder.

Perry Bacon Jr.: He was very strong in saying he would push health care reform. My understanding is Sebelius, the governor of Kansas, is still in the running. After the various tax issues of some of the nominees, I think the vetting process is moving more slowly. I actually don't think the HHS secretary is particularly integral to getting health care done. It's more about getting moderate Dems and some Republicans to agree to what will be a big increase in spending and making the required compromises to please all the stakeholders in health care, from nurses and doctors to insurance companies. I know Peter Orszag, the head of OMB, is a health care expert and has been very involved in this issue already, but this will require involvement from Obama personally as well.

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Monroe, Mich.: It was clear that Roland Burris received a luke-warm reception from fellow lawmakers last night. Combined with the call from black clergy and Sen. Durbin for him to resign, how long do you think it will be before we see his resignation? Considering the considerable effort Democrats are now making to ensure he does not seek reelection in 2010, do you believe Burris will hurt Obama's 2012 reelection bid?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think Burris will be out of the Senate by 2012 no matter what, so no impact on Obama. I actually don't expect him to resign for the simple fact that he has nothing to lose by staying except for money, as Durbin pointed out at yesterday's event Burris is having to incur lots of legal fees. He has lost all of his support base, so he really couldn't win in 2010, but I don't see him stepping down voluntarily.

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Santa Barbara, Calif.: By any political yardstick, did last night's rebuttal speech do any favors for Gov. Jindal?

He offered nothing new beyond the old arguments that lost 2006 and 2008 elections for the Republicans. His delivery was awkward and seemed plain strange at times. And -- perhaps crucially for someone touted as the new face of the Republican party -- the comparison between his lackluster public persona and that of President Obama's could not be any starker.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think giving a speech with no audience after the other guy has a crowd giving loud applause will always make you look like a lesser speaker, but no, this was not Jindal's best moment. I've not heard him speak that often, but he's known more as a guy who gets thing done than a great speaker like Obama. He has tapped to do the GOP official response, so I'm not surprised that his tone was not much different than what Eric Cantor would have said. But no one outside of political junkies and Louisiana residents has heard of him, so it may have been good for his exposure.

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Health care? Now?: What does health-care reform have to do with economic stimulus? I get the feeling that Obama would have said the same thing if the economy was booming. Are we being sold a bill of goods?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Obama seemed to argue working on health care would both health people who are struggling because of the recession to afford things and also something we need to do as a country to deal with our long term fiscal problems. But would he be calling for health care reform anyway? Yes. He announced his universal health care plan in 2007 after all. It's basically a requirement as a Democratic presidential candidate to go around the country and say how you will expand health care if you want to get nominated by the Democratic Party.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: Is the GOP message of no spending by the federal government, which to some extent rests on the idea that the last eight years didn't happen, working. It would seem to me to be a tough sell, no matter who was the Democratic president.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think Republicans like that message, and Jindal and others want to make sure base Republicans are fired up. The last eight years weren't a great test of low spending by the government; Republicans would argue the Reagan years were a better example and more politically successful.

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Richmond: Every time Obama or Geithner speaks, the markets retreat. My professional opinion: because they voice no coherent philosophy for dealing with the economy, they sound like they're making it up as they go along. And the markets hate uncertainty.

But the bigger fear: he does have a philosophy. But it's a fairly Socialist philosophy that wouldn't go down well with the American people if he was overt about it. And it would scare the markets even further (like Chris Dodd's stupid remarks about nationalizing banks).

What's your thought: does Obama have an economic philosophy If so, what is it?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think the particular tactics to fix the economy by both the bush and the Obama administrations have not seemed coherent at times, but that's because there seems to be no clear answer and no one has a great unified theory. Obama has a political philosophy (generally a great role for the government than in the Bush years) but I'm not sure about an economic one. I won't try to explain how the markets are reacting.

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Alexandria, Va.: Interesting show by the GOP in the chamber last night during the speech. They seemed to abandon their grouchiness during the speech which says to me that they knew it was going well and didn't want to look like spoilsports. Is the party of "no" starting to hear footsteps from vox populi that their tactics are not appreciated?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think some of the members at some point figured giving rude comments on the Twitter accounts was the right tactic. that said, the Republicans seem fine with opposing the stimulus. They haven't back down at all from that stand, which Jindal emphasized last night.

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Bobby Jindal?: The only positive thing to be said about Jindal is that he did have the temerity to follow Obama. That said, did he realize what he was doing when he criticized the Bush administration's woefully poor job of response to Katrina? Do Republicans even remember the name of Bush or that he is a Republican?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I thought Jindal's speech included several attacks on Bush for Katrina, for big-spending, etc. The Republicans haven't forgotten about Bush, but they're hoping to get the voters to by pushing aside any remnants of his policies.

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Baltimore, Md.: So what did you think about the GOP response to the president's address? I definitely sensed a strong disconnect there. I mean, did the Louisiana governor even bother to watch Obama beforehand?

Perry Bacon Jr.: These responses aren't really responses. I had a copy of Jindal's speech sent to me before Obama went on. I think Jindal looked stiff, but generally laid out the Republican views on how the major issues should be handled.

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Boston, Mass.: Hi Perry,

In your short piece on Gov. Jindahl's response to Pres. Obama's address you didn't mention his rhetorical style. It was my first chance to listen to the governor who I always hear touted as a raising star of GOP. His whole style seemed to be rather boring or some better word I am lacking that means dull. What is your opinion of presentation?

washingtonpost.com: In GOP Response, Jindal Blasts Stimulus (Post, Feb. 25)

Perry Bacon Jr.: Yes, I wish I had gotten more into his style. It looked like he hadn't' used a teleprompter that often and was reading the text. It was awkward, particularly following Obama. Yes, it was dull, although I thought the actual words were pretty interesting.

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Kent, Ohio: Had anyone ever made a successful response to the State of the Union (I know this wasn't an official state of the union)? I'm young so I only remember the past few years, but the lighting/camera work always seems low-budget and the delivery horrible.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Yes, I was trying to make that point. Reid, Sibelius, Kaine, none of these responses were judged as very good either. I don't know if this would violate some sense of decorum, but as I watched this, my thought was having Sarah Palin in front of an audience of conservatives clapping would have been a much more effective response.

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Shirlington, Va.: Perry,

Is it me, or is Biden really emerging as a punch line?

First Obama mocks him on live TV at his press conference, commiserating with reporters who have no idea what Biden's "there's still a 30% chance we get this wrong" comment.

Last night, we hear that "nobody messes with Joe," then about 10 minutes of mugging because everyone in the room seems to know that's a ridiculous line.

Now this morning, he professes embarrassment for not knowing the web address for the trillion dollar spending oversight that he is (allegedly) in charge of.

If he keeps this up, he's Quayle without the beautiful head of hair.

Perry Bacon Jr.: One thing, I was at that Biden speech where he made the 30% remark, and what I heard him saying was that in general, no matter what Obama (or any president do) some things will go wrong. I didn't hear it as a gaffe, or maybe it was a gaffe, but a honest one, presidents don't get everything right. In public, I don't think Biden has been a great asset, what we don't know if he's effective in his more private roles, advising Obama and building support for Obama's agenda in the House and Senate among his old colleagues.

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Riverdale, N.Y. : Was McCain sitting with Susan Collins last night a sign that both are disliked and alienated from the base of their party? Who is the heart of that party in the Senate? Cornyn? Grassley? They seem to be without an identity.

Perry Bacon Jr.: The Senate is always full of independent-minded members. Collins is on the left wing of the GOP, and McCain is very unpredictable, but people Thune of South Dakota are in the mainstream of the Senate GOP, generally opposed to Obama's agenda but being careful in how they take on a popular president. I would say the Republicans in general have a pretty defined identity right now, as Obama seeks to increase government spending in areas like health care, they oppose it. Like I said earlier, Thune or Eric Cantor could have given almost every word of Jindal's speech.

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New York: Why didn't the GOP pick Palin for the response? While the message wouldn't have changed, her delivery would have been a lot more edgy.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Palin is controversial, not liked by people in the center, etc. And she's trying to keep a lower-profile, so she may have said no if they asked.

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Boston, Mass.: Most in the media seemed to give the speech positive reviews. Will this put an end to the last few weeks of overwhelmingly negative coverage of Obama from the punditocracy?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think President Bush would have killed for the "negative coverage" Obama has gotten the last month. Ultimately, watch what happens with the economy. At some point, Obama will be judged by results not speeches or tactics or bi-partisanship.

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Boston, Mass.: I am a very liberal Democrat who has gone door-knocking for Kerry, Edwards and Obama. Bobby Jindal was no worse than Gary Locke, Kathy Sibelius or any of the rebutters our own party put up over the past seven years. Those guys even had the advantage of following a guy who had obvious problems in disgorging his words n proper order!

So, yeah Jindal's parable were awful and (no disrespect to Louisiana where my aunts, uncles and cousins live), I don't think the rest of the country wants to think that Louisiana is the beacon they aspire the U.S. to become, but the guy should get a little break.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Another view on Jindal.

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Prescott, Ariz.: How frustrating and constraining are these instant polls? We often saw during the campaign that the journalists and pundits wanted to create the conventional wisdom, but it was so contrary to what the instant polling that they came off looking like they didn't know what they were talking about. So when this data says people liked Obama's speech, what can you do to weave the daily Republican talking points into a story?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm always interested in public opinion, but I think all of the recent polls have shown Obama is rather popular but Democrats support his policies more than Republicans.

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Seattle, Wash.: Answering the question of whether there has been a good response to a SOTU: Jim Webb gave what was considered a VERY well received speech in 2007. Jindal is getting absolutely blasted; even Fox News didn't bother to defend him.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Good point. Webb was very good; I had forgotten about him. Jindal was not as good. Again, this was not a fair fight; if you recall the two conventions in the summer, imagine Palin had had that fiery crowd at the RNC and Obama spoke from his Senate office. These empty room speeches are hard to do well.

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Messing with Joe : Its like a well-balanced comedy team: one guy is Mr. Perfect, every word carefully chosen, and the other guy is Mr. Malaprop. A comedy team without a straight man, or without a foil, is not successful. Biden seems to be popular too, and he's an Average Joe, which Obama clearly is not. Also, now that he's said a bunch of things that can be used as a source of amusement, no one's going to get bent out of shape over the next one. How many votes did Quayle actually cost Bush anyway?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I agree. Despite all the hype, vice-presidents don't make a big difference, with the exception of Cheney of course who had a large impact on policy and politics, as he became the center of Democratic hate.

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Alexandria, Va.: Perry,

Thank you for your thoughtful insights, love your discussions. My question has to do with the growing rift in the GOP. With the "defection" of the governor of Utah (of all places), it seems that there is a huge disconnect between the GOP in Washington and the GOP out in the regions (other than those few who are jockeying for position for 2012). Do you agree with my assessment?

Perry Bacon Jr.: No, I don't. For all the hype about Crist, Arnold S. and Huntsman saying they liked the Stimulus, all of the House, almost all the Senate, many of the governors (Pawlenty, Jindal, etc.), much of the conservative movement (Limbaugh, etc.) opposed this stimulus bill. If America was focused on social issues, I think you would see a real divide in the party, as some in the GOP want the party to speak less about gay marriage, abortion, etc. But an $800 billion full of spending has created a largely unified GOP. Will that unity remain on health care and energy? I think it depends on what those bills from Obama actually say.

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Madison Heights, Va.: I am a mother of two who has lost her job due to a company closing, my husband is a truck driver whose hours were cut in half due to rising cost. I receive only $130 per week in unemployment. How is this stimulus package going to help us? We were told we still make too much money to qualify for public assistance and are now in danger of losing everything and our utilities being cut off. Who can help bail us out beings that they are using my money to bailout everyone else?

Perry Bacon Jr.: The stimulus bill could increase the amount of money you get through unemployment insurance and help you keep health insurance longer if you have it. And you get a tax cut. The underlying theory is that the bill will help right the economy and more employers will be hiring more people.

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Rochester, N.Y.: How much did Bobby Jindal hurt himself with his speech last night? I couldn't believe how bad the tone was, or that he mentioned Hurricane Katrina as an example of why government can't work.

Perry Bacon Jr.: more Jindal remarks.

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Cumberland, Md.: I thought Jindal was on target -- he seemed the only rational voice to remind us that we do not have UNLIMITED FINANCIAL RESOURCES. When is the media going to realize and write that we cannot afford all these trillions of dollars that inevitably will be wasted?

Perry Bacon Jr.: and another Jindall view.

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Alexandria, Va.: Obama argues that none of his bailout will go to the irresponsible. But because he won't go back and look at any of those no-doc mortgages, how is that even possible? It seems likely that the irresponsible will in fact be first in line! What measures will he take? If I bought a house I can't afford and ran up credit card debt furnishing it with plasma TVs, what price do I pay? Do I lose my house? Do I lose the TVs?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'll let you define what is irresponsible, but yes, some people who get aid on paying their mortgages may have taken on too much debt initially.

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Washington, D.C.: What strategy would be most effective for selling the president's (or a Republican alternative) economic plan to the country? It seems with all the billion dollar price tags coming out on a regular basis, a series of much smaller, more targeted spending aimed at specific results would provide the country with confidence that our representatives are not wasting our money and provide markets with confidence that our representatives are actively working on solutions. All-encompassing "stimulus" packages are not the answer. The markets have not responded well to these programs. Why not smaller bites at smaller apples as we make progress?

Perry Bacon Jr.: For Congress, passing a big bill is often easier than passing several smaller bills. Is that better for the markets or for public policy? That's a different question.

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Jindal: I thought Gov. Jindal's biggest problem wasn't the delivery (which wasn't great, but that's expected given the setting) but the fallacious comparison of the federal government's response to Katrina to the federal government's response to the economic crisis. Aside from the fact that those two things are not comparable at all, I think everyone agrees that the real problem was the federal government didn't respond quickly enough, and didn't spend enough to fix the levies! Was he honestly trying to tell us that individuals did the heavy lifting there? The federal government has poured millions of dollars into New Orleans. The whole comparison made absolutely no sense.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Lots of comments on Jindal. Lots of people didn't not like his Katrina reference.

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Vienna, Va.: The way Jindal speaks reminded me a lot of Kenneth the page on 30 Rock. He didn't seem to know when to pause or inflect his voice, which led to this sing-songy way of talking that was very distracting to me.

Perry Bacon Jr.: this comment made me laugh, although I"m not sure I agree.

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Bremerton, Wash.: Thanks for having us Perry,

What do you think is the "Line of the Night" from Obama's and Jindal's speeches? "We are not Quitters" "We do not Torture" "Don't Mess with Joe"?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I thought Obama's comments on health care were so long they will be looked back on in three years to see if he actually made it happen. It was big pledge. Nothing Jindal said was that different from what GOP leaders have been saying for weeks.

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Seattle, Wash.: It looks to me like the only way Roland Burris will leave the Senate is after he's been kicked out. About how long would the process of censure and removal take?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Probably months. And it would require the members of the Senate, generally very polite once you're a member of the club, to take on a fellow member.

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Washington, D.C.: I know that the response isn't a response really, but do you think it might be more effective if it was? I think a shorter Republican response which hit the key themes of the speech and either rebutted or agreed with them, could be much more potent than a dull rote recitation of party platform which is what it seemed like Jindal did.

And I generally like Jindal.

Perry Bacon Jr.: The response is pretty written; I and other reporters read it hours before it was given. A direct response to an hour-long speech is very difficult, particularly when the response has is given 10 minutes after the president is done.

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Perry Bacon Jr.: That's all the time we have this morning, but thanks for your questions.

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