Post Politics: Cap-and-Trade Delays, Appointee Confirmations, More

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Paul Kane
Washington Post congressional reporter
Thursday, April 9, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post congressional reporter Paul Kane took your questions about the holds on White House nominees, the debate over the provision to create a cap-and-trade policy for pollution emissions limits and all the latest news from the Capitol.

The transcript follows.

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Paul Kane: Good morning, folks. Wow, it's a beautiful spring morning here in DC and I'm in the Capitol -- it's quiet as heck here because Congress is on a 2-week legislative break, what we around here call "recess". Makes it sound kind of childish, I know, but then again, lots of childish stuff happens here on most days. So ...

Alright, there's some crazy news out there, pirates off of Africa, violence in Afghanistan, DOJ fallout from the Stevens debacle, but let's not forget a tradition unlike any other, The Masters, taking place down in Augusta, Ga. If forced to pick someone other than Tiger this week, I'll go with Geoff Ogilvy. He's about to become one of the 3 best players in the world, along with Anthony Kim and Tiger. (Sorry, Phil, but you're about to slip as age and conditionig take their toll.)

Now, on to the questions. -- pk

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Northern Virginia: As the flowers start to bloom, I can't help but compare this April to last year when I was an avid pro-Obama (and thus anti-you-know-who) volunteer.

I don't think I would have believed you if you had told me that at this time this year my wonderful candidate would be back from a multi-country tour as President with Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State, and not a speck of news coverage here or in Europe (that I could see) on the novelty of the two rivals working together. Plus, I like her a lot more now, after being luke-warm at best from 1992 to 2008. It's all kind of like a magic trick, isn't it? Why do you think this has worked so well?

Paul Kane: I don't know why you feel this way, but I'll just say this about Madam Secretary -- she sure feels diminished to me. Not in a bad way, like she's a sullen, defeated political character. It just seems like she's not the star-power of this administration that everyone thought she'd be back in November as this arrangement was being worked out.

Maybe she's doing stuff behind the scenes that we're not aware of, but the Clinton family M.O. is to always leak things like that to the press. No, she just seems to have settled into the relative 2nd tier of importance among Obama appointees. Geithner and Gates seem to be far more relative to the global arguments, on the economy and the security matters at han, while Biden's role is somewhat diminished also but certainly he's been a higher profile presence than Hillary.

I'm not weighing judgment here - eh, bad pun on Holy Thursday with Pontius Pilate and Good Friday tomorrow.

But you know what I mean. I think.

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Colorado: Hi Mr. Kane,

Regarding CO2 cap-and-trade, how many folks in Congress still think global warming is a myth or an unsubstantiated theory?

Paul Kane: I think very few think it's a "myth", per se, those are the Inhoffe folks. A very small minority of Republicans. Remember, McCain supports cap-and-trade, as did Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) before he retired last year.

The question many Republicans and lots of pro-business Dems ask is, where's the science to tell us precisely how urgent the issue is? Is it something that needs to be addressed today, during a global financial meltdown at the risk of increasing energy costs in the short run, or is it something that can wait, 2, 5, 10 years, when the economy is much more shored up and the transition costs won't create the same $$$ pinch?

I'd say fully a third to half of Congress -- Rs and Ds alike -- fall into this latter category, the folks who fear pushing this issue now at the risk of hurting the economy further in the short run.

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Norfolk, Va.: Massive anti-waste, anti-corruption, anti-government-bloat Tea Parties scheduled for April 15 -- tax day. Will The Washington Post cover them?

Note: you trot out an investigative crew every time a race-baiting Al Sharpton feels offended or some smelly ACORN hippies protest a patchouli shortage. Do you feel like a hypocrite for ignoring the Tea Parties?

Paul Kane: Tax Day is almost always covered in every fashion possible, sir. By print, by TV, by radio. Produce lots of people to show up for your events, and yes, media will follow. Have only a few people show up at each of these events, and yes, we will rightly ignore you.

There.

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New York, N.Y.: I keep hearing the GOP gasbags and their media enablers decrying those HUGE defense budget cuts. But I'd like to echo Jon Stewart, "On what planet is a four percent spending increase a huge cut?!?"

Paul Kane: Hahaha. I watched the show last night, too. It was a good one. Stew-ie is on a roll these days. Loved his mockery toward Orzag last week.

As for your question, your entire premise is wrong. This is not at all a partisan issue. You have to understand this is a totally parochial issue, for Dems and Rs. You'll see Dems on the Hill going to the mat to save their defense programs just as much as the Rs. In fact, given their ties to the president, the stakes will be higher for congressional Dems to save their defense projects.

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DoJ Prosecutors: Any idea where these guys came from? Any chance they are among those attorneys that were placed so controversially along ideological lines by the Bush Administration? Any chance Bush may come out of retirement to tell them what a heckuva job they did?

Paul Kane: Oh gosh no, not at all. These folks were the career prosecutors who chafed at the politicization of DoJ under Fredo Gonzales's reign.

That's what has the legal community in DC so utterly flabergasted by the Stevens trial, these were the real deal prosecutors, not the Monica Goodling proteges from Liberty.

It almsot appears that, after 2 1/2 years of Fredo's political reign of terror, that in '07 and '08 the career guys were freed from those conservative shackles and then just ran amok, without any supervision. As if the pendulum swung wildly back in the other direction.

This is a real black mark on Mukasey's ever so brief tenure at DoJ.

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where's the science to tell us precisely how urgent the issue is?: I can't believe you wrote this? There are literally thousands of scientific articles laying out what terrible things will happen when if we do not take drastic action now. For a start you can read the report of the UN Commission that won the Nobel prize. Also, done properly, it need not be as expensive as say, the war in Iraq.

Paul Kane: Eh, cool your heels, cool your heels. (Get it -- "cool", I'm being punish, because the issue is global warming.)

I'm not denying global warming exists. Relax. The issue that lawmakers -- yes, lawmakers, the people you elect -- want to figure out is when they need to act, whether doing something now or 3-4 years from is the best course.

That's all.

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Clinton family M.O.?: When Hillary got to the Senate, she kept her head down and did the hard work required to earn the respect of her peers and her constituents. That is most likely what she is doing right now as Sec. of State. You could call it the Hillary M.O.

Paul Kane: Truth be told: Hillary never did any hard work in the Senate. I've written this before on these online chats, and I've told our correspondents who covered her campaign this, to no avail. Yes, her staff did a wonderful job of constituent service and she/they did a wonderful job of steering hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks all across the state. But that's the sum total of her eight years in the Senate.

There was plenty of time for her to engage in the bigger issues of the day, and she never did. Not once. There's not a single major issue -- war, peace, post-9/11 security, post-9/11 economic recovery, health care -- which bears HRC's stamp as the leader of the cause from her time here. She intentionally stayed away from any and all major issues.

It's a nice storyline of hers to portray it as an effort to help New Yorkers. I never bought it. She just wanted to stay out of the senatorial muck, because she wanted to run for president.

There, I said it.

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Helena, Mont.: Paul, I truly want an opposition party that is interested in governing and not posturing, but the latter is all I see from the current Republican leadership in Congress. Is this because they are adjusting to being in the minority and we have to give them their 100 days of temper tantrum throwing before they can look at what the country needs - so there is hope they will become more interested in the governing of the country and begin to be a negotiating partner - or will we have these naysayers and political posturers for the next 2 years?

Paul Kane: Look folks, this isn't a defense of the Republicans and their behavior, more like an explanation. Of the 178 House Republicans, I'd estimate that about 140 of them -- maybe more -- were elected in 1994 or more recently. They have never been through what they're now going through.

They were elected when the GOP ran the House with an iron fist. Even after they lost the majority in '06, they still were a force because Bush had the White House and they had almost 200 members, more than enough to sustain any veto of his, so John Boehner and Roy Blunt were at the negotiating table all the time in '07 and '08.

Now, they got nothing. Zip. Nada. Zero.

It's a hard adjustment.

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New York, N.Y.: Paul, do you care to defend yourself against this criticism from Media Matters?

"In an April 9 article about Democrats' legislative priorities, The Washington Post wrote, 'Democrats are sure to incite Republicans if they adopt a shortcut that would allow them to pass major health-care and education bills with just 51 votes in the Senate, where Democrats are two seats shy of the filibuster-proof margin of 60 seats. The rule, known as 'reconciliation,' would fuel GOP charges that (President) Obama has ditched bipartisanship.' The article, by Paul Kane and Shailagh Murray, then quoted Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) saying, 'If they exercise that tool, it's going to be infinitely more difficult to bridge the partisan divide.' However, Kane and Murray did not mention that congressional Republicans -- including Snowe herself -- voted to allow the use of the budget reconciliation process to pass major Bush administration initiatives. Indeed, Murray herself noted in an April 1 article that '(a)dvocates defend reconciliation as a legitimate tool used more often by Republicans in recent years, most notably to pass President George W. Bush's tax cuts.' "

Paul Kane: I'm sorry, what's to defend?

Someone tell Media Matters to get over themselves and their overblown ego of righteousness. We reported what Olympia Snowe said. That's what she said. That's what Republicans are saying. I really don't know what you want of us. We are not opinion writers whose job is to play some sorta gotcha game with lawmakers.

That's what columns and blogs are for. Look, Republcians will take reconciliation as a serious poison pill to Obama's so-called bipartisan/post-partisan era. The Republicans did this, in the most direct correlation, with welfare in the mid-90s. And Democrats took it as a vicious partisan maneuver.

That's what is happening, that's what we reported.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello Paul, When can we expect the confirmation of Secretary Nominee Sebelius? As an HHS employee all I can say is we need a leader and we need one now! Is it typical of a new administration to have such a prominent Department position vacant?

Paul Kane: I'd expect that the first week the Senate is back, the week of April 20-24. I don't get any sense that there's a huge Daschle issue lurking here. Just some delay tactics by conservative Rs here, knowing she'll ultimately get the job.

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Simple question: Why are the names of the U.S. Attorneys who are suspected of prosecutorial misconduct in the Stevens Case never disclosed in these news reports?

Paul Kane: We had a full sidebar graphic in yesterday's print edition of every member of the Stevens prosecution team who is under the gun from Judge Sullivan.

Not sure if it ran online. Sometimes, our graphics from the print paper don't run online because of some odd coding issues between the systems used for the print paper and the web site.

Sorry if you didn't see that. But we did a full version of everyone under investigation.

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Boston: Interesting look at former Sen. Clinton. Who would you say are the five hardest working Sens, five biggest dogs, and five limelighters?

Paul Kane: Oh wow, that's a huge question, because you're asking for 15 names. I'm going to try to get in a better, more holidayish mood, and I'm only going to answer the positive question -- the 5 hardest workers.

In no order:

* Chuck Grassley, senator from Iowa. He's the top Republican on the Finance committee, and probably the hardest working senator. He's involved in almost every issue, from taxes to healthcare to judicial nominations to FBI oversight. He does pretty much it all. He's also going a bit crazy of late, with his mouth running slightly amok.

* Henry Waxman, representative from LA. The chairman of the energy and commerce committee made his bones as chairman of the oversight committee, exposing so many Bush White House wrongdoings it was amazing. Not even 5-4, the diminutive Waxman was the most feared man in the Bush West Wing.

* Paul Ryan, representative from Wisconsin. He's the top Republican on the House budget committe. He's only 36, I think, but this guy knows his stuff on deficits. He's a conservative, make no mistake, but he's someone who could go on the Olberman Show and come away very comfortbaly feeling as if he made his point and stood his ground.

* Jack Reed, senator from Rhode Island. This Democrat does more on Pentagon issues than just about anyone, he travels to the hot spots and walks off the planes straight into conversations with generals on the ground who know him on a 1st-name basis. His role on the banking committee has given him a post from which to help with the financial regulatory re-write as well.

* Nancy Pelosi, speaker. She's a ligthning rod, for sure, but this woman got to where she was by simply outworking, out-hustling, out-maneuvering every man around her. She's far from the best spokesperson, her deliver is sometimes halting, but no one can see what she does behind closed doors. You want to know how hard-working, how effective Pelosi is, ask someone like Tom DeLay what he thinks. He'll tell you, she's the most dominant speaker of our time.

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New York, N.Y. : When the smoke clears, who do you see as the big stars of the GOP next year? Please don't say Palin.

Paul Kane: the next big stars? Huh, well, I just mentioned Paul Ryan, so you know he's one of them. I also think here on the Hill you've got some next generation folks like Bob Corker, the Tennessee senator, and John Thune, the South Dakota senator.

But the question is when the smoke will clear. To suggest Palin is a star of a more powerful GOP, would be to suggest that Republicans are on the verge of recovery and she's the one to lead them in 2012. I don't think any reasonable minded GOP strategist believes that is the case, so it could be a while before this party is ready to find its next stars.

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Great Job Paul: Like it when you just tell it like it is. Phillies in town for opeining day, maybe their first win?

Paul Kane: Woo-hooh, the Phillies play here at Nats Stadium, Monday, 3:05 pm, opening pitch. And yes, yours truly will be there. Rumors abound that, since it's the Nationals home opener and because Obama was overseas for the opening day for the rest of baseball, that he's going to be the one throwing out the 1st pitch. So get there early, if you plan on coming.

As for the "first win", eh, they scored 8 runs in the 7th yesterday to storm back and beat the Braves. Come on, folks. We're defending World Champions!

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re: Norfolk: I used to work for ACORN and I smell like roses. I do find it hilarious that these tea party folks are already working the refs about coverage.

Paul Kane: hahahaha. Don't blame me, I'm just the messenger here, I can't smell any of y'all.

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You didn't answer my (Stewart's) question, though!: I keep hearing the term "budget cuts," but the defense budget isn't being cut at all. Money is being redirected to other defense priorities, but the overall budget is increasing by 4%. Isn't that right? So why is it that certain pols are allowed to spout this inane lie with impunity. If they're angry that certain pet projects are cut, that's one thing... but they shouldn't be allowed to spread the falsehood that Obama is cutting the defense budget, when it simply isn't true.

Paul Kane: The big issue isn't so much the total dollar value of the cuts, it's the idea that certain weapons systems are being abolished altogether.

If I spend $100,000 a year, and I spend it on a whole bunch of garbage -- CDs from stupid American Idol contestants, trips to Atlantic City, etc. -- it's a whole lot better for me if I reorient my budget to spend my money on a downpayment for a new house at a cutrate deal, as well as Springsteen CDs (instead of Idol folks) and trips of value to see friends and family. I might still spend $96,000, but I've spent it a lot more wisely.

That's what Gates is trying to do.

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Saint Paul, Minn.: Hi Paul -- Thanks for taking questions today. Though I don't know specifics, I thought I heard that some voices in Republicans quarters are urging Coleman to give up the fight in the endless Minnesota Senate recount case. What have you heard? How likely is it that he'll finally concede, or is he really going to drag the whole thing through federal court, assuming he loses in state court? In my view, Minnesotans have had it with the whole mess and would have a hard time stomaching that.

Paul Kane: The Fix has done a post or two on this. Some people on National Review online and some former senators -- David Duremberger of Minnesota, for instance -- have mentioned Coleman stepping aside.

Coleman and his super-lawyer Ben Ginsberg have given no such indication, and his colleagues in the GOP Senate conference are telling him full speed ahead.

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Montgomery Village, Md.: Paul, is this the first "recess" Congress has had in years? Seems that they tried not to recess during the last administration to avoid "recess appointments.". Another sign that times have changed.

Paul Kane: Wow. That's a funny question/statement. You're right, Harry Reid did those pro forma sessions all last year, so there was no recess.

However, the 1st recess took place around Presidents' Day, without any notice to the idea that the pro formas had ended.

yes, good point.

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Hampton: Paul: Obama bowed to a Saudi prince. The White House says he didn't. But there's video of him bowing. Is this a White House loyalty test -- checking which media are willing to repeat their lie?

Paul Kane: Oh please, all this stuff is overboard. You folks are the Grassy Knoll types of international society.

The Michelle-Queen-touching tape is damn Zapurder film of high society. Who touched who first?

"Back, and to the right; back, and to the right?"

It's like when Keith Hernandez spit on Kramer.

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Paul Kane: Alright folks, gotta run. Thanks for the questions. Time to get meet The Fix and some friends for lunch. $5.99 all you can eat at Armand's on the Hill. Unreal, 18 years ago I came here to meet friends, and it was $4 all you can eat.

See you in two weeks. -pk

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