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Post Politics: Tea Party Protests, Political Coverage, More

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President Barack Obama seized the opportunity on tax-filing day to declare that he's working toward 'a simpler tax code that rewards work and the pursuit of the American dream.' Video by AP

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Michael D. Shear
Washington Post White House Reporter
Wednesday, April 15, 2009; 11:00 AM

Post White House reporter Michael D. Shear was online Wednesday, April 15 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the Obama administration and the latest news from Washington.

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Michael D. Shear: Good morning everyone. It's a cold, drizzly day here in the nation's capital. At the White House, where I'm doing the chat today, the president is set to tout his tax cuts by highlighting several families he says will benefit. Meanwhile, Norm Coleman keeps fighting, Obama heads south of the border and pirates seem to be on everyone's mind still.

(I'm declaring this chat a dog-free zone, so don't bother with questions about Bo.)

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Floris, Va.: Will there be an official count of the "more than a billion teabags" dumped in Lafayette Park? Will Norm Coleman supervise the count?

Michael D. Shear: This is a good place to start. I believe the number of tea bags is actually meant to be one MILLION, not billion. I'm not sure about an official count. I just walked through Lafayette Park on the way here. There were about 75 people or so, a bunch of signs about Facisism and Taxes. I suspect the weather is keeping some folks away.

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Boston: Was the substance and style of the Cuban policy change announcement too cute by half? Allowing travel just for Cuban-Americans with family in Cuba and not lifting the trade embargo. Announcing it through a midlevel NSC staffer instead of the President. Seems like the leader of the free world is tip-toeing here instead of leading...

Michael D. Shear: This is an interesting question. There are many folks, especially on the left, who believe that Obama should have gone much further here, breaking more quickly with past policy and simply lifting the embargo.

It was sort of odd that the president didn't announce this policy shift himself, given the kind of policy announcement he has done personally in the past. On the other hand, his decision to close Guantanamo Bay, for example, was also done by a spokesman, so I'm not sure how much to draw from it.

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South Riding, Va.: It is beginning to look like the war against pirates is the next unplanned conflict for the US military. Is this a task the Navy has the capacity and skills to successfully take on? What support can the U.S. expect from the world community? I assume that unless the pirates have always left after getting their money, that there are ports and officials that will look the other way when the ships dock and unload.

Michael D. Shear: This would be a question better directed to my colleagues who cover the military, but I'll take a stab.

My sense is that the area of ocean that the pirates work in is very large, and that it's unlikely that the U.S. Navy wants to become the police force for that region. The President has talked a lot in the last few days about partnerships with other nations, who have in fact been the victims of more of these attacks than the U.S.

Beyond the waters, there is the question of Somalia, and how to alter the basic dynamic in the country that is producing the pirates. That's an even more difficult question, and many in the U.S. military are wary of getting bogged down in a country that has little structure and has been the scene of problems for the U.S. in the past.

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Stockton, N.J.: Is DC prepared for the hundreds of thousands of protesters today?

Michael D. Shear: I would be surprised if we get that many.

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10,000 lakes: Seems like Sen. Cornyn and other Senate Republicans have gone nuclear on the Minn. Senate race. At what point, if ever, will this strategy backfire on them?

Michael D. Shear: You do have to wonder when the Republican party will decide that it no longer makes sense to keep appealing the decisions, almost all of which have gone against them.

They do have reason to keep fighting. The addition of another Democrat in the Senate will make it that much easier for Obama to advance his agenda. We saw clearly during the stimulus fight how hard the president had to fight to get a few GOP votes to get over the top.

But there's a question about how angry Minnesotans are going to be if they go for months more without one of their senators. And there's a hypocricy argument here -- wasn't it the Republicans who encouraged Al Gore to stop pointless legal maneuvering and concede?

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Coral Gables, Fla.: As someone that would like to visit Cuba but has no relative in Cuba, this new change is a start but does nothing for me.

As an avid tea drinker, any chance all these tea bags could be forwarded to me. It would be a big help to my household economy.

Michael D. Shear: Sounds like you're out of luck on both counts, Coral Gables.

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Oblivious and liking it...: Do you think there is a burnout of the public from the overkill news cycles of the last election ? I mean I just couldn't watch an Obama economics speech if they paid me to.

Michael D. Shear: What? An Obama economics speech isn't your idea of a rockin-good time?

It's a good question. Is there Obama fatigue? Politics fatigue? Economic crisis fatigue? I suspect there is some of all three. As someone who has spent more time than I'd like to remember listening to these debates and issues, I can certainly relate.

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New York: Can you confirm a rumor for me: that Obama's economy speech was scheduled in such a way as to guarantee press coverage by withholding the Bo the Dog Event until later in the day? Has our public discourse really gotten that stupid? On second thought, if its true, I really don't want to know. Never mind.

Michael D. Shear: I'm breaking my vow here, but just because this is more about eocnomics than dogs.

I really have no idea what was in their minds. What they told us was that the doggie presentation was going to be in the late afternoon because the girls had to be home from school first.

The economics speech seemed to be planned for a while. It takes some advance work to put the president in a college setting like that. So I'm guessing they weren't scheduling the speech around the dog event.

Having said that, they are smart enough to know that even if the kids were home, it would not make sense to trot the dog out during a presidential speech that you want coverage of.

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Doubting Oblivious: People who are over politics wouldn't come onto a political chat.

Michael D. Shear: Good point. Maybe Oblivious is fighting his oblivious tendencies. If so, I can't think of a better way than this chat, can you?

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Rochester, NY: This may be a silly question, but why the emphasis on tea bags at these tea parties? I'm pretty sure it was loose tea that they dumped into the sea at the original one.

Michael D. Shear: Picky, picky Rochester.

Tea bags are easier to pick up after the protest is over.

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New York : If several thousand tea bags are left on the Washington mall today, will any stimulus money be spent to clean it up?

Michael D. Shear:

Hmmm. Interesting.

Another question: Is there caffine in those tea bags? That would certainly be stimulating, right?

(Sorry. I know that was uncalled for.)

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Washington, DC: Woof, arf, bow wow, roof, BARK! --DOTUS

Michael D. Shear: I don't even know what to say.

(By the way, I should have spelled caffeine right in the last answer. My fingers were moving too fast)

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Fairfax, Va.: I have been reading British newspapers lately and detect some criticism of President Obama ("lily-livered" is the term used). His recent snubs include Iran (secret trial of a US journalist); North Korea (launched a missile, boycotting talks on its weapons system, re-opening nuke facilities, expelling inspectors); Europe (says he'll close the Guantanamo prison, but can't get our allies to take any prisoners); Cuba (Castro complained that the recent changes are not enough); China (threatened one of our unarmed naval vessels).

Some of his defenders say he is being pragmatic, or trying to remain low-key because the U.S. no longer has authority. Have you seen similar analysis in the U.S. media?

Michael D. Shear: There has been some criticism of the president for not being strong enough, or for being too willing to talk down America by accepting blame for the economic crisis.

Having said that, your list is a sort of strange one. I'm not sure he gets much blame for the trial of the journalist in Iran. Also, he has gotten the French to say they will accept at least one Guantanamo prisoner. And I'm not sure anyone blames him for whatever Castro has said.

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Tuckahoe, N.Y. : There's a Homeland Security report being discussed today pointing out the various right-wing fringe groups which might pose a violent threat to the nation, a la Oklahoma City. The right-wing bloggers are not thrilled about this, and are blaming Obama, but wouldn't such a report have been started under the prior president?

washingtonpost.com: Eye Opener: About That Homeland Security Memo...

Michael D. Shear: I do believe that the report was started under the prior president, but the current president is always going to take the blame for things like this.

But I do know that conservatives are very angry about the report, believing it to be an attempt to stifle the first amendment rights of certain people.

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Rockville: If the shipping companies are willing to pay the pirates, they should be willing to pay a "rent a cop" to protect them and go in convoys. Why not?

Michael D. Shear: I do believe that the shipping companies and the insurance companies are likely to begin thinking more about protection on these ships

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Dunn Loring, Va.: Do you know if The Post will report on the Tea Party protests or does the Post only report on those gatherings of people who support the paper's liberal positions?

washingtonpost.com: Protesters Plan 2 Tea Parties in District; Tea Time; National Tea Party Tax Protests: Protesters' Plan to Dump Tea Is Prohibited; The Fix: Of Tax Day and Tea Parties

Michael D. Shear: See below for several stories already in our paper. And I believe we are likely to do more today.

Meanwhile, I've got to cut the chat a bit short today. Thanks for all the questions. See you all next time.

Mike

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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