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Post Politics: Obama Meets with Karzai and Zardari, More

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Scott Wilson
Washington Post White House Reporter
Wednesday, May 6, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post White House reporter Scott Wilson discussed the latest news about the White House and Congress, including the Supreme Court vacancy and President Obama's upcoming meetings with the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Scott Wilson: Hey everyone. Hope all's well. The president meets with Presidents Zardari and Karzai, of Pakistan and Afghanistan respectively, today. Seems to be the main focus of the White House so far. Looking forward to taking your questions, so will get right to it.

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Arlington, Va.: Will Obama be forced to nominate a conservative Republican to replace Souter on the Supreme Court? Already, Republicans are talking filibuster regardless of who Obama picks.

Scott Wilson: Not that I can imagine. My colleague Paul Kane reported yesterday that the Republican response on Capitol Hill so far has been quite collegial on the selection process. That could change quickly, obviously, once a nominee is named. But, no, I don't imagine Obama's choice will be a conservative Republican - ever.

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South Riding, Va.: I was surprised to see the report saying that Arlen Specter lost his seniority. When the news of his switch first came out, it sounded like Obama and the Democrats were excited with his joining the democrats. Did he do something to offend them?

Scott Wilson: Well, he's done plenty to offend them so far. Day 1 as a Democrat he voted against Obama's budget. Yesterday he said he believed Norm Coleman should be seated in Minnesota, despite the fact that Al Franken has the most votes in a race now in the courts. But that's not why he lost seniority. The party switch effectively made him a freshman again in the eyes of the Senate's Democratic leadership.

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washingtonpost.com: Kane: Sessions Takes Specter's Judiciary Post

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Fairfax County, Va.: Hi Scott, I am a lifelong Democrat whose participation in past elections has been fairly minor. Needless to say, last year was crazy different and wonderful. I will spare you the recital of a very intense year that ended with literally getting voters to sprint from the parking lot as the polls closed. And don't get me started on the small donations.

Am I being sentimental, or do you think the intense 2008 grassroots involvement is having (and will continue to have) a real effect on Obama's popularity now? Speaking for myself, I think many 2008 volunteers are not only bursting with pride, but really invested in his success, because we think it is OUR success, not just his.

Scott Wilson: I do think it will have a real effect on Obama's success here in Washington. My colleagues and I reported an in-depth piece for a special section on Obama's first 100 days. One thing we found was that the administration almost lost its stimulus bill because, in part, it was trying to rest the national grass-roots network you are referring to after last year's arduous campaign. They learned they couldn't do that, and soon after reached out to all of you for help in promoting the president's budget, to great success. I think that's their model for governing, so Obama's supporters outside the Beltway will be asked to stay invested in his success.

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Vernon, British Columbia: Thanks for the chat Scott. My question concerns the lobbying of the present DoJ by former Bush administration officials, concerning the disclosure of and any further disclosures of information pertaining to the "Torture Memos."

I am unaware of any precedent of this, being that they are from two different political parties. Do you know of any prior acts like this by either party? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Bush Officials Try to Alter Ethics Report

Scott Wilson: Very good question, and my short answer is that I don't, at least not off the top of my head. Anyone out there have any examples of this happening before? It's extraordinary in my view (and thanks much to Carrie Johnson for telling us about it.)

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AU Park: What happened to the seniority deal Specter thought he had? Did he have it wrong from the start or did he create backlash as a result of positions, statements he has made recently?

Scott Wilson: We didn't know of any agreement he had, so my guess is he had it wrong, or assumed he had something he didn't. One of his arguments to Pennsylvania Republicans had been, "Don't throw me out because I have so much seniority it wouldn't be a big waste and damage the state's interests." He won't have that to campaign on anymore.

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washingtonpost.com: Bruised by Stimulus Battle, Obama Changed His Approach to Washington

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Atlanta: Morning Scott and thanks for taking my Q. I strongly believe any further aid either to Afghanistan or to Pakistan should be strictly based on benchmarks. I mean this is ridiculous to even imagine that Taliban would come less than 100 miles to Islamabad.

So, our aid should be based on the progress these countries make and show. What's your take on this please?

Scott Wilson: In principle, I'm with your completely and the National Securtiy Council staff is drawing up benchmarks that would measure progress on anti-corruption efforts, security, development, etc as the aid is disbursed. In practice, I wonder how much meaning these will have and if they are not met will the administration abandon Pakistan (and its nuclear arsenal) to the Taliban? I doubt it. But your good question gets at that line the administration is trying to walk between unequivocal support and accountability. Paradoxically, the leverage in cases like this often rests with the weak governments the United States is trying to help.

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Boston: I read the article today about keeping Karzai at arm's length which went into some degree of seemingly sensitive detail about Obama's thinking about our Afghan policy and Karzai personally.

Is this administration as leaky as others or is a message being sent to Karzai and others in Afghanistan ahead of his meetings in D.C. this week? How unhelpful is the loss of many civilian lives reported by the IRC in a U.S. bombing raid in an Afghan village just days before this meeting?

washingtonpost.com: Administration Keeps Ally at Arm's Length

Scott Wilson: This was terrific piece of reporting, in my view. It's not a very leaky administration, but Rajiv got through some doors and asked the right questions in order to chart the arc of the U.S. relationship with Karzai. I'm sure there's some message sending involved in this, but that message, according to the story, has also been sent to Karzai explicitly as well. As for the ICRC report, it is damaging and will give Karzai something significant to complain about, a tactic that really does undermine his authority and U.S. credibility in the country.

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"...because we think it is OUR success, not just his...": We'll check back with you in a year or so, when you're angry about how disappointed you are in your idol...and Gitmo is still operating, the surge in Afghanistan is not a cakewalk, the economy is still sputtering, and the president turns out to be an actual human instead of the Messiah.

Scott Wilson: Let's make sure you two meet back here again in a year to assess; I'll moderate.

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Florissant Valley, Mo.: G'morning Scott. here's a radical thought. Don;t you think it likely that Pakistan and Afghanistan could prove to be the greatest threats Obama faces? And has anyone seriously contemplated "bugging out," by which I mean deciding that our long-term interests lie far to the west of there (Israel and the Arab Middle East)? Wouldn't our (naval) air power and the availability of drones in an emergency be sufficient protection against any local al Qaeda operations, leaving us free to employ our military where they could make the most difference? One guy's opinion. Thanks

Scott Wilson: During the administration's internal debate on AfPak, Vice President Biden took the view that much less, rather than more, should be done in the region. He lost. But we'll see in a year whether Biden (and you) are right, and how much Obama alters his strategy along the way.

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"Don't throw me out because I have so much seniority it wouldn't be a big waste and damage the state's interests." : I am a regular reader, hours a day on the Web site, and also consider myself pretty well-informed about politics and national news. I vote in all elections, even in off-years and primaries. That said, a senator's or rep's "seniority" has never made a difference to me.

Scott Wilson: Agreed. It's pretty dull as a political platform.

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Washington, D.C.: Glenn Kessler and Michael Shear reported yesterday in the WP that the new administration is taking a new approach to human rights and promotion of democracy in its approach to allies and adversaries such as Egypt, China, Cuba and Sudan. While I was no fan of the Bush administration, it seems clear that this new approach is likely to weaken the hand of non-governmental civil society actors and strengthen the role that those governments have in approving/disapproving projects in these sensitive areas.

washingtonpost.com: Human Rights Activists Troubled by Administration's Approach

Scott Wilson: I think this is going to be a policy area we watch develop - and shift around - quite a bit as the administration gets going. To hear Obama talk about it, he'd like to get this country's human-rights record cleaned up (Guantanamo, torture, etc) before lecturing other countries on the subject. But how he intends to do that and how big a role human rights will play in his thinking remains unclear. When does his emphasis on pragmatism and problem-solving give way to ethical questions about a country's human rights record - in Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, etc. So far Cuba seems to be the only country where he has demanded human rights improvements before he considers broader changes in policy, a stand even some of his fans in the region call hypocritical. We'll be watching.

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SW Nebraska: With all the civilian casualties being reported this week in Farah province, do Afghanis see any difference between the Obama and Bush administrations? Are there a lot of Cheney followers still involved with our actions in any of the departments?

Scott Wilson: Well, I'm not there but I imagine it doesn't look a whole lot different from the ground. As far as Cheney followers, I'm sure how many there are in the civil-service ranks. But the Obama administration has obviously put its own people - or career employees it agrees with - in decision-making positions in the Defense Department and the intelligence agencies (or is in the process of doing so.)Remember that the Obama plan in Afghanistan does not call for less military, but more. So the intensity of operations will increase.

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re: Seniority--another take.: To your chatter who wrote, "a senator's or rep's "seniority" has never made a difference to me": I'm curious where he lives. In the DC area, or the Northeast, it's not quite as critical.

But for a lot of voters (say rural WV; or central PA; or the cotton belt; or the biggest welfare state of all: Alaska) seniority -is- huge. That's because the whole business model of these areas of the country revolve around bringing home the pork.

Without that, they're essentially 3rd world countries.

Scott Wilson: I'm not saying it's not important. Just agreed with the comment that it doesn't make for the most compelling campaign platform.

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Washington, D.C.: Do presidents typically consult with the current Supreme Court justices about a vacancy? Would Obama call Souter and ask him who he would recommend for example?

Scott Wilson: Interesting thought, but I don't think that's standard practice. And this president, who taught constitutional law for years, has some pretty specific ideas of what he wants in his pick. So I doubt he'd consult Souter. Thanks much everyone for your questions today, that's all I have time for. Hope to join you again soon.

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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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