Post Politics: Guantanamo Closing, the Press and the President, More

Michael D. Shear
Washington Post White House Reporter
Wednesday, May 20, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post White House reporter Michael D. Shear was online Wednesday, May 20 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news about the White House and Congress with .


Michael D. Shear: Good morning everyone.

Sorry I'm a few minutes late. Let's get right to the questions.


Fairfax: Why does it seem on every contentious issue we face as a nation, there's a commission proposed to "study" the problem and provide political cover to elected officials. Entitlement reform - commission. Iraq. Commission. Don't ask, don't tell. Let's have a commission. Can't our elected representatives find a solution through the normal legislative process?

Michael D. Shear: Let's start here. It's certainly true that commissions are in vogue right now, but that's not entirely surprising given the nature of some of the problems you cite. Entitlement reform has bedeviled politicians for years. Iraq is certainly a long-term problem that is not easily resolved. Same with dont ask-dont tell.

Having said that, don't forget that the president has rejected a so-called "truth commission" for the torture issue, expressing fear that it would spur a nationwide angry debate over the issue.


Germantown, Md.: Does it seem we are seeing some of that inexperience people were worried about (at least those that would admit it) regarding Obama with the whole torture flip flopping and Gitmo? He may end up being a fine president but running for president vs. actually governing is so much more difficult.

Michael D. Shear: I'm not sure that inexperience is really the issue here. The president's advisers would take issue with the characterization of "flip-flopping," but even his top people have told me that governing has presented the president with "excruciating" choices that are very difficult.

Governing is clearly less black-and-white than campaigning.


Silver Spring, Md.: Harry Reid can't get the Democrats to close Guantanamo. Here is my solution: House them at Yucca Mountain in Harry Reid's state. It is probably the most secure location in the country in the middle of the desert and miles under ground. Could use stimulus money for the construction creating lots of jobs in a state where the tourist industry is hurting.

Michael D. Shear: That's funny!

Not sure Reid wants that Yucca Mountain problem any more than he wants the one he already has.


Arlington, VA: Although I'm generally disappointed with the Democrats' leadership of Congress, I must say I'm pleasantly surprised to see the Senate Democrats take a firm stand against President Obama on the issue of closing Guantanamo Bay without a plan. I thought it was rather irresponsible for President Obama to take action to close Guantanamo without a clear plan for handling the prisoners. I would be concerned about the closing of any prison in the absence of such a plan --particularly a prison that houses terrorism suspects. Kudos to the Senate for their action.

Michael D. Shear: This is a very interesting development, and potentially the first real crack in the otherwise very successful working alliance between the White House and the Democrats on the Hill.

It's an example of what always happens in Washington: despite pledges of cooperation, the interests of members of Congress and the President always diverge at some point, even when they are of the same party. In this case, there's a much more clear problem for individual members who don't want detainees in their states. As a result, the Democrats are going to push President Obama on this issue. The problem for the president is that there don't seem to be any easy ways out.


Inexperience vs. Knowledge: Inexperience wasn't what we who didn't vote for the president were fearing. Ideology was.

The potential good news is that knowledge trumps ideology, in as much as now that Obama knows the score on national security issues, he can't feed his worshippers the way they expect.

The obvious bad news is that on domestic policy, he's feeding them everything they think they want.

Michael D. Shear: It's true that many people who voted against President Obama in the election did so out of concern that he would impose an ideology they disagreed with. And I think it's also true that his ideology appears more clearly in domestic policy -- especially his response to the economy -- than it does in national security, where the president has been far more deferential to prior Bush decisions.

The Iraq war is a clear exception -- despite a delay of a few months, the president has moved aggressively to begin to close out that war, and has shifted the administration's attention to Afghanistan. That is a shift driven in part by his ideology, shared clearly on the campaign trail.


Louisville, Ky.: Hello, Michael. Thank for taking questions today. When you step back and look at the storm of criticisms and calls for resignation surrounding Pelosi, what do you see? I think she damaged herself slightly, but I see this more as Republicans pinning their comeback and hopes on ganging up on a woman. They seek a victory and this week she looks like low fruit. From my perspective, when and what Pelosi knew about waterboarding is not a big issue with the nation right now.

Michael D. Shear: I'm not sure we know yet where this will lead, or as they say in the news business, whether this story "has legs."

Pelosi has clearly provided an opening to her critics by providing shifting answers to the question of what she knew, and when she knew it, regarding the torture of detainees. And the GOP is leaping to take advantage of that opening. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich called for her to step down this morning.

What is less clear is whether Louisville is right about the American people not caring right now. If they don't care, the Republicans will look like they are beating up on her for no good reason. If they do care, it could become a real ongoing issue.


Closing Gitmo: Seems like a pretty simple conflict, really: the senators have to face reelection from the common-sense-holding folks back home, but all Obama has to do is please the media for three more years until they choose him again.

Michael D. Shear: There is a real sentiment out there that the media are treating Obama with kid gloves. Do others agree? What should we be asking him that we're not? What should be we writing about more?


Bronx, NY : Don't we have Hannibal Lector style serial killers in our max prisons now who make these Gitmo guys look like shoplifters? And don't we have communities starving because their only employer, the prisons, are closing?

How dumb exactly do you have to be to get elected to office these days?

Michael D. Shear: Hmm. I'm not sure if anyone would describe the detainees as shoplifters. But you raise a good point that should be put to lawmakers who object: what do they think will happen if these detainees are put in their prisons and why do they think it would be more dangerous than the folks who are already there?


Prescott, Ariz.: in his speech yesterday, Republican leader Michael Steele said: "We will and we must stand against his disastrous policy.... We're going to take this president on with class. We're going to take this president on with dignity." How did the vote on renaming the Democratic Party the "Democrat Socialist Party" go? Was the vote dignified or extremely dignified?

Michael D. Shear: Good point, Prescott. The renaming resolution doesn't seem to fit the "dignity" argument. (To be fair, Steele came out yesterday against the resolution.)

For a laugh, go to the Colbert Report from last night. He did a very funny sketch about how what the Republican Party needed to do was to rename its adversary. He ultimately concluded that the most devastating thing the GOP could rename the Democratic Party was ... the Republican Party.

Very funny.


Mannington, W.V.: As a White House reporter, do you stand up when Obama enters the room? Did you do the same for Bush?

Michael D. Shear: I do stand up for Obama when he enters. I did not cover the White House before this, but I would absolutely stand for him, or any other president. I think it shows respect to the office and to the person holding it.

I do not stand for Robert Gibbs when he enters. Sorry, Robert.


Inexperience vs. Knowledge: I'm someone who did vote for Obama inspite of his inexperience. In part this is because, unlike the previous administration which clearly took us into foreign entanglements without a clear knowledge of the facts, he was the candidate that demonstrated intellectual capability and not ideological pandering.

In tackling the enormous problems that were left behind by the previous administration, the President has had to make tough choices. He's made some mistakes but on the whole he's done a dramatically better job than the previous administration in taking both conservative and liberal opinions into account.

For those of us who were in DC in the first years of the previous administration it is very clear that the current president shows his critics far more respect than they show him or his party. In short, I'll take his intelligent inexperience over the willful ignorance of the previous administration any day of the week.

Michael D. Shear: Here's one perspective on the inexperience question.


Oakland, Calif.: It seems these prisoners are under the control of the President. Why then can he not just issue a directive to transfer them to Federal prisons? Then as Commander in Chief order that Guantanamo prison be closed and the troops there reassigned? Why would it cost $80 million to shut it?

Michael D. Shear: That's a good question, Oakland. I believe the cost issue has to do with movement of people, equipment and the logistics of shutting down this very large enterprise. It's a conundrum that often happens -- it costs money to shut something down.

As for why he can't just transfer them to federal prisons, I'm not sure. I'll see if I can get a quick answer. If not, please keep reading our stories on this issue. I'll try to make sure we answer that one.


Re: Closing Gitmo: A question for the previous poster: if the 'liberal media' has such power to select presidents, then how did George W. Bush ever get re-elected?

Michael D. Shear: Ah. The debate over the media continues...


Affirmative Action: So by my estimate, so far you have answered 4 questions from Conservatives, 1 from a possible Liberal, and 1 that appears non-partisan. Is this really the way these questions roll in?

Michael D. Shear: I answer questions that are interesting to me, and that I think would be interesting to our readers. I'm sorry, but I don't impose a quota on the ideology of the questions I answer.


Media Too Lax on Obama?: Perhaps, for once, they're being reasonable and giving the guy a chance. The people who are still frothing at the mouth over the lax treatment by the MSM are the same who are winning the GOP the designation "Party of No." It's easier to knock a house down than to build one, but in the end, all you have is a pile of rubble.

Michael D. Shear: Here's another thought on the media question. We've got a bunch defending the so-called MSM. I'm sure we'll get a bunch on the other side as well.


Northern Virginia: To answer your question, the media are not treating President Obama with kid gloves. Again and again, I see Ann Coulter on the Today Show with no Democratic, liberal, or even mainstream counterpart, such as the morning after his first big trip overseas. They seem to think that reporting (objectively, with caveats) on his trip is "pro-Obama", so they have to bring on a real hater, all alone, for balance.

Similarly, the Notre Dame speech met huge approval from the audience, protesters were limited in number and were almost entirely from outside the community (in other words, national advocates as opposed to Notre Dame students or faculty), and yet there was a definite tilt on the morning shows to represent the two "sides" as equal.

The most recent example is a multi-month negotiation that pulled together California, environmentalists, and the auto makers (NOT just the ones we bailed out, but Toyota, Nissan, VW, etc. also) to create a solution agreed to by all that all parties seem enthusiastic about. The media reported this as Obama dictating new fuel standards by fiat, apparently without negotiation or consultation, like a dictator. It was the reverse of what actually happened.

Michael D. Shear: Here's a thoughtful response to the media question. I do agree that we in the media sometimes offer a false sense of balance. I was at the Notre Dame speech and I tried to reflect in our story how the overwhelming response to him inside the arena was exceptionally positive. It certainly outweighed in numbers the people who were protesting.

Having said that, there was clearly an issue that had been created by his appearance there, and I think we had a responsibility to reflect that, too.


"Democrat Socialist Party"???: What's next? Will the Democrats rename the GOP the "Republican Fascist Party"?

Michael D. Shear: "I know you are, but what am I?"


Michael D. Shear: Ok. Thanks for all the questions, everyone. Have to head off now. We'll do this again soon.



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