Post Politics: Obama's Poll Numbers, Sarah Palin, More

Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 9, 2009; 11:00 AM

Discuss the latest news about the Obama administration and the world of politics with Ben Pershing, who writes the daily Rundown for The Post's Political Browser. Pershing was online June 9 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions.


Ben Pershing: Happy rainy Tuesday everyone. Voters are voting in Virginia. How does turnout look so far? Does Deeds have this thing wrapped up? We can talk about that and any other political news on your minds. Let's begin.


Alexandria, Va.: Ben, Is there any indication that the Senate Democrats would seat Al Franken if the Minnesota Supreme Court rules in his favor, even if Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty does not sign the certification? And even if they wanted to, would the Republicans, with their 41 votes, have the power to stop them?


Ben Pershing: There is no sign yet that Senate Democrats would try to seat Franken if Coleman indicates he wants to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. But I do think that Republican support for Coleman's continued fight is slipping, and he may feel some pressure from his own party to give up. It's also not clear how much money he has available right now, and this legal fight has been very expensive.


Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning. I saw a poll that showed Obama's approval rating on the economy going well down. Eight points, I think. Do you think voters have identified a problem with Obama's approach, or is it the normal impatience by voters? Is there something Obama needs to change in terms of policy to remain popular, or should he just ride the storm out? If the latter, won't that be a problem for Democrats running in 2010?

Ben Pershing: It's true that Obama's ratings for his handling of the economy have gone down, particularly in the Gallup poll released yesterday. There are a lot of factors at work here. One is that Obama has now been president long enough that voters don't necessarily give him a pass anymore for having "inherited" a bad economy. So when bad unemployment numbers come out, they fall in his lap. Another is that the government bailout of GM and Chrysler don't seem to be very popular, and I think that -- combined with mounting concerns about the budget deficit -- are helping to erode Obama's popularity. As for 2010, it all depends on if/when the economic recovery begins and is noticeable to the public.


Boston: After seeing Palin again on clips from Fox, I was reminded why the nation reacted so negatively towards her in the election (besides the hardcore Republicans). Does the Republican party seriously consider her as a party leader heading into the 2010 and 2012 elections? That would seem a stretch outside any very right leaning Congressional district or state which doesn't get the Republican party very far in 2010 or 2012.

Ben Pershing: Palin remains very popular with the activist base. The Republican party elite has mixed feelings toward her, which were in evidence during the bungled run-up to last night's NRSC/NRCC fundraising dinner. Party leaders see Palin as a very good draw, someone who can drive excitement and raise a lot of money. But privately most Republican leaders and members of Congress don't necessarily think she would do well as the nominee in 2012. She just brings a lot of baggage at this point.


Robocalls in VA: This is more of a comment (rant) than a question.

Now that primary day has arrived, we can at last get back to answering our phone over dinner and know that it is not another election robocall (like we have for the past 2+ months). I have decided that next time, I will vote for the candidate who calls me the least.

All these calls do is really tick off voters and yet I cannot block them via the Do Not Call List, because they are political speech. How do I fix this???

Ben Pershing: I guess you need to change your phone number. It is funny that the government created a Do Not Call Registry but exempted politicians from restrictions. Because I live in DC I have the benefit of almost never getting a robo-call or political direct mail.


Herndon, Va.: What should we expect to happen with Chrystler and GM? It seemed like the deals were moving too quickly and that someone was getting a bargain while everyone else was getting the short end of the stick. Why should Fiat be getting the deal when everyone who invested in Chrystler is getting nothing? And when it comes to GM, what rules will be in place for the government and their ownership of GM? I assume that at some point the Government will sell its share of GM, but haven't heard any specifics on how that eventual sale would be controlled.

Ben Pershing: Well as you probably know, the Chrysler-Fiat deal is temporarily on hold, as the Supreme Court issued a stay. No one knows at this point how quickly this will be resolved. The stay could be lifted as early as today, or the court could decide to take up this case and delay the whole deal for months. As for GM, some Republicans have argued that the federal government should immediately sell its shares in the company to the public, but the Obama administration won't do it. So it's anyone's guess how long taxpayers will be left holding this investment.


San Diego: I see that Newt Gingrich has said that the Obama presidency has already failed. But when will Republicans actually try to develop a plan for addressing America's problems?

All I see coming from their party is a bunch of whining, and even though I'm a liberal and too much nonsense from Republicans is never enough for me, the fact that a functioning democracy really needs a sane opposition party cannot be denied. Do they really think that their return to political relevance is assured via this constant sniping?

Ben Pershing: That's been a common criticism of the GOP since Obama took office -- that they're the Party of "No." On one hand, that's a pretty standard approach for the minority party to take, particularly on issues that are tough to solve. Instead of putting out a comprehensive health care plan that will be criticized and will never become law, it may be in Republicans' best interest to hold back and just criticize what Democrats do.

All that said, Republicans do have some plans of their own on issues like the stimulus, but they only get a fraction of the media attention that Obama's plans get. That's life in the minority.


New York, NY: The conservative freakout over Sotomayor's remarks on her background's effect (or not) on her decisions, when viewed against the way Alito's were marketed as a selling point for him as a judge, actually makes the case for why we still need affirmative action. Two judges made similar points--one was an Italian American man, the other was a Latino woman --but what was sold as a strength for Alito makes Sotomayor a racist. So aren't these Republicans actually proving that, all things being equal, a minority woman is held to a different standard than the white man of similar background and experience? And if so, isn't that making the case -for- affirmative action?

Ben Pershing: Hmm. I hadn't thought of it that way. Democrats have definitely made a point of highlighting Alito's comments about his background, to argue that they're not so different from what Sotomayor's comments. Here's a useful thing to remember: When it comes to judicial confirmation fights, everyone is a hypocrite. Almost every tactic Republicans are using now, Democrats used in the minority. And vice versa. It's really striking, when you've watched enough of these fights, how much everyone plays their roles according to script.


New York, NY: Given how hard they're trying to put the kybosh on the "public option" which would offer us the oppotunity to purchase healthcare coverage via a government-run plan, the private insurance carriers (and congressmen in their pockets) sure don't seem to have much confidence in what they're selling, do they?

Ben Pershing: That's one way to look at it. The other perspective is that private insurers worry that they couldn't compete with government-run insurance for reasons of scale. The government can theoretically bargain to bring down the price of medical services, prescription drugs, etc., in a way that private insurance companies can't. (And that's exactly why some advocates argue for a single-payer system and the abolition of private insurance, but that's very different from just having a public "option.")


Sterling, Va.: Ben

I'm confused.

Yesterday the Supreme Court temporarily stopped the sale of Chrysler to Fiat. A group of lenders are contending that the sale violates bankruptcy law. What exactly does this mean? Aren't the assets supposed to be liquidated? Wouldn't it be better for the lenders if everything were sold sooner while it is still worth something?

They are also claiming that junior lenders would be paid before senior lenders. How so?

Ben Pershing: I am not an expert on this subject, but the general complaint from the groups that filed the lawsuit is that they are getting a smaller return on the dollar than they would under a normal bankruptcy proceeding, because the Obama administration meddled with the numbers.


The public plan: So if I get your drift, the argument about a public option for healthcare is that a government-offered plan would just provide the insurance service much more efficiently and cheaply than private carriers. Right? But I presume that if there were quality advantages to the private plans, the insurance carriers wouldn't be so worried that everyone would switch to the public plan, though, would they?

Ben Pershing: Not necessarily. You see a wide variety of opinion in the health care world on whether the private sector or the public sector can provide higher-quality health care. The other argument that private insurers make -- convincingly or not -- is that if a public option exists, employers will gradually stop offering health coverage to their employees, and eventually everyone would end up on public insurance whether they want it or not.


Richmond, Va.: Which was more important for Deeds's surge: The Post endorsement or the pragmatism of moderates who remember what happened when they nominated more controversial or ideological candidates?

Ben Pershing: Good question. One thing you learn from watching and covering campaigns is that newspaper endorsements usually don't mean awhole lot, particularly during primaries that are dominated by real party activists who don't need some editorial board telling them what to do. But Deeds certainly believed the WP endorsement helped him, and he spent an awful lot of money touting it on TV. Your point about moderates might be more plausible -- Moran and McAuliffe fought over the most liberal voters, and Deeds swooped in and picked up everyone else.


Evanston, Ill.: On "This Week," HRC said she requested all the various envoys, which have been widely seen as a circumscription of her role. Is her claim credible or is she just saving face?

Ben Pershing: I haven't seen or heard any evidence that those special envoys were foisted on Clinton. Especially when you look at who the envoys are -- Holbrooke in particular is a Clinton person much more than an Obama person, so there's no reason to think he would be in that job if Clinton didn't want him there.


Hamilton, Va.: It appears Sotomayor is one tough cookie.

I've broken my ankle and didn't traipse around DC the same day. Will we get to see her go mano a mano with Scalia. I'd pay for that.

Ben Pershing: Given that they won't even allow cameras in the Supreme Court yet, I think we're several years away from having the most liberal justice and the most conservative justice fight in some sort of cage match. But it's a good idea. I hear that Ginsburg is secretly a ninja.


All that said, Republicans do have some plans of their own on issues like the stimulus, but they only get a fraction of the media attention that Obama's plans get. : Okay Ben, I'm listening. What are the GOP's plans? Thanks.

Ben Pershing: Well, they did offer an alternative budget. They did offer an alternative stimulus package. They did offer Obama a list of federal programs they think should be cut. As I mentioned earlier, they are now arguing that the government should immediately sell its GM stock. And there are Republican members with legitimate suggestions on health care. You can certainly criticize any one of the GOP proposals, but they do exist. This live chat format is not the best for discussing them in detail.


Anonymous: So at the fundraiser Sarah Palin basically just did a bit of "fancy pageant walkin'" (to quote Tina Fey's version of her). Seems like the GOP powers-that-be have wanted to muzzle Palin ever since she wasn't allowed to speak at McCain's Election Night concession party. Do you agree with this analysis? Do you think they recognize something (negative) about her that her supporters don't?

Ben Pershing: Palin's supporters do say that she's being muzzled, but you know what? This is a free country -- she is free to speak pretty much wherever and whenever she pleases, and she is guaranteed to get a lot of coverage when she does. Last night, for example, she didn't speak at that fundraising dinner but she did appear on Fox in an interview with Sean Hannity that millions of people watched. If she wanted to give a big speech tomorrow or hold a press conference, plenty of reporters would attend. Trust me. All that said, some in the GOP "powers-that-be" do believe that Palin has a tendency to sound ill-informed or inarticulate when she speaks. Case in point, on Hannity last night, Palin said pf Obama's economic plans: "It defies economy practices and principles that tell ya you gotta quit digging that hole when you are in that financial hole."


"most liberal justice": How do YOU know she's going to be "the most liberal" justice? By whose reckoning? What is the judicial "most-liberal" litmus test? Guns? Gays? Row v. Wade? Executive power?

Be careful, there, Ben!

Ben Pershing: I was actually making a joke about the possibility of a UFC Supreme Court match. I don't necessarily think Sotomayor will be the most liberal justice. But many of her supporters do think she'll be the most vocal and forceful liberal justice, just as Scalia is on the conservative side.


For What It's Worth: Well, I'm a liberal, and I voted for Deeds. (Just like I did four years ago when he ran close to McDonnell but at a huge funding disadvantage.) I have to tell you, the Post endorsement played a big part. Two reasons: It was very well written, with lots of specifics, an A-plus job of persuasive writing and it was totally unexpected, like a bolt from the blue. If the Post had endorsed either McAuliffe or Moran, that would not have caught my attention because I figured they would pick one of those two.

This weekend all the Deeds signs along Route One said this: "Washington Post endorses Creigh Deeds" with Washington Post almost the same size as Creigh Deeds, and the name of the paper even in the correct type style! Post endorsement: Mr. Deeds on June 9

Ben Pershing: That's good to hear. We may hire you to write ads for the Post.


Alexandria, Va.: "I have decided that next time, I will vote for the candidate who calls me the least."

I've done that for this race.

I have no idea why this happened, since my household contains four registered Democrats, but I got a survey call from McDonnell. It was hilarious. Too bad the automated system only recognizes yes-and-no answers, because it meant that my "When hell freezes over" response didn't come across for "Would you give money to GOP campaigns in Virginia?"

Ben Pershing: With technological advances, I'm sure there will be automated calling software before too long that will recognize your "When hell freezes over" response.


Alexandria, Va.: re: Republican plans...

Ben, if the Republicans announced they had a plan for dealing with the energy crisis using perpetual motion machines, would you still report that they had a plan?

Ben Pershing: Yes, but only because I think perpetual motion machines are cool


McLean, Va.: What's the buzz among Republicans for 2012? Is Newt Gingrich really thinking of running? Is Mitt Romney the party establishment candidate? Can Mike Huckabee expand his support beyond evangelicals?

Ben Pershing: They're all possibilities. Personally, I'm not sure that Gingrich will actually follow through with a full-fledged campaign. He may prefer to stay in this role of party elder/thinker. Romney does seem to have a lot going for him right now, but obviously he flamed out in 2008 (and so did Huckabee) so there's no reason to anoint him yet. 2012 is far enough away that there is plenty of time for a dark horse to emerge.


Ben Pershing: Thanks for all the good questions everyone. See you here next time.


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