Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 18, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post congressional reporter Paul Kane was online Thursday, June 18 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news about the White House and Congress.

A transcript follows.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Paul Kane: Good morning, folks. Wow, the news on Capitol Hill is just, well, I don't know. Over the years now I've written about DOJ/FBI investigations into Torricelli, Stevens, Abramoff and his cronies, and sex scandals involving Larry Craig and now Ensign, and I think there are some others that I'm forgetting. Oh, Vitter. I'm beginning to think, You know, maybe it's not them; maybe it's me. Maybe I'm the cause of all this, the way the hatch's magnetic forces in LOST caused all those plane crashes, somehow I'm the guy who's got this magnetic force propelling these guys into acting so badly. Or maybe I'm just a reporting deviant and I like writing about these bad things.

OK, enough navel gazing. On to your questions. And I promise to write about more than just the Ensign scandal and the rain-plagued U.S. Open.



Des Peres, Mo.: Hey, Paul. How seriously do you take these most recent polls that suggest the public is either tiring or becoming suspicious of the President's many programs? More importantly, does Congress take those polls into account when they decide how much they should oppose a presidential initiative? Thanks.

Paul Kane: OK, lots of Obama-poll questions. The Republicans love the new info, and the line of last night -- which a senior GOP aide emailed me at 7:45 last night after watching Hardball -- was "the honeymoon is over."

I'm not so sure that's the case, but let's face it, the American people are still scared. The slow-and-steady climb of the stock market this year has done little make voters feel secure -- given the fact that it's still down 40 percent or so from the 14,000-high of a couple years ago.

And they see the huge deficits, the takeover of GM/Chrysler, and they worry about things.

So this shows that Obama is taking ownership of these issues, now that he's been president for 6 months or so. The voters don't see this as a Bush-era problem. They aren't demanding immediate perfection, but slowly but surely they aren't buying this as a Bush-era problem.

Game on.


Rockville, Md.: How much longer do you think it will take for the late night hosts to kid about Obama the way they did about W and Bill?

Paul Kane: Well, in terms of the late-night folks, just watch Stewart on Daily Show. Because he's the leading edge of all late-night comedy. His routine is more bawdy, and he'll do the curse thing in which they bleep out the F word or the P word, etc. But Stewart is without question a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, but he's got no beef turning on Democrats. (Ask Nancy Pelosi's staff about watching Stewart's commentaries over the CIA-briefing issue last month, known here in this chat affectionately as LollaPelosi.)


Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.: What's your view on Sen. Durbin's statement that banks "own this place"?

Paul Kane: Durbin is very, very frustrated by his inability to win enough support for his provision to allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages on primary residences. It's been a cause of his for a couple years now, and the banking industry has battled him at every turn, knocking him down each time he tries to get this passed. The industry has effectively labeled it "cram down", the derogatory term meaning judges could cram down interest rates and banks would have no say over things.

This has infuriated Durbin, leading to him to charge that the banks are just so powerful, even in their current lousy condition, that they "own" Capitol Hill.

As for his own investments, this was a very tricky move that Durbin pulled after getting his own briefing about the state of the economy last fall.


Madison, Wis.: Mr. Kane, thanks for taking questions. I'm greedy so I'm going to ask two and you can decide which, if any, you want to answer:

1. What have you heard regarding the recent firing of Gerald Walpin, the Inspector General responsible for the Corporation for National and Community Service, the organization that runs AmeriCorps? Republicans are claiming this action was strictly political and intended to protect a contributor to the Obama campaign.

2. Why are Republicans now demanding a return of the Fairness Doctrine (in regards to the president's upcoming interview on healthcare on ABC News)?

Thank you.

Paul Kane: I really don't know the answer to either question, but I picked your questions as a way to lecture those folks who want to be reporters. Never ask a politician a 2-part question. It's a failing of many, many reporters. Watch the next Obama live press conference and watch how many reporters naively ask 2-parters. The reality is that gives Obama/politicians options, so they choose to answer the question that they want to answer, talk forever on that question and then simply point into the audience of reporters and say "next question" without ever answering the question he/she didn't want to answer. Settle on your 1 question, firmly ask that and, if you get a chance, poke your way in for a follow up. That's my motto.


Boston, Mass.: Hi Paul,

I guess "what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas" doesn't help you if you happen to live in Las Vegas. I never saw Ensign as serious presidential candidate, but what do I know? Will this hurt his senate re-election chances?

Paul Kane: I've always wanted to ask Ensign or Reid that question, whether the what-happens-in-Vegas motto applies to those that live there! By the way, a couple months ago, my buddies and I went to Vegas for a bachelor party, had a blast, but then we came home and the bachelor himself -- yes, the bachelor -- told his fiancé everything that happened. It's ok, there were no laws broken, nothing really bad happened. He was on pretty good behavior, but what the heck? Doesn't that violate some federal law?

Okay, as for Ensign, he falls into the Vitter level of scandal here. If nothing else comes out, if the whispers of demands for money don't turn into something bigger, if this is just a sex scandal, Ensign can easily hunker down and ride this out without any fear of having to resign.

It happened right in the middle of his 6-year term, just like when Vitter got caught in the D.C. Madam web in 2007 -- both men had/have 3 years to rehab themselves before facing their home-state voters again.


Boston: How is it that a couple of Senators from states that are as populous as small- to mid-sized cities get to control our country's health care debate? Of course as a civics geek I know why, but it is just galling. They have no opposition and they are just out there reaming their own party, their own president and 75 percent of the American populace.

Paul Kane: Hahahaha. It is amazing, when you look at the Senate Finance Committee, how rural the composition of it is. It's amazing, Baucus from Montana, Grassley from Iowa. Jay Rockefeller from W. Va., Conrad from North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman from New Mexico. You gotta go to the 5th most senior Dem on the panel to find Boston's own John Kerry as a coastal liberal, and he's immediately followed by Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. On the GOP side of the aisle, Grassley is followed by Hatch of Utah, Snowe of Maine, Kyl of Arizona and then Bunning of Kentucky, Crapo of Idaho and Roberts of Kansas.

Lots of middle earth in there.


Los Angeles, Calif.: When asked the other day in a Post Q&A about Obama's mendaciousness with the LBGT community your Michael D. Shear said we'd "come around" eventually because "After all, where else do they have to go?"

Do you share his cynically dismissive take?

Paul Kane: I didn't read Shear's online chat so I can't assume what he meant, but I'd just say that some Democrats probably go take the gay vote for granted. Obviously they are not going to go vote for Republicans, the thinking goes, so you don't have to give in to all their demands.

However, clearly they could decide to not cut checks and not cast their votes, and it would probably require some leading figures in that community, prominent out Hollywood figures, to take the first bold steps and launch the protest. That would be a real consequence to the Democratic inaction on this agenda.


GOP outrage at ABC: Republicans are currently really angry that ABC TV is going to do a program on Obama and is not giving them equal time to share their own opinions. Do you think Republicans would support a law that requires broadcasters to give equal time to opposing viewpoints like the GOP's? A "Fairness Doctrine" of sorts?

Paul Kane: Yeah, sorry to the question earlier that raised this point in the 2-parter that I kinda mocked. Sorry, this ABC thing I understand.

Look, let's set aside the issue of "Fairness Doctrine" for the moment, and whether there should be a new law setting clear bright lines on this. But what ABC is doing, a daylong broadcast from the White House, simply would not be tolerated if this were the other way around.

Imagine the scenario of, say, back in May 2003, after he rode shotgun onto the flight deck of the aircraft carrier and declared "Mission Accomplished", imagine if W came home to the White House and had Fox News do a 24-hour broadcast from the West Wing.

Sorry, that would have been pummeled, mocked, humiliated, etc. I don't think ABC should be getting away with what they're doing now.


Chicago, Ill.: Is it just me, or are some Republican pundits actually siding with Ahmedinejad? It occurs to me that if Mousavi prevails, then Obama may get a regime he can negotiate with, thus helping in establishing peace in the region. They (Republicans) would lose an another pillar of their foreign policy doctrine. Could this Iran election/Cairo speech be Obama's Reagan moment in Berlin (Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall)?

Paul Kane: Sorry, I've been so deep into the weeds of both looking at lawmakers' financial disclosure forms and trying to root out conflicts of interest, and then following the Ensign scandal, that I'm just not completely up to speed on Iran. I've got a basic enough view of what's going on over there, but I can't really give an expert opinion on the matter.

However, I'll say this much about the coverage of this whole Iranian "election" scandal. When did Iran become a democracy? The entire point of the Iraq invasion, I thought, once the WMDs were proved to be bunk, was to establish a beach-head of democracy in the Middle East -- the presumption being there was no democracy there.

Why are we so outraged that there were election irregularities there in Iran? This wasn't Florida in 2000.


Elizabeth Becton: Paul, please get people to stop calling me Liz!

Paul Kane: No name calling

I've been so hunkered down in this Ensign stuff that I haven't had the chance yet to fully engage in this e-mail shout fest. People, e-mail is a bad, bad thing. Think three times before you hit the send button: How would this look if it were posted on a gossip blog?


Salinas, Calif.: Hi Paul. After reading Dana Milbank's account of Senate Republicans ducking comment regarding John Ensign's confession of adultery, ("Complicating the task was The Post's Paul Kane, who stood in the doorway between senators and their lunch."), two questions came to mind: 1. Do you tend goal on Post hockey weekends? 2. After Craig and Vitter were able to weasel their way out of having to resign (John Edwards' career prospects, not so bright), will their constituents at home finally reach a threshold of disgust that leads them to "hate the sin, not the sinner", but throw the hypocrite out anyway? (Gay and lesbian couples in decades-long committed relationships must wonder what it's going to take to get past these conservative culture warriors.) In the GOP Caucus, Prayers for the Sinner -- but Mostly Silence

Paul Kane: Dana has written many of these Sketches before, he and I jokingly call them the "perp walk" sketch. Member of Congress -- Vitter, Stevens, Craig, Jefferson, etc. -- gets into some form of trouble, then returns to Congress and gets chased around by TV cameras and reporters.

But this time, there was no perp to do the walk, since Ensign remains in his bunker in Vegas, baby, Vegas. So Dana pretty much told me and my friend Jessica Brady of Roll Call that he was going to sketch us asking the GOP what they thought of Ensign. Turned out kinda funny, I hope.

As for me and goal-tender, no, never really did that. Except when I was kid growing up with 4 older brothers, there was some floor hockey played in our basement, in which it was 2-on-2, and sometimes they made me, the youngest, play goaltender. I'd take old couch cushions we had in the basement, tie them around my legs with my Dad's old ties, and pretend to be Bernie Parent.

Guess it was good practice for blocking senators headed into lunch.


Bethesda, Md.: "When did Iran become a democracy?"

Well, it was until about 1953...

Paul Kane: Thanks, thanks for both giving me the historical reference point -- and also making my point. If Bethesda is correct, we've had 56 years of non-democracy there. I"m not in any way suggesting what's happening there is good, or just, I'm just saying that from my completely non-expert eye, it looks like some of the media coverage is over heated.

I lived in Beijing for a year, in 1994, and I'm well aware that they also have elections in China. And they are frauds, but I've never seen the media go crazy when these Chinese "elections" are held.


ABC: Shouldn't we wait until after the airing of the program to criticize or mock it? We know what we would have gotten if Fox did a show about W, but do we know yet what we'll get from ABC?

Paul Kane: Sorry, I just don't think I agree. If ABC goes in there and does a highly critical set of pieces on Obama, I'll be stunned. Was there a quid-pro-quo, Starling, involved here? No, definitely not.

But the act of actually broadcasting from the seat of the government, to me, just appears to be so deep into the pocket of the Obama administration, that it's just not right. What if Harry Reid gave me a desk in his majority leader's office and I worked from his personal office? All the other reporters worked up on the 3rd floor of the Senate press gallery, except me, I worked downstairs on the 2nd floor in Reid's office, filed my stories from there.

I don't think that would fly. And I don't think ABC should be broadcasting from the White House.


Anonymous: Just wanted to say that piece on John Edwards was incredible. Excellent work!

Paul Kane: Hope From a Humbler Perch

There's Alec MacGillis's piece on Edwards. For some reason Edwards was eager to talk to Alec, so much so that Alec had to leave a farewell happy hour for one of our editors Friday night, at 9 o'clock, because Edwards was gonna call him for the story.

I just can't get over the entire Edwards' family fall from grace. They once appeared to be the southern version of the Kennedys, the next generation of Camelot.

Now, they're the Beverly Hillbillies.


Washington, D.C.: What Springsteen song best encapsulates the Ensign scandal?

Paul Kane: Brilliant Disguise, without a question. Read those lyrics, and read them from Darlene Ensign's perspective, think of her greeting the senator coming home late one night. For the times when Bruce sings 'woman', insert 'man'. Painful stuff:

I heard somebody call your name

from underneath our willow

I saw something tucked in shame

underneath your pillow

Well I've tried so hard baby

but I just can't see

What a woman like you

is doing with me

So tell me who I see

when I look in your eyes

Is that you baby

or just a brilliant disguise


Bad behavior of politicians: Does the bad behavior of politicians stem in part from their need for adulation -- why they may have gone into politics in the first place? And, conversely, does their power become the "aphrodisiac" that makes them attractive to these staffers that trip them up?

Paul Kane: Ah, this is one of the oldest questions there is, is it the chicken or the egg?

It's hard to tell, and I have to take a cop out here and suggest that it's both. In some cases these men are always in pursuit of adulation, and that leads them into these situations. David Maraniss, in his biographies of Bill Clinton, makes clear that he was always a womanizer, that it was part of his existence.

John Edwards, on the other hand, has said that he wasn't that way until he got into politics and saw the adulation that others gave him, that it caused him to change, to morph into something he wasn't. We can argue about whether Edwards was telling the truth, but I think he definitely described an accurate portrayal of why some male politicians stray.


How do we get Iran to go green and say no to nukes?: A single nuclear weapon can ruin your entire day?

How do we stop Iran from becoming the Wal-Mart of nuclear weapons to terrorists on a budget?

Paul Kane: If I knew the answer to this question, I wouldn't be sitting here chatting with you guys, I'd be down at Foggy Bottom telling Secretary Clinton what to say.


Arlington, Va.: Good Morning Mr. Kane: Foley, Vitter, Craig and Ensign. Could these be the 4 Horsemen of the Republican Apocalypse? As the party's standing continues to erode in just released opinion surveys, might the shenanigans of some of its members diminish its chances in races for governor this fall and the mid-term 2010 elections?

Paul Kane: A couple of you have pointed out Mark Foley. Wow, I forgot about him. But I'm sorry, folks, this is not just a Republican thing, Democratic male politicians are also dogs. Look at Clinton and Edwards and Gary Hart. The Republicans have a slightly more difficult problem because they often are social conservatives, espousing family values. Ensign went to Promise Keeper events, where the very existence of the group is meant to treat women better. Incidentally, I'm told Ensign headlined a Promise Keeper event with Randall Cunningham, No. 12 for the Philadelphia Eagles back in the '80s and '90s. Man, I loved the way that guy played QB, it was awesome.


full-day for ABC? Thought it was an hour in prime-time...: Funny, Paul. I've only heard about ABC's plans to broadcast "a primetime hour from the White House devoted to exploring and probing the President's position and giving voice to questions and criticisms of that position." What's this day-long thing you and Matt Drudge and the GOP are so incensed about?

Paul Kane: Just so everyone's clear, the entire ABC news operation will be housed inside the White House. GMA, World News Tonight, and then prime time.


Dunn Loring, Va.: Last year, when gas prices were steadily increasing, the Post and other media outlets had daily reports on the issue. Now, gas prices have risen 50 days in a row and yet there's no similar outcry. Other than a change in administration, is there any explanation for the difference in coverage?

Paul Kane: Gas has risen from something like $2 a gallon, to $2.60, roughly.

Last summer it topped $4.

So, do the math. That's why the coverage hasn't been anywhere near the same. But trust me, once we get over $3 a gallon, you'll see more stories, and if it gets to $3.50, Obama will have a full-blown crisis on his hands.


Hell's Kitchen, NYC: So the GOP objected en masse to increased funding to the IMF to help aid nations through the financial crisis, calling it "a global bailout." How about the fact that this financial crisis was largely caused by the United States? Doesn't that trouble House conservatives at all?

Paul Kane: The House Republicans have gone into a very old fashioned, protectionist, populist stance this year. I'm not sure if it's just a stance in opposition to Obama, or if this is a long-term refashioning of the GOP. It's a story to watch, and its origins begin with the first vote on the $700 billion bailout last September, the vote that failed when only 1/3 of House Republicans, 65 members, supported the bill. The markets tanked afterward, and many Republicans said, Fine.


Paul Kane: OK gang, that's the hour, time for me to get moving. Questions were all over the map today, literally, from Iran to Vegas. Good thing I accidentally bought the venti coffee this morning. As always, I appreciate the time spent with everyone. And I'll see you back here in 2 weeks, on July 2, which coincidentally is the first day of Tiger Woods' PGA Tour event here in D.C. Shhh, don't tell my editors, but I'm thinking that I might get "sick" and not be able to do anything other than this chat on those days when the tourney is here in D.C. -pk


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