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Post Politics: Obama's Health Care Plan, GOP Opposition, More

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Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 1, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post White House reporter Michael Shear was online July 1 at 11 a.m. to discuss the latest news about the Obama administration, Congress and more.

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Michael D. Shear: Good morning everyone. Here at the Northern Virginia Community College, where President Obama will hold a health care town hall meeting later today.

But enough about serious issues. Let's talk about sex scandals (the "sex line" as Gov. Sanford put it yesterday) or GOP infighting or anything else you'd like.

I'll even take a few questions on the Honduran coup if you'd like.



Rockville, Md.: Doubtful you'll take this, but here goes.

Excellent article by your colleagues on Sen. Daniel Inouye's conflict of interest with TARP money and the bank he's closely involved in. Because it doesn't involve a mistress, will the Post give as much pub to this story, or will there still be more written about a state governor who doesn't have as much influence to most people that a U.S. Senator does? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: After Call from Senator's Office, Bank Got U.S. Aid

Michael D. Shear: We'll start here.

I don't know why you think I wouldn't take this one. I think the evidence is that we're already giving pretty good treatment to the conflict-of-interest story here, putting it on the front page.

Will it stay there? It depends on what happens next. Will there be an ethics inquiry? Will the senator's colleagues ask questions? What does the senator himself say in the wake of the publication?

That, more than anything, will determine the further coverage, I would think.


Northern Virginia: Dear Michael, I am the recovering political-poll addict who wrote to you last time you did an online discussion. At the time, I was anxiously checking the daily poll numbers for President Obama each afternoon. You replied that the only solution was to go cold turkey. Well, even though you may have been joking, I decided to take you seriously and I haven't checked the daily tracking poll even one day since that exchange. What a big relief. Every once in a while there is a story in the paper about polling results and that is enough for me.

I have also noticed there is something going on outdoors known as summer, complete with fresh air, sunshine, and long daylight hours. I recommend it. And thanks again.

Michael D. Shear: Victory.

If newspapers die, I plan to start a second career as an addiction counselor!


Falmouth, Maine: Why should we care what Republicans think? Do they not want this administration to fail, really?

Michael D. Shear: I don't think that's fair, Falmouth. It's true that some Republicans like Rush Limbaugh have said they want Obama to fail, I think the vast majority of the Republicans are legitimately motivated by a desire to advance a agenda they believe will be good for the country.

Just my two cents, but I think an exchange of ideas is a good thing.


re: Senator Piggybank: If, however, he fleeced Elie Wiesel, moonwalked, and suffered from a tragic bout of swine flu in Argentina, he'd get wall-to-wall coverage.

Michael D. Shear: A tabloid reporter in training!


Waterville, Maine: Pardon me if this question/comment sounds insensitive; it is not meant to be. Now that Franken has been declared the winner, there has been a lot of discussion about the "filibuster proof" Democratic majority. But in reality, Sens. Kennedy and Byrd are not able to participate in the debate and may not even be well enough to vote on key legislation. Wouldn't it be selfless of them if they just retired and allowed the Democratic governors in their respective states to appoint a new senator who could actually perform the duties of the job? I just think it would be ironic and sad if health care legislation did not pass because Kennedy was not well enough to be there for the final vote.

Michael D. Shear: I do think that Democrats are mindful of the health challenges of their two members, but as you say, it's a delicate question for sure.

Whether there are plans for appointments along the lines that you suggest, I'm not sure.


Republican agenda: They have one?

Michael D. Shear: Wow. Tough crowd today.


Saint Paul, Minn.: Hi Michael -- Thanks for taking questions today. Regarding the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, isn't it true that the president has the power to suspend discharges (there are a couple of high profile cases happening right now) under the policy if he wanted to?

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was recently asked about that and he seemed to indicate that Obama is choosing not to do that for fear of offending the senior military in advance of trying to do away from the policy -- at least that was what I heard.

If that's the case, I find that very disappointing -- and shades of 1993 when Clinton was cowed by these same officials into settling for the ridiculous and unworkable policy we have now. What do you think?

Michael D. Shear: I think there's more to it than that. The White House has declined to take action unilaterally, which has disappointed many in the gay community. There are other reasons they might not do it, though. There are some who believe that taking action unilaterally might undermine a more permanent, Congressional solution. For now, all we know is that the White House is saying they are committed to changing it, and are working with Congress to do that.


Boston: On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you folks who do the political chats here that you no longer have to field daily questions about the status of the Coleman v. Franken battle?

Michael D. Shear: I would like to make an announcement: The Washington Post Chat is officially going out on a limb and going to predict that Al Franken will become the next U.S. Senator from Minnesota.

I know. We're taking a risk here. But that's -- as Regis would say -- my final answer.


Atlanta GA: The President doesn't seem to have a health care plan. So how can he pitch one?

Michael D. Shear: I'm not sure I understand that one, Atlanta?

You mean because he's not officially unveiled his own, detailed plan on paper? It's true. He's taking the approach of letting Congress draft its own plans.

But don't be fooled. The president and his staff are communicating his wishes to the Congress quite clearly.


Parkersburg, W.V.: One would hope that, among all the false politeness in the Senate, the members would find it in their hearts not to push for cloture votes in the absense of Senators Byrd and Kennedy.

Failing that, I am sure that if they are conserving their health and energy as much as possible in order to be in chamber when required.

Michael D. Shear: Yeah, I agree. These guys still have a bit of courteousness in them, so I would think there would be some of that even under these highly political circumstances.

But you know, it may never come to that. There may well be some Republicans who would vote for some of what the president wants, making the Byrd and Kennedy votes not all that critical.

For example, I think there are some Republican senators likely to back Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the court, making the two ailing senators not that important even if the Republicans launched a filibuster.


Obama's Vacation: Mike I live here in Massachusetts where the winter is endless and cold, but the summer is transcendentally perfect. Except this June we only had 3 days of sun. Now that Obama is coming here for his vacation, can he get the Air Force or someone to fix the jetstream?

Michael D. Shear: Yes, I gather the press corps is headed to Martha's Vineyard this summer. It's a tough life, but someone's got to do it.

But despite the McCain ads which depicted Obama as "The One" who was parting the seas, I do not think the president has the power to fix the jetstream.


Minneapolis: Speaking of pending Sen Franken, what committees is he likely to join?

Michael D. Shear: I think I heard that he's on Judiciary. But I was doing other reporting yesterday. I'll have our host here at Post Chats post a link to my colleague's story on the subject.


Comic relief: Has Dana Millbank rethought his career now that former comedic sketch writer, Al Franken, won a US Senate seat? If Franken can overcome Stuart Smalley then Millbank can overcome the red smoking jacket...

Michael D. Shear: There is only one Dana Milbank. Not even Al Franken, comic genius that he is (or was, before he had to get all serious and everything) can unseat Milbank.

And how dare you, sir, insult the red smoking jacket that Dana wears as part of Mouthpiece Theater (www.washingtonpost.com/mouthpiecetheater).


Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Michael, thanks for the chat. What are the odds that the "Luv Guv" survives the week in South Carolina?

Michael D. Shear: The "Luv Guv." That's good.

I thought he was out after the first day and I was clearly wrong. The politics in South Carolina are very complicated, and there are many forces that push in either direction.

Having said that, I still don't see how he can ultimately survive the kind of bizarre interview that he gave yesterday on top of everything else.


RE: Atlanta: Why has the most popular President in 20-some years decided to go back to letting Congress have a free reign on creating legislation? I don't want the iron fist of Bush Jr., but geez, that is a mighty mess the Senate.

Michael D. Shear: The White House would say they are learning the lessons of the 1993 debacle when then-President Clinton tried to impose a plan crafted by, among others, his wife.

In a breakfast with reporters the other day, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who was an adviser for Clinton at the time said the following about the effort 15 years ago.

"Here's our bill, we designed it behind closed doors and here it is and now we know the truth and you guys have to get along with it," he said, describing the ultimately unsuccessful health care battle 15 years ago. "On a host of fronts, today is different than then."


Michael D. Shear: Thanks everyone. Been great. See you all next time.



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