Post Politics Hour: Sotomayor Hearing, Bush CIA Anti-Terror Policies, More

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Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 13, 2009; 11:00 AM

Post national politics writer Perry Bacon Jr. will be online Monday, July 13 at 11 ET to discuss the White House, Congress and all the latest political news.

Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.

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Perry Bacon Jr.: Welcome to the chat. Looking forward to your questions. Big week in Washington with health care and Sotomayor hearings.

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New York: Hi Perry, here's an early question. Are any Republicans speaking at the NAACP's convention? I would figure Michael Steele, but I'm not sure; and would he be the only one, if he is a speaker? Thanks.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Steele had earlier been on the list of speakers there and I expect to speak. He has been big on trying to get the GOP to reach out to blacks. Does Mayor Bloomberg count as a Republican? He will be there too.

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Arlington, VA: A lot of my fellow independents who voted for Obama are irate that he hasn't fixed the economy yet. His presidency is through, as far as I'm concerned. I'll do everything I can to support whoever is running against him in 2012. Has there been any other president in recent history who's failed to deliver as much as this one?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Wow, this is a very strong comment. Most polls show independent voters worried about the economy, but not yet ready to write off supporting Obama. It's also hard for any president to fix the economy.

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Boston: How do Republicans spin the Supreme Court's recent decision to look at a question of corporate political spending well beyond the case in front of it (and against many decades of prededence) as anything other than judicial activism?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think some Republicans view political spending as akin to political speech and protected by the First Amendment, so they think they are abiding by Constitution in protecting that spending. Judicial activism is to be a phrase without real meaning, although you will hear it a lot this week.

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Washington, D.C.: Democrats seem to be rejecting the idea of taxing health benefits, even though such an idea has GOP support and would go a long way to actually paying for health care reform. Doesn't such across the aisle support help to innoculate Democrats, at least somewhat, from any public outrage or does this have more to do with pressure from the unions than anything else?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Labor unions don't like it and it violates the Obama pledge of avoiding tax increases for families who make less than $250,000. Also, it's got clear the idea has much Republican support among Gop members who are considering really voting for the bill (Snowe, Grassley) so I'm not sure it's good politics either.

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Arlington, Va.: Why is Eric Holder talking about prosecuting CIA interrogators instead of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzalez, et al who are the ones who actually put the policy in place and arguably broke the law by doing so?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Eric Holder hasn't been really specific about prosecuting anyone yet. It's very difficult to prosecute elected officials making decisions they believe are necessary and Obama has suggested he won't be looking to prosecute CIA officers, so I"m not sure if this will really lead.

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Umpires: Perry, does the GOP watch baseball? I keep hearing echoes of Roberts silly umpires statement. Any fan or player can tell you every ump has his own strike zone and his own measure what are strikes and what are balls. The one place Roberts nailed it is that almost all umps give a lot of leeway to superstar pitchers and he gives a lot of leeway to establishment power.

Perry Bacon Jr.: A very clever question. Roberts was brilliant in discussing umpires at his hearing, but I agree his strike zone does seem a bit conservative and his decisions are very predictably conservative as Sotomayor's will be liberal if she is put on the bench. I find politics to be even more insincere than normal when it comes to the Supreme Court.

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Parallel universe: Sarah Palin is now claiming that she'll even campaign for conservative Democrats. Pray tell, which Democrats does she have in mind? Has she asked any yet, or have they asked her? I can't imagine even a Ben Nelson accepting her offer. Is Sarah living in some delusional political universe running parallel to ours?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Yes, I said she would campaign for like-minded Democrats too. And yes, I can't imagine any Democrat who would want to campaign with her. The question is which Republicans will want to campaign with her? the only two elections this year are for governor in Virginia and New Jersey. I can't imagine either GOP candidate in those states wanting Palin, because she fires up Democrats to vote against them. But next year, if you're running for the Senate in a state like Missouri taht McCain won, you would have to consider bringing in Palin. She fires up the conservative Christians who are in many ways the people who knock on doors and make phone calls to help Republican candidates win. I saw her in November with Saxby Chambliss in Georgia in the runoff there, and his staff seemed very happy to have her.

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Boston: How strong do you think the Democrats will push for an investigation of Cheney and company?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Pretty strongly based on their comments so far.

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Tuckerton, N.J.: I think the biggest story this week is that Goldman Sachs is expected to announce their 2nd quarter profits will exceed $2 billion. This, coupled with Matt Taibbi's recent story highlighting Goldman Sachs century-long influence in controlling the global economy and the extensive list of former Goldman associates linked with the past 2 administrations (Neel Kashkar, Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner, his chief of staff Mark Patterson, Gary Gensler, etc.), can there now be any doubt the primary purpose of the 2008 Bailout - and the subsequent AIG bailout - was to save Goldman Sachs?

washingtonpost.com: For Goldman, a Swift Return to Lofty Profits (New York Times)

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think Goldman is in for a political firestorm, like the AIG exes who are considering giving more bonuses to employees. I think this is a complicated time for the Obama administration, which would prefer to get out of the business of being so involved in the management of Wall Street and seemed very wary of the pay issue earlier in the year.

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It's also hard for any president to fix the economy. : I agree with your statement that Presidents have limited influence on the economy. It is, after all, the sum of the actions of 300+ million people, not to mention international influences.

My question: Why do Presidents (including Obama) claim or strongly imply they DO influence (and sometimes can control) the economy?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Voters care about the economy more than almost any other issue and tend to attribute its growth to the president. So in that sense, if you're going to blamed or credited with the economy anyway, why not talk about how what you are doing is helping or hurting. The Obama team made a questionable decision by putting out a memo even before they took office predicting exact unemployment numbers. Unemployment has been worse than they predicted, and the Republicans have been able to hammer than for not living up to their standards.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Perry -- Thanks for taking questions today. It seems like even some Republicans are not exactly jumping to Dick Cheney's defense in the wake of the recent revelations about his involvement in the CIA. How do the Republicans play that? Does that give Obama some cover in being more aggressive in investigating the misdeeds of the past administration, or are we still going to hear more of the "we're interested in looking forward, not backward" approach?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think the Obama team's calculus is that anytime the president is talking about torture, Cheney, etc, he's not talking about health care, energy, the issues he wants to focus on. The Republicans on the Sunday shows yesterday seemed to exercise some caution, not attacking Cheney but not defending him either. I think they also suffer from having limited information and little than can say publicly. But no, I don't expect Obama to be pressing forward on this issue much.

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Washington: I didn't realize the vice president had the authority to instruct the CIA what to do. How long has it been part of the vice president's job to oversee the CIA? How has Biden changed the CIA now that he is in the office that has charge over that department?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Broadly, the president and vice-president can instruct agency heads to do a lot, although it sounds like they could have violated laws/common practices of notifying Congress. Biden is in general involved in less than Cheney is my impression.

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"...every ump has his own strike zone...": This is exactly what annoys and frustrates those of us who actually believe that the Constitution should be followed to the letter.

The rules of baseball define the strike zone, even though most umpires ignore the rule -- just as many liberal-activist judges ignore the Constitution.

Perry Bacon Jr.: More umpires and judges.

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Judicial Activism: Well if we have to suffer through that nonsense phraseology can the media at least point out that the most radical actvists on the court are today's hardline conservatives who don't believe in precedents and like to legislate from the bench. Ricci being only the most recent example of that?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Another judges comment.

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for the independents...: the thing is, Perry, Candidate Obama promised things that NO president could actually deliver. Since the press was his handmaiden, I would imagine there would be a lot of backtracking, but the fact is, the same people who created him (the media) are now trying to destroy him. When you make sky-high promises, it will usually backfire.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Comment on Obama and the economy.

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Re: Arlington, Va.: I'm pretty sure he was joking. Anyone who expects the economy to turn around in six months -- especially this economy, as bad as it is -- has to be joking.

Perry Bacon Jr.: And another.

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SW Nebraska: Does our impatient friend from Arlington really believe that anyone on the right has the answer to fixing the economy? It took quite awhile to get to this point and, if I remember my ancient history correctly, Bush was in the White House and the Republicans held the Congress.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Another.

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Cocolalla, Idaho: I had never heard of Dr. Regina Benjamin before her selection as Obama's Surgeon General, and I'm excited about the choice. I really believe this position has been under utilized amid a host of national health issues. What do you think this SG could effectively champion to make significant change?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm not a health care expert, but I know that much of our health care costs in America come from Americans who suffer from illnesses that could be prevented by better habits, so yes, an effective attorney general could be instrumental in that, as well as getting public calm if there is swine flu or something else. But yes, I knew nothing about Dr. Benjamin before today either.

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Westchester, NY : Sen. Graham just said that if he made the claims that Sotomayor made during her speeches his career would be over. Yeah, I'd say that if he claimed to be a wise Latina, that would be about it for him.

Even Gov. Sanford couldn't get away with that.

Perry Bacon Jr.: If Graham had said as a older white man, I would make better decisions ... I think he might have had trouble been elected to the Senate. But the comparison is hard to make, because being a Latino woman from New York and being a white man from South Carolina are so different. Sotomayor was making a point about diversity but one I suspect she will articulate better in the future.

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Fairfax County, Virginia: I've been surprised by the number of times background pieces about Sotomayor -- normal, reported articles -- have chosen to discuss why her first marriage ended (her ex-husband has been interviewed), who she has dated since then, and why her engagement in more recent years was broken off. David Souter is certainly a confirmed bachelor, but I don't remember hearing about his love life so persistently when he was nominated.

Do you agree that this line of reportage is inspired by the nominee's gender, and would never come up for a single man (like Souter)? As a woman, frankly I'd rather see coverage of her outfits than this nosy intrusion into her private life. The clothing coverage that we used to read might have been equally sexist but at least it was less intrusive.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I have to confess having missed much of the coverage of her divorce, making me suspect there hasn't been very much. I don't think that is inspired by her gender, but I don't know for sure.

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Ex-PR: When I worked in publicity for a non-profit, one of my responsibilities was to make sure that our organization received at least some news coverage every week. It seems like Sarah Palin has been following the same pattern lately, in that hardly a week passes without her making the news for something. Am I just imagining this, or do you think it's actually happening, and if so, is it deliberate on her team's part?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't think it is a strategy of hers to get into fights with her daughter's ex-boyfriend. I think she is in the news a lot in part because she is a well-known figure who draws lots of hits to websites.

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Boston: Are you listening to Lindsey Graham's opening statement right now? He's the first Republican that hasn't made me want to throw something through the TV. Interesting train of thought he's going through - very honest.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Lindsey, in general, seems like he is playing senator a little less than the other guys. He is a pretty savvy about politics and policy and seems aware of where this is headed.

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Falls Church, Va.: Isn't the Holder leak just some red meat for the base, to placate supporters who have gotten restive about backsliding on other issues like Gtmo and gay rights?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Good question. I don't think so, if only because it looks like the White House is flip-flopping, something they are usually wary of doing.

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Evanston, Ill.: Why does every Senator on the judiciary committee think these hearings are intended for them to perorate? Is this round of talking supposed to be question free?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Every senator views these hearings as their moment to look smart and distinguished and thoughtful, so they will have a lot to say in this process.

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Wall Street, NY: It looks like Goldman Sachs will announce a $2 billion profit for the March-June quarter. Seems like they recovered nicely from near collapse only nine months ago, eh?

Perry Bacon Jr.: This will become a huge political issue in a few days.

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New Hampshire: Perry -- Do you think Republicans are seeing diminishing returns from their " all negativity, all the time" politicking? I mean, they're so hard to listen to --honestly, they're like the cranky relative you dread seeing at the holidays. Might there not be some advantage to them in trying to be just a little sunnier?

Perry Bacon Jr.: My sense of the Republican approach right now is that they have to regain the trust of their own base first, then reach for people in the middle. All this opposing spending and deficits helps unify their party, which is important and polls show swing voters are identifying with their concern about the deficit. One thing to note: I think people too often equate Cantor, Boehner, etc. as GOP leaders like Obama for Democrats. People going to the polls next year will think of Obama when they are voting for or against a Democratic candidate, not sure the same is true for Republicans, who can more easily distance themeselves from national party now that Bush is out of the White House.

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I don't think it is a strategy of hers to get into fights with her daughter's ex-boyfriend. : You're assuming that there's a "strategy" in play here at all...

Perry Bacon Jr.: I agree with you, Palin has no strategy.

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Palin's PR Pattern: It's a win-win: she gets to keep drawing attention despite the obvious fact that she'll never be president, and the Apoplectic Left gets to keep demonstrating how much they fear an attractive conservative woman.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think the win-win is the press gets to cover someone who draws lots of hits-readers, she gets to make money off a book or tv show she will have in a few years. The losers are Republicans on the Hill and running for president who can't get covered while Palin gets attention and have to take questions on her every move even though she clearly never consults with them on anything.

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Chicago IL: The umpire-strike zone analogy is silly because the Constitution is nothing like it.

Baseball defines the strike zone as anything between the plate, from the knees to the letters. It's there in black and white regardless of whether it's followed.

The Constitution is nothing like that. We don't have a civil code -- we have a common law system that presumes that judges will interpret and apply the Constitution's general language to the specific situations these judges find. It's pointless to worry about the literal words when you're trying to figure out, for example, whether an infrared sensor constitutes an "unreasonable search." Constitutional law isn't about rote memorization and application; it's about thinking creatively to unforseen or difficult problems. It's why umpires call balls and strikes but why they don't decide what to do about, say, steroids in players. It's why nobody asked the umpires whether Jackie Robinson could play for the Dodgers. THAT's the type of question a Supreme Court Justice should worry about.

Perry Bacon Jr.: More interesting umpire comments.

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Munich, Germany: In President Obama's speech in Ghana, when he talked about how the West was not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy or wars in which children were enlisted as combatants how "Africa's future is up to Africa", it sounded like he took Archbishop Desmond Tutu's advice to heart that he should be tough on some of Africa's leaders.

But his mention of child combatants coincides with the today's appearance of Charles Taylor in the dock at The Hague, the first African leader accused of crimes of humanity. Do you think that the Obama administration is going to pay more attention to Africa than previous administrations?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Bush paid a lot of attention to Africa, as the Obama administration has acknowledged, so I'm not if Obama will do more in a policy sense.

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Baltimore: What college did you go to? Because I am looking for a college.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I went to Yale, which I enjoyed and is a great place to go, although most of the people I meet in general had a great time wherever they went to college. The people at the Post and the more broadly the folks I know in political journalism have attended a broad range of schools all over the country. My advice if you want to go into journalism is to go somewhere when you get good teaching, particularly in writing, and can write for a good campus paper.

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Anonymous: Can we ban the word "activist" when it comes to judges? I mean, really. A judge is "activist" when you disagree and a "strict constructionist" when you agree. That's it.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Well, I don't know a lot of Democrats who want a "strict constructionist" which I think is a term with more meaning. Activist I think has little meaning, but you will hear it a lot this week anyway.

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Perry Bacon Jr.: I think my time has expired. Thanks for the questions. Have a great week.

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