Post Politics: Public Option, Hispanic Vote, More

Michael Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 29, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post White House reporter Michael Shear was online Wednesday, July 29 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news about the Obama administration, Congress and more.


Michael D. Shear: Good morning everyone. Sorry I'm a bit late. The President is on the road today. Lawmakers are locked in rooms trying to get a health care deal. And Sarah Palin is no longer a governor.

Let's get at it.



Dallas, TX: Mr. Shear, Could the Democratic party use the GOP no votes against Sonia Sotomayor in a Spanish language media blitz, tv, radio, websites, email?

Michael D. Shear: Here's a good way to start.

I think they could. There are certainly liberal activists who believe the Republicans made a fatal error by attacking her so aggressively during the hearings, and now appearing to be pretty unified in their opposition to her. Hispanics have already been moving away from the Republican party, and this probably won't help.

On the other hand, there are Republicans who will argue that they treated her respectfully and didn't cross that line during the hearings. That should help them avoid the worst of it, politically.


Cape Cod: Polls show that a plurality of Americans want a public option, yet the latest rumors out of the Senate Finance Committee suggest that this as well as the employer mandate are off the table. What are the odds that, when all the committee-passed bills out there are reconciled, a public option gets put back in? Many house Dems and progressive senators (such as Feingold) have threatened to not vote for a reform package which doesn't contain a public option.

Michael D. Shear: Ah, the legislative process. It's such a wonderful thing. The public plan could come in and go out again and again over the next several months. The fact that it disappears from the Senate Finance version says something, but is not the final word by any stretch. And just like the White House is having to dodge and weave to satisfy the Blue Dogs now, they will have a new set of concerns in the fall as they try to keep people like Feingold on board.


Fairfax, VA: Wow, the Finance Committee is really representative of the majority of Americans. Not. Senators from Wyoming, Montana and other rural population states are getting to determine what health care reform will look like. Those states have more sheep and cattle than humans! Couldn't they get at least one sen on that committee who represents a state with a substantial metro area?

Michael D. Shear: Hmm, Fairfax. Sounds like you've got something against sheep. (Full disclosure: I, too, live in Fairfax and it's really not a sheep-friendly suburb.)

I suspect that what you will see as the bills move forward in the fall is the urban senators and representatives reasserting themselves. It's gonna be a classic regional battle.


Saint Paul, Minn.: Hi Michael -- Thanks for taking questions today. Does the House's vote commemorating the anniversary of Hawaii's statehood, and recognizing that yes, the president was born there, bring an end to the "birther" nuttiness, at least as a story getting media attention? And if it continues, doesn't it distract the vast majority of Republicans who want to go after Obama on the big stuff and not on this fringiest of issues?

Michael D. Shear: Do you really think anything can "bring and end" to this? I suspect not.


Avon Park, FL: Do you think that President Obama waited too long to use the megaphone of the White House to promote health care reform? By deferring to Congress to hash out the details, I think he let his opponents define his plan. What do you think?

Michael D. Shear: The White House says they were trying to carefully balance the president's desire to let Congress take the lead against his particular wishes for health care. They are keenly aware of the dictator-like approach taken by the Clintons almost 20 years ago. But I think it's possible to argue that Obama may have gone too far in the other direction.


Rockville: Why is Speaker Pelosi so happy? Does she have a different count of the House vote? Or has she cut some deals? I am surprised that the Democrats can not hold together in such an important subject.

Michael D. Shear: It's a good question. My colleagues, Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane, are experts on all these procedures. But my sense is that the last chapter is far from written here. If the senate Finance committee reaches a bipartisan deal, it's very possible that the House Democrats who are opposed now quickly fall into line. That would quickly shift the narrative about where reform stands.

Stay tuned.


Local yokel: Many reports that the Dems don't really have 60 votes becasue Byrd and Kennedy both very sick. So, if a Dem senator went to a reported friend of Teddy - like Hatch - and said somthing like, "don't make your good friend Teddy endanger his health by forcing him to leave his sick bed"...does a sense of shame ever change a vote of what is essentially a procedural motion? I suppose the chances are slim and none, but it is a shame that normal personal friendships can't count for something.

Michael D. Shear: I seem to recall this question being asked early on during the Sotomayor hearings, and the sense was that people like Hatch would be torn on an issue like this. They are, as you say, really good friends. On the other hand, these are not just procedural votes on a little thing (like naming a post office). It's a big, consequential vote. At the least, I think the leadership on the Republican side would be accomodating in trying to do whatever possible to allow Kennedy time to get there.


Arlington, Va.: re: Saint Paul's question, apparently nothing will end the birther nuttiness. The dentist/lawyer/real estate agent who's behind it is now claiming that Obama is not legit because both of his parents were not U.S. citizens, despite the fact that this requirement is not in the Constitution. But then she also seems to believe that Stephen Colbert's TV persona is real.

Michael D. Shear: I rest my case.


Springfield, Va.: Should Robert Byrd retire? I know he is beloved by the majority of West Virginians and there is a wisdom that comes with age that is undervalued currently, but still. I can't think of any other job he'd be allowed to stay in besides U.S. Senator. I'm sure his staff is top notch, but still needs the Senator to direct it. I mean what is Robert Byrd's ultimate goal? To die on the Senate floor?

Michael D. Shear: It's a legitimate, but sensitive, question. There are many examples of senators who serve past when most people think they are effective, though as you say their staffs can often do an awful lot.

Legally, there is nothing that compels him to retire. The rest is really up to him and his constituents.


Evanston, Illinois: To quote Mike Murphy, "If Sarah Palin looked like Golda Meir would anyone be talking about her?"

Michael D. Shear: Ok, this is maybe not the most politically correct question. But there is something to it. There is apparently a lot of research about the effect on voters and others when an attractive woman runs for office. But its not necessarily intuitive. In some respects, the research suggests that being attractive is more counter productive politically.

My colleague, Anne Kornblut, is currently writing a book that will talk about this issue and how this played out during Campaign 2008. So look for that book later this year.


Wheeling, W.Va.: Politicians have a weird relationship with their core base. They can't run on just their base, but also need it to run at all.

The Bush 43 administration never did anything to upset its base which was wrong.

But the Obama administration really doesn't do much to statisfy its own base with one hyped events such as stopping torture investigations, stalling on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", etc... and now dropping the public option from the healthcare reform.

Do the Obama administration realize that although it helps with moderated or more conservative voters when their liberal base is upset with them, they can't win without them knocking on doors, calling phones and getting donations?

Michael D. Shear: This is really a fascinating thing to watch. Obama's victory was clearly fueled by an activist base that was excited about him and insanely angry with Bush. Now, though, Obama has made several moves -- most notably on the national security side -- that have surprised and saddened the base.

His plea to them (as exemplified during the White House meeting with gay and lesbian activists) has been: don't judge me yet. I'll get to your issues. We will see whether that works, or whether the liberal base sits out the midterm elections.


Michael D. Shear: Gotta run. Sorry again for the short chat this morning. Always too many good questions to get to.



Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company