Post Politics: Harry Reid, Public Option, More

Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 6, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post congressional reporter Paul Kane discusses the latest news about the White House, Congress and national politics.


Paul Kane: Good morning folks. Huge breaking political news -- Mike Castle, who has held statewide office in Delaware for roughly three decades, is running in the Senate race to take the full term of Vice President Joe Biden, who's son, Beau, the state attorney general, is probably just days or weeks away from announcing his own bid.

There's The Fix's update on the news. This has all sorts of ramifications, near and wide, the first being that it takes what has been a safe Democratic seat since the day Biden won his first senate bid in 1972, at the age of 29, and immediately makes it a toss-up. It now means that the 2 national office holders -- President Obama and VP Biden -- are in danger of seeing their Senate seats go to the Republicans, as Rep. Mark Kirk (R) is running a highly competitive campaign in the Land of Lincoln.

And, for policy's sake, it makes every vote Castle -- a moderate in a state that is still supportive of the POTUS-VPOTUS agenda -- very, very intriguing. Can Castle possibly vote against health-care now? Will that hurt him in the general election?

Ok, that's the primer. On a a personal note, sorry for the confusion on the chats this week. We juggled things up because Perry Bacon needed to switch out of yesterday, but I had jury duty -- first time EVER in 14 years of living in DC -- so we swapped Ben Pershing in yesterday, now I'm taking today. It was a 3-way trade of sorts. Hmmm, speaking of 3-way trades ... baseball playoffs start Wednesday. Go Phillies. -- pk


Greenville, S.C.: Paul - I know we're only 9 months into the Obama administration, but when do you think he'll have to start "owning" some of the Nation's problems, i.e. the economy, unemployment, both wars, etc? Or, do you think he and Robert Gibbs can continue, indefinitely, to begin the answer to every question with "...No score and eight years ago...".

Paul Kane: Um, I think it's pretty clear Obama already owns these things. I think his polling numbers show that the public has made the switch, which is why he's on the decline. The public will not overly criticize him for Iraq, which I think they still associate with as him cleaning up after Bush, and to some degree independent voters don't appear to be blaming the economy solely on Obama. It's a mix at this point. But clearly by next July 4, it's all his, every last bit of credit or debit.


St. Paul, Minn. : Hi Paul -- Thanks for taking questions today. There's been a lot of discussion the last day or two about the opening Saturday Night Live sketch in which the president recounted all the things he has failed to accomplish so far. For me, as a supporter, it was an uncomfortable but also very accurate moment even though it was coming in the form of a comedy sketch. He needs to start tallying some wins, and soon. What can he do to make that happen? Obama Address (Hulu)

Paul Kane: The easiest way to get wins, as you suggest, is to take small wins, take compromises that aren't 100% victories, and start piling them up one after another. But doing that usually involves disappointing your most fervent supporters who want to see a thorough victory, who believe -- with some justification -- that they spent 4 years building up these huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and putting a Dem in the White House. If not now, when? If the fight is not endured now to put in place the sort of legislation liberals have been clamoring for for a couple decades, when will it be?

Good arguments can be made for both sides of this debate.


New York, NY: In your article on 10/3, you wrote:

"Reid must pull this all off while keeping one eye on Nevada.... (S)everal GOP challengers have emerged in recent weeks with polls showing he could be the latest majority leader to suffer political humiliation."

My question is primarily which block of voters are losing faith in Reid and causing him to worry over his seat? Conservative voters (against healthcare reform), or liberal ones (focused on a public option)? It's important to note whether Reid would have an easier time if he'd just stand up and be a Democrat, or if he needs to legislate more conservatively. So which is it? What did the Mason-Dixon polling say about this, if anything? Reid's at the Reins in Health-Care Battle

Paul Kane:

There's your breakdown of the late August Mason-Dixon poll in Nevada. Look closely, and what you'll see is a dramatic erosion in support among independents. Reid trails Sue Lowden -- a low-profile GOP apparatchick -- 48-26 among independents. He trails Danny Tarkanian -- whose claim to fame is being the son of the state's best college basketball coach ever -- 54-22 among independents.

Reid's standing among Ds is a little worse than the GOP candidates is with Rs, but the party registration numbers now favor Ds, so he's probably doing well enough with Ds.

He has to -- has to -- find a way to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters, or else he joins a litany of Senate majority leaders who've left the office in disgrace.


Update on Dems and Donor Cash Story?: In the Post last week you reported that Democrats weren't landing as much Wall Street donor cash, in part because there was a "de facto boycott" of the Democratic Party by wealthy donors who were turned off by the party's anti-big business rhetoric. (Too "antagonistic," you wrote). But you didn't provide any quotes to back up his claim about the supposed big-business bashing that Democrats were doing. Plus, you spent the entire article comparing fundraising tallies collected immediately - after - the presidential campaign, with tallies collected - during - one. Pretty obvious apples and oranges, no? So I was skeptical. Can you blame me? Now there's a Politico article out, which claims Democrats, and especially Sen. Chuck Schumer, are in fact drowning in Wall Street money. And Democrats are lapping Republicans in terms of cashing Wall Street checks. So, will you be updating your report about that Wall Street "boycott" of the Democratic Party, or do you (somehow) continue to stand by your previous reporting?

Politico: Wall Street money rains on Schumer

Washington Post: Democrats Are Jarred by Drop In Fundraising

Paul Kane: Yeah, this was a creation of the Media Matters folks, a couple of whom simply don't like me because I've been critical of them publicly. They just don't like me because I criticized them, so they try to pick apart my stories to invent some form of conservative bias in my reporting.

As I politely wrote back to many people the day that story appeared, I originally went into that story thinking I was going to write about how the liberal donor base was upset with the slow-moving/stalled progressive agenda, and that's why the fundraising numbers were down for Democratic party committees. That was the original intent of the story. But the data simply didn't back that up.

That's a link to an obscure FEC analysis of the trends in giving to the national party committees so far in 2009, compared to 2007 and 2005, the similar trend points that you want to measure against when comparing fundraising. As you'll see, the DSCC and DCCC are down tremendously from the largest donors, those giving $10,000 or more. All of the DSCC losses, measured against 2007 and 2005, are from the biggest donors.

In my reporting, I spoke with several senators and members of the House, top party strategists in all three Democratic committees, and big donors/fundraisers. All of them attributed the losses from these big donors to 3 factors, each of which I reported in the story: the economic crunch, a general malaise/complacency since they had done so much to put Dems in power the past 3 years, and -- intriguingly -- a dramatic pullback in donations from big financial services firms.

The Politico story you reference specifically notes that giving from Wall Street is down from prior campaign cycles. Brody Mullins of the Wall Street Journal has done repeated stories in print and online noting the fundraising decline for all candidates, particularly from Wall Street/insurance types.

This Politico story was about Schumer -- and the fact that the Chuckwagon is still raking in lots of donations from Wall Street is not surprising. There is a smaller pile of money from these financial firms, and in that pile, Dems are now getting a slightly larger portion than Rs.

That fact does not contradict anything I wrote.

Thanks for asking the question so I can publicly rebut what Media Matters wrote about me two weeks ago.


Manhattan, Kan.: Hi Paul,

In the last few days, we've seen some important Republican voices--Governor Schwarzenegger, Tommy Thompson, and Bill Frist--come out in support of the health-care reform bill working its way through the Senate Finance Committee. Is it possible that Congressional Republicans may have to rethink their just-say-no Waterloo strategy and declare their independence from Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh?

Paul Kane: Aside from Castle, and maybe 2-3 others, I don't see any Rs in the House even remotely thinking of supporting this bill. If Harry Reid is hoping for GOP supports, it's the state of Maine and pray for rain.

That just hasn't changeed because of Frist-Thompson-et al. It just hasn't. These Rs think they have Obama on the ropes, they aren't going to let him off now and give him a big bipartisan win. That's more likely to happen the middle of next year, possibly on some energy legislation compromise.


San Diego: I know you didn't write the piece, but with regard to today's article on Orly Taitz, godmother of the birther movement, all I can really ask is: Why?

The writer of the article notes that "Taitz is a serious player in the apparently unsinkable birther movement." Is it really unsinkable, though, because there is any validity at all to the group's arguments, or is it unsinkable because the group is populated by fanatics and because outlets such as the WaPo apparently feel the need to keep it afloat?

And speaking of phanatics, got your tix yet? Burden of Proof on Obama's Origins

Paul Kane: I got shut out in the lottery for the NLDS tix, thanks for asking. If the Phillies move on, then I might get back into the mix. However, my odd feeling of optimism -- created by an amazing World Series win last year -- is starting to fade. I'm not turning bitter and cynical, the way I was for the previous 25-year championship drought. Just not as happy go lucky.

As for the birthers, I think, but am not certain, the "unsinkable" bit refers to the idea that no matter how many times people try to prove them wrong, they keep on believing. There's just not a lot that can be done to dissuade people from such strongly held views, what can we say.


Pittsburgh: Latest polling shows Republican Senatorial candidate Pat Toomey leading incumbent Arlen Specter as well as Democratic challenger Joe Sestak in a one-on-one situation. Considering how extreme Toomey's conservative views are (Club for Growth, e.g.), how likely is his poll bubble to burst as more Keystone State voters learn more about his true views?

Paul Kane: Hmmm, the Keystone State, you got me in my wheelhouse. This race fascinates me. Arlen has been gasping for most of the year, but he's still alive. Sestak is on the rise, Toomey's moving, Arlen seems stalled -- but man, we've thought he was dead before, both literally and figuratively. The man is a survivor, plain and simple, whether it's beating back Lynn Yeakel in the "Year of the Woman" in '92 or defeating heart and brain surgery, and multiple bouts with cancer/chemo. You just can't count him out. One thing is clear, however, and that's the initial thoughts on the day he switched parties that Specter could cruise to a general eleciton win over Toomey were false. If he gets past Sestak, he will face a grueling battle in the general. (Other thing of note, Specter doesn't respect the TiVo/DVR edict of sports watching. If you tell him, "Senator, I've got the Phillies game on TiVo, don't tell me the score", he'll respond: "5-2, bad guys, Paul, 5-2." No, I'm not still bitter, I swear I'm not. Not bitter at all.)


"Tallying some wins": Wins? So far Obama's saved the country from a depression via the stimulus program, reversed Bush's stem cell edicts, implemented what congress passed years ago on car mileage, saved the national parks from oil exploitation, and said he'd close down Guantanamo by January and it's not January yet. Let's give the guy a break.

Paul Kane: There is a strong case to made for 2009 being an amazingly successful legislative year. You're talking about an $800 billion stimulus bill being signed into law, along with a $35b expansion of children's health insurance, Lilly Ledbetter and a host of other moves on the executive act front. It was dizzying the first few months how much was happening.

But that was the 1st half, and now we're in the 2nd half, and the games are more important now. These are the biggest ticket items, as he himself has said. So, health care and energy are how his year is going to be measured, no matter how you slice it.


You're welcome!: Always happy to get your side (that's why I ask these kinds of questions in chats, in fact). Most reporters just ad-hominem attack their way out of Media Matters' critiques. Glad you didn't resort to that low road!

Paul Kane: Gracias.


The Thesis: Is blowback over Bob McDonnell's thesis still having any effect, one way or the other, on the latest polling in Virgina?

Paul Kane: Hmm, I'm the wrong person to talk about the Virginia gov's race. But we're doing some polling now, and we'll have more news on that front over the weekend or next week, I believe.

Plus, we're gonna dig in and see what Old Dominion voters think about congressional Democrats. This will hopefully be a window into 2010 and a couple potentially close races out there across the Potomac.


McLean, Va.: Does the 2010 election really matter for the fate of health care in the Senate? Of the five Democrats in trouble, only Blanche Lincoln has an incentive to break with Obama. Michael Bennet and Arlen Specter face tough primaries and need to prove their Democratic bona fides. Harry Reid and Chris Dodd are in trouble for personal reasons, not ideology, and it's not clear that Obama would be a liability in those states.

On the Republican side, only David Vitter is in real trouble. (Democratic gains are more likely in open seats). Obama is wildly unpopular in Louisiana.

Paul Kane: I think the rising or falling of health-care legislation matters greatly on a macro level for the 2010 midterms. It will set the tone for how independent voters view the Obama agenda so far. Incremently, in individual Senate races, it may not play a huge role, but it will shape the overall tone in such a big way, that it's hard to over-state how important a political story it is.

If Obama succeeds in getting health-care legislation passed that both indepdendents view as likely helpful and his base views as sufficiently progressive, then it would instantly redraw the paradigm from where we are today. If he fails, then progressives will be disheartened -- if not now, when? -- and independents will view Obama and Democrats as people who can't govern.


Pittsburgh, again: My question was, How likely is Pat Toomey's poll bubble to burst as more Keystone State voters learn more about his true views?

Paul Kane: It's possible that, yes, there will be some bubble bursting on Toomey's views. The key voters for either Specter or Sestak will be my 4 sisters. Well, not specifically Sue, Kathy, Trish and Renie, but from a metaphorical level -- suburban Phillly professional women. The Dem nominee will try to do to Toomey what Deeds is doing to McDonnell in Virginia. Toomey took a lot of votes that will be out of step with those Clinton-Rendell-Hillary-Obama women voters of the last 15 years in the Philly suburbs.

Regardless of the Dem nominee, next fall is shaping up as a tough general.


Second Half: No, it's not about energy. That's clearly off the table for this year. It's health care and nothing else comes close.

Paul Kane: I believe that energy could end up being the big bipartisan hug-fest next year. But that will depend on whether Dems go for the half-a-loaf strategy. The cap-and-trade system faces an arduous uphill battle in the Senate, with the biggest obstacles -- here it comes -- being Democrats. These, however, are not your conservative Dems. These are the lunch-pale, union-loving Dems from the Rust Belt -- Sherrod Brown, Bob Casey, Jay Rockefeller, Debbie Stabenow, Carl Levin. That bloc of Senate Dems is not going to sign off on a system that they believe will cost jobs in their states.

Now, if we get to a point next spring when Obama wants to deal, they can put together a big energy bill that is comprised of big plus-ups in R&D for alternative energy and tax cuts for alternative energy, more money for building the power grid for alternative energy. Lotsa green job stuff. But with benefits going to businesses, the Rs will love it.

Something like that would pass the Senate with 85 votes, everyone would hug one another and say, Wow, we can get along.


Washington, D.C.: I love watching the Olympics, so I was following the news about the recent venue competition. It was fairly clear to me, merely a humble citizen, that two factors were going to lead to Chicago's loss: that South America was long overdue as a venue for the Olympics and that the USOC was feuding with the IOC about TV rights and money, which feud was going to lead to Chicago being eliminated early. I didn't have to be a great scholar of politics or the Olympics to figure this out.

So, why didn't the White House reach the same conclusion I did and simply send the resident scapegoat (a.k.a. the Vice President) to what was likely to be a losing situation, rather than appear clueless or, worse, arrogant, by sending the President on what was likely to be a failed mission? Was somebody simply asleep at the wheel and/or failed to take a hard look at the realities of the situation (which David Axelrod's TV performance seems to indicate) or are they simply so enamored of their positions and power that they think that Obama's presence would "make it happen"?

Paul Kane: I really don't know the answer to this question, but I think it's a good one, so I'll simply post it.

Frankly, I'm kinda happy for South America. I mean, I love Chicago, it's probalby my favorite city in America. It deserves big attention, all the attention in the world. But South America deserves the Olympics, too.

OK, folks, let's start a fallback movement: Let's get a national political convention in Chicago. What better way to renominate Obama then to have him do it in his home city in 2012. Or, better yet, in 2016, when the Olympics woulda been held there, Obama -- get ready for the pun -- "passes the torch" to the next generation of Democratic leader in Chicago at the DNC.

Republicans, you could join in -- go to the president's hometown in 2012 and nominate your challenger on his turf. Come on people, let's do it for Chicago. (I'll reserve the bleacher seats at Wrigley in a few mins.)


Helena, Montana: When Max Baucus said that he supported the public option but he didn't think there were 60 votes for it - who does he think will join the Republicans in filibustering it? Democratic members of his committee? Can Reid hold the caucus together for cloture, even if some will vote against the bill?

Paul Kane: This is the insider's insider's question right now, the one that not even my friends at Politico and my alma mater Roll Call are writing.

Will the Ben Nelson/Landrieu/Lieberman crowd vote 'no' on cloture (the filibuster vote)? Will they vote yes on cloture, then vote however they want on final passage?

Activists on both sides are exploring this issue, trust me. I think that's where this whole debate is headed.

My gut: I don't know the answer. Sorry, I don't.


Las Cruces, NM: Paul,

In the last couple of days the right has been taken to task for celebrating Obama's failure in securing the Olympics. To be honest, I was one of them - schadenfrude, I think is the term, although since I didn't attend Yale, I'm sure I've misspelled it.

Obama, while not a socialist nor a fascist, is an egoist. He believes his fawning press coverage. I enjoy it when he is taken down a notch. That said, I would never root against him as he seeks to execute foreign policy. I would never seek to undermine him as he prosecutes a war upon which the future standing of America rests. Something the left cannot equally claim.

In addition, Mark Levine and Rush and Beck are idiots and don't speak for Republicans.

Thank you.

Paul Kane: An interesting perspective from Las Cruces.

I'm not sure I agree. I just think cheering against us - yes, us, the United States, Chicago and the rest of us -- is respectful. Have we all forgotten how awesome the Phelps Olympics were? How much cooler would that have been if it were here in the US?

That's all.


Dalai Lama: Is it a mistake for President Obama to put off meeting the Dalai Lama?

Paul Kane: I don't know that this is such a big deal.

Read that story closely. We're also talking about selling more arms to Taiwan, which really, really, really infuriates the Chinese. There's such a diplo-dance here, head fake this way to appease China on a meeting with the Lama, but go around their back to sell big weapons to Taiwan over here. It's hard to know what's real and what's fake. Never fear, the man is getting feted everyhwere in DC this week, just not in a public way with Obama.

Besides, he's going to have total consciousness, so he's got that going for him. Which is nice.


Paul Pollyanna: You wrote: "the Rs will love it." LOL. You really think the Rs will line up behind ANY of Obama's plans? Really, Paul?

Paul Kane: A plan that involves large giveaways to big multi-national corporations, both in R&Rd and tax cuts?

Yes, they'll love it.


Ask the question, maybe?: Given how much reporters write about the need for 60 votes to break a filibuster, it's pretty stunning that you never get around to asking Senators whether they'll vote to sustain or end a filibuster. Isn't it long-past time for reporters to start asking Senators if they will filibuster the public option -- not just whether they support it, or think it has enough votes: Will they filibuster it? Has the Post reported on this and I've just missed it?

Paul Kane: Most folks like Nelson and company just dodge the question, when asked, telling us it's way too soon to deal with questions like that.


Paul Kane: Alright gang, time's up, I'm gonna get back to work. Wow, no Springsteen or U2 or jury duty questions. We were deep into the policy today, which is fine by me. I'll see you back here in a couple weeks, at which point -- hopefully -- the Phillies will still be in the playoffs and Donovan McNabb will be comfortably under centering guiding the Eagles toward a great season. See you all soon, thanks. -pk


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