Post Politics: Insurance Industry, Fox Feud, More

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Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post White House reporter Scott Wilson discusses the latest news about the Obama administration, Congress and more.

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Scott Wilson: Good morning, everyone. The president and his national security team are meeting at this moment on Afghanistan policy, the White House and the insurance industry have ended their tenuous partnership for reform, and other odds and ends are out there. I'll get to your questions.

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White House war on Fox: Maybe the wrong place to post this, but just wanted to say that I support the White House taking on Fox. I'm a liberal, not pleased with the White House's actions (or lack thereof) on a number of issues, BUT Fox News is a joke. You can't and shouldn't engage with idiots.

And let's not pretend that the "news" on Fox is really fair or principled -- their biases are clear from the early morning all the way through Hannity, Beck and O'Reilly. Furthermore, Fox ain't winning a key demographic that everyone seems to ignore -- the under 30s. We're not impressed, we never will be. My dearest hope is that they go out of business in 15 years when all the old rich white dudes who have time to watch are no longer around.

Scott Wilson: You're not alone in your opinion, certainly, but there's some question surrounding the wisdom of the White House so sharply criticizing the most-watched cable channel. Content of its critique aside - and there are certainly different views about Fox news out there - do you all think the White House should call out Fox or just attempt to work with them as best as possible? (In my opinion, fyi, Major Garrett, one of Fox's White House correspondents, is a first-rate journalist - clear-eyed, objective, well-informed and tough. So I do think there's a distinction at times to be made between the correspondents and the talk-show hosts on the channel.)

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college kid: This may be old news, but I'm just curious - why is everyone (including the White House) so surprised that the insurance industry has turned on health care reform? These guys are soulless snakes, have been and always will be. The press, the Dem politicos, etc. really thought they were committed participants in all of this? Have you seen some of the heartbreaking stories in this paper and others about denied coverage? Insurance companies have never been the good guys. I'm 23, but come on, I'm less naive than y'all have been.

Scott Wilson: Only because they had been working together, I think, and also because insurance companies stand to gain millions of customers under some of the reform ideas in play in Congress.

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Dunn Loring, Va.: As we approach the ten month anniversary of this administration, what would you identify as the toughest question/issue that a Washington Post White House reporter has pressed this administration on? What is the biggest story that a Post White House reporter has broken about this administration?

Scott Wilson: I think some of our best work has been on the administration's Afghan policy, on its ties to Wall Street and how that shapes policy, and on the challenges it faces in closing Guantanamo and managing the fallout from some of its decisions to end torture in interrogation (and its adherence to other Bush-era policies there was reason to believe Obama would change.) I've played only a small role in a lot of this, but have admired much of it.

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Bethesda: John McCain has been awfully quiet lately. Is that just because he's worried about a conservative primary challenge back home?

Scott Wilson: He's been pretty vocal in the Afghanistan debate, hitting the Sunday shows regularly and taking the lead speaking for GOP senators after last week's meeting on the subject at the White House. So not sure I entirely agree.

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McLean: Right now there are three major federal issues facing the LGBT communities. Marriage is the one where the least is likely to happen. Public support is growing, but is far from majority, and the key issues are going to be at the state level.

Employment discrimination is the one where prospects seem most favorable. Public opinion is friendly and ENDA passed the House in 2007. Its passage seems just a matter of legislative scheduling.

The politics of Don't Ask, Don't Tell seem much murkier. Public opinion is increasingly friendly to repeal (though there's still a solid core of opposition among conservatives) and there seems plenty of support in Congress. But DADT repeal still seems stalled. What's going on? Is it just opposition within the Pentagon? The Obama administration has been reluctant to take on the career military on anything. And when can we expect a vote on ENDA?

Scott Wilson: Good question, and one we ask a lot. Seems like Obama, at least publicly, is commited to ending DADT. But as you note there is still resistance within the ranks, and the issue has taken a back burner at a time when he is discussing with his military commanders what to do in Afghanistan. I'd so that's the primary reason behind the stall.

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Silver Spring: Scott -- Is there any chance that whatever health reform Congress passes will be anything but a windfall for insurance companies? Sure, pre-existing conditions will be dealt with in some measure, and the rolls of the insured will expand, and there may even be some kind of tort reform. But I see the insurers as being the real beneficiaries of this whole exercise. Or am I too cynical?

Scott Wilson: No, not too cynical and I think your reasoning informed the White House view that the industry would remain allies in the reform push, especially with White House not pushing hard for a public option. So hard to see entirely why they have turned so sharply...

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Iraq versus Afghanistan: Isn't the biggest difference between counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan the fact that Iraqi Sunni's came to fear and loathe the brutality of foreign insurgents like al Qaeda in Iraq and concluded it was more in their interest to work with the US instead (and receive our cash payments)?

The Taliban, conversely, are indigenous Afghanis and while their Sharia laws are harsh it is a reasonable alternative to the mendacious corruption of the Karzai government and their local patrons/officials? So why would they work with US troops and Karzai government representatives? And if they don't doesn't that negate the very foundation of a US counterinsurgency strategy no matter how many troops we have/send to Afghanistan?

Scott Wilson: Good question. We reported last week that the administration is acknowledging that no matter how many troops it sends to Afghanistan, eliminating the Taliban as a military/political force is an impossibility, largely for the reasons you suggest. But the military/intelligence agencies believe there are Taliban that can be brought on board, in support of a legitimately elected government, leaving behind a weakened movement. The flawed Aug 20 elections, though, have really damaged that possibility, as a good story from Kabul in our paper today points out.

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Saint Paul, Minn.: Hi Scott - Thanks for taking questions today. I'm all for health care reform and happy to see it move forward, but what does it say that, even though the Democrats control the White House and both the Senate and the House, Olympia Snowe seems to be holding all the cards here and we're hanging on her every word? Call me naive, but shouldn't the Democrats be calling the shots here?

Scott Wilson: Your question reflects a current of thinking/complaint within the Democratic Party on health care. The answer I've heard is that Snowe's support allows a (slight) White House claim of bipartisan support and, more important, it may give moderate Democrats with constituencies perhaps largely against reform plans a measure of cover - if a Republican supported it, how could I not do the same for a Democratic president? That's the thinking anyway, but your point is a good one.

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New York City: Hi, Scott. Thanks for taking questions! Ever since Iran reported the existence of its Qom enrichment facility to the IAEA, one central assertion has been repeated as fact over and over by the American media, which makes the story incriminating: namely, that Iran only disclosed this because they discovered they had been "caught," i.e., they found out that the West knew of this facility and they thus had no choice but to disclose it. But ever since this episode began, I've read countless accounts from numerous sources and never once saw a single piece of evidence to support this claim. Have you? Was Iran really planning something deeply nefarious here and got "caught red-handed," or is the story not quite as cut-and-dried as I've been led to believe so far?

Scott Wilson: I think it's somewhere in between. What's clear is that Iran was planning a second enrichment site - whether that's nefarious or not is up to you - and that it's disclosure came months after U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies began tracking the construction. These facts are undisputed even by Iran. It was caught "red-handed" in the sense that under the terms of NPT it is suppose to disclose all of these sites, and technically it did, though far later than IAEA would have wanted, etc.

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Becoming Relevant Again: There is only one way for the Republican party to regain its lost relevance with America's voters. Party leadership needs to strip Faux Republicans like Snowe, Collins and Graham of any and all power and have them resign the party. Until folks see that we are committed to being a true-blue conservative party that dosn't allow individual members to comporimise the party ideology we will not be given the opportunity to govern again.

Scott Wilson: Very interesting - the "let's get smaller and ideologically purer to eventually get larger" argument. What's the thinking out there?

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Boston: Does the leaky Situation Room Afghan debate help the president "prepare the field" for a strategy change or open him up to charges of taking too long and indeciciveness? Is it a net positive or negative politically? How will he cobble together 60 votes in the Senate to do anything not recommended by McChrystal?

Scott Wilson: All interesting questions. On the first, I don't think leaks from the Situation Room will affect perception of Obama as indecisive (many conservatives have already made up their minds on that.)The White House is betting that, outside teh Beltway, people think it's more important for the president to make the right decision regarding a greatly expanded war effort than to make a quick one. On the votes, it'll be tricky and he'll have to persuade a number of Republicans to accept a less than full McChrystal recommendation and Democrats to accept some additional combat forces (most likely, if the emerging middle-ground concsensus holds.)

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Wokingham UK: Amid all the concern about Afghanistan and Iran has the Israel/Palestine question gone into deep hibernation?

Scott Wilson: George Mitchell is working away. But he's stuck right now: Palestinians are demanding a settlement freeze before talks can begin, and the Israeli government won't agree to one (at this point, despite the Obama administration's urging that it do so.)So stalemate, and from White House point of view, yes, Afghanistan is the foreign policy focus of the moment.

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Re: Becoming relevant again: Sounds great to me. I've always wanted to watch a species become extinct right in front of my eyes.

Scott Wilson: A response to earlier...

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New York City: Yeah, what is with unsuccessful candidate John McCain being all over the TV? Sunday was McCain's 14th Sunday morning appearance since President Obama's inauguration in January!

Not bad for a senator in the minority, who isn't in the party leadership, who has no role in any important negotiations, and who has offered no significant pieces of legislation.

So why do you think the "news" networks continue to give McCain so much airtime?

Scott Wilson: He's an important Republican voice on Afghanistan, and since Obama will likely need some GOP support if he decides to deploy any additional combat troops, his opinion counts.

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Bethesda, Md.: What is the timeline for the bills to be combined in their respective houses, voted on, merged in conference and finally voted on one last time?

Scott Wilson: Fluid. Some shooting for pre-Thanksgiving, but White House only saying that the president expects to sign a bill this year.

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Jacksonville, FL: Why is Obama so deferential towards the military? Name the issue -- DADT, Gitmo, Afghanistan -- the guys in uniform usually get what they want. Is it just the conflicts experienced by George W. Bush and Bill Clinton? Or maybe Obama's own lack of ties to the military?

Scott Wilson: Do you think he is? I'm asking only because I think you could marshal facts to support the opposite argument (he fired McKiernan, the first time a president has done that to a commanding general in a war zone since MacArthur.) And he has not rubber-stamped McChrystal's recommendation, which some GOP leaders want him to do. So I'm not sure I entirely agree with the premise of your question. Any other opinions on this out there?

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If I were the President....: and had a sense of humor I would support the McChrystal proposal for more troops ONLY if it did not add a penny to the current deficit. Then I would sit back and watch the GOP expose itself for what it is...Thoughts?

Scott Wilson: I'd only say that playing these kinds of political games with U.S. troops in the field and at great risk would not make Obama look good....

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Vernon, British Columbia, Canada: RE: FOX most watched news channel-- of course they are! It's because they target one set group, while the other cable news and network news compete for the non-right wingers, and split those viewers/ratings between them.

Scott Wilson: Fair enough, but doesn't really address the merits of White House strategy...I have to go now, everyone, but thanks very much for participating. Be back with you soon.

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