Post politics hour

Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post congressional reporter Paul Kane was online Thursday, Dec. 3 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest political news.


Paul Kane: Good morning, readers. For the last week we've been dealing with war and peace and a dramatic overhaul of the health-care system, while the White House convenes its jobs summit related to the global financial crisis. And what have you cared most about: the trailer trash news.

yes, you've devoured every story about the Salahis and Tiger. Currently, here are the headlines of the most read stories on our web site:

Cheerleaders get fired up about Salahi

The company Tiger keeps

An energy answer in the shale below?

Comcast, NBC announce $30 billion merger

Washington Times cuts in staff, coverage cue new era

And those are a good collection of headlines. As Obama's address began Tuesday night, the top 5 stories included two about the party crashers, two about Tiger and one other story I can't remember. Not sure what this says about us, but it says something. On to the questions. -pk


Atlanta: Do you have any inside information on Tiger Woods's opinion of the health-care debate in the Senate?

Paul Kane: Ding, ding, ding! Tiger Woods questions. Love it. Considering Tiger's desperate pleas for privacy, I'm guessing he's against the public option.


Florissant Valley, Mo.: G'morning, Paul. Some fellow on "Hard Ball" yesterday suggested Joe Scarborough as the type of Republican that party should be looking to or for. I'm a Democrat but I concur. What are the chances of a Joe boomlet in coming weeks? Thanks

Paul Kane: Chances of a boomlet? That's possible, sure. Chances of Scaborough running? Zero, none, zip, nada. He left Congress for a reason, because he wanted out of the public scrutiny. He had family problems and wanted a private life. Yes, he's a TV guy now, not exactly private, but he's not filing financial public disclosure forms, he's not having every blip of his family life scrutinized. That's what happens when you run for president, something that, it seems, Scarborough wants nothing of.


Pittsburgh: With his Afghanistan war plan, does Obama risk alienating both the Democrats and the Republicans to the point of losing support entirely? To what degree could this impair his efforts on health care reform?

Then, as you regularly report on ethics, do you know if Bill Belichick is the most ethically bankrupt NFL coach of this decade? (Pardon the abrupt switch from political football to pro...) Thanks!

Paul Kane: Let's start with Afghan politics. Despite their griping about the withdrawal timeline issue, Republicans are very supportive of the infusion of 30,000 troops into the region. They support the counter-insurgency plan. The only questions they have regard the withdrawal issue. And the hearings the last 2 days have shown that there's great wiggle room in what the administration considers "withdrawal."

So, the issue is, will Democrats force the withdrawal timeline into the war funding legislation that they consider next year? Jack Murtha told reporters yesterday he's not sure that they will include that in the bill, that instead they would take Obama at his word on the matter. If there's no withdrawal language in the bill, the legislation is likely to get 160 Republican votes and it will pass with probably another 90 or so Democratic votes in the House.

Similar percentages in the Senate likely.


Health-care Debate: Since the GOP has already decided that it will not support any health-care bill, can the senate just send them home until next year and debate amongst the Dems only?

Paul Kane: That would make things go so much faster!

Good grief, Reid told the Senate today they should expect to be in at noon on Sunday for debate and votes. The Senate never votes on Sundays, for the religious observance of both church and their worship at the high altar of Sunday talk show appearances.


Health bill -- "fore!": If Congressional Republicans could take a golf club to the healthcare reform bill which club would they choose?

Paul Kane: I'm a fan of the 6-iron. It's the middle of the pack club, and it provides enough force that you can really hit the ball far -- knocking things like the public option out of the park -- but there's enough loft that it provides a great level of precision -- so that they could focus all their ire on Blanche Lincoln, Joe Lieberman and Olympia Snowe.


Jacksonville, Fla.: One idea to help pay for the Afghan war effort - a call for citizens to invest in War Bonds. I'm probably in the minority (and it frustrates me) but I fervently agree with the strategy and I'd buy a ton of em.

Is this a non-starter for political reasons? It would be bold but I feel Obama has the skills to rally the nation, which we really, really need.

Paul Kane: This idea has been floated off and on for about 7 years. The main proponents are a cross section of the Dem caucus -- Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Kent Conrad.

It's never caught on, never. I'm not sure why. If momentum starts growing for this option, there's one reason: China. Murtha told us yesterday that he's really concerned about the debt caused by the war, noting that there was more debt during WWII but "we owed the money to ourselves." Now, China's the one holding our debt.

That's the new theme on war bonds. Let's at least owe ourselves the money.


Withdrawal Timeline: It's probably about as firm as the timeline for closing Gitmo.

Once "The Smartest President We Or Any Other Country Has Ever Had, Ever, For Sure" realizes what's going on, those poor guys are there until well after Mitt Romney takes office in '13.

Paul Kane: Remember something there, tiger.

Mitt finished third in the GOP primary.

Whenever it mattered, he couldn't beat Mike Frickin' Huckabee. There's a reason for that.

We'll see how things go in the years ahead.


Tuscaloosa, Ala.: @Florissant Valley, Mo.

But I wonder if like ex-Gov. Palin, fmr. U.S. Rep. Scarborough doesn't mind the buzz about him running for POTUS?

He may have no interest in a real life campaign, but enjoys the chatter of a tentative run since it's an ego boost (let's not forget who we're discussing here) as well helping with ratings?

Paul Kane: Oh absolutely, Tuscaloosa. Everyone enjoys the buzz about a presidential bid, almost no one ever immediately says no. So, who's gonna win, the Crimson Tide or Tebow-led Gators?

Just asking.

In other news, I just got this email from anti-illegal-immigrant group bashing Lou Dobbs. Yes, you read that right. They don't trust Dobbs anymore on immigration. Wow, how did this happen:

"While Mr. Dobbs claims his positions have not changed, however, that is not the perception of many of our mutual supporters," said William Gheen of ALIPAC. "His recent comments on Telemundo and his national radio show supporting some kind of path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is inconsistent with positions of ALIPAC and the views of most American citizens."


Washington: Hi Paul,

Thanks for taking questions. What are the odds that Congress will be able to pass a jobs bill soon, and how large would it be? Can they move a jobs bill through reconciliation?

Paul Kane: Ben Pershing, who succeeded yours truly in running Capitol Briefing, our congressional blog, has the rundown on the emerging jobs bill, posted this morning on what is now our joint blog effort:

Take a look, it will answer most if not all questions.


Houston: Paul,

While I realize that claiming executive privilege over certain people to keep them from testifying is a time honored White House tradition, I have to say that claiming it for Desiree Rogers seems foolish. I know a precedent can't be established, etc., but give me a break.

Paul Kane: Seriously? Does anyone out there really think that Democrats are going to spark a fight with Mrs. Obama on an issue that's this petty? I've got $100 that says Ms. Rogers will never appear on Capitol Hill testifying about this matter.

There, I said it, and there are thousands -- hundreds, dozens? -- of readers out there who can hold me to this.

If she ever testifies on the Hill about the party crashers, I'm down $100. I'll give it a charity of y'all's choosing.



Ohio: Why has it taken so long to grow those green jobs the President promised or is alternative energy just not an Obama priority with so many other problems facing him ?

Paul Kane: Because those jobs didn't yet exist when the stimulus was being approved back in February. This is largely a new, emerging field, these alternative energies and building the alternative energy grid. It's brand new or doesn't even exist yet. The Pelosi-Obama decision to devote so much of the stimulus to these alternative energy sectors meant that it would not spark immediate jobs.

If you're just looking to get people into jobs, the quickest way was to just pave over roads. Those are already there, with thousands of already existing construction companies that do that kind of work.

But the decision was made that that was not a smart allocation of dollars for the long term.


Tempe, Ariz.: Do think Team Obama made a mistake by picking top-tier 2010 U.S. Senate candidates (Sebelius, Napolitano, Vilsack) for the Cabinet. I mean if John McCain or Chuck Grassley had some pressure from left in the form of every poll showing them only a few percentage points ahead of Janet Napolitano or Tom Vilsack, then maybe Team Obama would have more room to negotiation with them on certain issues since McCain and Grassley and others would want to look more bipartisan and less like obstructionist.

I know both Governors' popularity dropped dramatically when they resigned to move to D.C. and the mere fact that they toke the D.C. jobs showed they had an interest there and so I do like Napolitano, Sebelius and Vilsack could have been moved to run for U.S. Senate.

Do you think I've got a point?

Paul Kane: Yes and no, Tempe.

I don't think Vilsack or Napolitano were ever going to challenge Grassley and McCain. Former governors very rarely get into races challenging well entrenched senators. It just doesn't happen very often, and sometimes they turn out to not be very good candidates. (Witness Ben Nelson's first Senate campaign, when as a sitting governor he blew a 10-pt lead to neophyte Chuck Hagel.)

But ... You've hit on a bigger point here with the cabinet selection process. In the giddy days of everlasting Democratic super-majority thought, they plucked Sebelius for what is really a low-rent slot in the cabinet. After Daschle went up in flames, they decided the HHS secretary wasn't going to be the super-health-care person. So they could've picked any health expert and been just fine.

Sebelius really was considering a Senate bid for what is an open seat (Brownback is vacating to run for the governor's spot).

She was the only Dem who had a chance at winning in Kansas. Taking her for HHS eliminated any chance of winning that seat, and she would've entered the Senate race as a slight favorite.

Ditto for the situation with Ken Salazar. Incredibly popular in Colorado, he would have walked home to his re-election in 2010. Instead, they took him from the Senate and, very stupidly, dumped him in the Interior slot. When's the last time anyone's heard from him? Oh, that's right, they brought him in recently to lobby his fellow senators on ... wait for it ... health care!

His biggest newsmaker was on an issue that has nothing to do with his current job.

And now, Michael Bennet, his appointee successor, is struggling to beat back a primary challenge and then a tough general election.


Bellingham, WA: Just a quick thanks for your intro. We are not worthy...

Paul Kane: Here's the list of most emailed articles, the ones that we readers find most fascinating and then forward on to friends:

# Rogers's unwanted new guest: Scrutiny

# An energy answer in the shale below?

# Transcript of Tiger Woods' statement

# Teaching the ABC's of crucial social skills

# Cheerleaders get fired up about Salahi


Charlottesville, Va.: Desiree Rogers is completely safe in her job.

The only thing that gets somebody fired from the incumbent White House is when their name appears on Glenn Beck's chalkboard.

Paul Kane: Hahahaha.

Ok, Beck is an incredible phenom that the entire media is not fully appreciating.

Scroll down to question 20 in our poll of Republicans. Beck is now more popular than Rush.

That stuns me.

A couple years ago the guy was slumming it on that lousy CNN offshoot channel. Now, he's taken over Rush as the most influential conservative commentator. Wow. Wow. Wow.


Boston: Hi Paul, Is there something wrong with me? With all the problems the country is facing am I the only one that could care less about Tiger Woods or the DC party crashers. Are we like Romans going to the circus?

Paul Kane: OK, bless me father for I have sinned, it's been way too long since my last confession.

I've been berating people for reading the trailer trash news and not caring about the big news of the day. But, just so you know, each time I've typed in the words, I've made sure to type "us", because, truth be told, I can't get enough of the Tiger Woods story.

I love Tiger. I can't stop reading this story. I've followed him around the golf course during the President's Cup -- screaming like a 10-yr-old girl at a Miley Cirus concert the 1st time I ever saw him hit a drive in person. I followed him around at this year's tourney he hosts at Congressional just outside DC. He's a phenom of the highest order.

And now his life is imploding, all the images of him are crashing down around cell phone messages and sexting.

It's just too horrible a story to turn my eyes away. Yes, yes, yes, I admit it -- during Obama's speech I actually did some web surfing to read Tiger news.

Once this chat is over, I'm saying 2 Hail Marys. I hope that's enough.


Marketing slogan: Paul, I realize you know this, but some of the Seantors who throw out the "War Bonds" bromide don't appear to know the difference. "War Bonds" are just more debt under another name. I love that it is the guys who the media annoints "deficit hawks" that are pushing hardest for growing the debt under a pretty, patriotic name.

Paul Kane: Yes, yes, yes, people like Murtha and Conrad understand that it's just more debt. Their point is, let's owe the money to ourselves, to fellow Americans, rather than running up our global debt more and relying on the Chinese and other global finaciers to hold the debt.

I don't profess to know which is a better option, but it's the theme you're going to hear a lot of in the coming months from those folks pushing war bonds.


If Republicans are in favor of more troops in Afghanistan: Why didn't they push to send them earlier, when Bush was in the White House? If they had sent them 18 months ago, Obama's artficial deadline would have given a lot more time for us to "win." Of course, no one would be rude enough to point out that we at least partially helped the Taliban to come into power in the first place by arming all mujahadeen elements against the Commies. Sylvester Stallone in "Rambo III" gave us no warning of the consequences of his helping the "freedom fighters" there.

Paul Kane: I think the reality is force/troops problems. They had so many troops in Iraq, there was no ability to double down in Afghanistan.

The draw down in Iraq has given the Pentagon the ability to ramp up in Afghan front. It's basic math.


re : the Salahis: Paul :

But surely you agree this story had real potential for a tragedy if the Salahis had turned out to be more than mere nitwits ?

Paul Kane: Um, hello President Robert C. Byrd.

Shailagh Murray, my congressional correspondent, gets the credit for pointing that out to myself and politics editor Tim Curran in an email over the weekend. We know the Salahis met Obama and Biden, and Pelosi was in the house, too.

Had they been terrorists of the type that tried to kill President David Palmer, they had a chance to knock out the top 3 folks in line of succession.


Snarkville: On Romney: "Whenever it mattered, he couldn't beat Mike Frickin' Huckabee"

But Huckabee granted him clemency, so now he can try again.....

Paul Kane: Nice point!


Santa Cruz: Hi Paul. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Could you clarify something for me? Why is it considered a BAD thing that having a timeline would cause insurgents to lie low for 18 months? Wouldn't having a year and a half window for the Afghan government to get its act together, to train their army, etc. without suicide bombers or attacks on our outposts be a really GOOD thing on balance? I've never understood why not having our troops being attacked is supposedly a problem.

Paul Kane: I guess it's not a bad thing in the short run, but those on the other side of your point believe that telegraphing your plans to the enemy allows them to do the same things you said we'd be doing with the Afghan security forces -- they too would have time to husband their resources, get their act together and engage in more training.

All knowing that, by the end of 2011, a lot fewer US troops would be there to help the Afghan forces.

That's the point that the McCains of the world make.


Happy Holidays !: Can we anticipate a lot of media over the holidays and into January about the success of the first year of the Obama presidency ? As a talking head what will YOU say ?

Paul Kane: Yes, get ready for lotsa 1-year perspectives.

What will I say? I'm not really a commentator. And my editors have not yet given me my assignment yet, but I know one's coming.

I'd suspect that the grades, as of Jan. 20, 2010, will be incomplete. If health care is not approved by then, it will be an incomplete.


Lawrence, Kan.: @Tempe, Ariz.

I completely concur about Kathleen Sebelius and 2010 Senate race.

I remember at the start of the year that every major media outlet as well as every small town newspaper editorial wrote in favor of her staying in Topeka. If she had passed on the Cabinet offer, Kansans would have totally fell in love with the "Kansas First" loyalty narrative she could have spun.

I didn't understand that move. Moran and Tiahrt are destroying each other right now in the Republican primary and it's only going to get nastier so Sebelius would have a much easier time with it and she's more progressive then many other Democrats from less red states and she's a close Obama ally.

Again, I didn't understand that move. About the only thing Sebelius has made any news on is being heckled with Arlen Specter at the first town hall meeting protest that got any press as well as teaching Chuck Todd how to sneeze properly.

Paul Kane: A very smart person in Lawrence. (Yes, any time you begin your questions by telling me how smart I am, your chances of me picking you go up greatly. Sorry, I'm a sucker.)


Tired of Wars: Paul Do you think we will ever see the day again when the US is not engaged in a war? The nineties seem sooooooo long ago.

Paul Kane:

It seems like yesterday, yet it also seems so long ago.

Enjoy this one.


confession: Paul, you should no you can't be absolved if you aren't truly sorry you sinned about the Tiger stories! I have 10 minutes as the over/under for the amont of time after your last Hail Mary you click on TMZ for a Tiger fix.

Paul Kane: I hate it when fellow Catholics throw facts and logic at me, proving me I'm wrong.

And yes, once this chat is over, I"m refreshing on US Weekly. I personally think their coverage has rocked. I love the US v. Radar war going on right now.


The Salahis and Tiger are quintessentially American: Those stories have all the buzz now because they are classic American stories: the upstanding, smart, good looking success story tripped up by human nature (which Tiger will right and go on to further success) and the nakedly ambitious fame and fortune mongers exposed for who they are.

After years in the muddle of war and economic collapse, the Salahis esp. serve as nice recipients of a lot of latent anxiety--and a reminder that whatever is happening in our own lives, we are at least not as totally screwed up as that couple.

Paul Kane: Yes, this does nail it. In a particularly down time myself, Christmas season 1992, when I couldn't find a full-time journalism job, I came across an awesome/horrible police story when I was freelancing for the Wilmington News Journal. Some father got so drunk on Christmas night that he fell down and passed out in the grassy median of a busy highway, with his 4-yr-old son next to him. When police arrived, they heard the son saying, Daddy, wake up, wake up.

It was horrible, but our editors loved the story, I got it on the front page of the metro section and -- in that quintessentially American way -- I somehow felt better because I suddenly knew I wasn't as screwed up as that guy was.


Paul Kane: OK folks, great questions today. Man, we ran the gamut with our topics. Did I really just promise to give $100 to charity if Rogers testifies on the Hill?

Should have settled for the tall coffee instead of the grande.

OK, I'll be back here in 2 weeks. And the health-care debate will still be raging, I assume. See you then. -pk


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