The Live Fix: Non-partisan redistricting, Obama's response to Christmas bomber, favorite political story of the year

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Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 29, 2009; 11:00 AM

This Tuesday, The Fix goes live, as Chris Cillizza discusses the latest news about Congress, the Obama administration, upcoming elections and all the latest political news.

Follow @thefix on Twitter.

Check out the discussion archive.

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Chris Cillizza: Good morning everyone!

I am taking a small break from a holiday hiatus to spend an hour chatting about the year that was -- and the year to come -- in politics.

I even came into the Post to do this chat! In other words, I am going all out.

Let's get this party started.

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Independent Commissions: Why don't all states use a non-partisan panel to decide on re-districting.

Chris Cillizza: Good question.

As I wrote yesterday in a piece on redistricting there are only 5 states that employ this sort of non-partisan/bipartisan independent commission approach.

Why aren't there more?

Because redistricting is one of the biggest political hammers that state legislators can wield and they don't give up that sort of power easily.

Having the power to redraw Congressional line means that state legislators can, if they are ambitious, try to create a district where they might be able to move up the political ladder or simply make their House members squirm as they debate lines that will make or break political futures.

This is politics at its most raw. Unfortunately, the trend in the last redistricting was for Democrats and Republicans to get together to try and protect themselves -- look at the California map for a classic case of an incumbent protection plan.

Those sorts of plans are bad for competitiveness which, in turn is bad for the Fix business. And, we are, after all, always looking out for number 1 ;)

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New Hampshire: Other than the DGA/RGA, who are some of the outside groups that will dump big money into governors and state leg races in an attempt to influence redistricting?

Chris Cillizza: I wish I knew!

There is no question that outside groups will play a role in the 2010 governors races but which specific ones will be the biggest factors remains unknown.

In Virginia and New Jersey in 2009, both the DGA and RGA set up state-based organizations through which they ran their television, radio and direct mail programs. I would expect to see lots more of that.

Also, labor will always be a player in statewide races with its organizational muscle and its financial might.

I would assume the business community -- whether it's the Chamber of Commerce or some other group -- will also be on the field.

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Fairfax, VA: Chris,

Considering your musical tastes, I have to assume you were also heartbroken by the passing of Vic Chesnutt on Christmas. Not sure if you are aware or not, but Kristin Hersh has set up a page to help Vic's family with his considerable medical expenses that you might be interested in sharing.

Vic Chesnutt

Chris Cillizza: Thanks for this, Fairfax.

And, yes, I heard/read about Vic dying on Christmas day. Incredibly sad.

I would encourage folks to check out the link below and also to check out Vic's music if you haven't already.

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Saint Paul, Minn.: Hi Chris -- Happy New Year and thanks for taking questions today. I've been hearing the last couple of days about how the "atmospherics" surrounding President Obama's handling of the attempted terrorist attack have hurt him -- namely, the "slow" response (though I don't know what was slow about it), the fact that he was on vacation (isn't the leader of the free world supposed to get a little time off?), and his Homeland Security secretary's totally inept response (hard to do much with that one). Here's my question: what could he have done differently? And more importantly, what does he do now?

Chris Cillizza: LOTS of questions on this....

I think that we are just starting to deal with the controversy over how President Obama handled the attempted bombing of that flight in Detroit.

The one major mistake -- from a political perspective -- that the Obama Administration has made so far is Janet Napolitano's assertion that the system worked in relation to identifying this potential terrorist only to be forced to back track on that statement roughly 24 hours later.

There has been considerable criticism of the President too for waiting several days from the revelation of the attempted bombing to his speech addressing the matter yesterday.

My guess is that Obama and his senior aides wanted to make sure they had as many facts about the situation as possible before putting him out in front of the American public to talk about an issue as freighted with political ramifications as a terrorist attack.

They knew that waiting several days would open him up to attacks that he was not paying close enough attention and was prioritizing his vacation over the safety of the American people.

I think this thing will shake out over the next few days and into early next week. Republicans are clearly desirous of turning this into a political issue but it remains to be seen whether that attack will work.

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Bethlehem PA: Have 1988 and 1996 Almanacs of American politics. Those the ones you're looking for? Will trade for a couple pints.

Chris Cillizza: I need 1988 but have 1996. For those wondering, I am trying to complete my collection of Almanacs of American Politics and am missing 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982 and 1988.

And, yes, I know I am a huge dork.

Bethlehem, shoot me an email and we can arrange a deal ;)

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Silver Spring, MD: I've been watching the manic celebration from our right wing over the near-bombing attack, and am awestruck by their cynical, politics-first focus on things. And still waiting to hear the very first thing that Janet Napolitano is doing DIFFERENTLY than the previous administration did to keep Americans safe. This event exposed weaknesses in the system, but they were apparently there all along. Does Mitch McConnell really think it reflects well on him to try to use this to score political points against Obama?

Chris Cillizza: This the is the crux of the debate. From the closure of Gitmo (sort of) to his approach to the war in Iraq, Republicans have been critical of President Obama on national security issues -- none more so that former vice president Dick Cheney.

As I wrote above, it's not yet clear to me how the politics of this Detroit bombing attempt will play out but Republicans clearly sense an opening...

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Austin, Tex.: Kudos to Fairfax for beating me to the Vic Chesnutt comment. America lost one of it best, yet under-appreciated, songwriting talents. "At the Cut" will end up on a lot of year-end best-of lists.

Not to make political hay from something so tragic, but his story is an example of why healthcare needs to be reformed in this country. One way or another.

Chris Cillizza: Yes, Vic was a troubled but incredibly talented artist. Read his obit in the New York Times. Sad and moving stuff.

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I even came into the Post to do this chat!: Oh come on, Chris, 'fess up. You really showed up for the WaPo Pre-New Year's Eve party. Or at least to pick up your paycheck.

Chris Cillizza: Um, what? That's crazy talk. (Sipping a martini).

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Fairfax, VA: So Chris. Looking back at the year, what was your favorite political story of the year? Which one took you most by surprise? Which one do you think got overplayed the most?

Chris Cillizza: GREAT question.

The one that immediately jumped to mind for me was the Mark Sanford "Appalachian Trail" saga.

I know it's a bit tawdry but Sanford went from being a serious 2012 presidential contender to a punch line in the matter of a week or so -- all thanks to his erratic behavior.

That story also affirmed to me that love does sometimes drive us all crazy.

Other ideas for best political story of the year?

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Wilkes-Barre, Pa.: Any other Democratic House members looking to switch parties or is Griffith a one-and-done sort of deal?

Chris Cillizza: Republicans seem to think there will be more switchers and late last week news broke that Sen. John McCain had called Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Chris Carney to ask him to switch. (Carney said no.)

After Griffith, you can bet that Democratic leaders placed calls to ANYONE they were at all concerned might switch to try to keep them in place.

If someone else switches, it will play into a VERY negative story line for Democrats -- that conservative Democrats are leaving the party due to the agenda being pushed by the leadership.

And so, while a single seat switching sides isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of the battle for the House, it's symbolic importance shouldn't be underestimated.

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Danville: Do the states that lose congressional seats redraw all the districts in the state? Do they take into account the areas of the state that lost population?

Chris Cillizza: Typically, the districts that lose the most population in a given ten-year period are the ones targeted for elimination.

BUT, any time you start redrawing lines to remove (or add) a district in a state, lots of others members get affected too.

And, yes, I can barely contain my glee about redistricting and the 2012 election cycle. This is a once-a-decade dream cycle for devotees of House campaign politics.

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Roseland, NJ: Thank you for your insights on The Nutmeg State , a nickname that has inspired me to re- appellate my own home state. From now on, please refer to Jersey as "Redolent of Fennel".

Chris Cillizza: That sure is better than the Garden State.

How about: "New Jersey: More than just the Turpike" or "New Jersey: Hey, Princeton is here so we can't be all bad".

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Fairlington VA: How are population shifts within states likely to shift seats?

For example, I didn't see Virginia as losing or gaining seats, but Northern Virginia has grown a great deal. A shift of population from rural to suburban or suburban to urban could be as significant as the population moves from the blue north to the red south.

Chris Cillizza: Remember that is the population growth/decline statewide, not just in a particular region of the state.

So, as NOVA has grown, other places in Virginia -- the rural southwest, for example -- have lost population.

And, even if Virginia as a whole has grown population-wise, it apparently hasn't grown as fast as other states -- Texas, Arizona etc. -- that are in line for new seats.

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Washington, DC: Please inform Silver Spring that it is the Democrats trying to score political points, with their non-too-subtle statements that the "no fly" list was a Bush device and blaming the GOP for a hold on the TSA head (although Harry Reid never scheduled a vote on the guy). Democrats know how to play politics, too, and it's disingenuous to claim otherwise. Every time Gibbs opens his mouth, he blames Bush for something.

Chris Cillizza: I am but a messenger...

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TSA Hold: So, since Sen. DeMint has place a hold on Obama's nominee for head of the TSA, any chance someone will ask the good senator why he wants Americans to die and fly in fear? After all, he must be a terrorist fellow traveler, right? Isn't that how they practice politics in SC? Just ask Max Cleland.

Chris Cillizza: Well, Chad McGowan, the Democrat running against DeMint is trying to make an issue out of the hold.

Here's what he said in a release sent to reporters this morning: "Jim DeMint is putting his partisan agenda ahead of our safety. This is not the time to have nobody in charge of America's air security. Terrorists don't care if we're Republicans or Democrats -- they only care that we're Americans. Senator Demint needs to understand that."

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fellow Nutmegger living in NoVA: Hi, Chris,

Looking at the numbers from your column, the one state that stands out as having a major discrepancy between the state legislature and Congressional delegation is Louisiana.

How did the Bayou State end up with a state House and state Senate that are almost even in terms of Dems and GOP's, but far more Republican Congressmen than Democratic ones?

Chris Cillizza: GREAT question.

Louisiana, like Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama, still has lots of what political analysts call "yellow dog Democrats" (as in they would rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican).

That means that at the state level, these voters still tend to support Democrats -- albeit it very conservative Democrats typically -- while in federal races their conservatism makes them far more likely to back Republicans.

Make sense?

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Salt Lake City: Thanks for the redistricting article. I can't wait until we in Utah get a 4th district. Just how misguided is my hope that Salt Lake might actually be a cohesive district so we can get a real Democrat?

For the uninitiated, the city is split in about 1/3, so we get blue dog Jim Matheson -- who in fairness, has to be a blue dog to get elected (the 2nd extends all the way to the ultraconservative). But with all of the city in one district the picture would be much different.

On a separate note, it astounds me that the Republicans tend to run some ultraconservative in the 2nd district. If they would run a moderate, they would actually stand a chance of winning. There is not much love lost here for Matheson among Democrats (especially after his vote against health care), and even though you wisely point out that dumping blue dogs is not a great strategy, it would be awfully tempting should a good alternative appear!

washingtonpost.com: Redistricting and the 2010 governors landscape

Chris Cillizza: Love the Utah politics scoop!

Look for Matheson to run for governor at some point soon -- either 2010 or 2012.

His district is strongly Republican and while he has beat back serious GOP challengers before, his is the sort of seat that could fall in a bad environment nationally for Democrats.

Matheson would also be seeking to follow in the footsteps of his father who served as governor of the Beehive State from 1976-1984.

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Helena MT: Who will be the first reporter to ask the Peter Kings and Hoekstras about the GOP hold on TSA manager? Who will ask DeMint about getting this nomination confirmed ASAP? Why aren't the Dems going crazy about the GOP holding up critical managers of national security? Seems they are missing a good chance to hammer GOP on their fecklessness.

Chris Cillizza: See above answer. And, love Helena Montana. The last best place. I'd move the Fix family there if Montanans didn't dislike outsiders so much.

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Woodbury, MN: The Minnesota state demographer says that Minnesota is likely to lose a congressional seat because we're growing slower than the national average. Apparently we're still in the hunt (barely), and it may come down to census participation. Minnesota has historically had high "participation" rates and if that bears out in 2010, we may be able to keep 8 congressional seats. Now for my question. Considering Minnesota 6th District Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann is urging people NOT to respond to the census, if Minnesota loses a Congressional seat, wouldn't the appropriate thing for her to do be to graciously give up her district and allow it to be merged into a few other existing ones?

Chris Cillizza: ;)

I somehow don't think that will happen. As I wrote yesterday though, Minnesota is a very critical state in 2010. With Democrats in control of both houses of the state legislature, a win in the open seat governor's race would give them total control in redistricting -- giving them the chance to sure up people like Tim Walz and Collin Peterson and perhaps make the 3rd district -- currently held by Rep. Erik Paulsen (R) -- even more competitive.

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Layman in NY: I think what Fairlington, Va was trying to ask is - is there potential for NoVa to gain a seat at the expense of, say, southwest Virginia? In other words, is theire potential for INTRA-state seat shift? I'm curious too.

Chris Cillizza: Typically not. I think Rep. Rick Boucher, who has held the southwestern VA district since 1982 would be a wee bit unhappy about that....

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State College, PA: Sanford is the political story of the year? Seriously? What were the political repercussions? He's still Governor, for goodness sake. BHO's inauguration would be a better pick, even if the election was last year.

How about Blagojevich's impeachment? Or Palin's resignation?

Chris Cillizza: I think the Obama election was clearly the political story of 2008.

As for 2009, I said in my answer previously that Sanford was the story that jumped to mind for me -- not necessarily that it was the "best" political story of the year which is, obviously, a subjective measure anyway.

I think the Palin resignation was a big story and wouldn't be upset if people thought it was #1.

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Washington, DC: Take it from a longtime federal employee. The majority of professional staff thinks it's easiest to do our jobs when there are the fewest political appointees around. I doubt that you can find a single TSA professional staffer who could honestly say that the hold on the nominee affected the TSA's ability to fulfill its mission. The real problem was the failure to respond to the father's phone call to the embassy in Nigeria. . . And the TSA didn't do the screening in Europe.

Chris Cillizza: An expert perspective.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Good news: I was in New York, and they have caramel brulee coffees. It seems the caramel brulee coffee shortage is limited to central Pennsylvania. I guess we drank them all.

Chris Cillizza: WHEW. I mean, that is a weight off.

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Philadelphia: Do you think it's possible that President Obama waited three days to speak out on the botched airliner bombing because his team is investigating to determine whether this entire incident could be a "false flag" black op intended to revive support for the "war on terror" and thus box him in, policy-wise? I note today's report on Politico that the White House has not confirmed that a claim of responsibility from "Al Qaeda" is genuine. Why isn't the D.C. press corps more skeptical?

Chris Cillizza: As I noted above, I think the White House would almost certainly say that the delay in his official response was designed to give the Administration as much time as possible to gather facts and make sure that the President could make as definitive a statement as possible on the matter.

Whether the politics of waiting were astute or not, we will have to wait a few days to find out.

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Philadelphia: I dreamed about Ed Rendell last night and that got me wondering -- any idea if Rendell stays in politics or gets a TV gig or what, when his time in Harrisburg is over ?

Chris Cillizza: Oh, I wish I knew...he will stay in politics somehow...he is an ANIMAL for the game.

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Napolitano out of context?: Reporters need to be more careful & not just jump to conclusions based on out-of-context quotes. I mean: Who came up with the idiot idea to take the comment out of context, to begin with?

According to ABC News's Jake Tapper, the entire Napolitano quote was: "Once the incident occurred, the system worked".

And it did!

Maybe it was an inartful way to put it, but does anybody really think that firing Napolitano based on an out-of-context interview quote will make anybody safer?

Do your job, Chris. Don't just parrot the pants-wetters mindlessly.

Chris Cillizza: Um, ok.

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Des Moines, Iowa: What would prompt an expansion of the US House to more members than the current 435?

Chris Cillizza: Almost nothing. It has been proposed a number of times...but hasn't ever gotten any traction.

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Poli Sci 101: There is no way there can be a nonpartisan redistricting. The courts require minority districts, which in political terms means there will be large numbers of Democratic voters assigned to districts designed to elect racial minorities as representatives. Thus, any attempt from that point on at claiming redistricting is "non-political", even if it can be accomplished, only means the state will likely lean Republican due to the many Democratic votes that have already been bunched up into the minority districts.

This will happen even if it is a state that votes Democratic. So, the only way Democrats can remain competitive is if the redistricting process remains political.

Chris Cillizza: ....

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Not the story of the year, but ...: Sonia Sotomayor's appointment to SCOTUS was an important story.

I think the emergence of the Tea Party has the potential to be a big, ongoing story for the next election cycle, as we have seen in the special election for NY-23.

Chris Cillizza: Definitely on both...and of course there was Ensign...

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fellow Nutmegger again: Makes perfect sense about the yellow-dog Dems.

Follow-up question... why has the size of the House been the same since 1913? There's nothing in the Constitution fixing it at 435.

Shouldn't Congress adopt the Wyoming Rule, so the number of House seats increases with the U.S. population? That would increase it from 435 to 569 or so. Sure, we'd need another building for the extra Members and staffers (perhaps on the parking lot behind Cannon and Longworth), but it would end the zero-sum game and make the House more representative of the country.

Chris Cillizza: "Should" they do that? Perhaps.

Will they do that? Nope.

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Christmas Lessons: Seems to me that the attempted plane blowup is sort of like the whole global-warming, I mean climate change thing: if other countries don't do their part, no amount of inconvenience and expense levied against Americans will have any meaningful impact.

That, and of course the most obvious lesson: Don't go to Detroit.

Chris Cillizza: Interesting parallel.

Although I can't agree with your anti-Detroit bias. I still want to get there to see new Tiger Stadium.

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Winston-Salem, NC: Areas of a state loosing population don't always lead to the elimination of that CD. In 1980, Mass. was scheduled to loose a district, and Boston was suffering the biggest loss. Everything pointed to the 8th CD to be eliminated. Anyone know who the incumbent was, and who's district was eliminated?

Chris Cillizza: I believe it was ole Tip O'Neill... and he "somehow" managed to survive the redistricting.

So, yes, politics and political clout matters at least as much as population gains and losses when it comes to who gets the tough news in redistricting.

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Manchester, NH: How worried is the DSCC about Paul Hodes's campaign? Or is he just sitting back and letting the GOP engage in a bloody primary fight.

Chris Cillizza: I think they would say the latter.

I am not sure myself. National Democrats tout Hodes as a tier on candidate but he is still a pretty unknown and unproven commodity.

The best thing going for Hodes is that Republicans seem headed for a bitter and ideologically divisive primary fight that will likely drain their resources and distract them well into the new year.

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Alexandria, VA: Obama could have made a statement right away, just to acknowledge that there was a terrorist threat on the airliner...without having to go into any great explanations until he gets more information. That is all we need at the beginning...just for him to let us know he's in charge. Why doesn't he do that for everything of consequence?

Chris Cillizza: As I said above, the White House would say that he didn't want to make a rash statement or further frighten the American public without all the facts at hand....

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Fayetteville, NC: Having been a political reporter for a few years now, how would you feel about Charlie Fix going into politics?

Chris Cillizza: Fix Jr. can go into any field he wants -- professional basketball (point guard), professional baseball (catcher), professional field hockey (defender).....

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Chicago : Did you just post a comment from Philly suggesting that the Detroit incident might have been an inside job? I mean, seriously - I think Bush and Cheney should be the final two detainees down at Gitmo and it never even occurred to me that Detroit was anything other than what it obviously is.

Chris Cillizza: I agree....just letting people know the various perspectives out there on the issue.

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State College, PA : Just to be clear, there are two of us from Happy Valley in this chat.

Try tying the biggest political story of the year to a theme: this would be the thwarting of political ambition by having affairs: Mark Sanford, Elliot Spitzer, John Edwards.

Other themes?

Chris Cillizza: I like that one. And you didn't even include John Ensign!

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Chris Cillizza: Folks,

I am going to duck out a few minutes early -- it is, after all, a holiday week!

Thanks for joining me and remember that I will be back in my usual time and place -- Fridays at 11 am -- starting in the new year.

Spread the word! And happy new year!

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