SOTU, Mass Senate fallout (cont.), Alito's "not true" and another Republican retirement! -- The Live Fix with Chris Cillizza

Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 29, 2010; 11:00 AM

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

A transcript follows.

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Chris Cillizza: Good Friday morning.

SOTU, Mass Senate fallout (cont.), Alito's "not true" and another Republican retirement!

Soundtrack: "Paul's Boutique" by the Beastie Boys. Incredible. And incredibly underrated.

Let's do this. And don't forget, I am soliciting nominations for best fiction and non fiction political books of all time so hit me up with some suggestions.


Washington, DC: Chris! What frothy coffee beverage are you drinking right now?

Anyway, this whole Alito SOTU moment hubbub is just silly -- on both sides. First, the idea that a President cannot say he does not like what (as many legal scholars agree) is a likely outcome of a Court decision and wants Congress to fix it is ridiculous. It's not like he called them a bunch of idiots. Second, Alito is human. He disagrees with the President's interpretation. It's not like he yelled out "you lie". If anything, this is a reason why the Justices should not be going to these things. Neither should the Joint Chiefs, for that matter.

Chris Cillizza: No coffee this am. English breakfast tea!

And, I agree on the whole Alito thing. A lot of talk over not all that much.

If Alito had it to do over again might he not have mouthed "not true"? Sure. But, does the fact that he did say something larger about our political world?



Athens, Ga.: Do you think we will see more conflict between Obama and the Supreme Court? Shades of FDR and 1937?

Chris Cillizza: Like I said above, I am skeptical that Alito mouthing "not true" will have any major implications beyond drawing lots (and lots) of press attention in the last few days.



Shippensburg, Pa.: What's the most important thing dems. need to do RIGHT now?

Chris Cillizza: 1. Read the Fix. Daily. No, hourly

2. Find a way to reclaim the mantle of change. Problem for Democrats is that voters want change and feel as though it has not been delivered.

3. Talk about jobs and the economy relentlessly.

4. Try to find a way to pass SOMETHING on health care. Or, if walking away from the bill is the only option, do it quickly and don't look back.


Albany, NY: Hey, Homeless Man's Bill Simmons, are you going to see any of the recently reunited Pavement's shows this summer?

Chris Cillizza: Never been a Pavement guy. Also, in another blashphemy to music elitists, I don't really like Sonic Youth.

I can't believe I said that out loud.

And, nice gratuitous "homeless man's Bill Simmons" reference. Much appreciated.


Mr. Fix: Justice "You Lie" Alito was just as bad as Joe Wilson. The justices never say or do anything at these speeches. To have shaken his head several times and mouthed his disagreement was an appalling breach of protocol. Whence the republic?

Chris Cillizza: I tend to disagree with this. Alito mouthing "not true" jst doesn't seem to me to be anywhere near the breach of etiquette that yelling out "you lie" is.



Rehnquist with the golden stripes said..: Justices shouldn't attend these strictly political gatherings. I agree.


He must have known what he was talking about. He had the Chief stripes on his silky sleeves (I would have insisted on chevrons and epaulettes).

Good session already made better with this comment. And your own.

Chris Cillizza: I think less SCOTUS judges will attend in the future. I never really get why they are there anyway.


Re: best fiction: All the King's men in a landslide.

There are no works of political non-fiction that I'm aware of.

Chris Cillizza: All the King's Men is my pick too.

During my teen years, I thought I was Jack Burden.


Paul's Boutique: Hate to break it to you, but everyone loves Paul's Boutique, therefore it is impossible for it to be underrated. From Wikipedia: Highly varied lyrically and sonically, Paul's Boutique secured the Beastie Boys' place as critical favorites in the hip-hop genre, and has been widely recognized as the group's magnum opus.-1] The album's rankings near the top of many publications' "best albums" lists in disparate genres has given Paul's Boutique critical recognition as a landmark album in hip hop.-2]"

Chris Cillizza: Aha. I stand corrected.

But, I still don't like Sonic Youth.


Washington, DC: Some polling on sugggests that other Nevada Democrats would have a better shot at holding the seat than Reid. Do you see any other vulnerable Democrats (Senate, Governor, or House) pulling a Dodd and stepping aside for a stronger candidate?

Chris Cillizza: Very interesting question.

I wrote on this recently -- Live Fix super-producer Andrea Caumont can you find this and link to it?

The issue for Nevada Democrats is that there is no candidate like Connecticut Attorney General Richard BLumenthal waiting in the wings if Reid steps out.

The choices -- Rep. Shelley Berkley, Sec of State Ross Miller -- are fine but none of them are a slam dunk.

And, if Reid was to step aside my bet would be that Rep. Dean Heller (R) who turned down a run against the incumbent would get into the race and be a favorite to win the seat.

All that said, I do think Reid is in dire straits. His campaign to date seems to be focused on affirming to voters how powerful he is in Washington. They know that and don't like him already.


Either fiction or non-fiction: RN: The memiors of Richard Nixon. It has a TWENTY-EIGHT PAGE INDEX. It totals over 1100 pages. So much content. So much of it, uh, questionable in its factual accuracy.

Chris Cillizza: Well said. Nixon, to me, is the most intriguing Republican politician in recent memory. Most intriguing D politician? William Jefferson Clinton, OF COURSE.


Greenwich, CT: I agree, Chris. Alito's reaction comes nowhere close to Joe Wilson's. You could tell it was almost an involuntary reaction. In my opinion, Obama's attacking the Supreme Court was rude and uncalled for. I physically cringed when I heard him. I would more equate Obama's comment to Joe Wilson's than Alito's in terms of being out of bounds.

Chris Cillizza: Greenwich! Good field hockey there. Send some girls Catholic U's way!!!


Seattle, WA: There was a prediction on The Chris Matthews Show that one Democratic Governor was going to switch to the GOP. Any idea who that might be?

Chris Cillizza: There was heavy speculation earlier this week that Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) was planning to switch parties.

But, Bredesen's spokeswoman knocked it down.

Also, Bredesen is not the sort of politician who would pull something like that (I don't think). He is term limited out of office at the end of the year and is decidedly anti-political and anti-drama.


Washington, D.C.: RE: Steve Buyer: "While Democrats will almost certainly use no-go decisions by the likes of Buyer and Arizona Rep. John Shadegg to dispute the narrative that retirements are all on their side, close Congressional watchers know that all retirements are not created equally."

Sorry, Chris, but the very narrative you are pushing here is undercut by the inconvenient FACT that the number of retirements on the GOP side is higher than among Democrats. Those of us who keep noting that contradiction are not being partisan; we're pointing out REALITY.

You are smarter than this, Chris; please don't buy into the Republican spin!

Chris Cillizza: You are not reading what I wrote.

All retirements are not created equal. Steve Buyer retiring from a safe Republican seat is not the same thing as Marion Berry (D) leaving a district carried by John McCain in 2008.

it just isn't.

There's no disputing that Republicans have more retirements in 2010: 15 to 12.

BUT, there is also no disputing that Democrats representat least double (at least) the number of open seats that both national parties will spend money in to keep/turn over in the fall.


Bizness, Washington, D.C.: Best Political Book (non-fiction) is The Rascal King, bio on former Boston Mayor James Michael Curley.

Best Political Book (fiction), gotta go with Primary Colors.

While Paul's Boutique is great, I much prefer Check Your Head b/c of the Beastie's switching to live instrumentation on some tracks. It's like Dylan going electric for the hip-hop set. The Roots have now perfected that art form though.

Chris Cillizza: Thanks for the book and music recommendations. If you had thrown a field hockey reference in there, this might have been in the running for "greatest Live Fix comments of all time".


Send some girls Catholic U's way: What is this, a dating site now??

Then send me a six pack of Greta Garbos. With a Joan Fontaine chaser.

Chris Cillizza: Field Hockey! Mrs. Fix is the head field hockey coach at Catholic University!!!


Mankato, MN: Best political fiction: Allen Drury's Advise and Consent & his sequels! Read it back in 1962 & became a political junkie & later quite active in my local party organization!

Chris Cillizza: Good one!


Smithtown, NY: Are you planning a smackdown with White House Communications spokesperson Bill Burton because he dissed The Fix on Twitter the other day?

Chris Cillizza: yes. I envision it playing out like the fight between Andy Bernards and Dwight Shrute on "The Office".

I will try to run Burton over but won't do it and will wind up crying.

Sounds like most of the fights I have ever been in during my life...


Beliefs Are Not Necessarily Facts: Essentially Justice Alito accused President Obama of lying about his beliefs when Alito mouthed "not true" during the SOTU speech. Regarding the SC decision, Obama said "...I believe will open the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections." Obama didn't allege as fact that floodgates would actually open (obviously good word-smithing). How did Alito conclude Obama lied about his belief unless perhaps he had access to, say, a polygraph of Obama giving a contradictory response to a question on his belief about the decision's implications? As an elite lawyer, shouldn't Alito know the difference between beliefs and facts? Aren't Justices suppose to be dispassionate about their decisions/rulings? Also, a good portion of right-wing Internet reporting on this dust-up doesn't indicate Obama expressed his belief. And I haven't seen this distinction in WP reporting. What up with that?

Chris Cillizza: A perspective that Alito's "not true" really did matter.


Eugene, Ore.: It's not a book, but I've always liked that Schoolhouse Rock song "I'm just a bill" and of course it's parody on The Simpsons.

Although that song never mentioned a filibuster. I'm Just a Bill (YouTube)

Chris Cillizza: YES!

Another great political song: "We are the Mediocre presidents" by the Simpsons.

It was there I learned that William Henry Harrison died after just forty days in office.


Seattle, WA: Hi Chris: To me, Morning Joe is must-see TV. Of all the pundit luminaries who appear on the show I never see you. Have I just not watched it regularly enough and have missed you or are you not part of the MJ gang?

Chris Cillizza: Joe and Mika have no love for the Fix. Sad face.


Aspen, Colo.: Fix-

What about Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72. Admittedly, Doc is an acquired taste, but he cut through the self-serving pap that often counts as campaign coverage.

Chris Cillizza: An absolute classic. No question. First ballot inclusion in best non-fiction political books ever.


Good question....: I have 13 year old boy girl twins who are surprisingly politically aware. It's too soon to tell which direction they will go. During the post State of the Union discussion they interrupted my basketball game with this question: Why does the GOP continue to be recognized as the fiscally responsible party when their record of the past 40 years has been exploding deficits/debt? I, of course, blamed you media guys for laziness and lack of curiosity. Thoughts? Thanks.

Chris Cillizza: 1. Always smart to blame the media. Can't go wrong there.

2. Your kids were watching SOTU rather than hoops? Not good.

3. I think the Republican claim to fiscal responsibility eroded badly during the eight years George W. Bush was president. In fact, John McCain ran in 2008 against the spending excesses of Bush.


Washington, DC: Heard you on Diane Rehm - good to hear that you don't sound as dopey as you look. Go Hoyas!

Chris Cillizza: This is one of the best backhanded compliments I have ever received.

Thank you -- I guess.


Mika and Joe: Want us to start an e-mail campaign?

Chris Cillizza: Um, yes.

RESOLVED: The Fix rox.



Best non-fiction: Cult of the Presidency, by Gene Healy. Frighteningly accurate.

Chris Cillizza: Keep the coming...


Best recent political book...: Stephen King's Under the Dome....

Chris Cillizza: Interesting. Haven't read yet. Daunted by the fact that is it an absolute doorstopper...has to be 1,000+ pages right?


Stone Ridge, VA: Actually, reviewing the tape in super slo-mo it appears that Alito was mouthing "Rosebud"...

Chris Cillizza: !!!

That sled was the root of everything...


Whitefish Bay, WI: I always thought Mike Royko's Boss, about Richard J. Daley, was an amazing book. Won the Pulitzer, but nobody these days seems familiar with it. (Maybe because local machines are all but dead.) I understood Chicago and big city politics so much better after reading it.

Chris Cillizza: yes. amazing book. A amazing historical artifact about political machines, which, outside of a few major cities, have ceased to exist.


Tuckerton, NJ: Oh the joys of modern technology. I am sitting here reading The Fix while listening to Tony Blair getting peppered with pointed questions by Britain's Iraq Inquiry Panel via the BBC. Now on to the important stuff. Have you read the John Edwards biography yet? Any opinions?

Chris Cillizza: I assume you are referring to the Andrew Young book about Edwards? It's decidedly NOT an autobiography.

To be honest, I think I am going to pass...there are LOTS of other things I want to read -- including a bunch of your suggestions -- and I think we know how the Edwards story ends.


Anonymous: There was probably more fact in Primary Colors than can be found in most political memoirs.

Chris Cillizza: Primary Colors is terrific. And the movie was damn good too.


another vote for fear and loathing: on the campaign trail. nothing better, ever, since then.

Chris Cillizza: It's a classic of the genre.

But, go read "What it Takes" by Richard Ben Cramer too. Documents the 1988 presidential campaign. Worth it for the portrait of Joe Biden alone.


NYC: The best political book (non-fiction) will be YOURS if it ever gets written!

Chris Cillizza: Tentative titles...

"The Fix: Stuff I think"

"The Fix: A life as the homeless man's Bill Simmons"

"The Fix: How the hell did I get here?"


South Bend: How concerned should Evan Bayh be about his chances for re-election? Polls seem to show him hovering around 50 percent against potential GOP candidates.

Chris Cillizza: Let's do a few Senate questions...

I think Bayh has one very big thing going for him: $12.7 million dollars. That's how much the Indiana Democrat had in his campaign account at the end of September, a massive total that will make it tough for any Republican to sneak up on him.

Rep. Mike Pence, who decided not to run against bayh earlier this week, was Republicans best option. I would bet they find someone else credible -- former Rep. John Hostettler probably ain't it -- but Bayh has to be a favorite.

That said, in a political environment like this one and in a state like Indiana, Bayh is likely to face a more serious race than he has since winning the seat easily in 1998.

_______________________ Sorry for the delay, here's Chris's piece on Nevada polling: Harry Reid's dismal poll numbers (and why he will be the Democratic nominee)


Buffalo NY: What's your take on the Ford Gillibrand non-race/race?

Chris Cillizza: I have believed for a long time that Gillibrand is VERY vulnerable to a primary challenge.

But, Ford is not the right candidate to beat her -- I don't think. Why?

1. He is from tennessee

2. He has ties to the financial industry

3. He took a number of socially conservative positions when he ran for the Senate in tennessee in 2006.

I reported this morning in the "Morning Fix", which you can sign up to get in your email inbox on the top left of the blog, that Rep. Steve Israel had recently polled the race.

Israel, you might recall, was going to run but was talked out of doing so by the White House last spring. His chief of staff told me he is definitely not running -- why did he do a poll then? -- and if that's right then Gillibrand remains a favorite for the Dem nomination.


York, Pa.: What is your read on Arlen Specter's re-election in PA. Will his gamble to switch to the Dems pay off? His strategy was rooted in a conviction that PA was a solid "Blue State and he couldn't have won as a republican. Is this assumption still valid?

Chris Cillizza: I think this is a false choice.

Specter could not have won a Republican primary against former Rep. Pat Toomey. After that was made clear to him, he decided to switch parties.

I think the Democratic primary between Specter and Rep. Joe Sestak will tighten up in the next few months -- the vote is in may -- although I never bet against Specter who has proven himself to be a survivor throughout his political career.

Democrats seem to think that Specter or Sestak will cruise in a general election against Toomey but polling suggests that the race could be close.


Inside the Beltway: Hi Chris,

Thanks for taking our questions. Do Democrats hopes of retaining Joe Biden's seat now really rest on the Executive of Newcastle County? Are there no current or former state-wide officials willing to step forward? Where is Deleware's version of Raj Goyle?

Chris Cillizza: 1. Terrific Goyle mention

2. Democrats seem to be rallying behind Newcastle County Executive Chris Coons as their candidate. But, the simple fact is that the Democratic bench behind Beau Biden is surprisingly slim. Republican Rep. Mike Castle will be a heavy favorite against Coons who may well be running to position himself for the next statewide opening.


Charlotte, NC: What are the chances of the North Carolina 2010 United States Senate race ending up on The Line, either for its Democratic primary or for the race in general? I feel with Richard Burr being favored to win because of the Republican political climate, that neither edition of The Line will include the race, although the Democratic primary seems to be hotly contested and unpredictable.

Chris Cillizza: Burr's numbers are not great but the national political environment will absolutely help him,

The big question for Democrats is whether Cal Cunningham, the favored candidate of the national party, can beat Sec of State Elaine Marshall in the primary and then raise enough money to be competitive with Burr in the fall.

It's a tough race.


Baltimore: Best Non-Fiction: Huey Long, by Harry T. Williams. A masterpiece.

Chris Cillizza: Here come a bunch of recs....


Harrisburg, PA: Best political book: "The Last Hurrah" Honorable mention (with a Nixon twist): Woodward's "Shadow". Fifth Runner-Up: "Smashmouth", by your drinking buddy.

Chris Cillizza: Milbankian!

_______________________ Economics reporter Neil Irwin will be answering questions in 10 minutes about what today's GDP numbers mean.


Best fiction: "Seeing," by Jose Saramago. Might want to read "Blindness" first, although not required.

Chris Cillizza: Out of left likey.


Centreville, Va.: Best political non-fiction book: Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti.

Chris Cillizza: Noted.


Gainesville, VA: Favorite non-fiction political book: "Miami and the Siege of Chicago" by Norman Mailer, a gripping account of the 1968 conventions.

Chris Cillizza: Ooh. Good one. Mailer!


Texas: To me, our current crop of senators are a lot like a field hockey team D- they scramble around the field like two teams amped-up on expensive coffee drinks, waving their arms like a homeless man's Bill Russell, only to talk a lot over a backbeat of hip-hop repetition. The end result is enough distortion to generate an 8:00 Wilco song. Oh, and something-something-Milbank.

Chris Cillizza: This was perfect except for one thing.

Bill Russell -- legendary Boston Celtic player

Bill Simmons -- legendary Boston Celtics fan

Maybe if Bill Simmons continues his "Fix" boycott, I could push to become the "homeless man's Bill Russell"?


Metro DC : The Roots are IT! They are the best, got every do we call a compilation of songs distrbuted by one artist at the same time now? Album is so 1980s, CD sounds so 1990s and a "download" doesn't seem to cover it.

ANYHOW - the Roots are fantastic! I've gotten everything they have produced. Can't get enough of them.

Chris Cillizza: Roots = the best (only?) reason to watch Jimmy Fallon's show.


Falls church: Is it horrible that I totally snoozed off during the SOTU speech? Maybe its because even though I voted for Obama and have been greatly dissappointed, not only in him but that congress and senate can't get anything done...

Chris Cillizza: should have been following my live twittering over at "thehyperfix" ( I kept it lively!


Anonymous: Best non-fiction political book of all time: in the running certainly needs to be "The Education of Henry Adams", he had a front row seat to politics for most of his life, including at the foot of his grandfather J.Q. Adams. Dense, but beautifully written.

Also, a surprisingly good biography of JQA is "John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life" by Paul Nagel. His father might get all the glory, but it's JQA who has had probably the most fascinating life in public service of any American in history.

Chris Cillizza: And, of course, McCullough's book -- and the awesome miniseries -- on Adams.


Rocklin, Calif.: Chris, you seem to specialize in one subject, political process. Since you work with many pundits, can you tell me how they can be experts on every subject and issue put to them: economy, foreign matters, religion, education, global warming, war, etc. Also, the hosts on TV news shows also seem to be experts on everything. They are so self-confident. When you appear with them, do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by their omnipotent wisdom?

Chris Cillizza: "Omnipotent wisdom". Good times.


Houston, TX: Non Fiction book - "Selling of the President 1968" - Great look at how Richard Nixon was able to mininmize negatives and manage political perceptions in various parts of the country to win in 1968 -

Chris Cillizza: Absolutely. Many times nominated. Like Susan Lucci


Greenwich, CT: How about All the President's Men; kept everybody guessing for 30 years.

Chris Cillizza: Unforgettable.


Syracuse, NY: Are you still smarting from that huge loss to the 'Cuse?

Does Harold Ford really run for the Senate this year? If so, will he do so as a Republican? That makes more sense than running in a Democratic primary with his recent pronouncements.

Chris Cillizza: I have blocked said game out of my memory.

On to Duke this weekend!


Best books: The best political fiction book of all time is "The Man in the High Castle" by Phillip K. Dick. It is about an alternate reality where Japan and Germany win the war. The story jointly deals with the behind the scenes dealing of some spies and diplomats trying to stop a nuclear war between Japan and Germany, a woman who gets caught up in a German plot to assassinate an author who wrote a book about our reality (where Germany loses), and a Jew who is trying to hide from the authorities and start a new business. _ Very underrated, even though it won a Hugo Award when it came out in 1963.

Chris Cillizza: interesting.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Great non-fiction political book: The autobiography of U.S. Grant. In its day, it was one of the largest selling books of all time.

Great fiction political book: The autobiography of Ronald Reagan. Some wonder if Reagan ever even read it.

Chris Cillizza: I have been meaning to read that Grant book forever. Need to get on it.

Also, folks, I am going to be compiling these suggestions and the ones made on the Fix -- -- into one complete Fix post next week. Stay tuned.

If you have suggestions that didn't make the chat, shoot me an email at


Chris Cillizza: That's all I have time for today! I am working on my Friday Senate Line as we speak so make sure to check the Fix this afternoon for my rankings of the ten Senate races most likely to switch parties this fall.

I'll be back chatting next Friday at 11 but in the meantime here are your marching orders:

1. Spread the word on the "live Fix". Suggested pitch to the unconvinced: "It's like Gene Weingarten but not funny" OR "It's like Carolyn Hax but with bad advice"

2. Whenever someone mentions the Fix -- this must happen dozens of times a day ;) -- say something like "Is that the guy who is the homeless man's Bill Simmons?"

That is all. Rock it this weekend.



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