Karzai, McCain as 'maverick,' more -- Post Politics Hour

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Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 7, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post White House reporter Scott Wilson will be online Wednesday, April 7 at 11 a.m. to discuss the latest news about the Obama administration, Congress and more.

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Scott Wilson: Hey everyone. Thanks much for joining on this hot day in Washington. The president heads for Prague tonight to sign the new Start treaty, then returns to host more than 40 heads of state for a summit next week on nuclear security. Karzai has erupted since Obama's Afghanistan visit. And lots of other things going on. So let's get to it.

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Florissant Valley, MO: Hey, Scott. Is there anything Karzai would do that would drive Obama to abandon Afghanistan? Or is the place too crucial for what we perceive as our national interests to exit out of pique? With only a further year of announced commitment, is it safer to tolerate an erratic, part-time partner? Thanks for your wise guidance.

Scott Wilson: This is a great question and one I've been asking about lately. I think, in short, no, Obama is not likely to "abandon" Afghanistan in the strict sense. But in some ways the July 2011 deadline he set for the start of military withdrawal is an escape hatch if Karzai continues to act as erratically as he has been. He could speed withdrawal at that point significantly and adopt the approach favored by VP Biden during the review last year - drone strikes, help to Pakistan, etc. It was amazing yesterday that Robert Gibbs could not even say if the administration ocnsiders Karzai an ally...

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Washington, D.C.: Do you see Obama's approval ratings improving between now and November? Or should we expect them to stay around the 50% mark like they have been lately?

Scott Wilson: They've really remained within a band, unaffected to any great degree by things going well or things going poorly. Obviously, it's all about the economy and whether it improves. I could see some minor uptick if the job market really improves - something administration officials doubt will happen anytime soon - but I think he'll stay mostly between that 46 to 53 percent range.

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Washington, D.C.: Assuming financial regulatory reform passes in the next couple of months, do you see Congress taking up any other significant piece of legislation, or should we expect statis until November?

Scott Wilson: While the administration keeps alive the idea that climate change/energy legislation and immigration refrom are still possibilities this year, I'd be stunned if the administration pushed hard for anything major other than financial regulatory reform in the few months left before campaigning begins in earnest after the August recess(making the others harder next year with a new, likely more Republican Congress in place.) The White House has talked about pushing some campaign finance measures this year to address the Citizens United decision (such as requiring shareholders to approve any political spending by a company, etc)but not sure what momentum at this point.

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Re Karzai: Any chance he might meet an, ahem, untimely end?

Scott Wilson: I really wouldn't speculate on this...

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BOTTOM LINE: I want a bold, seven months' in advance answer to this question: Will the GOP take back the House in November?

Scott Wilson: I can't believe I'm actually doing this, given my track record in general on any kind of prediction (Had Kentucky winning the tournament, eg) but here goes: No. GOP gets close but falls just short in the House and Dems keep Senate too...Can't wait for this to be played back to me in mid-November. Please take this for what it is - an absolute guess at a time when the political climate may in no way resemble what it is like in November. But thought I'd play along...

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Washington, D.C.: It now looks like Sen. Shelby is on board for an independent Consumer Finance Protection Act. Is this a sign that the Republicans now feel that vigorously fighting this regulatory reform bill will hurt them in November?

Scott Wilson: I'm sure it is, in part. White House is working with Hill Democrats to force GOP votes on a number of popular measures before November - the key elements of financial reg refrom among them...

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Assassination of US Citizens: How is it possible that the assassination of US Citizen, ordered by anyone, including the President without a trial, is not considered a felony?

Has the 5th Amendment been overturned?

Scott Wilson: It is a remarkable decision, and one that will inspire scores of essays by lawyers and human rights experts...At the heart of it lies the legal characterization of Anwar al-Aulaqi, obviously, civilian or "operational figure for al-Qaeda" - ie, an enemy combatant. How does U.S. citizenship play into this? What protections should he have? Which ones has he forfeited, if any? Please read my colleague Greg Miller's story on this. But the debate is just beginning.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you think of the recent news regarding McCain rejecting the "maverick" label? Is it a smart move or one that reeks of desperation and political expediency?

Scott Wilson: I find it hard to understand given the obvious public record his opponents can draw on to demonstrate how central that label has been to his political identity. What do others think about this?

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Karzai's behavior: Isn't Karzai in an impossible situation, trying to navigate between his people's dislike for foreign troops in their country and the apparently growing power of insurgents?

Scott Wilson: No doubt it's not a job for the faint of heart...That said, his unpredictability doesn't seem to be serving him particularly well with any of those constituencies.

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Abingdon, Md.: What is the White House position on the election results in Iraq? Do they (secretly) come down on one side or the other? Is there a belief that the recent uptick in violence will die down once the results are settled?

Scott Wilson: I really haven't heard them state a preference. They want a government formed as quickly as possible in the belief that violence will ebb when a new government fills the vacuum there now. Might be wishful, but Obama is determined to get 45,000 troops out of there by Sept. 1. A lot riding on stability.

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Atlanta, GA: Scott, Why is there so much conversation about wounding or killing civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan? We bombed hell out of Germany and Japan and thousands of civilians were killed! That is the nature of war. Do we not have a large enough force to find and destroy the enemy.

Scott Wilson: Very different wars we're in now - wars against insurgencies, rather than states, where the support of the population is key to U.S. success.

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Athens, Ga.: In picking a replacement for Justice John Paul Stevens, it seems like the common pundit wisdom is that he'll be somebody that won't create a fuss among Republicans and just be a slightly left of center jurist.

But one issue is the depressed Democratic base. Republicans are more energized to go to the polls in November and moderate justice isn't going to stop nor will stop Republicans (both elected and outside fundraising groups) to demonized whoever Pres. Obama selects.

So do you think Pres. Obama will pick somebody who will excite the Democratic base. Somebody who is strongly on-record being against warrantless wiretaps, torturing detainees, corporate influences in political campaigns, etc... Somebody that might give give the Dems and Obama that boost they still haven't gotten after HCR became law.

Scott Wilson: I don't think Obama will get a chance to make a nomination before November so not sure how much he's going to take the base into consideration. I know he was looking for a "first" the first time around, and I honestly don't know how he'll approach the next one and in what political context. Very good question though and one we'll be writing a lot more about.

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McCain a Maverick?: This "McCain a maverick" was a reporter creation. The reporters with McCain in 2000 just loved the campaign - he was accessible, he talked a lot, and they really dug it. That's when they labeled him a maverick and started extolling his bipartisan bona fides. I believe McCain when he says he doesn't consider himself a maverick - it was a media creation that he cynically used in his 2008 campaign, but it was never a part of his understanding of himself.

Scott Wilson: Really? Discuss...

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Mt. Lebanon Pa.: Do you think Obama's FCC will have the gumption to challenge the recent Comcast decision, either through appeal to the Supreme Court; legislative change; continuing to dog them through the Justice Department; appeal to the public to punish Comcast through boycott; et al?

By challenge, I also mean in this election season which concludes in November.

And if not, can't Obama's Justice Department just refuse to approve the Comcast deal to takeover NBC? After all, if you can't win in one arena there's always another one.

To the winner go the spoils. So...is Barack H. Obama a winner?

Thanks much.

Scott Wilson: This is a fascinating issue and a really good question. Because the ruling happened so recently, I haven't gotten a good sesne of the White House thinking on how to proceed. Obama is very interested in broad-band policy and I imagine does not like the ruling much. We'll be following as it unfolds.

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What do others think about this?: I think the "Maverick" tag has always been more hype than reality. The fact is that while McCain has always talked a big game when push comes to shove he has always backed down at the end and towed the Party line.

And FWIW his behavior since losing the election has been closer to reprehensible than mavericky. "America First" my keister.

Scott Wilson: One opinion...

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Princeton, NJ: There have been a series of Republican lies about the Health Reform Bill. "Death Panels" is the most famous, but you can go to FactCheck.org and see zillions (technical term) of others. ("Stephen Hawkins would be dead if he lived in England!!")

The latest is the lie that 16,500 new IRS agents wil be hired to enforce the bill. This lie has been repeated by numerous Republican pols. Has the Post had an artcle about this lie?

I must have missed it..

washingtonpost.com: "Republicans are also encouraging members to highlight health care over the break. The packet of data and talking points the House GOP prepared for its members for the recess included a list of figures Republicans plan to use to attack the bill, such as 16,500 -- the number of additional auditors and other employees Republicans have said the IRS may need to implement the law, a number the agency has not verified and Democrats sharply dispute -- and $1.55 trillion, this year's projected federal budget deficit."

-- Lawmakers leave for recess with plans to discuss health care back home

Scott Wilson: I've gotten a couple questions on this, and so have turned to my resident expert on all things health care policy - Ezra Klein. His short answer is that he doesn't know where the number came from and doesn't believe it's based in fact. But we'll explore.

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Anonymous: On Fox News today, a foreign affairs editor from the Wall Street Journal (fellow Murdoch outlet) said the relationship with Karzai started to go down when Obama took office and his administration began to badger Karzai's government over several issues. This brings back memories of South Vietnam, when some said that we must back the government strongly at all cost, and othrs said that only the most democratic and honest government had any chance of lasting, since popular support was critical. There are still some who feel we didn't back the Shah or Iran strongly enough and othrs who feel his dictatorial rule helped bring in the Islamic extremists.

Michael D. Shear: Hey. This is Scott writing under my colleague Mike Shear's name. I was trying to answer a Karzai question and my computer crashed (Karzai-affiliated hackers no doubt.) My point was going to be that Karzai is clearly trying to show independence, but the way he is going about it has an unhinged quality that is not serving him with any constituency. If it were just words, the Obama administration might be able to live with it. But they need his help against corruption, ensuring fair provincial and local elections, filling out the rest of his cabinet with non-crony appointees, etc. This comment is one you hear with increasing - and alarming - frequency in Washington these days. Sorry for the computer glitch but this has been a great session. Be back with you again soon...

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