Post Politics Hour

Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 6, 2010; 11:00 AM

Discuss the latest news about the Obama administration and the world of politics with Ben Pershing, who writes for The Post's 44 blog. Pershing will be online April 6 at 11 a.m. ET.


Ben Pershing: Good morning, all. Is everyone tired from staying up to watch Butler-Duke? Can you all try to work in some basketball questions, even though this is a politics chat and I'm probably not supposed to talk about sports here? Obviously, Michael Steele is also fair game, as is any other subject in the world of politics that you'd like to bring up. Let's begin.


Richmond, Va.: I don't get it. How does the resignation of the RNC Chief of Staff help to quell donors skepticism about the chairmanship of Michael Steele? In short, how is it that many GOPers are protecting Steele so hard and for so long, and allowing others to be thrown under the bus. Please tell me what I'm missing here. Top Steele aide resigns amid RNC controversy

Ben Pershing: That's a good question. Was Steele suggesting that the sloppy accounting was Ken McKay's fault? If it wasn't his fault, then why push him out? And it's not like McKay was some random hire -- he was Steele's hand-picked top staffer. And he didn't turn over a whole new leaf, he just promoted McKay's deputy to take his place. It's hard to see how Steele helped matters by doing what he did yesterday.


Fairfax: The Democratic establishment seems to have lined up behind Arlen Specter. But how much of a concern is there that this newest loyal Democrat may stray should he win another term?

Ben Pershing: That's always been the risk for Democrats since they welcomed Specter into the party. He can be a headache for the leadership of both parties. That said, he has been a pretty loyal soldier for Democrats since coming over and will likely continue to be, especially on future judicial nominations. And it remains true that Democrats think Specter gives them a much better shot at holding that Senate seat than Sestak would.


Capital Briefs: there used to be this great daily blog at WaPo called Capital Briefing. Readers used it to follow the goings on in the halls of Congress. Then you took it over. What happened to the Capital Briefing?

Ben Pershing: Glad you enjoyed Capitol Briefing. All that happened was that our blog coverage of Congress got consolidated into the "44" blog. Bookmark that page to get all the latest happenings from the Hill. (Congress is in the midst of a two-week recess, so posting has been light. But the pace will pick up again next week.)


Rockville: So, who is right?

Should the President give points to the Republicans in legislation to "build confidence?"

Or should all that wait for hard negotiations and swaps?

Ben Pershing: There's a school of thought that Obama can sow goodwill to the public and appear conciliatory by adopting some Republican ideas early in the legislative process. Now, that didn't seem to do him much good on health care but it's always possible things will go differently on oil drilling or financial regulatory reform.


Arlington, Va.: There's been a lot made about all the work/ideas coming out of the White House since health-care got passed. What's your take on it? Good strategy to get a lot of other topics moving, or they should take a minute to catch their breaths.

Ben Pershing: The White House always has to be working on something big. Otherwise they would get accused of doing nothing. The administration has a lot of balls in the air right now but the primary focus is on financial reform, which makes sense from both a policy and political perspective. The question is how quickly Congress can deliver a bill to Obama's desk. Could be at least a couple more months.


Helena MT: During the Senate debate on the reconciliation bill for health care reform, several amendments were offered by Republicans that various Dems, including Montana's Max Baucus, indicated were good ideas that could be included in a future bill. Any chance that such a bill could be cobbled together this year? If such a bill were offered that consisted of the Republican amendments, how many Republican votes would it get?

Ben Pershing: I suppose if you put together a bill filled with nothing but Republican ideas, it would get a lot of Republican votes. But what would be the benefit of that for Democrats? I don't expect we'll see substantial health legislation of any kind for awhile.


Re: Rockville: Didn't do the Prez any good during the Stimulus either. Maybe the third times the charm? Or more likely "fool me once, twice, three times shame on you..."

Ben Pershing: That's definitely what a lot of Democrats think -- Obama should stop reaching out to Republicans, because they're not reciprocating. And he doesn't seem to get any credit for it anyway.


Bridgewater, Mass.: It sounds like everybody is getting ready to run against the TARP. What if it turns out that we're getting most of the money back, with an actual profit on the investment in the banks? Do you think people are just so fed up with the economy and everybody that's been involved in trying to fix it that they'll just ignore the actual results?

Ben Pershing: I think the answer to your latter question is yes. The idea of a giant "Wall Street bailout" is so ingrained in the minds of many voters that it's hard to see how anything now could retroactively change their mind. Even if it turns out that the program was a) effective; and b) relatively cheap (or even profitable) for the government.


Bethesda, MD: Very different take on the Ken McKay resignation from the Wash Times; they say he resigned "in protest." Interesting.

Ben Pershing: I saw that. But "in protest" of what? I'm not sure who the WashTimes sources were but every other major outlet covering this says he was forced out by Steele, so I tend to believe that.


NV: If Ensign gets indicted that would put both of the top elected GOP politicians in the state under a cloud (to say the least). Will this help Harry Reid?

Ben Pershing: I suppose it could -- Ensign certainly isn't doing Republicans any favors out there. But Reid's numbers have been solidly bad for quite awhile now. It seems that most Nevada voters have made up their minds about Reid, and it will be hard for him to move the dial much no matter what happens to Reid.

As for the other scandal-plagued Republican you mention -- Jim Gibbons -- the last poll I saw in the Gov. race actually had him leading Rory Reid, Harry's son. The Reid brand in general just isn't faring well right now.


Helena MT: Man I love the way you can spell "faring" correctly! Homonymns are the bane of the internet as no one seems to get the correct spelling for the word they are using.

Ben Pershing: Thanks! I'm hoping my salary for next year takes my spelling prowess into account.


Abingdon, Md.: Re: Your comment on WH with many balls in the air and another on possible future health care modifications--exactly who decides what things need to be worked on? Does each party develop their own list, or is the minority party only able to respond to the agenda of the majority party? I have read/heard that the House has been extremely busy passing lots of legislation, only to be stuck--or not even under consideration by the Senate--how long can a bill "sit there" with no activity by the other house of congress--until the next election winners are seated?

Ben Pershing: Yes, bills passed by the House can sit in the Senate -- or vice versa -- without any action until the start of the next Congress (in this case, January 2011). Then the slate is wiped clean. There may be more such bills this Congress than usual but this is something that happens regularly. The House always passes more bills than the Senate. It's just the nature of the two chambers.


Florissant Valley, MO: Morning, Ben. Re Justice Stevens' retirement. 1) would it be better for the Obama WH to have him retire now, so that there's a stronger majority in Senate for confirming? Or wait until 2011 for a less political environment? 2) Are there ever informal discussions between the WH and a justice who has declared his intention to resign, in terms of "best poltical timing"? Or is that improper? Surely they talk, yes?

Ben Pershing: I think the retirement circumstances differ with each justice. Some may choose to telegraph their plans to the sitting administration and some choose to keep their own counsel. As for which year would be better for Obama, I've seen the argument made that Democrats would be better off if Stevens waited until 2011, because the partisan atmosphere is so poisonous. But there is a strong chance Democrats will lose seats in November -- possibly a lot of seats. And that would make confirmation next year much more difficult.


Gresham's law: Gresahm's laws saya that "Bad money drives out good money." Talking about TARP, HCR, Reid, etc, you seem to be saying there is a political version that says lies drive out the truth.

Can we call it Ben's Law?

Ben Pershing: I would love to have something important named after me. But I'm not sure I agree with your description of what I've said. I don't know that everything about TARP was "lies." It's just that the program seems to have worked out better than most experts anticipated. And Reid isn't losing because of "lies," as far as I know. He's just unpopular.


Rockville: Thanks. I tend to agree with you.

How about Rob Simmons in Connecticut? How is that race going?

Ben Pershing: I think Linda McMahon is still likely to win that primary, mainly because of her money advantage. But she has had her share of controversy, so it will continue to be an interesting race.

Richard Blumenthal is the heavy favorite against either Republican.


Ben Pershing: Thanks for the fine questions, everyone. See you next time.


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