Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 8, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post congressional correspondent Paul Kane was online Thursday, April 8 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest political news.


Paul Kane: Oh gosh, I'm sorry, folks. I'm a little late for this chat. In a non-honest world, I'd tell you it's because I'm running around covering congressional races or something like that. Honestly, I'm sitting here in the Capitol with the TV on to ESPN where they're showing Masters highlights, and I got caught up in the moment when Arnie Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were teeing off. Man, the world was so different back then. It was more innocent, no Twitter, no email, no Facebook, no People Magazine, no National Enquirer following golfer's love lives (or presidential candidates' love lives, either).

Alright, on to the questions. I'll take a few extra minutes on the back-end to make up for my late appearance.


Washington, D.C.: Paul - I know your focus is more on national politics, but are you at all excited about the upcoming DC mayoral race between Fenty and Gray? Looks like it could be an interesting one.

Paul Kane: Of course I'm excited for the mayor's race! I mean, what looked like a snoozer is now shaping up to be a great battle royale. Fenty has all the policy things going for him -- education test scores are going up, and crime is going down. Yet he just has a tin ear to grassroots politics, at least in the neighborhoods with the largest bloc of votes.

How on earth could he fly off with his family for a vacation in the Caribbean without telling the public? And then the mass shooting takes place, and it takes him 30 hours or so to get there.

The city council chairman has a shot at this.


Bachmann: Is she crazy like a fox or just plain crazy?

Paul Kane: Lotsa Bachmann-Palin-Overdrive questions coming in this morning, as you had 2 of the leading ladies of the conservative movement together in 1 place.

I'll take a few questions about this as the chat progresses, but before I go any further, I defer to the genius that is Matt Bai of what we at the Post sometimes call Brand X (aka, the New York Times).

Bai nailed the political motivation of folks like her in a piece in December:

Read that, and we'll get back to those ladies later.


Florissant Valley, MO: Hey, Paul. I see SI has picked your Phillies to go all the way. Could they be right? meanwhile, any truth to the rumors that Charlie Crist might switch from R to Ind and run against his own party and the Teagang insurrection? Would he have a chance? Worked for Lieberman.

Paul Kane: Hot darn, we're off to a great start. Of course, beating the heck out of the Nats isn't a sign of anything other than beating up on the little kid down the block. I was there for Game 1, and yes, the Phillies crowd was a bit rough. (I blame the Nats marketing folks for targeting Phils fans.)

If we steer clear of injuries, I think we'll be a lock to win the division, and after that, who knows. But I also suspect injuries will finally catch up with us this season.

As for Crist, I'm not sure what his path to victory is, and I'm not sure how singularly ambitious he is. It's increasingly clear that his path to victory in the GOP primary is next to nowhere. He needs Rubio to make a major unforced error, to have a macaca moment. Big time.

I just don't see how he prevails in a 3-way race, though, as the only guy coming out of the primary process as essentially a loser. I think it will really kill his brand identity, and that he'd eventually go into a similar free fall. (Remember, with Lieberman, there was essentially no Republican candidate waiting in the wings, and in Florida, Kendrick Meek is an underdog, but he's a solid Dem who will get a huge chunk of the base to vote for him.)

And in the process of abandoning the GOP, Crist would permanently burn that bridge.


Goodwin Liu: What's the latest on the state of his nomination? Do you think he'll eventually be confirmed?

Paul Kane: No judicial nominee has been blocked since the "Gang of 14" brokered a compromise on judicial filibusters 5 years ago next month.

The standard that was set then was "extraordinary circumstances", that was when the signatories agreed they'd allow for filibusters of judicial noms. I'm not sure that Liu's failure to produce documents in a timely manner is enough to trigger "extraordinary circumstances."

John McCain has since abandoned that standard, voting to filibuster Sotomayor. And several Rs, such as Linc Chafee and Mike DeWine, have lost re-election. And John Warner retired.

But Lindsey Graham, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins have all continued to abide by that standard.

Seems to me that there will need to be further revelations to torpedo this nom.


Herndon, VA: Has anyone asked Inhofe in the last couple of days how the igloo is doing that he built for Al Gore?

Paul Kane: You know, just last week I still saw a big pile of snow behind a building here on Capitol Hill. It was in this nook that clearly always remained in the shade.

I wish I could remember where it is, because now I'm pretty sure it's melted away.

By the way, the difference in temps at Nationals Park on Monday must have been 15 degrees different if you were in the sun versus the shade. (I was in shade, right field bleachers.)

_______________________ U.S., Russia sign treaty to reduce nuclear arms

Paul Kane: There was a time when a treaty of this nature would be The Single Story that dominated the news for, oh, roughly 2-3 weeks.

I guess that was back around the time Jack was winning his last Masters, with that amazing back 9 on Sunday at Augusta in '86.


Washington, D.C.: Is it fair to say that it's now a near certainty that some sort of financial regulatory reform bill will be signed by President Obama in the next month or two?

Paul Kane: I think it's fair to say that nothing's a certainty from here on out, not after the exhausting battle that was health care. It was such a heavy lift, and Obama-Pelosi-Reid extracted so much from their members, that nothing is a certainty from here on out.

On paper, it looks like there will be some sorta deal, both based on policy and politics. Policy wise, let's face it, we gave the banks $700 billion because of an implosion that risked another Great Depression and instead resulted in a Great Recession. Surely, something needs to be done to avert such a calamity in the future. (We can argue around the margins about what the actual prescription is, but the diagnosis there is without doubt: the banks screwed up.)

The politics are thus: Everyone hates the banks now, and the GOP is risking a bad backlash if they appear to be defending the banks.

Remember, as The Fix has written time and again the last few months, the TARP votes of 2008 are the single biggest divisive votes in GOP and Dem primaries this year. That's the biggest wedge issue out there. People don't want to be on the wrong political side of this question.


South Bend: Hey remember a couple months back when Evan Bayh announced his retirement because Washington was "broken" and got like 15 minutes of fame? Then he wrote an Op/Ed in the New York Times about fixing the Senate and all that jazz. Has he actually done anything with that, or has he gone back to his usual do-nothing ways now that the cameras are focused elsewhere?

Paul Kane: South Bend! What's your take on Jimmy Clausen? The next Montana-Theisman, or the next Brady Quinn-Powlus?

Also, does it bug residents of South Bend that their town had to play the role of Duke/Soviet/CCCP hockey team in "Hoosiers"?

You guys were made out to be the villains. Damn shame.

As for Evan Bayh, I've got nothing to say about him. He's not lifted a single finger to make things any better across party lines since his bold declaration.


Bristow, Va.: Are members of Congress granted unlimited sick leave with pay, for medical and or physical conditions?

Paul Kane: I don't think anyone really ever thinks of it as "unlimited sick leave", but the clear answer is yes. Just look at Kennedy, Byrd of late. Or Joe Biden after his aneurysms.

He was outta the Senate for months before recovering. Tim Johnson of S.D. sat out about 9 months in '07.


Washington, D.C.: What do you make of Senator Coburn calling out Fox News yesterday? Do you think we'll see more of this from the GOP establishment?

Paul Kane: Um, no. Go back a year ago and look at Michael Steele's comments about Rush, and see where that got him.

Coburn is, without question, the most principled conservative in Washington. He can say things like this about Fox, and no one will question his credentials.


Washington, D.C.: After watching the Palin-Bachman rally yesterday I felt like I was in a bad episode of "The Twilight Zone." In your opinion, are these two going to hurt the GOP in the long run? Two GOP stars align for first time at campaign rally

Paul Kane: OK, back to these two Leading Ladies of Conservatism.

What's unclear about them both is, do they see electoral politics as their future? The answer is, I'm not sure.

I don't see Bachmann as a serious legislator on any issues of substance. She did take a high-profile role in trying to block the bailout in '08.

Her real propensity appears to be in giving speeches filled with red meat. There's a certain symmetry to her and Palin's career.

I think they could both work in better fashion on the TV/radio circuit.

Couldn't you just see them hosting a show together? Or back to back, on Fox, from 10 to midnight? This would KO Greta's show, but imagine Bachmann from 10-11, from a studio in St. Paul, and then Palin from 11 to midnight from a studio in fracking Wasilla!


Hoosiers: Actually that was Muncie, IN...sort of like Newark, but without the bucolic charm.

Paul Kane:

Yes, in the real world, it was Muncie. But for the rest of us, all we remember is Jimmy Chitwood telling Coach Dale, "I'll make it", and then hitting nothing but net to send South Bend to miserable defeat.

PS -- That Hickory-South Bend game wouldn't have been close in the modern era, as Chitwood would have had close to 40 pts off all the 3-pointers he hit, which back then were only counted for two.


Seattle: No question; just wanted to write and let you know how much I enjoy your chats. You're the best thing in the politics chat universe on WaPo since Jonathan Wiesman (sp?) went to the WSJ. Agree with you or not it's always interesting and the give and take is great.

Paul Kane: Wow. Someone pulls a Weisman. I don't know whether to say thank you, or how dare you!

In full disclosure, Jonathan's a good friend. Sat next to me for about a year here in the Capitol before heading to the campaign beat and then off to Uncle Rupert's regime. We miss him.


Read My Lips: On more than one occasion, then-candidate Obama promised that anyone making under $250,000 wouldn't see their taxes go up at all. Tax increases for the rich only.

Now that we've had both Volcker and Bernanke say that we need to raise taxes (with the former specifically mentioning a VAT), I am left wondering if President Obama is going to have a George HW Bush moment.

Is there much of an appetite on the Hill for the across-the-board tax increases that will be needed to fund all of the fed's expenditures? If not, where do they see the money coming from?

Paul Kane: Let's put it this way, there will be no tax increases before the 2010 midterms. No way on earth. Not after all the tough votes Dems have taken. Would they be willing to do so in 2011? Hmm, would Obama be willing to do, knowing it might hurt his own re-election bid?

If you're looking for real, broad tax reform -- including some rate hikes -- think 2013 if Obama gets re-elected. The last great tax reform, a real cleaning out of the system, occurred in 1986, in Reagan's 2nd term so he wasn't worried about his own political fate, and he had bipartisan cover as Bill Bradley led the Dem charge on this issue.

A similar set of circumstances would likely need to come together for real, lasting tax reform.


Detroit, Mich.: Re: Judicial Nominees

While it is true that no nominees have been blocked for the federal courts since the Gang of 14, there are certainly dilatory tactics being used to slow down confirmations. Take, for example, Jane Stranch (nominated to the Sixth Circuit) who has been waiting for a floor vote since November, has the support of her two Republican Senators, and a circuit court nominee who came out of committee after her has already gotten a vote. Maybe it's holds or other things in the background, but something is causing delays. Any idea what?

Paul Kane: The biggest cause of delay was health care. It sucked up sooooo much legislative floor time, so much oxygen, that Reid and his leadership team did not want to devote any floor time to any other issue that was the slightest bit divisive and took time away from health care.

Remember, if even 1 Tom Coburn or 1 Bernie Sanders objects to something and decides to use all his/her tools at their parliamentary disposal, it can take up to 7 days or more to clear all the cloture/filibuster votes to pass legislation or nominations.

Look for a very aggressive posture from the Dems on this in the months of April and May, now that health care is cleared. They will bring nominees to the floor in large blocs, ask for votes, get denied, then engage in tactical moves forcing Republicans to at least stay on the floor and engage in a quasi-debate. No, it won't be a real filibuster. But it could be interesting.


Washington, DC: "I don't see Michelle Bachmann as a serious legislator on any issues of substance"

On which serious issues of substance was Senator Barack Obama a 'serious legislator'??

Paul Kane: Just for the record: Are you honestly comparing Michelle Bachmann to Obama? Is this a suggestion that you'd like to see her as the GOP nominee in 2012? Do you really think that she's at an intellectual level in which she could stand toe to toe with a president? Any president?

Just asking.


Arlington, VA: Apparently I was misinformed about John McCain being a maverick even though one of his books has that in the title. Have our politics become so polarized that we can't have mavericks any more?

Paul Kane:

I'm sure you've seen that. But for those of you that haven't, watch it. Now.


You were late for GOLF?: Man, the only thing more boring than watching golf.. is playing it!

How 'bout them Phillies and Pirates?

Good on ya..

Paul Kane: Step off on your take down of golf. It's an amazing sport in which you have no direct opponent except for your own demons. You lose, you lose because YOU lost. Not because the other team played better defense, or the ref blew the call.

It's a mind trip of a sport.


Ashland, MO: Proponents of health care changes argue that the public voted for the changes. Given that the president specifically campaigned against an individual mandate, the Cadillac tax, and changing anyone's current plan, isn't the public entitled to reject it as not what it supported and to conclude members of Congress and the president do not listen and played them for suckers?

Paul Kane: You know, I'll come down on Ashland's side on one thing here: Obama didn't really campaign on health care as an issue. I followed him around about 3 days in the primary and, yes, in his stump speech, he talked about health care. But this was not the driving, central issue of his campaign.

Video of his election night victory speech:


I can't seem to find health care anywhere in those speeches. It just wasn't The Issue of the campaign.


Baltimore MD: Re Coburn: He not only took at shot at FOX, he told his home state audience that Nancy Pelosi is a "nice lady" and that he reads the Post, NYT and the Wall Street Journal. When some booed at the reference to Pelosi, he said, "Look you don't know her." Amazing.

Paul Kane: Look, Tom Coburn is not a hated man by liberals and Democrats. He drives them crazy as he does what he does to block their agenda, but he is a really straight dealer when it comes to how he operates.

To a man, every Dem will say that, usually on the record. He will walk up to their face, tell them how he plans to block/delay/obstruct their bill, and then set out to do it. If they can negotiate something, he's open to it.

They kind of admire him. And on his personal dealings, they don't mind him.


Bachmann Rally: "Two years from now, Obama will be a one-term president,' Bachmann said, 'because we are going to elect the boldest, strongest, most courageous, rock-ribbed, constitutional conservative president this country has ever seen.'"

Is Bachmann just pumping up the base with this sort of rhetoric or is she delusional? Didn't the 2008 election make it pretty clear that a "rock-ribbed...conservative president" no longer stands a chance in a national election?

Paul Kane: I think it's delusional for someone to look at the 2008 election and perceive that to be some sort of permanent hold on the electorate.

Yes, Obama won twice as many electoral votes. But McCain got 58.3 million votes! A movement of independent voters going the other way, and it's curtains for Obama in 2012. Just look at Virginia, New Jersey and Mass., where independents went for GOP candidates by more than 30 pts.


Re: Bachmann, Palin: I think the CW greatly overestimates the appeal of mean girls to other women. I'm always struck by the visceral negative reaction of my non-political friends to Palin. They don't know much about conservative or liberal positions, but they can't stand her. I attribute it to the fact that many women have high school memories of being shoved around and sneered at by Palinesque clique-y types. I see it as Palin's biggest liability by far, and I think the mostly male commentariat misses that.

Paul Kane: These are very divisive women, no doubt. But to their base of fans on the right, they are adored.

That's why I think they both could have very rewarding careers in the TV/radio worlds, as opposed to the political arena.


Paul Kane: OK, folks, it's T-minus 1 hour, 33 mins until Tiger tees off. Wow. Can't wait. Craziness. Hope all is well, and I'll see you back here in two weeks.



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