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Nuclear Summit, Supreme Court Vacancy, more -- Post Politics Hour

Anne Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 14, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post White House reporter Anne Kornblut was online Wednesday, April 14 at 11 a.m. to discuss the Nuclear Security Summit, the upcoming vacancy on the Supreme Court and all the latest news about the Obama administration, Congress and more.

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Anne Kornblut: Greetings everyone! So good to be back. I'm looking forward to all your Obama (and other) questions. Let's jump right in.

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Saint Paul, Minn.: Hi Anne -- How great to have you chatting with us again! Seems like it's been a long time. According to your paper this morning, it seems as if the president is adapting well to the foreign policy demands of his job. While that's certainly good news for him, does the general public really care? In other words, until the economy turns around, and not just "on paper" but in the form of jobs, do his successes and popularity abroad really mean that much?

Anne Kornblut: Good question. We should add the link to that story here. In general, I think you're right -- most people are preoccupied with the day-to-day events of their lives, and the economy usually trumps all on election day. But to the extent that this contributes to the larger Obama "narrative" -- that he's turned the ship around since passing health care -- it's probably helpful to him. And let's not forget, this wasn't just a foreign policy event, it was also national security, which can certainly make a political difference.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you fear that the Obama administration is starting to view the press as "the enemy," much like the Clinton administration did in the 1990s?

Anne Kornblut: I don't know about "the enemy," but it's true there's no love affair there, and President Obama seems happiest bypassing questions altogether. Make sure you read Dana Milbank's sketch today.

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Not worth diddly: Did Barbour just ruin any possible shot he ever had at being a serious contender for the White House in 2012?

Anne Kornblut: I'm not sure he was really going to run in 2012, and to be honest, I think he would have other obstacles besides the one statement. But you're right, it didn't help.

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Bethesda, Md.: Why do we bother with congressional hearings on Supreme Court nominees? It is clear the nominees are coached on what to say to minimize controversy and what they say has little relationship to what they will ultimately do. See what both Roberts and ALioto said about adhering to precedence and what they have done, as an example.

Anne Kornblut: So you'd rather skip the hearings altogether? It would definitely save time, and I'm sure the White House wouldn't object. But they do offer a rare opportunity to hear a future justice speak at length, and I'm pretty sure the Senate prefers having a role. But I see your point.

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Poplar Bluff, MO: Anne, thanks for the chat. Do you believe that the President can make a make a political appointee to the Court, i.e. Hillary or Sen. Whitehouse?

Anne Kornblut: Well, the White House has ruled out Secretary Clinton. But it wouldn't shock me to see a political appointment. A bunch of names on the list -- Whitehouse, Granholm, Napolitano, Amy Klobuchar, Deval Patrick -- are elected officials. That said, the court moves awfully slowly for politicians, making it an open question whether they'd want the job.

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BOTTOM LINE: I want a bold prediction - Who will be President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court?

Anne Kornblut: Ha. Let me see. Someone with a law degree? Seriously, I can't predict. And the nice thing about my job is that I don't have to.

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Let's be honest here...: Haley Barbour never had a chance at the Presidency because of his looks (or lack thereof). This country hasn't had an obese President in a century (Taft), and would never elect another one.

Anne Kornblut: Somewhere Huckabee is applauding. That said, we'd never had a black president before last year, so I would not make an appearance-based prediction like that.

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Rockville: Anne

Thanks for taking questions and WELCOME BACK. Also-your book signing was great. My daughter loved the book!

My question - do you see more of the uncivility now as opposed to maybe 1-2 years ago?

Anne Kornblut: Thanks so much! Love questions that mention the book. (Notes from the Cracked Ceiling, for anyone who missed it). As for uncivility, I have to say, it's been pretty bad the entire time I've been covering politics in Washington, which is the last 13 years. In fact, the impeachment demands are a lot quieter than they were for the last two presidents. So maybe we're on an upswing.

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Washington, D.C.: While discussing the issue of gay adoptions recently, Huckabee stated that "children are not puppies."

Do you see any political fall-out from this insensitive remark?

Anne Kornblut: Missed that one.

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Washington, DC: Every energetic constituent group in America has lobbied to be represented on the Supreme Court. There have been Jews, blacks, women, and now Hispanics appointed. But never has there ever been a gay or lesbian Supreme Court Justice. A lot of people are saying now might be the time. Your thoughts?

Anne Kornblut: Nor has there been a black woman. To be sure, identity politics is a part of the equation, but I can't pretend to have real clarity on how much it's factoring into Obama's thinking. But a good question to raise.

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What a hick!: Anne, great to see you back on the chat. Hasn't Sarah Palin just demonstrated exactly why she is unfit to be part of the discourse? Demanding a Lear Jet 60? Please, so gauche. Everybody knows the minimum standard private jet is the Citation XLS.

Anne Kornblut: Hilarious. I'll let you be the judge of that.

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Anonymous: Ted Deutsch took 62% of the vote in the special election to fill Robert Wexler's Florida seat. It is certainly a Democratic district, but his Republican opponent couldn't make any inroads among the Medicare-aged population by denouncing the new health plan vigorously. Is this just a case of the demographics favoring Democrats, or do you think that health care is fading, or will fade, as an issue as the year goes on? Thanks.

Anne Kornblut: Is it cheating to say a little of both? I am not an expert on that district, but my understanding is that it's Democratic enough to be considered safe, even with the Medicare issue. But I think it's too early to tell what role health care will play in the midterms overall. I'd expect it to be a lot more potent in statewide races, and in swing districts. But November is a long way off -- and our attention spans are short. So we'll see.

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opportunity to hear a future justice speak at length: Hi Anne,

It seems the hearing are more a chance for senators to make long winded speeches rather than to question nominee.

Anne Kornblut: That's true, too. I mean, it's Congress, what do you expect? But sometimes the odd incisive question slips through.

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Editor: Incivility has replaced uncivility to convey a lack of civility. Uncivility may be found prior to Shakespeare but is very rare now. Kudos to the poster for waging the war to reclaim its use. I do hope that I'm not being uncivil in bringing this up.

Anne Kornblut: Careful, you will start a civil war over this!

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Re a political appointee to the Supreme Court: Wouldn't it be harder for at least a few Republican Senators to vote against one of their past or present colleagues if s/he is nominated to the Supreme Court?

Anne Kornblut: That's always been the assumption, but may not be enough to decide the entire choice.

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Rhode Island: I usually don't engage in identity politics, but I'll make an exception for a Supreme Court nominee:

No Ivy League law degree, and no more Catholics. There. I said it.

Anne Kornblut: And a lot of other people seem to agree, right?

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Nuclear Security Summit: How impressive was Obama's ability to convince 46 other nations to sign on to the pact pledging to keep nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists? Is this actually a significant breakthrough or more symbolic than anything else?

washingtonpost.com: On world stage, Obama at ease

Anne Kornblut: As our story makes clear, it's not binding, so there is a fair bit of symbolism. But in this case, symbols seem to matter. He got all these world leaders here, together, to discuss nuclear security for the first time. That is a breakthrough in itself, in some ways, right?

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Winnipeg, Canada: The Colbert Report recently pointed out that of the Supreme Court Justices, two are Jews and the rest are Catholics. Given that surprising demographic, which do you think is more likely, a Protestant justice or an atheist? (Or neither: will it be a Muslim?) Only half-kidding.

Anne Kornblut: Again, I think it's hard to know exactly how Obama will factor in race, religion, etc. But there's no question it's part of the equation.

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Baltimore MD: With regard to Senate hearings, Justice Stevens said, during an interview last week, that they are now little more than an excuse for Senators to make speeches. These things didn't used to be televised. Might be a good idea to turn the cameras off again.

Anne Kornblut: Perhaps. But I'm not sure that'd go over well, either, in the era of Obama transparency. Remember the ruckus over the failure to put the health care discussions on C-Span?

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re: Washington DC: How does "Washington DC" (or you) know that there has never been a homosexual on the court?

Anne Kornblut: Fair point.

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Boston: If you fly regularly through Atlanta Hartsfield airport you will often see a small, white haired old man and his wife standing on the tarmac waiting to board a commercial flight. (I guess for security reasons they keep him away from Terminal) The man is former Jimmy Carter. Which leads me to ask, why does the former half term governor of Alaska need a minimum of a LearJet 60 for her travels? I thought she was one of us common people.

Anne Kornblut: A good point. To be fair, a lot of political people travel by private plane in order to reach destinations that don't have direct flights. But the optics aren't great for her.

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Re: St. Paul: It's interesting because you see the huge success on reviving the economy; you see the 70%+ return on the stock market; you see the U.S. looking like the world leader again for the first time in eight years; you see people reveling in the big Stimulus tax refund checks they are getting...and yet, and yet Obama and the Dem Congress seem to get no credit for this historic and remarkable turnaround. Loud, continuous and concentrated GOP screams do seem to work in today's society.

Anne Kornblut: That's an interesting point. Obviously people see and experience how things are going differently. But the big challenge for the administration has been convincing people things would have been worse had they not taken the steps they did. Let's give it a few weeks and see how the numbers look once the health care passage, and the other things you mention, have sunk in.

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Rockville: "Why do we bother with congressional hearings on Supreme Court nominees?"

Not to name names or embarrass any one, but some do not manage their coaching all that well. For better or worse, the process does sort them out.

Anne Kornblut: That's true, too.

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Huckabee and puppies: Huckabee simply said that accepting gay marriage was like accepting drug dealers or incest and that allowing gay adoption was wrong because children aren't puppies (apparently homosexual dog ownership is okay, though - - he's a tolerant fellow). I do not understand why someone who's so telegenic and appealing to independents would go crazy and make remarks like this. Are we all living in the same country and/or century? This is painful to anyone who supports gay rights as a basic civil rights issue or who wants to see children brought up in stable, loving homes instead of foster care, and I think that's most Americans. For shame.

Anne Kornblut: I'm surprised we haven't seen more made of this. Thanks for sharing.

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Washington, D.C.: How would you compare President Obama's availability to the press compared with that of his predecessor, George W. Bush?

Anne Kornblut: I don't have the statistics (I'm sure Mark Knoller of CBS does) but Obama feels removed in a way similar to Bush. Obama has done a fair number of one-on-one television interviews, especially when he's had an agenda to push. And I believe he's done more press conferences, and had in reporters for off-the-record sessions. But Bush seemed to enjoy talking to reporters more, off the record, anyway. Or maybe he just faked it better.

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Fairfax County, Virginia: The economy is clearly improving. Obviously there is still huge, awful unemployment. But there are also a lot of middle-class 401K holders like me who are very relieved that the value of mutual funds has recovered so much (it's just our retirement, is all) and it is reassuring that consumer demand is getting stronger, and not just for the iPad. My boyfriend dropped by a motorcycle dealership and the salesmen were saying it's the difference between night and day versus this time last year.

Is this changing the prospects for the fall Congressional races? If not, when would it? And if the good news continues, at what point does it sound like Republicans who bad-mouth it are back to the "I hope he fails" problem of rooting for the economy to tank?

Anne Kornblut: Generally speaking, people's moods are locked in by the end of summer. If the economy feels, or is, turned around by then, then I'd say it'll change the prospects. But you're right, unemployment is still deeply troubling, and that makes a big difference.

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NY NY, the town so nice they named it twice: Another reason Hayley Barbour will never be president - the man talks like he's got a mouthful of marbles. I don't think America wants to hear a mush-mouthed president who sounds like he's working on mashed potatoes on their TV for four long years - especially one with an incredibly annoying Southern accent.

Anne Kornblut: Another view...

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New Mexico: How strange - why is everyone concerned about Sarah Palin and how much money she makes or that she has certain requirements on what type of aircraft she wants. She can request whatever she wants - same as anyone else and if the paer is willing to pay - so be it - that their choice. I never saw any nasty comments about anyone else making money and demands on those who were paying for their services - say Al Gore, Bill Clinton - why is Sarah any different?

Anne Kornblut: Another good point. And like I say, candidates charter private planes all the time.

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children are not puppies: Who's going to complain about that? The puppy lobby who thinks they've been unfairly maligned?

Anne Kornblut: As a devoted dog person, don't even get me started on children v. puppies.

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Why do we bother with congressional hearings on Supreme Court nominees: Because the Constitution states "The President ... shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate ... shall appoint ... judges of the supreme Court ..." Article II, section 2. Basic civics, folks!

Anne Kornblut: This is why I love you, chat participants!

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Tampa, FL: If the GOP will oppose any Obama nominee and try to use it to whip up their base, then why should Obama not go for the gold and nominate a real liberal? One smart and young. Say, Goodwin Liu? Or a lesbian, such as Kathleen Sullivan or Pam Karlan?

Sooner, rather than later, the right would make clear that it would oppose the later two simply because of their sexual orientation. Would not the Dems be able to highlight that and argue to moderates and independents that the GOP is out of touch with America? Would not it allow the Dems to tar the GOP as the party of bigoted extremists? Would not it so energize the gay and lesbian communities that they would vote in record numbers?

Anne Kornblut: And I suspect the president is hearing this very argument from some of the groups. That said, the margin is a handful of votes. The GOP may oppose any nominee, but the White House has to hope to peel away one or two -- not that they couldn't with a liberal or a lesbian or whatever, but that calculation is going to enter into their thinking.

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RE: Palin's requests: I think more important than anything else disclosed, is the fact that all questions have to be pre-screened. That says a lot about her lack of seriousness when it comes to policy. .

Anne Kornblut: An abhorrent practice. But one, I regret to inform you, that many try to adhere to.

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Re Turlock-gate: How likely are Sarah Palin's diva-like demands (down to the type of straw provided with her bottled water) in the contract for her appearance at California State University Stanislaus-Turlock to bite her in the back-side?

Anne Kornblut: Hard to say... if she doesn't run for president, then she'll just be like every other celebrity who makes similar demands, right?

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Evanston, Illinois: Long time, no chat? Are you going to be back in the rotation?

Anne Kornblut: Thank you for noticing! Yes, I will be back around more often. Missed you guys.

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Anne Kornblut: OK folks. This was great. Really glad to be back, and thank you for smart questions, as always. Have a great rest of the week, and talk to you soon!

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