Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 22, 2010; 11:00 AM

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Washington Post national political writer Paul Kane was online Thursday, April 21 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

The transcript follows

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Paul Kane: Good morning, everyone! It's a spectacular spring day here in DC, the morning after one of this particular tribe's time honored traditions -- the congressional correspondent's dinner, a JV version of the more highly touted White House Correspondent's Dinner. Joe and Mika MC'd the thing last night, so some might have seen highlights on "Morning Joe", if that's your cup of tea. (Yes, bad pun intended.)

Meanwhile, the Senate inches closer toward a bipartisan deal on financial regulatory reform, and Chuck Schumer is holding hearings now geared toward filibuster reform.

Oh, and Doc Halladay threw a complete-game shutout against Brendan Buck's Atlanta Braves last night. Game on, Buck.

Ok, on to the questions.



Tea Party Story: Did you see today's Politico story regarding the media's exaggeration of the whole Tea Party story? If so, any reaction to it?

Paul Kane: I've not read this story by JMart and Ben Smith, but multiple people have emailed it to me and suggested I read it.

I agree with the general principle that we, the media, have overblown the significance of the Tea Party. (I'm told the only problem with JMart/Ben's take is their lack of highlighting Politico's own guilt in over hyping the Tea Party, because no organization has done more to promote/hype/over inflate the movement's importance than Politico in the last 4 months.)

All that said, I'm not dismissing the Tea Party. I think we, the media -- and on this note The Washington Post is particularly guilty -- have done a terrible job of explaining what this movement basically is. It's the conservative equivalent to MoveOn and Markos and FireDog.

It looks very different, much older, much heavier, a bit more male.

But in terms of what it is politically, it's a conservative movement with no single leader, loosely connected, whatever connections those are coming largely through the Internet/web. Sound familiar?


Washington, D.C.: I know it's very early, but I'll ask anyway: Do you feel that right now the most likely November scenario is that the GOP does NOT take control of the House?

Paul Kane: If the election were held today, I think every smart party operative on both sides of the aisle would expect at least 25 Democratic losses. At this point, the House is 254 Dems, 177 Republicans. There are 3 upcoming special elections -- PA12, Hawaii and the Georgia seat of Nathan Deal.

Deal's seat is definitely going to be Republican, and the PA and Hawaii seats are toss-ups. So let's say the Rs head into election day with 179 seats (assuming a split in the PA and Hawaii specials), they need 39 seats to get the majority.

It could be really, really close, if the environment remains at the current state.


Pittsburgh: How likely is Sen. Grassley to get "wood-shedded" by Republicans for voting for financial reform? Or is he untouchable?

Paul Kane: Grassley's pretty untouchable at the moment, considering a) how loyal he was during health care and b) he's coasting to re-election in a very centrist, swing state.

Grassley, in his last year as the top R on Finance, will likely become the ranking Republican on the Judiciary committee next year, using his seniority to bump Jeff Sessions. Who will then use his seniority to claim the ranking membership of the budget committee, which is being vacated by retiring Judd Gregg.

I love musical chairs! Especially when "Joshua Tree" is the soundtrack.


Kasaoka, Japan: Mr. Kane,

I wanted to write and say thank you for recommending Caro's "Master of the Senate" during a past chat. I found it to be very helpful in understanding how the Senate works. How much has changed in Senate procedure since LBJ's time?

Second unrelated E-street question: Have you picked up the Big Man's memoirs? If so could you recommend.


Paul Kane: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm influencing minds near and far in these chats. See, Kasaoka, Japan! The only place on earth not affected by volcanic ash the past week!

Glad you liked "Master of the Senate". I think I've mentioned this before, but when Tom Daschle was Senate Dem leader, that's when Caro published the book. He told us he started reading it. A few weeks later, a very incisive reporter from the Washington Times followed up and asked Daschle what he thought of the book. Without blinking, Daschle said, "I keep looking for the fund raising. I keep thinking, when did Johnson raise money?"

So much of Daschle's life at that point was raising money for the DSCC, DNC, his own re-election. And yet almost none of Caro's book deals with fund raising. Because it didn't really happen back then, we assumed.

As for "The Big Man", a great friend, Billy O'Neill, gave me the book as a gift. I've heard mixed reviews. I'm flying to Jazz Fest tomorrow, so I might try to read some of the book on the flight.


San Francisco, Ca.: I agree with the characterization of the Tea Partiers as a fringe slice of the Conservative (or maybe not so fringe) but there was a recent article co-authored by Fox News democrat Pat Caddell that indicated about half of the Tea Partiers leaned Democratic. Was this, then just a falsehood, or more charitably a mis-characterization. Should I believe my own lying eyes? Avoiding a Democratic disaster by Douglas E. Schoen and Patrick H. Caddell (Post, April 16)

Paul Kane: I think there are a lot of Democrats who are registered Democrats who vote Republican.

Look, if you go to a Tea Party rally, you will see that these folks ain't Democrats. They're not. Maybe they once were, but they aren't anymore. When I was in Bucks County, Pa two months ago -- where the single greatest swing district in all of America sits, that of Rep. Patrick Murphy (D), where the local congressman has been a Republican 16 of the past 32 years, and a Democrat the other 16 years -- there I met a woman in downtown Bristol. One of those places that time forgot, where a steel mill has slowly closed and where manufacturing jobs have disappeared. This woman working in the local chamber was a devout Democrat most of her life. Hated the Bushes and all their country-club Republicanism.

Voted for Kerry, with pride in '04.

Now, her husband's been outta work for about 2 years, her son's having trouble getting work, so he spends his days online reading Dr. Paul's preachings. She's now a devout Ron Paul person.

Is she a Democrat? In name only, yes.

Is she a Tea Partier? Absolutely.


Dalton, Ga.: If you're curious, Nathan Deal is from Georgia's 9th congressional district (I'm a constituent) and currently, there is no Democrat running and it's a bit of shambles on the Republican sides since there really is a clear front-runner yet.

9th District hopefuls scramble for cash

Paul Kane: Thank you for the update, Dalton.

That tells you something about the environment right now -- Democrats aren't yet even fielding a candidate, even though the Republican side in "a shambles."

What a difference two years makes.

This time in 2008, Democrats were making hard plays for very similar districts, Louisiana's 6th and Mississippi's 1st. Incredibly conservative terrain, yet Democrats won them both in May 2008 special elections.

Flash forward, Dems aren't even contending in a very similar district, and Rs are making pushes for seats (Hawaii and Pa) that have been in Dem hands for 50 or more combined years.


Washington, D.C.: Ok - admit it: that Facebook column on the right hand of the screen is annoying, right? Can you share that observation with those at the WaPo who make those decisions? I know you're powerful, Paul!

Paul Kane: I'm such a troglodyte, I'm not even on Facebook. So there. I agree.


Western PA: Would it bother you very much to have an Eastern Division showdown between the Flyers and the Penguins assuming the bracket and the fates allow?

Just poke checkin'.

GO Sid and the gang!

Paul Kane: In January 2009, the Eagles and Steelers were in their respective conference championship games, with the possiblity of an all-PA Super Bowl.

My beloved Eagles lost, and the Steelers won. So, Sen. Bob Casey -- knowing my Philly roots -- came up to me outside the Senate one day and says, "Hey PK, now that the Eagles are out of it, I assume you're with the Steelers. Right"

"Senator," I said, politely, knowing he has to root for both teams being a statewide officer, "Senator, if I get in a car in City Hall Philadelphia and jump on I95, heading south, if I drive 5 1/2 hours south on 95 without any traffic, I'm gonna be south of Richmond. Do I ever root for the Richmond Spiders in college football or basketball?"

He got the point. Pittsburgh is soooo far away from Philly, sometimes I forget we're in the same state.


Washington, D.C.: Assuming financial reg reform passes (and it increasingly looks like it will), does Obama gain politically from it? By "politically", I mean - will this actually help to improve his mediocre approval numbers?

Paul Kane: I don't know how much this impacts the the public approval numbers, but it will continue to improve something that the Obama White House is very concerned about -- narrative coming out of the Washington press corps.

Yes, the Bushies were very concerned about this, too, as were the Clintonites.

But the Obama folks are hyper-concerned about the narrative, how we, the media here in DC, are portraying their work in the West Wing. And they want to keep the narrative going that Obama is winning, success is breeding success.

If finreg -- as I've now learned its moniker among the insiders insiders -- if it passes, the narrative will continue to be an upward arc for Obama.


Vernon, B.C., Canada: glad you Phillie fans are enjoying the Doc. We now have a reason to cheer for Philly, Doc is the kind of player, and person, that even when he leaves your team, you still cheer for him. Go Phillies!!!

Paul Kane: Folks, these are my readers. Love 'em, hate 'em, they're my readers. I've hit Japan AND Canada.

It's time like these when I need to recall/paraphrase the Matt Dillon/Cliff character in "Singles", when discussing Citizen Dick's fan base in Belgium.

This chat is loved in British Columbia!


I'm a Wheel-Watcher: Last night's "Wheel of Fortune" featured a contestant who described her work as including communicating on political matters with radio programs. I Googled her name and easily found that she's a rabid Sarah Palin fan, who even has a blog and other social communication sites dedicated to practically worshipping Palin (gag).

My questions are: How many people are out there leading vicarious lives as obsessive huge fans of political figures/celebrities? And are they ever dangerous?

Personally, I can't imagine living my life through someone else, or worshipping a celebrity (not even Pat, Vanna, or even PK!).

Paul Kane: I think this sounds fairly innocent. I've got a couple friends who have started their own blogs, did so out of devotion to sports. We laughed at them heartily, thought they were kinda crazy. You know what? My buddy Dave's baseball blog has become so professional, that the Washington Nationals just issued him a press credential.

Check out the blog, baseball fans.

I think this woman is probably akin to my friends and their baseball blogs.


Crazy Talk: There has been recent talk in political circles that the GOP taking control of the House in November might actually HELP Obama and the Dems in 2012. Is there something to this or is it just crazy talk?

Paul Kane: There is a real dispute here. Not just crazy talk.

There are Republicans, some of whom are semi-smart, at least, who believe that getting really, really close to the majority in each chamber -- but not actually getting it -- is the best bet politically.

Imagine a House with 220 Dems, 215 Republicans, and a Senate with 52 Dems, 48 Republicans.

Nothing could get done. Nothing.

And some Republicans believe this would not harm them, as they'd not have any real power so they couldn't bear the blame, and then their nominee would sling shot past Obama as they captured the White House, House, Senate in 2012.

There's one problem with this thought/theory: A lot of Dems said the same thing in '06, that the best thing for them would be to get close, but not take, the majority.

Instead, they won both chambers, and, by holding them, they controlled the domestic agenda. Henry Waxman issued a ton of subpoenas, made life hell for Republicans.

I come from the school of thought, always better to be in the majority.


Tea Party analysis: Paul,

Thank you for your reflective post on the Tea Party. Yours was one of the more honest that I've read, especially in the Post. Too often, even reporters have their biases influence their writing, and for once, to have a reporter say what you said leaves me with some hope that there are still clear-eyed journalists who are trying to get past talking points and lazy judgements to write a story. Thank you.

Paul Kane: There are plenty of us out here. Don't give up hope. I was at a dinner last night with about 500 other journalists, the over whelming majority of us good people, who want to have the time and space to do great work. Sometimes we fall short of our own aspirations, some times our editors screw us over, some times our organizations aren't financially sufficient enough to provide the resources needed to do the work you want us to do.

But sometimes we do, and when we do -- whether it's exposing something like the scandal at Walter Reed, or something as wonderful as a Dan Balz analysis of the Tea Party -- it's a great, great thing.

Don't give up on us. Please, don't.


Seville, Spain: Why are vampires so popular right now among American young people?

Paul Kane: OK, now people are just making up places around the world in order to get me to take their questions.

I get it, you're not really from Spain.

As for this vampire thing, I really missed out on it. It came outta nowhere, one day I'm trying to watch football in the fall with my buddy Sonny Bunch -- a great film critic -- and I sheepishly said, "Dude, where'd this vampire thing come from?"


Anonymous: I wish I had bookmarked the URL, but I remember reading about a college student in Colorado who started a blog for Sarah Palin to be the vice-presidential nominee back in January or February 2007 (note she had just won the election for Governor of Alaska in December 2006)

Paul Kane: Honestly, that's not really surprising.

People are always looking for the next big thing. The night of the Virginia gubernatorial race, I emailed The Fix around 9 pm with an urgent, all caps subject line: MCDONNELL FOR VEEP IN 2012.

Chris wrote back to me: Dude, I twittered that 5 mins ago.


Anonymous: RE: Politico and the rallies.

Yes, the media should cover the tea parties (Right Now)

Just curious if you had any thoughts about WaPo online hiring a full-time blogger for the Republican movement?

Paul Kane: Dave was a great addition to our lineup.

We have a few bloggers who are, let's face it, more liberally inclined and tend to write things from the left perspective. While I don't know Dave's own personal politics, he approaches each post with the thought of: What are the conservatives thinking?

And not from the perspective of someone who is the senior counsel to the ranking member of the House commerce committee, but someone who is a conservative living in Omaha or Tuscon. How are they viewing this?

It's a great addition.


Boston, Mass.: While the mass media seems to highlight a lot about the lack of racial diversity with Tea Party protests, one thing that stuck me was the lack of young people. I mean I can't think of many "social movements" that didn't start with young people or at least have a significant youth presence.

Paul Kane: Look, I'm far from scientific on this, my only experience is the 2-day protests at the Capitol the weekend of the health-care vote.

Yes, those folks tended to be very old, skewing older than the general public at large. I say that not to be mean, but just to say, Man, lots of salt in the hair, not much pepper. (Said by someone whose own salt is starting to dominate the pepper.)


Speaking of Troglodytes...: Can we ask the President and the Senate for a litmus test against SC candidates from the Harvard/Yale/Princeton Appeals Court axis? That exchange on email, texting and paging in their questioning on Tuesday was horrific. These people are so, so privileged they are utter social idiots. The Court desperately needs the guy/gal who came out in the bottom quarter of their class at some state school and worked themselves to a great outcome.

Paul Kane:

Shailagh Murray and I tackled this very issue last week. Full disclosure: we're both state school kids.


Hawaii Toss-up: Do point out that the Dems will get 60+ percent of the vote in that special....just that there are two of them and only one GOP.

Paul Kane: Absolutely, yes, the Dems will collect 60-some percent of the vote. It's a crazy system out there for the special election, whereby everyone's in the field all at once, Dems, Rs, other party folks. Something like 14 people on the ballot.

Djou, the Republican city councilman from Honolulu, is now the front-runner to win this race. I'm laying it down. There are 2 strong Dem candidates who are locked in a death battle against one another, stuck at 30% each.

Meanwhile, Djou just needs to collect the usual 35% of the vote, the share of the vote that usually went to the Republican lamb who was led to the slaughter against beloved incumbent Dem Neil Abercrombie, who retired to run for gov.

This is a sign of how weak Dems are now, that they can't strong arm one of the 2 Dem candidates out of the race.


Is Spector/specter? in trouble?: what's up w/Arlen and that slam against the former admiral in PA?

Paul Kane: Arlen got the nickname Snarlin Arlen for a reason.

He's a tough street fighter. He wins and he wins ugly.

I'll be up in PA late next week following him and Sestak around for a 1-year anniversary piece. What anniversary?

Specter's party switch. I asked him yesterday what he was doing for it, and he said, "Paul, it's Wednesday, April 28th, and I'll be here in the Senate fighting for financial regulatory reform."

So, there you have it.


"Don't give up hope.": You know while you and your colleagues will read this Sunday New York Times article and think "Wow, I wanna be like Mike". The rest of us out here will cough up our breakfast and think "That is the reason our country is not as great as it can be". None of history's courtiers has ever come out looking good.

Paul Kane: Mike Allen is a friend. Mark Leibovich, the NYT reporter, is also a friend.

Some will read that piece and think Mike's crazy. Some will read it and think Politico's great.

I think the deeper metaphor for that piece is what it says about Washington, the culture of Washington. Mark was devastating in his brilliance of depicting Mike and Politico as a subculture of Washington.

If you read one scene that befits this culture, read that piece until the point where Mark describes the birthday party of the "Meet the Press" producer, hosted by one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington.

It was so spot-on, I wanted to vomit, in the way I recognized someone portraying the sort of thing that I regularly participate in, something that from the outside can look so vein and stupid.


South Bend: Looks like Clausen is going to fall to late first, Paul. Given all of Bradford's injury concerns, I'm surprised Clausen isn't generating more interest. Anyways, when should we be worried about Brad Ellsworth's numbers here in Indiana? Was this just the wrong year to take the plunge into a Senate race?

Paul Kane: Jimmy Clausen, meet Brady Quinn.

Really, if Charlie is such a great producer of NFL-ready QBs, why was Quinn so utterly god awful.

This is one of the deepest drafts ever, as Romney man Kevin Madden is happy to tell you. But its depth is on the lines and at safety. Not at QB.

Stay away from QBs. Trust me.

(And when Kevin and I are out tonight drinking pints and all the Qbs go in the first round, I'll tell him about this chat!)


New Haven, Conn.: Hawaii's 1st congressional district went for Obama-Biden over 70% on Nov. 4, 2008 yet it's currently a toss-up? Even with two Democrats and non-crazy Republican, how is that possible? Somebody's head has to roll for that.

Paul Kane: See, New Haven gets my point.


Fairfax, Va.: If Harry Reid loses re-election, which seems likely at this point, who wins the battle to replace him -- Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, or other? Your best guess?

Paul Kane: I really don't know the answer, but this is now a subject matter that can be talked about openly.

At last night's dinner, Claire McCaskill and Mike Pence were the comedic speakers. Both were excellent, by the way.

McCaskill made a joke -- on camera, to about 1,000 people, 500 reporters -- about how only one senator seems to care about her, he sends her cards, notes, flowers, etc. Then she said: "Chuck, OK, I'll vote for you for leader, just stop sending all that stuff to me, my husband's getting suspicious."

Wow. Not sure how Reid took that joke.


Fairfax: Charlie Crist - does he stay in the GOP primary, make an independent bid, or drop out entirely? Would his odds be much better in a 2012 challenge to Bill Nelson or would another upstart conservative outflank him again?

Paul Kane: This is the only Crist question!

I think Crist has a simple question to ask himself: What does he want to do 10 years from now?

If he wants to be in the Senate dealing with national and international policy, then he should probably go for broke and run as an independent. Doing that, however, swears off any future in the Republican party, just as Lieberman swore off any future in national Democratic politics by running as an indy in '06. Yes, you can still be an active member of the Senate, but you will never be mentioned for veep and can never think of running for president.


Didn't EJ Dionne say it first?: If I'm not mistaken, it was the Post's own EJ Dionne who has been pointing out for several weeks on TV & in print that the Tea party is a more vocal and over-exposed but same old wing of the Republican party that's been around since ... the founding of the country, actually.

right? What fuels the grass-roots rage

Paul Kane: Ok, maybe EJ should get all the credit!


OK folks, with that, it's time for me to get going. Hope this has been a fun discussion. Everything from the NFL draft to Clarence to Tea party stuff.

See you all in 2 weeks. --pk


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