Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2010; 11:00 AM
Washington Post congressional correspondent Paul Kane was online Thursday, June 3 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest political news.
Paul Kane: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, it's a hot one here in the no-Congress DC, as the lawmakers are spread near and far, some fighting for their political lives in advance of next Tuesday's primaries (Hello Blanche Lincoln, Jane Harman and Bob Inglis), while others are eyeing the oil plumes in the Gulf and thinking about what to do next.
Let's get right to the questions, but first let's stipulate: We filled up on Starbucks grande before this chat, and we're letting the iTunes Genius do its work to sponsor this chat. First song it chose for me: Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love", which is, well, genius.
Comparison to be made: Paul, what got more coverage, this job offer "scandal" or the firings of U.S. Attorneys in the Bush administration?
Paul Kane: Ah man, you walked into my wheelhouse here. Anyone who thinks the Sestak-Romanoff stuff has gotten more coverage than the US attorney firings did, back in 2007, well, you can just sign off this chat right now. Because that US attorney thing was far more intensely covered than this stuff. I mean, I was the co-author of, I'd guess, about 15-20 A1 stories on that issue back in 2007. There were about 10-12 congressional hearings regarding it.
That issue was about the alleged politicization of the entire Justice Department, not a couple primary races.
No contest, that US attorney issue was a far bigger deal. And rightly so.
South Bend: Hey, did you see Evan Bayh on the Daily Show last night? Has he done anything since his NY Times editorial about partisanship in the Senate, or is it like the rest of his 12 years in the Senate -- all talk and no action?
Paul Kane: Holy cow. I caught the tail end of that segment and had no clue whether it was a re-run or not. And then Larry Craig appeared at the end and was singing a duet with the hilarious Brit, whose name is escaping me now.
Was that Larry Craig bit new also? Or was that filmed before the, um, er, uh, incident?
OK, we're gonna find the film on that thing and link to it here. It did look hilarious.
And no, Evan Bayh has done nothing to inspire more bipartisanship since his pronouncement 2 months or so ago. He's doing the same amount of outward legislative work as he always did, which was always very little.
Richmond, VA: bank collapses, bad economy, oil spills, middle east problems, two wars, and North Korea.
Why would anyone want to be president?
Paul Kane: Because you get the fancy airplane?
Because you get to be interviewed by Marv Albert about your thoughts on the NBA playoffs?
Because you get to interject yourself into the CBS broadcast of Georgetown-Duke and do some play-by-play with Clark Kellog for a little while?
Arlington, VA: Wouldn't the White House be better off focussing on how to mitigate the damage from the oil spill rather than focussing attention on the latest, long-shot, never-tried-before, maneuver by BP to stop the oil from flowing? I think the public no longer believes BP knows how to stop this thing and continually disappointing them with failed attemps doesn't seem to help.
Paul Kane: I'm hardly the expert here on the science of things. But I would have to assume that they can do both those things -- encourage the long-shot solution while also preparing for the long-term mitigation.
Pueblo, Colo.: CO-Sen: I Do. Not. Care. about this stupid non-story. Why are journalists so damn breathless about crap like this? It's like they've never heard of politics.
Paul Kane: For all of 2009, the Obama White House perpetuated this myth of the almighty, above-politics president; he of the pure motives and post-partisan, post-politics-as-usual MO.
Well, not so much.
That's why this is a story.
Also, as Republican lawyer Elliot Berke has pointed out to me and several other reporters, look, there doesn't seem to be any sorta major crime issue here, given what we know. But there's something bizarrely Nixonian about the White House conducting its own "investigation" and then declaring: Hey, everything's fine, nothing wrong happened. Nothing to see here, move along. Remain calm, all is well.
East Lansing, Mich.: Isn't Blanche Lincoln just behind Harry Reid as the Democrat least likely to win re-election? So it's bad for Democrats if she loses to a guy that despite the hype, isn't that more liberal then her, but yet it's also bad for Democrats if she wins the primary because she lose in November? I'm confused.
Paul Kane: I think without question, Blanche is now going to be No. 1 on The Fix's most vulnerable Senate incumbents. It's just not looking good for her right now, although we've not seen much polling after the Big Dog -- WJC, the former president -- went into Little Rock for her. We don't know if he moved the needle at all.
But, with a gun to our heads and forced to choose, the so-called smart set here in DC would all pick Halter on Tuesday, just tilting the scale ever so slightly in his direction. I reserve the right to completely flip-flop on this issue if there's some polling data post-Clinton that shows energy going her way.
As for Reid, well, this Sharon Angle boomlet, combined with Sue Lowden sinking post-chicken-bartering, has given new life to the man those very close to him call Hank. It's insane to think that Republicans may have screwed this one up so badly.
Unlike Blanche, whose polling free-fall started last fall, Reid has been in a 5-1/2-year drop. As soon as he became the Democratic leader, his polling data started sinking, like a slow-moving Titanic. He should not even be in the running for winning another term.
But Angle is not well liked by moderates and independents in Clark County, who make up 2/3 of the electorate or more in the general election. Those folks view her as a hard-line conservative from the northern part of the state who just doesn't share their values.
That could give Reid new life if she's the nominee on Tues night.
San Francisco, Ca. : The Republicans regain control of the House and Senate and then through some alchemy I have yet to imagine they retake the White House. What do they do differently than George W. Bush did?
Paul Kane: No 1 -- They don't invade Iraq or any other country unless we've been attacked by said country.
No 2 -- They don't spend money on any new government programs, such as the prescription drug/Medicare Part D thing Bush got signed into law.
No 3 -- They don't do any major federal initiative related to schools, like the No Child Left Behind legislation he (and then House education chairman John Boehner) pushed in 2001-2002.
They pursue almost identical tax policies, probably, and they probably move to slash spending on a whole bunch of domestic policy agencies.
Another "Comparison to be made": Which is more lethal to his electoral chances: Blumenthal's service claim in CT., or Mark Kirk's (2) in IL.?
Paul Kane: Probably Blumenthal. And here's why:
Blumenthal was absolutely cruising before this NYT story broke, way, way ahead of Mrs. WWF/WWE. He was seen as an extremely honorable man.
After the fact, he's wobbly and trying to right his ship. Polls seem to indicate that he's still in command, but there's now an opening for McMahon to go after him.
If Blumenthal loses, it's going to be almost certainly because of this single storyline -- did he lie about/exaggerate his military service?
In Kirk, you had a guy who was already a 51-49 shot at winning anyway. He was not going to be a sure thing. This storyline suggests that he's claimed a military award for himself, when in fact it's an award for overseas work in a hostile situation that went to him and his entire team of intelligence troops.
This, to me, is the baseball equivalent of a manager having on his resume that he was World Series MVP when in fact he was just the manager of the team that won the Series.
It's stupid and not great, but, well, his team did win the World Series.
I don't think Kirk is going to win/lose based entirely on this storyline, not in a Dem-leaning state like Illinois.
Blumenthal, on the other hand, I think, will win/lose solely on his ability to defeat this storyline.
Dunn Loring, VA: Since the BP oil spill, what has Obama spent more time doing - touring Louisana and meeting the people on the scene, or playing golf?
Paul Kane: I don't think he's done much at all golfing of late.
What he done a ton of his photo-ops with people who, well, don't really deserve his time during such an important national crisis moment, or at least that's what Jon Stewart believes.
Blacksburg, Va.: I don't get this at all. Job offers to well qualified people for low rent positions are treated like the crime of the century. Yet all week we've been hearing about how MMS was filled up with oil industry folks and just like when the DOJ was being filled up with graduates of Pat Robertson's law school, the press is quiet on it because that's an actual story that's more complex then this non-story.
Paul Kane: Yeah, I think a lot of you folks need to stop looking at Drudge or whatever blogs that are dominating your life.
Because those of you who think the mainstream media is more concerned about the Sestak-Romanoff stuff than the oil leak, well, you need to check into a rehab clinic or something.
Have you looked at the front pages of the Wash Post/NYT/WSJ? We ain't running these Sestak-job stories on A1. To date the Post has run 1 story out front, the day that the WH issued its "report" and Sestak did his odd presser on the Capitol steps. That's it.
I'm pretty sure the NYT has a similar track record.
And yet every day for the last 30 or so days, we've run stories on A1 about the oil spill.
Same with cable. Do you watch cable?
All day long, nothing but rolling video of that pipe with the oil pouring out of it.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Have you heard of Senator Webb's rationale behind opposing the Don't Ask Don't Tell amendment, but then voting for the whole defense bill, which included the amendment, out of committee? Also, wow, I never expected Ben Nelson and Robert Byrd, the two Democrats who voted in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, to vote yes on this amendment!
Paul Kane: I think that the views of Gates were pretty determinative to how many folks like Nelson and Byrd voted.
He is the most fascinating man in Washington, I think. He's the Indispensable Man, for Obama, for congressional Dems, the guy who they turn to as their shield against any charges of being soft on terra/national security.
And he's a Republican.
And he's showing no sign of leaving any time soon.
I want to read some awesome Vanity Fair/Esquire piece on him pretty soon, to learn about how he's soooo mastered the political orbit of Washington that -- in what is ostensibly a non-political job -- he's managed to get the most conservative president in the history of the United States and the most liberal president in the history of the United States to bend to his will on matters of war.
Almighty Post Partisan President: C'mon. This is intra-partisan. Obama is the leader of the Democratic party and as such needs to exert control over races. I don't recall Obama saying that he wouldn't play a role in Democratic politics. Obama has spent a lot of time, most of us liberal-hippies would say too much, reaching out to the Chuck Grassleys and Lindsey Graham's of the world.
Paul Kane: I completely agree with your take on this. But it is not the image that his mandarins projected throughout 2009 and early 2010, as they tried to make it seem as if he was better than the rest of us, that he didn't care about politics and didn't read polls, etc.
Of course he did.
The other aspect of this storyline that gets little attention is the civil war that is going on inside the White House briefing room. The reporters in there are clearly tired of Robert Gibbs and his "I'll Get Back to You" proclamations. So they have fed on this story because they know it makes him squirm.
A guy like Jake Tapper -- a Philly guy, who knows the characters well in the Sestak-job issue -- just keeps peppering Robert. Why?
Because they can.
RE: Kirk and Blumenthal: Paul,
I guess the flip side of your argument could be a) Blumenthal has a far longer record in state-wide politics than Kirk does b) Blumenthal was further ahead than Kirk was in his race and c) the fact that Kirk is a Republican running in a somewhat leaning Dem state, Kirk has the smaller margin for error, therefore Kirk's chances are apt to be hurt worse.
Paul Kane: Those points are valid, but I think you get to C and I don't.
I think Mark Kirk, if he loses, will likely lose because he has opposed almost every key element of the Obama agenda, except for cap-and-trade. And soon after supporting cap-and-trade, he came out and said it was a dumb vote and wished he could take it back.
I think that sort of positioning -- done in part to ward off any primary challengers -- makes him vulnerable in the general. Far, far, far more so than whether or not he properly attributed an award that he did win while serving in military operations overseas.
Philadelphia, PA: "For all of 2009, the Obama White House perpetuated this myth of the almighty, above- politics president; he of the pure motives and post-partisan, post-politics-as-usual MO."
In neither case was a job OFFERED.
In neither case did the discussion WORK.
This just doesn't mean a thing. In both races, they had two candidates that they liked. They sought a path to try to remedy the situation in a very WEAK-ARMED manner (if that can be a phrase). In both cases, it was to protect incumbents whose votes were needed right now -- wouldn't be surprised if Halter has had a discussion too.
The highly political thing would be to strong arm the one they want out of the scene. This quite evidently has not happened.
It's unbelievable that this is an issue. Almost as bad as the Obama-not-emoting meme.
Paul Kane: Eh, what do you mean the job wasn't offered? Seems pretty clear that Bill Clinton was telling Sestak he could have the job. (Granted, they would have had to come up with something different than the job offered, the intelligence board, since it wasn't allowed for members. But Sestak sure thinks he had an offer.)
And in the Romanoff-Messina discussion, it appears that in the twisted White House spin, the job wasn't "offered" only because Romanoff said he wouldn't accept it.
I don't think he's done much at all golfing of late.: Paul,
Since the oil spill on April 20, Obama went golfing:
Paul Kane: For the record, in the months of April and May, I've also played golf 7 times. Same as the president.
Oh wait. He's president. I'm not.
OK, I stand corrected. The man's playing a lot of golf.
Helena MT: Seriously, you think Obama is the "most liberal President" in the history of the United States? More liberal than, say, FDR? More liberal than, say, JFK? You seriously think that?
Paul Kane: OK, FDR is probably the most liberal president, you're right. But Obama is way, way more liberal than JFK. The only other challenger for the most liberal post-FDR president is LBJ, whose Great Society created the civil rights laws, Medicare and Medicaid.
But Obama is certainly more liberal than Bill Clinton and Carter.
Cap and Trade after all?: Does the oil spill mean that Congress WILL take up cap and trade or parts thereof before November?
PS Sorry about the Phloppin' Phillies, Paul.
Paul Kane: Climate change legislation was always going to be a very difficult lift once the White House and Harry Reid decided to over-rule Pelosi and go health-care first, then maybe get to climate/energy.
Then health-care turned into a 10-month slog, making it even more difficult to pass climate change.
Now, I just find it hard to see how this goes through. I understand how the White House will use this as a political cudgel to try to push the issue, framing it well for the midterms.
But the deal that Obama was dangling out there was always very simple: Republicans, I'm going to give you more offshore drilling and more nuclear power development, and in exchange you're not going to filibuster my bill that is going to put a price on carbon.
Now, there's no way they can have more offshore drilling, which makes the entire deal all apart.
Washington DC : I totally agree with you about Gates. His mastery is even more remarkable considering that his tenure at the CIA was considered mediocre, at best. Agency analysts had reams of data showing that he Soviet Union was imploding, but Gates had totally bought into the Bill Casey mindset and misdirected the agency's resources.
Paul Kane: People who suck up to me and tell me they "totally agree" will always get called on to ask their questions in these chats.
PS -- Genius was, well, not so Genius. About 6-8 songs in, it started replaying "Ain't Talin' 'Bout Love." Who does that? I switched off to the alt-rock genius thing. Lotsa obscure U2, like "The Refugee" from War. Now that's genius.
Philadelphia, PA: "managed to get the most conservative president in the history of the United States and the most liberal president in the history of the United States to bend to his will on matters of war"
I didn't realize Robert Gates served FDR? Or do you mean LBJ?
Oh, you mean BHO? Look at the record -- Nixon was to the left of Obama. Price controls, regulation, unfunded social programs, you name it -- Nixon was more liberal than Obama.
Please have some historical perspective.
Paul Kane: I love Philly, as most readers of my chats know.
But I don't think anyone in this chat would agree with you on Nixon being more liberal than Obama. Sorry.
Provo, Utah: Of course Andrew Romanoff and Joe Sestak rejected those offers. They'd probably still be held up in the U.S. Senate without a vote for no reason to this day.
Paul Kane: To be fair, the Sestak "offer" wasn't a Senate confirmation thing. He'd have just been named to the board.
On that front, however, I'm surprised we've not seen any recess appointments this week. Anyone appointed this week would get to serve the remainder of this year and all of the following year. But none so far.
Maybe they'll come tomorrow, or maybe there's a wink-nod thing going on so that Obama won't do anything to infuriate Senate Rs until the war supplemental is approved.
Washington, DC: How has the emergence of Politico changed media coverage of Capitol Hill -- and to the extent it has, politics on the Hill? Chris Dodd complained to the NY Times that a "blizzard" of political bloggers and gossip columnists have taken over. "It gets to a point where no one is really covering what you're doing," Dodd said in a May 24 article.
Paul Kane: I missed the Dodd comments. But everything about journalism has changed in the last 2 1/2 years. Not trying to be melo-dramatic here.
Here's an example.
In April/May 2001, the Bush White House was pushing for a reconciliation package of tax cuts worth $1.3-$1.6 trillion. Most of you know what happened, considering the insane amount of attention to the reconciliation process during this health-care debate.
So, back in '01, the then-Parliamentarian Bob Dove let it be known that he would rule against all or a big chunk of the tax cuts, saying they violated the reconciliation rules long established by Senate dictate in the early '70s.
So one Friday afternoon Trent Lott called Dove and fired him, replacing him with his deputy, Alan Frumin, who ruled the tax package was A-OK.
Well, I was at Roll Call at the time, covering the Senate leadership along with Mark Preston (who's now a top off-air political reporter for CNN). Mark got the story. Lock, stock and smoking barrel, nailed the story about an hour after it happened. Even got an angry Bob Dove on the phone, who yelled at him but didn't deny he'd been fired.
So Mark started writing. Tim Curran and Ed Henry -- then our top editors; Tim's now a top editor at the Post, Ed now CNN's WH guy -- they edited the story at 6 pm on a Friday night.
It was slapped into the paper at the top of page 1 by about 6:30 pm Friday night.
and then it sat there. And sat there. And sat there. For about 55 hours, before the presses started running.
See, we didn't publish until Monday morning. And the story held all weekend long.
And come Monday, every reporter in Washington, and most staff, learned that Bob Dove had been fired, from a Roll Call story that was broke on Friday afternoon.
In today's world, Mark would have tweeted the story at 4 pm, it would have been rushed online by 4:15, it would have been updated 6 times by 6:30 pm, and then we all would have spent the entire weekend writing political obits of Dove and then nothing but stories on who Frumin is and how he'd rule on the reconciliation package.
And by Monday we'd all have moved on to something else.
Everything's changed. For better or worse. And Politico is the leading edge of that change.
There's no going back.
Casablanca: I don't read Drudge or other such sites, just Washingtonpost.com. And I think the White House exploring whether a primary candidate wants an appointment in order to avoid a primary fight is as shocking as gambling taking place in a casino. There just isn't any reason to waste the electrons on it. Yet you do, Fix does and on and on, like it's a story.
Paul Kane: Eh, you're still wrong and missing the point. We've devoted about 1,000 times more energy and ink on the oil spill story and the W. Va. miners and the really important issues, as an organization.
There are other stories that also explain how Washington works, how it moves behind the scenes, who the powerful players are. That's what this Sestak-Romanoff stuff is all about.
This is a story. Not a big one, not as big a deal as the Gulf or the future of mining.
If you don't want to read these stories, that's fine, kindly move along and let the rest of us read them without your attitude of superiority.
It's the web, man. There's something for everyone here.
If you don't want to read it, move on.
Paul Kane: Alright gang, time for me to get going. June 8 awaits us, another judgment day for incumbents as well as the Tea Party. Look for web and print stories from me coming from Vegas, baby Vegas, as I'll be on the ground there Monday through Wednesday covering the GOP primary there. We'll also have reporters on the ground in Little Rock, for the Lincoln-Halter race, and in southern California, where Carly and Whitman will be hosting what they expect to be victory parties for the respective senatorial and gubernatorial primaries there. See you back here in 2 weeks.
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