Post Politics Hour's Daily Politics Discussion

Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Friday, March 14, 2008; 11:00 AM

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Washington Post congressional reporter Paul Kane was online Friday, March 14 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

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Paul Kane: Greetings folks, it's a rare Friday appearance for yours truly. My apologies to all you Fix Fanatics out there but Chris had to pass on today's discussion. But that's okay, because we've actually got a lot happening up here on Capitol Hill so there's lots to talk about: a FISA vote in the House, the Senate completing its work on the budget last night with all three presidentials (plus Robert C. Byrd) on hand for the first time in a while. Plus, the House Republicans admitted yesterday that their campaign arm has been swindled for hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe as much as $1 million, as an FBI investigation unfolds. Good times. And hey, note of personal privilege, birthday greetings to a pair of friends turning 30, Karen and Lauren. On to the questions!


Anonymous: I'm very curious about this closed-door session of Congress about the warrantless wiretapping program and associated telecom immunity. While fully realizing you're not a fortune-teller, I'll ask your predictions nonetheless for the outcome of this session: Do you think the Democratic Congress finally will stand firm in their refusal to grant telecom immunity, or will they cave to administration pressure once again?

Paul Kane: Yesterday's closed session of the House seems to have been more about pomp and circumstance than it did with any effort at really passing the new FISA law. As it turns out, the Democrats so far seem to have determined that they have the political ability to defy Bush on this national security issue, which is a table-turning moment in the paradigm of presidential-congressional politics of the past eight years. We'll see how long it lasts, but generally speaking, whether in the minority or majority, the Democrats have buckled on every single key national security issue that is related to the war on terror (separate and distinct from Iraq war issues). Now, they have some political backbone. The House will today likely pass a bill without telecom immunity. Interesting showdown ahead.


San Francisco: Finding out they have a million dollars missing from their accounts must be a terrible blow to the NRCC, especially after losing Speaker Denny's seat. Can Tom Cole hold his position atop the House fundraising committee in light of these new missing-money revelations? NRCC Says Ex-Treasurer Diverted Up to $1 Million (Post, March 14)

Paul Kane: Okay, on to the stories I've written about of late, the NRCC scandal. This is a fascinating story that has the potential to grow in terms of scope, considering this ex-treasurer was in charge of so many different GOP political committees. It seems $1 million is the upper limit for how much he might have taken from the NRCC. However, let's say it's only $500,000 in the end. Tom Cole told us yesterday he's already spent $370,000 on lawyers and accountants -- that's before a single NRCC has been interviewed by the FBI, legal bills the committee has to cover. So, it will spend in excess of $500,000 on legal-accounting bills, easy. And the FEC, which is also investigating the case along with the FBI, is likely to impose some sort of fine for the filing of inaccurate monthly financial reports.

This whole thing could easily cost the NRCC more than $1.5 million when all is said and done.


Birmingham, Ala.: Paul, any preliminary thoughts of Bud Cramer (D-Ala.) deciding not to run for re-election this late in the game? There are about 20 days until the qualifying deadline, and it sounds as though both the state and national party were caught by surprise. Cramer isn't exactly a spokesperson for the national party, but some consideration I'm sure would have been appreciated. Have you heard of any possible reason why Cramer isn't running again? Alabama Democrat to Retire From Congress (AP, March 13)

Paul Kane: This could well be considered the first retirement of a House Democrat that puts a seat in real danger of going to the other side. That's because Cramer had such a good stranglehold on it, winning unopposed in '06 and with more than 70 percent in '04. But it's a GOP district otherwise, with Bush winning 60 percent there in '04 and 54-44 over Gore in '00. (Hope you Fix fans appreciate my best Fix impressions by pulling the presidential data!) Anyway, yes, for the first time in a while Tom Cole has something to cheer about. But, with only 20 days to spare, Cole has to find someone in less than three weeks to run in a district that he probably wasn't really thinking about until now. Besides, he's a little distracted by the FBI thing. So, this is not a sure thing for Republicans, at first blush.


Washington: Got a question about which Senate races would be "low-hanging fruit" for the Democrats. Imagine it's September 2008 and the Democratic nomination has been settled, hopefully with little acrimony. If the Democrats are looking as good politically and financially as they are now, which Senate races would be in reach with an infusion of last-minute cash and personnel? Alaska? North Carolina? Kentucky? Thanks.

Paul Kane: I think the order you listed there might well be the order of probability. If the Democrats have any chance to get in the upper 50s in total seats -- it says here 60 is not happening -- then they'll need to pick off 1 or 2 of the seats you mentioned. And, in terms of "low hanging", Alaska is as good a bet as anything. It's cheap, not expensive to go on TV, and it has a troubled incumbent (FBI-raided-home-octogenarian Ted Stevens). If anyone was prepared for a bunch of "macaca" moments on the campaign trail, it would seem to be Stevens. As for Kentucky, I just think McConnell is too smart, too savvy. He's not going to go "macaca", never, not once. And Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina is possible to beat because she won't be the most active campaigner, but, North Carolina in recent years has been to Democrats what New Jersey is to Republicans -- that state you keep thinking might tilt your way, but never does.


Des Moines, Iowa: A couple of weeks ago, The Politico ran a story about Maria Comella from the Giuliani campaign that basically said she would be flooded with job offers. She has had only three press jobs -- a close loss in New Hampshire for Bush, a 10-point loss in Iowa for Nussle and a crushing loss for Giuliani. Why exactly is she considered a good hire among political operatives when so far she is 0-for-3 on her campaigns? Life after the campaign (Politico, Feb. 13)

Paul Kane: Bob Shrum has never -- never -- won a presidential campaign, I've lost track of how many in a row he's lost. By the time the '04 campaign rolled along, Shrum's losing streak was a well known and well joked about thing. Yet, John Edwards and John Kerry fought like heck over Shrummy's services, with Kerry winning the "Shrum Primary". A campaign aide's worth cannot always been valued in terms of the performance of his/her candidate. There's only so much a staffer can do for a sometimes imperfect candidate. Disclosure: I've known Maria for four years now; she's both good at her job and a great, honest, caring human being. She'll be fine wherever she lands.

P.S. -- Toby Ziegler never won a single race until Bartlett for America!


San Francisco: Re: The NRCC money troubles, does this story go any where? Ward's fraudulent money transfers remind me of the political money laundering that Abramoff and Tom Delay (allegedly) were involved in. I understand why the NRCC would wish to consider this investigation to be solely about Ward's criminality, but why should I believe that years of illegal money transfers by the NRCC's treasurer has nothing to do with the other investigations of money laundering by Republican congressional members?

Paul Kane: To be sure, it's important to note that we reporters asked the NRCC whether there's any evidence of any further collusion of campaign workers, bank staff, anything, and for now they say this scandal is the work of one person: Chris Ward. So, yes, the potential money laundering aspect of this is quite similar to Abramoff (who moved money from his lobbying clients into shadowy non-profits and then into his own personal causes). But Abramoff was doing all this in an effort to bribe lawmakers to get business for his clients to then enrich himself. For now, it appears Ward was involved in an alleged scheme built solely to enrich himself with no other accomplices.


Washington: Senate question for you -- I know that Kansas's upcoming Senate race hasn't been a prime candidate for "The Line," but with the rising star of Sebelius as a popular Democratic governor in Kansas, and the general dissatisfaction with Republicans generally, is Pat Roberts in any danger this November? Is there any candidate that Kansas Democrats could put up who would give Roberts a problem?

Paul Kane: Sorry, but Pat Roberts is really safe. Yes, the governor is a Democrat, but in states like Kansas -- as well as many southern states -- you often see voters take a very different state-federal tack in their voting. State races lack a lot of the same urgency on the national social issues of the moment (stem cell research, gay marriage, abortion have all been predominantly fought on federal level). But in federal races, those social issues really come to the forefront and become very difficult for Democrats to win in statewide senate races.


San Francisco: California State Sen. Tom McClintock can't move north to the state's 4th Congressional District because his legislative seat requires he remain a resident of Southern California. As other Republicans get out of Tom's way to succeed John Doolittle, won't Charlie Brown have a terrific carpetbagger argument, given that his opponent has to commute more than 400 miles just to campaign?

Paul Kane: This is going to be one of the most bizarre congressional primaries you'll ever see. Former Rep. Doug Ose and McClintock are facing off, yet, as the Sacramento Bee notes, neither lives in the district:

"Neither Ose nor McClintock lives in the district. But Elmets said Ose will move from Sacramento to Placer County so that he can vote in the June 3 primary. McClintock acknowledged Tuesday that he won't be able to cast a ballot for himself because he is obligated to maintain a residence in his state district while serving in the Legislature."

Honestly, once Doolittle dropped out I thought Lucy had once again pulled the political football away from Charlie Brown (sorry, I had to, folks). But, maybe, maybe, just maybe, this time around Democrat Charlie Brown has a chance of actually kicking the ball through the goal post.


Aldie, Va.: Obama and Hillary reportedly met face to face yesterday -- any word on what was discussed, how civil they were, outcomes, dream tickets, etc.?

Paul Kane: For some strange reason, I'd decided today I was gonna avoid the presidential questions, but since this deals with their actual Senate, I'll answer it. There was a time when they sat down next to each other and spoke cordially for 5 minutes or so. They were in the Senate for 15-16 hours yesterday for what we insiders call Vote-A-Rama. An all day series of votes on amendments to the budget. So they apparently got along just fine, from what I'm told. But honestly, we're not really supposed to tell you what they said to one another, even if we reporters did hear them talking. Our press gallery hangs above the chair of the Senate president, and sometimes we can overhear conversations. But, really, on the Senate floor, that's supposed to be a zone of privacy for senators that we're not supposed to quote. I admit that once in a while I've quoted something I heard that was a semi-private conversation, but only when 1 senator screams to another. (A few weeks back, after joyously campaigning together for John McCain, Lindsey Graham saw Joe Lieberman on the floor and let out a loud yell: "RAAAABBIII!" And then they hugged. It was innocent and funny and so loud Graham couldn't possibly have expected privacy, so I used the quote.


Mississauga, Ontario: Why is nobody talking about the perils of China holding more than a trillion dollars of American government debt?

Paul Kane: This is one of Graham and Chuck Schumer's favorite topics, actually. If you want more information, call (202) 224-3121, ask for their offices, and they'll be happy to tell you more. No joke, they both are very deep in the weeds on this issue.


Minnesota: NRCC's loss may be bigger than the obvious -- potential donors may not want to give to an organization that cannot manage its money correctly.

Paul Kane: The NRCC raised $8.6 million at a dinner Wednesday night, hours before announcing the "several hundred thousand dollars" went missing, at minimum. So, for now, they're not seeing donor fatigue. That said, the number that might really scare donors in yesterday's announcement is $370,000 -- the amount spent on lawyers and accountants. If this thing grows and grows and more and more money goes toward lawyers, that's when donors get leery of giving to campaigns. ... They want to know their contributions are going into the political battlefield, not into PricewaterhouseCooper's financial ledger.


Anonymous: With so much focus on Pennsylvania, its Democratic Senator Bob Casey is amazingly silent. It's well-documented that his father, the late governor, didn't exactly get along with the Clintons. Do you think he'll remain silent, or eventually will take sides in this campaign?

Paul Kane: I've talked a lot to Senator Casey lately. Some of it off the record, so I can't go into the details. But let's say this much, he's a freshman senator who is really enjoying this job, really enjoying it. I think he's surprised how much he enjoys the Senate, given that his entire political life had previously been in executive branch offices with the governor's mansion his sole pursuit. That said, I don't think he wants to do anything to offend either candidate and I think he genuinely wants to remain neutral, because he needs to have a relationship with whoever the eventual nominee is because either Obama or Clinton is desperately going to need Casey's help in the critical Northeast Pennsylvania corner in the general election. Gov. Ed Rendell has already staked out an extreme Clinton position, so, by staying neutral, Casey remains a potential player-healer for the general election regardless of who the nominee is.


Manchester, N.H.: It seemed like Mike DuHaime has been the only campaign manager from the Republican presidential candidates (he was with Giuliani) to regularly have gone on the record with reporters defending their campaign strategy. Is this a reflection of his lack of faith in the campaign's press people, or a need to defend himself for what turned out to be an incredibly flawed strategy?

Paul Kane: Campaigns do things differently all the time. In this year's presidential race DuHaime was frequently an on-the-record presence. So is David Plouffe, a regular host of the never-ending conference calls each candidate hosts in the Democratic battle. Clinton's campaign, whether it was Patti Solis Doyle or Maggie Williams at the helm, rarely has the manager on the record. In Virginia in '06, the George Allen campaign always used its campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, on the record, and Dick was always on the record as John Thune's manager in South Dakota in '04 (as was Dick's counterpart, Steve Hildebrand of the Daschle campaign in '04, who is now deputy campaign manager for Obama and also a frequent on the record person).

I think it just varies. It's hard to say. Sometimes campaigns put the top staffer out there, as opposed to the press staff, because they feel it gives an extra added boost to how "official" these statements are; that moment where we reporters are supposed to say, Oh, wow, it's not the press secretary, it's the campaign manager so it must really be important.


Washington: Why are people taking the tone that fighting telecom immunity is standing to Bush and therefore a good thing? I understand the frustration with him, but this isn't some social issue where Democrats are expected to stand up -- this is about national security, and about the slew of lawsuits brought by trial lawyers, (who make up a large part of the Democratic base) that will line their pockets and hurt ordinary consumers, but worst of all will force these companies to rethink helping us in the future.

Paul Kane: I think at this point the standing up to Bush on telecom immunity has as much to do with internal Capitol politics as it does with playing the anti-war base around the country. It's hard to overstate just how upset a lot -- a lot -- of Democrats are with Pelosi and other leaders for not being able to defeat Bush on any single national security issue. They feel that polls show voters tend to be on their side, or even on war on terror stuff it's basically an even proposition between their position and Bush's.

And yet, Bush keeps winning.

So I think Pelosi and Company really want to stand firm this time not just to appease some lefty bloggers, but to show their own caucus they have some backbone.


New York question: How is the lieutenant governor selected in New York? I ask because normally the governor and lieutenant governor run on a ticket, but there hasn't been any comments about Paterson and Spitzer being friendly/campaigning together, etc. Did they run as one ticket, or is there some other method of selecting the lieutenant governor in New York?

Paul Kane: Wow, that's a phenomenal question. Honestly, I don't know if the Empire State does pick a new lieutenant governor. Because, yes, they ran as a ticket. I am told with some degree of confidence by my colleague Shailagh Murray that Spitzer is not replaced as a superdelegate, that Patterson already was a superdelegate and that's that. So, Clinton is down one in that category.


Gov. Ed Rendell has already staked out an extreme Clinton position: Ed said this morning that Obama would win Pennsylvania in the general.

Paul Kane: Clarification on my part: I didn't mean to intend that it was "extreme" to support Clinton, or that there was anything inappropriate about him supporting her. It's just that he is very active in his support, he's thrown a few rhetorical bombs toward Obama, and he's not a natural ally for the Obama campaign should Obama win the nomination. Casey would in that case be playing the role of neutral arbiter, that's all.


Paul Kane: Alright, gang, that's it, I gotta run now. Thanks for the questions and thanks for tolerating me instead of The Fix. After the House votes today, we've got a two-week congressional recess. Then, once they're back in early April, the fun really starts -- eight straight weeks of the House and Senate being in session with Iraq war debates and other key legislative items on the agenda. Could get ugly and fun. See you soon.


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