HH: Joined now by www.politico.com ‘s John Harris. He’s the editor in chief there of the website that’s changing the way that Washington gets its news. John, welcome back. Have Democrats defined themselves with today’s vote for shrimp, peanuts, spinach and a timetable for retreat and defeat?
JH: Well, we’ll find out how that definition gets made. It’s going to be played out over time. Certainly, that was the way President Bush and Republicans on the Hill tried to define what they did. I think you have to say, though, that with all the internal divisions that the Democratic caucus has had, very visibly on display in recent days, they did manage to hold the caucus together and pass a vote doing what anti-war Democrats wanted to do, which was start to set the conditions for withdrawal, and tying that to money.
HH: Now Roy Blunt just got off the phone, couldn’t wait to come on, and started talking about the 14 freshmen Democrats who ran against pork, all voting for the peanuts and the spinach and the shrimp subsidies, and people like Heath Schuler, who ran as, you know, blue dog Democrats who are going to be strong on the war. They all went south. What…can they escape that vote over two years, John Harris?
JH: Well, we’ll find out. You know, I’ll be honest, Hugh, although that’s like a good, and it’s certainly fair game to talk about the pork in this bill, I do think this bill is going to be defining because of Iraq, not because pork barrel spending in this, which it obviously does have some. And you know, for now, Democrats clearly believe that including those moderate Democrats, as you mentioned, clearly believe that staying with caucus and positioning themselves in favor of a withdrawal is the right course.
HH: Well, that’s what gets to the question, though. They ran as moderate Democrats, but when you vote for retreat and defeat in Iraq and for pork, how do you get to…I mean, you can call yourself a polka dot, and you’re not a polka dot. How do they get that title back?
JH: Well, let’s find out. They’re obviously going to say they’re not voting for retreat and defeat. They’re voting to impose some conditions on Bush. So your first question nailed it, really. This is a matter of definitions. How will this vote be seen? And this is going to play out over the next couple of weeks until Bush’s likely veto, promised of this.
HH: Do you think they dare, do you think it’ll get out of the Senate in the same form?
JH: No, I don’t think in the same form, but I think something will come out of the Senate which will have some kind of conditions similar to the way the House did.
HH: Now I see the Senate stripping the conditions and going to a conference, and then pressure building not to defund the troops. Would they dare defund the troops, John Harris?
JH: They will not. They will try to pass something that does not allow them to rhetorically be seen as defunding the troops. But you know, at bottom, if you’re trying to tie appropriations to a specific timetable, people who are in favor of President Bush’s surge will say that you’re doing precisely that. You’re defunding the troops.
HH: And so do you think that sticks? I guess it’s…from someone who’s not going to take a side in it, which is the easier message to carry, because it sure seems to me that when you throw all that pork in there in order to buy an exit deadline, it’s pretty hard to define it as other than okay, we’re throwing in the towel.
JH: We will see. It’s clearly much, much tougher, as you point out, in the Senate. And so there’s going to be some significant changes to this.
HH: Now Romney came out swinging on the veto, backing up the President, and denouncing the Democrats for defeat and retreat, et cetera. What’s that tell you about the GOP primary electorate?
JH: That tells me that you know, all this chatter of a couple of weeks ago, oh, that maybe Senator Hagel will find an anti-war constituency even in the Republican Party, that’s just fanciful. The Republican Party remains behind President Bush on Iraq. There’s no mileage to be gained, I don’t believe, in portraying yourself as the skeptic or the dove.
HH: A new Arizona poll came out today, Arizona voters have seen a lead for McCain over Giuliani slip from 27 points, he was ahead in January 40-13, to just 9 points. McCain now leads Giuliani 34-25. Romney’s at 11% in both polls. What’s that tell you about McCain, John Harris?
JH: Well, it tells me that there’s, first off, it’s something that I already knew, which is a lot of Republicans, even though he’s been embraced by a kind of establishment Washington insider crowd, a lot of those people that were for President Bush are backing McCain. That’s not the same thing as saying he’s got a lot of support among rank and file Republicans around the country. It also says that hey, look, those of us who have been skeptical of a Giuliani candidacy in the Republican Party, and I’ve been one of them, have to start thinking anew. Roger Simon at Politico had a good column a few days ago, saying look, you know, the voters are not stupid. They’re aware of Giuliani’s positions, and he continues to rise. And so maybe what the conventional wisdom, which is that once people learned about Giuliani, Republicans could not back him, maybe that’s not true. And I think Roger’s dead on with that.
HH: John Harris, always a pleasure. www.politico.com, fun to talk politics with you at the end of the week.
End of interview.