Focus Washington: Wessel on the Politics of the Federal Budget

On August 24, 2012, in DCView, by Focus Washington

The budget deficit situation has never been this bad. The numbers have never been this large. Politicians are unwilling to compromise.

Focus Washington: Red Ink by David Wessel

On August 23, 2012, in DCView, by Focus Washington

David Wessel, Economics Editor of The Wall Street Journal, discusses his new book Red Ink. Mr. Wessel doesn’t seen anything changing any time soon. The presidential campaigns aren’t discussing their actual plan to cut the deficit. To bring the USA out of the red, he sees cuts in spending and increasing taxes a requirement.

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Bob Cusack, editor of “The Hill” stops by Focus Washington to sit down with Qorvis’ Chuck Conconi to discuss the fundraising efforts of both Mitt Romney and President Obama, and Cusack weighs in on the 2012 congressional race.

Today, I talked with Brett Kappel, a lawyer specializing in lobbying and ethics law at the law firm of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease in Washington, D.C. Brett discussed a controversial Obama Administration proposal that would restrict lobbyists from discussing stimulus projects with federal officials.

You can view the video or read the transcript below.

Chuck Conconi: Welcome to Focus Washington. My name is Chuck Conconi and my guest today is Brett Kappel and you are an expert on lobbying and ethics at the law firm of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease in Washington, DC. Brett thanks for coming on the show.

Brett Kappel: Glad to be here.

Chuck Conconi: The Obama administration has ignited what is a fire storm of protest on K Street and the public interest community over lobbying restrictions for stimulus funds. Explain a little bit about what’s happening and why there is so much protest over that.

Brett Kappel: Well, the Obama administration was trying to insure transparency and accountability in the distribution of stimulus funds. The way they chose to do that, however, was to impose restrictions on lobbyists representing those clients seeking those funds. And the thing that has been so controversial is that they have actually prohibited lobbyists from speaking orally to any employee in the executive branch about a specific stimulus project. Lobbyists are allowed to submit written comments on specific projects and those comments have to be posted on the agency’s website within three days after they are received. Anyone who is defined as a registered lobbyist under the Lobbying Disclosure Act is prohibited from attending any meeting where specific projects are discussed or even talking on the phone with anyone in the executive branch who would be in charge of distributing in these funds.

Chuck Conconi: It’s hard to understand the difference, but who opposes this proposal? It’s an unusual alliance of groups I understand.

Brett Kappel: Yes, it’s a pretty broad swath of the public interest community and the business community that are opposed to it. On the right, you have the American League of Lobbyists and the American business community, which has been concerned about these restrictions on lobbyists. And on the left, you have groups like Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and even The Washington Post editorial page opposed the scope of these restrictions.

Chuck Conconi: And that’s what I understand. It’s touched a nerve of among audiences, including groups that traditionally say, “Restrict K Street more”.

Brett Kappel: Right. I think there are actually two concerns. The business community and the lobbying community sees this particular restriction as perpetuating the view of lobbyists as being Jack Abramoff types who are peddling influence and using undue influence to get hold of federal funds. And they are also concerned, as I think the public interest groups are as well, that these particular restrictions aren’t going to have the effect that was desired at the outset. They don’t cover all of the people who supposedly have undue influence and they cover too many people that don’t have any influence. And the way that they are structured, it’s too easy to evade these restrictions. And you might end up with less transparency, not more. For example, rather than have the vice president of a company, who is a registered lobbyist, being able to speak to the Member [of Congress] and have those comments be recorded, you have the CEO of the company and he is the one who is making the phone calls now but those comments aren’t public. And the comments are not posted on the website. And it might be the CEO who has more influence with the Obama Administration than the vice president of government relations.

Chuck Conconi: You would think the administration’s move on this is really against what is just the legitimate freedom to petition the government under the First Amendment.

Brett Kappel: Well it raises, actually, five different constitutional concerns. The first and most important of which is the First Amendment concern because it is a prior restraint on speech. Lobbyist can’t even communicate orally at all. And that is very rare in American law to have a prior restraint on speech. It affects both lobbyists and their clients. Both of them have a First Amendment right to petition the Government and both of them are being restricted by these requirements.

Chuck Conconi: So it’s an over-reaction, so it is a threat.

Brett Kappel: Well, I think it is not narrowly tailored to achieve the result that it wanted to achieve. The business community and the public interest community had proposed an alternative, which is to allow lobbyist to make these oral communications but to make sure everyone seeking these federal funds have their comments posted on each agency’s website so that you can see what everyone is saying. So it would be the lobbyist, the CEOs and everyone. That way would ensure transparency and accountability and it wouldn’t raise these First Amendment concerns.

Chuck Conconi: There is a 60-day comment period and it ended about a week ago or so and there is no word from the administration. What happens next?

Brett Kappel: Well I strongly suspect that if there aren’t any changes made, then one or more of the groups who have opposed these requirements is going to file a lawsuit. That would get interesting very quickly depending on what type of legal tactics they want to take. For example, the most aggressive approach would be to seek a temporary restraining order to prevent the distribution of any stimulus funds until the First Amendment challenge was heard and decided by a court. That would be pretty aggressive. But either way, I think you are going to see a court challenge and I think it has a good chance of succeeding.

Chuck Conconi: So it could be very effective when you have groups that are so different, when you have groups like ACLU and the lobbying groups getting together. This ought to be something that should be frightening to the Obama administration.

Brett Kappel: Well it is certainly bipartisan and you would think that a President who is a constitutional scholar would be a little concerned about having one of his first acts up for review so soon into his administration.

Chuck Conconi: Well Brett, thank you so much for being here today. We will be able to talk more about this I’m sure. I am Chuck Conconi and this has been Focus Washington.

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Mike Loya, president of Vitol, Inc., explained to Focus Washington today that the traditional summer spike in gas prices begins around Memorial Day and continues throughout the summer months. Even with the recession, demand for vacations will remain high as additional travelers are enticed by tremendous bargains on travel, airfare, and lodging prices. According to Mr. Loya, as Memorial Day arrives, refineries typically flush out their systems in preparation for costlier summer blends of gasoline and motorists gear up for travel. These conditions create a natural increase in demand.

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Focus Washington: John Hope Bryant

On May 21, 2009, in DCView, by Focus Washington

Today on Focus Washington John Hope Bryant discusses financial literacy and the upcoming financial literacy summit in Washington DC on June 17.

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Focus Washington: Samantha Sault and Men’s Fashion in DC

On March 27, 2009, in DCView, by Focus Washington

As it turns out Samantha Sault, deputy online editor and fashion columnist for the Weekly Standard, also knows a thing or two about men’s fashion. Today, we had the opportunity to chat about men’s fashion in Washington DC. President Obama, Tucker Carlson and Mayor Fenty made Samantha’s list of “the best dressed.”

Be sure to visit Samantha’s blog

“Why have Obama’s numbers fallen?”

On March 25, 2009, in DCView, by Focus Washington

I had the opportunity to talk with well-known Washington DC pollster, Ron Faucheux, President of Clarus Research Group, about the dramatic drop in President Obama’s approval numbers.

Norm Ornstein: “The Broken Branch”

On March 24, 2009, in DCView, by Focus Washington

There are few voices in Washington that rise above the noise of partisan politics. Norm Ornstein is one such voice. As an author of several books and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Ornstein is one of the wise men of Washington, and that is not a term I use lightly. He has advised presidents and other political leaders and his list of accomplishments is staggering. Among his many books is the often cited, “The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get it Back on Track.” Being able to interview Ornstein for Focus Washington was a special privilege and his observations on the early days of the Obama Administration, were smart and balanced. Focus Washington will go back to Ornstein for his thoughtful viewpoints as the Washington political battles continue to heat up over the first year of the new Administration and the Democratic Party-controlled congress.

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Stan Collender and Toxic Assets

On March 24, 2009, in DCView, by Focus Washington

Today, federal budget guru Stan Collender talked about toxic assets and the state of our economy. Recently, several journalists have pointed to the Treasury Department as “armature hour.” Stan refutes that statement and says the ultimate goal is to fix the balance sheets which will ultimately get us out of the depression. Stan comments we’re heading to a bull-market.

Today, I had the opportunity to chat again talk with deputy online editor and fashion columnist for the Weekly Standard, Samantha Sault. This time our discussion focused on Fashion Week in New York City, the premier spring event. The runway this year showed many practical styles including everything from tailored pants and blazers to black trench coats and winter coats that make a statement.

Read Samantha’s column on fashion week.

I believe she even has a blog, samanthaonstyle.

Michelle Obama, Fashion and Samantha Sault

On March 9, 2009, in DCView, by Focus Washington

Today, I had the opportunity to talk with deputy online editor and fashion columnist for the Weekly Standard, Samantha Sault. First Lady Michelle Obama was the topic of our discussion. As of late she’s been in the media for her keen fashion sense and has made just about every magazine cover since moving into the White House.

You should check out Samantha’s most recent column, she just returned from fashion week in New York.

I believe she even has a blog, samanthaonstyle.

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Cal Thomas, Working Together?

On March 5, 2009, in DCView, by Focus Washington

I’ve known conservative columnist Cal Thomas for a number of years, going back to when we both were on-air at WTTG, channel 5. Cal was the editorial commentator on the right and I wasn’t. I covered the social, personality scene of Washington. Politically, the only thing we ever agreed on was the time of day, but I always found Cal to be a vibrant, funny, and charming personality. We’ve stayed in touch over the years as Cal grew his column to some 550 newspapers. He says that makes him the most widely circulated columnist in America and who am I to disagree with that claim? Since he is always a provocative voice, I invited him to talk about his columns and unique opinions at Qorvis Communications and to be interviewed on Focus Washington. As I expected, he was, as always, clever, entertaining, and rational.

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The Obama Honeymoon Crisis

On February 10, 2009, in DCView, Focus Washington Interviews, PoliticalView, by Focus Washington

Today I had the opportunity to sit with Don Goldberg, former Clinton crisis communication manager, on the issues facing the Obama Administration.

Winning the Stimulus Package

On February 10, 2009, in DCView, by Focus Washington

Today I talked with Stan Collender, an expert on the federal budget, about the stimulus package. Throughout the interview we discussed what many people, including lawmakers, don’t know, what are we really spending our money on.

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Stimulus Projects Will Need Oversight

On January 22, 2009, in DCView, by Focus Washington

This week on Focus Washington I talked with large construction project expert Barbara Golter Heller. During our discussion Barbara advocated how better oversight and new technologies can help the Federal government spend the stimulus funds more efficiently and effectively, to get the most bang for the buck while meeting green goals and creating jobs.

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Inaugural Ball Survival Tips

On January 12, 2009, in DCView, by Focus Washington

Welcome to the Inauguration

I know that all the Washington insiders have said it is a waste of money and time to attend the Inauguration day festivities, especially the balls. There is something to that advice, but if you’ve never been to an Inauguration, this is certainly the one to attend. It doesn’t need to be emphasized that this is an historic event.

While it is true that the estimated two to four million coming to Washington for the Inauguration won’t actually see as much as those who remain in the comfort of their living rooms watching on television, there is still the factor of being able to say, “I was in Washington for Barak Obama’s Inauguration.”

I want to offer some words of advice to surviving an Inauguration for all those people coming into town for the festivities. In the years I’ve lived and worked here, I’ve been to several Inaugurations as a reporter. I’ve sat in an icy rain covering the Inaugural Address and stood in the cold reporting along the Pennsylvania parade route. I’ve also been to a few of the official balls at Union Station and the Sheridan Park Hotel. For those who want to be there for the Inaugural Address and parade, the best advice is dress warm and wear comfortable shoes, or boots. Nearly everyone has read about the big snowfall the day before the John F. Kennedy Inaugural and the bitter cold that caused the cancellation of Ronald Reagan’s second Inauguration. It’s the middle of January in Washington, so expect the worst.

It can be a painful experience to attend one of the official Inaugural Balls. The balls are always crowded and uncomfortable. In the ones I’ve attended, there is no place to sit, it is too crowded to dance, there is nothing to eat, and it is virtually impossible to get a drink. People beautifully dressed, mill about the ballroom and wait for the President and First Lady to arrive. When they come they walk onto the stage, wave and do a brief dance and then rush off to the next ball. With the street traffic the disaster it usually is and probably will be worse this time, it is difficult for even the President to get to the 10 or 11 balls he needs to visit. Once the visit is over there is little reason to stay at the ball.

If you are fortunate enough to be invited to one of the private balls, sponsored by one of the state societies or a lobbying or legal firm, those can be elegant and fun. It should be pointed out the President is highly unlikely to attend any of these, but the private functions take on the luster missing from the official events.

For those of us who are Inaugural Ball veterans, there are survival lessons. For example: wear comfortable shoes — women should avoid high heels; hire a car and driver or take metro – don’t drive. If you can avoid checking a winter coat or expensive fur, do so. It is also advisable to not wear that expensive Neimann Marcus gown or mink that could easily be ruined or lost in the crush. If you have spent the money for a car and driver, leave the coat in the car. There were almost riots at one of the Reagan Inaugural Balls at the coat check with long lines and people jumping over the counter to find their own coats. Plan to have dinner before or after the ball, because you won’t get food there. Don’t expect to see any political stars or even media celebrities. They will be at the private events, although a few congressmen and senators will often stop by at balls where they know constituents will be.

All that aside, if you have never attended an Inaugural Ball, this is the year to attend one. If I had never attended one and receive an invitation to attend one this year, I would go. It costs thousands of dollars on travel, hotel, transportation, clothing, and meals for an out-of-town couple to attend one of these events, but in attending, the couple becomes is a witness to history for one of the most historic Inauguration in American history. When you get back home you can regale your friends on what it was like to be part of President Barak Obama’s 2009 Inauguration. Expect annoying problems and discomfort, but don’t pass up the opportunity to be part of it.

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A New Administration

On January 12, 2009, in DCView, by Focus Washington

Today, I had the opportunity to once again talk with democratic strategist, Rich Masters, who happened to be sitting in for Bill Press. We discussed the new Obama Administration, what to expect and what to anticipate. Rich talked a little about the inauguration and the inaugural address in which he thought there would be a call to American much like John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do you” line. If anything, the address has the potential to be one of the best in our short history.

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The Kennedy Legacy

On December 19, 2008, in DCView, by Focus Washington

It is fascinating to see so much concern Caroline Kennedy might be appointed to the New York senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. All of a sudden, a number of Clinton supporters who are still unhappy Kennedy supported Obama in the primaries against Hillary Clinton are questioning “what does she know” about New York beyond the Upper East Side. And the ominous warning against dynastic politics is being raised.

 

If you remember, it worked for the Adams family during the early years of our republic, and echoes down through state and local government. Now it may not be the correct way government should work, but it is the way it works and sometimes it even works well. John Quincy Adams was a pretty good president and Ted Kennedy is a highly respected senator. What really carries this debate along is the insatiable maw of 24-hour cable television which chews every story beyond its importance to fill all the time.

 

It is true that the Kennedy name resonates, and Kennedys have been a significant force since Caroline’s father was elected to the presidency in 1960. Her uncle Bobby Kennedy held the same New York senate seat; and her uncle, Ted Kennedy has represented Massachusetts in the senate since the 1960s.

 

It has hurt Caroline Kennedy, that President George W. Bush, with one of the lowest approval ratings in history, is a dynastic figure who would never have been considered for the office if it hadn’t been for his father, the first President Bush and his grandfather, Sen. Prescott Bush. This president Bush is a pretty good argument against family names running for office, and especially anymore Bush family attempts at the presidency, even though a movement is already underway for brother Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, to make a run in 2012.

 

Nobody has made much mention of the Western dynasty of the Udalls, with the sons of former Congressman Mo Udall and former congressman/Interior Department Secretary Stewart Udall, both being elected to the senate in November. They are simply not as famous as the Kennedys, but in Arizona and New Mexico the cousins are significant figures from a significant family. They were, of course, both already serving in the House of Representatives and are political figures that have had to run for office.

 

There is something disingenuous, however, about the Hillary supporters who seem to have forgotten that the senator, who also had never been elected to office, moved to New York and established residency so she could run for the senate and be elected. Her only political experience was as first lady of Arkansas and the United States. Some might call that carpet bagging. I guess it depends on whose carpet is being bagged. At least Caroline Kennedy has lived her life in New York. I won’t argue that there aren’t extremely qualified office holders who have a right to be considered for Clinton’s senate seat as she moves on to become Secretary of State, and it isn’t fair that Caroline Kennedy becomes the front runner without ever soiling her hands running for political office. But who ever said anything, especially in politics, was fair.

 

If Caroline Kennedy is appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s term, she will have to face the voters in two years. The political reality is that her name recognition is significant and that is one of the most important factors in politics. She will be a formidable fund-raiser and because of the Kennedy name, will have influence in the Senate far beyond that of a freshman senator. With that kind of power behind her, she will be a powerful advocate for New York, upstate as well as the Upper East Side.  

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The Death of Prosky — A Washington Treasure

On December 10, 2008, in DCView, by Focus Washington

Robert Prosky, the venerable Washington actor who died this week at 77 was a uniquely stunning talent. His comfortable, pillowy face was a face Eugene O’Neill or Arthur Miller must have envisioned. Prosky was everyman who has suffered pain or defeat; a face you would have seen in a working stiff’s bar downing a shot of Three Feathers and nursing a National Bohemian beer. And he was a consummate actor who owned every role I’d ever seen him perform.

 

When news of his death came by e-mail from the Helen Hayes Awards offices, it was hard not to stop and think of the impact this man had during all his years appearing here, especially at Arena Stage, which was his home. His career reached back to the late 1950s when there wasn’t much live theatre in Washington. It was the culturally barren  time before the Kennedy Center was build or Ford’s Theatre reopened, and before the explosive growth of talent-filled professional theater that makes this city one of the best theater towns in the United States. Even then, people who saw him perform, talk about how special he was. He helped Washingtonians realize that Washington had the potential to become a great theater town.

 

His career expanded beyond Washington to a staring role as the roll call police sergeant in the 1980s television drama Hill Street Blues, as well as several roles in films like The Natural, Broadcast News and Mrs. Doubtfire. No matter how small the character part, Prosky dominated the stage or the screen. He always attracted all my attention and I felt special pride that he was the Washington hometown boy who made good and he always came back home to work here, in the city he loved.

 

In Japan, an artist of Prosky’s stature would have been honored with the title – National Treasure. We don’t appreciate our great artists in the same way. The Kennedy Center Honors falls far short in it’s annual honors extravaganza. It is a glittery event that sometimes does recognizes deserving talent, but mostly, is it just a money-making fund-raiser for the Kennedy Center and the evening’s producer.

 

Prosky’s death offers the Helen Hayes Awards an opportunity to raise the level honoring especially talented actors, who like, Prosky, stand far above his fellow performers. If the title National Treasure seems too much of a reach, a special Washington Treasure award in Prosky’s name could be created. Such an award should not be an annual honor and should only be presented when an actor reaches that rare hierarchy of talent that Prosky personified.

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“The Self-Indulgent Blogger”

On December 5, 2008, in DCView, by Focus Washington

Welcome to Focus Washington. With that said, I have officially become a blogger. It is something I have resisted. As a life-long print journalist, I have always understood and quoted the wise words of Samuel Johnson: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Writing is too difficult to just give away, and those of us who have devoted our efforts to print have failed to understand the lure of electronic letters on a video screen written for personal satisfaction and not financial gain. There is, of course, immeasurable gratification to seeing ones words of wisdom on paper or monitor screen, offering them to the unenlightened world. It is the illusion that someone out there cares what I have to say, but now that I no longer have a regular print outlet, the blogging world is looking more inviting.

It is true that writing, an often painful process, brings with it sometimes recognition, sometimes criticism, and more often vain, ego satisfaction. But like running for political office, no one would undergo the lengthy, exhausting effort if there wasn’t a pleasurable public celebrity at the end. Enough of this self-indulgent, apologetic verbiage, I have capitulated and I am now a blogger. I read with interest a recent Atlantic Monthly article, “Why I Blog,” by thoughtful journalist Andrew Sullivan. He wrote that, “…as blogging evolves as a literary form, it is generating a new and quintessentially postmodern idiom that’s enabling writers to express themselves in ways that have never been seen or understood before. Its truths are provisional, and its ethos collective and messy. Yet the interaction it enables between writer and reader is unprecedented, visceral, and sometimes brutal. And make no mistake: it heralds a golden era for journalism.”

 

Sullivan is more profound and sold on the blogging concept than I ever expect to be, but there are salient points in this sprint, free form writing I’m not ready to even title journalism, let alone a golden era for journalism. I still am uncomfortable with the raw emotions of many bloggers who write without reporting or any concern about truth or facts. Like our judicial system, the truth is expected to emerge in the ever observant blogosphere. I might churlishly point out that the truth sometimes doesn’t win out in our legal system.

 

I can see that blogs give the writer freedom from the tyranny of tin-eared, timid editors. And from time to time every professional writer has experienced those editors. I believe in editors, however, and have depended on their guidance, and most of the time, they have saved me from stupid mistakes. The guidance is often a simple, “How do you know this?” But, the most disheartening thing that destroys the confidence and productivity of a writer is an editor who just doesn’t get it or who wants to impose himself on the writer, and every professional writer has suffered this. Sullivan has convinced me that a blog frees me from that oppression. I can say what I want to say without some editor saying, “You can’t say that.” I will, however, have no excuse when I make mistakes or look stupid, but I’ve often made mistakes and have looked stupid more times than I can remember and have recovered from the embarrassment.

 

I have actually been video blogging for a couple of months over youtube.com/focuswashington. The videos will now also be part of the www.focuswashington.com blog. I will continue to do these video interviews that in the past have included Susan Eisenhower, talk show host Bill Press, conservative columnist Quin Hillyer, federal budget expert Stan Collender and Democratic Party strategist Rich Masters. In this expanded blog, I will be returning to my more comfortable print side and will be commenting on a range of subjects such as Washington politics, as well as my experiences around the city. There will be times I will even write about cultural events, write theater reviews or comment on a restaurant I like or don’t like or where you can get the most value or the least value for your money. This being a blog, I can write about anything I want with no editor grumbling, “no one is interested in what you have to say about that.” I am already learning to love the self-indulgence of blogging. I invite scrutiny and criticism.

 

I have already broken the blog rule to keep it quick and brief. It will also take me some time to be comfortable ignoring Samuel Johnson’s sage advice.

 

I asked David Weinberg, a partner and the chair of the environment and safety practice at the Washington law firm of Wiley Rein, to discuss how the Obama Administrations economic stimulus package could clash with the nations environmental laws and regulations.

Jim Wilson, Partner at Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, today discussed with me the potential changes to antitrust law in the upcoming Obama administration.

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Karen Hanretty, Communications Director for the NRCC

On November 19, 2008, in DCView, by Focus Washington

On today’s edition of Focus Washington I talked with Karen Hanretty, Communication Director for the NRCC, about the future unemployed republicans and where they might go once the Bush Administration and the 111th Congress finish next year.

The GOP’s Future

On November 12, 2008, in DCView, by Focus Washington

I asked Quin Hillyer, Associate editor of the Washington Examiner and columnist for the American Spectator, discusses the future of the GOP following their embarrassing 2008 election cycle. Where do they go from here and who will be the next RNC Chairman?

This is it, the final hours of the 2008 Presidential campaign. I asked Associate editor of the Washington Examiner and columnist for the American Spectator Quin Hillyer along with Democratic Strategist Rich Masters to square-off in a final discussion while we wait for the first polls to close. 

Quin Hillyer of the Washington Examiner

On October 29, 2008, in DCView, by Focus Washington

With the election around the corner and only five days left, I sit down to discuss the final hours of the 2008 Presidential campaign with Associate editor of the Washington Examiner and columnist for the American Spectator Quin Hillyer.

You can visit Quin’s blog at: http://spectator.org/blog

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