The Difficulties with Questioning Congressmen

You can always ask a member of Congress a question, but don't expect a tell-all answer. One example: Trying to discover Rep. David Wu's plan for his superdelegate vote.

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How do you get someone to tell you what he or she really thinks, especially when that person also happens to be a seasoned politician?

In this week's Reporter's Notebook, NPR congressional correspondent David Welna finds you can always ask a member of Congress a question, but don't expect a tell-all answer.

DAVID WELNA: So it was the day after the Pennsylvania primary and this was my assignment; to find out what effect, if any, Hillary Clinton's victory there had had on the intentions of the biggest bunch of superdelegates, the congressional Democrats.

Many have endorsed either Clinton or Barack Obama. I was looking for the others, those who had yet to commit. I made a list of these holdouts and it included Oregon Democrat David Wu, whose state holds its primary next month. I spotted Wu then ambushed him just outside the House chamber.

Are you still uncommitted?

Representative DAVID WU (Democrat, Oregon): Well, gee, David, what situation would you be referring to?

WELNA: At least he wasn't running away. So I pressed on.

Are you still on the fence on this, are you not saying?

Rep. WU: I am an undeclared superdelegate. I am an undeclared superdelegate, yes.

WELNA: And why are you not declaring at this point, when it seems like it's going to be the superdelegates who will decide this?

Rep. WU: Well, David, you know, quite honestly I may declare sometime fairly soon.

WELNA: Hmm, maybe Wu would even declare during this interview - that would be a scoop. So I asked him if he'd already decided, if not, declared whom he's going to back.

Rep. WU: Well, I may declare fairly soon, but, you know...

WELNA: Before the primary?

Rep. WU: We'll see. We'll see. Because what I said last year was, well, you know, I'll declare in a window somewhere between Super Tuesday and, you know, within a month past the Oregon primary. We are well in that window and I will decide, you know, is that a reasonable time?

WELNA: I should've known better than to hope Wu might blurt out his intentions to me. That's the kind of news a congressman would want to share first with his home state media outlets. Still I was intrigued that Wu asked me for my business card at the end of our interview. The next day my phone rang minutes after my story had aired on the West Coast. It was Wu's press secretary saying my information about undeclared Congressman Wu was no longer correct.

In a conference call with Oregon reporters, Wu had just declared he was backing Barack Obama.

YDSTIE: NPR's David Welna.

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