Post Politics Hour's Daily Politics Discussion

Ed O'Keefe Federal Eye Blogger
Wednesday, December 17, 2008 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest in politics? Start each day with The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post national political reporter Ed O'Keefe, Federal Eye blogger, as online Wednesday, Dec. 17 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest transition, executive branch and intergovernmental moves in Washington.

The transcript follows.

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Ed O'Keefe: Welcome to the latest edition of the Post Politics Hour, I'm your host (or victim?) Ed O'Keefe. When you're done here, make sure to check out my new blog, The Federal Eye, which provides coverage of all the news and activities at our nation's various Federal departments, agencies and offices. Now to the questions!


Ashland, Ore.:

Thanks for your time. I am an environmental attorney who deals all the time with the Department of the Interior, especially with the Bureau of Livestock and Mines, er Bureau of Land Management. We have been beaten up for years by an administration actively hostile to environmental protection. Generally speaking, my community was actively pushing for Raul Grijalva or failing that Mike Thompson.

Ken Salazar has us at a loss. As far as we can tell, he's know more for fighting against environmental protection than for fighting for it. What does Salazar bring to the agency other than a desire to graze and mine even more?

Ed O'Keefe: Let's turn to the reporting of my Post colleague Juliet Eilperin, our environmental reporter. She writes today that:

"Several experts who have worked with Salazar over the years, including gas and mining officials, farm groups and national environmental leaders, said they expect him to support Obama's energy and environmental agenda rather than attempt to set his own policy course. While both Gale A. Norton and Dirk Kempthorne frequently clashed with liberal groups while heading the agency under President Bush, those experts predicted that Salazar is more likely to pursue compromises that might ease tensions over drilling, mining and endangered species protection on public and private land.

""He's going to be an honest broker, and there are going to be competing interests in this job," said Bill Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society, an advocacy group. "He is trying to manage conflicts in a way that reaches resolution. I'm not sure he's articulated a grand vision for the public lands.""

"Like Meadows, most environmentalists interviewed praised Salazar's selection, as did leaders of pro-business groups, who described him as a willing listener who recognizes the need for domestic energy and agricultural production. But the pick has angered some green activists, who said a more aggressive liberal was needed to overhaul an agency that has been dogged by controversy during Bush's presidency."

Read the full story here:

So you're right, he may not be the "darling" of the environmental movement, but it looks like his goal is compromise. Give a little get a lot, perhaps?


Anonymous: Any update on a likely pick for National Intelligence Director? Is Rep. Jane Hartman likely? Is retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel out of the running?

Ed O'Keefe: We seem to get this question everyday! Still no word on who he'll pick -- mostly because it's a difficult job that's going to require tons of hard work by whoever gets it. As someone smarter than I who works in the foreign/intelligence/military field told me earlier this week, Harman may not want the job simply because she's so good at being a public figure. The Intel Director has few opportunities to do anything public, and has to operate behind the scenes. Rep. Harman may not want to do that, which is completely understandable.


Washington, D.C.: Its seems as though the Post is deliberately trying to not report on the fact that Rahm Emanuel in on tape urging Blago to appoint someone. He is known as about as dirty of politician as they come, and his actions during the Clinton admin, not to mention his role as a board member on Fannie Mae, should have disqualified him from the Obama admin. My question, why hasn't the Post reported more on Emanuel? It almost seems that like with Emanuel and especially the new AG nominee, the Post hasn't been doing any reporting on them and their scandalous political histories.

Ed O'Keefe: You're referring here to a Chicago Sun-Times report that broke late last night about Emanuel's alleged conversations with Gov. Blagojevich about the future of the Obama senate seat. Since it broke late last night, I'm confident my colleagues who cover the Justice Department, the transition and our Chicago bureau are working to confirm the story independently today. Stay tuned. And we'll of course continue to cover Mr. Holder's previous record, as we have since his nomination was announced.


Re: Overwhelm your opponents: I guess you have to be really savvy and rich to hire a PR firm to smooth your way into a Senate seat. You know, I could almost accept Caroline Kennedy's desire to be a senator, but this business of getting everyone involved -- including good press and publicity to make her look good enough for the seat -- is really over the top. I think it is a form of buying the seat, not much different than the Obama vacancy debacle.

Ed O'Keefe: This is what most Senate candidates do, regardless the state. But yes, it does require money and connections, something Caroline Kennedy possesses.

As a native Upstate New Yorker (Albany! Woohoo!) remember that the seat Kennedy seeks is one that's been occupied in the past by various political rock stars: Her uncle, Robert Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moyniham, and most recently Sen. Clinton. Whoever runs will need to raise as much as $100 million to run two races, in 2010, per state law, and then again in 2012 for a full term. Few New Yorkers can afford to do that or could ever do it on their name recognition, which may in the end be THE deciding factor. Expect that Kennedy will do almost exactly what Clinton and Schumer did before her: Hire consultants, woo and win the hearts of Upstate political leaders, then woo and win the hearts of Upstate voters. If she can do that, she'll be Sen. Kennedy for as long as she pleases -- that is, if Gov. Paterson gives her the job.


St. Paul, Minn.: Hi, Ed. Here in Minnesota we are all growing weary of the Senate recount, with no end in sight. What happens if the new Senate convenes and January and we have no clear winner? And if the Senate really does have the power to "seat" the winner, how exactly does that work?

Ed O'Keefe: All the information on the Senate's ability to pick its members lives here on the Senate Web site:

I encourage you to read it, re-read and enjoy!


Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: The Obama cabinet is shaping up to be just another Beltway Boys TV show.

So when's the CHANGE coming? And more importantly, given these inside-the-box types he's picked, how can it possibly come?

Sequels are almost always failures.

Thanks much.

Ed O'Keefe: Ah yes, the daily question on whether or not Obama is bringing about real "change."

In the end, it's up to you to decide. Just remember that several of Obama's picks are young, have served in Washington very little (Salazar) if ever (Vilsack, Napolitano)

This all reminds me of a Post op-ed authored by Norman J. Ornstein back in September where he argued that,

"The change that Washington needs will require the deep deployment of people who know how to move the levers of power from the inside. The presidential bully pulpit is a powerful weapon in a president's arsenal. But it's no substitute for knowing how to get things in Washington."

Read it yourself and see if you agree:


Yarmouth, Maine: Do the Wall Street investment firms now believe that thorough, effective regulation is in their best interest?

Ed O'Keefe: I cover Washington, not Wall Street, sorry.


Seattle: Good Morning. With Vice President Cheney's remarkable comments about authorizing torture and invading Iraq even if they knew there was no WMDs, is there ANY chance he'll be impeached before January 20?

Ed O'Keefe: I'd say that's as likely as me performing a duet with Tina Turner before Jan. 20. Unlikely!


Silver Spring, Md.: Just because one of the New York Senate seats has been passed around a like lordship doesn't make it right. These rock star senators have done more for themselves than for the state. Gov. Patterson should call for an immediate special election to fill the seat.

Ed O'Keefe: He might if he could, but he can't, so he won't.

And it should be noted that New York political "nobodys" have come from behind to win before: Remember George Pataki's victory over Mario Cuomo back in 1994?


She'll be Sen. Kennedy for as long as she pleases: Until she decides to run for the presidency and then moves right out of the U.S. Senate, either elected as Prez or accepts the Secretary of State position.

But hey, if Americans want the court of Louis XIV for their Congress, why not? Bring on the U.S. Senate of the Sun King!

If it pleases our lords and ladies.

Ed O'Keefe: Just putting this out there...


Bremerton, Wash.: Last Shoe Question: What's the reaction of the Secret Service? Do they consider this a failure? Are people going to have to remove their shoes when in the presence of the W.?

Ed O'Keefe: Read more about the Secret Service's reaction to the incident here:

And if you haven't seen the video of the incident (are you under a rock?) watch it here:


Westcliffe, Colo.: Is Patrick Fitzgerald the kind of pit bull who'll run his investigation anywhere it might take him?

For example, the President-elect's office and handpicked cronies?

I'm an Obama supporter but I'm a bigger supporter of justice and fair play. That may make me an anomaly in political circles but I hope Mr. Fitzgerald is working for me, not for the powers that perpetually corrupt.

Like the political class.

Ed O'Keefe: I recommend you read a bit more about Fitzgerald, like in this great profile about him by my Chicago-based colleague Peter Slevin, here:

His reputation is that of a fair-minded prosecutor. Remember he prosecuted Scooter Libby and there was little criticism of how he handled the case, nor suggestions he was acting in a partisan manner.


But hey, if Americans want the court of Louis XIV for their Congress, why not?: You've gotta have nerve to whine about that, what with the Bush Dynasty.

Ed O'Keefe: The fight continues! Keep it coming!


Princeton, N.J.: To those who object to a "rock star" Senator for N.Y., let me remind them that in between all the celebs was Pothole Al, one of the most ineffective and corrupt Senators in history who "earned" his seat by toiling in the mean streets of Nassau county.

Ed O'Keefe: Great point!


Change: I find it frustrating that people get so upset about Caroline Kennedy and her not being qualified because "what has she done?" But then when Obama is naming people who either have D.C. experience or political service, they express outrage that "this is not change!" So what gives?

Ed O'Keefe: Good question Change.


Blago: Karl Rove has been saying that Obama should ignore Patrick Fitzgerald's request to not discuss the Blago affair.

As a reporter who covers political affairs how do you feel about Rove calling out Obama for not releasing information to the public that he says is in the public's prurient interest to hear? I mean, this is coming from the guy who ran the Bush administration and I was under the perception that they were highly secretive in regards to what information was revealed to reporters and the public.

Ed O'Keefe: This is a frustrating situation, no doubt. Reporters want to learn as much as possible, but as the transition team announced earlier this week, they've been asked by Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney handling the case, to hold the information until next week. As Obama aide David Axelrod told MSNBC earlier today "nobody's more eager" to release any information related to the Blagojevich affair than the transition team.


Boston: I see all these comments here and elsewhere about Caroline Kennedy only getting the Senate seat because she is rich and famous. It is as if people think the Senate is full of regular average Joes and Jills. It is an exclusive club for some of the richest Americans, so she would fit.

Ed O'Keefe: Adding this to the conversation...

By the way, here's a recent review of the 50 wealthiest members of Congress:


if Americans want the court of Louis XIV for their Congress: Hey! What's good for the Bush Dynasty is good for the Kennedys as well. No double standards, please.

Ed O'Keefe: More...


New York, N.Y.: I like to think long term. So, when do you think Caroline Kennedy becomes the Senior Senator from New York upon the arrival of the new Junior Senator from New York, Chelsea Clinton?

Ed O'Keefe: Ho Ho Ho... you make this political junky salivate with delight! Wait and see!


D.C.: Caroline is charming. If she does a half decent job she will be (re)elected when her term is up. That is what Gov. Paterson said he wants -- someone who can get reelected.

Ed O'Keefe: Precisely. Political necessity trumps most else in this case, especially since every single New York Democrat elected statewide will be up for election in 2010: Governor/Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, Schumer and whoever he picks to replace Clinton.


Anonymous: How many of the well-known folks who occupied the New York Senate seat were appointed, versus standing for election? Caroline Kennedy would be chosen by a vote of just one person, and would not undergo the scrutiny of primary and general elections, so the extra scrutiny at this point is, I think, justified, though once in a while it would be nice to hear about the other possible names. Question isn't just whether Kennedy is qualified but whether she is more qualified than the other people who might be named.

Ed O'Keefe:

I hate to have to refer to Wikipedia, but they have a great review of the two New York Senate seats:

You'll see that Charles Goodell was appointed to replace Robert Kennedy after his assassination on the "Class 1" seat that is currently occupied by Clinton.

(There are 3 "Clases" of seats that are defined by when they come up for reelection. It dates back to the start of the Senate.)


To those who object to a "rock star" Senator for N.Y: Once Arnold Schwartzenegger was elected Governor of California, one's right to complain about rock star politicians went down the drain (along with California's economy).

Ed O'Keefe: Here's even more!


Hartford, Conn.: Just a comment regarding whether having experienced hands in the cabinet is really "change": If you define change to mean that everyone involved has to be a Washington outsider or neophyte, let's remember what happened the last time someone (Jimmy Carter) tried doing that. How well did that work out? I think the change here is that he's bringing in people who are competent, a stark contrast to the current administration. As Disraeli said, "Politics is the art of the possible."

Ed O'Keefe: Good point!


Harrisburg, Pa.: Why is it when someone says "rock star" politicians, Democrats think Caroline Kennedy and Republicans think Sonny Bono?

Ed O'Keefe: And here's another...


Under a rock...: I guess where I live as while I heard about the shoe throw, I haven't seen the Bush video and don't really care to.

Seems to me that Ornstein's argument that you need people knowledgeable about Washington to change Washington is specious at best. As a born and bred Washingtonian and the child of two career civil servants, I've really come around to the idea that this place will never change. There is way too much intermingling between the govnernment, lobbyists, the press, and everyone else who has a seat at the table and no one is willing to give it up, and all of the perks that come with it.

The Washington Post of today holds, I'm sorry to say, a faint candle to the same newspaper that broke Watergate.

Ed O'Keefe: Good point on the "under a rock" comment... I retract that. We shouldn't assume that every news consumer keeps tabs on everything -- so my apologies.

As for your comments on Washington, we'll see what happens in the coming years. As someone told me in an interview yesterday, there's a real "mystique" surrounding Obama and his plans, and it's unclear -- in a good way perhaps -- if he'll be able to instrument real "change" or more of the same. Stay tuned! (And sorry again.)


Prinecton, N.J.: Regarding the "rock stars" who have occupied the N.Y. Senate seat; the current situation is clearly massively different as Caroline Kennedy would be appointed, not elected.

The others all survived tough campaigns, with both Robert Kennedy and Hillary Clinton initially dismissed as carpetbaggers.

My question: Would the kind of pressure now being openly and publicly applied to Gov. Paterson have been applied in the same way if Spitzer were still in office?

It seems to me there is something fundamentally disrespectful in this lobbying campaign, which diminishes Paterson's ability to use his own judgment.

Ed O'Keefe: If Spitzer were still in office, there'd be almost no contest for the job: He'd give it to Paterson.

Gov. Paterson served as Spitzer's lieutenant governor. He previously served as the state senate's minority leader and it's widely known in New York political circles that he would have loved to replace Clinton if the seat opened up. And the plan seemed to be that he would have given the job to Paterson, thus giving New York its first Black senator.

But Paterson is now governor, and his aides I've spoken with say he's committed to the job and wants to win his own gubernatorial term in 2010.


Head gear: Watching the announcement of this morning's cabinet picks and wondering why Secretary of Interior candidate Salazar is wearing his cowboy hat on stage with President-elect Obama? Is this some sort of secret signal to his constituents? Is he bald?

Ed O'Keefe: Sen. Salazar is frequently seen in his cowboy hat. I saw him most recently at the Democratic convention in Denver, and he had it on most of the time.

And no, he's not bald: See a picture here:

Salazar is also one of at least two senators that occasionally rock the bolo tie. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is the other.


Boston: Why are reporters not happy with waiting a week to get an already-written report after being told it was at the request of the district attorney? I mean, it was one thing to harp on Bush with his never-ending "no comment during an ongoing investigation" but that is hardly the case here. Is it just wanting a scoop?

Ed O'Keefe: It's both wanting a scoop and wanting to know the information. We're in the business of getting information. Any roadblock creates obvious frustrations.


Ed O'Keefe: Looks like that's it for today, thanks for submitting questions and participating! And check out my blog, The Federal Eye early and often!

Enjoy your holidays,

- Ed


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