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Ed O'Keefe, of the Federal Eye blog

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Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Monday, February 2, 2009; 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.

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Ed O'Keefe, washingtonpost.com's Federal Eye blogger, was online Monday, Feb. 2 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest transition, executive branch and intergovernmental moves in Washington.

A transcript follows.

Get the latest transition news live on washingtonpost.com's 44: A Transition to Power, or subscribe to the daily Post Politics Podcast.

Archive: Post Politics Hour Discussion Transcripts

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Ed O'Keefe: Welcome to another week in Washington, I'm Ed O'Keefe, today's Post Politics Hour host. While I keep tabs on all things politics, my full-time day job has me writing The Federal Eye blog for The Post, a rolling look at the people and operations of the federal government's various agencies and departments. Check out washingtonpost.com/fedpage for more news on the Federal government. Now to your queries...

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Washington, D.C.: Posting early...I would like to know how the Obama administration and FEMA are responding to the ice storms in Kentucky, especially as compared to how FEMA performed in New Orleans. FEMA's dismal performance after Katrina is one reason why Bush's popularity plummeted. But your paper has been almost completely silent on the issue. Why is that?

Ed O'Keefe: According to the latest AP reports that we've run in part or in full either in the print edition or online,

"FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak said some FEMA personnel already are in Kentucky working in the state's emergency operations center and that more will be arriving in coming days. Hudak said FEMA also has shipped to 50 to 100 generators to the state to supply electricity to facilities like hospitals, nursing homes, and water treatment plants."

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washingtonpost.com: Life after ice storm dire, getting worse in spots (AP, Jan. 30)

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Richmond, Va.: It appears that Daschle knew about his tax problem and did not reveal it to Obama's vetters. First, why would he keep something like that hidden when he knew it was bound to come out -- or did he think it wouldn't? Second, it certainly prompts the question as to what kind of judgment Daschle has? And third, if Obama keeps Daschle, I fear that Obama is just going back on his word not to hire people who have lobbying ties (he's already done it with the No. 2 under Gates) and people with real problems (like Timothy Geithner, and now Daschle). I am a supporter of Obama, but these exceptions are getting on my nerves.

washingtonpost.com: Daschle Apologizes for Income Tax Errors (Post, Feb. 2)

Ed O'Keefe: You raise several important points, that I suspect senators will ask Daschle today at 5 p.m., when he's scheduled to meet with members of the Senate Finance Committee. And you're right Richmond -- the combination of Geithner's problems, Richardson's withdrawal, the delay of other nominees and the latest news involving Daschle does not bode well for Obama.

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Rockville, Md.: Dear Mr. O'Keefe, What can we expect regarding the Senate confirmation (or not) of Tom Daschle? I was (and still am) a very enthusiastic supporter of Obama, but I am very troubled by the tax revelations around Daschle. As someone who spent months being dogged by the IRS over a misunderstanding about taxes paid late while I was living and working abroad for a year (over, as it were, an amount just over $1000 -- not that much!), I am disgusted that Daschle, who has earned millions in recent years, will get a pass on this from his friends in the Senate. As I said, I am all for Obama and his progressive agenda, but this is just not okay.

Ed O'Keefe: And therein lies the rub once again -- that regular everyday folks would suffer the wrath of the IRS and other punishments, while Obama nominees seem to be able to pay back taxes, apologize, then win Senate confirmation. Your concerns Rockville will likely be on the minds of senators as they decide Daschle's fate in the coming days. Some news organizations suggest his nomination is in trouble, while others remain confident he'll suffer a mere delay and a few days of hard questions. Stay tuned.

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The Granite State: Although Republicans might think they've saved themselves with a Gregg-Lynch Republican replacement deal, insiders say it's likely Lynch will tap an "elder statesman" Republican, who'd be a caretaker until the '10 election. Speculation: 86-year-old former Gov. Walter Peterson, from the era of moderate Yankee Republicanism who endorsed both Obama and Lynch last year -- word is he's interested; and 79-year-old Warren Rudman, a true maverick Republican who served in the Senate from 1981 to 1993 -- word is he's not interested. In any case, Lynch likely won't appoint an ambitious Republican who could use this quasi-incumbency to entrench for '10.

Third-termer Gregg would be the '10 front-runner if he stays in the Senate and ran again. Without Gregg, New Hampshire Republicans don't have many options. Democrats have good options in Lynch (facing an unofficial three-term limit on his governorship), or both Democratic congressional representatives, Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes. Victory in 2010 won't be impossible for Republicans, but without Gregg, they'll likely be underdogs -- something they cannot feel good about.

Ed O'Keefe: Thank you Granite State for your fine assessment of all things political in the great state of New Hampshire.

News reports suggest Gov. Lynch, himself a moderate Democrat, will appoint a caretaker. Whether it's a Democrat or Republican remains unknown. Other news reports also suggest Hodes leads the Democratic field in 2010.

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Bethesda, Md.: Full disclosure: I voted for Obama and support his programs. That written, I think this Daschle appointment is not one I would like to see. The problems with taxes unfortunately feed in to the stereotype of the liberal elite who aren't concerned about such plebian matters such as paying taxes like the rest of the populace does. Further, overseeing those from whom one accepted large fees gives the appearance of conflict of interest. Maybe someone else should be nominated. Just one middle class guy who Biden is now supposed to be looking after.

Ed O'Keefe: Another take on the Daschle appointment...

My answer will continue to be, "Let's wait until 5 p.m. today when he meets with senators," but I'll keep posting opinions on the Daschle Dilemma as they arrive in the inbox.

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Aldie, Va.: Gregg for Commerce secretary -- how interested is he in this posting? And how upfront can he be in securing an agreement from the governor that a Republican would be appointed to his Senate seat?

Ed O'Keefe: Aldie, anytime a Senator releases a statement that confirms he's under consideration for such a post, assume he's quite interested.

No official word on what if any kind of a deal the good senator is securing from his home state governor and the president. Once again, stay tuned.

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Bow, N.H.: The wheels are certainly turning up here in N.H.! Regardless of whether Gregg wants to or can cut a deal with Lynch to have a Republican named to Gregg's seat, wouldn't Harry Reid just as soon have a Republican there? It seems to me that he can squeeze Snowe or Collins (or maybe a new moderate Republican from NH) when he needs to break a filibuster, and staying at 59 votes allows him to blame Republican if things get bad.

Ed O'Keefe: Good point Bow, very good point. And you're from a great town.

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Washington, D.C.: Thank you for the link to the AP article regarding FEMA's work in Kentucky. But, in light of FEMA's dismal performance in New Orleans, why isn't it appropriate for journalists to examine whether and how FEMA is performing better under Obama than under Bush? Something tells me that journalists wouldn't be this passive if the ice storms had happened before Inauguration Day.

Ed O'Keefe: I assure you that colleagues at this publication and others are keeping tabs on FEMA's performance.

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Senate vs. Cabinet: Why would Gregg switch? We're not exactly talking about secretary of state here...

Ed O'Keefe: Allow me to quote from my colleague Chris Cillizza's morning Cheat Sheet. "...at the practical level, putting Gregg at Commerce would give Obama someone known and trusted in the Senate whom he could task with selling the need for entitlement reform -- a high priority for the new president that will be a centerpiece of the upcoming fiscal responsibility summit in February. Gregg, who has served in the Senate since 1992, is a past chairman of the Budget Committee -- a perch from which he emerged as a strong advocate for just the sort of entitlement reform Obama is now advocating.

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Anonymous: Why did Daschle need a car and drive ? Doesn't he know how to drive?

Ed O'Keefe: Another good question. All of you should direct these questions to members of the Senate Finance Committee, scheduled to speak with Daschle today around 5 p.m. ET.

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Rockville, Md.: The Republicans seem really great at telling us what qualifies as a "stimulus" or not. But they all seem much the same to me. Are they right? Or just very partisan? Or both?

Ed O'Keefe: It depends on YOUR perspective, Rockville. It seems the Republicans will continue to provide alternatives, and for now the president seems open to listening and in some cases adapting their ideas into the final package.

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Glover Park, D.C.: This is just shameful. I am an one-time Democrat who switched to Independent in 2002 because the Dems couldn't articulate anything other than anti-Bush fire and brimstone. I flirted with coming back because of Obama, but that's just over now. Daschle ought to be run out of town on a rail. If he gets HHS I will NEVER vote for a Democrat again.

Why should I bother paying taxes? When people get to make so-called "honest mistakes," I am a simple, hard-working small business person with no hope of being Secretary of Anything, what is my incentive to play by the rules when people who could buy and sell me many times over can clearly get a pass on it?

Ed O'Keefe: Another perspective...

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Florissant Valley, Mo.: Morning, Ed. I have to weigh in on the Daschle matter from a purely subjective angle. I met him at a rally here in St. Louis for Jean Carnahan (widow of Mel who won election though he'd been killed in a plane-crash a week or two before). I guess all politicians are by nature forthcoming, pleasant, genial and sincere, but Daschle's versions of these traits were exceptional. In short, I really liked the guy. Of course, that's no guarantee of good ethical judgment, but I think we can let comparatively minor peccadilloes become obstacles for folks who have the talent and skills to run our affairs effectively. Thanks for permitting me my 2c worth.

Ed O'Keefe: You're welcome Florissant Valley...

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Princeton, N.J.: Has the CBO released an official report on Obama's Stimulus Bill or are the "estimates" pundits' talk about just that blog entry in which new figures were put in outdated spreadsheets?

Ed O'Keefe: The CBO has weighed in on the stimulus and The Post reported on it last month:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/20/AR2009012003980.html

When the reported was released and the article was published in late January, the estimate said that:

"Less than half the money dedicated to highways, school construction and other infrastructure projects in a massive economic stimulus package unveiled by House Democrats is likely to be spent within the next two years, according to congressional budget analysts, meaning most of the spending would come too late to lift the nation out of recession."

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Bethesda, Md.: In response to another poster. It isn't appropriate to investigate whether FEMA is operating better under Obama than Bush because, well, Obama's been president for 13 days now.

Ed O'Keefe: Amen, Bethesda.

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Taxation and the "Elite": All these folks, applying motives to things. I have to say, we don't know the whole story yet. As Ed notes, can't we wait and see what happened first?

Ed O'Keefe: Anytime a reader agrees with my statements, they're guaranteed to get called out in the chat :)

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washingtonpost.com: Stimulus Projects May Be Slow, CBO Says The Post, Jan. 21)

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RE: Washington, D.C.: Obviously some folks want to play the partisan game on FEMA...however, it does lead to an interesting question. Janet Napolitano took over DHS last week, but how many undersecretaries and other staffers have been assigned? Has a FEMA director been named? Also, I had hear that FEMA was scheduled to be released from DHS and report directly to POTUS. Has this happened yet?

Ed O'Keefe: No word yet on a reorganization of FEMA and DHS. Colleague Spencer Hsu last week reported on the race to lead FEMA and she has also named several top staffers.

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Abingdon, Md.: What's with the number of nominations coming out of the Senate? Seems there might be other places to look for smart people in politics. The thing that REALLY troubles me about the Treasury sec and now Daschle is it makes me wonder how many of these guys are screwing up on their taxes that we DON'T even know about? And if they find it so hard to sort out (and they WROTE the darn code) how are we mere mortals supposed to make it?

Ed O'Keefe: Very good point Abingdon. It does raise questions about what's holding up the confirmations of Hilda Solis, Ron Kirk and others, and yes -- does once again highlight the huge burden that tax season places on all Americans.

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Houston, Tex.: So, now McCain says that the Dems "need" to negotiate with the Repubs. Funny how the minority party needs to be consulted only when that party happens to be the GOP. Where was this rule when the Repubs were the majority?

Ed O'Keefe: It was overlooked, some would say.

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A cranky reader: What's all this nonsense about the post office wanting to stop Tuesday mail delivery? Why didn't they close that postal racket down long ago?

Ed O'Keefe: I'm amazed at how much passion finds its way into debate about the Postal Service. (Your use of "racket" is a great example, Cranky.)

As colleague Joe Davidson

noted late last week however

, it's more likely USPS will be asked to trim costs, and not service days, since several key lawmakers oppose delivery cuts.

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Virginia: President Obama should withdraw his nomination of Daschle. One of his campaign themes was honest government, and so far, several of his candidates have not lived up to this premise. I'm sure Daschle isn't the only person in this country who can run HHS, so Obama shouldn't allow this to become a blot on his administration.

Ed O'Keefe: Another opinion....

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Re: FEMA in Kentucky: Obama has been president for less than two weeks and he's now completely responsible for the state of FEMA, which the last president spent eight years gutting and undermining? Cut the man a little slack! Rome wasn't built in a day, and FEMA can't be re-built in a mere two weeks!

Ed O'Keefe: And another opinion on FEMA...

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Taxes and the Senate: My spouse is a CPA so I have some feel for how complicated taxes can be. How many people realize the difference between reporting income on line 1 of the 1040 and paying those taxes vs filling out whatever special form for self employment? Our personal Fed tax mailing is over one inch thick of papers.

But my guess is if every member of the Senate was fully audited we'd get at least a 30 percent fail rate. It ain't a 1040EZ. people.

Ed O'Keefe: And yet one more opinion...

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Re: Cabinet nominees and taxes: Ed, has there been debate in official circles on Capitol Hill based on a logical question following the revelation of tax problems for the Cabinet nominees? That our tax system is too complicated, especially in modern conditions where a number of people work in consultant jobs (not just rich ex-Senators but a lot of people in the DC area working on government contracts)? This isn't an alibi for their foul-ups but an honest question.

Ed O'Keefe: The Geithner-Daschle Dilemma has certainly caught the attention of anti- or less-taxes groups. Whether they're able to maintain interest in their issue however, remains to be seen.

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Bank of America Super Bowl Party: It is being reported that the Bank of America had a $10 million Super Bowl party, when they were one of the recipients of a huge bailout. When is the Obama administration going to put a stop to these outrageous behaviors? It is also reported that the stimulus bill has no provision in it to cap executive pay. How can any person who has lost their house or job -- or is afraid they are going to -- accept, believe anything the government is going to do to make things better if it cannot reign in these banks and executives?

washingtonpost.com: Bailed Out Bank of America Sponsors Super Bowl Fun Fest ABC News, Feb. 2)

Ed O'Keefe: This exposes a big flaw in TARP, that the government lacks a strong sense of where the money is going. As I wrote on Friday, Treasury has yet to fully staff the Office of Financial Stability, responsible for doling out the TARP funds.

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Daschle redux: Maybe tax problems should disqualify you from being a cabinet secretary, but let's compare apples and apples. Daschle paid the taxes, paid the interest and perhaps penalties as well. He didn't "get a pass on it" as Glover Park says. And did Rockville lose a new job because he was having trouble with the IRS? That's what he's saying should happen to Daschle. Some people cheat on their taxes, some people make mistakes, and some take positions that they decide not to fight because the lawyer's fees or the publicity isn't worth it. Let's keep our indignation for the first group.

Ed O'Keefe: All good points Redux, but what does it say if we get to a point in American society where tax mistakes, or not paying taxes does not disqualify someone for a position of power? What sort of an example does that set for the nation?

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Sunny California: Republicans are putting in a full-court press to take Daschle down. My bet is that the so-called Obama supporters complaining about Daschle are actually Republicans.

Ed O'Keefe: Daschle maintains some Republican support, Sunny. Your thoughts posted here in addition to all the others on Daschle...

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Jane taxpayer: Daschle's tax problems are definitely a concern, and he should be questioned on them, but if he is actually the best person to get something done to fix our debacle of a health care system, I really could care less about how long it took him to pay.I just want him and Obama to really start moving on this hugely important issue, especially as more and more Americans lose their jobs, and insurance.

IF he's the best person. In your reporting, is he?

Ed O'Keefe: He's certainly developed a following in liberal/Democratic/policy circles as a leading voice on Health Care reform. THAT's the reason Obama wants him leading such efforts. In the view of the president, he's the right man at this time for the job, and since the president gets to pick his secretaries, we have to respect his decision.

Whether it's a good pick, only time will tell.

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Helena, Mont.: So, one governor is impeached because he talked about getting something for a Senate appointment; now the Republicans are openly stating they have an agreement that if one of their senators gets a cabinet position, that governor will appoint a Republican. Is it only okay in the Beltway (and media) for governors to reach agreement with Republicans on who to appoint to senate vacancies? It's so hard to keep track of what Republicans can do vis a vis what Democrats can do!

Ed O'Keefe: Helena, no one has officially confirmed that if Gregg gets the job, a Republican will replace him. That's a reported theory, backed up by unnamed sources. Let's not assume anything until it happens. Then feel free to write back and vent.

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Boston, Mass.: Hi Ed, Seeing all these nominees with their tax problems makes me wonder if there are lots more members of Congress with similar problems understanding the tax code -- they never seem to misunderstand it to the point of overpaying do they? Is there an organization that might have time and resources to audit all of the returns of our elected leaders and is that info available?

Ed O'Keefe: All lawmakers file financial disclosure forms. It would take an army of investigators to cull through each of those disclosures to determine if everyone's paying the correct amount. Does it exist? Not currently.

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Alexandria, Va.: Can Hilary Clinton be secretary of state since the pay for that position was increased while she was in the Senate? Some folks appear to be making a big deal about this ( Lawsuit argues Clinton ineligible for state post (AP) ), whereas others say it's a technicality. What's your view?

Ed O'Keefe: As the AP report states (make sure to read from beginning to end Alexandria), "Clinton was serving in Congress when the secretary of state's salary was raised to its current level of $191,300. So that Clinton could take the post, Congress last month lowered the salary to $186,600, the level when she began her second Senate term. A similar tactic has been used so that several other members of Congress from both parties could serve in the Cabinet."

It'll come down to an interpretation of the constitution. What's most interesting is that the group Judicial Watch, a thorn in the side of the Clintons for more than 15 years, filed the suit on behalf of a State Dept. employee. Should make things awkward in the halls of Foggy Bottom...

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RE: sunny Cal: I'm biting my tongue. I am a huge supporter of Obama and feel that Daschle is far more important to health care than Geithner was to Treasury. That being said, it's all I can do not to speed dial Sen. Kerry and urge him to ask Sen. Daschle to step down.

Ed O'Keefe: Speed Dial Kerry? Maybe you should tell us how you have him on your speed dial.

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since the president gets to pick his secretaries, we have to respect his decision: Funny, I don't remember the Post and other liberals adopting this position for Bush's cabinet and Supreme Court picks.

Ed O'Keefe: We respect his decision, but it doesn't mean we can't investigate. It appears ABC did just that in breaking the Daschle news on Friday.

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"Stimulus" just equals more "trickle-down"?: It seems that Republicans are trying to make the Stimulus Bill just equal more "trickle down" economics, but we all know how THAT did under Bush the past couple of years.

My question: Why are the Democrats so eager to compromise with (knuckle under to?) Republicans whose votes they don't even really need, gutting some of the pump-priming aspects of the Stimulus Bill? From an employee perspective, why is a job created in the private sector any better than one created by the government (especially when a private-sector job is less likely to offer health insurance and other benefits)?

Ed O'Keefe: Democrats seek Republican input and support because the national mood suggests that's what most Americans want: parties working together, instead of fierce partisanship. Obama will need to prove he worked with the other party in four years, since he spent the last two vowing to do so.

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Stimulus and the Press: The stimulus story is very simple and the press doesn't tell it well. Why?

Here it is in three sentences:

The real estate and market crashes wiped out $3 trillion in private spending. Economic conditions are scaring away any consumer or corporate spending today. In light of the fact no one will spend money, the U.S. government will take the first step by spending $800 billion as quickly as possible.

Ed O'Keefe: Thank you Stimulus. I'll forward your thoughts to my business colleagues, who are doing a fantastic job of telling the story.

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Audits: I am less concerned about Dashle's tax woes than I am with the reports from the inspector general that only one of six Afghan reconstruction programs (costing in the billions of dollars) actually did what it was supposed to do.

Ed O'Keefe: Thank you, Audits, for bringing us back to the real world, I suppose.

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Ed O'Keefe: Folks, that's it for today. Keep tabs on all the goings-on in the Federal government at my blog, The Federal Eye, and for all of The Post's coverage of this city's main industry, check out the Fed Page.

Until next time!

- Ed

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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