washingtonpost.com
Post Politics Hour

Ed O'Keefe
washingtonpost.com Federal Eye Blogger
Tuesday, March 3, 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.

Ed O'Keefe,washingtonpost.com Federal Eye blogger, was online Tuesday, March 3, at 11 a.m. ET to take questions about national politics, congressional news and the latest from the Obama administration.

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 Tuesday's Post Politics Hour, I'm Ed O'Keefe, a federal government reporter and Federal Eye blogger for The Washington Post. Hello from the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, where I'm attending the National Treasury Employees Union's legislative conference. NTEU represents more than 150,000 federal government employees, including staffers at the departments of agriculture, commerce, health and human services, the IRS, FDA, EPA, FDIC, etc.

I'm here today to tackle your queries on national politics, Congressional news, and the latest from the Obama administration. So here we go...!

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Ottawa, Canada: When subbing for Chris on Friday (congrats to Mr. and Mrs. Fix on Charles, BTW), you asked for a novel way of posing a frequently-asked question. So here goes: having been home to astronauts, athletes and soldiers, how long before the Senate welcomes an alumnus of Saturday Night Live?

Ed O'Keefe: Haha, good memory Ottawa. The latest reports note that Coleman has rested his case and that Franken's lawyers get started today. Coleman still has plans to appeal no matter the outcome of the current trial, so we could be looking at mid- to late-Spring at the earliest.

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The Vetting Team: FOUR nominees with back-tax problems... what kind of image are they trying to project for their appointees?

washingtonpost.com: Obama's Trade Pick Owes IRS $10,000 (Post, March 3)

Ed O'Keefe: Well, the latest tax issues should explain why we've seen a slowdown in the announcement of nominees in recent weeks. Remember: Kirk admitted to the problems and agreed to pay them back. He has the support of the necessary Senate Democrats and while there's some skepticism among some Republicans, there's nothing right now suggesting his nomination has been derailed.

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Arlington, Va.: Today's Post reports that "An Obama spokesman declared the issues "minor" and said the administration is confident that the nomination is on track." Didn't they say the same thing about Daschel 24 hours before he withdrew? How much trouble is Kirk's nomination in?

washingtonpost.com: Obama's Trade Pick Owes IRS $10,000 (Post, March 3)

Ed O'Keefe: They did say that, good point. His confirmation hearing is scheduled for next Monday. Let's see what happens between now and then.

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Salinas, Calif.: Ed: The apocalypse, are we there yet? First, Congressman Phil Gingrey, and now RNC chairman Michael Steele have felt obliged to embarrass themselves by offering mea culpas to Rush Limbaugh for their candid remarks regarding his influence (interference?) in Republican political affairs. Of course, this begs the question: who, if anyone, is currently at the helm of the good ship GOP?

Ed O'Keefe: Michael Steele's the leader of the party's national infrastructure, but I think it's fair to say the fight is on to lead the head and heart of the GOP and there are several folks involved: Steele, Gingrich, Limbaugh, Huntsman, Palin, Jindal, Romney, Cantor, Boehner, etc.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi Ed --

Thanks for taking questions today. By way of full disclosure, I'm an Obama supporter, but there's something just too delicious about Steele apologizing to Limbaugh after initially having the backbone to stand up to him. This seems to play into the Dem's strategy to make Limbaugh the voice of the Republican Party almost too perfectly to be believed. What's your take?

Ed O'Keefe: It does play into their strategy, and as The Eye's friend The Fix reports in his blog today, all of this becomes party of a national Democratic Party effort to further tie Republicans to Rush Limbaugh, who polling suggests has a loyal fan base, but remains unpopular with many (most?) Americans.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: The GOP still seems better then the Democrats and the White House at being in permanent campaign mode and also better at propaganda (no slur intended). Are the Democrats any better this year than in the past? Don't they have to be to win in the long run?

Ed O'Keefe: I think Tim Kaine's statement last night and Rahm Emanuel's comments on CBS on Sunday signal that the Democratic Party establishment has a unified "permanent campaign" message and structure. Combine those recent comments with the power (or potential downside) of the presidential bully pulpit and congressional majorities, and the Democratic Party appears to be in good shape. The problem for Republicans is that while members may be in permanent campaign mode, there's no unified message.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: To what degree might RNC Chairman Michael O'Steele's apology to Rush Limbaugh for calling him an entertainer now enhances the image of Rush Limbaugh as the current leader of conservative Republicans if not Republican Party itself?

Ed O'Keefe: It already has. We're talking about it, aren't we?

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St. Paul, Minn.: Last week a few of your colleagues pushed the idea of a revote in Minnesota in these chats. Is this something you favor as well?

Thanks.

Ed O'Keefe: I'm a reporter, I report facts and don't publicly favor things one way or the other.

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Watertown, Mass.: Who is going to be the head of CMS -- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services? Any names floating at all?

Ed O'Keefe: None that I've heard, and as my colleague Michael Fletcher and Ceci Connolly reported on Sunday, Obama has yet to name any top HHS appointments, including CMS, FDA, CDC, etc.

Obama may want to start thinking about potential nominees, because as I reported yesterday in The Federal Eye, Sebelius faces several management challenges at CMS.

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Bluffton, S.C.: Are the government employees members of the NTEU by choice or in order to hold their jobs in the various agencies? What are the benefits offered to NTEU members?

Ed O'Keefe: Any and all federal employees join a union by choice and for more information on the union, visit their Web site: www.nteu.org

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Anti Rushite: If Rush really wants to lead the Republican Party, why not step out from behind the microphone and run for office?

Ed O'Keefe: Yes! Sign me up to cover that campaign!

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Arlington, Va.: "Create or save" jobs? I am tired of the Obama administration's funny language about the jobs impact of the so-called stimulus package. It suggests that the administration really doesn't know whether the stimulus package will create any new jobs or replace jobs that were recently lost. It also suggests that there are many unanswered questions related to the recent and unprecedented $787 government spending program.

Ed O'Keefe: You're right Arlington, there are plenty of unanswered questions about both the economic stimulus package and Obama's budget proposals. Nobody has a crystal ball and nobody knows how the economy will progress. "Create or Save" is one of those classic political sales pitches that politicians use to sell their agendas but also leave the door open to potential shortcomings.

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Seattle, Wash.: I found the recently released Bush administration DOJ documents to be disturbing in the fact that they gave the president vast powers, including domestic military abilities, that overruled any Constitutional limits.

Will there be investigations into the legality of these memos, why Bush thought he needed these powers, and what actions he took under them?

Ed O'Keefe: Seattle, if you're referring to the documents that the Obama administration released yesterday, remember that "Those policies were based on at least 10 legal opinions conferring broad powers on the president that the Justice Department later deemed flawed and ordered withdrawn," as The Post's Dan Eggen and R. Jeffrey Smith report today.

Also remember that "The new batch of opinions does not include any repudiated for the first time by the Obama administration or reflect a government shift on the underlying legal issues since Bush's departure. They also do not include the most controversial memos that Democratic lawmakers and human rights experts have been asking to see for several years, including those justifying the CIA's use of harsh interrogation techniques and the National Security Agency's program to surveil certain Americans without warrants."

No word yet on potential investigations into these documents.

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Eau Claire, Wisc.: This morning, there are links to two articles about Rush; however both links bring me to Howard Kurtz's article. I would really like to read the one by Mr. Cillizza or is Mr. Kurtz trying to steal his thunder?

Thank you.

washingtonpost.com: White House Cheat Sheet: (Re)Defining Rush (The Fix, March 3)

Ed O'Keefe: Here's the link to Chris: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/thefix/2009/03/white_house_cheat_sheet_redefi.html


And here's my report from the NTEU conference. NTEU president Colleen M. Kelley called Limbaugh's comments "unacceptable":

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/federal-eye/2009/03/nteu.html

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washingtonpost.com: Post-9/11 Memos Show More Bush-Era Legal Errors (Post, March 3)

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Dallas, Tex.: Hey Ed, tell us how on earth the Obama group gets by in claiming that all these earmarks are "last year's" business," and he's not to be held accountable for signing the bill? Why don't they bring Bush back to sign it?

Ed O'Keefe: "This is last year's business," Peter Orszag said Sunday on ABC's "This Week". "We want to just move on."

You're referring to John McCain's statements on the Senate floor yesterday, when he suggested that if the Obama administration considers the omnibus spending bill, "last year's business," then maybe George W. Bush should come back to sign it.

It's an odd statement for Orszag to make, and the OMB director has been called "suprisingly quotable" in recent days. One wonder if his public statements will be more controlled in the future.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm a little confused why a job "created" or "saved" by the stimulus is of such concern. Either way, I think we're talking about coming up with alternatives to "losing" jobs. Isn't that better than categorizing a job that will still exist as a result of the additional spending?

Ed O'Keefe: One person's opinion...

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Claverack, N.Y.: Karl Rove was a guest panelist on "This Week" last Sunday. I don't begrudge him for appearing or ABC for booking him -- but shouldn't they at least use the opportunity to press him on things like, "Are there any circumstances under which you would testify to the relevant House committees about your role in firing U.S. attorneys, or outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent?"

Ed O'Keefe: Direct those concerns to the good folks at ABC News.

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washingtonpost.com: White House Cheat Sheet: (Re)Defining Rush (The Fix, March 3)

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Wokingham, U.K.: I see that my interesting leader, Gordon Brown, is about to make a splash in Washington. Does his selection as first foreign guest mean that the Obama government does not want to see the return of the Conservative Party, with its Thatcher-Reagan baggage, to power in the U.K.? Or just that he finds Sarkozy irritating?

Ed O'Keefe: Gordon Brown will be Obama's second foreign visitor. Taro Aso, the Japanese Prime Minister, was the first foreign leader to visit Obama at the White House last week. Brown is however the first European leader to visit Obama, a nod to the close U.S.-U.K. relationship.

Notice however that neither Aso nor Brown have been granted the opportunity to hold a joint news conference with Obama. Only Stephen Harper has had that honor (?)

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Richmond, Va.: Is there any evidence that fiscal conservative Democrat Blue Dogs may ally themselves with Republicans in the House against the high deficits proposed in Obama's budget?

Ed O'Keefe: There very well may do that. Stay tuned.

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"Save" jobs: Reporters do seem to hate this characterization. But what would you have the government call the jobs (especially at the state level) that only still exist due to the federal stimulus? It is going to help the economy. And I think we can agree that its better for everyone to not get fired and rehired if we can just keep you in the job instead.

Ed O'Keefe: One person's opinion...

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St. Paul, Minn.: Only Republicans with their fingers crossed are predicting that the Franken election will extend past April. Franken hopes to rest his case in about three weeks.

And I can't see anyway that there will be a second election. After all Minnesota has invested in getting this right, we're not about to spend a ton of money and time for an election that might at best have 2/3 of the turnout and be held months from now.

It's ridiculous to even mention it.

Ed O'Keefe: One Minnesota resident's opinion...

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1 vote for stimulus: My job has just this past week been saved thanks to stimulus money. So that's 1, actually there are 6 of us with a great deal more at other sites.

Ed O'Keefe: Great to know and congratulations... a job saved is very good news, regardless of your political viewpoints.

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Providence, R.I.: Ed, are federal employees in general worried about their jobs? If Obama is looking at cutting the federal budget, wouldn't worker salaries and benefits be on the block along with those programs 'that don't work'? Thanks.

Ed O'Keefe: No, don't expect any pay cuts. Obama has proposed giving a 2 percent raise to civilian federal employees, and a 2.9 percent bump to uniformed military personnel. That's lower than last year's 3.9 percent increase, and it ends pay parity for civilians and military. But Obama's proposal is just that -- a proposal -- and it's likely Congress will boost their pay raises.

As my colleague Philip Rucker reports on the front page of today's Post, Obama's total budget proposals may mean another 200,000+ federal positions -- for nurses, doctors, lawyers, investigators, IRs and Social Security Administration staff, etc. ...

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Benefits to NTEU members: I think we get a discount for membership to BJ's Wholesale club. And there is a holiday party sometime in December. And a newsletter.

And knowing you are supporting the people who negotiate your contract, though the non-members work under the exact same contract.

Ed O'Keefe: An answer from an NTEU employee...

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Baffled in D.C.: So, just wondering if you have any insight into when Obama will start actually filling all the positions at Treasury... rumors have been flying that the Treasury is severely understaffed. What is taking them so long? Aren't we in an economic crisis? I am tired of the "we aren't appointing anyone until we can properly vet them..." arguments. Haven't they known since November they would need Treasury staff?

Ed O'Keefe: Obama has yet to name any Treasury deputy or assistant secretaries, a point raised last week during the daily White House press briefing. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dodged the question, saying Geithner has all the help he needs, but it's clear they need to start filling out the ranks soon. There are acting secretaries and directors in place, jobs currently filled by career appointees. Expect more political appointments soon. You can bet the administration's vetters are combing over EVERY aspect of the nominees' tax and finance records to avoid the embarrassment of yet another tax issue.

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Ed O'Keefe: Folks, I've got to trim our 60-minute session short by a few minutes to leave here and head over to the Dept. of Interior for President Obama's appearance at the department's 160th anniversary celebrations. Look out for that and other federal government-related news later today in my blog, The Federal Eye and make sure to review our newly expanded and redesigned

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