Post Politics Hour

Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 2009; 11:00 AM

Federal Eye blogger Ed O'Keefe took your questions about who is up and who is down in the world of politics and the latest news out of Washington.


Ed O'Keefe: Welcome to the Tuesday edition of the Post Politics Hour, I'm your host Ed O'Keefe, recently back from my honeymoon and focused on several government issues, while also keeping tabs on political news.

Let's get to it!


Census Worker Murder: OK, I'm upset about your reporting on this.

A Census worker is found hanged, naked, bound and gagged with his work ID card taped to his head and the word "FED" written on his chest in magic marker.

And your report on this says that it is unclear whether his employment played a role in his death.

What more do you need to know ? Are you afraid of enfuriating the right with basic reporting ?

Ed O'Keefe: No we're not afraid, we're being good reporters: We're working on the guidance and statements from state and federal officials who continue to insist they're conducting a death investigation and have no new information. Certainly this does not appear to have been an accident or suicide, but until we know for certain we can't say definitively.

The eyewitness accounts and statements by the coroner definitely suggest -- but only suggest -- that Bill Sparkman was targeted because of his federal employment. But what if "Fed" meant something else to Mr. Sparkman or his attackers? What if "Fed" wasn't what they meant to write?

Suggestions alone are not enough to outright say he was targeted because of his job. We work with facts, not suggestions.


Blacksburg, Va.: Does the Right-Wing have so shame?

-Was Census Worker Bill Sparkman A Child Predator? Was Census Worker Bill Sparkman A Child Predator?

Ed O'Keefe: Note what this author says at the outset of his piece:

"I have no idea what happened, but from the reporting I've seen, neither does anyone else."

This is why -- in regards to the previous question -- we cannot say he was targeted because of his federal employment or for any other reason.


Washington, D.C.: To me, it doesn't add up that that poor Bill Sparkman was killed as a drug cover-up. I mean if you're covering up drugs, wouldn't you also try to cover-up a murder? I mean if his killer(s) had hide his body anywhere else in the remote Daniel Boone National Forest, his corpse wouldn't have been discovered for months or years, if ever. Instead the killer(s) string him up in a tree is a cemetery which is still maintained and people are still buried in, so it was only a matter of days before Mr. Sparkman's remains were discovered. Plus the killer(s) went out of their way to let us and potential jury know that they knew Mr. Sparkman was a federal employee, which is odd, since knowing you killed a federal employee makes it a federal case?

Ed O'Keefe: Please remember that neither local, state, nor federal law enforcement officials have confirmed the eyewitness account. All they will say is that his feet were touching the ground when he was found with a rope around his neck and tied to a tree.

So again: We don't know if he was targeted because of his federal job, we don't know if it had something to do with drugs, we don't know if it was because he might have been a child abuser.

Stay tuned for facts folks, and avoid the speculation.


Florissant Valley, Mo.: G'morning Ed. Do you really think that, as was implied on Hardball yesterday, that the US has only a month to prevent Israel from taking Iran into its own hands? Don't you think that is the worst possible outcome, confirming precisely what Arabs have felt about the dangers of an Israeli state in the heart of the Arab region? Wouldn't whatever gains of security be off-set by a whole new generation of Arab hatred? Thanks

Ed O'Keefe: While I keep tabs on foreign affairs, my specialty is politics and government. You'd have to ask my esteemed national security and foreign reporting colleagues this question. Please review today's reporting by my colleague Glenn Kessler or the latest reports from Tehran.


New York : I wish they could pass these bills in two weeks, because the process is so looooong that we are constantly getting snapshots of the process which are pretty much useless except for that specific moment in time. The public option has been dead and alive so many times that one wonders why anyone bothers expressing an opinion about anything until all the results are in. It's like the Moron Joke: two Morons are fixing a car's directional signal, and one asks the other to stand in the back and tell him if its working, and he says "Its's not working....It's working" -etc). So this public option; is it working?

Ed O'Keefe: This is the beauty of our system: It is slow, deliberative and changes from day to day.

Any lawmaker who has been able to avoid expressing an opinion before the final proposals are in place is wise to do so. I recall Arlen Specter trying that strategy during his town hall meetings this summer, and remember that his constituents were angered by his non-response response.

This is the way the process works folks, on most if not all pieces of legislation. It just so happens that people are paying much more attention than usual to this issue, which makes sense. I must say it's wonderful to see so many people paying attention to the system and expressing their frustration, as New York does, that it takes too long.


Anonymous: @Washington, D.C.

Your answer "Stay tuned for facts folks, and avoid the speculation."

But aren't law enforcement speculating already. They are the ones advancing that this wasn't an anti-government teabagger related crime, but more likely related to drugs. It's odd for them to do that without even ruling this a homicide.

Ed O'Keefe: It is odd, yes. We do our best to focus on the facts, but if law enforcement sources strongly suggest something, then we have to do that too.

This is a very tricky case, there's no doubt.


Seattle, Wash.: Are there any updates from the tragic Federal Census worker, Bill Sparkman, from London, Kentucky.

I don't understand how law enforcement won't comment, yet with a breath say that is may be drug related. And they won't officially even call it a homicide.

To this nonsense that backwood folks consider a census worker the same as a D.E.A. agent. I grew up in rural Arkansas and even the most in-breed, uneducated, unwordly hicks I knew there would know the difference, especially if they were involved in drug trade.

Ed O'Keefe: There is nothing new that I know of as of this morning, but the story can change hour-by-hour. State and federal folks have been very tight-lipped about this case, save for the already-mentioned theories about it being potentially drug-related.

It seems in my conversations with local and state officials that they're a bit overwhelmed by the attention and doing their best to build a solid case before coming forward. And they know that if a potential crime was driven by anti-government sentiments then the situation will garner even more attention.


process question: Does the Vice President pass the 60th or the 61st vote to pass a Senate Bill? I can't find an answer.

Ed O'Keefe: No, the vice president only breaks tie votes.


Washington, DC: So when exactly will the Republicans release their long-promised health care plan? Last week we passed the 100 day mark from when leadership promised it would be coming 'soon'.

I haven't noticed the clamor in the press asking the GOP to keep their promise. What's the deal? Can you ask your sources, on the record, for comment?


Ed O'Keefe: As my colleague Lori Montgomery reminds me, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Ohio) introduced a plan earlier this year, but it didn't get much support from Republicans or anyone else.

But folks: Don't pay much attention to Republican proposals when you know there's none to little chance of them ever passing a Democratic congress.


Evanston, Ill.: To be honest, if I were working in airport security, I'd target Jason Chaffetz for sure. I think the more he whines about it, the worst it looks for him. Was Utah Lawmaker Targeted by Airport Security?

Ed O'Keefe: This is an interesting story (thanks for calling it out!).

As I wrote last week, we hear about whiny, impatient or "don't you know who I am?!" lawmakers in airport security lines all the time, but in this case the Utah freshman Republican congressman thinks security guards might have called him out for his opposition to their collective bargaining rights and a bill he sponsored that bans the use of body imaging machines as the primary airport security tool.

He says he will not press the case further, and only raised the issue when reports surfaced that he was allegedly misbehaving or throwing his weight around at the airport.


North Manchester IN: Congratulations on your recent marriage, best of good fortune to you and your bride!

With the NYT's recent and complete mishandling of the ACORN story, I think the Post has become the true national paper of record. Now don't mess it up!

Ed O'Keefe: Thanks for your kind comments!

The NYT public editor's report, and our own ombudsman's reflections on ACORN coverage remind all of us working at larger media organizations that it's important to keep an ear to the ground and to at least alert editors and colleagues to trends/statements/events that may eventually balloon into much more, as ACORN certainly did.


Saint Paul, Minn.: Hi Ed -- Thanks for taking questions today. As usual, it seems like President Obama has himself in another box, this time with his trip to Denmark to sell Chicago as an Olympic site: according to some, going makes him look like a used care salesman, while others feel that if he stayed home he'd be squandering a prime opportunity to wield his influence. Your take?

Ed O'Keefe: I'll quote what Mrs. Obama said about this yesterday:

"You're darned if you do, and you're darned if you don't," she told reporters before leaving for Denmark.

"I'd rather be on the side of doing it, and I think that's how the president feels. This is not one of those where you worry about what happens if not."

Yes it's another box, but imagine if he hadn't tried. The cries of criticism would be just as loud, if not louder.


Warren, Mich.: To me, this Copenhagen trip by Presiden and Mrs. Obama is great example of Beltway disconnect.

I don't care. I can't think of single person I know who cares. It doesn't affect my opinion of him, her, or any of the administration's policies either way.

Yet watching the pundits have at it, it's one meaningless rhetorical question after another. And within a day it will be forgotton and rhe coverage mocked.

Ed O'Keefe: Perhaps.

I personally find the whole business and politics of the Olympics fascinating. It's the one Sports assignment I'd ever seek, if only for the cool datelines!


Boston: What inning are we in with the Finance Committee markup of Baucus's bill? Have we hit the 7th inning stretch yet? This is like watching a 5-hour, Red Sox-Yankees marathon.

Ed O'Keefe: Really? I find Red Sox-Yankees games to be much more entertaining -- but that's just me.

I don't think we're at the 7th inning of this entire process yet, more like the 3rd or 4th.


Los Angeles, Ca.: "But folks: Don't pay much attention to Republican proposals when you know there's none to little chance of them ever passing a Democratic congress"

So whatever the Republicans do or don't do it's always the Democrats fault.


The RNC's takeover of The Washington Post is now complete.

Ed O'Keefe: No, that's not what I'm saying, nice try.

The tone of the question suggested to me that the reader was trying to play "gotcha" with the Republicans' vows to submit a plan.

My point is political reality suggests the Democrats will lead the debate and while they might take some Republican suggestions into account, it's otherwise a Democratic-driven process.


Washington, DC: A very simple question from a federal workers: Is the FEHB plan going to survive health care reform?

I took a greater than 50% pay cut to move from the private sector to the government, and one HUGE factor for me was the FEHB, especially its post-retirement coverage.

I can't even begin to tell you how bitterly disappointed and upset I will be if the FEHB were to be taken away from me.

Ed O'Keefe: It appears that FEHB will survive the process. I was told late last week by colleagues tracking the health care process much more closely that Grassley's suggestions were watered down by Baucus and thus unlikely to earn Grassley's support or that of anyone else.

The federal workers unions may keep tabs on this, and you should too, since it impacts your health care, but again -- it appears very likely that FEHB will survive.


Gainesville, Fla.: "local and state officials" are overwhelmed by the national attention?

I thought the FBI was now involved?

Ed O'Keefe: Yes they are, and they're used to national press queries. But call up Clark County officials and tell them you're with The Washington Post, and they're stunned by the national attention.


Attention to Republican proposals: Look, as a liberal who votes for Democrats, I'm still very interested in what Republicans are proposing, especially since so many (all?) of them seem to be turning up their noses at the Democratic health care reform proposal.

If they think they have better solutions to the problems America faces, then those proposals should be put on the record in the media and subjected to the same scrutiny as Democratic proposals.

Ed O'Keefe: OK OK I admit it, I probably stepped in it saying what I said. You're right -- it's important to hear what the other side has to say and it should be given consideration.

What I'm trying to suggest is that this process is moving along and will continue to move along and Democrats are leading the process.


VP tie breaker: I just realized how funny that question is! With this strange use of the non-filibuster filibuster, the VP's role is hugely curtailed, isn't it? There are few tie votes, because those bills never make it past the minority's filibuster. How often has the VP had to break a tie, since this strange, undemocratic Congressional "rule" (protocol?) was contorted into it's current bastardized form?

Ed O'Keefe: Both Gore and Cheney definitely had to break a few ties in their day.


Tuscaloosa, Ala.: Considering they known about this crime in Kentucky since September 12th, and yet it's only recently gotten any national attention, I think it's time for the investigators to end the anonymous leaks and hold a proper press conference. I understand they'd love to keep this all closed-lipped, but that ship has sailed. Besides, a lot of cases are also solved though getting so much national press.

Ed O'Keefe: Some cases are solved by national attention, but when I asked that exact question last week, local and state officials told me that the national attention had not yielded any new information or tips.


Ithaca, N.Y.: In my humble opinion, I would say that rather then gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia this year, the special election in New York's 23rd congressional district is more a bellweather to how the Democrats will set for the 2010 mid-terms

How about you?

Ed O'Keefe: I'm not a fan of using one or two off-year or special elections to determine national moods. I didn't subscribe to the theory that Scott Murphy's victory earlier this year to replace Kirsten Gillibrand signaled good news for Democrats and disaster for Republicans, and I won't yet again no matter who wins in New Jersey, Virginia and Upstate New York.

What I DO think these races allow however is for the national political organizations -- both parties and third-party groups -- to test their own staffs, their messaging and their get out the vote operations one year before the big even-year tests.

And certainly any victories have the ability to pump momentum and money in the direction of the winning party.


Washington, D.C.: Any word from the Senate on the timeframe for climate legislation?

Ed O'Keefe: Last I heard from a Harry Reid comment, it's likely to get pushed to next year. That will complicate the climate change talks in Copenhagen later this year, something that upsets the Europeans. (I know this because news of a climate change rift was all over the European papers when I was there for the honeymoon.)


Ed O'Keefe: That's it for today, folks. Thanks for submitting your questions, check out my blog, The Federal Eye, and check in tomorrow for another Politics Hour.

All the best,

- Ed


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

© 2009 The Washington Post Company