Post politics: On unemployment, Senate votes, more

Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 24, 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.


washingtonpost.com: Ed is running a few minutes late and should begin answering questions at 11:15.


Ed O'Keefe: Apologies for the late start, your host was in a very interesting conversation with a source for an upcoming story.

Let's get right to it! (And don't forget to peruse my blog, The Federal Eye, for potential questions: www.washingtonpost.com/federaleye)


Danville: Any updates on the census worker found hanged in eastern Kentucky ? I remember your good reporting at the time his death

Ed O'Keefe: I'm glad you asked. The FBI and local authorities are holding a press conference on this topic later today. Stay tuned.


Los Angeles: How come I can't find anything about "ClimateGate" in the headlines of the Post? What's going on with it? I keep hearing that all the climate change scientific research is a bunch of junk and the Post isn't saying anything about it. It sounds like a big story. If the Post can't be trusted to cover news stories, what good is it?

washingtonpost.com: In the trenches on climate change, hostility among foes: Stolen e-mails reveal venomous feelings toward skeptics

Hackers steal electronic data from top climate research center: Scientists' e-mails deriding skeptics of warming become public

Ed O'Keefe: You're not looking hard enough Los Angeles. My colleague Juliet Eilperin has written TWICE on this topic. See the links posted w/this answer.


Northwest DC: My guess is Governor Sandord (R-SC) will eventually be impeached. If so, what are the national implications?

Ed O'Keefe: Um, likely none at this point. His political future was shot dead when he told everyone he went to hike the Appalachian.


New York: I noticed that George Voinovich did not vote on the motion to bring the Senate health care bill to the floor. As he's not running for reelection, do you think he might be a surprise "yea" vote on health care?

Ed O'Keefe: It's conceivable yes, but he may also be one of those that continues to abstain because he doesn't want to go against his party.


St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Ed -- Thanks for taking questions today. Another publication had an article yesterday talking about how the dismal jobs picture could be Obama's "Katrina." What do you think about that notion? Even though I support the president, I tend to agree...the public isn't really paying attention to health care or Afghanistan. Unemployment is the big issue, and it doesn't look like the administration is getting that, at least not right now.

Ed O'Keefe: This is why you saw President Obama speak for 8 minutes after Monday's Cabinet meeting mostly about jobs -- not health care or the Afghanistan plans. It's pretty clear to folks at the White House that it's all about jobs right now, which is why you see an urgency to get the Afghanistan decision made and health care passed by the State of the Union.

As for calling it Obama's "Katrina," that's a bit strong, at least for now.


Rockville: I never expected confusion on this point, but I see two different numbers.

How many votes to pass the Conference Bill in the Senate if there is no filibuster?

I think 51 or even 50 50 and Biden to do it.

Most reporters say 60.

What do they know?

And I mean without reconciliation in play. Just a straight up roll call vote.

Ed O'Keefe: 50 and Biden does it on "final passage," says Post congressional reporter Paul Kane.

But Paul cautions that, "for something as contentious as health care, there will be a filibuster on the conference report. Reid will have to file a cloture motion to end debate on the conference report. You cannot amend a conference report, but it is "fully debatable" -- which means it takes a 60-vote threshold to cut off the filibuster of it. Then you move to final passage, at which point it takes a bare majority."


New York: President Obama now has had 10 judicial appointments confirmed (vs. about 28 in GWB's first year in office). Do you think there will be a bunch of confirmations in December? (I noticed the most recent two Christina Reiss and Abdul Kallon, were confirmed by unanimous consent).

Ed O'Keefe: They may push a few through before the Christmas break, but it depends on the status of health care. Just about everything else the Senate has to do will wait until health care is resolved.


Tuckerton, NJ: I am reading that Obama will send about 34,000 more troops into Afghanistan. My question is why so few. If he really wants to end this war wouldn't it be wise to send in 100,000-120,000 more troops? Is this an example of the President not having the resolve to win a hard, tough war?

Ed O'Keefe: He'll be asked these questions in the coming days. Let's wait and hear from him directly.


Arlington, Va.: You did nice work following the firing of the Americorps IG when it happened. Now, thanks to Sen. Grassley, we know that the IG was pursuing not just a fraud case against a prominent Obama supporter but also a sex scandal involving a sixteen-year-old girl. We also know that Michelle Rhee was questioned.

Will there be any repercussions?

Will the Post ever let this story see print?

washingtonpost.com: D.C. Wire: Report: Rhee spoke to feds on Johnson's behalf

Federal Eye: GOP investigation ties Rhee to IG firing

Ed O'Keefe: My colleague Bill Turque wrote about this late last week and over the weekend. He covers the D.C. school system, so Rhee's mention in the report caught his attention.

I've so far passed on reporting on the new GOP investigation, because it makes explicit reference to some of my reporting. Better to stay out of it, at least for now.


Alexandria, Va.: Dear Mr. O'Keefe,

I have no real question, I simply want to pretend I can't find any information about the issue that supports my political beliefs and therefore accuse you and The Post of being useless and shilling for people who disagree with me.

Thanks a bunch!

Ed O'Keefe: Excellent Alexandria, and thanks for calling out the other folks who do this everyday. Seriously folks, don't do it.


Rockville: "at which point it takes a bare majority."

Thank you. So very much.

Well we had that count on Saturday night. Which means if everyone stays bought it is home free.

Do some TV reporters need a story with tension to sell the news?

Ed O'Keefe: Um, all TV reporters need tension to tell any story.


Chat Manners: A suggestion for all those who keep asking why the Post hasn't reported on X: You will appear less ignorant by asking instead where links to X can be found.

Ed O'Keefe: Precisely!


Northwest DC: Sorry, I didn't mean the national implications for Sanford personally (he'll keep living in the doghouse personally). I meant will the next governor also be Republican? Any bearing on appointments or other political races?

Ed O'Keefe: The next governor will be Sanford's lieutenant, Andre Bauer, a Republican who is considered a bit of a loose cannon in Palmetto State political circles.

Regardless, he's running in (at least a) two-way GOP primary to succeed Sanford. It's safe to say National Republicans will steer clear of South Carolina state politics until they have a 2010 nominee.


Alexandria, Va.: A sort of non-political question. Who are the best story tellers among the politicians you have covered? I'm often struck how the legendary political story tellers like Mo Udall or Alan Simpson were able to reach across the aisle and actually pass legislation. Not sure if this skill is in much use today.

Ed O'Keefe: I recall a hysterical conversation with Bob Dole at the Republican National Convention last summer. Darrell Issa can talk your ear off about the most obscure of topics. And Sen. Claire McCaskill has a good way of spinning policy stories into personal stories about her family, friends or constituents.


Obama's "Katrina": My guess is jobs would also be McCain/Palin's "Katrina" had they won the election.

Ed O'Keefe: Well, other folks would certainly say that, yes, but not this reporter.


New York, NY: I've been wondering a lot about how and why the American traveling press came away from the president's trip to Asia with the idea that the trip was some sort of shameful failure, when that's not the way the foreign press reported the same trip. Any ideas?

Ed O'Keefe: I think they were looking for short-term wins, which the trip did not produce. Administration officials fully expect to win concessions and other deals from the Asian leaders in the coming months and years.

The miserable jet lag may have also had something to do with their displeasure!


Belfast, Maine: By Senate rules, does it still take 60 votes to stop a filibuster if several senators abstain?

Ed O'Keefe: Once again checking with the great Paul Kane, who says it takes three-fifths of those senators who are duly sworn in.

"So it didn't matter for cloture while Kennedy and Byrd were sick, it still took 60 votes," Kane said. "However, after the election, there were the extended vacancies of the Illinois and Minnesota seats, as well as a few-days-to-a-week-or-so vacancies for NY, DE, Colo.

"When there are only 99 senators sworn in, it still takes 60 votes. (Do the math; rounding error causes you to go up to 60.)

"When there are just 98 senators sworn in, it drops to 59 senators. There was 1 -- maybe 2 -- key cloture votes in January when the magic number was 59."


Washington, DC: I'm a federal worker (but not for the census) and we're all hearing that the KY census worker, who was suffering from cancer, tried to stage his own suicide as a murder in order to allow his son to collect both from his insurance policy and from the government ($10,000 payment from death in the line of duty). Sorry to disappoint the conspiracy crowd.

Ed O'Keefe: Yes -- there were two poorly sourced AP reports that suggested this earlier this month.

This report is waiting until he has it solidly confirmed with named sources, or from the authorities at their press conference later today.


Bridgewater, Mass.: Are there the makings of a potential deal in the different numbers required for cutting off a filibuster and for final passage of the health-care bill? Could wavering Democrats be persuaded to make up the 60 required for the intermediate steps if they are allowed at the end to vote against the final bill so they can tell the voters back home that "in the end they couldn't vote for it"?

Ed O'Keefe: Sure, that could happen, but then they'd be peppered with "You voted for it, before you voted against it" accusations from future opponent.


Seattle, WA: Since Roland Buris has come out with his "I will not vote for cloture any bill without a Public Option" announcement, has he been approached by Sen. Reid?

How many are expecting this to go to Xmas Eve?

Ed O'Keefe: I'm expecting it will go beyond Xmas Eve at this point.

No idea about Burris, sorry.


Washington, DC: Do you know if any of the current health care bills would kick federal employees and retirees out of FEHBP?

Ed O'Keefe: At this point my understanding is that FEHBP is safe -- though I have to imagine it's an issue that will be revisited again and again in the future.


Ed O'Keefe: Folks, that's it for today. Apologies for the abbreviated session, but the breaking news on an impending announcement about the Census worker killing requires I break off to focus on that.

Thanks again, enjoy your Thanksgiving, and don't forget to check

The Federal Eye

early and often for the latest government news.


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