Post Politics: White House security, terrorism policy, more

Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 5, 2010; 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: Happy Tuesday and welcome to the Post Politics Hour, I'm your host, Ed O'Keefe, author of The Federal Eye blog. Once you're done perusing today's chat and submitting your questions, make sure to make sure to visit my blog and cast your 2010 government predictions. Which top Obama administration will lose their job? Or which official will voluntarily step down? Which agency will see the largest percentage budget increase? Will federal workers get a pay raise? Make your predictions here and here.

Now to your questions!


Danville: Why do promoters like the Salahi's and Carlos Allen have an interest in being "connected" with President Obama?

Ed O'Keefe: Aha, a gate crasher question!

Let me first say that if you're 100% totally absolutely consumed by this story (And who isn't? It's the gift that keeps on giving... at least to The Post!) then make sure to join my colleagues Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger for a Gate Crashers Q&A LIVE at Noon ET.

Join them



So why do people want to be "connected" to the president? This is Washington folks -- where WHO you know is the currency of choice.

Connections count for everything here, at least among folks like the Salahis, and the party promoter who apparently

jumped on a State Department bus

and got into the White House.

Face it, at least the socialites around here are real petty. Well, maybe some other people too...


Boonsboro, Md.: Do you get the impression that the White House truly grasps how badly they have handled the terrorism issue? Have they read the part of the Constitution about "insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense"? Or are they still in some kind of echo chamber?

Ed O'Keefe: I think you've seen -- and will continue to see -- the White House aggressively push back against charges they don't get it.

You need proof?

Read Peter Baker's 8,000-word tome about Obama's anti-terror efforts

. The story was slated to run a few weeks from now, but the NYT wisely moved its web publication date up to coincide with the current debate.

And if you read the whole thing (you really really should, I did on my Metro ride home last night) you'll learn of an administration that has made several key moves in the past few months under the radar, out of site of the news media.


Alexandria, Va.: The goal of terrorism is to create a disproportionate amount of panic and chaos in the target population at a relatively small cost to the terrorists. Why do we keep responding like they want us to? If I were al Qaeda I'd be laughing my --- off.

Ed O'Keefe: Your question is a good one, and it's likely to get thrown around as administration officials and lawmakers debate the future of American anti-terror efforts.

The fact that we're still asking -- and trying to answer -- these questions proves that terrorism, national security and the war on terror (or whatever you prefer to call it) will certainly be one of the top issues of this midterm election year.


Arlington, Va.: With news of a third party crasher, will the White House finally hold people accountable and ask for resignations, specifically director of Secret Service and Ms. Rogers?

Ed O'Keefe: It seems likely that someone's head will now roll, yes. If only because the agency didn't get in front of this story. If not the SS director, then at least the uniformed officers who let them in or their immediate supervisor.


Cape Cod, Mass.: Does al Qaeda represent the same kind of existential threat to our way of life that the Salahis too? Imagine if the Salahis had been packing suitcase nukes or if they knew kung fu? We could have been looking at something far worse than 9/11, don't you think?

Ed O'Keefe: The Secret Service at least has said that they take all threats -- no matter who they come from or how they happen -- equally seriously. And any mistake is detrimental to the agency's mission and VERY embarrassing.


Brit Hume and Fox: How is the Brit Hume Tiger thing news? Fox is known for conservative "glass bowls" to use Carolyn Hax's term. What makes this any different from the chyrons intentionally showing Sanford and Foley as Democrats?

Ed O'Keefe: Brit Hume clarified his comments on last night's "O'Reilly Factor" and it's worth watching yourself:

Hume said: "[Woods] is paying a frightful price for these revelations. My sense is that he's basically lost his family That pales I suspect in his mind with what he's lost otherwise. My sense is about Tiger is that he needs something that Christianity especially provides, and gives and offers. And that is redemption and forgiveness. I was really meaning to say in those comments yesterday more about Christianity than I was about anything else. I mentioned the Buddhism because his mother is a Buddhist and he has apparently said he is a Buddhist. I think that Jesus Christ offers Tiger Woods something that Tiger Woods badly needs."

Tom Shales

penned an excellent essay

on this topic for today's Post. A key graph to consider:

"Earlier...Hume discussed, in an interview, his spiritual epiphany and what motivated it. 'I came to Christ in a way that was very meaningful to me,' he said; it was in the aftermath of his son's death by suicide in 1998. It would be indefensibly insensitive to mock Hume for his beliefs, especially considering the way he came to them, but that still doesn't mean one must cheer him on as he tries to turn a bully pulpit into a pulpit, period."

It may not be news, but it is noteworthy to hear a national pundit discuss religion and religious beliefs in such a way during a Sunday morning public affairs program. It's noteworthy only because religion does not get discussed more often on those network Sunday shows (perhaps wrongly, since Sundays are, to most people, "The Lord's Day.")

Shales suggests Hume should make some kind of a clarification. He did last night.


Dunn Loring, VA: Regarding the White House pushback, isn't the fact that they respond to Cheney and other administration critics within hours, but refuse to address an actual terror attack for days evidence that they don't get that their goal should be protecting American lives, not protecting their political (behinds)?

Ed O'Keefe: Dunn Loring, we know from the reporting of my colleagues and other news organizations that the government did address the issue immediately after it occurred.

It's just that the administration didn't immediately rush to the cameras -- or rush the president to the cameras -- to say so.


Washington, D.C.: The joy of flying has gone. Instead of spending trillions on full body scanners, personnel and other things: why not, instead do two simple things:

1). refurbish the cabins with large seats, lounge areas and plenty of food and drink.

2). require all passengers check their clothes before entering the plane. In other words, everyone is naked.

Some of the naturalist groups in Europe do this when they charter flights.

Ed O'Keefe: What an excellent idea!

I just hope the airlines wipe down the seats before the next group of naked passengers gets on board...

... puhleese.


Saint Paul, Minn.: Hi Ed -- Thanks for taking questions today. How does the White House deal with the former vice president's relentless attempts to undermine President Obama? Hit back, as they've been trying to do? Ignore him? It seems that if they respond, they just give Cheney more coverage, but if they don't do anything, they look weak. Why is it that this president, no matter what he does or what the situation, is always between a rock and a hard place?

Ed O'Keefe: It's pretty evident that the administration is more than willing to quickly respond to Vice President Cheney's statements.

Why? Because they want Americans to believe that he's the leader of the Republican Party. You make Cheney the leader of the GOP in the minds of Americans and it reminds many of them of the Bush administration, which is still an unpopular period in American history for most.

Have no doubt: The White House will engage Cheney whenever he opens his mouth.


Washington, DC: I think that those who are skeptical about the Obama administration's efforts on combating terrorism won't be convinced by the NYT's article, regardless of its length, nor by your own newspaper's recent editorial outlining the White House's anti-terrorism stance. Both come from very sympathetic sources, including an endorsing editorial board. It's when the WSJ editorial board is convinced that I, too, would be convinced. Before then, all I see are mixed messages.

Ed O'Keefe: OK fair enough, that's your opinion. We'll see what the WSJ says.


New York City: By now this is probably old news, but I have been surprised by the lack of any fallout concerning the way Obama was totally dissed by the leaders of China, India, Brazil, etc at the Climate Conference and by the relative failure of the Conference after months of hype. Was there just too must else going on at the time? It seemed to me that this was a pretty big deal, but maybe I'm wrong.

Ed O'Keefe: I agree that this was an undercovered event. I think part of the reason is that it was only witnessed by a few pool reporters and out of the site of cameras.

The Financial Times published an excellent essay on Monday that focused on how Brazil, India, South Africa and Turkey -- arguably the most important democracies in their respective regions of the world -- have been much more sympathetic to countries like China and Iran in recent years, and how Americans need to wake up to those realities.

It's worth a

full read



Washington, DC: I have a question. Why when reporting on specific bills do Post reports (and other newspapers in general) rarely if ever name the bill numbers? The name of bills means very little when trying to research them on a site such as Thomas, adding the bill numbers would be very helpful to the informed reader who wants to conduct independent research on their own. Is there a reason for not doing so?

Ed O'Keefe: The Post and other news organizations keep to a set style of writing and references to names, places, titles, legislation, etc.

We'll refer to the name of a bill if it's noteworthy (think: NAFTA or Patriot Act), but otherwise don't reference bill numbers or the title -- and we sometimes don't mention the bill's sponsor.

Why? I'd have to check with my editors to know for certain, but I suspect it has to do with space and style. And while you may be interested in a bill and want do to more research -- and I'm really glad you are -- most of our readers I suspect could care less.

This is a good opportunity to remind readers that you can track your lawmakers' voting record by using

The Post's Congressional Votes Database



Re: Brit Hume: Have you seen any polling data on how the public would feel about waterboarding Tiger Woods? It seems to me it's the only way to find out what he really did and didn't do.

Thanks -- I'll be impressed if you take this one.

Ed O'Keefe: Nothing on waterboarding, but I think it's noteworthy that several national polls -- Post/ABC and Gallup -- did poll Americans on their opinions of the Woods scandal. It's like the polls had a BIG impact on AT&T and others that have dropped Woods as a spokesperson.

Imagine if national polls did this all the time! Would CBS cancel Charlie Sheen's "Two and a Half Men"?


Washington, DC: What's your sense of the Obama White House's willingness/ability to revamp the General Schedule along the lines suggested by OPM's John Berry? Personally, I can't see the federal workers' unions getting behind this, and I can't see Obama risking the unions' endorsements.

Ed O'Keefe: The unions won't abandon Obama if he goes along with Berry's ideas.

My sense is that Berry wouldn't make such a proposal if he didn't think it would have resonance at the White House. But will it ever see the light of day? Probably not this year, thanks to the midterm elections.


Danville: Is the Secret Service unionized like what is being proposed by the new head of TSA?

Ed O'Keefe: Spencer Hsu, The Post's Homeland Security correspondent says this:

"There's an FOP presence with the Secret Service Uniformed Division, but it's not like a big government union."

If/when (more likely when) Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) earn collective bargaining rights, you can

expect a big campaign between two unions

-- the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union -- to represent the workers. TSA is the last big non-union shop out there, and TSOs are some of the most visible federal workers.


Wilmington, NC: "Washington, DC" characterized Peter Baker as "sympathetic" to the administration. You responded "fair enough." Does Mr Baker know you believe he is "sympathetic" to the administration in his reporting? How does he feel about that?

Ed O'Keefe: Nice try. And if you work for one of those media blogs that likes to trip up Post reporters and then blog about it, please come up with something better to do between 11 and Noon ET.

I said the reader's opinion was "fair enough." Everyone's entitled to their own opinion. If you disagree, then fair enough.



Arlington, VA: I am very concerned about the possibility of unionizing the TSA. We all know how hard it to fire a federal employee. We deserve the ability to hold these people accountable without a union creating objections or purely promoting people based on seniority. This is one position that should be performanced based.

Ed O'Keefe: To play devil's advocate: Customs and Border Protection, elements of the Secret Service, Federal Protective Service and other federal law enforcement agencies are unionized. Do you think unions have impacted the work of those agencies? You got any proof that they have?

Just asking...


SW Nebraska: I intend to read the NYT article about counter terrorism policies of the Obama administration. Thanks for the link. Isn't it true that there is a lot going on under the surface that doesn't get a whole lot of press til later e.g. greater transparency. Will these be touted later this election year? Will they make a difference?

Ed O'Keefe: As with most counter-terrorism operations, we're likely to learn about them after the fact.

Whether they get exploited for political gain remains to be seen.


LV shooting: My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the men shot by that gunman in Las Vegas. I can't shake what a chilling outcome it was, especially since both of the dead (the shooter, and a security guard) were in their 60s, only one was still working, while the other was obsessed about his SSI. Just a terrible thing.

Ed O'Keefe: Indeed. And as I wrote in my blog this morning, the incident has revived fears of attacks on federal facilities nationwide.


Washington, DC: Do Ameicans understand the different between a right and a privilege. Flying is not a is a privilege. Just like driving. We need full body scans, basic common sense profiling and the strength as a nation not to give into the whinny people on both sides who use these issues to get on their soap boxes about privacy, pick it.

Ed O'Keefe: Who says it's a privilege? You think the airlines feel that way? I've never seen a United Airlines ad that said, "Come oh privileged ones and fly the friendly skies."

It might be a privilege to fly internationally -- because you have to apply for and earn a passport -- but I doubt you'd see many government officials running around suggesting commercial flights are a privilege.


Rochester, NY: What do you think of NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen's idea for the Sunday morning shows to start fact checking their guests? Would it accomplish anything?

Ed O'Keefe: It's an interesting argument.

I don't think the networks should do it (they most likely never would), but if there's an eager blogger with free time on Sundays, then I suggest they do it and get their fact checks up as quickly as possible. Rosen suggests the networks post their fact checks on Wednesdays, but most folks don't remember what happened on the Sunday shows after Monday afternoon.


Pittsburgh: Would Cheney run for President in 2012 if nominated?

Ed O'Keefe: An intriguing line of speculation.

We'll have to wait and see!


DC: What can Obama hope to accomplish after this year? Pretty much everything leading up to midterms will be killed by teabaggers and scared Blue Dogs. And everything after 2010 will be blocked by Republicans who, even if still a minority, will be able to filibuster again.

Should we get ready for a few years of loud shouting and no action?

Ed O'Keefe: Obama has arguably another three months to get things done before 2010 campaigning really kicks into full gear. After that, you're right -- it will be very difficult.

Not sure if there will be loud shouting and no action, but it could be much harder to get Health Care and Stimulus-sized legislation approved. Stay tuned!


New York, NY: The Brit Hume thing is noteworthy because if a political pundit who is a Buddhist denigrated Christianity the way Hume denigrated Buddhism, he would have been fired within minutes.

Ed O'Keefe: Hmm... maybe.


Cape May, NJ: I agree with Sally Quinn today that Desiree Rogers and her crew should be forced to resign. Don't you feel, especially on the heels of the thwarted airline Christmas terrorist plot, the current social security isn't up to the task of protecting our National Security interests? Time for accountability at the White House

Ed O'Keefe: Not sure about her national security concerns or credentials, but it does seem that somebody's head needs to roll. Not sure if it will be Rogers -- she is after all a very close friend of the Obamas and part of their tight-knit Chicago circle.


Washington, DC: "but I doubt you'd see many government officials running around suggesting commercial flights are a privilege."

Thank you for answering my question, but how can you say that? You cant take certain things on planes. You have to follow rules and security procedures. It isn't a right to is a privilege. Just like driving...if you don't follow the rules you get your license taken away.

Flying is not a right...

Ed O'Keefe: Hmm... OK, when you put it that way, maybe -- maybe -- it's something closer to a privilege.


Fed Employee Here: It's not hard to get rid of people who screw up, and we're unionized.

Collective bargaining affects workplace conditions like office space and disability accommodations.

This "bad for homeland security" is a false canard.

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


Ed O'Keefe: Folks, thanks for a healthy, well-rounded conversations. Lots of great questions on several good topics, thanks for participating.

And don't forget to check out my blog,

The Federal Eye

, and vote on your 2010 predictions






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