Post Politics Hour

Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 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 daily Post Politics Hour, I'm your host, Ed O'Keefe, author of The Federal Eye eager to take your questions on politics, the federal government, the future of the U.S. Postal Service and whatever else is on your mind. Now to your questions...


Washington, D.C.: Bottom line - Will this latest embarrassment lead to Michael Steele's resignation anytime soon? Could he be forced out if he chooses not to step down? RNC report renews criticism on Steele's spending

Ed O'Keefe: Allow me to quote the thoughts of my colleague, Chris Cillizza, who writes today:

"For all those wondering whether this story will be the one that forces Steele out at the RNC, remember that two-thirds of the committee men and women would have to vote him out and there is no one -- not even Steele's most bitter enemies -- who think that is a possibility. Simply put: Unless Steele resigns (not likely) or some other major revelation that links him directly to this night club incident comes out, he will be the chairman through 2010."


Washington, D.C.: In your opinion, have the Democrats' prospects for November brightened in the last week due to the success of health care reform, the arms control treaty with Russia, and the impending success of financial regulatory reform?

Ed O'Keefe: In my opinion, it's way too early to be forecasting potential wins and losses in November. Did Democrats have a good week last week? Are they faring well so far this week? Yes. Does that mean they'll win in November? Not necessarily.

We have a little more than eight months to go before Americans vote, folks. It's just like a March Madness game with :25 left on the clock: Anything can happen.


Washington DC: Did I understand the recent Federal Page article correctly - that Federal retirees will lose their current health insurance coverage under the new law? Health-care overhaul to shake up coverage on Capitol Hill

Ed O'Keefe: My read of the esteemed Joe Davidson's column suggests the jury is still out on whether retirees in the FEHBP for at least five years will be able to take it into retirement.

Don't jump to conclusions yet, wait to see what the Office of Personnel Management concludes.


Philadelphia, Pa: Do you remember the Homeland Security report that was issued a while back that warned of right wing extremism? The one that Republicans freaked out over and demanded an apology from Napolitano.

Well, the Hutaree arrests are what that report was referring to, among others. The incidences and threats of right wing groups are extremely raised since the election of Obama and that is just a fact. Sorry, Republicans, if the facts are against you.

Ed O'Keefe: I wouldn't agree with some of what you said in your "question," but yes, the recent militia arrests are exactly what the Homeland Security report on right-wing extremists was warning about.

Among other things, the report

stated that

: "The possible passage of new restrictions on firearms and the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."

Have there been "lone wolf" attacks since? Yes, the plane crash at IRS offices is one example, as was the recent shooting at the Pentagon. Would those have happened with or without the report? Probably. Were they inspired by what the report was suggesting? Not necessarily.

And let's remember what Napolitano said at the time in response to the report: "...we monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States. We don't have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence."


Baltimore Maryland: If health care is so important to the President how does he justify not appointing an Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services? CMS has been without a leader for years! Thanks

Ed O'Keefe: Reports over the weekend said that Obama is on the verge of appointing Massachusetts pediatrician Donald Berwick to oversee Medicare and Medicaid.

But yes -- this is one of the many odd vacancies that still exist across the administration.


Inside the Beltway: This latest news about the RNC spending donors' money on a strip club is seriously troublesome. And I was seriously considering joing the "tea party movement." Forget it. Won't join the "coffee party movement either." Politics is dirty - case closed.

Ed O'Keefe: This certainly seems to reinforce the oft-believed view that politics is an increasingly dirty, money-driven game. Let's see how the rank and file and other Republican office holders react to the news in the coming days. Their opinions may drive how much change comes about because of this embarrassing spending report.


Jacksonville, FL: So just what kind of "meal" can one buy at a lesbian bondage strip club?

And isn't there a Denny's or Applebee's or something similar in West Hollywood?

Ed O'Keefe: Um... having never visited a lesbian bondage strip club, I wouldn't know.


New Jersey: ""For all those wondering whether this story will be the one that forces Steele out at the RNC, remember that two-thirds of the committee men and women would have to vote him out and there is no one -- not even Steele's most bitter enemies -- who think that is a possibility."

Well, why not? We've heard for two years that top Republicans are unhappy with Steele. He barely won election the first time. And he is spending money like water. Are you saying that, despite all that, he is beloved by his committee?

Ed O'Keefe: The reporting of my colleague suggests a no-confidence vote is unlikely anytime soon. It would be very difficult to remove Steele, find a new leader and get that person to raise money and keep the party on message with eight months to go before the elections.


Richmond, Va.: I'm a Dem, but it is really perplexing that Michael Steele is taking the hit for the extravagant expenditures of the RNC. I mean, please, does this man stay in hundreds of luxury rooms or go to strip clubs or spas by himself? Sure, I've read, that he alone loves jets and deluxe perks, but if everyone was so concerned about spending money, each and every participant should nix attendance -- and yet, no one does. Really, who can take this criticism seriously -- so obviously, it is all about Steele staying on, right?

Ed O'Keefe: There are elements of the Republican Party who want Steele out, yes. But, as I said in previous answers, unless there is more to this story or something similar, it's unlikely Steele will leave before his term is up.


Monmouth, Ore.: Good morning. A standard response in these conversations is basically that "it takes two to tango" so both sides are more or less equally to blame for lack of bi-partisanship, co-operation, etc.

I question this. When the Wyden-Bennett medical reform bill was proposed it was widely praised although not acted upon. I now read that Sen. Bennett of Utah is being heavily challenged by his own party and expected to lose the primary.

Why? Because he co-operated with a Democrat. I live in Oregon and Sen. Wyden is also running this year. I have not heard one "peep" against him because of co-sponsoring Wyden-Bennett. Instead, he seems to be praised for seeking compromise.

When I see situations like this, how can I begin to believe that both sides are equally guilty of "poisoning the well"?

Ed O'Keefe: I think this is more of a state-by-state issue and reaction to the work of its lawmakers in Washington. One could surmise, from your story, that bipartisanship is more en vogue in Oregon, but not as accepted among Republican primary voters in Utah.

So I think this would have less to do with the lack of bipartisanship and more about the reactions in voters in different states to attempted bipartisanship.


Washington, D.C.: I'm sure you've read about the right-wing Michigan militia that was raided by the FBI over the weekend. Do you think we should expect to see more of this in the coming months and years?

Ed O'Keefe: That's harder to tell, but this graph from colleague Carrie Johnson's story in today's Post should help chart the path forward:

"Andrew Arena, FBI special agent in charge in Detroit, said the case exemplifies the bureau's no-nonsense approach to radical fringe groups. Investigators operate carefully, in response to First Amendment protections, but they take steps to disrupt alleged plots as targets appear to move closer to translating their beliefs into action, FBI veterans said."


Bethesda, MD: Regarding the Dems chances in Nov: The passage of health care & the resulting momentum is certainly a plus, but they will also have to do something Democrats seem to never do well: sell it to the public. Hammer home how it will make people's lives better and turn criticisms into strengths.

Ed O'Keefe: Exactly. And whether they'll be able to do that remains to be seen. Watch polling in the next few weeks as the president continues to go out and sell it and lawmakers go home for Easter recess and try to explain it to constituents.


"the many odd vacancies that still exist across the administration": Not so "odd" when you realize that the lion's share of those vacancies are being blocked in Congress by Republicans. Right, Ed?

Ed O'Keefe: The Congress certainly deserves some blame for holding up nominees -- and by Congress I mean Democrats and Republicans. Democrats, for not holding confirmation hearings in a timely fashion and Republicans for delaying what in many cases is the inevitable.

But if you look at certain positions, the White House didn't offer up a nominee until late in the first year. The TSA administrator is a good example. Errol Southers, the first pick for TSA, wasn't nominated until Sept. 2009 -- nine months after Obama took office.

Senate Republicans argued that Obama should have nominated someone sooner if he felt the position was such a big priority. They also said that Senate Democrats should have held hearings instead of just focusing on health-care reform, if they wanted nominees confirmed. In this case, Republicans have a good point.


Washington, DC: Ed - What is the average salary and benefits package for a US Postal worker? There's another option not being discussed that's far more sensible that cutting Saturday delivery: scaling back overly-generous employee salaries and benefits. Of course, the union will never allow it.

Ed O'Keefe: Well, the union might have to allow it. The four big postal unions head to the negotiating table in the coming months, and Postmaster General John E. Potter has made clear he expects them to make concessions.

I'm not sure of the average figure, but I know that postal workers receive a much more generous benefits package than federal employees. (Remember -- the Postal Service is a quasi-corporation/quasi-agency.)

Potter has essentially said that workers should expect to have to shoulder more of their own financial load in the future. That seems like a fair concession if they expect the agency to stay afloat.

Of course, it wouldn't hurt if Potter also found ways to trim the fat at the management level...


Fairfax County, Va.: I am a big Obama fan and generally liked his interview on Today, but found him politically off-point re the Tea Party. I think he said that the core of the movement are the birthers and conspiracy theorists, plus the people who call him a socialist, and then around this core are a lot of "mainstream" people who are concerned about debt and taxes. That may be factually correct, and it generously gives the tea partiers a pass on a lot of other VERY offensive images and rhetoric (Hitler, Joker, n-word, splitting, etc.).

But I don't think it was smart politically. If I were him I'd talk straight up about the logical disconnect with "taxed enough already" (TEA) and point out that he's already provided a tax cut to 95 percent of working families; that nobody is more concerned about the deficit and that's why it's important healthcare will help reduce it for decades, and so forth. Analyzing the movement's origins and passing judgment is not his job. Take them on with the facts instead. Exclusive: Obama goes one-on-one with Matt Lauer

Ed O'Keefe: I haven't spoken to the president, so I'm not entirely sure, but I think most non-Tea Party folks are still trying to sort out what the movement is and what they stand for. And most Tea Party members would tell you it's a decentralized movement with different concerns and priorities.

So perhaps not smart of him to try to define it, and perhaps he should have taken them on about taxes, but he's also trying not to elevate them to a higher level.


Anxious Parent: My daughter works for a branch of the DNC. Do I hafta worry about her being required to meet people at Lesbian Bondage Clubs?

Ed O'Keefe: You'd have to ask her.


Salinas, CA: Re: D.C. Dem midterm success due to health care reform? Arms control treaty with Russia? Impending success of financial regulatory reform?

Nah. The major factor is wrapped up in one word: jobs.

Ed O'Keefe: Bingo. And that's the big unknown with eight months to go.


Boston: Forget the bondage and the strippers, that's what one expects from the modern GOP. The real Republican scandal was on the front page of yesterday's Wall Street Journal: up and down the board, GOP fund-raising organizations are tapped out and trailing the Dems by millions of dollars.

For all the DC conventional wisdom of GOP victories in the fall, this is a party that can't get it's own deep pockets to believe in its fortunes! Tea-Party Candidates Discover Brute Realities of Campaigning

Ed O'Keefe: This is a good point, and part of the reason you've seem relative calm among top Democratic leaders. They seem to believe they've got a better infrastructure in place to raise money, focus on a message and help the members in need.

Having the presidential bully pulpit at their disposal helps.

And yes -- as the WSJ article pointed out, it's going to be hard for grassroots Republican/Tea Party/Conservative activists/candidates to raise money and beat incumbents when they're starting from scratch.


Salinas, CA: "Obama is on the verge of appointing Massachusetts pediatrician Donald Berwick to oversee Medicare and Medicaid. "

Is Dr. Berwick's appointment one that can be blocked, or held up, by the Congressional minority?

Ed O'Keefe: Well, it requires Senate confirmation, so yes, a member could put a hold on the confirmation vote.


Have Senate Republicans NOT blocked a nominee yet?: Have any of Obama's prior nominees sailed through yet, without being blocked first by Republicans? Just wondering.

Ed O'Keefe: Yes.


Dale City, VA: How many appointees are awaiting confirmation and what is the average time between selection and confirmation? Are hearings held for every candidate?

Ed O'Keefe: This depends on how you track the fate of nominees.

The White House

said Saturday

that 217 of Obama's nominees still await Senate confirmation. But The Post's

Head Count

nominee tracking tool says he's got about 120 positions to go. The Post's tracking does not include nominees for U.S. attorneys, federal judges, ambassadors and U.S. marshals -- but the White House does.

Hearings aren't necessarily held for every nominee -- certainly not for every ambassador or marshal nominee.


Washington, DC: When Congress returns from Easter break, what will be the first orders of business that they will take up?

Ed O'Keefe: Definitely a few things on there: They'll have to consider extending the unemployment benefits that expired before the break, Democrats would like to focus on financial regulatory reform, there may be rumblings of a Supreme Court vacancy and of course they'll have to focus on economic growth.


Washington, DC: Sorry to come in at the end - but my two cents on the Steele issue: I have worked on campaigns for twenty years and I can say with 100% certainty, that I could tell which ones were winners and which ones were loser from day one based entirely on the spirit of fiscal responsibility and discipline that the campaign machine instilled in its workers. I am on the other side of the aisle, but I have worked on more than one campaign that would have run into similiar media trouble if anyone bothered to look, and every time those campaigns lost.

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


Richmond, VA: At the rate the RNC is spending their money they won't have any money left come November. They are spending it faster than they can raise it and this spending binges aren't going to help matters. How is the RNC doing compared to the DNC on the money front?

Ed O'Keefe: According to colleague Dan Eggen's story in today's Post:

"The RNC had more than $22 million on hand when he arrived last year, but is down to less than $10 million, despite raising a record $96 million during that time, records show."


Ed O'Keefe: Folks, that's it for today, many thanks for your great questions and I'll talk to you again in two weeks. In the meantime, keep tabs on the government by reading my blog, The Federal Eye.


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