Don't Ask, Don't Tell Changes, BP Spill, more -- Post Politics Hour

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Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 25, 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.

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Ed O'Keefe: Welcome to Tuesday's Post Politics Hour, I'm your host, Ed O'Keefe, the face and brains behind The Federal Eye and tracking several issues of political and government concern, including President Obama's decision to endorse the Congressional "don't ask, don't tell" compromise, Republicans proposing federal pay freezes, news that the number of federal retirements dropped last year -- and of course any and all political news. Let's go to the questions!

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Silver Spring: I avoided refueling at BP on a trip to the OBX this past weekend. I avoid Exxon because of the Valdez. Chevron because of the discrimination tapes. Amaco because of their Superfund liabilities and Standard Oil history.

The only place I can refuel is at Citgo, because I support the socialist vision of their democracy.

Take that free market libertarians!

Ed O'Keefe: Woah boy. That's why I like Sheetz!

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Los Angeles, Ca.: This is not a repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" in any way shape or form. It's a scam designed to create the appearance of a repeal while leaving the final judgment in the hands of a military unalterably opposed to it. I strongly suspect the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (which affects infinitely more people than DADT) will be similarly scammed into nothingness. Are you people aware of what's going on, or do you just copy press releases?

Ed O'Keefe: Actually Los Angeles, both Sec. Gates, Adm. Mike Mullen, President Obama and several top generals have expressed personal opposition to "Don't ask, don't tell." Go back and search news clips from February, yours truly reported on those statements.

Yes -- this puts the onus on the Pentagon to decide when and how to implement the changes, but with a president and lawmakers and activists eager to reverse the ban, there will be plenty of pressure to act quickly.

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Huh?: OK, so maybe I'm missing something. "Don't ask, don't tell" was put in place as a compromise because Clinton couldn't get the Pentagon and the Congress simply to ban discrimination against gays and lesbians. Now if that's repealed, what's to replace it? We're not regressing to what the military did before, are we?

Ed O'Keefe: No -- there will be no ban on openly gay and lesbian people from serving in the military and the military will have to sort out how to house them, give them benefits, etc.

The deal agreed to Monday night by no means ends this issue -- we could be in for years worth of debate on how to implement these changes properly. Stay tuned.

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Johnson, Vt.: Hi Ed -- Thanks for taking questions today and for your article on DADT. As someone who favors repeal of this law, I'm glad to see some real progress. When it comes down to it, though, how likely is passage? And how problematic is it that Gates does not seem to be on board, at least not yet?

washingtonpost.com: Obama endorses 'don't ask' deal

Ed O'Keefe: Actually -- breaking news that will be in my blog shortly -- Gates has issued his support, if only tepidly:

"Secretary Gates continues to believe that ideally the DOD review should be completed before there is any legislation to repeal the Don't Ask Don't Tell law," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said in a statement. "With Congress having indicated that is not possible, the Secretary can accept the language in the proposed amendment."

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), the lead House sponsor of repeal, said in an interview this morning that he has the votes necessary to add the repeal as an amendment to the annual defense spending bill.

As for the Senate -- advocates told me Monday night that they were two votes short of the 15 votes necessary on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and expected that the White House and Pentagon endorsement would help put them over the top.

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"Doing more" in the Gulf: Ed, several critics have come forward and said the federal government should be doing more in the Gulf, to either aid in the cleanup or controlling the spill or stopping the leak. Yet nobody ever points to a specific action or device or government body that could be called upon to make things better.

Are there specific tangible options that are available that aren't being used or not being used enough?

Ed O'Keefe: It appears the federal government is doing everything it can with its manpower, resources and know-how.

Sec. Salazar suggested Sunday that the federal government might take over the response efforts from BP if the company couldn't get its act together quickly, but those thoughts were shot down on Monday by Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen, who's overseeing the federal response. Paraphrasing Allen, he said any other oil company would do the same thing and that it would be silly to remove the company when the government doesn't have the equipment or personnel itself.

You will however continue to see heated rhetoric, officials making visits to the region and the ongoing reorganization of the Minerals Management Service here in Washington.

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Where is the outrage?: Back in 2007 the Post carried some small, hidden stories about the cocaine and prostitute fueled orgies that the extraction industries were plying the leadership of MMS and the Interior Department with. Today, we have a catastrophic disaster in the Gulf. Why are we not reading and seeing how the takeover of the Department by industry stooges led directly to the conditions that made this disaster inevitable?

Ed O'Keefe: Um, "Outrage," I'm something short of outraged that you haven't been carefully reading the stellar coverage of my colleagues tracking the oil spill closely.

Go read it, then get back to me.

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Washington, DC: Aren't there already openly gay people serving in Afghanistan and Iraq? Technically, they're from other countries that allow openly gay servicemembers, but isn't our military serving adequately alongside them? What new information will this study supposedly come up with?

Ed O'Keefe: The new Pentagon study is due to Congress and President Obama on Dec. 1.

It's only exploring what it will take to fully integrate openly gay service members into the armed forces -- when it comes to housing, benefits, frontline concerns, etc.

Yes -- openly gay service members from other countries are serving with American forces in Afghanistan, and elsewhere. There's been no discernible impact, according to Congressional testimony and academic reports.

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D.C.: Is the repeal being added to the defense appropriations bill or the defense authorization bill? You mention "spending bill" but I didn't realize they were that far along in the budget process.

Ed O'Keefe: The amendment is being added to the Defense Authorization Bill.

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st paul: With respect to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," can someone please explain what's left to review? It seems to me that this issue has been studied to death already. Has Gates ever really gone on the record about what he hopes more study will accomplish, other than to cost ridiculous and wasteful amounts of $ and delay the inevitable even more?

Ed O'Keefe: Well St. Paul, there are several issues to consider that the Pentagon hasn't really explored thoroughly:

1.) How and where would you house the same-sex partner of a gay service member? On base next door to hetero couples? On base next door to families with small children?

2.) What will the military do about extending benefits to same-sex partners?

3.) What if any other economic, social, health concerns are there about integrating members?

4.) Will it have any sort of impact on frontline operations? Surveys, Congressional testimony and anecdotal conversations with service members suggest no, but the older brass and skeptical lawmakers want to see that on paper.

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Arlington, VA: How about extending DADT to the entire armed forces?

Ed O'Keefe: This compromise would allow openly gay service members from serving in all branches of the armed forces.

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Fairfax: Post has an AP article about the federal government asking for the Cuccinelli lawsuit to be dismissed. Has the case been assigned to a judge yet? Was he or she appointed by a Republican or Democrat?

Ed O'Keefe: Here's an answer from colleague Rosaline Helderman, who's covering the case for us:

The case was originally assigned to Judge Robert E. Payne, a George H.W. Bush appointee. Payne recused himself from the case -- his short recusal order didn't specify why and his office didn't respond to a question about it.

With Payne out, the case was reassigned to Judge Henry Hudson, who will preside over the suit in the Eastern District of Virginia. He was appointed in 2002 by George W. Bush and is probably best known publicly as the judge who presided over the Michael Vick dog fighting case.

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DADT: What are the chances "the deal" gets passed in both houses? I know the d's have a majority in both houses, but do they have the votes of thier conservatives in the House and enough R's in the Senate to overcome a fillabuster?

Ed O'Keefe: So far, Democrats say they have the votes necessary in the House and on the Senate Armed Services Committee. But stay tuned, you never know.

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Omaha, NE: Thanks for taking my question. Assuming it's passed, what would the proposed law do? Also, the legislation is repeatedly described as a "compromise," suggesting both sides get something while giving something up. What would the military/Republicans "get" out of the new law?

Ed O'Keefe: Omaha, the repeal would be included in the annual defense spending bill and would not take effect until after the Pentagon completes a study about its impact on troops. That study is due to Congress by Dec. 1.

President Obama, Sec. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen would have to sign off the report and agree that the integration of openly gay service members would not impact troop readiness, retention and recruitment.

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State College, PA: Ed O'Keefe sez: Woah boy. That's why I like Sheetz!

Plus Sheetz has excellent sandwiches.

Ed O'Keefe: Yes -- and a healthy supply of BBQ Fritos, my favorite road trip snack.

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Helena MT: Is the emergency supplemental (funding for Iraq and Afghanistan, disasters, and oil spill) being filibustered in the Senate? If so, why?

Ed O'Keefe: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has threatened a filibuster if it is not paid for with offsets.

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What would the military/Republicans "get" out of the new law? : The military would "get" thousands more willing and able soldiers who are freed from the stress of having to hide who they are. Who cares what the Republicans would get?

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

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Falls Church, Va.: Isn't the DADT deal the equivalent of back-burnering an issue by appointing a panel to study it? What are the odds that that December deadline slips?

Ed O'Keefe: Every time it's brought up, Gates and the folks overseeing the panel say the report will be ready by Dec. 1.

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Fairfax County, VA : You know, people keep asking Who's to Blame? Why can't the Government do more?

Folks should start looking in the mirror more when they ask these questions.

All we hear about these days is that "the Government" needs to shrink, but then we whine when there's no real oversight, or there isn't enough infrastructure or expertise or personnel to handle situations like that in the Gulf of Mexico.

Funny how those in the South who cry "states rights" all of a sudden seem so eager for the Feds to do more.

Maybe if we weren't so insistent on cheap gas to fuel our SUVs, the need for such drilling could be less.

Maybe if we weren't making such grand efforts to deny scientific knowledge and diss the training of people in science, math and engineering disciplines (after all, there's more $ to be made in Wall Street, right?) there might be people around who have some expertise in solving problems, who aren't having to work for the oil companies.

In many ways, we are reaping what we have sown. We all own this. Enjoy your pre-based Gulf shrimp folks.

Ed O'Keefe: Yet another person's opinion...

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Ed O'Keefe: Folks, thanks for a spirited discussion and a great round of questions. Track my blog, The Federal Eye and I'll speak with you soon.

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


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