The Night Beat: Handling Sestak

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Chu Assesses The Top Kill
New BP Pre-Explosion Revelations
Giannoulias Gets Some WH Help

There is a debate inside the White House about how to handle the continuing barrage of questions about whether Rep. Joe Sestak was offered a high-level job in exchange for not running against Arlen Specter. But a bunch of folks who consult with the administration believe that something will have to give, and soon. 

Rep. Ike Skelton and Sen. Jim Webb oppose the Don't Ask, Don't Tell compromise.

Amusing:


AP: Proposal to lift ban on gays in military in doubt

WaPo: Murphy: We have votes to repeal DADT

CNN: Gates gives lukewarm backing for 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal plan

AP Video: Gates Agrees to Proposal to Repeal Gay Ban

Tomorrow, all eyes will be on the Top Kill, BP's next move in trying to stop the Gulf oil leak.

There will be a huge audience for what amounts to a deep-water version of blowing thick goo into a straw already sitting in water. BP plans to provide a live feed. (And Gov. Bobby Jindal will provide color commentary on CNN.) 

Tonight, President Obama conferred with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who gave POTUS his assessment about whether BP's fix is going to work, and what the next steps will be if the "top kill" fails.

"BP is now conducting crucial diagnostic pressure tests inside the blowout preventer before the "top kill" moves forward. Secretary Chu and his team are evaluating that data in real time as it is coming in.  They are also helping analyze multiple backup plans if the "top kill" does not work." 

Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge endorses Prof. Glenn Sulmasey's concept of a national security court.

By the way: EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will NOT attend the previously scheduled fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee next week in New York.

Public opinion may be hardened against the stimulus package, but the CBO released figures tonight showing that the massive demand-side infusion raised GDP by at least 1.7 percent, lowered the projected unemployment rate at least 0.7% and created at least 1.2 million jobs.

It's not Obama, but it'll help: Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias is getting some White House support, Lynn Sweet reports.Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina will raise money for him.

In a strongly worded letter to Sen. Carl Levin, Armed Services Committee chairman, National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones and counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan write that "there is no precedent for Congress to direct the President to deploy troops in the matter sought the by the Amendment. It represents an unwarranted interference with the Commander-in-Chief responsibilities to direct the employment of our Armed Services and thus infringes upon the President's role in the management of the Total Force. ... Directing the employment of our Armed Forces is the task of the commander-in-chief."  Republicans were pressing to add an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would fund the deployment of troops to the Southwest border.

A new CBS News poll finds a significant drop in support for President Obama, driven largely by dissatisfaction with the economy.

Sen. Russ Feingold proposed that withdrawal timeline be added to the Afghanistan spending supplemental: 

Rather, it simply requires the President to provide a timeline for the redeployment of U.S. troops.  That timeline is not binding - in fact, the amendment directs the President to identify what variables, if any, would warrant the alteration of that timeline.  Secretary Clinton has already testified that she anticipates it will take 3-5 years to transition control to Afghan security forces.  My bill would simply require the President to lay this out clearly and specifically and to spell out what, if any, conditions would warrant a longer U.S. military presence.  And it allows him to provide some of this information in a classified annex, if appropriate.

Cloture was filed this evening. The Senate hopes to finish the bill before the break.

Excerpts from the House Energy and Commerce Committee's investigation into BP reveals news details about the moments preceding the explosion. The relevant portions:

"According to BP there were three flow indicators from the well before the explosion. One was 51 minutes before the explosion when more fluid began flowing out of the well than was being pumped in. Another flow indicator was 41 minutes before the explosion when the pump was shut down for a "sheen" test, yet the well continued to flow instead of stopping and drill pipe pressure also unexpectedly increased. Then, 18 minutes before the explosion, abnormal pressures and mud returns were observed and the pump was abruptly shut down. The data suggests that the crew may have attempted mechanical interventions at that point to control the pressure, but soon after, the flow out and pressure increased dramatically and the explosion took place. Further, BP's preliminary findings indicate that there were other events in the 24 hours before the explosion that require further inquiry. As early as 5:05 p.m., almost 5 hours before the explosion, an unexpected loss of fluid was observed in the riser pipe, suggesting that there were leaks in the annular preventer in the BOP. Two hours before the explosion, during efforts to begin negative pressure testing, the system gained 15 barrels of liquid instead of the 5 barrels that were expected, leading to the possibility that there was an "influx from the well." A cementer witness stated that the "well continued to flow and spurted." Having received an unacceptable result from conducting the negative pressure test through the drill pipe, the pressure test was then moved to the kill line where a volume of fluid came out when the line was opened. The kill line was then closed and the procedure was discussed; during this time, pressure began to build in the system to 1400 psi. At this point, the line was opened and pressure on the kill line was bled to 0 psi, while pressure on the drill pipe remained at 1400 psi. BP's investigator indicated that a "fundamental mistake" may have been made here because this was an "indicator of a very large abnormality." The kill line then was monitored and by 7:55 p.m. the rig team was "satisfied that [the] test [was] successful." At that time, the rig started displacing the remaining fluids with seawater, leading to the three flow indicators described above. Several concerns identified by BP relate to the cementing process. Cement work that was supposed to hold back hydrocarbons failed, allowing the hydrocarbons into the well bore. The float collar used in the cementing process did not initially operate as intended and required 9 attempts with higher than usual pressures to function properly. Moreover, the float test performed after cementing may not have been definitive, leading to concern that there may have been contamination of the cement due to density differences between the cement and the drilling mud. In addition, key questions exist about whether proper procedures were followed for critical activities throughout the day. Negative pressure testing was initially done on the drill pipe rather than the kill line, even though the drill plan specified that it would be done on the kill line. After anomalous results, the negative pressure testing was conducted on the kill line and ultimately accepted. Evidence suggests that spacer fluid used during the displacement of drilling fluid with seawater did not rise above the BOP to the level required by the drilling plan; this increased pressure in the drill pipe and may have interfered with later pressure testing. In addition, the method of displacing the drilling mud with seawater may have interfered with the monitoring of the flow levels from the well because the mud was transferred to another boat instead of measured in the mud pits. Moreover, mudloggers were not informed when the offloading of drilling mud to the other boat was stopped.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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