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Meet Barack Obama, The Jobs President

Jun 3, 2010

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The economic news of the morning is that some 55,000 new jobs have been created in the private sector.

I'm not sure if that includes job offers to Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff.

The Sestak story has been widely reported.  White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, by way of Bill Clinton, tried to entice Sestak, a Pennsylvania Democratic congressman, out of his challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter in the primary.  An unpaid job in the administration, perhaps.  No thanks, Sestak said, and he went on to defeat Specter.

Now comes word that the Obama administration reached out to yet another Democratic candidate, Andrew Romanoff, a former Colorado House speaker, in order to keep him from running against Michael Bennet, who was appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by now-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.  White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina told Romanoff that they were wholeheartedly backing Bennet, and that there might be some openings in the administration if he decided not to run.

As with Sestak, Romanoff said he was committed to the Senate race.  No job offer, no foul.

Right?

Not according to the Republicans, especially Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who was especially exercised over the l'affair Sestak.  Issa, according to Roll Call, "posited that Obama, his aides and/or his emissaries could have committed multiple felonies" and questioned whether "corruption as usual is to be excused because it's President Obama's administration."  He said what the White House did in the matter is "punishable by prison."

The administration, of course, saw it differently.  Last Friday, White House Counsel Robert Bauer released a memo stating that there was no merit to the complaints regarding the Sestak job offer.

Then came the Romanoff story.  The Colorado Democrat released this statement yesterday:

In September 2009, shortly after the news media first reported my plans to run for the Senate, I received a call from Jim Messina, the President's deputy chief of staff.  Mr. Messina informed me that the White House would support Sen. Bennet.  I informed Mr. Messina that I had made my decision to run.

Mr. Messina also suggested three positions that might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race.  He added that he could not guarantee my appointment to any of these positions.  At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina's assistance in obtaining one.

Later that day, I received an email from Mr. Messina containing descriptions of three positions (email attached).  I left him a voicemail informing him that I would not change course.

I have not spoken with Mr. Messina, nor have I discussed this matter with anyone else in the White House, since then.

The White House released its own statement on the matter, with the intention of backing Romanoff's version of events.  But there were some minor differences in the two versions.  Press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Romanoff "applied for a position at USAID during the Presidential transition," that Messina called Romanoff to see if he was still interested in it, and Romanoff said no, he was staying in the Senate race.  Romanoff has never confirmed the part about seeking an administration job; he says the White House came to him.

The New York Times' Peter Baker said the Romanoff story "intensified attention on White House political tactics in a hotly contested midterm election year":

It is not unusual for presidents of either party to offer political appointments to achieve political aims, such as clearing the nomination field for an ally, and Mr. Obama's aides have said they did nothing wrong. ... Even some Republicans ... have said it would be a stretch to call the White House action regarding Mr. Sestak a crime. But the focus on such tactics undercuts the image Mr. Obama has tried to cultivate as a reformer above the usual politics.

NBC News' First Read tipsheet had this:

There's one undeniable fact on this slightly over hyped storyline: This White House is not good at using its political muscle. In fact, they stink. Let's look at their track record, three sitting Democratic senators ended up with very serious primary challenges. Let's not forget the David Paterson near-debacle or the Illinois craziness (which comes roaring back, potentially, thanks to the Blago trial) or the failure to recruit better candidates (after trying) in Illinois, North Carolina and Florida. And we haven't even gotten to the two senate retirements of North Dakota or Indiana where they either didn't make an effort or did and failed.  And then there's the fact that neither Sestak nor Romanoff seem to fear the wrath of the White House, meaning going public (as they did, perhaps for their own politics) has been rather easy.

And this from the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza:

Neither incident [Sestak nor Romanoff] — on their face — amounts to all that much as this sort of horse-trading is commonplace in the rough and tumble of electoral politics. ... [But] remember that President Obama's brand — the most powerful brand in politics today — is built on the twin pillars of transparency and breaking with business as usual.

And that's a contradiction that Republicans are more than willing to point out.  Here's RNC chair Michael Steele:

Rather than running a federal government facing a devastating economic crisis, two wars, and now perhaps the worst environmental disaster in history, the White House Chief of Staff and his Deputy are acting like Chicago party bosses.  Who is running the store?  President Obama spent last week trying to convince Americans that the buck stops with him.  But these incidents make us question: is this President Obama's White House or Rahm Emanuel's?

Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is wondering whether Lt. Gov. Bill Halter was offered something to end his challenge to Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the Arkansas primary, and Ohio GOP Senate nominee Rob Portman asks the same question about Jennifer Brunner, who lost the May 4 Democratic Senate nomination to Lee Fisher.

I suspect someone is calling Harold Ford Jr. right about now to find out what convinced him not to challenge appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in New York.  Other than low poll numbers, that is.

On the other hand, the White House tried — but failed — to get Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan IN that state's Senate contest.  She already had a job.

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