BEHIND THE NEWS: Obama's bad day

February 3, 2009 1:43:58 PM PST
Not a good day for the new president. Two of his nominees have withdrawn because of tax problems. More revelations that banks that received taxpayer-funded bailouts are spending the money inappropriately. And another stinks-to-high-heaven backroom deal to replace an outgoing U.S. Senator. Glad Barack Obama is bringing change to Washington.

Where to begin?

Let's talk taxes. The problems for Tom Daschle apparently grew exponentially today. He wasn't helped by the editorial in the New York Times calling for him to withdraw. Turns out that the man who was supposed to fix the nation's broken health care system as Secretary of Health and Human Services couldn't get his own taxes right. He failed to report consulting fees, failed to report as income the use of a car and driver, and only a month ago did he pay $140,000 in back taxes and interest.

On the heels of the tax lapses of the Secretary of the Treasury - he was approved anyway - this was just one lapse too many for the new White House. Daschle, once the Senate Majority Leader, was losing support among his former colleagues.

President Obama said he accepted the withdrawal with regret, but it's hard to imagine the new president didn't push Mr. Daschle out the door, or at least give him a nudge.

Then the president's pick as Chief Performance Officer, to examine how departments are faring, withdrew her name because she owed less than $1,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest for household help. Not much money, to be sure, in the scope of things, but enough so that there's a lien on her property. And so, also today, Nancy Killefer, another supposedly well-qualified person, is now gone.

The bigger question is what's wrong with the Obama vetting process that these problems aren't getting uncovered earlier? And what does it say for the president's supposed commitment to ethics in government? Is he being undermined by his own operatives?

Meanwhile, there's controversy about another Obama appointment -- or at least the process.

New Hampshire's U.S. Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican, is the pick to become the new Commerce Secretary. (Mr. Obama's second go-round to fill that job; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had to withdraw because of an investigation into his finances.)

The problem is that there was a backroom agreement with New Hampshire's Democratic governor to appoint a Republican to replace Gregg, so there wouldn't be a Democratic super-majority in the Senate.

If you're holding your nose right now, that's the proper reaction.

This deal stinks.

But what stinks more is that governors appoint vacated U.S. Senate seats. We've seen so many examples of this this year - the governor of Illinois tries to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat, or at least he's accused of that; the governor of New York goes through an excruciatingly embarrassing process of selecting Hillary Clinton's replacement; and now the governor of New Hampshire agrees to appoint a member of the opposition party to fill that state's Senate vacancy.

Is it time we mandated special elections to fill vacated U.S. Senate seats? There are many who think it is. It is, in many ways, a slap at democracy when special elections aren't used to fill these seats.

We'll have the latest on the less-than-smooth transition for the Obama Administration, tonight at 11.

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention the shenanigans of Wells Fargo, which scarfed up $25 billion in bailout money. The bank is planning a series of corporate junkets to Las Vegas casinos this month. Wells Fargo has booked a dozen nights at two fancy Vegas hotels -- part of an annual conference for its top mortgage officers.

What they do with their money is their business. What they do with our money is our business. It's just wrong.

We'll also have the latest on the snow storm that's hitting the tri-state today and tonight. Heavier to the east, and so Long Island is expected to get up to six inches. Lee Goldberg is tracking the storm for us tonight.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Marvell Scott (in for Scott Clark) with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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