Clem’s Chronicles: President Obama Interview, Nominees Withdraw, Say What Wells Fargo?

By Tom Johnson

Feb 3, 2009 9:14pm

Howdy-Clem Lane here again with our evening editorial note. Quite a day in our nation’s capitol————

DASCHLE/KILLEFER BOW OUT-Hey TRANSPARENCY!  Let me introduce you to my little friend REALITY. President Obama promised a cleaner White House and today the first two casualties of that pledge. Former Senator Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination to be Health and Human Services Secretary and Health Care Czar today, saying he did not want to be a distraction over nagging tax problems. Daschle said in part "….this work will require a leader who can operate with the full faith of Congress and the American people, and without distraction. Right now, I am not that leader." Daschle’s statement  came less than three hours after another Obama nominee also withdrew from consideration, and also over tax problems. Nancy Killefer was nominated by Obama to be the government’s first chief performance officer. We’ll get to the whys below but first what did President Obama think? Luckily (for us), the President was doing pre-arranged interviews with all the major networks today in DC. He sat down with Charles Gibson after all this news had been reported.

PRESIDENT OBAMA ON DASCHLE ET AL-"We don’t have two sets of rules". So said President Obama today in an interview with Charles Gibson that aired tonight on WORLD NEWS. Gibson: had mentioned the fact that "three major appointees, it turns out, …hadn’t paid all their taxes" and asked the President what kind of message that sends out about responsibility. Obama: "Well I think it sends the wrong one. And that’s you know, something I take responsibility for." Obama noted that Daschle "made the assessment that (the taxes issue) was going to be too much of a distraction." Charlie pressed on: "If we don’t have two sets of rules, is the position of your Treasury Secretary, though confirmed, untenable since he had the same kind of problem? Obama: "As I said, I think everybody makes mistakes. Tim owned up to them. And I think I’ve been very clear of the fact that this was a bad mistake." Obama continued: "We’re going to have some glitches, and I understand that that’s what people are going to focus on….we can’t afford glitches because right now what I should be spending time talking to you about is how we’re going to put three to four million people back to work." We’ll get to that part of the interview after we finish with Daschle and Killefer.

DASCHLE/KILLEFER REDUX-So let’s review-Tom Daschle has a tough (but not brutal) Senate Finance Committee hearing yesterday at which he apologized profusely for his back tax issues. President Obama and many members(mostly Democratic if not solely) of the Senate Finance Committee reaffirmed their support of Daschle’s nomination after the hearing. Daschle’s confirmation was expected, even by Senate Republicans who individually opposed the choice. So what happened today to change his mind? George Stephanopoulos reported earlier today that " A source close to Daschle says ‘he didn’t have the stomach for the fight.’ The double-barreled combination of a blistering New York Times editorial and a front-page story raising questions about President Obama’s commitment to ethics reform in Washington convinced Daschle he had to go." Jake Tapper in his WORLD NEWS two-way with Gibson reiterated Stephanopoulos’ points and added "you have to remember Charlie that about one-third of the Senators were elected after Tom Daschle was defeated in 2004. They didn’t necessarily feel any allegiance to him." So? Tapper continues: "President Obama feels that health care reform is something that needs to be tackled in a bi-partisan fashion, and with Daschle becoming a polarizing figure, he was probably not the best person to helm that effort."
Nancy Killefer’s earlier resignation this morning could not have helped Daschle. Her issue was a tax lien under $1000. Gibson asked Tapper if that added  to the pressure for Mr. Daschle to step down. Tapper responded that "there were likely some other issues with Ms. Killefer but more importantly…it’s difficult (for Daschle) to be the second person to weather a storm like this-Tim Geithner being the first. For Miss Killefer, even more difficult being the third, especially when you are brought in to be the chief performance officer, being an expert in keeping all the money in line."

NEW RULES ON EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION COMING TOMORROW-Jake Tapper: "ABC News has learned that President Obama will Wednesday announce the new limits on executive compensation for companies that receive TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds to help stabilize the financial markets." The event happens at 11am ET-Obama will be joined by Treasury Secretary Geithner in the Grand Foyer of the White House.

PRESIDENT OBAMA TALKS STIMULUS-In the second part of Charles Gibson’s three-part interview with President Barack Obama that appeared tonight on WORLD NEWS, the topic was the economic stimulus plan. Gibson asked the President if the desire to have a very large stimulus package crafted quickly led to "haste makes waste"? President Obama disputed that, saying that in the package "we focus on making sure that in addition to creating jobs, we’re laying the foundation for long-term economic growth." Obama added  that the package "Is one that balances the need for speed…and the need for us to make sure that some of this money is going to long-term investments that will make us more competitive." Charlie asked about the P word-Pork.
Gibson: "There’s a lot of people in the public, a lot of members of Congress who think this is pork-stuffed, and that it really doesn’t stimulate. A lot of people have said it’s a spending bill and not a stimulus bill."
Obama: "Well Charlie, if you take a look at this bill, the fact is, there are no earmarks in this bill." Obama further commented on the contents of the bill: "…most of the programs that have been criticized as part of this package amount to less than one percent of the overall package. And it makes for good copy, but here’s the thing-we can’t afford to play the usual politics at a time when the economy continues to worsen.
Gibson mentioned "Buy America" provisions that were in the bill and whether the President was concerned they could start a trade war. Obama, noting that "trade is sinking all across the globe",  replied that "I think we need to make sure that any provisions that are in there are not going to trigger a trade war."
Gibson asked about President Obama’s desire to have bi-partisan support for the stimulus bill. Obama replied that "I’m less concerned about bipartisanship for bipartisanship’s sake. I’m interested in solving the problem for the American people as quickly as possible."

PRESIDENT OBAMA ON HIS NEW JOB-The third part of Gibson’s interview with President Obama looked at the President’s feelings on his job. Obama said that he feels "surprisingly comfortable in the job" but notes "the challenges are big. You know, we’ve got an economy that I think is worse than anybody would have anticipated even two or three months ago. We’ve seen some progress in Iraq, but in Afghanistan we’ve got enormous challenges. And we’ve got a-not just an immediate economic crisis, but a long-term budget issue in terms of the amount of debt that we’re accumulating. Trying to square all those circles is a challenge. But one thing that I’m absolutely convinced about is that you want to be President when you’ve got big problems."

JANUARY AUTO SALES/SENATE STIMULUS ADDITION-The conventional wisdom was that January auto sales were going to be bad. Today’s official sales figures confirmed our worst fears. As Dan Arnall said "This is a wreck of epic proportions. Americans – battered by job loss and crumbling home values – have stopped buying cars." I’ll let him continue-Arnall: "The major auto companies released January sales data which shows that the annual pace of U.S. auto sales has fallen to 9.57 million units. That’s a drop of 37.7% from the year prior and is the slowest sales pace since June 1982. Worst month in 27 years. Numerically this is a seminal event – to replace the cars and trucks that are rendered undrivable by age, poor repair and wrecks we need to see a sales pace of 12 million units according to Merrill Lynch estimates. For the past four months sales have been below that level. Sales are so bad there are actually fewer cars on the road." Senators debating the economic stimulus bill voted to add some $11 billion to try and help this afternoon. Zach Wolf says "The auto amendment, proposed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, allows for a tax deduction for sales and excise tax paid on new cars bought this year and interest paid on new car loans. It passed by voice vote after Senators voted 71-26 to waive pay as you go rules to include it. The cars have to be less than $49,500 and the buyer family has to make less than $250,000 – ($150,000 for individuals)."

WELLS FARGO/CAN YOU HAVE AN MBA AND SEEM PRETTY DARN STUPID AT THE SAME TIME?-The Associated Press noted today that Wells Fargo, a recipient of some $25 billion in taxpayer money, was planning a 12-night jaunt to Las Vegas to honor its top mortgage lenders. Two of Las Vegas’ most expensive hotels were booked for the trip. Reaction from lawmakers on Capitol Hill and frankly anyone I talked to this afternoon was incredulous-"the sheer arrogance" was a frequent comment. Wells Fargo, in its defense said the trip was not a "junket" (AP’s term) but rather "a four-day business meeting and recognition event for hard-working team members who made homeownership achievable and sustainable for borrowers across the nation." Assuaged? Nope-me neither. Tonight the company reversed itself saying "We had scaled back the mortgage event, but in light of the current environment, we have now decided to cancel this event as well. We do not plan to have any other recognition events this year." Good idea.

OTHER STUFF-
–As expected, President Obama named New Hampshire Republican JUDD GREGG to be his choice as the next Commerce Secretary. If he’s confirmed, Gregg would become the third Republican member of Obama’s Cabinet joining Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
–Gregg’s Senate seat will stay Republican. New Hampshire Governor John Lynch (a Democrat) announced his choice to fill Gregg’s remaining term-businesswoman and former government official BONNIE NEWMAN. The Republican Newman was Senator Gregg’s Chief of Staff back in the eighties.
–It’s not actual sales, just pending sales but heck-GOOD NEWS IN THE HOUSING SECTOR is worth repeating. A rush to buy foreclosed – and deeply discounted -properties is prompting more house hunters to sign contracts. The National Association of Realtors’ index of pending sales for previously owned homes rose 6.3 percent in December to 87.7.
–Sad news out of Georgia. MILLARD FULLER, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, died unexpectedly Monday night. He was 74. Fuller founded Habitat for Humanity in 1976 and another similar outfit in 2005 that resulted in over 300 thousand homes built for the poor. The families who live in the houses must help build them alongside volunteers, and they must pay back a no-interest loan that makes the housing affordable. Former presidents Carter and Clinton are among the untold number of volunteers who pitched in over the years.
–Remember all those letters laced with white powder that were sent to financial institutions last fall (October to be exact)? The FBI announced the arrest today of Richard Goyette, of Tijeras, NM for mailing 65 threatening letters. Apparently Mr. Goyette was angry over losing a bundle on Washington Mutual stock ($63K). More in Jason Ryan’s note to the Business News DL.
–Bye-bye SWEET SASHA. So long MARVELOUS MALIA. Say hello to "Marvelous Mariah" and "Sweet Sydney" Ty Inc. has retired the two names that had caused so much criticism of the company for appearing to take advantage of the new First daughters in DC. The dolls were part of the TyGirlz Collection.

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