DNC Chief Attempts to Take Back Seat to Obama

By James Gerber

Jun 11, 2008 11:06am

ABC News’ David Chalian Reports: Now that his party has a nominee, don’t look to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee to call the shots on how Democrats proceed through the rest of this election cycle. Gov. Howard Dean spoke with reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor this morning in Washington, DC and repeatedly answered questions with caveats such as "that won’t be my call" or "the nominee comes in and runs the DNC."

While playing that deferential role to the Obama campaign, Dr. Dean parroted Sen. Obama’s remarks delivered to reporters yesterday when asked about the controversy swirling around Sen. Obama’s decision to ask former Fannie Mae CEO Jim Johnson to head up his vice presidential search committee.

"Jim Johnson doesn’t work for the campaign. He doesn’t get paid," Dean said. "He is a volunteer," he added.

The Obama campaign’s effort to draw a distinction between "work" and "volunteer" has clearly not yet quelled critics who question Sen. Obama’s judgment in tapping Johnson to take the lead on what will likely be the single highest profile executive decision Sen. Obama makes throughout the course of the campaign. Jim Johnson has come under fire for acquiring favorable mortgage rates as a friend of the CEO of Countrywide Financial Corporation, the mortgage lender at the center of the subprime mortgage storm.

Chairman Dean also offered up a preview of what we may expect to hear from Democrats should Sen. Obama choose to opt out of the public campaign finance system as many party insiders expect him to do. "It is wrong and unfair to criticize Sen. Obama should he do this…Sen. Obama has not taken one dime from lobbyists’ money — not one dime. When the Republican National Committee does what we did two days ago and decide they’re not going to take a dime of lobbyist money then we can be lectured by Republicans about campaign finance reform. Otherwise I think it is great to have people who are giving small donations — 3 million Americans who supported the presidential candidates is exactly what we need in this country," said Dean.

When pressed by a reporter on Sen. Obama’s pledge to remain in the public finance system should the Republican nominee agree to do the same, Dr. Dean reversed course and said he wouldn’t comment until Sen. Obama had made his intentions clear.

REPORTER:     "Why shouldn’t he honor that pledge?"

DEAN:        "I don’t know what he’s going to do.  I’m not going to comment on this until I do."

REPORTER:    "Do you not think he should honor the pledge?"

DEAN:        "I don’t know what he’s going to do and I’m not going to comment on it."

REPORTER:    "Would it be wrong for him to break the pledge?"

DEAN:        "I can say it a third time.  I’ll be happy to do it."

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