ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports: Rep. Elijah Cummings, a member of the Joint Economic Committee, told ABC News tonight that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner had made a "mistake" in announcing the financial stability plan, because it left critics suspecting that "maybe something’s missing" and now his chances of success depend more on political sense than economic know-how.
"The guy is extremely bright, but the question is not if he’s bright — it’s if he has the political sense to lead us out of this mess," Cummings said in a phone conversation with ABC News after attending Geithner’s evening meeting with the House Democratic Caucus. "What he has to do is paint a picture that this can be done."
Cummings said Geithner’s ill-fated unveiling of the administration’s financial stability plan on Feb. 10 created doubts in the minds of critics.
"One of the worst things he did was that initial speech, because it set a pattern that maybe something’s missing here in the minds of some people," said the Maryland lawmaker. "It’s about trust."
"One of the biggest mistakes he made was coming out initially with that speech. He was seen as the golden boy … and then for him to come out, with everyone on the edge of their seats waiting for a specific plan and all we got were some ‘rah rahs’ and ‘go team’ — that didn’t sit too well."
Despite the criticism directed at the treasury secretary, Cummings expressed confidence that Geithner is the right man for the job.
"I think he can do the job," Cummings said. "I think the guy is very competent."
"If Geithner were to go, it would hurt," Cummings cautioned. "A lot of this is [about] confidence."
But he added, "Probably the only person that can really keep the confidence of the American people is the president."
To keep the country’s confidence, Cummings warned that President Obama will have to "deal with the Shelbys and the Grahams of the world," referring to Republican Sens. Richard Shelby and Lindsey Graham. "What the Republicans are doing is, I think they’re saying anything but what Obama wants. They gave Bush eight years of patience and they haven’t even given [Obama] eight weeks."
Cummings called Geithner’s speech tonight to Democrats "a pep talk to say we are on the right course."
"Members were concerned that constituents want to see some lending and results, but they’re getting tired of giving away money," noted the lawmaker, but he said that in response, Geithner reassured them that "your constituents may be doubting the road we’re taking, but we’ve given it a lot of thought."
Cummings said Geithner told them that "we are doing more in weeks than other countries do in years."
As the Treasury Department addresses the financial crisis, Cummings said Geithner believes that some banks may fail, but argues the government has to do everything it can to stabilize the top 20 banks, because they hold 75 percent of the assets.
The Treasury’s ongoing stress tests will assess the financial state of the nation’s 20 biggest banks.
Cummings said Geithner "made it clear that when banks get money, they will have to lend and do away with these bonuses and junkets and in some institutions there may have to be a change in leadership, because it’s important to have confidence."
All at a time when, as Cummings said, the country currently finds itself navigating in "uncharted waters."