Obama Admits Embarrassing Day for Administration

President tells Charles Gibson that nominees' tax troubles send wrong message.

February 03, 2009, 5:37 PM

Feb. 3, 2009— -- President Obama acknowledged that it has been an embarrassing day for his administration, taking responsibility for three of his high-level nominees' withdrawing their names because of tax troubles.

"Anytime one of your nominees pulls out, that's an issue and, you know, as I've said publicly, you know, ultimately, I take responsibility for the situation that we're in," Obama said in an interview today in the Oval Office with ABC News' Charles Gibson, referring to Tom Daschle. "I think that all of these were honest mistakes, but ultimately, there's no excuse for them."

When asked by Gibson if it has been an embarrassing day for the White House, Obama said: "I think it has."

Daschle, Obama's choice for secretary of Health and Human Services, withdrew his nomination because of a failure to pay $140,000 in income taxes, while the president's chief enforcement officer also stepped aside today for similar reasons. Obama said this sends the wrong message about responsibility.

"We don't have two sets of rules here," he said. "The most important thing, from my perspective, is making sure that the American people understand we don't have two sets of rules here, that everybody has responsibilities. In this situation, I take responsibility for it."

Obama told Gibson he's angry that news of his tax-troubled appointees has taken the focus away from the goal of passing the economic stimulus bill and putting Americans back to work.

"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 3 [million] to 4 million people back to work," Obama said. "This is a self-induced injury that I'm angry about, and we're going to make sure we get it fixed."

Despite these challenges, the new president said that he is "surprisingly comfortable in the job."

"I think I've got a great staff," Obama said. "We've got a great team. The challenges are big ... 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. If things are going to go smoothly, then this is just another nice home office."

Obama Says Economy In 'Desperate Straits'

Obama, who has been meeting with congressional leaders to rally bipartisan support for the economic stimulus bill, said that swiftly passing the $819 billion bill was "the right thing to do" to create jobs and bring relief to working families.

"We've got provisions to help states who are seeing record numbers of people unemployed, providing them unemployment insurance, food stamps, making sure that they don't lose their health care," Obama said. "The economy is in desperate straits. What I won't do is adopt the same economic theories that helped land us in the worst economy since the Great Depression."

Republicans have criticized the bill, calling for more tax cuts, mortgage relief and more investment in infrastructure instead of in provisions they say are not stimulative but social policy. The president defended the spending and scope of the bill.

"The overwhelming bulk of the package is sound ... most of the programs that have been criticized as part of this package amount to less than 1 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."

The $819 billion package that passed in the House last week did not receive a single Republican vote. Obama said he remains determined to reconcile the House and Senate bills quickly.

"I'm less concerned about bipartisanship for bipartisanship's sake," Obama told Gibson. "I'm interested in solving the problem for the American people as quickly as possible. And I think that we have an obligation to make sure this money is spent wisely. I want this thing to move through the Senate. I want the House and the Senate bills to be reconciled."

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