WASHINGTON --President Obama suffered a major embarrassment Tuesday when he lost two nominees -- most notably Tom Daschle -- because of their income tax problems.
The Obama White House came to office pledging to have high ethical standards and change the Washington-insider culture. It's just baffling that the Daschle flap was allowed to develop.
What happened to the "no-drama" team?
The Daschle episode provided another vivid demonstration of the Obama MO: Faced with a fixable, damaging crisis, his advisers prefer to cut their losses, take the PR hit and try to move ahead. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs gave no ground during Tuesday's briefing, when reporters peppered him with questions about the Daschle debacle.
Obama demagogued against lobbyists and the Washington revolving door during his campaign. Now a string of folks have won appointments even though they have outstanding tax issues, and more than a dozen lobbyists won waivers from his self-imposed rules that were designed to limit the hiring of lobbyists in the White House.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was lucky enough to go first and was confirmed. Daschle and top appointee Nancy Killefer, who also had tax issues, pulled out.
Either the Obama vetting team knew about Daschle's tax lapses and didn't realize how politically damaging they would be -- or they didn't figure out that he had a problem. Either alternative is not good.
In unfortunate timing, the White House had lined up five major television anchors for Oval Office interviews Tuesday afternoon to help Obama sell the faltering stimulus plan. Of course they asked about Daschle.
How many ways can Obama say he made a mistake?
At least five: To CBS' Katie Couric; Fox News' Chris Wallace; NBC's Brian Williams; CNN's Anderson Cooper and ABC's Charles Gibson.
• • Obama told Cooper: "Yes. I think I made a mistake. And I told Tom that. I take responsibility for the appointees."
• • "I think everybody makes mistakes," he told Gibson.
• • "But I don't want my administration to be sending a message that there are two sets of rules," Obama told Couric. "One for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes every day. I think I messed up, I screwed up, in not recognizing the perception that even though this is an honest mistake . . ."
• • "And, you know, so I consider this a mistake on my part and one that I intend to fix and correct and make sure that we're not screwing up again," he told Wallace.
So mistakes were made.
No one around Obama saw this coming?