White House Cheat Sheet: Geithner's Big Weekend
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, under fire for his handling of the bonuses paid to AIG executives, faces a critical weekend as he fights to remain as the Obama administration's lead economic spokesman.
Although White House senior aides insist that Geithner is perfectly secure in his post, the fact that President Obama and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs both saw fit to express their "complete confidence" in him over the last 96 hour speaks to the level of concern in the administration about the situation.
During an appearance on the "Tonight Show" Thursday, Obama reiterated that support -- noting that Geithner inherited an extremely complex and difficult situation. "He is a smart guy and he's a calm and steady guy," Obama said. "I don't think people fully appreciate the plate that was handed him."
Republicans continue to grow more bold in their criticism of Geithner. Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson said that he would resign if he were in Geithner's shoes and Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning alleged that the treasury secretary "has an incestuous relationship with Wall Street" in an interview on the Fox Business Network.
Even some Democrats -- privately, of course -- are beginning to grumble that Geithner's time may be up. "His position is not sustainable," said one senior Democratic strategist. "It's clear he knew and approved of bonuses that the White House now thoroughly condemns."
The weekend will be telling as to how the administration -- and the Republican opposition -- plan to move forward on Geithner. Who does the White House put out on shows like "Meet the Press," "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," "Face the Nation" and "State of the Union" to make the case for the administration's economic plan and, by proxy, Geithner? And, do more prominent Republicans jump on the "resign" bandwagon or hold their fire?
Seeking to get a jump on the weekend, Geithner sat for an interview with CNN's Ali Velshi late Thursday and took credit (or blame) for the insertion of an amendment in the Senate stimulus bill that allowed bonuses like those granted to AIG to happen and dismissed the calls to step aside as part and parcel of the job. "People are going to disagree with some of the choices we make, but we have to act," Geithner told Velshi.
One of Geithner's biggest problems in the early months of the Obama Administration has been, according to conversations with several Democratic strategists, his lack of comfort in the public arena -- typified by his widely panned speech unveiling the bank bailout.
"When you run a Fed bank you live deep in a cave," said one senior Democratic operative. "He just needs to get used to the sunlight."
Given the Obama Administration's demonstrated skepticism about the shark tank that is politics in the nation's capital, it's hard to see them making what they would regard as a knee-jerk decision on Geithner. Barring any other future bombshells, the treasury secretary is likely to stay in his post for the foreseeable future.
"Tim Geithner came into this job with one strike against him -- the controversies surrounding his confirmation," said Paul Begala. "This mess is a second strike." Begala added, however, that "Obama is the umpire --- and he isn't showing any signs that he's going to call Geithner out."
Regardless, this weekend will play a role -- perhaps a major one -- in shaping public perception about Geithner. Can the administration prove the chattering class wrong again?
Sked Stuff: First lady Michelle Obama unveils the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn at noon today. It's the first vegetable garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt planted one, according to the New York Times. The idea is that the Obamas will actually serve and eat food grown in the garden.
Friday Fast Reads: The weekend's coming. Read these stories. Sound smart.
1. President Obama returns to campaign mode to sell a skeptical Congress on his budget.
2. The "why" behind the reemergence of former vice president Dick Cheney.
3. Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren seeks to clarify her husband's ties to the political operation of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- a relationship first reported in the Fix.
4. Does Twitter have a business model? And a response.
5. Jenga Pistol.
Gentry Comes to Washington (Again): Gentry Collins, who has shuttled back and forth between Iowa and D.C., for the last few years is making the nation's capital his permanent home (for now) as the new political director at the Republican National Committee. (The news was first reported by Rothenberg Political Report's Nathan Gonzales.) Collins is a familiar name to those who followed the presidential campaign as he served as Iowa state director for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and then as the Midwest regional campaign manager for Arizona Sen. John McCain's (R) general election bid. In the 2006 cycle, Collins served as political director of the Republican Governors Association -- experience that should come in handy in overseeing the 38 gubernatorial races in 2009 and 2010. Phil Musser, who served as executive director of the RGA during Collins's time there, described the hire as a "big win for [RNC Chairman] Michael Steele." Musser added that Collins is "unanimously liked personally and has [earned] wide respect among the operative class."
NY-20 Goes National: The special election to replace Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) has quickly developed into a test case for the two parties' national messages. State Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R) launched an ad Wednesday seeking to link businessman Scott Murphy's (D) support for the economic stimulus package to the controversy over the payout of bonuses to AIG executives. Murphy is hitting back with his own ad hammering Tedisco for his opposition to the stimulus package and repeatedly showing a clip of the Republican shouting "no" to job growth elements of the plan. Make no mistake: this race, which will be decided on March 31, is a litmus test for the 2010 fight over the benefits (or lack thereof) of President Obama's approach to fixing the economy.
"Outrage" is the Word: New polling out of the Gallup organization shows that nearly six in ten Americans feel "outraged" at the bonuses paid out by AIG while 26 percent described themselves as "bothered" by the news and 11 percent pronounced themselves "not particularly bothered" by the bonuses. (Who are those people?) Wondering why Congress moved so quickly to approve a 90 percent tax on the bonuses? The same Gallup poll reveals that 76 percent said the government should try to either block or recover the bonuses -- numbers that are fairly consistent across self-identified Democrats (83 percent), Independents (77 percent) and Republicans (67 percent).
Michigan Gov. Field Grows: Wealthy businessman Rick Snyder (R), a former senior executive at Gateway, formed an exploratory committee Thursday to run for governor in Michigan -- joining an already crowded field that includes two statewide elected officials. Snyder, who is being advised by John Weaver, a former senior adviser to Arizona Sen. John McCain, will position himself as an outsider alternative in the field, casting himself as a businessman ready to bring a fresh perspective and approach to fixing Michigan's disastrous economy. Michigan is at the epicenter of the economic decline nationwide and, as a result, the race to replace term-limited Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) will be a marquee race of the 2010 cycle. If a Republican wins, he or she will almost immediately become a national figure.
Say What?: "I appreciate that President Obama has completed his 'March Madness' Tournament Bracket. Yet the organizational chart of his administration still has far too many open slots." -- National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) slams Obama over the president's high-profile hoops picks.
March 20, 2009; 5:50 AM ET
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