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When Mistakes Are Made

By Dan Froomkin
2:16 PM ET, 02/ 4/2009


What does a president do after he makes a mistake? The answer to that question is hugely telling, both psychologically and politically.

President Obama, apparently, has a dramatically different approach than his immediate predecessor.

We drill into our children -- with stories about young presidents, no less -- that admitting mistakes is a fundamental hallmark of honesty. But it's not really something we've grown to expect of our leaders.

All the way to the bitter end of his presidency, George Bush refused to acknowledge any errors in judgment beyond a few public-relations gaffes. The few substantive mistakes he admitted -- such as taking the country to war on incorrect intelligence -- he blamed on others.

The Bush approach, generally credited to Karl Rove, was never to apologize for anything -- and instead to simply bluster on through. The idea, presumably, was that admitting mistakes makes a president look weak. And Rove in particular was adamant about never giving critics, political opponents or the press the satisfaction of seeing the president on the defensive.

On a case-by-case basis, this strategy mostly worked, and negative stories blew over more quickly than they might have otherwise. But over time, Bush's detachment from reality seriously eroded his credibility.

Obama last night -- on five networks, no less -- announced to the world that he had screwed up when it came to backing two nominees who had failed to properly pay their taxes. Would-be health czar Thomas A. Daschle and would-be government-spending watchdog Nancy Killefer both stepped aside yesterday in the face of growing concern over Obama's apparent retreat from his pledge to bring about a "new era of responsibility."

"I'm here on television, saying I screwed up," Obama told NBC's Brian Williams (above). "And that's part of the era of responsibility. It's not never making mistakes; it's owning up to them and trying to make sure you never repeat them and that's what we intend to do."

And rather than duck the issue, Obama acknowledged precisely what was so disturbing about what he had done. "I've got to own up to my mistake which is that, ultimately, it's important for this administration to send a message that there aren't two sets of rules -- you know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes."

But taking the high road is not always the path to success in Washington. And the practical test of Obama's approach versus Bush's will come as we see the response in the coming days, first inside the Beltway, and then outside.

Can a politician get credit in this day and age for admitting a mistake? Or is it instead first blood for a rapacious political and media culture?

From Obama's interview with ABC News's Charlie Gibson:

Gibson: "Mr. President, has this been an embarrassing day for the administration?"

Obama: "Well, I think it has. I mean, I think that any time 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. But what I also think is important is to stay focused on the overarching theme of this administration, which is making sure that we get this economy back on track, that we provide health care for people who are in desperate need of it....

"We're going to have some glitches, and I understand that that's what people are going to focus on. And I'm focused on it because I don't want glitches. 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 three to four million people back to work. And so this is a self-induced injury that I'm angry about, and we're going to make sure we get it fixed."

As CBS's Katie Couric pointed out (here's the transcript and video of her interview) Obama had hoped to focus on his economic stimulus package in his barrage of interviews.

But as Obama acknowledged: "Well, this is the problem when you make these self-inflicted wounds, you end up being distracted really from the people's business."

Fox News's Chris Wallace (transcript and video) grilled Obama on a larger issue: his less than perfect adherence to his pledge not to bring lobbyists into his administration.

Wallace: "On your first day in office, you signed an executive order on lobbyists...that you said marked a, quote, 'clean break' with business as usual. And yet, in less than two weeks, you have signed waivers to allow the hiring of lobbyists to be deputy secretary at the Pentagon, deputy secretary at HHS, and chief of staff at the treasury. Is that a clean break?"

Obama: "Well, that's three out of hundreds of appointments that we've made."

Wallace: "Three of the top jobs. Three really important jobs."

Obama: "But let me say this, Chris. We disclosed these ahead of time. We set a very high bar. And everybody acknowledges that we have the toughest standards, not only of people who have lobbied previously, and the restrictions on them working in this White House, but also going forward.

"And those rules will still apply, even for Mr. Lynn, who had some unique qualifications that I felt was important to America's national security. Even he is going to have to not be engaged in lobbying for two years -- or for the duration of my administration.

"And so, look, is every approach that we're taking here going to be perfect? No. Have we set a very high bar, higher than any president who's ever been in this office? And are we generally meeting that very high standard? I think the answer is absolutely yes."

Here's the transcript and video of Obama's interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Anne E. Kornblut and Michael D. Shear write in The Washington Post: "Obama officials had sought a seamless transition, nominating most of his Cabinet at record pace and taking office ready to implement a raft of new policies. His reversal yesterday suggested that speed may have come at a cost, and that Obama, despite the overwhelming popularity he had upon taking office and the major challenges facing the nation, will not be spared from the same kind of scrutiny his predecessors have faced.

"In jettisoning one of his closest and earliest political allies, the president appeared eager to make a course correction after days of criticism that his administration was not abiding by its own stated ethical standards and questions about his ability to bring change to the capital....

"Daschle's withdrawal came as a jolt to the administration, serving as a rebuke to Obama officials who had privately and publicly brushed aside the idea that personal tax issues would reach a boiling point. Senior officials had insisted that the public was too concerned with the ongoing economic collapse to fixate on the foibles of the people being marshaled to try to set the nation back on course....

"The abrupt move stands to potentially dent the reputation for steadiness and managerial prowess that the 47-year-old president had cultivated over a smoothly run campaign and a transition to power that boasted of a swift vetting and nomination of top aides."

Jeff Zeleny writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Daschle, a closer confidant to Mr. Obama than any other cabinet nominee, had offered to step down over the weekend, but officials close to both men said Mr. Obama had urged him to fight for confirmation.

"Mr. Daschle went to Capitol Hill on Monday to keep his confirmation on track, but by Tuesday morning, with the pressure showing no signs of easing, he told the president that he believed he had become a distraction and too wounded to be effective...

"The developments distracted attention from Mr. Obama’s effort to push his economic stimulus plan through the Senate and complicated the initiative that Mr. Daschle was to have led, his plan for overhauling the health care system."

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "In only his second week in office, Barack Obama is punching the restart button on his presidency.

"On Tuesday, Day 14 of a tenure that began with high hopes and soaring promises of bringing a new competence to Washington, Obama essentially admitted that he had lost ground in confronting his biggest challenge -- fixing the country's crippled economy -- due to the 'self-inflicted injury' of naming appointees who had failed to pay their taxes....

"The tax problems were damaging Obama's arguments in the stimulus debate -- and were potentially damaging to his ability to push for other difficult legislation, including the healthcare reforms that Daschle was to shepherd through Congress. The White House was left open to attacks such as the one from a top GOP leader, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who said over the weekend that it was no wonder Democrats push for higher taxes 'because, you know what, they don't pay them.'

"The events are not a defeat for Obama and his legislative priorities, but they do mark a significant reversal of fortune."

Mimi Hall, Fredreka Schouten and John Fritze write in USA Today: "It was a disquieting day for a president who came into office with soaring approval ratings and a promise to have the most ethical administration in history....

"In Congress and on cable talk shows Tuesday, questions about the new administration dominated the day. Among them: Should Obama's self-described mistakes be attributed to the usual growing pains of a new White House, or do they underscore a fundamental weakness that could have ramifications for future appointments and legislation at a critical time?"

The Associated Press's Calvin Woodward notes all the mea culpas on the evening news and writes: "The White House approaches each day with talking points but none like this one....

"The audacity of acknowledging — even emphasizing — poor judgment came in marked contrast to his predecessor. George W. Bush pronounced himself stumped when asked, midway through his presidency, to name mistakes he'd made."

Lynn Sweet blogs for the Chicago Sun-Times: "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."

Josh Gerstein and Jonathan Martin write for Politico: "George W. Bush was reluctant to admit any mistakes in eight years.

"It took Barack Obama just 14 days. And once he started Tuesday, he didn’t stop....

"Tax problems come and go in Washington, just like dinged-up nominees. But Obama seemed to sense Tuesday that Daschle was different, much more serious — a true threat to Brand Obama that opened him up to charges of hypocrisy..

"And he didn’t even try to talk anyone out of the conventional wisdom — that Daschle and his free limo rides were like the living repudiation of everything Obama campaigned on for two years.

"Instead, he tried to get one message across with the force of his contrite words — that he really did mean what he said when he ran for president about cleaning up the capital."

Stimulus Watch

By Dan Froomkin
1:32 PM ET, 02/ 4/2009

Last night's media blitz on five networks was supposed to let President Obama sell his stimulus package directly to the American public. Instead, of course, the primary focus was on the embarrassing implosion of two nominees with ethics problems.

But he did find some time to get his intended message out. Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Obama tried to reshape the stimulus fight with his flurry of TV appearances, telling each network anchor that the plan would save millions of jobs. He said the projects cited as unnecessary by Republicans amount to a tiny fraction of the overall bill.

"'Now, the recovery package that we've put together has not only immediate relief to families,' Obama told NBC's [Brian] Williams. 'If they've lost their job, they're going to get extended unemployment insurance; they're going to get to keep their health insurance. We're going to make sure that states don't have to lay off teachers....We're also investing in critical infrastructure, green jobs, making sure that we're weatherizing 2 million homes.'

"He talked about the need to save the economy, remake the financial system and overhaul healthcare. He pledged to stay focused on what he called the 'overarching theme of this administration.'"

In stark contrast to former President Bush's untroubled sleep and eternal sunshine, Obama last night copped to some serious worries.

Here he is talking to CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Cooper: "It keeps a lot of Americans right now up at night, does it keep you up at night?"

Obama: "Absolutely. It keeps me up at night and it gets me up..."

Cooper: "Literally?"

Obama: "Literally, because we've got a range of different problems and there is no silver bullet. We're just going to have to work our way through the problem. So, No. 1, we've got to have a recovery package that puts people back to work and ensures that states that are dealing with rising unemployment can deal with unemployment insurance, can provide health care for people who have lost their jobs.

"So that's one set of problems. Then you've got a banking system that has undergone close to a meltdown. And we've got to figure out how do we intelligently get credit flowing again so that small businesses and large businesses can hire people and keep their doors open and sell their products.

"And you know, part of the problem, unfortunately, is that the first round of TARP, I think, drew a lot of scorn. You know, we learned -- you know, we've now learned that people are still getting huge bonuses despite the fact that they're getting taxpayer money, which I think infuriates the public.

"So we also have to set in place some rules of the road. And tomorrow [Wednesday] I'm going to be talking about executive compensation and changes we're going to be making there.

"Even after we get that done, we still have to get a financial regulatory system in place that assures this crisis never happens again. And we've got to do this in the context of a world economy that is declining, because in some ways the Europeans are actually doing at least as badly as we are."

Obama addressed the critics of his package head on. Here he is with ABC's Charlie Gibson:

"The criticisms have generally been around some policy initiatives that were placed in the bill that I think are actually good policy, but some people may say is not going to actually stimulate jobs quickly enough. I think that there's legitimate room for working through those issues over the next several weeks to make sure that we get the best possible bill. But here's the thing that I think we have to understand. 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. What I will do is work with anybody of good faith to make sure that we can come up with the best possible package to not only create jobs and provide support to families, but also to lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth....

"What I've said is that any good idea thrown out there to improve this legislation I'm for. But I want to be absolutely clear here that the overwhelming bulk of the package is sound, is designed to put people back to work, help states that are in desperate straits, help families who are losing jobs and health care, and it's designed to make sure that we've got green energy jobs for the future. In fact, most of the programs that have been criticized as part of this package amount to less than one 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....

"I'm less concerned about bipartisanship for bipartisanship's sake. I'm interested in solving the problem for the American people as quickly as possible."

Here is Obama with Fox News's Chris Wallace: "[M]ost of the criticisms that have been leveled and, you know, that are -- that you've heard on your show about various pet projects that members of Congress might have put in there, when you tally all those up, amount to less than one percent of the entire package.

"The last point I'd make is that many of the critics, what they're calling for are more tax cuts when, in fact, this is already $300 billion worth of tax cuts. And many of the people on the other side of the debate consider many of those wasteful...

"[T]his is not going to be a package that makes everybody happy, but the main criteria I have is, is it going to put people back to work? And I think it actually will."

Obama gave CNN's Cooper what sounded like a surprisingly candid insight into his overall approach.

"Look, the only measure of my success as president when people look back five years from now or nine years from now is going to be, did I get this economy fixed?" Obama said. "I have no interest in promoting a package that doesn't work. Because I'm not going to be judged on whether or not I got a pet project here or there, I'm going to be judged on, have we pulled ourselves out of recession?

"I think the members of Congress understand that as well. I don't question the sincerity of some Republican critics who may think that they can do better on this. And I'm happy to negotiate with them if they've got better ideas. I'm happy to do it.

"What I won't do is in some cases, some of the criticism has suggested that the better approach would be to do exactly what we did over the last eight years that got us into this problem in the first place.

"There is going to be some differences ideologically or in terms, you know, recipes for how to fix the economy. And, you know, those differences we can live with. But I think -- I still think we can arrive at a package that works for the American people."

And he told Cooper he's still learning.

Cooper: "You said, on these grounds, I'll let you pass on that. And final question, you've read a lot about Abraham Lincoln. What is the greatest thing that you've learned from your studies of Lincoln that you're bringing to the office right now?"

Obama: "You know, when I think about Abraham Lincoln, what I'm struck by is the fact that he constantly learned on the job. He got better. You know, he wasn't defensive. He wasn't arrogant about his tasks. He was very systematic in saying I'm going to master the job and I understand it's going to take some time.

"But in his case, obviously, the Civil War was the central issue, and he spent a lot of time learning about military matters, even though that wasn't his area of experience.

"Right now I'm learning an awful lot about the economy. I'm not a trained economist, but I'm spending a lot of time thinking about that so that I can make the very best decisions possible for the American people."

Meanwhile, Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post: "Senate Democratic leaders conceded yesterday that they do not have the votes to pass the stimulus bill as currently written and said that to gain bipartisan support, they will seek to cut provisions that would not provide an immediate boost to the economy....

"Despite warnings of dire consequences if Congress does not act boldly, Republicans have become resolute in their opposition to what they view as runaway and unnecessary spending in the legislation. And as the total in the Senate version climbs to $900 billion, unease also is stirring among moderate Democrats."

Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times about new proposals to redirect the economic stimulus bill toward bolstering the housing market -- despite the fact that the bill was originally conceived as "boosting almost every other part of the economy on the theory that Congress and the Obama administration would tackle the housing problem through other means.

Now, however, "Senate Republicans are seeking new tax breaks and up to $300 billion in mortgage subsidies to attract home buyers. Democrats want to spend at least $50 billion on federal programs aimed at reducing mortgage foreclosures."

David Lightman writes for McClatchy Newspapers about the ongoing Senate debate: "Everything's up for discussion and subject to largely unpredictable votes: How to levy taxes, create jobs, help people buy homes, reinvigorate ailing state and local governments."

Richard Wolf writes in USA Today: "President Obama is willing to change elements of his economic stimulus plan to meet objections in Congress, but he won't agree to increase its cost significantly or weaken its impact, his top economic adviser said Tuesday....

"National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers said Obama wants to focus on the economy's needs, not the relatively small spending items Republicans have criticized."

CNN's Cooper asked Obama what was non-negotiable. Obama replied: "The unemployment insurance, health care for people who have lost their jobs, you know, providing some relief to the states on those fronts, and providing families relief, that's very important.

"Infrastructure investments that lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth, I think, is critical. You know, so, for example, when we say we're going to weatherize 2 million homes, that's not just make-work.

"First of all, you can employ people weatherizing those homes. We are also then saving families -- individual families on their energy bills, but the third thing is, it's making this country less dependent on foreign oil.

"So the same is true for health IT, the same is true when it comes to education. We want to train thousands of teachers in math and science, and invest in science and technology research.

"All of those things will make us more competitive over the long-term. What I do think is negotiable is some programs that I think are good, good policy, but may not really stimulate the economy right now."

David Leonhardt writes in the New York Times: "The core of the administration's case comes down to four points. First, some of its critics' suggestions don't stand up to scrutiny. Second, the bill is, once again, getting larger and will make a major difference. 'The goal was three million jobs,' Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, told me, referring to Mr. Obama's promise that the stimulus would save or create three million jobs. 'It achieves that goal.'

"Third, as Mr. Summers said, 'Fiscal measures are only one prong — one component — of our overall approach.' The response also 'includes financial rescue, support for housing and global economic cooperation,' he said.

"Fourth, aides say this bill is not their only bite at the apple. Mr. Obama is willing to do more in the future. Congress, facing midterm elections, may also want to pass another small stimulus package next year."

Opinion Watch

By Dan Froomkin
1:09 PM ET, 02/ 4/2009

The New York Times editorial board, which yesterday successfully called for Tom Daschle to step down as health-czar nominee, writes: "At last, the new administration is waking up to the need for top officials to live up to the high ethical standards set by the president. It should give Americans new hope that President Obama will live up to his campaign vows to reform government....

"The primary weapon for a president who really intends to clean up Washington is credibility — and that requires integrity. Mr. Obama showed that he has both of those things in abundance with his refreshingly frank admission that he 'screwed up' and his assurance that he had learned from his mistake."

The USA Today editorial board writes: "[T]he past few days prove that changing Washington is tougher than the slogan. Obama might lose some people with rare talents by sticking to his strictures. By failing to do so, however, he could lose something far more valuable — his credibility.

George Packer blogs for the New Yorker: "Whenever this kind of mini-scandal erupts, there are several ways for a President to react. Clinton showed that he was ready to cut anyone loose who caused him political trouble, and this opportunism weakened him more than the troubled appointee could have. Bush responded with stubborn loyalty, which became the same thing as indifference to competence and integrity, poisoning his Presidency. There’s a third way, projecting true strength, and that’s to live up to your principles, which is what Obama just did."

James Poniewozik blogs for Time: "The Bush administration, from the top down, was adamant in its refusal to acknowledge mistakes, operating on the theory that certainty = confidence = strength...

"And to be fair, this modus operandi extended as well to the Clinton administration and beyond; it's been Washington's general habit for some time. The passive voice is your friend. We do not make mistakes; 'mistakes were made.'...

"[T]he President took a buck-stops-here approach in his press interviews — with CNN, Fox News, Charlie Gibson, Katie Couric and Brian Williams — that we haven't seen from a White House in a while."

Michael Goodwin writes in his New York Daily News opinion column: "The White House insisted Tuesday it didn't force two tax-challenged nominees to withdraw. My question is, why not?

"Why didn't President Obama tell Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer to take a hike? Why did he let them jump when he should have pushed them?"

Steven Pearlstein writes in his Washington Post opinion column about "how fundamentally the political and economic environment has been transformed with the bursting of the bubble economy and how that has jeopardized basic assumptions and expectations and the way we do what we do.

"Tom Daschle's problem wasn't that he didn't pay his taxes. It was that he -- along with those who vetted his nomination as health and human services secretary and many of his colleagues in the Senate -- found it perfectly ordinary and acceptable that he would be able to cash in on his time in the Senate by earning more than $5 million over two years as a law-firm rainmaker, equity fundraiser, corporate director and luncheon speaker, all the while being driven around town in a chauffeured town car....

"For the American public, Daschle became the latest symbol of everything that is wrong with Washington -- the influence-peddling and corner-cutting and sacrifice of the public good to private interest. Now that this system has let them down, and left them poorer and anxious about the future, people are angry about it and no longer willing to accept the corruption of the public process and the whole notion of public service.

"The irony, of course, is that Barack Obama understood all this and tapped into Americans' frustration as the central message of his 'change' campaign. But even he, with only four years in Washington, failed to see the depth of the problem or anticipate the ferocity of the backlash."

Michael Kinsley blogs for washingtonpost.com that Daschle's mistake was reading the New York Times editorial that called for him to step down. He writes: "Daschle (indeed everybody) should have read the Washington Post instead. The Post ran an editorial saying that Daschle’s sins were disturbing but not disqualifying and, 'if Mr. Obama still wants' him, 'he’s entitled to have him.'"

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "If this is Obama's honeymoon, one shudders to think what a lovers' quarrel would look like.

"Workers haven't even finished dismantling the inaugural reviewing stand on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House, yet already the new president has been beset by unruly congressional Democrats, uncooperative Republicans and, worst of all, a series of self-inflicted ethical wounds."

Maureen Dowd writes in her New York Times opinion column: "On 9/11, President Bush learned of disaster while reading 'The Pet Goat' to grade-school kids. On Tuesday, President Obama escaped from disaster by reading 'The Moon Over Star' to grade-school kids.

"'We were just tired of being in the White House,' the two-week-old president, with Michelle at his side, explained to students at a public charter school near the White House.

"Even as he told the children his favorite superheroes were Batman and Spider-Man, his own dream of being the superhero who swoops in to swiftly save America was going SPLAT!"

A Changing Culture?

By Dan Froomkin
1:03 PM ET, 02/ 4/2009

Was the Daschle drama a symptom of a changing culture in Washington? Or a symbol of how intractable it is?

R. Jeffrey Smith, Cecilia Kang and Joe Stephens write in The Washington Post: "A classic rule of Washington's political culture -- that public service can lead to personal riches -- seemed to collide yesterday with the presidential promise that the time has come for a break with the past....

"After losing his Senate seat while serving as that body's most powerful Democrat in 2004, he swiftly signed on as a special policy adviser to a 900-member law firm and pulled in a multimillion-dollar salary. It is a well-worn path, trod by dozens of ex-lawmakers in the past decade.

"But some observing the debacle wondered if the capital's ways were changing....

"'I think it's possible this is some sort of bridge between an old Washington and the new Washington,' David Arkush of Congress Watch said of the initial backing of Daschle and the sudden reversal....

"Fred Wertheimer of the nonprofit advocacy group Democracy 21, who is a veteran of many disputes over ethics in Washington, said: 'I don't think people should mistake this and think it means there is no way to change the culture of Washington. Just the opposite. It indicates that there are new lines. In some ways, this is a warning signal to the city that the rules are changing.'"

CBS's Katie Couric asked Obama in her interview yesterday: "You campaigned to change the culture in Washington, to change the politics as usual culture here. Are you frustrated do you think it is much, much harder to do that than you ever anticipated?"

Obama replied: "Well, first of all I never thought it was easy. Change is hard....

"That passion has not changed. And we're going to make some mistakes. I'm going to screw up sometimes, there are people here who are well intentioned but disagree with me philosophically, or have just fallen into old habits that need to be broken. And its not going to happen overnight, but I'm confident that if we just stay on the course if we stay focused on what's good for the American people that ultimately we're going to be able to deliver."

Mother Jones's David Corn asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs a similar question at yesterday's press briefing.

Gibbs replied: "I think the President would say to you that he didn't believe that we were going to change the way Washington has worked the past three decades in the first two weeks of this administration. I think that's accurate to believe. I would point you to, again, a set of ethics requirements that exceed any that have come before. David, anybody that walks in and serves in this administration will -- can never walk out of it and lobby this administration.

"Is changing the way Washington works going to be more than a two-week job? Yes, it is, and thankfully we've got four years to try."

Late Night Humor

By Dan Froomkin
10:10 AM ET, 02/ 4/2009

Jon Stewart: "So maybe Obama cannot instantly drain the ethical swamp that is Washington. But can he at least bring hope that Republican and Democratic crooks can work together, as some sort of bipartisan criminal enterprise?"

Stephen Colbert: "Now I was afraid the Obama administration was going to be tough, because of the whole 'mandate to govern' and high approval ratings. But Daschle folded like an origami tax form that you 'forgot to fill out.' If this were the Bush administration, he would never have stepped down -- not without a Medal of Freedom."

And via U.S. News:

Jay Leno: "Today, Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination for secretary of health and human services after being forced to pay $128,000 in back taxes." Daschle "was extremely upset because now it looks like he paid his taxes for nothin'!"

Jay Leno: "And tax problems for another Obama nominee. Nancy Killefer has withdrawn her nomination as White House chief performance officer. Not only did she not pay her taxes, she had a tax lien put on her house by the government. Where is Obama getting these nominees? Old episodes of 'Cops'?"

David Letterman: "Tom Daschle has withdrawn his cabinet nomination because he had some tax problems. Forgot about $150,000. ... Remember the old days," when "politicians got in trouble for having sex with pages." Those days seem "pretty sweet now, don't they?"

Conan O'Brien: "Earlier today," Tom Daschle "withdrew his nomination to be the health and human services secretary after it was revealed he didn't pay back taxes. Yeah. So, President Obama says now it's down to his second and third choices, Willie Nelson and Wesley Snipes."

Citizen Cheney: Unbowed -- and Unhinged?

By Dan Froomkin
9:15 AM ET, 02/ 4/2009

Two weeks as a private citizen doesn't appear to have mellowed Dick Cheney one bit.

Far from going quietly, Cheney is lashing out with some pretty low blows against the new administration -- saying that President Obama is the putting the nation at increased risk of a devastating attack because some members of his team are "more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans."

John F. Harris, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei write in Politico this morning: "Former Vice President Dick Cheney warned that there is a 'high probability' that terrorists will attempt a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack in coming years, and said he fears the Obama administration’s policies will make it more likely the attempt will succeed.

"In an interview Tuesday with Politico, Cheney unyieldingly defended the Bush administration’s support for the Guantanamo Bay prison and coercive interrogation of terrorism suspects.

"And he asserted that President Obama will either backtrack on his stated intentions to end those policies or put the county at risk in ways more severe than most Americans—and, he charged, many members of Obama’s own team—understand.

"'When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry,' Cheney said....

"'The United States needs to be not so much loved as it needs to be respected. Sometimes, that requires us to take actions that generate controversy. I’m not at all sure that that’s what the Obama administration believes.'"

The Politicos write that Cheney "expressed confidence that files will some day be publicly accessible offering specific evidence that waterboarding and other policies he promoted—over sharp internal dissent from colleagues and harsh public criticism—were directly responsible for averting new September 11-style attacks."

As I've written many times, most recently in this post, that position appears to be mostly fantasy.

Readers looking for a little context in Politico's story will have to satisfy themselves with one paragraph in which the three writers note that "many of the top Democratic legal and national security players have long viewed Cheney as a man who became unhinged by his fears, responsible for major misjudgments in Iraq and Afghanistan, willing to bend or break legal precedents and constitutional principles to advance his aims. Polls show he is one of the most unpopular people in national life."

Cartoon Watch

By Dan Froomkin
9:10 AM ET, 02/ 4/2009

Walt Handelsman on the cure for economic dysfunction, Matt Wuerker on different ways to spend $900 billion, and Mike Luckovich, John Sherffius, John Branch, Signe Wilkinson, Jim Morin, Tony Auth, Jim Day, Nick Anderson, John Trever, Bruce Plante, Adam Zyglis, J.D. Crowe and Joe Heller on Obama, Daschle and taxes.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company