Treasury This Moment
When Timothy Geithner was nominated by then president-elect Obama to be treasury secretary, longtime associates warned that the former Fed insider from New York was not ready for the job. Terms such as “unimpressive,” “out of his depths,” and “ill suited” were tossed around to describe the former Clinton Treasury official. Others pointed to Geithner’s odd speaking manner and his poor performances in testifying before Congress.
Now, much of the criticism of Geithner is being borne out, acknowledge White House aides and former Obama Treasury Department transition officials.
“We assumed that much of the [negative] commentary was the result of sour grapes,” says one former transition team member. “We took a lot of it with a grain of salt.”
Just how bad the pick of Geithner may turn out remains to be seen, but the indications thus far is it could be Obama’s greatest undoing given the central role the economy is playing in his administration.
“People think Wall Street and our economy are in a mess? They have nothing on what we’re going through here,” said a career Treasury Department official after learning in early March that former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission member Annette Nazareth had withdrawn from consideration to serve as deputy treasury secretary. Nazareth’s decision came the same day that Caroline Atkinson, an International Monetary Fund senior official, also withdrew from consideration as undersecretary for international affairs. The women would have filled two of the four deputy secretary slots that at press time remained unfilled.
At the time of their pullout, senior White House officials told reporters on background that Nazareth withdrew from consideration because initial feedback from the Senate was that she would endure a tough confirmation process due to her role at the SEC directing oversight of market regulation. But associates of Nazareth familiar with the situation say that there were other reasons for her to pull out. “She simply lost confidence in Geithner,” says a colleague of Nazareth’s at the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell.
It was rumored in Washington that Atkinson’s decision was the result of income tax issues similar to those that put Geithner in such a difficult position during his confirmation fight.
The withdrawal of Nazareth and Atkinson left Geithner with no senior aides focused on the economic crisis. “We have no one here. There is no leadership,” says another senior career Treasury official. “I’ve never seen anything like it. We have a secretary who seems to have no understanding of what his job entails, and no one in the White House seems either to know it or want to acknowledge it. We have people making decisions who shouldn’t be making decisions, and in positions where we should have people making decisions about our domestic economy, our banking system, and our Wall Street recovery plan, we have no one. People should be alarmed by this, but no one seems to care.”
The White House continues to look for ways to get President Barack Obama back in his speaking groove. As first reported by the The American Spectator (back on February 16), Team Obama won’t travel anywhere without a teleprompter to guide Obama during speaking appearances, and is even looking into how to hide video screens in podiums the president uses in the White House. Those screens would allow advisers to scroll speech texts, messages, and even statistical data or quick points to be made by Obama in answering press questions. “The screens are possibilities, but we’re also looking at some non-technology alternatives,” says one White House adviser, who points to President George W. Bush as a good example. “For all the talk about what a lousy speaker he was, he didn’t need a teleprompter very often. He used lots of notes and formatted binders to pretty good effect. It wasn’t smooth, but it worked for him; we’re looking at it.”
The thinking is that Obama is a good enough speaker who with notes or a detailed set of talking points could be that much more effective than Bush using those same tools.
In early March, the Obama administration declassified a Bush administration-era Justice Department memorandum written by staff members in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy and the White House Counsel’s Office, excerpts of which made it appear as though the lawyers believed that civil rights, such as freedom of speech, could be suspended. The document was treated as yet another smoking gun for the radical left in its campaign to prove the Bush administration had sought to take liberties with the American public when it came to civil rights.
Some Republicans—and even some congressional Democrats— credit Shauna Daly with leaking the document. Daly, who for about a month was ensconced in the White House Counsel’s Office as its research director, didn’t stay long in that position. She recently left that post, little more than a month after accepting it, to become research director at the Democratic National Committee. But DNC, White House, and congressional Democrats say she was at the counsel’s office long enough, wasting no time going through its reams of Bush administration documents related to such matters as the firings of U.S. attorneys, the use of and internal debate over the USA PATRIOT Act, FISA, and the Scooter Libby and Karl Rove investigations, among others.
“She saw everything, and who knows what she was able to scan and pull out on data sticks,” says a Senate Republican Judiciary Committee staffer. “We’ll find out soon enough when we see what the DNC is putting out during [Sen. Patrick] Leahy’s ‘truth committee’ hearings.”
Daly, according to White House staff, was often in her office early and one of the last to leave the Old Executive Office Building, which does not jibe with official White House claims that Daly was not doing much in the office, which was one reason for her leaving. Judging by the speed with which the DOJ document made it into the mainstream media, it appears she got plenty of reading done before she left.
Several left-leaning nonprofit or community-based groups are seeking $250 million in funds budgeted in the stimulus bill for high-tech or Internet projects to create what some Democrats in the House and Senate describe as a web portal modeled on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
“It would be a federally funded nonprofit entity, which would fund national, state, and local websites designed to meet a public need,” says one House member, who has been in a meeting with the organization called One Economy, which is one of the groups seeking money for the web-based project. “For example, if an organization wanted to create a state-based website of educational materials for its Hispanic citizens, the national online portal would be in a position to fund it, and allow other groups or other citizens to access the material.”
“It’s the kind of project that could become as important to the Internet as CPB was to television; it’s a 21stcentury CPB if we can get it off the ground,” says another House aide.
One Economy, and others, view the project as an organizing tool around its issues. Its stated goal is to focus on getting high-tech tools like high-speed Internet and computers into the hands of lowincome individuals. But its political activities focus on such issues as living wages, organized labor, nationalized health care, and affordable housing, among others. ACORN is provided its own links and resources on the One Economy website (one-economy.com). Other organizations beyond One Economy are said to be seeking funding for such a project, all of them with ties to organized labor or the Democrat party.
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