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Weekly remarks: Michael Steele on the Sestak job offer; Obama on the oil spill

June 5, 2010 |  3:00 am

the US Capitol at night

Remarks by Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee

President Barack Obama promised that he “won’t stop fighting to open up government,” and that he would have “the most transparent administration in history.” Really?

Of course, it’s one thing to keep that promise when you think it’ll help you politically.  The real test of a man’s word is if he keeps it when it’s inconvenient, embarrassing or potentially damaging.  On this test, the President and his people have failed.

There’s a reason we have a law that prohibits Federal officials from offering things of value to people for political gain.  It’s called transparency. And the White House’s efforts to use federal appointments to entice candidates out of competitive Democratic primaries goes directly against the Obama Administrations claims of openness and transparency.

From day one of this current flap involving Congressman Joe Sestak and now Andrew Romanoff, the White House efforts to deny, obfuscate, and mislead have only served to raise suspicions even further. 

Three months ago, when Congressman Sestak claimed the White House offered....

...him a job in return for dropping his primary challenge against Democrat incumbent Arlen Specter, the White House flatly denied it. 

After Sestak refused to recant his version of events, the White House finally conceded that some conversation happened but their message was “trust us, it wasn’t inappropriate, so move along, nothing to see here.”

This exoneration-by-fiat didn’t pass the laugh test.  It’s not up to the White House to judge the ethics of their behavior – that right is reserved for the American people once all the facts are on the table.  So the demand for these facts continued. 

After three months of intense political pressure, we were finally served with a memo from the President’s lawyer, admitting that, contrary to previous denials, in fact, the White House did enlist former President Bill Clinton to offer the Congressman an allegedly unpaid position. 

However, the memo raises far more questions than it answers. 

First, the law doesn’t prohibit offers of only paid positions.  So, offering the Congressman an unpaid position does nothing to exonerate Bill Clinton or White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.  Second, Sestak wouldn’t be able to accept a position on a Presidential advisory board and remain in Congress anyway, which casts doubt about whether this was really the job the White House offered.

Third, the memo claims multiple conversations between President Clinton and Mr. Sestak during June and July of 2009.  But Congressman Sestak insisted four times, just on Tuesday, that there was only one brief conversation.  So who’s lying?
Michael Steele chairman of the Republican National committee
Fourth, the memo alleges that President Obama knew nothing of all of these conversations. 

Now, why would the White House enlist the help of such a high-profile surrogate like former President Bill Clinton - on “multiple” occasions, without the knowledge of President Obama - for months-long negotiations over such a low-profile, unpaid position, and all with a Congressman who couldn’t even accept the job anyway? 

And now we know that this is only part of a larger pattern of backroom, Chicago-style politics. Andrew Romanoff, who’s challenging Democrat incumbent Michael Bennet for the Colorado Senate Democrat nomination, was offered a choice of one of three jobs by Rahm Emanuel’s deputy Jim Messina if he would drop out of the primary. 

Again, the White House first denied the allegations when they came from anonymous Administration whistle-blowers.  But once the actual email from Messina was released by Romanoff, who probably didn’t like being called a liar by the White House, the story changed: again, the jobs were offered, but nothing inappropriate happened. 

After all of the stonewalling and denying, what is the White House’s latest defense? It was just business as usual.

Enough is enough. If Rahm Emanuel has been offering government goodies to inconvenient politicians threatening Democrat incumbents, then it’s time for him to resign. If it comes out that the President knew about any of it, then we have a larger problem. And, if offering political appointments in exchange for sitting out of a campaign is the President’s proposal for “job-creation,” then we’re in for more economic misery. 

The time has come for more than just self-exonerating claims from the President’s lawyer.  The Department of Justice must step in and assign an impartial referee, either in the form of a special investigator or an independent counsel, who can sort out the facts and answer the burning question – what did the White House offer to Sestak and Romanoff, who authorized the offer, who else knew about it and what was the expected trade-off for accepting the offer?

The President promised transparency.  All we have right now is a series of transparent cover-ups. So much for “change you can believe in.    ####

For a selection of Ticket stories on the unfolding Sestak job offer issue and one involving a Colorado Democrat, click on "Pennsylvania" and "Chicago politics" in the word cloud to the right here.

Democrat president Barack Obama relaxes on the phone with his feet on the historic desk in the Oval Office

Remarks by President Obama, as provided by the White House

I’m speaking to you from Caminada Bay in Grand Isle, Louisiana, one of the first places to feel the devastation wrought by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  While I was here, at Camerdelle’s Live Bait shop, I met with a group of local residents and small business owners.

Folks like Floyd Lasseigne, a fourth-generation oyster fisherman. This is the time of year when he ordinarily earns a lot of his income.  But his oyster bed, along the north side of Grand Isle, has likely been destroyed by the spill.  Terry Vegas has a similar story. He quit the 8th grade to become a shrimper with his grandfather.  Ever since, he’s earned his living during shrimping season – working long, grueling days so that he could earn enough money to support himself year round. But today, the waters where he’s spent his years are closed.  And every day, as the spill worsens, he loses hope that he’ll be able to return to the life he built.  “You can put a price on a lost season,” he’s said. “But not a lost heritage.”

The effects of the spill reach beyond the shoreline. I also spoke with Patti Rigaud. For 30 years, she’s owned a small convenience store – a store opened by her father. She depends on the sales generated by tourism each summer.  But this year, most of the boats that would line these docks are nowhere to be seen.  Dudley Gaspard, who owns the Sand Dollar Marina and Hotel, has been hit hard as well.  Normally, this time of year, rooms are filling up and tackle is flying off the shelves.  But he too has been devastated by the decline in tourism and the suspension of fishing in the waters off the Louisiana Coast. 

Their stories are familiar to many in Grand Isle and throughout the Gulf region. Often families have been here for generations, earning a living, and making a life, that’s tied to the water – that’s tied to the magnificent coasts and natural bounty of this place.  Here, this spill has not just damaged livelihoods. It’s upended whole communities.  And the fury people feel is not just about the money they’ve lost.  They’ve been through tough times before.  It’s about the wrenching recognition that this time their lives may never be the same.

These folks work hard. They meet their responsibilities.  But now because of a manmade catastrophe – one that’s not their fault and that’s beyond their control – their lives have been thrown into turmoil.  It’s brutally unfair.  It’s wrong.  And what I told these men and women – and what I have said since the beginning of this disaster – is that I’m going to stand with the people of the Gulf Coast until they are made whole. 

That’s why from the beginning, we’ve mobilized on every front to contain and clean up this spill.  I’ve authorized the deployment of 17,500 National Guard troops to aid in the response.  More than 20,000 people are currently working around the clock to protect waters and coastlines.  We’ve convened hundreds of top scientists and engineers from around the world.  More than 1,900 vessels are in the Gulf assisting in the clean up.  More than 4.3 million feet of boom have been deployed with another 2.9 million feet of boom available – enough to stretch over 1,300 miles.  And 17 staging areas are in place across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida to rapidly defend sensitive shorelines.  In short, this is the largest response to an environmental disaster of this kind in the history of our country. 

We’ve also ordered BP to pay economic injury claims, and we will make sure they pay every single dime owed to the people along the Gulf Coast.  The Small Business Administration has stepped in to help businesses by approving loans and allowing deferrals of existing loan payments.  And this week, the federal government sent BP a preliminary bill for $69 million to pay back American taxpayers for some of the costs of the response so far.  In addition, after an emergency safety review, we’re putting in place aggressive new operating standards for offshore drilling.  And I’ve appointed a bipartisan commission to look into the causes of this spill.  If laws are inadequate –laws will be changed.  If oversight was lacking – it will be strengthened.  And if laws were broken – those responsible will be brought to justice.

Now, over the last few days BP has placed a cap over the well, and it appears they’re making progress in trying to pump oil to the surface to keep it from leaking into the water.  But as has been the case since the beginning of this crisis, we are prepared for the worst, even as we hope that BP’s efforts bring better news than we’ve received before.  We also know that regardless of the outcome of this attempt, there will still to be some spillage until the relief wells are completed.  And there will continue to be a massive cleanup ahead of us. 

These are hard times in Louisiana and across the Gulf Coast, an area that has seen more than its fair share of troubles. But what I've also seen are communities absolutely determined to fight through this disaster as they have before, to preserve not just a way to make a living but a way of life. 

And we will fight alongside them, until the awful damage that has been done is reversed, people are back on their feet, and the great natural bounty of the Gulf Coast is restored. Thank you.    ####

For a selection of Ticket stories about the oil spill and its unfolding politics, click on "President Obama" and "Environment" in the world cloud to the right here.

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Photo credits: Molly Riley / Reuters; Associated Press; Pete Souza / White House.