In the Past Four Days, President-Elect Barack Obama, Once Lauded as Having the Smoothest Transition to Power in Modern History, Has Learned How Hard It Is to Navigate the Political High Wire

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 8, 2009 | Go to article overview

In the Past Four Days, President-Elect Barack Obama, Once Lauded as Having the Smoothest Transition to Power in Modern History, Has Learned How Hard It Is to Navigate the Political High Wire


Byline: Christina Bellantoni, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In the past four days, President-elect Barack Obama, once lauded as having the smoothest transition to power in modern history, has learned how hard it is to navigate the political high wire.

His commerce secretary nominee withdrew while facing a grand jury investigating corruption charges; he backpedaled on his Senate replacement; and he infuriated top Democratic senators by failing to consult them on his pick to run the CIA.

The missteps have chafed Capitol Hill allies and proved the difficulty of converting so quickly from candidate to leader of the free world.

The latest example came Wednesday when Mr. Obama offered comments that cleared the way for senior Democrats to seat Roland Burris as his replacement in the Senate, a stunningly absolute and rapid turnaround. Senate Democrats decided to open the way for Mr. Burris to join their ranks just hours after their insistence that any appointment made by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich should not be honored.

Mr. Obama on Wednesday said he would work with Mr. Burris if he is seated. Last week, he joined Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, in saying emphatically that neither Mr. Burris nor any other Blagojevich appointee could serve in the Senate because of the pay-for-play scandal swirling around the governor. Mr. Obama on Wednesday called the issue a Senate matter.

On top of that, some liberal activists who supported Mr. Obama in the election say they are growing weary of apologizing for his centrist moves and for his selection of Rick Warren, an anti-gay marriage evangelical minister, to deliver the invocation at the inauguration.

Democratic sources said Mr. Obama probably should get used to tension with Congress as his administration and its host of personalities try to navigate major fiscal and foreign policy challenges ahead.

Any time a new president comes to town it upsets the existing order, and that's hard for a lot of people, said Simon Rosenberg of the liberal think tank NDN and a veteran of the Clinton transition and White House.

It's not easy to accept that there's a new boss, and many of the powerful people in Washington have to go through a period of accommodation and transition, he said. It's going to be bumpy and there will be struggles with Congress during the entire Obama administration. It's part of the job.

He predicted more noses would get out of joint before long because the American people want change, but change itself is always hard.

The Obama team long boasted of its thorough vetting, but New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had to pull out of his nomination as commerce secretary because of an ethics investigation. It was an embarrassing setback, especially since Mr. Obama set a record pace for naming his Cabinet members.

You couldn't blame President-elect Obama if he were to put his hand on the Bible on Inauguration Day and rather than say, 'I do,' ask the chief justice, 'Can I get back to you?'" joked Democratic strategist Bud Jackson.

But Mr. Rosenberg, who offered wide praise for the transition's decision making and the incoming team, said he would hardly characterize the few hiccups as major setbacks even though that's how they are being portrayed in the press.

Part of it is that the Obama transition set expectations so high, he said. What are normal and minor bumps create consternation because it's been so flawless.

Also, when news broke this week that Mr. Obama has chosen former Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta to lead the CIA, Senate intelligence panel Chairman Dianne Feinstein said she had not been consulted, complaints echoed by other chairmen for previous appointments.

The early leak of the choice even invited a scolding from his own vice president-elect.

I think it was just a mistake, not to consult members of Congress, Vice President-elect Joseph R. …

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