Tax Distractions

Two nominees bow out in another blow to the White House’s new image.

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Win some, lose some, keep some: It’s the Obama White House Appointments Sweepstakes. Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer will not be joining the administration, but Republican Judd Gregg will be, and the president is leaving Bush’s Iran advisers at their posts. Mired in politics, the Change-o-Meter registers a 10.

The news that the Senate easily approved Eric Holder as attorney general was eclipsed by Daschle’s withdrawal as the health and human services secretary nominee and Killefer’s withdrawal as the “performance czar” pick—and with good reason. Like Timothy Geithner, both Daschle and Killefer had muddied tax histories. Altogether, the damage these events do to Obama’s promise of a squeaky clean White House racks up major negative points on the Change-o-Meter. The fact that he waited for them to withdraw, instead of asking them to, doesn’t help.

But the news isn’t all bad. Obama recently nominated Republican Sen. Judd Gregg to the last open position in his Cabinet, commerce secretary. (Well, last open before secretary of HHS reopened.) If confirmed, the New Hampshire senator will be the third Republican to join the Cabinet, giving Obama three times as many opposite-party secretaries as George W. Bush had in his entire presidency. (Norman Mineta served as transportation secretary, the lone Democrat among Bush’s overwhelmingly Republican Cabinets.)

The Obama administration’s refusal to speculate about the political leanings of Gregg’s successor is admirable—in fact, the job is likely to go to a moderate Republican—but it earns spare change in points for setting up an easier path to the Senate for Rep. Paul Hodes, a Democrat who is expected to announce his bid soon. Bipartisan points now, another Democratic senator (maybe) in two years.

Meanwhile, Bush administrators involved with the sanctions against Iran will remain, indicating that the “flinty Chicago toughness” Obama is so proud of applies to foreign policy as well as inclement weather. “The move signals that Obama will continue to aggressively pressure Tehran, even as he offers engagement,” writes the Los Angeles Times. Obama also picked Christopher Hill, an experienced ambassador to European nations who also saw success pressuring North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program, to replace Ryan Crocker as ambassador to Iraq. It doesn’t affect the Change-o-Meter much, but Hill’s an odd choice for ambassador to Iraq—unlike his predecessor, he doesn’t speak Arabic or have experience with the region—so he’s worth watching.

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