What to Make of the White House's Job Talks With Romanoff

Maybe they just really need a new director of USAID's Office of Democracy

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Not even a week after the furor over an alleged White House job offer to Joe Sestak, another story has emerged hinting at White House interference in congressional races. This time, Colorado U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff says White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina suggested to him not one but three possible positions "as an alternative to his Senate campaign," as Politico delicately phrases it. Furthermore, Romanoff has released an email to back up his story. The White House confirms it, although press secretary Robert Gibbs notes the email was partly in response to Romanoff's own application for a USAID position. The political blogosphere reacts:

  • Like Sestak, Not Like Sestak  The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reviews the similarities and differences between this and the Sestak case. Among them: while "both candidates are running against the establishment," Romanoff "is still in the primary while Sestak had won his party's nomination," and "Romanoff was not in elected office when the alleged offer came."
  • 'Artificial Smoke, No Fire'  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder points out that the e-mail from the White House was partly in response to Romanoff's application for a USAID position, and argues that Romanoff's campaign "was clearly trying to fuel the fire" by taking it out of context. He insists these job offers are "an optical problem, not a legal one." Here's why:
The bottom line to both the Romanoff and Sestak stories has been this: White Houses from time immemorial have far more explicitly dangled jobs in front of rival politicians to prevent them from running against ostensibly safe incumbents. The letter of federal law is designed to prevent direct quid-pro-quo situations where financial incentives are in lay and protect the rival politician from harm should he or she decide to make a decision that goes against the wishes of the powerful executive branch. But that law has never been used to criminalize low-level political horsetrading. This is the reason why ethics lawyers can read the text of the statutes, which seem to be clear, and conclude that no prosecutor in his or her right mind would ever bring a case against a White House for doing what the Obama White House did.  However, since the Obama White House holds itself as an avatar of ethical excellence, it might have to hold itself to a higher standard than other White Houses.
  • This Is Just Embarrassing  Taylor Marsh's takeaway is simple: "Obama can do his own election, but he and his team have proved incompetent on politics and the presidency." Politico's Jonathan Allen and Carol Lee concur: "Taken together, the Sestak and Romanoff cases suggest a White House team that is one part Dick Daley, one part Barney Fife." That's particularly troubling given the image of the group "as shrewd political operatives who know the game and always win it."
  • The Obama Team Shifts Gears  National Review's Daniel Foster looks closely at an AP report of the story. "The fact that administration sources are leaking this to the AP," he muses, "tells me they have 1) figured out their legal and rhetorical strategy in the wake of the Sestak memo and 2) are trying to get out in front of this one."
  • Or Not  "All the job listings," snickers conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, reviewing Jim Messina's email, published by Politico, "appear to be verbose, semi-useless, mostly idiotic and uber-bureaucratic cluster-hump make-work positions--which leads me to believe the email is authentic."
  • Let's Not Prosecute, suggests Allahpundit at right-leaning Hot Air. "I don't want Messina charged, partly because he was obviously acting at Rahm Emanuel’s behest ... and partly because I'm sure this really is D.C. business as usual for both parties." He does want it publicized to remind the public that Obama's White House isn't as squeaky clean as he promised.
  • What This Really Shows  Politico's Ben Smith decides the story "does some real damage to the White House, showing governance at its most transactional. But it's also a sign of something else," he continues: "How little Establishment Democrats like Romanoff fear the White House. It's a remarkable act of defiance." Allahpundit nods in agreement.
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