The Obama Administration Grapples With Two More Failed Nominations.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

TUESDAY WAS one of those tumultuous Washington days that feels more momentous at the time than it is likely to seem in the less-fevered hindsight of history. When the story of the Obama administration is written, it is unlikely that the twin withdrawals of Thomas A. Daschle, the president's choice to head his health-care reform effort, and Nancy Killefer, his pick for the new job of chief performance officer, will merit major entries. As fascinating as it is to debate the relative tax transgressions of Mr. Daschle, Ms. Killefer and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, and consider whether Mr. Daschle would have fallen had Mr. Geithner not had his problems, the success or failure of the Obama administration will not hinge on their fates. These are a series of unfortunate events, not -- at least on their own -- a sign of serious disrepair.

But there's no question that the seemingly well-oiled machine of the transition has not hummed quite as smoothly in the first weeks of the Obama administration. The three appointees ought to have been thoroughly vetted and considered during the transition to avoid a conflagration at a time when President Obama has a government to run. As we said yesterday, the president is due wide deference in his choice of advisers, but it's not unreasonable for Americans to expect government officials to pay their taxes and follow the law. The assessment that the nominees' tax problems were not serious enough to derail at least one of them strikes us as the kind of misjudgment that President Bill Clinton's incoming administration made with respect to the failed nomination of Zoe Baird to be his attorney general. In that sense, it is probably a blessing to the new administration that Mr. Daschle chose to avoid becoming a "distraction," as he put it in a statement yesterday.

Now the administration needs to refocus. Yesterday's withdrawals diverted attention from one noteworthy step, Mr. Obama's unconventional choice of New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg as commerce secretary. Mr. Gregg is no window-dressing Republican for Mr. Obama's Cabinet; he is the real, conservative thing, with an admirable commitment to getting entitlement spending under control. We hope that the president can find a way to make as good use of Mr. Gregg's counsel on that issue in his administration as he would have been as a potential ally in Congress. For the longer term, Mr. Obama, having lost the trusted counselor he had counted on to guide his health reform effort, will have to rethink how to proceed on that important front. In the shorter term, nothing is more important than Mr. Obama's hands-on involvement in crafting a better-targeted, less-sprawling stimulus bill than the behemoth that emerged from the House.

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