I screwed up: Obama

By Arun Kumar,

Washington, Feb 4 (IANS) As two more of his cabinet nominees bit the dust over tax troubles, threatening to derail his agenda of change, President Barack Obama admitted in a series of TV interviews he screwed up.

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At CBS, Obama plainly said: “I screwed up”. At CNN he was a little thoughtful: “I think I screwed up, and I take responsibility for it.” And at NBC he wondered: “Did I screw up in this situation? Absolutely. And I’m willing to take my lumps.”

The TV interviews came as former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, Obama’s choice for health and human services secretary and Nancy Killefer, his pick for federal spending watchdog, both pulled out of contention Tuesday because of personal tax problems.

Earlier, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson withdrew as Obama’s nominee for commerce secretary because of an ethical investigation in the state. Timothy Geithner won Senate confirmation as treasury secretary despite $35,000 in tax arrears he had belatedly paid.

Obama invited network news anchors into the Oval Office one at a time and offered basically the same message, that he had been slow to recognize the double standard obvious to ordinary Americans who are cut no slack if they fall behind on their taxes.

Still, Obama denied that his vetting process for nominees was flawed or that his promise to set new ethical standards in Washington was at all tainted by his decision to exempt several high-level appointments from his restrictions on hiring lobbyists.

The mistake, he said, repeatedly in interviews was in seeming to give credence to the notion that one set of rules exists for VIPs and another for average Americans.

“I campaigned on changing Washington and bottom-up politics. And I don’t want to send a message to the American people that there are two sets of standards: one for powerful people and one for ordinary folks who are working every day and paying their taxes.”

“And I’m here on television saying I screwed up and that’s part of the era of responsibility, is not never making mistakes; it’s owning up to them and trying to make sure you never repeat them and that’s what we intend to do.”

The series of embarrassing disclosures involving four of his choices for powerful positions are proving a distraction for Obama as he seeks to fix the US economy and provide an early test of his credibility.