Defending the White House in the wake of Sen. Judd Gregg's withdrawal as Commerce Secretary, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said it is not "amateur hour" and that the Obama administration is still doing better than President Clinton was at this point.
"Some may call it amateur hour. Having been in two separate White Houses, I'm more than — and within our third week given this set of accomplishments — measure them up," said Mr. Emanuel, who served as a senior adviser in the Clinton White House from 1993 to 1998.
Mr. Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, withdrew his nomination nine days after it was announced. The senator cited "irresolvable conflicts" over their conflicting positions on the economic recovery bill and on operations for the 2010 Census.
Mr. Emanuel said winning passage of the $789 billion recovery spending bill — Congress is rushing to beat a weekend deadline for getting the bill to Mr. Obama — will overshadow the bumps.
"I think the president has always indicated there will be days where there are setbacks, days where there will be disappointments, but as long as we're moving forward those will be bright days not just for us but in fact the American people, he said. "Let's be honest: will the economic recovery or Judd Gregg be a bigger discussion point a week from now?"
He said Mr. Obama's early accomplishments also include signing an expansion of children's health insurance and an employment non-discrimination bill and rolling back Bush administration policies on detention of suspected terrorists, labor policies and fuel efficiency.
Mr. Emanuel, briefing a group of reporters in his office, said the White House made strategic concessions that broke the logjam and made a spending bill agreement possible this week. Two of those key concessions, he said, were to include raising the threshold for the alternative minimum tax and reducing the size of Mr. Obama's "make work pay" program.
"We thought that by putting some skin in the game first, it would get people off of positions that they were trying to hold. And at the end of the day when you look at it, that's exactly what happened," he said.
He acknowledged that the Gregg affair is "a disappointment" but said "it's better we dealt with it now."
He said Mr. Gregg called Monday asking to talk to Mr. Obama and said he was having second thoughts. They set up a meeting for Wednesday.
Mr. Emanuel indicated Mr. Gregg had wanted to wait until after the stimulus vote to announce his decision but the news leaked after he called a few other senators.