Three potential nominees for President Obama’s administration, including CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, withdrew Thursday, highlighting the new president’s difficulty in filling top positions as he tries to tackle health care, create environmental policy and put the economy back on track.
None had been officially nominated, but a White House official confirmed to The Washington Times that Dr. Gupta had been under serious consideration for surgeon general but withdrew his name.
Separately Thursday, several news outlets reported that former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission member Annette Nazareth took herself out of the running to be deputy secretary at the Treasury Department. Additionally, Caroline Atkinson withdrew her name from consideration for undersecretary of Treasury for international affairs.
Dr. Gupta is a well-known figure from his reporting on medical matters, including his CNN show “House Call” and his contributions to CBS and Time magazine, and his communications skills are reportedly what piqued the administration’s interest. The post has little formal power but has been used as a high-profile bully pulpit.
But in an appearance Thursday evening on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Dr. Gupta cited family and career reasons for his withdrawing interest.
“My wife is imminent with our third child. You know, this job … takes us away from our children for so many years at once, and I sort of came to grips with the fact that I’d probably be away at least the first several years,” the Atlanta-based Dr. Gupta said. “And I just didn’t feel like I should do that now.”
The withdrawals of Ms. Nazareth and Ms. Atkinson are the latest stumbling blocks for Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who has struggled to build a staff amid the worst financial crisis in decades. Aside from Mr. Geithner, the department does not have a single deputy or assistant secretary in place.
Asked about the delay in assembling a Treasury team, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration is engaged in a “rigorous” selection process but that Mr. Geithner is doing fine for now.
“We have tremendous confidence in Secretary Geithner and we are working with the committees of jurisdiction in order to get nominees both up to Capitol Hill and through the process of getting them into government,” he said.
Still, Mr. Geithner is without any deputies authorized to make decisions or represent the department in meetings, even as he has been given the task of trying to fix an ailing financial system and manage hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout aid to major U.S. companies.
At a hearing Wednesday, Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat, said he was worried about the lack of senior staff.
“Obviously, you need help,” he said.
Several of Mr. Obama’s previous nominees have withdrawn after facing questions about unpaid taxes or being suspected of corruption.
People familiar with the decision told the Wall Street Journal that Ms. Nazareth largely withdrew because of the weeks of vetting, including two intense questioning sessions. According to the Journal’s sources, the Nazareth vetting did not uncover any tax problems or other potential embarrassments.
Ms. Nazareth, a partner at the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, could not be reached for comment.
In an e-mailed statement, Treasury spokesman Isaac Baker that “any rumors of vetting problems or delays in the process are simply not true.”
“With more than 50 political appointees already hard at work, the department is ahead of staffing levels from previous administrations,” he said Thursday night.
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