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WILLIAMS: The president and ‘hush’ offers

- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 30, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

What in the world is going on at the White House that it can't get this Joe Sestak fiasco under wraps? Has it lost all sense of damage control?

The latest information coming out over the weekend is even more troubling. Did I hear correctly that the White House asked former President Bill Clinton to "feel" Mr. Sestak out on how intent he was in pursuing Arlen Specter's Senate seat and then push to see whether he'd be open to other options? Was Rahm Emmanuel working his old boss over for a Chicago-style favor?

The official line early Friday morning from la Casa Blanca is that it only asked Mr. Clinton to engage Mr. Sestak "informally." What does that mean? If you're an official in the White House, you don't do things "informally" — let alone ask a former president to engage a sitting member of Congress about whether he would be willing to step aside for some political payoff … and to help a washed-up waffling loser like Mr. Specter to boot.

Then later in the day another "official" position emerged. In hopes of quieting the clamor from both sides and accusations of a quid pro quo, the White House said its "hush offer" involved no money. It wasn't trying to get Mr. Sestak to take anything that was paid. No sir. Rather, he would merely get to sit on a board and still retain his congressional seat.

That's laughable. Assuming Mr. Sestak would have been able to keep his seat in such an anti-incumbent political climate, I would be insulted if I were the Pennsylvania congressman. They didn't even think enough of him to offer something that was paid?

The White House's so-called report was a joke as well. A full-scale investigation conducted and relayed on two pages? Just because the White House's top lawyer plants his imprimatur on a hastily crafted talking-points memo doesn't absolve the administration from its questionable behavior.

Mr. Clinton's involvement alone tells anyone with a pulse the White House was trying to move Mr. Sestak off a very nice perch. We all know presidents aren't asked to lend their "personal touch" unless someone is at the end of his options and needs the high-brow nudge of a former commander-in-chief. And Mr. Clinton? This is the same guy who managed to get those in his party to vote for the largest tax increase in history in 1993. And the same president who passed sweeping trade and welfare reforms in the face of withering fire from the left.

Mr. Sestak was a thumb-sucker for Mr. Clinton. He is used to moving folks, especially members of Congress. The White House knew that. Why else would it send in such a heavy closer?

Frankly, I'm sort of shocked Mr. Clinton stooped to such a level. After all, earlier this month he single-handedly helped his party maintain control of a House seat in Pennsylvania's special election to replace the deceased Rep. John P. Murtha. Mr. Clinton was riding high as the party's secret weapon given his popularity and political legend status. Now, he looks like nothing more than a hooligan, hired to come in and bust the kneecaps of recalcitrant members like Mr. Sestak.

Even Keystone State Gov. Ed Rendell — a hard knocker by any standard — was scratching his head on this one. He said earlier last week that the drip-drip nature of this information is only undermining the White House and raising more questions than anyone cares to answer. And we know the administration's politicos have answers. That's probably why they are hiding and only surrendering bits at a time.

But they miscalculated in thinking Mr. Sestak had any clue on how to keep his side of the story under wraps. His awkward answers to questions only make President Obama's minions look all the more suspicious. Someone needs to teach Joe a new poker face.

The optics on this are indeed terrible. The president's party is hemorrhaging members and approval numbers, and the one time he tries to (quietly) shore up his political allies in the Senate such as Mr. Specter, the gun goes off in his hand. How embarrassing.

Contrast the Sestak episode with the behavior of former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, a Democrat. Hot Rod wanted to sell Mr. Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder, and he directed some of the wheeling and dealing through his brother. We also learned last week that Mr. Sestak's brother, the congressman's top political aide, spoke with White House officials during this deal brokering. Let's hope the only thing being discussed between those parties was the size of Mr. Sestak's drapes in his new Senate digs and not collaborating on what story to tell the press corps.

The lesson is clear: No candidate for office should be asked to cease his or her campaign just to continue the status quo in this country, particularly the agenda of this president. It's dishonest and certainly not the American way.

The ugly and public display of "he said/she said" is further indictment that this administration is losing its political grip, if not engaging in borderline criminal activity. No wonder Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele was giddy this Memorial Day weekend.

"The Armstrong Williams Show" is broadcast on XM Satellite's Power 169 channel from 9 to 10 p.m. weeknights.

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