The White House faced fresh questions over back-room dealmaking after a Colorado Democrat acknowledged he had been encouraged by one of President Barack Obama’s top advisers to apply for an international development job instead of challenging the candidate whom the president favored in a Senate race.
The revelation again called into question repeated promises by Obama to run an open government that was above private political horse-trading. In appealing to voters this election year, Republicans charge that Obama’s promise to change the ways of Washington has given way to the craven politics he campaigned against.
Former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff on Wednesday night released a copy of an e-mail in which White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina described three federal international development jobs that might be available to him if he were not challenging Sen. Michael Bennet for the Democratic nomination.
“He added that he could not guarantee my appointment to any of these positions,” Romanoff said in a statement. “At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina’s assistance in obtaining one.”
Earlier in the day, a White House official said no formal offer was ever made and insisted there was nothing inappropriate in the contacts — a bit of rhetoric familiar after the White House admitted last week that it orchestrated a job offer to Senate candidate Joe Sestak in the Pennsylvania primary.
“Mr. Romanoff was recommended to the White House from Democrats in Colorado for a position in the administration,” White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said. “There were some initial conversations with him but no job was ever offered.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican who unsuccessfully sought a Justice Department investigation into the Sestak matter, asked, “Just how deep does the Obama White House’s effort to invoke Chicago-style politics for the purpose of manipulating elections really go?”
“Clearly, Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff aren’t isolated incidents and are indicative of a culture that embraces the politics-as-usual mentality that the American people are sick and tired of,” Issa said. “Whatever the Obama brand used to stand for has been irrevocably shattered by the activities going on inside Barack Obama’s White House.”
An embarrassed White House admitted last Friday that it turned to former President Bill Clinton last year to approach Sestak about backing out of the Senate primary in favor of an unpaid position on a federal advisory board.
Sestak declined the offer and defeated Sen. Arlen Specter late last month for the Democratic nomination after disclosing the job discussions and highlighting them as evidence of his antiestablishment political credentials. He said last week he rejected Clinton’s feeler in less than a minute.
In a two-page report on the Sestak case, the White House counsel said the administration did nothing illegal or unethical.
Unlike Sestak, Romanoff had ducked questions on the subject before issuing his statement Wednesday night. Also unlike Sestak, Romanoff was out of office and looking for his next act after being forced from his job because of term limits.
Romanoff had sought appointment to the Senate seat that eventually went to Bennet, publicly griped he had been passed over and then discussed possible appointment possibilities inside the administration, one of the officials said.
After being passed over for the Senate appointment, the out-of-power Romanoff made little secret of shopping for a political job. Romanoff also applied to be Colorado secretary of state, a job that came open when Republican Mike Coffman was elected to Congress. Gov. Bill Ritter again appointed a replacement and again passed over Romanoff.
Next, according to several Colorado Democrats speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal negotiations, Romanoff also approached Ritter about being Ritter’s running mate for Ritter’s re-election bid. It was only after that attempt failed, the Colorado Democrats said, that Romanoff joined the Senate contest.
Romanoff still wasn’t settled on the Senate race. When Ritter announced in January that he wouldn’t seek a second term after all, Romanoff publicly talked about leaving the Senate race to seek the governor’s office, though he ended up staying in the Senate contest.
Bennet has outpaced Romanoff in fundraising and support from Washington, although party activists attending the state party assembly last month favored the challenger by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent. The primary is Aug. 10.
Bennet was appointed by Ritter to fill out the final two years of the term of Ken Salazar, who resigned to become interior secretary.
Associated Press writers Kristen Wyatt and Ivan Moreno in Denver contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press
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