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Are Obama's High Ethics Standards Too High?

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

President Obama says he is responsible for the failure of two high profile nominations.

P: This is a self-induced injury that I'm angry about and we're going to make sure we get it fixed.

MONTAGNE: Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What hurt Tom Daschle the most? I mean, was it his failure to fully pay his taxes or was it something less tangible?

WILLIAMS: And it was damaging not only to efforts about healthcare reform, but I think also to President Obama, who had developed a reputation for managerial, you know, adept - being an adept manager during the campaign and running things smoothly. Here was Tom Daschle, Geithner and Killefer, as you mentioned, creating a huge image problem for the administration.

MONTAGNE: Just two days ago, though, President Obama said he absolutely backed Tom Daschle. What does the loss of this particular nominee mean for the president?

WILLIAMS: So, in a way, President Obama was blind to any thought of an ethical lapse by his hero Tom Daschle. And Daschle didn't inform him fully of any tax problem before the nomination. So Obama's trust here was not repaid.

MONTAGNE: There was a second failed nomination yesterday, as we said. Nancy Killefer stepped aside, though her tax problem was, you know, relatively minor. We're talking hundreds of dollars. And she did not need Senate confirmation. Why did she withdraw? [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Killefer's nomination as deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget would have been subject to confirmation by the Senate.]

WILLIAMS: Even the Chicago Tribune, President Obama's hometown paper, editorialized that Obama, who had set such high standards, was now either hypocritical or obtuse, to quote them.

MONTAGNE: Juan, given all this, later today the president is scheduled to appear with newly confirmed Treasury Secretary Geithner, who was confirmed, despite his tax problem. Is it possible that this will spark a fresh round of criticism?

WILLIAMS: I think it's inevitable, Renee. Today's event is to announce a ceiling on executive pay at companies that take federal bailout money. The administration sees it, therefore, as advertising their virtues, but I don't see how it could not turn into more discussion about Geithner and Daschle.

MONTAGNE: NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: February 4, 2009 at 1:41 PM EST
We incorrectly said that Nancy Killefer stepped aside although she "did not need Senate confirmation." In fact, her nomination as deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget would have been subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Juan Williams
Juan Williams, one of America's leading journalists, is a news analyst, appearing regularly on NPR's Morning Edition. Knowledgeable and charismatic, Williams brings insight and depth — hallmarks of NPR programs — to a wide spectrum of issues and ideas.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.

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