Sunday, January 4, 2009

Obama's Team of (Fewer) Rivals

Bill Richardson with Barack Obama in happier times

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson won't be moving back to Washington after all, leaving President-elect Barack Obama with one fewer of his former opponents on his much-touted "Team of Rivals."

Richardson withdrew his name from consideration for nomination as Secretary of Commerce today, because an ongoing federal investigation of a "pay to play" scandal in his state has left many unanswered questions. Presumably, these questions would be asked and still not answered satisfactorily at a Senate confirmation hearing on Richardson's appointment. This would, at a minimum, delay filling the Commerce slot. More importantly, it would undoubtedly have caused the new Administration another embarrassing political distraction coming on top of the continuing Blagojemess in Illinois.

In a letter accepting Richardson's supposed decision to step down, Obama said he regretted it and hinted that Richardson might still find a place in the Cabinet line-up somewhere down the line.

Color me skeptical. The big question about this development is this: why did Obama decide to appoint Richardson just a month ago -- on December 3rd -- when the federal inquiry was under way and Richardson had not answered all those pesky questions about his own role? What or who led them to believe that all would be well by January? To be sure, federal prosecutors and the FBI work more or less as they wish, which is sometimes hard to predict. Still, it seems to me that one of two other explanations is more likely: either the Obama transition team's scrutiny of these issues fell short of ideal efficiency; or Richardson misled somebody.

Either way, I doubt that Richardson 's withdrawal was entirely voluntary. And if I were Richardson, I wouldn't count on another high appointment, even if he is totally cleared of any unethical entanglements.

On the plus side, Richardson can feel free to grow his beard again!


  1. I'm afraid you are missing the point. This should already be an embarrassment to the Obama Team, but people who feel they are invincible/above the law, just expect to push through these matters because so often, we allow them to. When Free passes keep rollin' in, they come to expect them. This little nusance wasn't going away, so Obama gave him the Heave-Ho!

  2. I'm not sure what point you think I missed, but I do agree with you that this is a major embarassment to Obama and his team. Richardson's withdrawal -- likely made under pressure -- precludes the even greater embarassment and bandwidth-consuming work of trying to push through a Senate confirmation in a situation where Richardson might well have declined to answer Senators' questions lest he expose himself to some legal risk.

    In any case, thanks for commenting.