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White House Dangles Job Offers to Entice Legislators Not to Run For Office

June 8, 2010

Story from Reuters.com

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON, June 3 (Reuters) – A top aide to President Barack Obama discussed a possible administration job with a Colorado Democrat to try to keep him from running for the U.S. Senate against a candidate Obama endorsed, the White House acknowledged on Thursday.

Jim Messina, White House deputy chief of staff, talked about three jobs with former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff last year in an unsuccessful attempt to head off a primary challenge against incumbent Senator Michael Bennet.

“Messina wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement, although he and Romanoff said no concrete job offers were made.

It is the second time in less than a week the White House has acknowledged dangling a potential job offer to try to head off Democratic primary battles, a pattern that has drawn heavy criticism from Republicans.

The White House acknowledged last week it tried to get U.S. Representative Joe Sestak to drop his Pennsylvania challenge against Senator Arlen Specter in exchange for an unpaid job.

Sestak beat the six-term incumbent Specter in a primary last month. In Colorado, Romanoff is providing a tough challenge to Bennet, who was appointed to the Senate seat last year, in an August Democratic primary.

The White House has been heavily involved in helping Democrats hold control of the U.S. Senate in November’s elections, when Republicans are projected to make big gains that could dramatically reduce the Democrats’ 59-41 majority.

“The president as the leader of the party has an interest in ensuring that supporters don’t run against each other in contested primaries,” Gibbs told reporters.

Republicans said the intensive political wheeling and dealing by the Obama administration raised legal questions and cast doubt on the president’s promise to practice a new kind of politics.

“After three months of stonewalling and obfuscation, the administration’s credibility is blown on this subject,” Republican Party chief Michael Steele said.

Gibbs said new ethics standards, publication of White House visitor logs and refusal to take donations from lobbyists were evidence of the administration’s new way of operating. “Those are efforts that we’re quite proud of,” Gibbs said.

THREE JOBS SUGGESTED

Romanoff, who earlier had applied for a position at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said Messina suggested three administration jobs that might be available if he dropped his Senate race.

“He added that he could not guarantee my appointment to any of these positions. At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina’s assistance in obtaining one,” Romanoff said in a statement.

Romanoff released an e-mail he received from Messina on Sept. 11, 2009, detailing the three jobs — two at USAID and a third as head of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

“I left him a voicemail informing him that I would not change course,” Romanoff said. “I have not spoken with Mr. Messina, nor have I discussed this matter with anyone else in the White House, since then.”

Representatives Lamar Smith, senior Republican on the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, and Darrell Issa, senior Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said White House aides should be questioned about the job talks under oath by a special counsel, congressional investigators or the FBI.

Republicans have charged the offer to Sestak, presented by former President Bill Clinton on the administration’s behalf, violated federal laws prohibiting offering jobs to influence elections.

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