Obama comes under sharp criticism...from himself
Obama to CNN: "I think I screwed up, and I take responsibility for it."
Obama to NBC: "Did I screw up in this situation? Absolutely. And I'm willing to take my lumps."
The White House approaches each day with talking points but none like this one.
Normally the picture of calm and confidence, Obama performed mea culpas in a series of TV interviews following Tom Daschle's withdrawal from consideration as health and human services secretary.
Daschle and Obama's pick for federal spending watchdog both pulled out of contention Tuesday because of personal tax problems. Earlier, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew as Obama's choice as commerce secretary because of an ethical investigation in the state. Timothy Geithner won Senate confirmation as treasury secretary despite $34,000 in tax arrears he had belatedly paid.
The president invited network news anchors into the Oval Office one at a time and offered basically the same message, that he had been slow to recognize the double standard obvious to ordinary Americans who are cut no slack if they fall behind on their taxes.
Obama to Fox: "I take responsibility for this mistake." He vowed his best effort to "make sure we're not screwing up again."
Obama to ABC: "This is a self-induced injury that I'm angry about, and we're going to make sure we get it fixed."
Obama to CBS: "It's frustrating for me, and it's something that I take responsibility for."
The audacity of acknowledging — even emphasizing — poor judgment came in marked contrast to his predecessor. George W. Bush pronounced himself stumped when asked, midway through his presidency, to name mistakes he'd made. Much later, he thought of some.
Obama didn't just do a lightning round with top names from the five networks; he did it in the Oval Office, the hallowed room that is not often used for such a rapid-fire succession of interviews. The setting showed Obama in the very seat of power as he owned up to mistakes on a rocky day.
Still, Obama denied that his vetting process for nominees was flawed or that his promise to set new ethical standards in Washington was at all tainted by his decision to exempt several high-level appointments from his restrictions on hiring lobbyists.
The mistake, he said repeatedly in interviews with Charles Gibson of ABC, Brian Williams of NBC, Anderson Cooper of CNN, Chris Wallace of Fox and Katie Couric of CBS, was in seeming to give credence to the notion that one set of rules exists for VIPs and another for average Americans.
Like many presidents before him, Obama lamented that the towering business of the day — in this case saving the economy — had been obscured by dust kicked up over something else.
Unlike many, he said he only had himself to blame for that.
"I'm frustrated with myself, with our team" he told NBC.
"And I'm here on television saying I screwed up and that's part of the era of responsibility, is not never making mistakes; it's owning up to them and trying to make sure you never repeat them and that's what we intend to do."