The White House released details of the job offer provided to Congressman Joe Sestak in exchange for his withdrawal from the U.S. Senate primary against Arlen Specter. Republicans have been trying to make hay out of this since Sestak was first asked a question in an interview about getting any offers to drop out. He answered truthfully with a simple “yes” and since then accusations of impropriety and have been raised by Republicans for whom this was SOP in the Bush White House. Where was their outrage when Karl Rove was making deals like this constantly?
According tot he White House Rahm Emmanuel got Bill Clinton to approach Sestak about keeping his Congressional seat but also getting an unpaid, high level position on a presidential commission for which he was qualified in return for dropping out. Because the proposed position was unpaid nothing illegal was offered or proposed.
I’m not sure why the White House thought Joe would accept such a minimal offer. He entered the primary race so Democrats would have an actual Democrat for which to voter last week. Remaining in his Congressional seat and accepting an unpaid position which did nothing but raise his profile accomplished none of his goals. Those goals were to represent Pennsylvanians in the Senate so they would have an actual Democratic representative there voting for the interests of working people. Arlen Specter showed over 30 years that he wasn’t that person. The White House offer is shocking only in that it was so insignificant.
Using intermediaries is a time honored tradition when high ranking people seek to better organize primary races and fill out their fields of candidates. It is an important function of Party Chairs to do this actually and it is done routinely. How often do we see elections where there may be three candidates for one slot and none for others? It happens all the time and is a sign of a bad Party Chair. Good Chairs speak with the candidates, determine the strongest and try to convince the others to run for other open seats. In this case the White House wanted to keep Specter in the Senate and Sestak in the House and sought a solution. The fact their offer wasn’t grounded in reality, didn’t take into account the Congressman’s reasons for running or the reasons so many Democrats were urging him to run, and was quite insignificant meant, perhaps, they weren’t all that serious. Maybe it was an attempt to make it appear they were trying to help Specter but not so committed as to make a serious offer, something like Secretary of the Navy.
The release of the details actually boosts Sestak because it shows he is a man of integrity who cannot be bought off even by the President. That illustrates his independence from the White House and reminds us he didn’t back away from or attempt to elude a difficult question. When asked he gave an honest answer. It wasn’t his duty to provide details and he was most likely unaware of them anyway. This was the White House’s duty to explain what was done, how and why.
Update: The details released by the White House (they sent me a copy so I’m using that as my basis for this article) say no offer to be SecNav was ever given and never considered because that post was filled even before Specter switched parties. The efforts to convince him not to run happened in June and July of 2009. He was offered, By former President Clinton, a role in Executive Branch Advisory Boards for which he was eminently qualified due to his 31 years of service in the Navy.
Update II: Joe Sestak released this statement today:
“Last summer, I received a phone call from President Clinton. During the course of the conversation, he expressed concern over my prospects if I were to enter the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and the value of having me stay in the House of Representatives because of my military background. He said that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had spoken with him about my being on a Presidential Board while remaining in the House of Representatives. I said no. I told President Clinton that my only consideration in getting into the Senate race or not was whether it was the right thing to do for Pennsylvania working families and not any offer. The former President said he knew I’d say that, and the conversation moved on to other subjects.
“There are many important challenges facing Pennsylvania and the rest of the country. I intend to remain focused on those issues and continue my fight on behalf of working families.”