How hard is it to change the ways of Washington?
It turns out it can be quite difficult if you rely on the same old Washington players.
On Tuesday, two high-profile Obama appointees withdrew as nominees, citing tax problems. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle bowed out as President Obama's pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services. And Nancy Killefer gave up her appointment as the administration's chief performance officer (a new position).
Killefer, an executive at McKinsey & Company, a strategic management consulting firm, had committed a routine transgression: she had failed to pay unemployment taxes for household help. Daschle, though, had a more unusual problem: he had failed to pay taxes for a car and driver that had been provided to him by Leo Hindery, a financier who had retained Daschle as an adviser. But perhaps more worrisome was Daschle's post-Senate career, in which he has made millions of dollars not by lobbying but by providing strategic advice to lobbyists and by giving speeches to health care firms.
Daschle was just one of several high-profile Obama appointees who have turned public service into private wealth. George Mitchell, Obama's Mideast envoy, is a senior leader of DLA Piper, a powerful lobbying shop and law firm in Washington. Mark Patterson, chief of staff at the Treasury Department, was a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs. William Lynn, Obama's No. 2 at the Pentagon, was a lobbyist for Raytheon, a major military contractor. Both Lynn and Patterson have had to receive waivers from the Obama administration's tough ethics rules.
Why has Obama had to turn to former lobbyists and major Washington string-pullers? At Tuesday's press briefing, I asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs if Obama was finding it tough to change Washington. Here's the exchange: