Barack Obama fights to maintain a grip on the US political agenda

He has admitted “screwing up” key White House appointments and now faces possible defeat in the Senate over his economic stimulus bill.

He was also condemned by High Court judges in Britain after it emerged his administration was standing by a threat to halt intelligence co-operation in a row over the alleged torture of a Guantanamo Bay detainee.

Despite his best efforts, Mr Obama found himself being compared to George W. Bush, viewed among the Washington establishment as the epitome of an out-of-touch president.

During a round of television interviews in the US he said he had made an error in his handling of the Health secretary nomination of Tom Daschle, who was forced to pull out because of unpaid taxes.

Mr Obama has tried to create a contrast with his predecessor who was famously stumped when asked in 2004 what mistakes he’d made. He was eager to admit he’d erred, saying: “I messed up, I screwed up,” Obama told CBS.

“It’s important for this administration to send a message that there aren’t two sets of rules – you know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes.”

He told NBC: “I’m frustrated with myself, with our team. I’m here on television saying I screwed up.” The mea culpa was repeated again and again using almost the same words.

During what turned out to be the worst day of his young presidency just after Mr Daschle had withdrawn after his unconvincing explanations about how he had neglected to pay $128,000 in taxes on a limousine, Mr Obama and his wife Michelle slipped out to visit a school.

“We were just tired of being in the White House,” he told a group of excited of seven-year-olds before discussing Batman and reading them a book.”

But the acerbic New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd remarked: “On 9/11, President Bush learned of disaster while reading ‘The Pet Goat’ to grade-school kids.

“On Tuesday, President Obama escaped from disaster by reading ‘The Moon Over Star’ to grade-school kids.”

She added that it “took Daschle’s resignation to shake the president out of his arrogant attitude that his charmed circle doesn’t have to abide by the lofty standards he lectured the rest of us about for two years”.

Dowd was one of the liberal columnists whom Mr Obama courted before his inauguration and he gave several interviews to her during the campaign.

Dana Milbank, Dowd’s nearest equivalent on the “Washington Post” also made the “Pet Goat” comparison, adding: “If this is Obama’s honeymoon, one shudders to think what a lovers’ quarrel would look like.”

Mr Obama’s wooing of Republicans has also been unsuccessful thus far.

After failing to secure a single Republican vote for the stimulus bill that passed in the House of Representatives, Mr Obama is now struggling to persuade Republicans over the Senate version.

Democratic leaders, who enjoy a 58 to 41 majority in the Senate, have warned him that the $900 billion bill might not pass if it is not stripped of projects that would be unlikely to give a swift boost to the economy.

The withdrawal of Mr Daschle from consideration for the Cabinet post leaves Mr Obama’s plans to overhaul the American health system in disarray. Mr Daschle, a well-connected former Senate Majority Leader, was seen as the ideal man to steer reform through Congress.

There are indications Mr Obama is frustrated with Democrats on Capitol Hill, who Republicans complain are shutting them out.

Congressman Jim Cooper, a conservative Democrat, told a Nashville radio show that he’d received “quiet encouragement” from the White House to vote against the House stimulus bill, which was overseen by Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Speaker of the House.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/barackobama/4515462/Barack-Obama-fights-to-maintain-a-grip-on-the-US-political-agenda.html

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