President-elect Barack Obama was unveiling his health care team and approach this morning at a news conference, but the stink of the scandal over Illiniois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D.) permeated the thing, taking up three of the four questions.
The governor's arrest, and the release of wiretap transcripts in which Blago appears to be auctioning an appointment to Obama's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat, were rare embarassments for a charmed politician, who has been acting almost as de facto president (without the nuclear codes and constitutional power, to be sure) during the transition.
Obama was slow to react to Blago and he moved to correct that yesterday. In a sense, the newser was a do-over, a chance to distance himself from the unfolding view on national television of a dirty Chicago political system. That's not me, was his message.
"I was appalled and disappointed," Obama said, adding that the governor should resign. He said he ran for the Senate, and later for president, to "reclaim" politics from those who, like Blago, view politics as "a business, wheelin' and dealin', what's in it for me?"
He did not talk to Blago or the governor's office at all about the issue of his successor, Obama said, and he said that "certainly" none of his staff discussed a deal on the appointment with the governor or his minions. He said he could not provide details on contacts between advisers and Blago, however, saying he needed to "gather information" first.
So how did Blago learn that Obama would not be open to a deal - an appointment or cushy job for the governor in exchange for the appointment of confidant Valerie Jarrett, as the federal complaint alleges?
"I can't presume to know what was in the mind of the governor in this process," Obama said. "All I can do is read the transcripts and...shake my head."