You know an administration is in trouble when prominent officials let it be known to the press that they disagreed with one of the president’s major decisions. It happens to every president, and it’s always a very bad sign. Usually it comes after some policy goes terribly awry, and sends senior advisors running for cover. But sometimes, in the very worst cases, it happens as soon as a decision is made, before the policy in question has even had a chance to be tested—and it reveals more than dissent about one particular decision, but a broader sense that things are not well at the top.
That is why this Reuters story from yesterday was so striking. It describes Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s opposition to the bank limits President Obama announced. It seems that on the very day of the announcement, Geithner decided he needed to dispatch people close to him to make it known (anonymously) that he did not agree with the decision, and indeed that he agreed with the two key arguments offered by its staunchest critics. Here’s Reuters:
Geithner is concerned that the proposed limits on big banks’ trading and size could impact U.S. firms’ global competitiveness, the sources said, speaking anonymously because Geithner has not spoken publicly about his reservations.
He also has concerns that the limits do not necessarily get at the root of the problems and excesses that fueled the recent financial meltdown, the sources said.
After the story first appeared, the White House dispatched someone to offer comment to Reuters, so the second version (which is the one now posted at that link) includes an update with those quotes. But clearly they could not get Geithner himself to tell Reuters that their story was wrong about his views. Geithner was out selling the decision here and there yesterday, to be sure, but very tepidly (as in this NewsHour interview, where he looks like a man making the case for his own beheading).
It all suggests serious dissension in the senior ranks—not what the White House would want as they “pivot” to the economy. Just a great week all around for these guys.