Geithner Gets Brief Reprieve

GOP Senators Holding Fire

Posted March 23, 2009 at 6:33pm

Key Senate Republicans remain critical of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and skeptical of President Barack Obama’s ability to navigate the financial crisis — but they are holding back on calling for Geithner’s resignation, at least for now.

As Geithner unveiled his plan to revive the credit markets on Monday amid favorable reaction from Wall Street, Senate Republicans said they were hopeful that the Obama administration had begun to find its economic footing.

“He’s got one of the toughest jobs on earth. People have got to give him a chance. But I’m not pleased with some of the things that are going on,— said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), perhaps Geithner’s biggest defender when his confirmation was threatened by revelations of unpaid taxes.

Last week, as news that taxpayer-funded bonuses were paid to executives of federally propped-up insurance giant American International Group, a smattering of Republican Senators called for Geithner’s resignation or suggested he should go.

The White House struggled to explain who knew what and when about the bonuses as criticism mounted from Capitol Hill — and Geithner became a lightning rod for the criticism.

But perhaps because the Dow Jones rose nearly 500 points on Monday after the Treasury secretary released his plan to clean up the toxic assets hobbling the financial system, top GOP Senators toned down their criticism.

In fact, some Republicans suggested Geithner was being scapegoated by the administration to protect Obama. One senior GOP Senate aide said that most Republican Senators view Obama as the responsible party — both in the AIG fiasco and in terms of getting the economy moving again — and that they’re not about to let the president off the hook by calling for Geithner’s resignation en masse.

“He’s not doing his job well. But he’s doing the political part of it well, and that is, I think, distracting attention from the administration and all of the problems they’re having,— Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said. “Now, today, he rolled out this new idea which seems to be meeting with favorable response from the markets. But up until now, it just seems like it’s been kind of a circus over there and one fiasco after another.—

On Monday, Geithner personally unveiled his plan to deal with banks’ bad loans — something Wall Street and the major overseas economic powers have been demanding for weeks. The move appeared tentative, with cameras barred from the morning news conference. But the result was not, as the stock market delivered its best one-day advance of the Obama presidency, and its biggest jump since November.

In an interview on CNBC, Geithner defended his conduct, asserting he can deal with the brickbats thrown his way over the past several weeks. Geithner added that he is moving to fill senior-level jobs at Treasury that have remained open, a key criticism and one that Senate Republicans were referencing Monday as evidence for their concerns.

“This comes with the job. We have to make hard choices,— Geithner said. “We’re not going to satisfy everybody, but we’re doing our best to try to move as aggressive as we can to try to fix this mess.—

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) criticized the Obama administration for a lack of focus in dealing with the economy. But McConnell — saying that he wanted to take a look at Geithner’s new plan for greasing the credit markets before casting judgment — suggested on Monday that some praise from the GOP might be forthcoming.

“I’m going to withhold judgment on Secretary Geithner until I see what he had to say today,— McConnell said.

Although Senate Republicans said they are reserving the right to call for Geithner’s head, they also said they have more faith in Geithner than they do in Obama.

One former senior Republican Senate aide argued that Obama’s popularity is not what’s protecting Geithner from the GOP’s wrath. According to this source, the president lost much credibility with the Senate Republican Conference over his handling of the $790 billion economic stimulus bill.

However, because of the economy’s precarious state — and the uncertainty over who would replace Geithner if he resigned — Republicans are likely to shy away from rallying a mob to remove him. In any event, Geithner is getting enough criticism through the media that Republicans feel there’s no need to pile on.

“Republicans understand that Geithner is all we’ve got,— the former senior GOP Senate aide said. “If this guy goes away, we’re stuck for two or three months trying to find somebody else. He might be the one guy able to do it. If it’s not Geithner, who else can do it? Obama’s credibility is shot.—

Keith Koffler contributed to this report.