DeFazio Woos Colleagues to Support Obama Economic Team Ouster
Rep. Peter DeFazio, one of the most outspoken Democratic critics of the White House economic team, said he plans to press the 27-member Congressional Populist Caucus to back his call for their ouster. The Oregon Democrat created a stir on Capitol Hill after an appearance on MSNBC Wednesday during which he said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House economic adviser Larry Summers should lose their jobs for protecting Wall Street at the expense of broader job creation. DeFazio on Thursday said he has asked Populist Caucus Chairman Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) for time at the group’s next meeting to discuss whether members will sign on to a call for the scalps of Obama’s economic brain trust. He pointed to “a lot of discontent— within the Democratic Caucus about the officials’ role in the administration and dismissed the suggestion he was criticizing the president himself, who remains widely popular among Democrats. “I see it as helping the president get rid of the losers on his staff that America doesn’t need,— DeFazio said. The third-ranking Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, DeFazio has long been critical of what he views as a resistance by the Obama White House to invest adequately in employment-boosting infrastructure projects. But Geithner, in particular, has faced sharpened criticism this week from DeFazio and others after a Monday report by the inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. That audit blasted Geithner for ceding too much negotiating power to huge Wall Street banks entangled with the American International Group Inc. while he managed the insurance giant’s rescue last year. But while DeFazio may be right that Democratic frustration with Obama’s economic advisers is building, there was little evidence Thursday that his colleagues in the Populist Caucus are ready to go so far as to join in calling for their firings. “I haven’t had any type of opportunity to consider that type of significant decision,— Braley said, though he seconded DeFazio’s criticism that the administration’s top economic policymakers have focused on propping up Wall Street to the exclusion of putting Americans back to work. “There’s certainly a lot of discontent, and it will be a focus going forward.—Several other Populist Caucus members voiced similar views — Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) described Geithner’s performance to date as “pick your debacle,— and Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) said, “I almost put my foot through the television— during a recent “Meet the Press— appearance by the Treasury chief — but all stopped short of advocating resignations. However, Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.) rose to Geithner’s defense, saying he agrees with the administration’s conclusion that the health of Wall Street and Main Street are linked. “Job creation is my No. 1 priority,— Arcuri said, “and my sense is that’s also his priority.—At the moment, DeFazio might have better luck finding backup across the aisle. On Thursday, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) directly challenged Geithner to quit his post during a heated exchange at a Joint Economic Committee hearing. The Republican told Geithner that the public has lost confidence in his ability to do his job and asked him to step aside. Geithner shot back that he agreed with “almost nothing of what you said— and blamed Republicans for creating a financial crisis Democrats are trying to clean up.Jennifer Bendery contributed to this report.