One residual from Timothy Geithner’s rough confirmation back in January — “Turbo Tax Tim” and all that — is that his political position is probably a bit more precarious than that of the typical newbie treasury secretary.
Not only has Geithner been a frequent target of late-night comedy shows, he’s the public face of the unpopular bank and automaker bailouts. High unemployment rate isn’t helping either.
No surprisingly, a new Rasmussen poll finds that 42 percent of Americans think Geithner has done a “poor” job handling the economy versus 20 percent who rate him “good or excellent.” And the furor over his handling of the AIG bailout has yanked the competence issue back to the forefront.
So there is little political risk from calling for his resignation, as Representative Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, and several Republicans have done. But, my sources say, there seems to be little White House appetite at this moment for ousting Geithner, who certainly has no plans of his own for a fast exit. Expect him to stick around until at least November 2010.
And why would Obama cut him loose when doing so would be tantamount to a vote of disapproval in his own economic policies?
No one has charged Geithner with going rogue, after all. So blame the model, not the man, if you must. Not to mention a quick hook would stink of panic. Top cabinet secretaries of first-term presidents rarely leave before the midterm elections.
Nor does Geithner have much to fear from a whisper campaign to put JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon in the job, according to insiders. Despite the rumors, Dimon doesn’t want the gig. What banker would, given the current populist political climate?
It seems unlikely that radioactive Wall Street will be supplying Geithner’s eventual successor. More likely candidates: Rahm Emanuel (he of the frequent phone calls to Geithner), White House chief of staff; Janet Yellen, president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve; Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council; and Roger Ferguson, CEO of TIAA-CREF and former Fed vice chairman.
But the calls for Geithner’s resignation, as well as stunts like the Congressional Black Caucus blocking a key House committee vote on financial reform, indicate a degree of desperation among congressional Democrats. They see high unemployment and dissatisfaction with Obama’s scattered focus on the issue as driving the anti-incumbent mood.
Unlike in sports, in government it’s the players, not the coach, who gets fired. And that’s why some Dems think one way to save their jobs in 2010 is by suggesting that Geithner lose his today.