White House having to play the “confidence” game

January 8, 2010

The “confidence” game that presidents end up having to play is a well-worn Washington tradition. It unfolds at a time when things just aren’t going well and the hunt for someone to blame is on.

OBAMA/The game begins with a question to the White House about whether the president has confidence in so-and-so. Then the response is dissected into tea leaves for analyzing whether the administration official will have a short or long future in serving the president.

On Friday, it was Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner being weighed on the confidence scale.

The question came up at the White House press briefing in the context of stories about AIG.

Question: “Various liberals have jumped on this and other stories about Secretary Geithner, to say that he really is not fit to serve as Treasury Secretary.  He still has the president’s full confidence?”

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs: “Of course.”

It was the second expression of presidential confidence from Gibbs this week.

Earlier in the week, Gibbs was asked whether President Barack Obama still had confidence in his security team after the botched Christmas Day airplane attack. Gibbs responded that Obama had confidence in his homeland security secretary, CIA director and national intelligence director.SECURITY-AIRLINES/USA

Obama would probably be facing more of those questions himself, but he hasn’t had a primetime news conference since July.

Gibbs groused that the last time the media discussed Obama’s press schedule they were wondering whether he was overexposed from holding frequent news conferences.

In any case, this week’s responses from Gibbs on the question of confidence probably signal that none of the officials in question are leaving anytime soon.

It’s when the press secretary starts reciting the person’s credentials and past achievements without confirming presidential confidence that the official may want to start circulating the resume.

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Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Obama and Geithner in December), Reuters/Jason Reed (White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, Gibbs, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano)

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