Obama faces tough question over Cabinet picks

Published 11:58 pm Monday, February 9, 2009

President Barack Obama wanted to talk about his economic proposal he says would save or create more than 3 million jobs. One woman in the audience instead wanted to talk about the tax troubles that have snagged some of Obama’s Cabinet picks.

Obama visited this northern Indiana town on Monday to pitch his jobs-and-infrastructure plan that also would cut taxes and inject billions into the nation’s struggling economy. After a 17-minute speech, he turned the event over to unscreened guests. That’s when one woman asked the new president directly about his Cabinet picks.

“You’ve come to our county and asked us to trust you, but those that you have appointed to your Cabinet are not trustworthy and can’t handle their own budget and taxes,” the woman said to boos.

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Obama cut off the rowdy crowd and said he wanted to hear the question and then respond.

“I’m one of those that thinks you need to have a beer with Sean Hannity,” said the woman, citing the conservative Fox News personality.

Obama acknowledged what he called “honest mistakes.”

His first pick for commerce secretary, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, withdrew amid a grand jury investigation into how campaign donors received state contracts. Similarly, former Sen. Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination to run Health and Human Services after acknowledging he had not paid taxes on a car and driver service.

Both, Obama said, were “honest mistakes.”

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who also had tax problems, won Senate confirmation.

“Now, with respect to Sean Hannity, I didn’t know that he had invited me for a beer,” Obama said. “You know, but — I will take that under advisement. Generally, his opinion of me does not seem to be very high, but, but I’m always good for a beer.”

During his marathon campaign, Obama conducted scores of such town hall-style meetings. He returned to that format on Monday, his first public trip from the White House to stump for his legislation.

He even renewed his “boy-girl-boy-girl” rotation for the questions; as a candidate, Obama would take questions from the audience from a man and then a woman. The back-and-forth mode clearly amused him during his two years on the trail; as president, he brought it back during a town hall-style meeting in economically hard-hit Indiana.

Obama explained the rules:

“Here’s the deal on questions: First of all, we didn’t screen anybody, so there’s some people who like me in the audience, some people that don’t, some people agree with me, some people who don’t. It doesn’t matter. We want to take questions from everybody,” Obama said as he wandered across the stage built in a high school gym.

He also asked the 1,700-person audience to raise their hands, wait until aides gave them microphones and announced their names.

“And the last thing I’m going to do is I’m going to go girl, boy, girl, boy, so that nobody gets mad at me, all right?” Obama said.