Three months after taking point
on health care reform, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) is embroiled in scandal
over working to secure his girlfriend a job as a U.S. attorney. Baucus,
whose position as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee makes him
one of the most powerful legislators in Congress, garnered significant praise
for his role in shepherding a centrist-friendly health care reform
bill. But now attention focuses on Baucus's recommendation of
Melodee Hanes, his girlfriend and former staffer (Baucus is separated
from his wife). It's a clear conflict of interest, but the seriousness
of the scandal -- and whether it matters at all -- is hotly debated.
- Why It Matters The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder explains. "That Baucus would ignore the conflict of the interest or so easily
dismiss it calls into question his judgment and his ethics. That's a
scandal," he writes. "So far as health care goes, it's a
distraction. And Democrats don't need distractions. They need Baucus to
be a spokesperson for his bill. Now, they're going to have to figure
out a way around his self-created image crisis."
- Clear Nepotism The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus sympathizes.
"Let’s stipulate that the modern workplace can be a messy place. People
work long hours in close quarters. Things happen. Marriages fail," she
writes. "The flip side of accepting the occasional messiness of the
is recognizing that romantic entanglements can limit your career
choices. It would have been perfectly acceptable for Baucus to urge
that a longtime staffer be given the prosecutor post. That same
recommendation becomes inappropriate when sex is involved. Nepotism
rules exist for a reason."
- 'Non-Scandal' The New York Daily News's Michael McAuliff rolls his eyes.
"First of all, senior senators recommend U.S. attorneys to the White
House, and Baucus suggested three, including his beloved Melodee Hanes.
He couldn’t actually give her the job. That’s up to the
administration," he writes. "A final point is that for the job she did
get at the Justice
Department, Baucus purportedly pulled no strings, and Justice officials
are adamant she’s great at the work."
- Baucus's Reccomendation Nothing Special Politico's Manu Raju points out that this is far from unusual. "[I]n a clubby Washington, where political connections are the coin of
the realm when it comes to landing the next big job, Baucus’s move is
almost par for the course — even if it smacks of cronyism to those
outside the Beltway," Raju writes. "Senators of both stripes have long advocated former aides, family
members, friends and fundraisers for key government slots — and that
alone could be enough to spare Baucus any punishment from the Senate
- Washington's Double Standard The Wall Street Journal fumes
that Washington will be far kinder to Baucus than it was to Paul
Wolfowitz, who was shamed out of the World Bank after promoting his
girlfriend. "The ethical uproar was a politically convenient excuse,
fanned by the
media, to oust Mr. Wolfowitz when his real offense was that he was too
hard on corruption," they write. "Mr. Baucus is a crucial player in
health-care reform, and our guess is
that neither Democrats nor their media allies will want to explore this
nepotistic near-miss lest it interfere with that greater political
goal. But if they don't, we will learn a good deal about workplace
ethics and political double standards."
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