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U.S. Treasury's Geithner seems safe -- for now

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some people are calling for his head, but U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s job seems safe -- at least for now, based on solid and repeated statements of support from his boss, President Barack Obama.

Analysts reading the signs from the White House think Geithner has survived what many view as an unsteady performance since taking over the hot seat on January 26, with a central role in efforts to revive the stumbling U.S. economy.

He got off to a bad start even before being confirmed in his job with the revelation that he had unpaid taxes.

In office he has been criticized at every step, including questions last week about whether he should have been in a position to stop insurance giant AIG, which was propped up with tax-payer money, from giving out $165 million in executive bonuses.

A strong response in the stock market to the Treasury Department’s plan announced on Monday to persuade private investors to help rid banks of up to $1 trillion in toxic assets was seen as helpful to Geithner.

“That’s a very important ratification of Geithner in the first instance,” said Democratic strategist Douglas Schoen, who worked in the Clinton White House. “If Obama for whatever reason were to jettison Geithner now, it would be the equivalent of jettisoning a large part of his credibility and position.”

“SORRY BUDDY”

Obama has repeatedly expressed confidence in the 47-year-old Geithner, who came to Washington after serving as a Federal Reserve governor in New York. His most recent statement of support came on Sunday in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview.

Obama, asked if Geithner had offered to resign, Obama said no. “And he shouldn’t. And if he were to come to me, I’d say, ‘Sorry, buddy. You’ve still got the job.’”

“But look, he’s got a lot of stuff on his plate. And he is doing a terrific job. And I take responsibility for not, I think, having given him as much help as he needs,” he said.

Geithner told CBNC on Monday it was a great privilege to serve at treasury and that criticism of his performance “comes with the job.”

“We have to make hard choices. We’re not going to satisfy everybody. But we’re doing our best, again, to move as aggressive as we can to try to fix this mess, get recovery back on track here,” he said.

Economist William Galston of the Brookings Institution said Obama’s support for Geithner seemed wide and deep, particularly after taking a political hit for sticking with Geithner despite him having unpaid taxes.

“The president has paid a significant political price to attain and retain his services and clearly believes that price is worth paying. I have never doubted that he would support Geithner to the hilt,” Galston said.

Political analyst Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute said a Geithner departure would raise the question of “who are you going to put in” at Treasury.

A departure now would lead to a void at a critical time in the effort to revive the U.S. economy, he said.

“If you don’t pick somebody who has already been through a Senate confirmation, it’s going to take a couple of months. This is not a time when you’re going to say, ‘I’m bringing somebody else in. You’re out, Tim. We’ll have an acting secretary,’” Ornstein said.

There has been plenty of grousing about Geithner in the U.S. Congress but actual calls for his resignation have been limited to a few opposition Republicans.

“We clearly need someone who has the skills to handle the job and can instill confidence in the American people, in the taxpayers, and in my opinion Tim Geithner is not the person,” Florida Republican Representative Connie Mack told CNN.

Democrats in control of Congress have largely held their fire.

A Republican congressional aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said calls for Geithner’s resignation had largely been limited because there was little taste for going through another Senate confirmation hearing that could lead to delays in helping the economy.

“It’s also one of those things where you give the guy a shot. He’s had a rough couple of weeks,” the aide said.

Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by David Storey

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