WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Barack Obama won a big victory when Congress agreed to his economic stimulus plan, but the new U.S. president has also suffered a series of setbacks to his “No-Drama Obama” image in his first weeks in office.
Obama was set to fulfill his goal of signing a bill to provide huge tax cuts and new government spending to arrest the country’s economic slide by mid-February, but other promises have gone unmet.
With a two-year election campaign and two-month transition behind him, Obama is facing even greater scrutiny in the White House where he has made several missteps.
“Clearly, the White House has not been firing on all cylinders but it’s only been three weeks,” said Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia. “A new engine needs a test period.”
He and other analysts said early stumbles do not necessarily foretell a rocky future.
A Democrat, Obama came to Washington vowing to win the support of rival Republicans for an economic plan that would help the United States recover from 14 months of recession. He reached out to them but almost all rebuffed him.
On Tuesday, after Obama raised expectations, investors greeted Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s plan to fix the ailing banking sector with a stock market dive and lawmakers blasted it for being short on details.
Obama’s promise to bar lobbyists from top jobs and thoroughly vet nominees was shredded by a series of embarrassing disclosures. Three nominees for top jobs admitted unpaid taxes.
On Thursday, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg withdrew as Obama’s nominee for Commerce Secretary over policy differences with the new administration — the fourth Obama appointment to a big job to pull out.
Some pundits proclaimed these missteps a sign that it was “amateur hour” at a White House run by a 47-year-old president with only five years on the national political stage.
“There’s a reason why elders are respected. They have something the rest of us don’t have — yet — because we haven’t lived long enough,” conservative columnist Kathleen Parker wrote in the Washington Post.
“We haven’t made the really tough decisions, the ones that are often unpopular.”
Using unusual language for a president, Obama admitted he “screwed up” on some of the nominations. He also suggested that if he failed to rescue the economy, the country would have a different president in four years.
Despite commentators’ criticism, the public still approves of Obama’s first few weeks in office and he maintains a positive rating of roughly 65 percent.
Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel denied that the setbacks signal a rocky start.
Emanuel said Obama had chalked up several other victories, including persuading Congress to release a second $350 billion in a financial rescue package and passage of a bill to bolster children’s health programs.
“As the president has always indicated, there will be days that will be setbacks, days that will be disappointments,” Emanuel said.
University of Texas government professor Bruce Buchanan said Obama’s efforts to reach out to Republicans may pay off later.
“Any time the president makes a gesture that doesn’t seem to immediately achieve results, people say that constitutes a rookie mistake. But that’s premature,” said Buchanan.
Asked what was next for Obama, Emanuel listed the effort to overhaul financial regulations, stem housing foreclosures and promote renewable energy.
Editing by Howard Goller and Alan Elsner