The White House was again on the defensive Thursday after a Democrat said he had been approached about possible administration jobs to discourage him from opposing President Barack Obama's favored candidate in a Senate race.
The administration denied accusations of back-room dealmaking, but the claim by Andrew Romanoff, a Senate candidate from Colorado, called into question repeated promises by Obama to run an open government that was above private political deal-making.
Last Friday, an embarrassed White House admitted that it had turned to former President Bill Clinton last year to approach a Senate candidate in Pennsylvania about backing out of a Democratic primary in favor of an unpaid position on a federal advisory board.
The revelations have created new headaches for Obama and Democrats ahead of the November congressional election. Obama has seen his poll numbers dip as he struggles to deal with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and a weak economy.
Republicans have charged that Obama's promise to change the ways of Washington has given way to the kind of politics he campaigned against.
"Rather than running a federal government facing a devastating economic crisis, two wars, and now perhaps the worst environmental disaster in history, the White House chief of staff and his deputy are acting like Chicago party bosses," said Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele in a statement. "Who is running the store?"
The White House acknowledged that one of Obama's top advisers encouraged Romanoff to apply for an international development job instead of running for the Senate.
The aide "wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement Thursday.
But once the aide learned Romanoff was determined to run against incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet, Gibbs said, "There was no offer of a job."
The situation again called into question repeated promises by Obama to run an open government that is above secret political horse-trading.
"Clearly, Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff aren't isolated incidents and are indicative of a culture that embraces the politics-as-usual mentality that the American people are sick and tired of," said Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who has unsuccessfully sought a Justice Department investigation into the Sestak matter.
Romanoff on Wednesday night released a copy of an e-mail in which White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina described three federal international development jobs that might be available to him if he were not challenging Bennet for the Democratic Senate nomination.
"He added that he could not guarantee my appointment to any of these positions," Romanoff said in a statement. "At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina's assistance in obtaining one."
On Thursday, Gibbs said Romanoff had applied for a position at the U.S. Agency for International Development during the transition period before Obama took office in January 2009.
Gibbs said Messina "called and e-mailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the U.S. Senate. Months earlier, the President had endorsed Bennet for the Colorado seat, and Messina wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters.
"But Romanoff said that he was committed to the Senate race and no longer interested in working for the administration, and that ended the discussion," Gibbs said.
Sestak also declined his offer, and he defeated Sen. Arlen Specter late last month after disclosing the job discussions as evidence of his antiestablishment credentials. He said last week he had rejected Clinton's feeler in less than a minute.
In a two-page report on the Sestak case, the White House counsel said the administration did nothing illegal or unethical. Republicans weren't appeased.
"Just how deep does the Obama White House's effort to invoke Chicago-style politics for the purpose of manipulating elections really go?" Issa asked on Wednesday.
Bennet has outpaced Romanoff in fundraising and support from Washington, although party activists attending the state party assembly last month favored the challenger by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent. The primary is Aug. 10.
Colorado's governor appointed Bennet to the Senate seat to fill out the final two years of the term of Ken Salazar, who resigned to become Obama's interior secretary.