Did the White House offer Joe Sestak a job?

Rep. Joe Sestak is in a tough primary race against Obama-backed Senator Arlen Specter. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs for the first time responded to questions about whether the White House offered Sestak a post to lure him out of the race.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Rep. Joe Sestak (D) of Pennsylvania speaks before a gathering sponsored by labor unions and citizen activist groups on Jan. 30 in Harrisburg, Pa. He is facing Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary for Specter's Senate seat.

The White House has answered – sort of – the question of whether someone offered Rep. Joe Sestak (D) of Pennsylvania a job in the administration in exchange for not challenging Sen. Arlen Specter (D) of Pennsylvania in his run for reelection.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday: “I have talked to several people in the White House. I’ve talked to people that have talked to others in the White House. I’m told that whatever conversations have been had are not problematic. I think Congressman Sestak has discussed that – this is, whatever happened is in the past, and he’s focused on his primary election.”

The issue has been percolating for weeks. Last month, Philadelphia TV newsman Larry Kane asked Congressman Sestak if he had been offered “a high-ranking job in the administration” to get him not to run for the Senate. “Yes,” Sestak replied.

Mr. Kane asked him if the job was Navy secretary. Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, declined to comment. Since then, the issue has come up in Gibbs briefings regularly, but with no answer.

Last week, Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to White House counsel Robert Bauer saying that if Sestak’s statement were true, administration officials may have broken a law that prohibits government employees from interfering with a political campaign.

The Obama White House has been actively involved in certain Senate races, encouraging some potential candidates to run for open seats and discouraging others from running against Democratic incumbents.

When Senator Specter switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party last April, the Democratic establishment – including the Obama White House – rallied around him. Sestak trails Specter in polls by double digits, but it’s still a challenge the five-term senator must take seriously in the May 18 Democratic primary.

Whoever wins that primary is likely to face a tough general election in November against former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania.

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