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Obama's Lobbyist Rule Runs Up Against Reality, His Own Nominees

11:18 AM, Jan 22, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Despite signing an executive order yesterday that would prevent lobbyists in his administration from working in the areas for which they lobbied, his Deputy Secretary of Defense nominee most recently lobbied for one of the biggest defense contractors in the U.S.- Raytheon.

The obvious contradiction is bothering even Democrats overseeing his nomination:

"I have no reason to impugn Mr. Lynn's integrity, but it's a problem," said Claire McCaskill , a Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "You can't just recuse yourself from huge programs at the Pentagon if you're going to do that job."

Following his Jan. 15 confirmation hearing, McCaskill, of Missouri, said she was considering placing a hold on Lynn's nomination because she doubts Lynn can separate his recent work on behalf of Raytheon from the job of chief operating officer at the Pentagon.

Senate Republicans, who have offered some push-back on other troubled nominees like Tim Geithner and Hillary Clinton, are gearing up once again to ask strongly-worded questions:

Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the No. 2 Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said he wants clarification from the administration on how the Lynn appointment fits into the new rules.

"While I announced my support for Mr. Lynn's nomination, the announcement of the new ethics executive order is puzzling," Inhofe said.

Surely Obama saw this coming down the pike, and will offer some sort of convoluted answer about lobbyists that includes the phrase, "I have consistently said" preceding a statement that he most certainly has not consistently said.

Or, he might just send his press secretary out to say, "Rules are made to be broken, people."

"Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. "Our waiver provisions are designed to allow uniquely qualified individuals like Bill Corr and Bill Lynn to serve the public interest in these critical times."

Update: Senate Democrats are taking Obama's new rules to heart even if he's not. Carl Levin was on the Hill today wondering whether Bill Lynn's nomination will get through Obama's new rules:

Given the President's new stricter rules requiring his appointees to recuse themselves from matters or issues on which they have lobbied, the Senate Armed Services Committee will need further information before proceeding with the nomination of William J. Lynn III to be Deputy Secretary of Defense.

The committee will await the administration's assessment as to whether the new rules will preclude Mr. Lynn, who was a registered lobbyist for a defense contractor, from participating in key Department of Defense decisions, and if so, whether a waiver will be forthcoming and what the scope of the waiver will be.

Meanwhile, Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters in his first White House press briefing that there will be a "waiver process" set up for lobbyists the Obama team thinks are A-OK to serve their country, like Lynn.