The Aftermath of Baucus’ Admission

By Beacon Staff

As is often the case when a politician releases this sort of information, Montana Sen. Max Baucus waited for the weekend to announce that he had nominated his girlfriend for appointment as Montana’s U.S. attorney.

To be clear, Baucus has maintained that he did nothing wrong, calling Melodee Hanes, whom he now lives with in Washington, D.C., “highly qualified” – although she later withdrew from consideration. Meanwhile, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has called for a Senate Ethics Committee Investigation.

The story had since made its way through the news cycle and opinions vary on what this mini-scandal means. Here’s a few excerpts:

Ben Smith at POLITICO: When Max Baucus was the pivotal player in the health care debate — that is, last month — the report that he tried to get his girlfriend appointed U.S. Attorney would have been a major blow to the process. Now it’s a distraction — and, perhaps, a bullet partially dodged.

mcjoan at Daily Kos: The learning curve among politicians on these things is, well, non-existent. They just don’t learn. The relationship wasn’t the cause of either party’s divorces, Baucus’s spokesman says, and Baucus didn’t help her get her current position in the Justice Department. Nonetheless, this is a development Dems really did not need, given Baucus’s prominent role in the healthcare reform debate, and the number of difficulties they’re already dealing with.

Emptywheel: But while we’re getting all scandalized about Baucus’s bad judgment, let’s talk about the bad judgment that did hurt taxpayers, rather than the one that almost did: the way in which the revolving door on his committee staff made it very easy for the insurance industry to write the Senate’s health care reform bill. I’m much more offended–and directly affected–by the fact that former Wellpoint VP Liz Fowler wrote the Senate health care bill than I am that Baucus nominated, then withdrew, his mistress for a plum job.

Travis Kavulla at electriccitywebblog: Is anyone really surprised by this?

Max Baucus’s staff is legendary for tempering problems big and small, working Max’s image like it were a commodity to be traded, wincing at his epic meanders in front of audiences and before camera, and in general “Managing Max.”

Pogie at Intelligent Discontent: I suspect we’re in for a long couple of weeks of half-hearted legalistic justifications and rationalizations for what was clearly an unethical, disappointing act by the senior Senator. One has to wonder if the members of the world’s greatest deliberative body ought not spend more time thinking about their personal lives and ethical obligations.

Pete Talbot at 4&20 blackbirds: In some respects, this scandal is almost refreshing. Hey, Max is a human being, not just an automaton for the banking, insurance and health care industries. You see, I hold Max accountable for much more egregious behavior:

Gawker: Baucus’ office is being pretty aggressive in getting out in front of this story, so unless something terribly embarrassing comes out (text messages? nudez? golf club attack?) we don’t think this will change the dynamics of the reform debate too much. In fact, let’s watch chummy Senators close ranks around their pal Max. Though Michael Steele is trying to make it a thing, but he is a clown.

Ruth Marcus at Washington Post: No harm, no foul, maybe, but another illustration of how public officials can be perfectly obtuse to the perfectly obvious. Then again, Baucus benefits from his enemies: Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele went, as usual, way too far, asserting that Baucus “used his Senate office to advance a taxpayer-funded appointment for his staff-member girlfriend” and demanding a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into “why Senator Baucus put his personal needs above those of the people of Montana.”

Unfair — and also just what Baucus should have expected from such a boneheaded move.