In a press conference designed to focus on the appointment of Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Barack Obama was besieged almost entirely with questions about the role he and his staff played (or didn't play) in the Rod Blagojevich corruption scandal.
The President-elect gamely fielded three questions on the issue and addressed it in his opening remarks, saying (twice) that he was appalled and disappointed "by the revelations earlier this week." He declared that he "had no contact with the governor's office" and "did not speak to the governor" about the process of who should replace him as Senator. "That I know for certain," Obama said.
Obama also said that he had "not been contacted by any federal officials" regarding Blagojevich's plans to auction off his seat to the highest bidder. He offered a similar assurance for his staff: "We have not been interviewed by them."
"As is reflected in the U.S. Attorney's report," Obama added, "we were not perceived by the governor's office as amenable to any deal-making."
Pressed on several occasions to reveal the extent, if any, of his staff's contact with the Illinois Governor -- contact that likely took place, considering Obama's seat was under discussion -- the President-elect urged a bit of patience.
"I have asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the governor about this vacancy so that we can share them with you over the next few days," he said. "What I'm absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal-making about my Senate seat ... That would be a violation of everything this campaign was about and that is not how we do business."
The Blagojevich scandal did not entirely dominate the press conference. Obama began by raising concerns about the rising number of jobless claims and the struggles of the auto industry. The fourth and final question actually focused on an issue of substance: how would Obama pay for an expansion of health care coverage in time of massive budget shortfalls?
"What we want to make sure is that any plan that we have starts with the premise that rising costs are unsustainable," said the President-elect. "We can't insure everybody under the current program without bankrupting the government, business or states. We are going to spend a lot of time figuring out how to streamline the system," He added. "We are also going to examine programs that aren't giving us a good bang for our buck."
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