By Dana Milbank, Published: June 11
It has been a Junius Horribilis for President Obama.
Job growth has stalled, the Democrats have been humiliated in Wisconsin, the attorney general is facing a contempt-of-Congress citation, talks with Pakistan have broken down, Bill Clinton is contradicting Obama, Mitt Romney is outraising him, Democrats and Republicans alike are complaining about a “cascade” of national-security leaks from his administration, and he is now on record as saying that the “private sector is doing fine.”
Could it get any worse?
Early Monday morning, Obama learned that it could. His aides delivered the news to him that his commerce secretary had been cited for a felony hit-and-run after allegedly crashing his car three times over the weekend. In one incident, the previously obscure Cabinet officer apparently rear-ended a Buick, spoke to the car’s occupants, then hit the vehicle again as he left.
Thus did Jay Carney, the oft-besieged White House press secretary, have another briefing carjacked by bad news. And Carney, who either didn’t know the details of the bizarre episode or wasn’t at liberty to divulge them, had to execute a full range of defensive maneuvers.
“I can simply tell you that he was engaged, as has been reported, in a couple of traffic incidents,” Carney began, as if the secretary, John Bryson, had been photographed by a speed camera or two. Bryson “suffered a seizure, was hospitalized. But beyond that I’ll refer you to Commerce for the details.”
“Is the secretary healthy and fit to serve?” inquired Ben Feller of the Associated Press.
“I would refer you to the Commerce Department.”
Ann Compton of ABC News asked whether the White House chief of staff, who spoke to Bryson, considers the incident serious.
“I don’t have a specific response to give you,” Carney said.
CNN’s Brianna Keilar asked about “the timing of the seizure in relation to the accident.”
“I would refer you, as I said in the past, to the Department of Commerce,” Carney answered.
“I’ve been asking them for hours,” Keilar protested.
“I think I would refer you to the Commerce Department,” was Carney’s rote reply.
The former journalist informed the questioners that he “was not a presiding doctor on this case” and could confirm only that “the commerce secretary was alone, he had a seizure, he was involved in an accident.”
“He was involved in several accidents,” called out April Ryan of American Urban Radio.