Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign and then in the speeches he’s given during his first few months in office, President Obama has gone out of his way to distance himself from the policies of the Bush administration on everything from the economy to diplomacy and the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Yet, on a variety of issues, perhaps most notably the people being held in that facility, Obama’s position has been far closer to his predecessor’s than his campaign promises seemed to suggest.
The same now appears to be true for Obama’s pledge to create a more transparent White House. The Obama team is refusing to comply with a request to disclose a list of health industry officials who have visited the White House. In doing so, they’re embracing an argument previously employed by the Bush administration.
The catalyst for the refusal was a letter that government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sent to the Secret Service asking to see the White House visiting records. In question were visits made by 18 health industry executives, including Billy Tauzin, a former congressman who’s now president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and William Weldon, the chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson. CREW wanted to assess the impact these visits might be having on the current debate over healthcare reform.
In response, the organization received a letter from the Secret Service claiming that White House visitor logs are exempt from public disclosure laws. That’s the same argument the Bush administration used to block public access to the names of oil and coal industry players who came to the White House to meet with then-Vice President Cheney in 2001. CREW has now said it will file suit against the Obama administration in order to get the records released.
As the Plum Line’s Greg Sargent observes, the situation’s made all the more ironic by the fact that the Obama campaign Web site still boasts the president’s vow to make the government less secretive. It reads, “Release Presidential Records: Obama and Biden will nullify the Bush attempts to make the timely release of presidential records more difficult.”