Bryson takes leave of absence

After his arrest and hospitalization in Los Angeles over the weekend, Commerce Secretary John Bryson has taken a leave of absence from his job to attend to his health, leaving his deputy Rebecca Blank to fill in as Acting Secretary until his return.  Politico considers this bad news for Barack Obama, in a month that has started badly and will probably only get worse:

It was an uncomfortable way to start the week, making it impossible for the White House to reset its economic message after Obama had to walk back his “the private sector is doing fine” comment from Friday. That self-inflicted wound came in a news conference meant to divert from a series of bad news cycles: the massive Democratic loss in the Wisconsin recall, Bill Clinton’s off-message adventures, national security leaks, the dismal May jobs report and his own fundraising numbers for the month showing him millions of dollars behind Mitt Romney.

June’s already shaping up to be one of President Barack Obama’s worst months so far — but it’s not even half over, and his troubles are far from done: The Supreme Court decisions on health care and Arizona’s immigration law loom, as does the continuing trouble over the launch of the national security leaks investigations.

But even the Bryson story is proving difficult for a White House that’s under attack: Speaking to reporters Monday for the first time since the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced that Bryson had hit two cars and was being investigated for a hit and run, White House press secretary Jay Carney wouldn’t confirm the incidents, nor would he say Bryson was fit to serve. Carney repeatedly referred reporters to the Commerce Department and would not comment on the seizure to which the Commerce Department said Bryson attributed the situation. …

Republicans have been calling Obama out of touch on the economy, but Carney’s account indicated Obama wasn’t kept fully up to date with the events about one of his own Cabinet secretaries.

Carney described the White House as unaware of Bryson’s Saturday accidents for a whole day after they happened, not learning of them until Sunday evening. Chief of staff Jack Lew spoke with Bryson on Monday morning, when Obama was first informed of the incident.

Bryson’s arrest for felony hit and run and his hospitalization certainly aren’t a great way to start a week, certainly, but I’m not sure if it’s bad news for Obama, at least not in the campaign sense that Politico’s Reid Epstein proposes. The circumstances of the accidents make it pretty clear that Bryson was significantly impaired, and assuming that no drugs or alcohol were involved, that means some sort of organic brain issue, for which Bryson could hardly be blamed. Thanks to the low profile of Commerce Secretaries in general and Bryson in particular, no one’s going to notice the difference.

In fact, the leave of absence is probably good news for Obama for that very reason.  Had Bryson resigned, Obama would have had to nominate a new Commerce Secretary and endure a Senate confirmation hearing in the next couple of months.  Even if the new nominee had proven popular in the Senate, the hearings would have allowed Republicans to ask detailed and pointed questions about Obama’s economic policies and regulatory efforts, with the media on hand to provide coverage for the answers.  This way, Obama gets to avoid all of that by having Blank fill in for Bryson — perhaps all the way to the end of the year.

June will be a bad month for Obama, without a doubt, with most of the bad news self-inflicted.  But Bryson’s arrest and leave of absence will be nothing more than a footnote.  If the House ends up voting on contempt charges for Eric Holder, it won’t even be the worst news from the Cabinet.

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