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Blanket TV coverage as Obama sells plan

PRESIDENT Barack Obama planned yesterday to blanket United States television with the message that Congress must approve hundreds of billions of dollars to fight off economic collapse.

In more normal times, Obama's plans to name a third Republican to his Cabinet - New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg as commerce secretary - would have dominated White House news.

But with the US facing an uncertain financial future, rising unemployment and discouraging economic data, Gregg's nomination falls to a distant second after Obama's plan to grant interviews to every national television network.

Obama campaigned for the presidency and took office promising to yank Washington out of decades of bitter bipartisanship but has struggled on the stimulus measure despite his unprecedented courting of the opposition party even before he was inaugurated.

Republicans want to reshape his massive stimulus plan - budgeted at US$819 billion as it passed the House of Representatives and rising to nearly US$900 billion under debate in the Senate.

While issuing praise of the highly popular president's call for quick stimulus action, they have been attacking their Democratic congressional colleagues for what they say is loading the measure down with pet projects and failing to provide larger tax cuts.

Obama bore down on fellow Democratic congressional leaders at a White House meeting late on Monday and planned to talk economics with party rank-and-file at House and Senate retreats later in the week.

While battling to hold together a stimulus measure acceptable to both parties, Obama faced the unwelcome distraction of a second Cabinet nominee falling under an income tax cloud.

Former Senator Tom Daschle, under Senate scrutiny as secretary of health and human services, apologized on Monday for failing to pay more than US$120,000 in taxes and appealed to his former colleagues to approve him all the same. Obama said he was "absolutely" sticking with his nominee.

The White House at once underscored the magnitude of the problem while trying to minimize Daschle's culpability.

"Nobody's perfect," said press secretary Robert Gibbs, while acknowledging "it was a serious mistake."

There was welcome news when another Cabinet choice, Eric Holder, was confirmed by the Senate late on Monday. Holder was due to be sworn in yesterday to become the first African-American US attorney general.

Holder's nomination had been viewed as problematic because of questions over his role in pardons when he was the No. 2 Justice Department official under President Bill Clinton. Now Holder will be the country's chief law enforcement official as head of the Justice Department.

Holder easily overcame Republican objections over what they considered his insufficient commitment to fight terror and his support for gun control.


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