WASHINGTON — On his second day in office, President Barack Obama pledged "an unprecedented level of openness in government" — an executive memorandum that his administration now says does not apply to calls for his social secretary to testify on Capitol Hill.
The scandal over the state dinner breach by a Virginia couple hardly evokes the weight of Watergate or Sept. 11. But that has not stopped some in Congress from demanding an in-person explanation from social secretary Desiree Rogers, who was in charge of the dinner.
Obama's top aides — echoing former President George W. Bush — say the idea of sending the woman in charge of White House parties to a congressional committee runs counter to history and separation of powers.
It's an argument that some scholars found to be a stretch. "It doesn't even pass the laugh test, to be quite blunt about it," said Mark Rozell, a George Mason University public policy professor. "This definitely goes against the president's own pledge for a more open administration, and to move beyond the secrecy practices of the Bush era."
The committee's top Republican, New York's Peter King, said it's critical that the White House allow Rogers to testify. The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, is reluctant to subpoena Rogers — an Obama political appointee — because he maintains the Secret Service is responsible for security.
Obama's top aides made clear that they had no intention of sending Rogers to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. "Based on the separation of powers, staff here don't go to testify in front of Congress," press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday.
Emily Berman, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU's law school, said Obama has "in many ways fallen into the trap that a lot of leaders do. They come in with the best of intentions and the most forceful rhetoric. But they find that the temptations of governing push quite a bit against the initial statements."