With Daschle's withdrawal, can Obama repair image as ‘change’ agent?
The nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services bowed out Tuesday over tax missteps, as did another Obama pick.
WASHINGTON – It was the worst day yet in Barack Obama’s young presidency: two failed high-level appointments, one of them a close confidant, Tom Daschle, whom he had nominated for Health and Human Services secretary and White House health czar.Skip to next paragraph
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By the end of Tuesday, President Obama had placed the focus squarely on himself. “I screwed up,” he told network television. But the image, just a day earlier, of Obama strongly defending a cabinet nominee who was caught owing $128,000 in back taxes will be hard to erase.
The demise of Mr. Daschle’s nomination demonstrates the challenge a new president faces in staffing his administration with people who know the ways of Washington and can hit the ground running but aren’t tainted by their associations. As a former Senate majority leader, Daschle stood to make a lot of money through his connections – and he did. Questions had also been raised about speaking fees he had received from healthcare groups, a potential conflict of interest, as he prepared Obama’s initiative to reform the system.
The Daschle brouhaha grew especially toxic because it was one of a series: first, the withdrawal of Commerce secretary nominee Bill Richardson, over an investigation into political donations; Treasury secretary Tim Geithner’s own tax delinquency, which he survived; and Nancy Killefer’s withdrawal, two hours before Daschle’s, as chief White House performance officer, again over unpaid taxes.
Obama acknowledged in his interview with NBC News that there can’t be two sets of rules, “you know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes.”
Some analysts suggested that perhaps Obama had set standards that were too high, but Obama has made clear he intends to press ahead with his inaugural promise of a “new era of responsibility.”
If Obama had kept trying to muscle through Daschle’s nomination in the Senate, it would have undermined his efforts at economic stimulus and reform. On Wednesday, Obama and Mr. Geithner announced that they will limit the pay of executives from companies that received federal bailout money.
At the regular afternoon briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs tried to control the damage, but his unwillingness to look back at where these personnel choices went awry left reporters frustrated.
“The president has confidence in the process,” Mr. Gibbs said several times, while acknowledging that the president “takes responsibility” for the series of personnel snags.