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.
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The news about Mr. Daschle and Ms. Killefer drowned out the other news of the day: Obama’s choice of a new Commerce secretary, Sen. Judd Gregg (R) of New Hampshire. Senator Gregg’s selection, if confirmed by the Senate, will mean three Republicans in his cabinet – the most by an opposition party since the Franklin Roosevelt administration.Skip to next paragraph
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Bipartisanship has been another watchword of the Obama administration, but Gregg’s selection becomes a footnote on the day. Gov. John Lynch (D) of New Hampshire appointed a Republican – Bonnie Newman, a former aide to Gregg – to replace the Commerce nominee in the Senate. Gregg had made it clear he would not take the job if he was going to be replaced by a Democrat – potentially handing the Democrats a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
Not asked to drop out
At his briefing, Gibbs asserted repeatedly that both Daschle and Killefer withdrew their names and were not asked to drop out. That raised questions about why Obama would want to keep top officials with tainted ethical profiles. Obama affirmed his support of Daschle as recently as Monday, saying he backed him “absolutely.”
The loss of Daschle’s expertise on the American healthcare system and his background as the former Senate majority leader was seen as a blow to the Obama administration, which is planning a major healthcare reform initiative. Still, his work at a Washington law firm for various clients – including those in healthcare – raised questions about appearances. Daschle is not a registered lobbyist, but his work, and its potential conflicts of interest, would have been an area of inquiry in his confirmation hearings.
After 25 years in the Congress, including 10 years as Senate Democratic leader, Daschle remained popular on Capitol Hill. Several hours after he withdrew his nomination, the reigning wisdom inside the Beltway was that Daschle may well have survived the confirmation process. He had apologized profusely for the tax oversight, which he called an embarrassment, and paid what he owed, including interest and penalties.
“Tom Daschle is as honest and decent and honorable as any human being I’ve ever known,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota, before a closed meeting with the Senate Finance Committee on the Daschle nomination on Monday.
But the intense controversy around tax issues was taking a toll both on supporters and on the nominee. As Daschle rounded the corridor to the Finance panel meeting to face a wall of cameras and reporters, he flushed deep red.
After the meeting, Democrats on the Finance panel publicly defended his nomination, but acknowledged that winning confirmation would not be easy.Republicans said the confirmation fight would have cost the president, especially in the wake of a Jan. 26 vote for Treasury Secretary Geithner. Thirty-four senators, including three Democrats and an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, voted against that confirmation.
A loss for healthcare reform?
Many advocates for healthcare reform believe Senator Daschle’s withdrawal is a loss.