Senate Democrats just emerged from an hour-long meeting to discuss the tax filing errors that have thrown Tom Daschle’s nomination as health secretary into disarray. That Daschle’s former colleagues are vociferously supporting him is to be expected, but Democrats were surprisingly confident that the former Senate leader would ascend to President Obama’s Cabinet.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), powerful chairman of the Finance Committee, gave Daschle his vote of confidence, followed by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Kent Conrad (D-ND). Daschle will have his confirmation hearing before Finance next week.
Other Democratic senators provided silent support in the background, with Republicans apparently sneaking out of the meeting in order to avoid the press.
The pro-Daschle appearance, staged in a corridor outside the Finance Committee’s marble-walled hearing room, boasted only one mea culpa — that of the nominee himself. The Democratic senators were more than happy to point fingers at Leo Hindery, the telecom mogul who paid for Daschle’s private car and driver, for not sending the nominee a 1099 form indicating that Daschle would need to declare the “gift from a good friend” (Daschle’s phrasing) on his taxes.“The American people have high expectation for those of us who serve the public good,” Daschle told reporters. “That is especially true when it comes to taxes.” He described the errors — for which more than $100,000 in back taxes was eventually paid — as “inadvertent, but that’s no excuse.”
Daschle left the area without taking questions. His last words were almost wistful, given the media scrum that his nomination has become — Daschle reiterated his commitment to helping the White House give Americans “lower cost, higher value insurance … sometime soon.”
Late Update: Here’s the video of Daschle’s apology: