Baucus Makes Nice With Daschle as Nomination Remains in Limbo

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) has just released a statement affirming his commitment to health secretary nominee Tom Daschle, answering a widely circulating Politico report about his longtime frostiness with the former Senate Democratic leader.

Baucus’ statement was as effusive as can be, given his laconic reputation and the uncertain political landscape that faces Daschle:

As indicated by news reports over the weekend, the Senate Finance Committee has been reviewing a number of issues with regard to Senator Daschle’s nomination as part of our vetting process. … I will comment further once I’ve had a chance to hear my fellow Senators’ thoughts. We will also make public the information discovered and reviewed in the vetting process.

I have applauded Senator Daschle’s nomination to the post of HHS Secretary, and my faith in his dedication and qualifications has only been bolstered in recent weeks by our numerous conversations about the pressing need for comprehensive health care reform. The ability to advance meaningful health reform is my top priority in confirming a Secretary of Health and Human Services, and I remain convinced that Senator Daschle would be an invaluable and expert partner in this effort. I am eager to move forward together.

The Finance panel is meeting at 5pm this afternoon to conduct a final review of the issues its investigation has uncovered. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to answer questions on the Daschle flap, which suggests that Republicans are waiting for their members on Finance to weigh in before taking any solidified position on the nomination.

When Daschle lost his re-election bid in 2004, he was the first Senate party leader to fall in more than a half-century — which speaks to how doggedly GOPers fought to unseat him, but also to his uneven record at the Democratic helm. On the other hand, his close ties to senators on both sides of the aisle and his long history with the president suggest that Finance members may move him forward on a divided vote, just as they did Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

Whether Geithner’s troubles have left Finance members too weary of tax scandals remains to be seen.