Tom Daschle, Survivor

February 2, 2009 10:57 a.m.

At the moment, you have to think Tom Daschle is going to pull this out. It’s possible that his failure to pay taxes on a limo rides and other benefits he accrued from a New York financier may yet do in his nomination to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. But several things have turned Daschle’s way today.

First, he apologized which is a necessary but not sufficent precondition to surviving these things. Second, Max Baucus, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee which has jurisdiction over Daschle’s nomination, came out for him despite a history of tension between the two. Third, Obama stood by Daschle–a sentiment echoed by Robert Gibbs at his press conference although Gibbs used the slightly miffed phrase, “a report we heard this weekend,” about the Daschle contretemps. Fourth: Silence. The blogs are not on fire–yes, there’s Greenwald, I know–but there’s not pitchfork mob calling for his head of the size and scope usually needed to kill a nomination. The optics of the thing are terrible but it’s not deadlyThat said, I’m told that White House Congressional liasion Phil Schiliro, who briefly worked for Daschle before rejoining the staff of Rep. Henry Waxman, as well as the president and Joe Biden are working the phones for Daschle. Obviously, in a situation like this that’s fluid, things can change. If more revelations about Daschle come out or there’s a big populist backlash against it, then that’s going to change the dynamic and put pressure on Daschle to withdraw.

I agree with Josh that firing Daschle is something that would be very hard for Obama to do given the mentoring role that Daschle played in his career. If things go south, I think it’s much more likely Daschle would pull the plug on his own nomination. It’s impossible, I think, to overstate how close Obama and Daschle are. They only go back five years, but they are tight. Pete Rouse, Daschle’s chief of staff, became Obama’s and Daschle was a key mentor for Obama in the ways of the senate. His support also boosted Obama when Hillary was far ahead. It’s telling that when Obama campaigned in South Dakota he had the state apparatus behind him including Tim Johnson and Stephanier Herseth Sandlin and operatives like Steve Hildebrand.

The larger question of whether Daschle is the right guy for the job? Well, you could say that if you’re not able to keep track of your taxes you shouldn’t run the largest–in terms of money–cabinet agency. But without being snarky you have to wonder if Daschle’s political judgement is good enough to be the pointman on health care. His short-lived tenure as majority leader included the decision to draw the line in the sand with Republicans, not over the war or tax cuts, but over union work rules for the Department of Homeland Security. Is he the best person to wage the health care fight? I’m not so sure but apparently Obama is for now.

Nice account from Ambinder about what we know now.

Masthead Masthead
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