Daschle Withdraws Nomination

Posted February 3, 2009 at 11:51am

Updated: 1:29 p.m.

Plagued by questions about his failure to pay more than $100,000 in taxes, former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) on Tuesday asked President Barack Obama to withdraw his nomination to be secretary of Health and Human Services.

In a statement released by the White House, Daschle said the job of running HHS and reforming the nation’s health care system would require someone with “the full faith of Congress and the American people,” adding. “Right now, I am not that leader, and will not be a distraction.”

In a separate statement by Obama, the president said: “Tom made a mistake, which he has openly acknowledged.” He noted that neither he nor Daschle had excused the error. “I accept his decision with sadness and regret,” Obama said.

There was no word on a replacement for Daschle.

Reactions from his former colleagues were mixed. Democrats expressed disappointment, while Republicans, generally, said the decision was the appropriate one.

“That’s sad, and unfortunate. He had a lot to offer the country,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), also a close ally of Obama’s.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who earlier Tuesday said he would not support Daschle’s nomination, said Daschle’s tax problems were simply too great. He called it “a little too much to swallow.”

“I’m afraid the story got worse and worse. I think he did a service to President Obama. I think it would’ve looked bad for the Senate to close ranks on a former Member,” Cornyn said.

It remained unclear whether Senators would have rejected Daschle’s nomination had it made it to the Senate floor, but several Republicans, including Cornyn, were ready to oppose it. Earlier Tuesday, conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) urged Obama to withdraw the nomination.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a Finance Committee member who met behind closed doors with the embattled nominee on Monday night, was unaware of the news. He said: “He’s made his decision, I respect his decision. We go on from there.”

“What?” said a visibly shaken Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), informed of Daschle’s withdrawal by reporters as she exited the Senate floor to head into the policy lunch.

“To tell you the truth I’m in shock,” she said. “I didn’t know that. I don’t know what happened … he would have been a great addition to the Cabinet. He can get things done on the Hill, which is a good thing. If you don’t know the Hill it’s a problem.”

DeMint called it “unfortunate,” but he said “it was for the good of the Obama administration and [its] credibility. He promised change, and the American people were starting to sense that this was not change at all.”