Sen. DeMint Weighs In On Daschle

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) says he is glad former Sen. Tom Daschle withdrew as President Barack Obama's pick to be Health and Human Services secretary. DeMint says senators were receiving angry calls from the public about Daschle's tax troubles, and the issue raised question about Obama's ability to lead in a crisis.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Well, one Senator who had pronounced himself very upset with Tom Daschle's situation was Senator Jim DeMint, a Republican of South Carolina who joins us right now. Senator DeMint, are you pleased that Tom Daschle withdrew?

Senator JIM DEMINT (Republican, South Carolina): Well, it's very unfortunate. I regret that this happened to Senator Daschle, but I think it was very important that his nomination be withdrawn for the benefit of President Obama. Some of the credibility that we needed from our president was beginning to come off, some of the promises of change and the hope that a lot of us had in a very high level of integrity in the administration, I think people were beginning to question. The amount of taxes that Daschle didn't pay is much more than most people in this country make. So it's a pretty serious issue, and I'm glad it's resolved. And the president should not be distracted by this.

SIEGEL: Do you think that Senator Daschle was disqualified because of the amount of taxes that he owed per se, or because coming on top of Tim Geithner, this was more than the political traffic would bear?

Sen. DEMINT: Well, I think, really, a little of both. The magnitude that got the attention - and it got more attention because of what we just went through with Geithner. And I think a lot of people are starting to say, hey, these people want us to pay more taxes and they're not willing the pay taxes on their own. We've had a lot of angry calls. So it really wasn't about Tom Daschle in the end. It was about President Obama's leadership. And I think it's good that he was able to put this aside because we really need him to be a forceful leader on this economic situation. And right now, I think a lot of people question that because he seemed have turned the whole thing over to the good old boy appropriators in the House and the Senate.

SIEGEL: Senator DeMint, all the talk today has been about Tom Daschle's taxes owed. But there also has been some discussion about the fact that he went from the Senate, from being a Senate leader, and in the space of just a few years made $5 million in Washington working for law firm - not as a lobby - he was included by Bob Dole, by the former Republican leader in the Senate. Do you find anything at all improper about Senators, in effect, getting rich after their service by being influential strategic advisors for clients?

Sen. DEMINT: Well, I don't want begrudge anyone making some money. And those who have been here a long time have likely sacrificed on the income side. But it does feel wrong, particularly the potential of conflict of interests of after representing a lot of health care companies, making a lot of money from them, then coming back into an administration where he's dealing with health care. I think a lot of Americans just feel uneasy about it. And the whole point of Barack Obama was to change things like that. So the appointment in and of itself of someone who had become a very rich lobbyist driving around in limos, I mean, that was one thing. But then when the tax thing was piled on top of it…

SIEGEL: Oh, when you said that it was one thing, was it one thing that gave you any concern? Or no? Is that…

Sen. DEMINT: Yeah, it gives me concern. The whole system up here of the government handing out so much money and so money tens of thousands of lobbyists here to get that money, it's kind of an insidious problem that we do need to change. But in the Obama administration, despite promises, has not come in and changed it. He's put people around him who have been very involved in lobby community. So, we did have concerns about Daschle, but I don't think that would have discredited him just because he had been a lobbyist. But I think if you add up what happened with Geithner, and they rushed him through before the opposition could build. But then when you come and you add up all the problems on the Tom Daschle side, it just wasn't going to fly.

SIEGEL: Democratic Senators seemed to all come out (unintelligible) that they were standing by Tom Daschle. Was there any more quite grumbling from the other side of the (unintelligible) that you picked up on? Did you get a sense that some Democrats were also frustrated?

Sen. DEMINT: But the Senate is a tightly knit club and we found the same thing with Ted Stevens when, you know, he was convicted. You didn't hear too much from Democrats or Republicans about him needing to leave. And a few of us who did call for his resignation were ostracized, quietly, here. And so, it's a club, but that's what we need to change here. And I'm just very glad that they didn't leave it to us to vote on, because the Democrats here in the Senate would have confirmed Tom Daschle if he was left as a nominee.

SIEGEL: Senator DeMint, thanks for talking with us.

Sen. DEMINT: Thank you, very much.

SIEGEL: Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina.

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Tax Woes Derail Daschle's Bid For Health Chief

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. i i

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle had been up for two administration posts, HHS chief and White House health care czar. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle had been up for two administration posts, HHS chief and White House health care czar.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Tom Daschle withdrew his name from consideration as President Obama's nominee for secretary of health and human services on Tuesday amid questions over his failure to pay more than $140,000 in back taxes and interest.

Daschle's decision came hours after another Obama nominee — former Treasury official Nancy Killefer — announced she was withdrawing her name from consideration for the nation's first chief performance officer because of her own tax problems.

In a statement, Daschle said his years in public service have taught him that revamping the nation's health care system requires a secretary who has the full support of Congress and the American people.

"Right now, I am not that leader. ... The focus of Congress should be on the urgent business of moving the president's economic agenda forward, including affordable health care for every American," Daschle said. "I will not be the architect of America's health system reform, but I remain one of its most fervent [supporters]."

The president accepted Daschle's withdrawal. "Now, we must move forward," Obama said in a written statement.

"Tom made a mistake, which he has openly acknowledged," Obama said. "He has not excused it, nor do I. But that mistake and this decision cannot diminish the many contributions Tom has made to this country."

Daschle had been up for two administration posts, HHS chief and White House health care czar. His decision to step aside came as a surprise on Capitol Hill. On Monday, Obama, Vice President Biden and Senate Democrats said they would stand behind Daschle despite the tax problems and questions about potential conflicts of interest.

Questions about Daschle began swirling last month when the former Senate Democratic leader filed amended returns for 2005-2007 to report $128,203 in back taxes and $11,964 in interest. He owed the money because a friend had provided him with chauffeur service for three years. An aide said Daschle had paid both amounts.

Daschle also faced questions about potential conflicts of interest because of speaking fees he accepted from health care businesses. The former South Dakota senator also had received payments from insurers and hospitals through his work at a law firm after losing his seat in 2004.

Daschle is the third Obama administration nominee to have tax problems.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's confirmation was held up over his failure to pay more than $48,000 in back taxes and interest. He apologized and paid the taxes, but Republicans took him to task during Senate hearings.

Although Killefer's tax bill was far less, she withdrew on Tuesday from consideriation to become chief performance officer, a position intended to increase government efficiency and eliminate waste.

Killefer stated in her withdrawal letter to Obama that she didn't want her tax problem with the District of Columbia government to be a "distraction."

"I recognize that your agenda and the duties facing your chief performance officer are urgent," she wrote. "I have also come to realize in the current environment that my personal tax issue of D.C. unemployment tax could be used to create exactly the kind of distraction and delay those duties must avoid. Because of this, I must reluctantly ask you to withdraw my name from consideration."

The Associated Press reported in January that the District of Columbia government had filed a $946.69 lien on Killefer's home in 2005 for failure to pay unemployment compensation taxes on her household help.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Daschle and Killefer made the decision to step aside on their own.

"I think they both realize you can't set an example of responsibility but accept a different standard in who serves," Gibbs said. "They both decided and recognized nominations will distract from important goals and the critical agenda the president put forward."

Last month, Obama's initial choice for commerce secretary, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, withdrew his name from consideration because of an investigation into a state contract awarded to his political donors.

On Tuesday, Obama nominated Republican Sen. Judd Gregg to serve as commerce secretary.

From NPR and wire reports

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