Daschle Withdrawal Sparks Talk About Health Care Reform Prospects
On Tuesday, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) withdrew his nomination as HHS secretary amid concerns about the disclosure of his recent payments of back taxes and interest, a move that could affect health care reform efforts by President Obama, the New York Times reports.
According to the Times, Daschle had offered to withdraw his nomination over the weekend, but individuals close to him and Obama said that the president asked Daschle to proceed.
However, after a meeting on Monday with members of the Senate Finance Committee, Daschle believed that the disclosure of his tax issues would serve as a distraction and limit his effectiveness as HHS secretary. Daschle on Tuesday morning called Obama to withdraw his nomination and resign as director of the White House Office of Health Reform (Zeleny, New York Times, 2/4).
In a statement, Daschle said, "This work will require a leader who can operate with the full faith of Congress and the American people, and without distraction," adding, "Right now, I am not that leader" (Weisman et al., Wall Street Journal, 2/4). Daschle said, "I will not be the architect of America's health care reform, but I remain one of its most fervent supporters" (Kornblut/Kane, "44,"Washington Post, 2/3).
In a statement, Obama said that he accepted the decision by Daschle to withdraw his nomination with "sadness and regret" (CongressDaily, 2/3).
Obama added, "Tom made a mistake, which he has openly acknowledged," adding, "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" (Muskal/Silva, Los Angeles Times, 2/3).
Later, during a series of five television interviews, Obama discussed "the criticism that his administration was not abiding by its own stated ethical standards" for its nominees, the Washington Post reports.
During an interview with NBC's Brian Williams, Obama said, "Did I screw up in this situation? Absolutely. I'm willing to take my lumps" (Kornblut/Shear, Washington Post, 2/4).
During an interview with CNN, Obama said, "I think nobody was better equipped to deal both with the substance and policy of health care," adding, "He understands it as well as anybody, but also the politics, which is going to be required to actually get it done" (Williams, Boston Globe, 2/4).
During an interview on the Fox News Channel, Obama said, "Ultimately, I have to take responsibility for a process that resulted in us not having" an HHS secretary at a "time when people need relief on their health care costs" (Haberman, New York Post, 2/4).
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said that, based on the meeting with Daschle, "I'm a little surprised by Senator Daschle's decision" to withdraw his nomination (Kornblut/Shear, Washington Post, 2/4).
Baucus added, "Tom would have been, as I said, a terrific partner at HHS on health reform, and I hope and fully expect that he will continue to play a leading and valuable role in health policy for this country" (Condon, CongressDaily, 2/3).
Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said that the decision by Daschle to withdraw his nomination "really sets us back a step" because "he was such a talent" and "had the confidence of the president" (Loven, AP/Bergen Record, 2/3).
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said that Daschle should not have withdrawn his nomination. He added, "I believe that when the smoke clears and the frenzy has ended, no one will believe that this unwitting mistake should have erased 30 years of selfless public service and remarkable legislative skill and expertise on health care" (Zeleny, New York Times, 2/4).
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) called the decision by Daschle to withdraw his nomination a "major blow" to health care reform (Wall Street Journal, 2/4).
The Obama administration likely will not immediately name a replacement for Daschle as nominee for HHS secretary, as the administration had "no other names" under consideration, according to an individual close to the situation (Connolly, Washington Post, 2/4).
As possible replacements, observers have mentioned:
- Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), a former state insurance commissioner;
- Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D), a physician;
- Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) (Zeleny, New York Times, 2/4);
- Former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean, a physician (Williams, Boston Globe, 2/4); and
- John Podesta, co-chair of the Obama transition team (Budoff Brown, The Politico, 2/3);
- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who drafted the Massachusetts health insurance law (Tumulty, "Swampland," Time, 2/3).
According to the Post, Obama advisers said they have not decided whether the next nominee for HHS secretary also would serve as director of the White House Office of Health Reform (Washington Post, 2/4).
Possible Effects on Health Care Reform
According to the Journal, the "biggest impact" of the decision by Daschle to withdraw his nomination "could be on Mr. Obama's pledge to overhaul the nation's health care system," as Daschle "brought a powerful set of qualities to the job" (Weisman et al., Wall Street Journal, 2/4).
"Obama is unlikely to find someone with both the health policy experience and congressional connections of Daschle," CQ Today reports.
Durbin said, "It hurts, because Tom Daschle brought special experience and qualities to this undertaking that no one can match, but there are a lot of very talented people stepping forward to help in this administration." He added, "It does slow us down. ... We hoped Sen. Daschle would be in this position and preparing for the health care debate this year" (CQ Today, 2/3).
Dodd said, "It's a major blow for us" because "if you don't have the secretary of HHS, it hurts, it slows things down, so this is really a setback" (Edney, CongressDaily, 2/4).
Kerry added, "Today is not a good day for the cause of health care reform" (Bazinet/Sisk, New York Daily News, 2/4).
However, Baucus said, "It will take a couple, three weeks at best, not a lot longer, to get health care reform legislation up and ready," adding, "So this has no effects on our efforts in the Congress" (Freking/Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/4).
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said, "Health care will stay on the top of the agenda because the American people want it and the president has said he will do it" (Levey, Los Angeles Times, 2/3).
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, "I don't think the effort slows down for health care reform, and I think Senator Daschle and others would admit that the effort is far bigger than any one individual," adding, "It's so important, it encompasses so much of our economy, and we understand that the system that we currently have whereby Americans pay more for health care and get less from it than virtually any industrialized country on the planet underscores that this is bigger than any one group or any individual" (The Politico, 2/3).
White House senior adviser David Axelrod added, "We will move forward and someone else will have to carry the flag and lead the effort" (Boston Globe, 2/4).
Several newspapers published editorials in response to Daschle's withdrawal from the nomination of HHS secretary and head of health care reform for the Obama administration. Summaries appear below:
- Los Angeles Times : The idea that "insiders may bring with them some conflicts and the occasional impropriety" being "somehow acceptable because they can get things done" is a mistake, a Los Angeles Times editorial states. The editorial continues that Daschle supporters insist that "his knowledge of the inner workings of the health care industry and Washington made him an ideal choice" to lead health care reform efforts. However, the editorial states that such conflicts are "not acceptable, and we welcome Daschle's decision to withdraw" (Los Angeles Times, 2/4).
- New York Times : Daschle's withdrawal "need not undermine the administration's push for health care reform," a New York Times editorial states. The editorial continues that had Daschle been confirmed by the Senate, his previous financial ties with health-related companies "would have provided a handy target for critics" of health reform plans he might have proposed (New York Times, 2/4).
- USA Today : Although Daschle's "expertise and connections made him an ideal choice to lead the White House effort to reform health care," he was "right to withdraw" because of his financial ties to "many of the health care interests he would have regulated" as HHS secretary, a USA Today editorial states (USA Today, 2/4).
- Washington Post : Obama will "have to rethink how to proceed" on health care reform now that he has "lost the trusted counselor he had" in Daschle, a Post editorial states (Washington Post, 2/4).
The following television networks on Tuesday interviewed Obama about Daschle:
- ABC "World News" with Charles Gibson (Gibson, "World News," ABC, 2/3).
- CBS' "Evening News" with Katie Couric (Couric, "Evening News, CBS, 2/3).
- CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" (Cooper, "Anderson Cooper 360," CNN, 2/3).
- FOX News' "Special Report w/ Brett Baier." The segment includes the interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace and a commentary about Daschle's withdrawal from Senior Political Analyst Brit Hume ("Special Report w/Brett Baier," FOX News, 2/3).
- NBC's "Nightly News" with Brian Williams, includes a discussion with NBC White House Correspondent Chuck Todd (Williams, "Nightly News," NBC, 2/3).
The following news programs also reported on Daschle withdrawing his nomination:
- NPR's "All Things Considered" on Tuesday included a segment about how Daschle's withdrawal could affect the U.S. health care debate. The segment includes comments from Obama, Axelrod, Baucus, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) (Rovner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 2/3).
- NPR's "All Things Considered" on Tuesday reported on Daschle and his tax issues (Gonyea, "All Things Considered," NPR, 2/3).
- WBUR's "On Point" on Wednesday reported on Daschle's withdrawal and tax problems. The segment includes comments from David Cay Johnston, an award-winning journalist and author, and Robert Kaiser, an associate editor of the Washington Post (Ashbrook, "On Point," WBUR, 2/4).