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Former Sen. Tom Daschle

Do Nomination Withdrawals Mark the End of Obama’s Honeymoon?

February 04, 2009 11:02 AM
by Isabel Cowles
Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer withdrew their nominations for Obama’s administration yesterday, the latest in a series of scandals marked by tax evasion and failure to disclose employee information.

Obama’s Nominations Fade Before Their Time

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The Obama administration lost two nominees yesterday, both of whom withdrew amid accusations of tax evasion.

Former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, who was slated to become Obama’s secretary of Health and Human Services, resigned after revelations that he failed to pay more than $128,000 in taxes, primarily for the use of a private car and driver that were supplied to him by a company for which he had done consulting work. He was also being questioned about speaking fees he accepted from health care interests, the Boston Globe reports.

Until the resignation, President Obama had supported Daschle. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that Daschle made the decision because he did not want to be a distraction to Obama's agenda.
 
The administration suffered another blow when Nancy Killefer, tapped to assume two roles—deputy budget director and the first chief performance officer for the federal government—withdrew after allegations that she had failed to pay unemployment compensation taxes on household help.

In addition to yesterday’s resignations, the Obama administration has suffered a string of embarrassments after several other appointees underwent investigation and/or withdrew themselves from consideration.

Timothy Geithner, who was recently confirmed as Treasury Secretary (a department that includes the IRS), failed to pay $34,000 in income taxes between 2001 and 2004. According to documents released by the Senate Finance Committee, Geithner settled unpaid back taxes just days before Obama announced his nomination. 

Prior to that, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Obama's first choice for Commerce Secretary, withdrew from the nomination process after it became known that a grand jury was investigating if Richardson granted state contracts to political donors.

The surprising number of complications and withdrawals has prompted some to question the Obama team’s vetting process, which was intended to ensure a more ethical administration and consisted of a 63-point questionnaire that initially drew criticism for being overly intrusive.

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Historical Context: Nominee withdrawals in the past

President Bill Clinton faced a similar series of embarrassments, when both Zoe Baird and then Kimba Wood withdrew from consideration as attorney general after it was discovered that they had improperly compensated domestic help.

George W. Bush faced a similar situation when Linda Chavez, his nominee for labor secretary, withdrew when it was alleged that she had employed an illegal immigrant in the early 1990s.

Like Daschle, Chavez withdrew so as not to draw attention to the new president: “I have decided that I am becoming a distraction. And therefore I have asked President Bush to withdraw my name for secretary of Labor,” she told the press at a news conference in 2001.

Opinion and Analysis: Obama errs with Daschle

Although President Obama was willing to stand by his selection, many politicians and members of the media firmly believed that resignation was Daschle’s only recourse.

Republican Sen. Jim DeMint was the first senator to argue that Daschle’s issues should disqualify him, and he called on Obama to withdraw the nomination. “It's very unfortunate … that this has occurred, but the president needs to lead. He needs to step in here and he needs to withdraw this nomination,” the South Carolina Republican told Fox News.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, also criticized the administration’s selection, telling Radio Iowa that Obama, “wanted to get his administration up and running, bragged about the vetting process, bragged about not having ethics problems and conflicts of interest,” but still made poor choices anyway.

A New York Times editorial argued for Daschle’s withdrawal, coming as it did after the troubles with Geithner’s appointment: “Mr. Daschle is one oversight case too many. The American tax system depends heavily on voluntary compliance. It would send a terrible message to the public if we ignore the failure of yet another high-level nominee to comply with the tax laws.”
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