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Daschle withdrawal rocks fledgling Obama administration

Video by Guillaume MEYER

Latest update : 2009-02-04

Former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination as President Barack Obama's health secretary over allegations of unpaid taxes. Obama called his pick a mistake, saying he "screwed up" on the choice.

AFP - Two of President Barack Obama's top picks for government jobs sensationally withdrew Tuesday, in bombshell announcements which rocked his young administration and tested his vow to clean up politics.
Tom Daschle, the nominee to lead Obama's ambitious healthcare reform and Nancy Killefer, his choice for budget watchdog both quit after becoming engulfed in storms over past unpaid taxes.
The departures were the first grave challenge to Obama's administration, distracted from his effort to force his huge economic stimulus plan through Congress and called his promise of a new era of ethical politics into question.
"This morning, Tom Daschle asked me to withdraw his nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services," Obama said in a written statement.
"I accept his decision with sadness and regret."
"Tom has made a mistake, which he has openly acknowledged. He has not excused it, nor do I," Obama said, saying the former senate majority leader had devoted his life to public service and health care reform.
"Now we must move forward with our plan to lift this economy and put people back to work."
Daschle said he had decided to withdraw his name because he did not want to be a distraction for Obama's ambitious plans to reform healthcare.
"We need the best care in America to be available to all Americans," Daschle said in the statement issued from the White House.
"Lives and livelihoods are at stake."
Daschle's decision emerged hours after Obama's nominee for White House budget czar Nancy Killefer withdrew her nomination, reportedly over her failure to pay past unemployment taxes for household help.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner had earlier survived a controversy over his own unpaid taxes though his confirmation was delayed, before he was finally sworn in last week.
The president, who had hoped to use a flurry of network television news interviews Tuesday to squeeze senators debating his near 900 billion dollar stimulus plan, will now have to defend his government ethics crusade.
Obama tried to keep the focus on the economy as he named Republican Senator Judd Gregg as his commerce secretary.
"Our economy is shrinking, unemployment rolls are growing, businesses and families can't get credit, and small businesses can't secure the loans they need to create jobs and get their products to market," Obama said.
"With the stakes this high, we cannot afford to get trapped in the same old partisan gridlock."
Obama came to power vowing to cleanse patronage, scandal and partisan bile from Washington, so the troubles of several nominees and Republican anger represent an early challenge to his political prestige.
The Senate meanwhile took up debate in earnest on the stimulus bill, with Democratic leaders promising to give Republican amendments a full airing.
Republicans complain they were shut out in the House of Representatives, and did not offer Obama a single vote when the package was passed last week.
"We have taken extraordinary steps to ensure that the Senate is considering this bill with a fair process," said Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance committee.
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid warned Congress would not go home for a recess next week unless the Senate had passed the package and had agreed a merged product with the House for Obama to sign.
Republican Senator John Ensign complained though on CNBC that Democrats were using the crisis as an excuse to load up a stimulus plan with spending provisions which would do little to kick-start the economy.
"The American people are starting to realize what is in this bill that the Democrats have put forward with so much new social spending; almost 200 billion dollars in new entitlement spending.  
"They realize they have problems with it."
The maneuverings on the stimulus bill are consuming the Obama administration so the focus on difficult confirmation fights are an unwelcome distraction.
Other Obama nominees like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder have sailed through confirmation votes despite early ethics questions.

Date created : 2009-02-03