"Long before the Senate had a chance to consider his nomination to be secretary of health and human services, Thomas A. Daschle was hard at work pressing President Obama's signature domestic policy goal of revamping the U.S. health system.
In private sessions in Washington and town hall-style meetings beyond the Beltway, the former Senate majority leader was assembling a team of experts, cajoling special interests and mobilizing grass-roots support for an ambitious overhaul.
Yesterday, Daschle withdrew his name after acknowledging he paid $146,000 in back taxes and interest. Now Obama must forge ahead without his close friend and Washington mentor, a setback that health experts across the political spectrum described yesterday as serious but not insurmountable.
"I think Tom Daschle would have been the best person to help shepherd through a health-care bill through a very difficult process in Congress," Obama said on ABC News. "I regret the fact that he's not going to be serving, but we're going to move forward."
The embarrassing departure of any Cabinet choice complicates the work of the White House. But the announcement yesterday that Daschle was withdrawing his nomination and also resigning from the health czar job created especially for him was a particularly damaging blow to the new administration.
When Obama named him in mid-December, Daschle seemed the "ideal choice," in the words of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). "Exceptionally well-qualified to bring people together," insurers proclaimed. Official Washington said Obama had demonstrated that he possessed the commitment and smarts to tap a savvy insider to achieve something the Clintons could not."