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By Paula Wolfson
03 February 2009
U.S. President Barack Obama's choice for a key cabinet spot has withdrawn - leaving a major vacancy at the massive Department of Health and Human Services. Tom Daschle bowed out after problems surfaced involving taxes and possible conflicts of interest.
|President Barack Obama, 03 Feb 2009|
Tom Daschle is the third high-level nominee to withdraw amid controversy - setting back the president's efforts to complete his governing team, and drawing attention away from his ongoing battle to get an economic recovery plan through Congress.
Mr. Obama told CBS television he takes the blame for the bungled Daschle nomination.
"I think I messed up. I screwed up," said President Obama.
He said the former Senate Majority Leader would have brought expertise and experience to health care reform. But he said in the end, revelations that Daschle once owed more than $100,000 in back taxes could not be overlooked.
"I don't want my administration to be sending a message to that there are two sets of rules - one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes everyday," said Mr. Obama.
Daschle's withdrawal was a setback for a young administration that has been promoting higher standards for government officials, and tougher ethics rules.
|Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Tom Daschle delivers his opening remarks on Capitol Hill in Washington, 08 Jan 2009|
Compounding the problem for the new president was the fact the Daschle announcement came just three hours after another nominee - this time for a top White House post - also withdrew, and also because of tax problems. Nancy Killefer was in line to become the government's chief performance officer - a watchdog post within the White House budget office.
Earlier, ethics questions prompted Commerce Secretary Designee Bill Richardson to withdraw. Tax problems plagued Timothy Geitner, the president's choice to head the Treasury Department. He was ultimately confirmed by the Senate, after acknowledging he made a tax mistake while serving abroad.
The president told NBC news he is frustrated with himself and his team, and it is time to get everything back on track.
"The era of responsibility is not never making mistakes, it is owning up to them and trying to make sure you don't repeat them," said President Obama.
The White House originally planned to use the series of network interviews on Tuesday to win public support for the economic recovery package making its way through Congress. But the Daschle withdrawal provided a major distraction and dominated the questioning.
The president told ABC television that the focus needs to be on the nation's economic woes, stressing the situation is getting worse.
"We can't afford to play the usual politics at a time when the economy continues to worsen," he said.
The economic recovery package cleared the House of Representatives on a strict party line vote. It is now before the Senate.