- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

UPDATED:

Former Sen. Tom Daschle is withdrawing from his nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary, the White House announced Tuesday amid the former Democratic leader’s tax problems.

President Obama said in a statement that Mr. Daschle, who had to pay nearly $130,000 in back taxes and interest for failing to report a gift of a private car and driver as income, asked Tuesday morning to be withdrawn.

“I accept his decision with sadness and regret,” the president said in a statement.

Obama aides said Mr. Daschle also will not serve in the role of health care czar, a nonconfirmable post that would have allowed him to shape policy from within the White House.

The move comes less than a day after Mr. Daschle said he would move forward and Democratic senators came to his defense, saying the tax issue was an honest mistake.

“Tom made a mistake, which he has openly acknowledged. 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, from his years in the military to his decades of public service,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Daschle, who lost his bid for re-election as a senator from South Dakota in 2004, said he refused to be a “distraction” from the task of reforming health care.

“If 30 years of exposure to the challenges inherent in our system has taught me anything, it has taught me that this work will require a leader who can operate with the full faith of Congress and the American people, and without distraction,” Mr. Daschle said in a statement. “Right now, I am not that leader, and will not be a distraction.”

Mr. Daschle was an early Obama supporter and loyal surrogate on the campaign trail for nearly two years.

The announcement, delivered via a paper statement by a White House press aide, was the second bit of bad news for Mr. Obama on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, Nancy Killefer, Mr. Obama’s choice for the new position of chief performance officer, also withdrew from consideration because of tax issues.

She said in a letter to Mr. Obama she had a “personal tax issue of D.C. Unemployment tax,” and also said she worried that would be a distraction.

She reportedly had a $900 tax lien placed on her home in 2005 by the District of Columbia.

Ms. Killefer would have been assigned to the Office of Management and Budget to lead what was called a SWAT team to streamline the government and cut government waste.

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