White House Cheat Sheet: Daschle, Damaged
In politics as in life, context is everything.
This is especially true when seeking to divine whether or not former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, President Obama's nominee to head the Health and Human Services Department, will survive revelations about $140,000 in unpaid back taxes and interest.
The first part of context it's important to understand when considering Daschle's future is that he was not only a member of the Senate for nearly two decades (1986-2004) but he also served in a leadership role in the chamber. The Senate is among the clubbiest institutions in the world -- with its members generally looking out for one another almost to a fault.
It's why Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) released a statement Saturday expressing unequivocal support for Daschle. "It is important to put his experience to work during a critical time when our nation's healthcare system desperately needs an overhaul," said Kerry. "I have confidence in his leadership ability."
Several Democratic sources told the Fix over the past 24 hours that if Daschle had not been a longstanding member of the world's most exclusive club, his nomination would almost certainly be, in the words of one operative, "dead on arrival."
The second part of context is that a close personal relationship exists between Obama and Daschle. Daschle was an early supporter of Obama's presidential candidacy and a number Daschle's top aides from his days in the Senate -- Obama senior adviser Pete Rouse, White House deputy communications director Dan Pfeiffer, Democratic National Committee executive director Jen O'Malley Dillon among many others -- have senior roles in the Obama administration.
Given that relationship, it's not surprising that Obama expressed his continued confidence in Daschle during a brief photo op yesterday, support that was echoed later in the day by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
"No one in this building or administration is insensitive to the report that was given this weekend about Senator Daschle," said Gibbs before adding that it was important to compare one "serious mistake" by the South Dakota Senator to a "three decade career in public service."
Does that mean Daschle's confirmation is assured? Far from it.
The optics of having not paid for a car and driver service are VERY bad for Daschle -- and, by extension, Obama. Most Americans don't have a dedicated car and driver to cart them around, and they expect those that do to pay the required taxes for it.
"There's a sinking-in realization that this is a message bonanza for Republicans because they've got Obama caught in an emerging pattern and a story that has the whiff of the D.C. insider politics Obama campaigned against because, well, Daschle cashed in on the D.C. insider politics Obama campaigned against," said one senior Democratic Senate aide.
And, no matter the good will for Daschle among his former Senate colleagues (and there is, without question, a huge amount of it), all politicians are survivors at their core and if supporting Daschle looks like a no-win proposition for them then you will them flee from him.
Barring some other major revelation, however, it's likely Daschle hangs on. Barely.
Sked Stuff: It's a busy day at the White House with New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg (R) set to be introduced as the new Commerce Secretary designate, and President Obama scheduled to sit down with all three network news anchors in the afternoon as part of his attempt to sell the American public (not to mention the Senate) on his economic stimulus package. Obama's ability to command airtime on all three networks newscasts is what makes the presidency an incomparable platform in politics. The power of the bully pulpit can not be matched (or anything close to it) by any other politician in the country. When the president speaks, the media listens.
News Nugget: The White House will ramp up pressure on undecided senators today by releasing a letter signed by 19 governors expressing their support for President Obama's economic stimulus plan. The letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Fix, is signed by 15 Democratic governors as well as GOP Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Calif.), Charlie Crist (Fla.), Jodi Rell (Conn.) and Jim Douglas (Vt.), the latter expressing his support for the legislation during a visit to the White House Monday. "As stewards of the economies of our respective states and regions, we urge the Congress to reach prompt resolution of all outstanding differences and you to sign the bill when it reaches your desk," the governors wrote in the letter to Obama. It's a clear sign from the White House that those closest to the economic struggles in the states believe the stimulus package is absolutely necessary despite the objections offered by some Republicans at the federal level.
Crist Considers: As we noted yesterday, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) is weighing a run for the open Florida Senate seat in 2010 but won't likely make a decision until after the state's legislative session ends in early May. Why? Crist has an eye on being president (or at least running for the office) in 2012 and may see the Senate as a higher profile perch from which to fight the Obama agenda. As long as Crist is weighing a bid, the Republican field, which includes Reps. Vern Buchanan and Connie Mack IV as well as former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, is in a state of suspended animation. One thing to watch: if Crist does go for the Senate, what does Rep. Adam Putnam (R), the newly announced candidate for Agriculture Commissioner, do?
Schultz to DSCC: Eric Schultz, deputy campaign manager for Al Franken's 2008 campaign, is returning to Washington as the communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Schultz joined Franken's team last summer when the entertainer appeared dead in the water and led the communications operation that has helped Franken take a 225-vote lead over Sen. Norm Coleman -- with an election contest pending. Prior to his post in Minnesota, Schultz served as national spokesman for former Sen. John Edwards's (N.C) 2008 presidential campaign and also did a stint as spokesman for New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. Schultz takes over for Matt Miller who is leading the communications operation at the Justice Department.
RNC Transition Head Named: Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party will chair the transition at the Republican National Committee for newly elected chairman Michael Steele. Priebus was an early and active Steele supporter in his (somewhat) unexpected victory last Friday at the RNC Winter Meeting.
Twittering Pols: Twitter has become almost de rigeur for politicians these days -- who could forget the House Republicans tweeting about their meeting with President Obama last week? The Fix is always on the look out for the best of the best when it comes to politicians' twitters and thanks to Air America's Ana Marie Cox we came across the feed of Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) this week. From her tweets during the Super Bowl we found out McCaskill's feelings toward Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell ("yuk," she wrote), that she was rooting for the Steelers and that she hates Super Bowl blowouts (who doesn't?). Are there other nominees out there for best politician twitter? Offer them in the comments section below or email the Fix at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click It!: David Plouffe, like Russia, is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. (With apologies to Winston Churchill.) Understanding the understated manager of Obama's 2008 campaign is a life's work -- sort of like Kremlinology. As a devoted Plouffe-ologist, we read Esquire's new profile of him with more than a little interest. The piece is worth it for the picture of Plouffe, a ping-pong table and a keg in college but there's lots more here too: Plouffe cleaned chimneys during his summers off from the University of Delaware, he got his start in elected politics working for Sam Beard's unsuccessful run for Senate from the First State in 1988 (Beard lost the Democratic primary to Lt. Gov. S.B. Woo who went on to lose to GOP Sen. Bill Roth), and he compares defeating Hillary Clinton and John McCain to beating the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. Need a random Plouffe fact you won't find in the Esquire piece? He was recently featured -- along with McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt -- in Delaware's alumni magazine. Neither man graced the cover though. That was reserved for Vice President Joe Biden. (Thanks, as always, to the Post's Paul Kane for his treasure trove of Plouffe anecdotes.)
Love is in the Air: Anne Kornblut, one of the Fix's White House colleagues, and Jon Cohen, the Post's polling director, are engaged! The ask -- and acceptance -- happened Friday night, according to well-placed sources.
Never Turn Down a Free Meal: Denny's is offering free Grand Slam breakfasts today between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. And, no, we are not kidding. We wouldn't kid about free breakfast.
Say What?: "We are all on the same team and it is America's team." -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offering support for the Dallas Cowboys, er, getting sworn-in as the nation's top diplomat.
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