February 2nd, 2009
09:22 PM ET

Daschle cruises despite limo speedbump

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/12/10/art.daschle.gi.jpg]Dana Bash
CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent

Shortly after 5pm, Tom Daschle walked into the Senate Finance Committee’s suite of offices in the non-descript Dirksen Senate building.

Committee staff had just begun briefing Daschle’s former colleagues in the anteroom, about the investigation they had been conducting for a month about his failure to pay $128,000 in taxes – mostly for a car and driver he used for three years.

Daschle waited in the room next door.

Any other nominee may have been sitting nervously as the Senators deliberated over the controversy that will decide his fate.

Not Daschle.

According to a source in the room, the former Senate Majority leader spent some time catching up with his old friends, even sharing pictures with Chuck Schumer of New York, while he waited.

After Senators got their briefing on Daschle’s issues, they invited him into the room for about 15 minutes of questioning. Two sources in the room said most of the questions surrounded his tax problems, and that some of the queries were “were friendlier than others.”

But it turns out that almost all the Democrats on the committee had already decided they would stand with their former leader.

In fact immediately after the hour-long meeting, that’s exactly what they did.

About a half a dozen Democratic Senators came to the cameras to heap effusive praise on Daschle.

“I don’t know of a person more honorable, more decent, more honest and frankly more qualified for this position. Most of the mistakes were the mistakes of his employer,” said North Dakota’s Kent Conrad.

“There’s a completely understandable, rational explanation,” promised John Kerry.

While they were talking, Daschle himself snuck in behind them and joined the pack.

It was a vivid reminder that he was, and in many ways always will be, one of them.

When it was Daschle’s turn to speak, he used his soft spoken style to “deeply apologize” for what he called his mistakes.

But there was something missing from this rally ‘round Daschle event: Republicans.

In fact there was not a Republican in sight. Most didn’t want to say much of anything to us as they rushed out down the hall to get to the Capitol.

We’ll know soon enough what they think, since the committee has finally scheduled a confirmation hearing for Daschle next week, and they’ll have a chance to question Daschle in public.

Here’s a preview we did get from one Republican Senator, who spoke to my colleague Ted Barrett.

“It’s questionable on its surface,” Ensign said.

The blasting didn’t stop there.

“I was a practicing veterinarian. My accountant would say, ‘you know you can take a 50% deduction on your car.’ Well I didn’t use my car. But you knew you had to claim that. That was so obvious.”

Filed under: Dana Bash • Raw Politics
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Alex

    Sounds like business "as usual" once again in Washington. Is this what the Democrats call, "change you can believe in?" Give me a break!

    February 3, 2009 at 8:33 am |
  2. J. OBrien

    It is amazing to me the amount of hypocrisy evidenced by members of the Senate. These people are just so out of touch with ordinary Americans that it is pitiful. If Daschle had any sense of ethics or morality, he would withdraw his name from consideration. But, as with many in Congress, they deem themselves to be so "important" to public service that no amount of shame or wrong doing will change their behavior. President Obama is losing significant amounts of good will with his support for tax cheats, not to mention his own hypocrisy in talking about high ethics in government service under his watch, but appointing miscreants.

    February 3, 2009 at 12:04 am |
  3. Christine

    I guess it is okay for Americans to not pay taxes, right? And then get promoted. How I wish this happens to common American citizens and not just to selected government officials. I cannot imagine there are no honorable, responsible and truthful American men out there that can be at par with this appointed officials. A good man's name is a virtue and in older times, worth dying for.

    February 2, 2009 at 11:38 pm |
  4. Ron Andring

    As Ronald Reagan would say, "Hear we go again!" First we had former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain explaining why he was compelled to spend $1.2 million refurbishing his office because "it just wouldn't work the way I needed it to." Now we have Former Senator Tom Daschle using a similar lame excuse to rationalize his not paying taxes on a car and driver provided for him by a business associate. "I just got used to having it." The only changes we are seeing in the "new" Washington is the shuffling of former government officials into "new" positions. I doubt it is a coincidence Mr. Daschle's is the perfect choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services, since his wife is a lobbyist for the medical industry. Clearly the pledge by President Obama to not hire lobbyists in his administration doesn't extend to for political hacks who were turned out in the previous election.

    February 2, 2009 at 9:50 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    I don't blame the GOP for questioning this tax slip-up. And I'm not sure how it could be blamed on the employer – whether the employer told him or not Daschle should have questioned sooner whether he needed to pay taxes on that car and limo driver. I can understand missing a year but 3?? Someone – either Daschle himself or his tax accountant – should have caught that one sooner.

    February 2, 2009 at 9:36 pm |