[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.
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.”
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