President Barack Obama wants former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. There's just one snag: Daschle hadn't disclosed that he failed to pay $128,000 in taxes on the car and driver provided for him by Alston & Bird, the D.C. law and lobbying firm where he served as Special Public Policy Advisor to various health-care clients since 2005.
Then there's Tim Geithner, Obama's choice for Treasury Secretary, who is a former executive (2001-2003) of the International Monetary Fund, where he failed to pay $15,000 in Social Security taxes; taxes he was responsible for paying the government directly, since the IMF did not withhold them from his paychecks. He recently paid the tax plus almost $2000 in interest, but no penalties.
And in an effort to cleanse Washington from its diseased influence from special interests -- rampant under the Bush administration -- Obama announced strict new rules limiting lobbyist activity, promising that "no political appointees in an Obama administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years." The only problem was that just 24 hours later he appointed William Lynn III, a former lobbyist for U.S. defense contractor, Raytheon, to be a Deputy Secretary of Defense.
With these questionable appointments, the prevailing White House justification has been that each candidate is "uniquely qualified" for the job. But is that really good enough? Is that what Obama meant when he promised America that he was bringing a new moral and ethical standard to Washington in the post-Bush era? Is this really the message he wants to convey to voters in just his fist month in office; a message that it's ok to break or skirt the law just as long as you're a good guy with a special skill-set? Or that it's ok, as in the case with Lynn, to bend your own rules when it suits you?
The answer, of course, is no. Obama has an opportunity with Daschle to get his mission back on course, and to to deliver on his promise to hold his staff to higher standards. He should lead by example, and that means withdrawing the former Senate Majority/Minority Leader's nomination immediately before the soup gets too thick and he gives Republicans too much ammo in their opposition role.
Let's face it, there's plenty of folks who can fill Daschle's post. He's an extraneous piece of the Obama puzzle. He's simply not worth the fight; not worth the potential damage to Obama's reputation. Unlike Geithner, who's former role as head of the New York Fed makes him supremely qualified to help steer the nation through this deep economic and banking crisis, Daschle is expendable. Now don't get me wrong: I'm not justifying Geithner's appointment because he is "uniquely qualified.". The point is, if Obama wants to score points with voters and immediately shift the PR momentum, he can do so and still end up with the guy he really needs by casting off the one he doesn't. It's a smart political move.
Follow Andy Ostroy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndyOstroy