Daschle’s prospects

DASCHLE’S PROSPECTS…. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, one of the chamber’s most far-right members, told George Stephanopoulos this morning that Tom Daschle’s tax difficulties “may be” a disqualifying revelation for the HHS position.

The question, though, is whether DeMint’s perspective is likely to rule the day. Roll Call reported that, as of last night, Senate Democrats “sought to downplay” the significance of Daschle’s controversy. Sens. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued public declarations of support, and John Kerry (D-Mass.) said in a statement, “Months ago, Tom personally and proactively addressed the taxes issue and took all necessary steps to correct his innocent error. I’ve known Tom Daschle for years and he is a man of great character and integrity who will do a superb job in helping us fix our healthcare system. I look forward to his speedy confirmation.”

The Washington Post‘s Paul Kane, whose report was published before DeMint’s comments this morning, added:

David Axelrod, President Obama’s senior adviser, led a conference call yesterday to coordinate the message of Democrats appearing on today’s news talk shows — a message that focused in part on defending Daschle. According to participants, the senators on the call agreed on a central theme: “Go fight for him.”

Early reactions from the Senate have shown little need for much of a fight. No Senate Republican has stepped forward to criticize Daschle for what he said was an honest accounting mistake, while Democrats yesterday credited him for discovering the tax errors himself and taking the steps to correct them.

Daschle is, of course, a former Senate Majority Leader and Minority Leader, and has close personal ties to most members of the chamber. A top Senate GOP aide told the Politico, “If this were anyone else, I don’t think there would be any question that [the nomination] would not make it out of the committee. But he’s a former majority leader, which means a lot to these guys.”

That sounds like a fair assessment. Senators are generally inclined to favor their colleagues in nomination fights, but with Daschle, it’s even more significant, given his long-time leadership role. These relationships may ultimately save his skin.

For what it’s worth, former Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) came to Daschle’s defense yesterday, issuing a statement that said, “The one thing I feel certain about is Senator Daschle¹s honesty and integrity…. I read the record about the tax issues raised, and while mistakes were made they were innocent ones which have been corrected primarily by Senator Daschle himself.”

I don’t know what kind of sway Dole has among his GOP colleagues, but it’s the kind of endorsement that might help a bit under the circumstances.