Four years ago, Tom Daschle was very interested in formally joining the Obama administration.
Today? The thought of Daschle taking a key role in the White House is being floated, but early Friday, he told me he is not a candidate for the chief of staff job.
“Denis McDonough, who used to work with me; Ron Klain, who also worked with me; and Tom Nides, a good friend, are the men under consideration,” Daschle said in an email from Tokyo, where he is studying high-speed rail for possibly bringing such a system to the northeast in the USA.
“We should know soon,” he said. Some journalists agree with his assessment.
Daschle, who served four terms as a South Dakota congressman (1979-1987) and three as a senator (1987-2005), was President Obama’s initial choice to be secretary of Health and Human Services back in 2008-2009.
But revelations about tax problems and a preference for limos and a driver forced Daschle to drop out. The Aberdeen native with a reputation as a smart, low-key guy who used to drive himself across South Dakota and stop in every county during his tenure in Congress was seen by his critics as a privileged insider.
His life in politics and government seemed at an end, and he told me he no longer followed South Dakota politics closely. He did appear in the state a few times in 2012, speaking at the funerals of Bill Janklow and George McGovern.
But a political comeback seemed possible, at least for a short time. In the past 24 hours, The Hill posted a blog suggesting Daschle, 65, would be an ideal choice to serve as Obama’s latest chief of staff.
Obama nominated his current chief of staff, Jack Lew, to serve as secretary of the treasury on Thursday, as a typical cabinet shakeup takes place at the end of a first term.
“Daschle has enormous credibility, respect and experience throughout the upper strata of American political and business leadership. He is trusted by leading Democrats and has long-term relations of trust with a long list of leading Republicans, which will be essential to achieving major goals in the current political climate in Washington,” Brent Budowsky wrote.
The idea quickly swept across the web, but Daschle was not on board with the plan, according to Maria Recio of Planet Washington.
“Daschle is now a senior policy adviser at DLA Piper, a high-powered law firm and his wife Linda is a well-known lobbyist. Ethics rules would restrict her ability to lobby — an apparent deal-killer for him to take the job,” Recio wrote.
Daschle seems happy, making a ton of money, living a life free of the stress he dealt with on a regular basis when he was the Democratic leader in the Senate. He has been mentioned as a possible chief of staff before, and didn’t take it then.
He still lunches with and advises Obama on a regular basis, and since many of his former staffers have worked in this White House, he has influence and contacts. His former chief of staff, Pete Rouse, spent three months as Obama’s chief of staff in 2010-2011, so Daschle could ask him how that worked.
But why would he want to serve as chief of staff? It’s a high-pressure job, and Obama has already plowed through four of them in his first term.
Plus, Daschle once held dreams of the presidency. When he thought of working in the White House, he pictured himself seated in the Oval Office, not serving the person in it.
However, he is still very interested in how things work, or don’t work, in Washington, as he told CNN last year. He shared an interview with his old colleague and sparring partner Trent Lott, the former Republican senator from Mississippi. Which offers a chance to share this piece I wrote five years ago about the two men for my old Montana newspaper.
I doubt Daschle will serve in the White House in any capacity, but he will likely remain an influential voice in the next four years.
When I asked for a final confirmation that he was not interested in the chief of staff’s post, and it was safe to report that, his answer was succinct: “Yes,” he wrote.