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Obama ‘Absolutely’ Behind Daschle

President Barack Obama on Monday said he continues to back his embattled Health and Human Services pick, former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), sending out aides to defend Daschle’s tax mistakes as accidents that must be viewed in the context of his years of public service. Asked during a brief encounter with reporters if he stood behind Daschle, Obama replied “absolutely.” Later, at the daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Daschle is the best choice for the job and should be confirmed. Gibbs characterized Daschle’s failure to pay over $100,000 in taxes as “just one mistake” in a “three decade career in public service.” Gibbs acknowledged the mistakes were “serious” but said they had been corrected. He denied that there were problems with the Obama transition’s vetting process, even though Daschle reportedly failed to inform Obama aides about his tax problems until after he was selected. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) also joined the growing chorus of Democratic Daschle supporters. Reid predicted that despite the tax mishap, Daschle will win Senate approval as the HHS secretary. “Sen. Daschle will be confirmed,” Reid’s spokesman Jim Manley said. “He has a long and distinguished career and record in public service and is the best person to help reform health care in this country.” Daschle was the first Cabinet nominee to sit for a Senate confirmation hearing when he appeared before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Jan. 8. But the Finance Committee has jurisdiction over the nomination and has yet to schedule its hearing. The panel meets later Monday to discuss concerns over Daschle’s tax flap.

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