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With Daschle's withdrawal, can Obama repair image as ‘change’ agent?

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The news about Mr. Daschle and Ms. Killefer drowned out the other news of the day: Obama’s choice of a new Commerce secretary, Sen. Judd Gregg (R) of New Hampshire. Senator Gregg’s selection, if confirmed by the Senate, will mean three Republicans in his cabinet – the most by an opposition party since the Franklin Roosevelt administration.

Bipartisanship has been another watchword of the Obama administration, but Gregg’s selection becomes a footnote on the day. Gov. John Lynch (D) of New Hampshire appointed a Republican – Bonnie Newman, a former aide to Gregg – to replace the Commerce nominee in the Senate. Gregg had made it clear he would not take the job if he was going to be replaced by a Democrat – potentially handing the Democrats a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Not asked to drop out

At his briefing, Gibbs asserted repeatedly that both Daschle and Killefer withdrew their names and were not asked to drop out. That raised questions about why Obama would want to keep top officials with tainted ethical profiles. Obama affirmed his support of Daschle as recently as Monday, saying he backed him “absolutely.”

The loss of Daschle’s expertise on the American healthcare system and his background as the former Senate majority leader was seen as a blow to the Obama administration, which is planning a major healthcare reform initiative. Still, his work at a Washington law firm for various clients – including those in healthcare – raised questions about appearances. Daschle is not a registered lobbyist, but his work, and its potential conflicts of interest, would have been an area of inquiry in his confirmation hearings.

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