Republican Sen. Jim DeMint on Tuesday called for President Obama to withdraw the nomination of Tom Daschle for health and human services secretary, becoming the first senator to say that the former majority leader's tax problems are disqualifying.
DeMint told FOX News that Daschle's failure to pay $134,000 in federal taxes reflects a "problem with integrity" that the government cannot afford to tolerate. DeMint spoke out against Daschle as a number of prominent newspapers, including The New York Times, called for the South Dakota Democrat to drop his bid.
"It's very unfortunate with Tom Daschle that this has occurred, but the president needs to lead. He needs to step in here and he needs to withdraw this nomination," the South Carolina Republican said.
DeMint said he came to that conclusion after it became "obvious" that Daschle knew about the tax problems long before his nomination and did nothing to make it right.
"The average American would likely face criminal charges with tax evasion of this size, yet he did not address the issue until he was nominated," he said.
Daschle has since paid $146,000 in back payments and interest, and apologized on Monday for what he called income tax errors. Obama said Monday that he "absolutely" stands by Daschle despite the revelations.
Republican senators have stayed largely on the fence or silent about Daschle, but DeMint said that lawmakers cannot assume the mentality that they must protect one of their own.
"There's so much at stake at this point in our country ... I think we have to look beyond the Senate club here and those folks we served with and do what's best for our country," DeMint said.
The New York Times, in its editorial, complained that Timothy Geithner was already confirmed as treasury secretary despite his tax problems.
"It would send a terrible message to the public if we ignore the failure of yet another high-level nominee to comply with the tax laws," the Times wrote.
Several other newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, also have called for Daschle to withdraw.
But Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer said Daschle's own admission that he had failed to pay the taxes is reason enough to forgive his sin.
"Clearly it was a bad mistake, and Daschle was the first to come up with this in June 2008," Schumer said. "It wasn't discovered by the administration's vetting team but rather by Daschle himself much earlier and he brought it to the attention of the administration's vetting team when he was chosen as a potential nominee for HHS."
Obama's pick to be the White House's first performance officer, Nancy Killefer, withdrew her nomination on Tuesday because of her own tax liabilities, namely a $946 tax lien imposed by the D.C. government for failure to pay $298 in unemployment compensation tax on household help
Noting the importance of the post, Killefer wrote in her withdrawal letter to the president that "my personal tax issue of D.C. unemployment tax could be used to create exactly the kind of distraction and delay those duties must avoid."