This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," August 24, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Well, he didn't pay his taxes. He got caught when President Obama nominated him to his cabinet. Former U.S. senator Tom Daschle was picked by President Obama to be Health and Human Services secretary. When news broke that Daschle failed to pay all his taxes, Daschle withdrew his name. You would think that Daschle might go away, but not so fast. Senator Daschle still has a very big role, sort of a secret role, it seems to us. Is it fair, and is it transparent?
Joining us live is David Kirkpatrick, Washington correspondent for The New York Times. David, I read your article yesterday on the front page of The New York Times. I almost fell over. Senator Daschle is -- still appears to have some role in this health care reform discussion, doesn't he.
DAVID KIRKPATRICK, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, he seems to have a pretty big role. He's still in close contact with a lot of people in the White House. He still talks to be president. You know, he's -- when he left the Senate, I think he decided that health care was going to be for him what the environment was for Al Gore. And so even though he didn't get to be secretary of Health and Human Services secretary, he's kept plugging away.
VAN SUSTEREN: That's not the thing, though, that sort of drew my attention to your article. What drew my attention to your article is he's going in and out of the White House. He's talking to the president about health care. And then back at work, what's his job?
KIRKPATRICK: That's right. He's a policy adviser for Alston and Bird, a big law and lobbying firm. And he says he's not a lobbyist. He doesn't lobby his colleagues. But he advises clients on matters of strategy to achieve their policy ends and he advises the other lobbyists at the firm. So they have the -- they have the benefit of his insights into the personalities and dynamics of his colleagues in the Senate, and so forth.
And he provides some of that same advice to the White House, and that is the interesting part. He's drawing a paycheck from Alston and Bird and his clients, and he's offering free advice to the White House. And you know, viewed from a certain angle, that's a conflict of interest.
VAN SUSTEREN: And I think what actually sort unglued me in reading your article on a Sunday morning was that the -- he doesn't even refer to himself as a lobbyist. I mean, I would have felt better, you know, if he was going from his clients of his law firm to the White House, White House back to the law firm, law from back to the White House, if at least he would admit that he's a lobbyist.
KIRKPATRICK: Well, a lobbyist is a -- it's a legal term, right? There's -- there are...
VAN SUSTEREN: You have to register...
KIRKPATRICK: ... legal standards.
VAN SUSTEREN: You have to register and tell people what you're doing and file reports twice a year, I think.
KIRKPATRICK: You have to -- right. If you spend a certain amount of your time talking to public official on behalf of your clients, then you're a lobbyist and you have to register...
VAN SUSTEREN: But he doesn't -- he says he's not doing -- he's not talking on behalf of clients, he's just being...
KIRKPATRICK: -- a resource.
VAN SUSTEREN: ... a resource. That's what he calls himself is a resource.
KIRKPATRICK: Well, I think -- that's right. I mean, he says, credibly -- I mean, no, I don't think he's right to call to himself a resource. But here's his -- here's his side of the story. He has a certain expertise in health care. He has a certain expertise in the Senate. He's reached certain conclusion, and he'll share them with his clients and he'll share them with the White House.
Now, you might say, has the time he's spent with his clients and the fact that he gets his paycheck from them somehow influenced his thinking? It's hard to tell. On the issue of the day, which is, should the administration try to push for health care reform with an really strong, muscular public insurance plan that could push around the industry, he was for it in his book.
Now he takes a more moderate stance. He says, Look, that's what I personally would like. But realistically, it's not going to pass the Senate, so we should go for something a little bit weaker, like this a co-op plan that his best friend, or one of his best friends in the Senate, Senator Conrad is proposing.
VAN SUSTEREN: How about any of his clients? Do any of his clients -- any of the clients back at the law firm, did they want this other...
KIRKPATRICK: Well, that's right. That's where the question comes in because for the clients of the law firm, whether they're insurance companies or...
VAN SUSTEREN: United Health Care?
KIRKPATRICK: ... hospital companies -- that's right.
VAN SUSTEREN: Which happens to be our insurance here.
KIRKPATRICK: Yes, and it's one of the biggest in the country. They would certainly prefer to see a co-op than a -- a...
VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, so I mean -- so...
KIRKPATRICK: ... a public plan.
VAN SUSTEREN: So when I read your article and I read that he used to be for (INAUDIBLE) only a public option, now he's for the co-op plan, and his law firm happens to represent United Health Care, one of the biggest...
KIRKPATRICK: Well, that's...
VAN SUSTEREN: ... insurance -- and he's going in and out of the White House...
KIRKPATRICK: No, that's not quite right.
VAN SUSTEREN: ... and he says -- OK. Correct me.
KIRKPATRICK: No, he says personally, and he tells this to United Health care -- I know for a fact he does -- he said, Look, United Health Care, I personally think the best way to go is a public plan. So he's personally for it. And what he says to United Health Care is, you know what? It's not going to get through the Senate. And what he says to the White House is, You know what? It's not going to get through the Senate.
Interestingly, last spring, he and former senator Dole got together. They put together a bipartisan plan for how this might all work out. They announced it in June. And at the time, everyone thought, Well, isn't that nice. They've got something to do with their time now that they're retired.
It turns out that the plan that the Senate Finance Committee is working on looks more and more like the one that Senator Daschle and Senator Dole put together, which means either they're influential or they're prophetic.
VAN SUSTEREN: One or the other.
VAN SUSTEREN: David, thank you.
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