President Obama admitted he made a "mistake" in his handling of Tom Daschle's Cabinet nomination, telling FOX News on Tuesday that he takes full responsibility for a process that ended in Daschle withdrawing his name amid tax problems.
The president also said in the interview with FOX News that he's standing firm on a Feb. 16 deadline for the multi-billion dollar stimulus bill being debated on Capitol Hill, despite growing concerns that package contains too much unnecessary spending.
Daschle's withdrawal, along with wrangling over the stimulus, made for possibly the rockiest day of Obama's presidency so far. The president said he will learn from the Daschle debacle.
"I consider this a mistake on my part, one that I intend to fix and correct and make sure that we're not screwing up again," Obama said. "Ultimately I have to take responsibility for a process that resulted in us not having a (health and human services) secretary at a time when people need relief on their health care costs.
"So this is a mistake -- probably not the first one I'm going to be making in this office, but what I'm absolutely committed to doing is fixing it," he said.
Obama, who had tapped Daschle to steer a sweeping health care reform effort, said the next order of business is to find another "highly qualified" health and human services secretary.
Obama denied influencing Daschle's decision to withdraw, which caught a number of senators by surprise Tuesday. Though Daschle caught flak for revelations that he had failed to pay more than $130,000 in taxes, the former Senate majority leader has strong personal ties on Capitol Hill, and several Democrats said they thought he still could have won confirmation.
Obama said the decision was Daschle's.
"We can't send a message to the American people that we've got two sets of rules -- one for prominent people and one for ordinary people," Obama said, defending his administration's standards.
Meanwhile, Obama said he's standing by a Feb. 16 deadline for the economic stimulus package, dismissing much of the criticism in the media and elsewhere about the size of the bill and its contents.
"I think actually that we are closer to getting it right than all these critics," Obama said. "There is no magic bullet to these situations."
He stressed that the package, which is tagged at close to $900 billion on the Senate side, boosts unemployment insurance, provides support for people who lost health care and makes investments in green technology and infrastructure that will jolt the economy.
He said the so-called "pet projects" at issue amount to "less than one percent of the entire package.
"This is not going to be a package that makes everybody happy, but the main criteria I have -- is it going to put people back to work? And I think it actually will," he said. "We can't afford to wait."
But the bill's fate was unclear as both Democratic and Republican lawmakers voiced concerns about the way the money would be spent.
Republicans have been honing their opposition to the stimulus, calling on Democrats to make major changes.
Though Obama has reached out to Republican governors who support the plan like Vermont's Jim Douglas to help make his case, the Republican Governors Association on Tuesday sent around a memo urging members to speak out against wasteful elements of the package.
House Republican Whip Eric Cantor's press secretary also sent a strategy memo to other press officers pointing out inconsistencies in the bill. It highlighted a Gallup poll Tuesday that found most Americans either reject the stimulus bill or want "major changes" to it.
The poll "makes clear that Americans understand that the stimulus plan, in its current form, must be dramatically altered," the memo said.