During MSNBC's live coverage on Tuesday of the sudden resignation of Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle, reporter Andrea Mitchell suggested to Republican Senator Jim DeMint that the American public will see this as the GOP having "brought him [Daschle] down." The Democratic nominee resigned over a growing controversy which revealed that the former Senate majority leader owed $140,000 in back taxes. (He has since paid them.) Mitchell sympathetically described talking to the ex-senator: "I just got off the phone with Tom Daschle. And it was an emotional conversation. He was clearly- it sounded as though he were tearful, overwrought." [audio excerpt here]
Later, while speaking to DeMint, Mitchell bristled at the South Carolina senator's contention that Democrats were also skeptical of Daschle's nomination. The journalist chided, "Well, Senator DeMint, you can say that the Democrats were uncomfortable as well, but they were all supporting him publicly." She then lectured, "So, this does read to the public as though the Republicans went after this man, someone that the President very much wanted, and brought him down."
Earlier in the interview, Mitchell again shifted focus to congressional Republicans and lamented the passing of an "all too brief honeymoon." She added, "I mean, is this- is there blood in the water now after this nomination has been withdrawn?"
Mitchell, who recounted how "tearful" and overwrought Daschle was when she talked to him on the phone on Tuesday, sounded a similar theme on November 6, 1990. During election night coverage of that year's midterms, she described Senator Jesse Helms' re-election over his Democratic opponent as a "heart-breaking race":
"This has really been a heart-breaking race....What happened here was a very strong racial message from Jesse Helms in the closing ten days of the race and it focused on something that we've found, found previously in Louisiana with the David Duke campaign."
In 2004, when moderate/liberal Republican Colin Powell resigned his post in George W. Bush's State Department, Mitchell mourned, "This really is a regretful moment and a passing of a great potential leader. Colin Powell was so undercut by many of the other cabinet officials and never had the full backing to do some of the things that he really wanted to do."
A partial transcript of two of Mitchell's exchanges, which began at 12:53pm, follows:
NORAH O'DONNELL: We're also joined now by NBC's Andrea Mitchell, as well as our bureau chief, mark Whitaker. Let's go first to Andrea Mitchell. Because, I understand you have spoken with former Senator Tom Daschle. What did he say?
ANDREA MITCHELL: I just got off the phone with Tom Daschle. And it was an emotional conversation. He was clearly- it sounded as though he were tearful, overwrought. He said, "I read the New York Times this morning and I realized that I can't pass health care if I am too much of a distraction and when I saw what the Republicans were saying and read the Mew York Times, I called the President this morning." And then, he said, "I've got to go." So, it was a difficult conversation. Look, I've known Tom Daschle a long time. All of us have covered him for a long time. And he was such an early and critical supporter of Barack Obama in the Senate community, when it was Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama, and she was initially the front runner as you well know, Norah, and it was Tom Daschle who went one by one and was basically Barack Obama's envoy to Washington.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Let me bring in Senator Jim DeMint who was one of those calling for him to step down. Senator, thanks for joining us. You're joining us from the phone. But, let me ask you whether you feel that he could have been effective or whether, whether these issues all cumulatively made it impossible for him to be an advocate for major health care legislation?
SENATOR JIM DEMINT: Well, I think, it's very unfortunate that this happened. He's a friend of a number of those in the Senate and I'm sure he had a lot of qualifications. I had a good meeting with him and knew I was going to disagree on policy but that was not going to keep me from supporting him. But, the tax issue gets back to what you were saying in the lead in, that the campaign promised change from the status quo of politics here in Washington and I'm afraid the way the story built around Tom Daschle was just big lobbyists and folks not paying any taxes on big salaries and the American people were really mad about it because we're paying taxes and on a lot less income. And hundreds of calls into my office just kept telling me this is not right. This is not the change we bargained for. So, while it's unfortunate, I think this is probably a very good thing that happened to the President Obama administration. I think the only thing that could have made it better is if he would have stepped forward and made it clear that he was withdrawing the nomination in order to demonstrate his leadership and his desire to have a lot of integrity around him.
MITCHELL: Does this incident tell you, and is this the mood of the Republicans that, whatever brief, all too brief honeymoon and bipartisanship flowered here [sic] in Washington over the past two weeks has evaporated? I mean, is this- is there blood in the water now after this nomination has been withdrawn?
DEMINT: Well, I don't think this was a partisan issue. I think probably the Democrats in the Senate heard as much from their constituents as mine about this tax issue and so I don't- I did not see it as partisan. I did not see [audio drop out] rising up. A lot of us were waiting to see, but once I found out more about what really happened, I called on the President to withdraw his nomination. And while I regret that it happened, I'm glad it did. It clears the air so we can get back to the economic problem we're having in our country.
MITCHELL: Well, Senator DeMint, you can say that the Democrats were uncomfortable as well, but they were all supporting him publicly. So, this does read to the public as though the Republicans went after this man, someone that the President very much wanted, and brought him down.
DEMINT: Well, I would be surprised if it played that way with the American people. Because, I don't think they saw the Republicans bashing Tom Daschle and a lot of Republicans are friends with Daschle. But, it came down to, it wasn't about Tom Daschle at all but it was just about presidential leadership and his promises to change this place and I think this was just getting in the way. So, ultimately this will help the administration and the president can move on to important things.
MITCHELL: Senator DeMint, thanks so much for joining us.