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As Obama Names Daschle, Blagojevich Case Looms

Nicholas Kamm
/
AFP/Getty Images
President-elect Obama speaks to reporters in Chicago as health and human services nominee Tom Daschle looks on.

President-elect Obama said he was "appalled" by revelations earlier this week of alleged misconduct by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but he reiterated that he has had no discussions with Blagojevich about filling the state's vacant U.S. Senate seat.

At a news conference Thursday in Chicago, Obama nominated former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota to the post of secretary of health and human services, calling him one of the foremost experts on the subject of health care.

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Obama tapped Daschle, the former Senate majority leader, for the Cabinet post that oversees federal public health programs. Daschle will also be in charge of a new White House Office of Health Reform, he said.

"He will be responsible not just for implementing our health care plan; he will also be the lead architect of that plan," he said of Daschle.

"So much is at stake. Fixing health care is and has been for many years our biggest policy challenge," Daschle said after the president-elect spoke.

Jeanne Lambrew, who helped Daschle write a book about health care reform, will be the office's deputy director.

Obama: No Discussions With Blagojevich

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As much as Obama wanted to talk about health care, much of his news conference centered on corruption allegations against Blagojevich.

Obama told reporters that he was "as appalled and disappointed as anyone" about the alleged conduct of the Illinois governor. Blagojevich, a Democrat, allegedly hoped to gain financially from naming a successor to Obama in the U.S. Senate.

The president-elect reiterated that he has had no discussions with Blagojevich and that no member of Obama's staff had discussed any deals to fill his Senate seat.

"I have never spoken to the governor on this subject. I am confident that no representatives of mine would have any part of any deals related to this seat," Obama said.

"I think the materials released by the U.S. attorney reflect that fact," he said, referring to a criminal complaint released earlier this week by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

"I have asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the governor's staff about this vacancy so we can share them with you. And we will do that in the next few days," Obama said.

Wiretapped conversations between Blagojevich and others suggest that Obama's transition team was unwilling to give the Illinois governor anything but "appreciation" for filling the seat according to their wishes. But some Republicans have called for closer scrutiny of the matter.

Blagojevich's lawyers have insisted the governor is innocent, and they stressed that he still has important work to do for the state of Illinois.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. denied any misconduct while confirming that he is a Senate candidate mentioned in the federal charges as someone Blagojevich thought would pay money to be appointed to the seat.

Obama also appealed for approval of an assistance package for the auto industry.

"I understand people's anger and frustration over the state the auto industry finds itself in today," he said. "We cannot simply stand by and watch this industry collapse."

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