Daschle is still go-to guy on healthcare

Tom Daschle on Wednesday huddled with Vice President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to strategize on healthcare reform, nearly 10 months after his Cabinet nomination crashed and burned.

Reid (D-Nev.) invited Daschle to his office for a meeting with Biden as Democrats are scrambling to secure 60 votes to clear a procedural motion on healthcare reform.

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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has strong friendships with Democratic centrists such as Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.), also attended the meeting.

The former Senate majority leader from South Dakota is unexpectedly at the heart of Washington’s highest-level negotiations at a key moment in the movement to reform the nation’s healthcare system.

When Daschle withdrew his name from consideration for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in February, it appeared that he would fade into the background. The withdrawal came after days of national headlines focusing on the ex-senator’s unpaid taxes. Daschle at the time acknowledged he had become a “distraction.”

Obama said he “screwed up” in handling Daschle’s nomination: “Ultimately, I campaigned on changing Washington and bottom-up politics.”

The president added, "And I don't want to send a message to the American people that there are two sets of standards -- one for powerful people and one for ordinary folks who are working every day and paying their taxes."

Daschle announced this week he will be leaving one lobbying firm, Alston & Bird, for another, DLA Piper.  The ex-senator has repeatedly stressed he did not lobby for Alston & Bird and will not lobby for DLA Piper, but government watchdogs have noted both firms have many healthcare clients. Daschle’s title at DLA Piper will be “senior policy adviser.”

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who negotiated healthcare legislation with Reid over the last several weeks, told The Hill Wednesday that Daschle has been in frequent contact with members of the upper chamber.

Daschle declined through an assistant a request for an interview.

Daschle is the second major hire with Senate ties DLA Piper has made in recent months. The firm also picked up former Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) in September.

Francis Burch, the global chairman of DLA Piper, is clearly pleased to have landed Daschle, who is admired by his former colleagues on Capitol Hill.

“Sen. Daschle is a senior statesman and is justifiably regarded as one of the wisest and most effective problem solvers in Washington as well as in the nation and the world,” said Burch.