At a Glance
- Career History: Policy Adviser, Alston & Bird (2005 to November 2009); Distinguished fellow, Center for American Progress (2005 to 2008); Senate Minority Leader (2003 to 2005); Senate Majority Leader (May 2001 to 2003); Member of the U.S. Senate (1986 to 2005)
- Birthday: Dec. 9, 1947
- Hometown: Aberdeen, S.D.
- Alma Mater: South Dakota State University, B.A., 1969
Path to Power
The son of a bookkeeper in an auto parts shop, Daschle was the first in his family to go to college. After graduating from South Dakota State University, he worked as an intelligence officer for the Air Force before coming to Washington in 1973. He worked as a staffer for Sen. James Abourezk (D-S.D.), the first Arab-American to serve in the U.S. Senate. When Abourezk was preparing to retire in 1978, Daschle returned home to run for office himself.
Daschle ran for the House district containing the eastern half of South Dakota and won by 139 votes. During the campaign, he and his wife knocked on 40,000 doors and he kept the names of supporters on note cards in a shoebox. In 1982, the state lost one of its two House seats after the Census count, and Daschle won a tough race against Republican incumbent Cliff Roberts. Already representing the entire state, he jumped to the Senate in 1986 where he became close friends with Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and then-Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine).
But Daschle's exit from the public arena hasn't stopped him from influencing Obama's health-policy reform effort in an unofficial capacity. And a passel of his former aides remain at the most senior levels of the Obama administration.
Daschle has been trying to reform the health-care system for years. He was a supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton's 1993 health-care overhaul, which died spectacularly. While in Congress, Daschle worked on providing universal health insurance, and since, he has strongly criticized George W. Bush for refusing to expand funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
Daschle returned to Alston & Byrd after withdrawing his name as an HHS candidate. Former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole (R-Kan.) is a special counsel at the firm.
But Daschle's former aides and staffers permeate the Obama administration. Obama's Senate chief of staff, Pete Rouse, is a former chief of staff to Daschle; Obama's congressional liaison Phil Schiliro was Daschle's policy director in 2004. Daschle also worked with Jeanne Lambrew at CAP, and the two wrote a book together. She, along with Mark Childress, were set to be Daschle's deputies at the White House before he stepped down.