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Obama: 'I screwed up' on Daschle appointment

  • Story Highlights
  • Obama tells CNN's Anderson Cooper: 'I take responsibility for it'
  • President says message was sent that the politically powerful are treated differently
  • Daschle apologizes for what he says were honest mistakes involving taxes
  • Obama also discusses declining economy and fight against terrorist groups
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday admitted he made a mistake in handling the nomination of Tom Daschle as his health and human services secretary, saying Daschle's tax problems sent a message that the politically powerful are treated differently from average people.

Obama says he "screwed up" and takes full responsibility for the troubled Daschle nomination.

President Barack Obama is interviewed by CNN's Anderson Cooper on Tuesday.

Daschle, the former Democratic leader in the U.S. Senate, withdrew earlier Tuesday as news that he failed to pay some taxes in the past continued to stir opposition on Capitol Hill.

"I think I screwed up," Obama said in a wide-ranging interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper.

"And I take responsibility for it and we're going to make sure we fix it so it doesn't happen again."

Daschle had apologized Monday for what he said were honest mistakes, calling them an embarrassment. The series of errors included improperly reporting $15,000 in charitable donations, failing to list $80,000 in lobbying income due to what Daschle said was a paperwork error, and not reporting as income a car and driver loaned to him by a friend and business associate. Video Watch Obama admit mistake »

Daschle recently filed amended tax returns and paid more than $140,000 in back taxes and interest for 2005 to 2007.

Those tax issues, as well as questions over whether work he did after his stint in the Senate amounted to lobbying, gave critics ammunition to question Obama's call for a change of culture in Washington.

"Ultimately, I campaigned on changing Washington and bottom-up politics," Obama said. "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." Video Watch the full interview with Anderson Cooper »

Obama defended Daschle's original appointment, saying "nobody was better-equipped to deal both with the substance and policy of health care."

"He understands it as well as anybody, but also the politics, which is going to be required to actually get it done," Obama said.

Earlier, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs insisted Daschle's decision to withdraw was made on his own, not as a result of any prodding from the administration.

In a written statement, Daschle acknowledged the political problem he had created for the administration. Still, Obama insisted the mistake was his. Read how CNN analysts assess the situation »

Obama also said he's going to crack down on businesses using taxpayer money to excessively pay executives. He plans a Wednesday announcement of mechanisms to keep that from happening.

"I'm going to be talking about executive compensation and changes we're going to be making there," he said. "We've now learned that people are still getting huge bonuses despite the fact that they're getting taxpayer money, which I think infuriates the public." Video Watch Obama discuss getting tough on executives »

The president also spoke about the struggling economy, the use of the label "war on terror," and lighter topics, including the family dog and his efforts to stop smoking.

Thinking about the nation's faltering economy keeps him up at night, Obama said. He also addressed criticism that there is too much spending in the current stimulus package bill written by House Democrats. Was Daschle properly vetted?

"Look, the only measure of my success as president when people look back five years from now or nine years from now is going to be, did I get this economy fixed. I have no interest in promoting a package that doesn't work," Obama said.

Cooper also asked Obama about reports that he is not using former President Bush's phrase, "war on terror," to refer to the wars in Iraq in Afghanistan.

"Words matter in this situation because one of the ways we're going to win this struggle is through the battle of hearts and minds," Obama said. "I think it is very important for us to recognize that we have a battle or a war against some terrorist organizations, but that those organizations aren't representative of a broader Arab community, Muslim community." Video Watch Obama talk about the phrase "war on terror" »

Moving on to lighter topics, the president said the first family hasn't decided what type of dog to get, but will wait until spring.

Obama, an intermittent smoker, also said he has not smoked on the White House grounds.

"Sometimes it's hard. But, you know, I'm sticking to it," Obama said. 'People should give him some slack'


Asked about the greatest lesson he'd learned about the presidency from studying about Abraham Lincoln, Obama said:

"You know, when I think about Abraham Lincoln, what I'm struck by is the fact that he constantly learned on the job. He got better. You know, he wasn't defensive. He wasn't arrogant about his tasks. He was very systematic in saying, 'I'm going to master the job, and I understand it's going to take some time.' "

All About Barack ObamaThomas DaschleU.S. National Economy

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