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Senator Thomas A. Daschle Career Papers

Senator Tom Daschle at Work

The South Dakota State University Archives acquired the papers of former Congressman and Senator Thomas A. Daschle in 2005. Senator Daschle graduated from SDSU in 1969 with a degree in political science. This growing collection includes photographs and documents from his distinguished twenty-six year public career in the U.S. House and Senate.

Biography of Senator Thomas A. Daschle

Senator Daschle is one of the longest serving Senate Democratic Leaders in history, and the only one to serve twice as both Majority and Minority Leader. As the Democratic Party Leader, he co-managed the impeachment trial of President William Jefferson Clinton, only the second impeachment trial in United States history. Daschle also led the Senate in response to the attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the anthrax attack on his office on October 15, 2001.

Tom Daschle was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978, winning by fewer than 200 votes. He was reelected three times before running successfully for the U.S. Senate in 1986. He was re-elected twice to the Senate before being defeated in 2004. Daschle is considered a populist politician, which helped the Democratic Party win elections in a predominately Republican state. Senator Daschle quickly rose to leadership roles within Congress, becoming the Senate Democratic leader in 1994 and serving in that position until his defeat in 2004, thus becoming the second longest serving Senate leader in party history. He was a member of many committees during his tenure in the U.S. Congress, including the Senate Finance Committee, the Democratic Policy Committee, the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, the Veterans and Indian Affairs Committees, and the Finance and Ethics Committee.

Thomas Andrew Daschle was born on December 9, 1947 in Aberdeen, South Dakota. He was the oldest of four sons born to Sebastian C. and Elizabeth Meier Daschle. He attended public and private schools in Aberdeen and was active in Scouts as a youngster. He played basketball, served as president of the student council, and was elected senior class president at Aberdeen Central High School. His growing interest in politics was nurtured by attending American Legion Boys State. Former Senator George McGovern made an impression on Daschle when he spoke at Tom’s high school graduation ceremony.

Daschle became the first person in his family to graduate from college, earning a political science degree from South Dakota State University in 1969. While in college he was a member of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps and the Political Science Club. He ran for sophomore class president in 1965, but lost.

Senator Daschle is married to Linda Hall Daschle and has three children, Kelly, Nathan and Lindsay.

After college, Daschle worked for three years as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command. He worked part-time for George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign during the time that he was stationed at Air Command headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. After discharge from the service, Daschle worked as a staff assistant to South Dakota Senator James Abourezk from 1972-1977.

In 1978, Tom Daschle ran against Republican Leo Thorsness for the seat in the House of Representatives vacated by Congressman Larry Pressler. Daschle’s door-to-door campaign resulted in a narrow win of 14 votes over Thorsness, although a recount nudged up his margin of victory to 139 votes. In November of 1980, Daschle won a resounding re-election victory with a 66%-34% margin.

South Dakota lost one of its two House seats after the 1980 census, which meant that Tom Daschle and Republican Congressman Clint Roberts would run against each other for the lone House seat in the 1982 election. Daschle won narrowly with 52 percent of the vote. He easily won a fourth term in Congress in the 1984 election.

Congressman Daschle served on the House Agriculture and Veterans Affairs Committees and the Select Committee on Hunger. He was the first South Dakotan and only freshman member to be elected to a leadership position when he was named Rocky Mountain Regional Whip in 1979. He was appointed “Whip-at-Large” in the House in March of 1982. In 1983, Daschle was elected to the House Steering and Policy Committee.

During his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Daschle was founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Alcohol Fuels Caucus, chairman of Vietnam Veterans in Congress Caucus, and a member of the Tourism and Rural Caucuses.

In the 1986 election, Daschle became South Dakota’s junior senator by winning 52 percent of the vote in a tight race with Republican Senator James Abdnor. Senator Daschle was appointed to the Finance Committee during his first year in the Senate, an unusual honor for a freshman. In 1988, he became the first South Dakotan ever to hold a Senate Leadership position when he was named the first ever co-chair of the Democratic Policy Committee by then Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell.

When Senator Mitchell retired in 1994, Daschle ran for the post of Democratic Minority Leader and won, 24-23, over Senator Christopher Dodd. Only Lyndon B. Johnson had served fewer years in the Senate before being elected to the Leader position.

Senator Daschle served as Minority Leader from 1994 to 2001, when the Senate became deadlocked with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans for the first time in the Senate’s history. Daschle became Majority Leader for 17 days, from January 3 to January 20, because the new congress took office before a new presidential administration. Vice-President Al Gore acted as ex officio President of the Senate to give the Democrats a majority.

Daschle and Trent Lott, the Republican Leader, negotiated for five weeks to invent new rules to share power in an evenly-divided Congress and finally came up with an agreement that was passed unanimously by the Senate. In May of 2001, Republican Senator Jim Jeffords became an Independent, which gave the Democrats a majority in the chamber to make Senator Daschle Majority Leader once again, from June 6, 2001-January 3, 2003. After the 2002 election, Daschle again became Minority Leader for the 108th Congress until his defeat in the 2004 election.

Tom Daschle lost the 2004 election to John Thune by 4,534 votes, a 49%-51% margin. He had been the Democratic Leader for ten years, two years longer than Lyndon B. Johnson, and was the first party leader in a half-century to be voted out of office.

Senator Daschle is one of the longest serving Senate Democratic Leaders in history, and the only one to serve twice as both Majority and Minority Leader. As the Democratic Party Leader, he co-managed the impeachment trial of President William Jefferson Clinton, only the second impeachment trial in United States history. Daschle also led the Senate in response to the attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the anthrax attack on his office on October 15, 2001.

During his legislative career, Tom Daschle was a strong advocate for veterans, leading a lengthy fight to win compensation for veterans who were victims of cancer related to Agent Orange exposure. He also was instrumental in passage of the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 1994, which authorized payment of disability compensation to Gulf War veterans suffering from undiagnosed war-related illnesses.

Daschle’s agricultural legislative accomplishments include writing the 1985 Emergency Farm Credit Act to aid farmers during the farm crisis, and also writing major provisions of the Disaster Relief Acts of 1988, 1989 and 1993 to help farmers recover from devastating natural disasters. He also authored key provisions of the Omnibus Trade Act to increase overseas markets for agricultural products.

In addition to acting as coordinator of the failed effort to pass President Clinton’s comprehensive health-care bill in 1994, Senator Daschle authored and passed legislation to expand rural health services and regulate of the sale and marketing of Medigap insurance plans to prevent fraud. He also helped lead the fight against fetal alcohol syndrome.

Senator Daschle’s other major legislative accomplishments include being the principal author of the reformulated gasoline provision of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, and writing successful legislation to authorize housing and expand education and health facilities on American Indian reservations.

Daschle was known for his “prairie populist” ideals as a legislator, exemplified by his annual unscheduled driving tour when he traveled across his home state of South Dakota with no staff and no schedule. He made a point of visiting every one of South Dakota’s counties, visiting local establishments like cattle auctions, schools and cafes to talk to people about their concerns. He was also one of the first members of Congress to establish a toll-free telephone line connecting his South Dakota constituents with his Washington, D.C. office.

Tom Daschle became an advisor to the law firm of Alston and Bird after his re-election defeat in November 2004. His other honors and activities include being a Distinguished Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Visiting Professor at Georgetown University. He and former Majority Leaders George Mitchell, Bob Dole, and Howard Baker created the Bipartisan Policy Center in 2007.

Barack Obama was elected to the Senate in 2004, just as Daschle was defeated. Obama was looking for staff, and Daschle had what he considered to be some of the best staff on Capitol Hill. Many individuals on Daschle’s staff became part of Obama’s Senate staff, including Chief of Staff, Pete Rouse. Daschle encouraged Senator Obama to run for president in 2008, and became the candidate’s national campaign co-chair.

Barnes, Fred. "25 Who Make a Difference," The Washingtonian, March 1989.

Bipartisan Policy Center. "Tom Daschle Biography," (16 October 2008).

Columbia Encyclopedia. "Tom Daschle," 6th edition, (16 October 2008).

Daschle, Thomas A. "Can We Talk? Free Speech and Civil Discourse in Turbulent Times" Kansas State University, Landon Lecture, 10 May 2004, (28 January 2009).

Democrats.US. "About Tom Daschle," (31 December 2008).

Frontline. "The Choice 2008" Interview with Tom Daschle, WGBH Educational Foundation, 14 October 2008, (24 February 2009).

Infoplease. "Tom Daschle U.S. Senator," (16 October 2008).

O'Shea, Jennifer. "10 Things You Didn't Know About Former Senator Tom Daschle," U.S. News & World Report, 1 August 2008, (31 December 2008).

Stolberg, Sheryl Gay. "The 2004 Elections: The Senate – The Democratic Leader; Gracious but Defeated, Daschle Makes History," The New York Times, 4 November 2004, (31 December 2008)

U.S. Congress. "Daschle, Thomas," Biographical Directory of the United States Congress 1774-Present, (27 June 2008).

U.S. Senate. "Majority and Minority Leaders and Party Whips," (31 December 2008).

U.S. Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee. "Biographies Members Senator Tom Daschle Senate Democratic Leader," (9 February 2009).

Welch, William M. "Daschle Packs Up after 26 Years on Hill," USA Today, 12 December 2004, (31 December 2008).

Inventories to Collections

Senator Thomas A. Daschle Digital Archives