The withdrawal yesterday of former Sen. Tom Daschle as President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services reminded me that the number of Catholic politicians in the new administration and in Congress continues to ebb and flow. Daschle and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who withdrew his nomination as commerce secretary last month, would have been two of the Catholic members of Obama’s Cabinet. Others include former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Agriculture; former Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, Interior; former Rep. Hilda Solis of California, Labor; and former Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois, Transportation.
Some of the Cabinet appointments also affect the number of Catholics in Congress, which we reported on in December. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, named to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is Catholic. Appointed to fill Salazar’s seat was Sen. Michael Bennet, who is Jewish. That keeps the numbers steady in the Senate, with 17 Catholic Democrats and nine Catholic Republicans.
But the changes aren’t over yet. The House seats of Gillibrand and Solis will be filled later this year in special elections. Until then the number of Catholics in the House stands at 96 Democrats and 38 Republicans.