Election 2008

Paul Sancya/AP
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.

Obama Cabinet Frontrunners Include Rahm Emanuel

November 05, 2008 03:52 PM
by Josh Katz
Barack Obama’s team has spent an unprecedented amount of time strategizing the Obama cabinet. He has reportedly asked Ill. Rep. Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff.

A Long Thought-Out Process

Several sources including AP and ABC News report that President-elect Barack Obama has asked Clinton administration veteran—and his own “close ally”—Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., to be his chief of staff. ABC adds that the positions of treasury secretary and chief of staff are the top priorities. Emanuel has yet to accept or decline the offer. Top contenders for treasury secretary include Timothy Geithner, president of New York’s Federal Reserve Bank, and Larry Summers, treasury secretary under Clinton, ABC reports.

Obama’s team has been planning for the aftermath of the election for some time now. With the country facing major economic and foreign policy issues, the campaign wanted to have as much as possible planned out before Obama officially sits in the Oval Office, and the president-to-be is not expected to waste any time divvying up Cabinet positions. According to Politico, sources indicate that Obama might name Cabinet members within a week.

The planning process has been the most comprehensive in history, even though the campaign has been keeping it quiet. John D. Podesta, who served as chief of staff under President Clinton, has been at the helm of the commission for months, The New York Times reports. The team also includes current Senate chief of staff Pete Rouse and “confidante” Valerie Jarrett, ABC writes.

Obama is also trying to escape the problems that President Clinton faced after he was elected, according to the Financial Times. “Clinton’s transition didn’t really begin until after he’d won the election,” said someone aiding the Obama transition who also worked under Clinton. Clinton’s delay in choosing his team hurt him during his first 100 days in office when legislative issues grew in importance; his struggles “helped bring about the Republican landslide in the 1994 mid-term elections,” according to the FT.

The Bush administration has also been more eager than any previous administration to help in the transition process. After the 2004 election, President George W. Bush signed legislation permitting the government to “conduct pre-election background checks on transition officials designated by the campaigns,” according to the Times. As a result, members of Obama’s staff will have security clearance and access to classified information during the process.

Furthermore, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already told Obama that he would expedite the ordinarily sluggish Senate confirmation process for the presidential administrative appointees. Clinton, for example, still had a number of nominees awaiting confirmation a year after he assumed the presidency, the FT writes.

Obama has also indicated that he will reach across the aisle in forming his administration. On Oct. 29 he said he “absolutely” thought it was crucial to have Republicans working by his side, but did not comment on whether he would ask Defense Secretary Robert Gates to stay on, Reuters reports. Gates is considered the most likely Republican to be picked for Obama’s team.

The Cabinet Contenders

Mark Nickolas of The Huffington Post posted a likely list of Obama’s complete Cabinet, and many sources have described a similar makeup. Nickolas puts Bill Richardson running the State Department, Sheila Bair at Treasury, Chuck Hagel at Defense, Janet Napolitano at Attorney General, Lee Hamilton at Homeland Security, Anthony Zinni at National Security, Tom Vilsack at Agriculture, Kathleen Sebelius at Commerce, George Miller at Education, Brian Schweitzer at Energy, Howard Dean at Health and Human Services, Shaun Donovan at Housing and Urban Development, Lincoln Chafee at Interior, David Bonior at Labor, James Oberstar at Transportation, Chet Edwards at Veterans Affairs, Susan Rice as UN secretary, Kathleen McGinty at the Environmental Protection Agency, Austan Goolsbee at the Council of Economic Advisers, and Tom Daschle at chief of staff. Politico provides a similar list compiled by ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Politico’s Ben Smith.

There are a number of opinions available on the future Cabinet. In its most recent issue, Foreign Policy magazine asked 10 of the “world’s top thinkers” who would be on their Cabinet “Dream Team,” not necessarily taking into account who Obama or McCain would choose. For example, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor would like to see Bill Clinton at State, Richard Lugar at Defense, Michael Bloomberg at Treasury, Jane Harman as director of national intelligence, and Wesley Clark as national security advisor.

Chief of Staff

Ill. Rep. Rahm Emanuel was offered the position of chief of staff Wednesday, according to ABC. If he declines, others on the list include Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, former Commerce Secretary William M. Daley, former Daschle chief of staff Pete Rouse, and even Podesta. Daschle may present a conflict of interest, however, because he is married to a lobbyist, The New York Times writes.
Real estate executive Valerie Jarrett, a close friend of Obama and his wife, Michelle, has also been mentioned for chief of staff. Banker William Daley, the brother of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who previously served as commerce secretary, is also on the list, according to Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Sweet also notes that Emanuel is currently the fourth most powerful representative in the House and a potential speaker in the future. But, “If Obama leaves him where he is, Obama will have a pair of powerful, trusted enforcers in Congress: Emanuel in the House and Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 man in the Senate.”

Jarrett might be a good choice, Sweet claims, because of her close relationship to the Obama family. “I see her in a White House role similar to that of Bruce Lindsey, the Bill Clinton pal who served in both terms of the Clinton White House as an adviser who had patronage in his portfolio.”

Sweet is less confident that Daley would take the position, because he is a high-ranking executive at Chase who has his sights set on the governorship of Illinois. He also already served as commerce secretary and headed Al Gore’s presidential campaign. Sweet sees Daschle and Rouse as “very viable choices.”

Rouse, Jarrett, former Al Gore chief of staff Ron Klain and Obama campaign chief of staff Jim Messina are seen as likely deputy chief of staff picks. Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe, top advisor David Axelrod, and deputy national campaign director Steve Hildebrand are potential senior advisors.

Defense Secretary

The secretary of defense may not change. Obama has stressed that he might want to keep some Bush officials on board, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is high on the list of possibilities. Current Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. James B. Peake looks like another person Democrats would like to keep on staff.

Going a step further, Joe Klein of Time magazine says that, “Because of economy: For the sake of continuity and the absence of drama, it might not be a bad idea for Obama ... to stick with the current national-security players in the battle against Islamic extremism.” Klein also says that Obama had told him in an interview that he would want “people like” Gates in his cabinet. Similarly, Obama told Klein on Oct. 18 that he was “happy” that Gen. David Petraeus was the head of Central Command, overseeing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Gates, however, has said that he does not want to hold onto the position through the next administration. Another Republican, Neb. Sen. Chuck Hagel, could be a good option for Obama for the defense position. The two have developed a strong relationship thanks to their mutual opposition to the war in Iraq, according to the Financial Times.

Colin Powell could also be a contender, after his surprise endorsement of Obama in which Powell called Obama a potentially “transformational” president, Agence France-Presse reports. Powell could present problems, however, as he was “one of Bush’s leading salesmen for the Iraq invasion.” Former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig appears to be another candidate for the Defense secretary role.

Treasury Secretary

Obama has maintained a close network of economic advisors throughout the campaign, and he may very well look to them to fill the treasury secretary post. Timothy F. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, is reportedly high on the Obama short list for the job. Former Federal Reserve Chief Paul A. Volcker and former Treasury Secretaries Robert E. Rubin and Lawrence H. Summers are also in the mix. Politico claims that Summers, who served as Harvard’s president following his stint as treasury secretary, appears to be the favorite.

One senior adviser, however, explained that it would be wise to break with the past in light of the economic crisis: “You can expect a fresh face instead of a recycled face,” he said. For that reason, Geithner, 47, who has received much praise recently, might be a more likely treasury secretary than Rubin or the 80-year-old Volcker, according to The New York Times.

The Financial Times notes that, if Obama chooses Volcker, his tenure in office will last only until the economic crisis subsides. At that point, Obama would probably hire a younger deputy treasury secretary, like Geithner.

But an Obama advisor did tell the Financial Times that “The advantage of Volcker is that he saw America through its last deep recession in the early 1980s—his presence would be very reassuring to the markets.”

“But don’t rule out Larry Summers,” he added. “Obama values brains and expertise. Larry has more of both than anyone.”

Before the election results, Bruce Nussbaum of BusinessWeek argued that either candidate should opt for a venture capitalist as treasury secretary and as Federal Reserve chair, like Steve Jobs of Apple. “The US needs to shift away from finance capitalism to creativity capitalism and it needs to tap talent to get it done,” he said. The economy needs “a methodology that increasingly is based on collaborative networks and ecosystems that are global. Innovation is as much about sociology and anthropology as it is about technology,” he claimed.

Secretary of State

Ind. Sen. Dick Lugar is high on the secretary of state list. However, “at 76, Mr. Lugar might be too old for the strenuous job of repairing his country’s reputation in the world,” writes the Financial Times.

According to Agence France-Presse, Mass. Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 presidential nominee, may want the job. The publication cites his “cosmopolitanism.” N.M. Gov. Bill Richardson’s name is also bandied about for the position; he served as a UN ambassador and energy secretary under Bill Clinton. The successor to Richardson at the UN, Richard Holbrooke, is another potential candidate.

Although it’s a long shot because of a tense past, many Democrats have lobbied for N.Y. Sen. Hillary Clinton to have a place in the Obama Cabinet, and the positions of secretary of state and secretary of defense could be ideal spots for her. According to Paul Bedard in his U.S. News & World Report blog, “We hear that many generals and admirals in the Pentagon admire Clinton, especially for her pro-military actions after 9/11. And she’s traveled the world, first as Bill Clinton’s ambassador and then as a concerned senator.” But Clinton “all but ruled out a cabinet job,” according to AFP, and “may prefer to promote her signature issue of universal health care in the Senate.”

Attorney General

Va. Gov. Tim Kaine; Eric Holder, who served as Clinton’s deputy attorney general and headed Obama’s search for a vice president; Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick; and Ariz. Gov. Janet Napolitano are the forerunners for the attorney general job, according to Politico.

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