Election 2008

Charles Dharapak/AP
Tom Daschle

Obama Filling His Cabinet With Experienced Friends

November 21, 2008 07:56 AM
by Josh Katz
With news surfacing this week about Obama’s cabinet selections—Daschle, Napolitano, Holder, and Orszag—many say he is molding a loyal and practical administration.

Obama’s Team Takes Shape

Many of President-elect Barack Obama’s cabinet picks are in, according to sources, and they reflect “loyalty” and “practicality,” The Washington Post reports. Sources say that Obama will place Tom Daschle as the secretary of Health and Human Services, Janet Napolitano in charge of Homeland Security, Eric Holder as Attorney General, and Peter Orszag as head of the Office of Management and Budget.

Obama has not officially named any cabinet-members, however. Observers believe he is trying to avoid the difficulties that plagued President Bill Clinton’s transition, when his first two picks for Attorney General resigned. With each pick, sources in the Obama camp indicate that their top choices still have to withstand a thorough vetting process in which they have to complete 63-page questionnaire, and there is a chance that any of the individuals already mentioned might not make it to the start of Obama’s term in January.

But so far, Obama’s reported cabinet picks hearken back to the Clinton administration and constitute individuals who are well acquainted with Washington culture; the fact that Hillary Clinton is the likely choice for Secretary of State demonstrates that as much as any other pick. Some critics feel that Obama is relying too heavily on former members of President Clinton’s administration like Rahm Emanuel and Eric Holder.
“The faces are like the folks at a college reunion—you knew these people once before, when they were a little younger, and sort of always had the feeling you’d see them again,” writes Rick Klein of ABC News. “And—surprise—Obama picks top aides the same way previous presidents have: From the ranks of elected officials, old friends and allies, and people who have done it before—yes, in Washington.”

But Obama is not merely choosing his friends and Democratic acquaintances; he is looking for people who have expertise in the responsibilities of their future jobs. “He is finding people he knows and trusts but who also have a demonstrated ability to do what he needs of them in those slots,” said Matt Bennett, a former adviser in the Clinton administration, according to the Post. “Daschle is a skilled legislative tactician who can move health care; Napolitano understands immigration and how to run a large unruly bureaucracy; [Clinton] can be a force-multiplier, bringing her celebrity and skill to the world stage.”

Tom Daschle, Health and Human Services

Former Sen. Tom Daschle, 60, who sources say has been tapped as secretary of Health and Human Services, would be placed at the helm of key agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and a budget of more than $700 billion, writes ABC News.
Daschle served as Senate majority leader from 1994 to 2004. He has repeatedly stressed the importance of dealing with health care legislation, recently publishing a book called “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis.”

Daschle lost his Senate seat in 2004 when Obama was just entering the chamber, though he established himself as a mentor to the neophyte. Peter Rouse, Daschle’s former chief of staff, went on to lead Obama’s Senate staff. Daschle further solidified his friendship with Obama when he threw his persuasive endorsement behind Obama early on, “at the expense of his relationship with the Clintons,” the Financial Times reports.

A potential issue with the Daschle pick is that he has served as a board member of the Mayo Clinic since leaving the Senate and has worked for the law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird advising health care clients, according to The New York Times. Obama had made an earlier promise that “no political appointees in an Obama administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years.” So if Daschle is forced to recuse himself from matters involving such clients, he may have to step aside on many occasions.

The Department of Health & Human Services regulates health care and other related matters. HHS oversees family and children’s matters, disasters and emergencies, and safety and wellness. It includes the Food and Drug Administration as well as several other departments.

Obama’s health care plan has been compared to Mass. Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 plan and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s failed 1994 plan for universal health care. Obama wants to “provide affordable, accessible health care to all,” claiming that his plan will reduce premium costs by about $2,500 a year.

Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security

The Washington Post claims that Obama has chosen Ariz. Gov. Janet Napolitano for Secretary of Homeland Security.
Napolitano, 50, was the only elected official chosen for Obama’s transitional team, and came out in support of the senator early on in his presidential campaign. In 2006, voters in Arizona reelected her to a second term in the state that John McCain represents in the Senate. She was also the first female to the hold the jobs of U.S. attorney and state attorney general in Arizona.

Napolitano spoke at the Democratic National Convention in both 2004 and 2008. She “was the first governor to call for National Guard troops to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, and in 2006 she became the first female governor to chair the National Governors Association,” according to the Post. Napolitano jumped into the public spotlight in 1991 when she represented Anita Hill, who was charging the then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas with sexual harassment

Napolitano, who was born in New York City but grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, attended Santa Clara University and the University of Virginia Law School. She moved to Arizona in 1983. In 2005, Time magazine called her one of the five best governors in the United States, and a “Mountaineer on the Political Rise,” Politico reports.

The Department of Homeland Security is a new part of the cabinet; it was created in 2002 by President George W. Bush as a direct response to the September 11 attacks. The department’s Web site explains that, although it was created “to secure our country against those who seek to disrupt the American way of life, our charter also includes preparation for and response to all hazards and disasters.”

Obama is interested in “mandated screening of all cargo” and “coordination among international law enforcement agencies” over matters that are not monitored by any one country, such as “cyberspace, telecommunication grids and financial distribution networks,” according to David Silverberg of Homeland Security Today magazine. Silverberg adds that the secretary of the DHS will likely be responsible for boosting morale at the department and making it “smoothly functioning, coefficient and really exemplary.”

Eric Holder, Attorney General

Sources close to the president-elect’s transition team claim that Obama has asked Eric H. Holder Jr. to be his attorney general and Holder has accepted. The team, however, has not yet publicly verified the nomination of what would be the nation’s first African-American attorney general, according to NPR.

Holder, 57, served as President Bill Clinton’s deputy attorney general and now works as a partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Covington and Burling. Holder, a well-respected prosecutor and judge, first met Obama in 2004 and went on to co-head Obama’s vice-presidential search committee and advise the campaign on legal matters.

One of the main critiques of Holder stems from his years as deputy attorney general when he said he was “neutral, leaning towards favorable” about the decision to pardon fugitive financier Marc Rich in 2001, The New York Times writes. Rich’s wife, Denise, was a major donor to the Clinton presidential library, and critics questioned Clinton’s snap decision lacking congressional oversight. Since then, Holder has expressed regret that he did not devote more time to the issue and advise against the pardon.
Holder grew up in New York City and attended Columbia University and then Columbia Law School. As a federal prosecutor, he gained a reputation as a “tough and aggressive foe of public corruption,” according to Newsweek.

In Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald expresses an overall approval of the Holder pick. He cites many of Holder’s views on the role of the attorney general, such as Holder’s rebuke of Guantanamo as an “international embarrassment.” He praised Holder’s belief that the attorney general must stress the protection of human rights, and act as independently as possible from the president, in contrast to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in the Bush administration. Greenwald admits that Holder has flaws, such as his changing opinion on prisoner-of-war status and his involvement in the pardon of Mark Rich, but doesn’t think these issues should bar him from the position.

John Nichols of The Nation criticizes the Holder decision, but because of Holder’s possible views on certain human rights issues. Although Holder currently scolds the Bush administration on stripping the rights from Guantanamo Bay detainees, he said soon after Sept. 11 that such treatment was necessary. Nichols also notes that “Holder, as a corporate lawyer in private practice after leaving the Clinton team, played a key role in negotiating an agreement with the Justice Department that got Chiquita Brands International executives off the hook for paying protection money to right-wing death squads in Colombia."

Peter Orszag, Director of Office of Management and Budget

Peter R. Orszag is reported to be the next Director of Office of Management and Budget. He has worked as director of the Congressional Budget Office since January 2007, specializing in health policy, The New York Times writes. He has also previously served as an economic advisor to President Clinton and to Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. After working for the Clinton administration Orszag established his own economic consulting company and joined the Brookings Institution as a senior fellow for economic studies.

Orszag, who will turn 40 in December, was born in Boston, went to Princeton University as an undergraduate, and earned master’s and doctorate degrees from the London School of Economics. He is a “protégé of” centrist former Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, which is disappointing to some liberals “who favor some trade protectionism and more domestic spending and oppose the centrists’ emphasis on free trade and fiscal responsibility,” the Times writes.
Former House and Senate Budget Committee analyst Stan Collender said that Orszag has “solid analytical capabilities; there are few people who can walk into the job,” but Orszag could fully grasp the $3 trillion federal budget. “I’d call him a budget realist,” Collender said, according to Bloomberg.

In an Oct. 13 blog entry, Orszag said that the current economic crisis “may displace health care reform on the policy agenda—and that may well be the case for some period of time.”

The OMB handles the budgetary implications of policy decisions and advises the president on economic issues. “OMB would figure out how much Barack Obama’s health care plan will cost, for example, as it gets introduced in Congress,” according to Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic. “More to the point, though, is that OMB will administer Obama’s transparency agenda. Regulatory reform will originate at OMB.”

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