Gerald Herbert/AP

Speculation Abounds as Remaining Cabinet Vacancies Loom

February 18, 2009 02:57 PM
by Christopher Coats
After losing his third cabinet pick, President Barack Obama has remained mum on who he will select next; that hasn’t stopped political observers from trying to guess.

Still Waiting for Prognosis at HHS

Although former senator and Obama mentor Tom Daschle’s withdrawal came on Feb. 3, the administration has been slow to announce his replacement for Secretary of Health and Human Services, leading some to suggest that any planned health care reform may be hindered by the delay.

Although the administration has not hinted at a replacement for Daschle, who stepped down amid questions regarding unpaid taxes, the Associated Press has reported that Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen is under consideration.

Responsible for moving more than 170,000 Tennessee residents off Medicaid as a part of a 2005 health benefit overall plan, Bredesen has been hailed by conservatives for his willingness to make tough decisions.

At the time, Tennessee had the highest percentage of residents on Medicaid and one of the lowest levels of tax revenue collections in the country.

Bresden’s sharp cuts in state health benefits while governor have led proponents of broader health coverage to worry that his selection might mean national cuts. In response, these proponents have begun to signal their support for another Democrat governor reportedly at the top of Obama’s list of possible nominees, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

In December, Sebelius withdrew her name from consideration for any cabinet position, stating that the current budget issues facing the state of Kansas were too great for her to leave behind, but so far, she has remained silent regarding current rumors.

An early supporter of the Obama candidacy, Sebelius has attracted a number of adherents, thanks to her role as insurance commissioner for eight years before becoming governor.

Representing a long-shot possibility for HHS, former Democratic National Committee Chairman and presidential candidate Howard Dean has become a favorite of some netroots organizations, which cite his role as a doctor and his record with health care reform as governor of Vermont.

“Dean may be exactly what Obama needs: a policy expert and populist who knows how to get things done,” wrote Gautam Dutta on the Huffington Post shortly after Daschle announced his withdrawal.

Third Time a Charm at Commerce?

Meanwhile, a more recent withdrawal has once again sparked speculation about who will take over at the Department of Commerce.

The announcement that Vermont’s Republican Senator Judd Gregg would not seek the nomination because of irreconcilable policy disagreements with the current administration, marked the second nominee for Commerce to step aside.

Obama’s first choice, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson fell through in early January after an investigation into alleged influence peddling became too much of a distraction. 

Since Gregg’s withdrawal, observers have targeted former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr., who has reportedly been pondering a run for higher office.

The pro-business Democrat joins California’s John Thompson on Obama’s list of possible nominees. Mentioned often before the selection of Gregg, Thompson is a former CEO of Symantec, a software security company, and a leading voice in Silicon Valley.

Vacancy Remains at Labor

The confirmation process for Labor Secretary nominee Hilda Solis has been one of the longest so far; several members of Congress have objected to her work with the pro-labor American Rights at Work group and raised concerns about a tax issue involving her husband.

The Senate committee finally approved her nomination earlier this month. Solis is still waiting for a full Senate vote on her confirmation, but that is expected to occur shortly.

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