President-elect Barack Obama (my, that has a nice ring to it) has already started putting together his new team for the White House.
Rahm Emmanuel has agreed to serve as his Chief of Staff. Ambinder has several interesting posts on the choice.
What does Rahm's selection say about Obama? Obama won't be afraid to step on toes. He's going to be very aggressive in pursuing his agenda. He won't shrink from confronting Congress. And he will expect extreme competence from his staff, from the chief on down.Meanwhile, it looks like the White House Press Secretary is going to be Robert Gibbs, who I believe used to be in the Bee Gees. That's kind of weird. He also served as Obama's campaign communications director.
Obama is clearly picking a team based on who he'd like to have in the foxhole with him; he must be expecting to spend some time there.
According to ABC News, Obama's Chief Strategist and long-time friend, David Axelrod, has accepted the position of Senior Adviser in the White House. That's no surprise - the two men are very close. Last month, Jeff Zeleny wrote an article in the New York Times about their relationship: "Long by Obama’s Side, an Adviser Fills a Role That Exceeds His Title."
What qualities is Obama looking for as he chooses his cabinet? Last night, Howard Fineman, from Newsweek, discussed the issue with Keith Olbermann.
Olbermann: Is there going to be an over-arching theme in the appointments? . . . Competency, bi-partisanship, diversity, newness . . . Where are they going?Sounds good. After eight years of devastating incompetence, brought on in large part by choosing people for their ideology, I like hearing that Obama wants excellence and results.
Fineman: Well, it's going to be all of those, but I think if you had to pick one, it would be excellence. Barack Obama is a guy who appreciates excellence. And focus. He's a guy who appreciates results. . . . [He] doesn't like drama queens, doesn't like ego maniacs, doesn't like leakers, which eliminates about three-quarters of the people in Washington for sure. . . .
It'll be naturally diverse, and naturally bi-partisan. He's not going to pick people to fill slots because they're Republican, because they're an African-American, because they're Hispanic. He believes that the country has changed enough and developed enough and is diverse enough, as his own election has now shown, that he can pick the best people all across the spectrum . . . but it's going to be excellence first and experience.
U.S. News & World Report has a good rundown of all the various rumors flying around about who's in line for each of the cabinet positions. Of course, at this point, it's hard to know how things will play out. I'm sure there will be several surprises.
The big enchilada, of course, is Secretary of State, and Bill Richardson, who knows enchiladas, has frequently been mentioned as one of the top candidates. I'm pulling for Bill. He was my initial choice for President, and I still think he would be an excellent man to have involved at a high level of government. He was Ambassador to the United Nations under Clinton and has ample experience dealing with foreign leaders, often in the toughest of circumstances. His endorsement of Obama came late in the primaries, but it was still important, and, given the history of the Clintons, showed some guts. He was an effective surrogate for Obama for the remainder of the campaign, never straying off-course in terms of message. And he definitely helped deliver New Mexico on Tuesday. While John Kerry lost the state to Bush in 2004, Obama won by a staggering 15 points.
Other names being tossed around for the position are John Kerry (please God, no!!!), Richard Holbrooke, also a former U.N. Ambassador, and Republicans Richard Lugar, who has already said he wouldn't serve in an Obama White House, and Chuck Hagel, who recently retired from the Senate.
I can see Hagel winding up doing something in Obama's administration. He traveled with Barack to Baghdad during the summer and is close friends with Joe Biden. Secretary of Defense would be another possibility, though many people think Obama will keep Robert Gates in the position.
One of the most important positions right now is that of Secretary of Treasury. The Wall Street Journal lists the leading contenders as "Lawrence Summers, a Harvard University economist who served in the same position in the Clinton administration; New York Federal Reserve Bank President Timothy Geithner; former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker; and Robert Rubin, another former Clinton Treasury secretary and director and senior counselor of Citigroup Inc."
Rubin removed himself from consideration this afternoon, however.
And Larry Summers is getting flack from many Democrats. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo is one of them:
Am I missing something or are there like four or five completely independent reasons not to appoint Larry Summers Treasury Secretary? I'm really having a hard time understanding this one.I agree with Marshall - I don't like the Summers choice. How are Hillary Clinton supporters who voted for Obama going to feel if he appoints a man who had to resign from his last job for making controversial statements about women? And if you've been campaigning on the iniquities of a deregulated Wall Street, what are people going to think when you appoint one the free-market gurus who helped get us into this mess to begin with? Surely there are other well-qualified people for the position.
Just at the level of optics, since the economy is issue number one right now (and not just the real economy of jobs and living standards but the financial architecture itself) and you're trying to look forward not back, why would you pick someone for Treasury who was not only in the Clinton administration but was actually Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration. Not understanding that.
Next, management shortcomings and controversial statements about women's brains that got him canned as President of Harvard.
And on top of that, the new Treasury Secretary will be charged with instituting a beefed up framework of financial sector regulation. But Summers was a key player in the 1990s deregulatory consensus that laid the groundwork for a lot of these problems.
Other interesting names being bandied about include two Kennedy kids: Robert Jr. to head the Environmental Protection Agency and his cousin Caroline to be Ambassador to the U.N.
Our Next Commissioner of Internal Revenue?
Willie Nelson has actually been mentioned for Secretary of Agriculture or Commissioner of Internal Revenue, and Tom Waits for Health and Human Services or Surgeon General. (Some people don't realize that Tom Waits is also a doctor and a surgeon.)
True, I'm the only one who has mentioned them, but it's still early in the process.
("The humanity, the regard.")
John Edwards looks like a strong contender for Attorney General. . . . Oh, wait, sorry, that was an article from six months ago. More recent possibilities include Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, who was State Attorney General before becoming Governor, and Eric Holder, who was Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton administration.
Colin Powell has been mentioned as a possibility for Secretary of Education. Evidently, it has been an area of interest for him in the past, which I didn't know and thought was interesting. Yesterday, however, he said he thought a new generation of leaders needed to step up. "I am not interested in a position in government, nor have I been approached." He said he would be available for advice.
Has anyone heard of other possibilities? Maybe Oprah? Angelina Jolie? Bob Dylan? Can't we get these people involved? Will Smith for Homeland Security? The guy's good.
("What are you sayin' man, you're sayin' like I'm a Taco Bell kind of guy?")