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President-elect Obama made official the worst-kept secret in Washington this morning: that his national security team will be headlined by a bitter political rival (Clinton) and a member of President Bush’s war cabinet (Gates).
Beyond the obvious symbolism, however, Monday’s moves also offer some important evidence on the best-kept secret of the past two years: how will a President Obama actually govern in these troubled times?
The parlor game of who gets what job is largely over, save a few of the less prestigious cabinet gigs. Here is what today’s announcement – combined with the unveiling of his top White House staff and economic team – tell us about the 44th president as he prepares to take over.
• He is an intellectual, who is more impressed by academic and governing credentials than familiarity and loyalty.
New York Times columnist David Brooks nailed it recently when he called the emerging cabinet a “valedictocracy”: a team of the nation’s first-in-class Ivy League elites. He meant it as a compliment. He’s not alone: it’s hard to find Republicans who don’t express admiration (at least in private) for the emerging Obama team.
Of the 18 top appointments announced so far, 12 have degrees from Ivy League institutions, Stanford or MIT. Susan Rice was a Rhodes Scholar; Larry Summers was the youngest tenured professor in Harvard history and Greg Craig, the top White House lawyer, attended Exeter, Harvard, Cambridge and Yale.
Few of the early picks could be considered Obama loyalists. Hillary Rodham Clinton thought she would be banished to the outer reaches of Obama’s world. Now, she’s secretary of state. Robert Gates thought he was headed for retirement. Now, he will run war policy for anti-war Obama. The victor has proved to be anything but vindictive.
There could be a cost to having so many high achievers around the same table. Bush’s war Cabinet was also praised for its experience and gravitas, but wound up being a dysfunctional snake pit.
• He is willing to take big risks.
His economic and national-security teams are getting packed with huge personalities who see themselves as architects, not assembly-line workers. The potential for big clashes in tough times is high. But so is the potential for big results.
Hillary Clinton could be a fabulous world diplomat, considering her familiarity with leaders and global problems. She could also be a disaster if the Clinton family’s penchant for personal and political dramas distract the Obama presidency…
WASHINGTON — Want a top job in the Obama administration? Only pack rats need apply, preferably those not packing controversy.
A seven-page questionnaire being sent by the office of President-elect Barack Obama to those seeking cabinet and other high-ranking posts may be the most extensive — some say invasive — application ever.
The questionnaire includes 63 requests for personal and professional records, some covering applicants’ spouses and grown children as well, that are forcing job-seekers to rummage from basements to attics, in shoe boxes, diaries and computer archives to document both their achievements and missteps.
Only the smallest details are excluded; traffic tickets carrying fines of less than $50 need not be reported, the application says. Applicants are asked whether they or anyone in their family owns a gun. They must include any e-mail that might embarrass the president-elect, along with any blog posts and links to their Facebook pages.
The application also asks applicants to “please list all aliases or ‘handles’ you have used to communicate on the Internet.”
The vetting process for executive branch jobs has been onerous for decades, with each incoming administration erecting new barriers in an effort to avoid the mistakes of the past, or the controversies of the present. It is typically updated to reflect technological change (there was no Facebook the last time a new president came to town).
But Mr. Obama has elevated the vetting even beyond what might have been expected, especially when it comes to applicants’ family members, in a reflection of his campaign rhetoric against lobbying and the back-scratching, self-serving ways of Washington.
“President-elect Obama made a commitment to change the way Washington does business, and the vetting process exemplifies that,” said Stephanie Cutter, chief spokeswoman for the Obama transition office.
By the sound of this discussion, it appears that Obama faces more pressure to pick a diverse Cabinet and not less. In any case it certainly seems his selection will be scrutinized more [by some].
Oh to be the first!!
Since everyone else seems to be having a go….. I would think one of the most underrepresented groups in US administrations is… the Native American. Any talented Native Americans out there?
In 1992, Bill Clinton famously promised to appoint a Cabinet that “looks like America.” He followed through, tapping women and minorities for high-ranking positions and overseeing an administration more diverse than any that had come before it. President Bush continued this tradition, appointing two African-Americans to his national security/foreign policy team.
But now all this progress seems to pale in comparison to the history made Nov. 4, with this “first” being less groundbreaking than plate-shifting. To borrow the oft-used sports analogy, after years of seeing Jackie Robinsons take the field in different professions, the American people finally put one in the owner’s box.
But now that we have a black Branch Rickey in Barack Obama, what does that mean for the rest of the team? Put in political terms, does our first African-American president, elected with a rainbow coalition, have more of an imperative to appoint an administration that includes minorities in high-ranking positions?
Not really, is the answer supplied by a group of prominent African-Americans. Having a team of varied faces is preferable and in keeping with Obama’s pledge to represent all Americans — but these veteran black politicians and public officials say the president-elect should tap into the best talent available without taking a head-counting approach, in which slots are determined by demographics and symbolism trumps substance.
To some degree, Obama’s election is so historic that he is post-racial when it comes to choosing those who will work most closely with him.
“He will assemble a Cabinet that I think reflects a modern-day array of talent,” said Rep. Artur Davis, the Alabama Democrat who endorsed Obama early in the primary. “I don’t think he has any special obligation to play the quota game to have so many blacks and so many whites.”
It’s a potentially dicey decision. Obama campaigned around the notion that old divisions should be consigned to the past, a belief his election underscores. But he also won with overwhelming support from black Americans and is the very embodiment of the hopes and dreams of that community. To surround himself with a mostly white coterie of top advisers could turn off African-Americans.
To be sure, Obama’s instincts clearly seem to be inclusive — and given his background, how could they not be? To see Obama’s transition team and the group of economic advisers that stood behind him at his first news conference Friday in Chicago, it seems likely that a man of Kansas, Kenya, Hawaii, Indonesia and Chicago will appoint a team that reflects the diversity of his own extended family and unique life. […]
“If you’re going to do diversity, put some significance on party diversity,” Espy said, noting that the new president could keep Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon or tap Colin Powell for a high-ranking post and help himself with those Americans whose votes he didn’t receive.
Transition chief John Podesta said Tuesday that Obama would look hard at making non-Democratic appointments. Obama will make more than “token-level” appointments of Republicans and independents, Podesta said. […]
But while Obama may not need much in the way of outside advice to grasp the issues facing black America, there are others who will call for representatives of underrepresented communities.
“The way the Latino population is growing and the immigration issue is becoming, you’d be nuts not to have Hispanics in the Cabinet to express their views,” Wilkins said, noting that Native Americans should be afforded similar opportunities about their unique challenges and opportunities. […]
Donna Brazile, who became the first African-American to manage a presidential campaign when she ran Al Gore’s 2000 bid, agreed, noting that the times demand top talent.
“The important thing is that President-elect Obama selects the very best people to help his administration with the multitude of challenges we face,” Brazile said. “Some people will look to see if the new Cabinet looks like America in terms of diversity, but as strongly as I personally believe in diversity, I must also state for the record: Good appointments speak for itself.” […]
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WASHINGTON – It popped out casually, a throwaway line as he talked to reporters about finding the right puppy for his young daughters.
But with just three offhanded words in his first news conference as president-elect, Barack Obama reminded everyone how thoroughly different his administration — and inevitably, this country — will be.
“Mutts like me.”
By now, almost everyone knows that Obama’s mother was white and father was black, putting him on track to become the nation’s first African-American president. But there was something startling, and telling, about hearing his self-description — particularly in how offhandedly he used it.
The message seemed clear — here is a president who will be quite at ease discussing race, a complex issue as unresolved as it is uncomfortable for many to talk about openly. And at a time when whites in the country are not many years from becoming the minority.
Obama made the remark as he revealed his thinking in what is becoming one of the highest-profile issues of this transition period: What kind of puppy will he and his wife, Michelle, get for their daughters as they move into the White House.
Because Malia, 10, has allergies, the family wants a low-allergy dog. But Obama said they also want to adopt a puppy from an animal shelter, which could make it harder to find a breed that wouldn’t aggravate his daughter’s problem.
“Obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me,” Obama said with a smile. “So whether we’re going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue on the Obama household.”
In his first postelection news conference, the man who will be president in just over two months described himself as a mutt as casually as he may have poked fun at his jump shot.
If he thought nothing of such a remark in his first news conference, doesn’t that signal that over the next four years, the country is likely to hear more about race from the White House — and from the perspective of a black man — than it ever has before?
It’s not necessarily that he will make a crusade about the issue once he takes office. There was little sign of that in his election campaign, in which he ran on issues like the economy with a broad appeal to all Americans.
But it does underscore that the president-elect clearly does not see race as a subject best sidestepped or discussed in hushed tones. To Obama, race in all its complications has long been a defining part of his life, and he is comfortable talking about it.
The timing seems fortuitous. Obama will be sworn in as the country is rapidly becoming more racially diverse. The latest government projections indicate that by 2042, white people will make up less than half the nation’s population.
Blacks have been elected to local and statewide office in growing numbers in recent years, a sign that the country is becoming more tolerant. Obama lost the white vote to Republican John McCain by 12 percentage points, according to exit polls of voters — a better showing than Democrat John Kerry’s 17-point deficit with whites four years ago.
Still, a conversation about race over the next four years that is more open and explicit than the country has ever heard from its president can’t be bad, can it?
Obama’s comment was all the more noteworthy coming from a man who just ended a presidential campaign in which he stayed relentlessly on-message and made few comments that could be hurled against him. This is a man who can limit himself to saying exactly what he wants to say — usually.
One remark that did haunt him came during his long-running primary campaign against Hillary Rodham Clinton. Speaking at a private fundraiser in San Francisco, Obama said some residents of depressed rural areas get bitter and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”
Eager to avoid slips like that in the campaign’s closing days, Obama usually avoided reporters and seldom departed from prepared remarks.
At his news conference Friday, Obama seemed less guarded. But that led to another eyebrow-raising moment.
Obama told reporters that he has turned for advice to all “living” former presidents. But he then joked, “I didn’t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any seances.”
The former first lady actually has not been linked to conversations with the dead. President Reagan’s former chief of staff, Donald Regan, did write that she set her husband’s schedule with the help of an astrologist.
Obama called Mrs. Reagan late Friday to apologize.
Ironically, Obama’s remarks came just a day after Italy’s Premier Silvio Berlusconi, in an apparent joke, described Obama as “young, handsome and even tanned.” Critics called the comment racist, while Berlusconi defended it as a compliment.
Obama has a few important things on his plate among others organizing his family’s massive shift in location and lifestyle – he is now the president-elect. In any case with a dog and a couple of young children – this will likely be some White House occupantswe will all remember. We can be fairly certain they will be there for eight years – a dog can have a good life in that time.
CHICAGO – After eight years of Republican rule, Barack Obama turned Wednesday to the task of building a Democratic administration to lead the country out of war and into the financial recovery that he promised.
Obama planned to spend the rest of the week at home in Chicago, turning in earnest to reviewing the hiring decisions he’ll have to make in the next two-and-a-half months. Campaign advisers have already presented him with names to review for key positions, but they said he wasn’t focused on filling the jobs before winning the election.
A top priority, the advisers said, would be picking a White House chief of staff to help manage the selections to come. Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel appeared headed for the job, said Democrats who spoke on condition of anonymity before the announcement, expected as early as Wednesday.
Obama also faces intensive national security briefings that will prepare him to take over as commander in chief.
“We know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime — two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century,” Obama said in his victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park. “There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created, new schools to build and threats to meet and, for us to lead, alliances to repair.”
He said the solutions wouldn’t be quick or easy — perhaps not even achievable with one term. “I promise you — we as a people will get there,” Obama said.
Obama planned to keep a low profile on his first full day as president-elect, aides said. Obama had told reporters over the weekend that he’d hold a press conference Wednesday, but the campaign staff later walked that back and said it would be more likely to come by the end of the week.
There were more personal decisions to be made, too, like when to move his family to Washington and where his 10- and 7-year-old daughters will go to school. Obama also was expected to take time to mourn his grandmother, who died Sunday before she could see the grandson she helped raise achieve his dream. Obama could be considering a return to his native Hawaii for the small private ceremony that she requested be held later.
In a congratulatory call to Obama, President Bush pledged to make a smooth transition and extended an invitation to the Obama family to visit the White House soon.
And then there was the matter of the family pet. “Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House,” he told his daughters in his victory speech.
Here Karl Rove was left defending his own ethics ~ possibly evidence of a conscience?
Here’s when someone thought they would go up and arrest Rove – all on the same day!
WASHINGTON – With or without a formal title, Colin Powell will have Barack Obama’s ear if the Democratic presidential candidate wins the White House in the Nov. 4 election, the candidate said Monday.
“He will have a role as one of my advisers,” Barack Obama said on NBC’s “Today” in an interview aired Monday, a day after Powell, a four-star general and President Bush’s former secretary of state, endorsed him.
“Whether he wants to take a formal role, whether that’s a good fit for him, is something we’d have to discuss,” Obama said.
Being a top presidential adviser, especially on foreign policy, would be familiar ground to Powell on a subject that’s relatively new to the freshman Illinois senator. Obama has struggled to establish his foreign policy credentials against GOP candidate John McCain, a decorated military veteran, Vietnam prisoner of war and ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In the NBC interview, Obama said Powell did not give him a heads-up before he crossed party lines and endorsed the Democratic presidential candidate on the network’s “Meet the Press” a day earlier.
In that interview, Powell called Obama a “transformational figure” in the nation’s history and expressed disappointment in some of McCain’s campaign tactics. But, Powell said, he didn’t plan to hit the campaign trail with Obama before Election Day.
“I won’t lie to you, I would love to have him at any stop,” Obama said with a grin Monday. “Obviously, if he wants to show up, he’s got an open invitation.”
Powell’s endorsement came just hours after Obama’s campaign disclosed that it raised $150 million in September — obliterating the old record of $66 million it had set only one month earlier.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said she had not spoken to Bush about his reaction to Powell’s endorsement but added that Bush and Powell have a good relationship.
“The president greatly respects Gen. Powell as we all do,” Perino told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to an event in Louisiana.
Powell expressed disappointment in the negative tone of McCain’s campaign, his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a running mate and their decision to focus in the closing weeks of the contest on Obama’s ties to 1960s-era radical William Ayers, saying “it goes too far.”
McCain, meanwhile, seemed dismissive of Powell’s endorsement, saying it wasn’t a surprise, that the two share mutual respect and are longtime friends.
The Republican from Arizona pointed out on Sunday that he had support from four other former secretaries of state, all veterans of Republican administrations: Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker III, Lawrence Eagleburger and Alexander Haig.
At a boisterous rally Sunday, Obama said McCain was “out of ideas and almost out of time.”
He and his aides appear so confident of his prospects that apart from a brief stop in Madison, Wis., next Thursday, Obama currently has no plans during the next 10 days to return to Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New Hampshire or any other state that voted for John Kerry in 2004.
Instead, he intends to spend two days this week in Florida, where early voting begins on Monday, and travel to Virginia, Iowa, Ohio, Colorado, New Mexico and possibly Nevada and Indiana. Those states hold 97 electoral votes combined, and Bush won all in 2004.
Obama also may stop in West Virginia, where his campaign recently bought statewide television advertising in a late attempt to put the state’s five electoral votes into serious contention.