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President-elect Barack Obama plans to name former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as his choice for Secretary of Agriculture at a news conference Wednesday, transition aides said.
Vilsack served for two terms, from 1999 to 2007, in what is one of country’s leading hog and corn-producing states.
He briefly ran for president, but raised little money and endorsed Hillary Clinton soon after getting out, becoming one of her more prominent surrogates.
Obama’s selection of Vilsack brings to four the number of former Obama rivals from the Dem primary now in his administration, as the Iowan joins VP-elect Joe Biden, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Commerce-designate Bill Richardson.
Also Wednesday, Obama is expected to name Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar to head the Interior department.
With the selections, Obama has two more cabinet posts to fill: Labor and Transportation.
CHICAGO – Bill Richardson is beardless and back in the cabinet. The governor of New Mexico and former presidential candidate appeared beside President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday to accept his third cabinet-level post, this time as secretary of commerce.
Mr. Richardson, the first Hispanic chosen for Mr. Obama’s cabinet, made remarks in both English and Spanish as he took the assignment, signaling the importance of his selection for the new administration. Mr. Obama said he picked Mr. Richardson because of his deep experience and skills, not his ethnic heritage, but promised to produce a diverse senior team.
“When people look back and see the entire slate, what they will say is – not only in terms of my cabinet but in terms of my White House staff – I think people are going to say this is one of the most diverse cabinets and White House staffs of all time,” said Mr. Obama, who will be the first African American president. “But more importantly, they’re going to say these are all people of outstanding qualifications and excellence.”
Hispanic groups have lobbied strongly on behalf of Mr. Richardson, arguing that Hispanic voters in last month’s election helped deliver at least four states for Mr. Obama that voted for President Bush four years ago: Nevada, Colorado, Florida and Mr. Richardson’s New Mexico. Mr. Obama is also eyeing Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to become the United States trade representative, a position that has had cabinet status in the past.
Mr. Richardson has served in the cabinet twice before, first as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the United Nations and then as his secretary of energy. Mr. Richardson had his eye on secretary of state this time around but lost out to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Although the commerce slot is generally seen as a second-tier position, Mr. Obama said it would play a pivotal role in setting and executing his economic recovery agenda.
“Well, commerce secretary is a pretty good job, you know,” Mr. Obama said to suggestions that it was a consolation prize for Mr. Richardson. “It’s a member of my key economic team that is going to be dealing with the most significant issue that America faces right now and that is how do we put people back to work and rejuvenate the economy?”
As for the beard that Mr. Richardson grew after dropping his own bid for the presidency earlier this year, it was gone by Wednesday morning’s news conference. Mr. Obama, tongue in cheek, declared that a mistake. “I thought that whole western rugged look was really working for him,” the president-elect said.
As Hillary Rodham Clinton inches toward becoming secretary of state, Latino advocates are asking: Whither Bill Richardson?
The New Mexico governor has been the best hope for a Latino to land a high-ranking post in the new administration. But Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador and energy secretary, appears to have lost out to Clinton — although he could land another Cabinet post, perhaps at Interior.
Still, anxiety is running high among Latino leaders because Obama has yet to name a Latino to a top White House or Cabinet position. This is on the minds of senior transition officials — including Obama’s designated chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel — who are said to be considering Latino candidates for several Cabinet posts.
“The Obama transition team and the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, understand the role that the Latino vote played in this election, and I think we will see representation in the Obama Cabinet and at the White House,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), a member of the House Democratic leadership, said he has been forwarding the names of Latino candidates “for every type of position you can think of in the federal government, from Cabinet on down.”
“We can remember the days when people said we had no applications, or there’s no one qualified,” Becerra said. “Everyone understands that the days of excuses are over.”
Becerra, who’s been mentioned as a candidate for labor secretary, said he is “not looking” for an administration job.
At least four Latino candidates are said to be under consideration to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development: Miami Mayor Manny Diaz; Adolfo Carrion Jr., a longtime New York pol, and Bronx borough president; Saul Ramirez Jr., a former deputy HUD secretary; and Nelson A. Diaz, who has been a judge and a HUD general counsel.
As for Richardson, Murguia suggested he could serve as secretary of commerce or the interior. “Perhaps there’s an ambassador role to China,” she added.