So far, it’s in with the old
The roster shaping up for the Barack Obama administration is starting to look a little familiar, with an ironic pattern emerging as one name after another is added to it.
A striking number of new and potential team members can trace their professional history to the same political birthplace -- the administration of one President Bill Clinton.
There’s Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, of course, the former first lady now on track to become secretary of State. And Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the former Bill Clinton aide who will be Obama’s chief of staff. And Eric H. Holder Jr., once deputy to former Atty. Gen. Janet Reno and now Obama’s likely pick for attorney general. There’s the new White House lawyer, the budget director, and so on.
For all his talk of transformation, Obama’s earliest decisions suggest something odd: The more things change, the more they look like the 1990s. Some see a Clinton Restoration in the making.
“Voters hoping to see Obama bring a lot of fresh faces to D.C. must be disappointed,” said Alex Conant, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “So far, it’s been more like Clinton.gov than Change.gov.”
It makes sense that the incoming Democratic president might fish for talent in the same pond as the last Democratic president. If Obama is looking for depth of expertise, there’s a good chance that many job prospects were in or around the White House a decade ago.
But there’s a certain irony to the developing pattern, given Obama’s campaign pledge not to spend the next four years “refighting the same fights that we had in the 1990s.”
“There’s no question about the talent level,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director and senior policy advisor to Republican Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign. “They have a public relations problem in the appearance of not really fulfilling the, quote, ‘change’ mandate.”
The Clinton alums began to populate the new team right away, when Obama picked Emanuel from the Illinois congressional delegation for the first big assignment. Emanuel, who had served as political director in the Clinton White House, agreed to help assemble and captain the Obama team as chief of staff.
Since then, the Clinton names have flowed plentifully, with more than two dozen set either to serve on an Obama transition team or to actually take positions in the new administration. Gregory Craig, who was President Clinton’s impeachment lawyer, will serve as White House counsel. Vice President Al Gore’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, will do the same job for Joe Biden. Gore’s counsel, Lisa Brown, will be staff secretary.
At the same time, Sen. Clinton appears likely to head the State Department. By some lights, Obama never really considered Clinton as his vice presidential running mate, instead floating her name for the job without going to the trouble of formally vetting her.
But developments this week suggest she got a more thorough review this time around.
Hoping to ease qualms about how the former president’s tangled business dealings might affect his wife’s shot at the job, Bill Clinton even gave the Obama transition team a complete list of more than 200,000 donors to his presidential library and charitable foundation, according to a Democrat familiar with discussions between the two camps.
The former president had not previously released this material, arguing that many donors had given money under the assumption that the gifts would not be disclosed.
With that donor list in hand, Obama had important new information needed to investigate whether making Sen. Clinton secretary of State might pose any conflicts of interest.
Clinton loyalists saw her prospects of becoming secretary of State improve as rivals for the position fell away. Allies of Clinton consider her expected nomination a smart one.
“You have to give the president-elect an incredible amount of credit for building a Cabinet with stars in it,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, credited with helping Clinton win that state’s primary. “It goes against the grain. You’re told, ‘Don’t have anyone in there with their own base of support, or too famous.’ ”
Still, Clinton could complicate things. Obama has a vast network of volunteers whom he is counting on to help him get what he wants out of Congress -- supporters who worked explicitly for “change.”
Tom Bethany, 22, is an Obama voter who briefly ran the Obama campus campaign organization at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He says he’s worried about the abundance of people with ties to the Clinton White House landing jobs.
“I think Obama’s message of change could very easily be lost,” Bethany said, “if he picks the same people who’ve been running in Washington and promising the same things for years. . . . There are a lot of young Democrats I know who wanted change and wanted something different.”
James Lautzenheiser, 27, an Obama volunteer from Ohio, is also dubious.
“It seems as though the more that these Cabinet positions get filled by Clinton-era folks, [the more] we lose the possibility for change,” Lautzenheiser said. “If all this is just going to be a third Clinton term, then should we expect a reemergence of another Bush next time around to repeal all the progress?”
Still, the list grows. On the economic team, several Clinton administration veterans are in the mix. Former Clinton economic advisor and current Congressional Budget Office Director Peter R. Orszag is the possible budget director. Jack Lew, former White House budget director, could have a post on the National Economic Council. Daniel Tarullo, an assistant to President Clinton on international economic affairs, may land there too.
Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, who had been mentioned frequently for Obama’s Treasury secretary, was asked to be a senior White House advisor. And Obama tapped Timothy F. Geithner, a Summers protege and Clinton Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, for Treasury secretary.
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President-elect Obama was said to be very close to offering top positions to others in addition to Clinton and Geithner.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Current job: U.S. senator from New York, since 2001
Previous jobs: First lady, 1993-2001; partner, Rose Law Firm, 1979-1992
Education: Wellesley College, B.A., 1969; Yale Law School, J.D., 1973
Noteworthy: Married to former President Bill Clinton. Obama’s leading rival for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. As first lady, led the administration’s unsuccessful efforts to reform the U.S. healthcare system.
Timothy F. Geithner
Secretary of the Treasury
Current Job: President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York since 2003
Previous employers: Treasury Department, 1988-2001; International Monetary Fund, 2001-03
Education: Dartmouth College, B.A., 1983; Johns Hopkins, M.A., 1985
Noteworthy: At Treasury, Geithner helped negotiate financial rescue packages for South Korea in 1997 and Brazil in 1998-99
Family: Married and has two children
Secretary of Homeland Security contender
Current job: Governor of Arizona since 2003
Previous jobs: Arizona attorney general, 1999-2002; U.S. attorney for the Arizona district, 1993-98; Phoenix law firm Lewis and Roca, 1984-93.
Education: Santa Clara University, B.A., 1979; University of Virginia Law School, J.D., 1983.
Noteworthy: Represented Anita Hill during her 1991 testimony at Senate confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Secretary of Commerce contender
Current job: Governor of New Mexico since 2003
Previous jobs: Congressman, 1982-97; U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, 1997-98; U.S. secretary of Energy, 1998-2001
Education: Tufts University, B.A., 1970; Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, M.A., 1971
Noteworthy: During his 2002 campaign for governor, Richardson set a world record by shaking 13,392 hands in an eight-hour period.
Lawrence H. Summers
Senior White House advisor
Current job: Professor, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government
Previous jobs: President of Harvard, 2001-06; Treasury secretary, 1999-2001
Education: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, B.S., 1975; Harvard, PhD in economics, 1982
Noteworthy: Both Summers’ parents were economists, and two uncles won the Nobel Prize for work in the field.
Source: Staff and wire reports