Features

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Position | Secretary of State

Issue: "The Obama era," Feb. 14, 2009

Less than 18 months ago, President Barack Obama's pick for secretary of state called Obama's foreign policy views "irresponsible" and "naïve." Hillary Clinton's campaign-season comments didn't surface during her confirmation hearings, but her differences with Obama could re-emerge as she crafts foreign policy: Clinton balks at direct presidential talks with rogue nations, but Obama won't rule them out. Clinton hesitates on a strict timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq, but Obama aims for 16 months. Obama says the differences are welcome, and that he has "complete confidence" in Clinton, who is 61. Still, the president made one thing clear: "The buck will stop with me."

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Robert Gates

Secretary of Defense

George W. Bush tapped former CIA director Robert Gates, 65, for defense secretary in 2006. Now, as one of three Bush executive-branch holdovers in the Obama administration, the career intelligence officer and former Texas A&M University president faces a 180-degree pivot: most immediately, troop drawdowns in the terror-war theaters and halting military trials and detentions at Guantanamo Bay.

Tom Daschle

Secretary of Health and Human Services

By Edward Lee Pitts

Daschle is set to return to the political mainstage just four years after losing his Senate seat. In addition to holding the top job at HHS, Daschle will serve as the director of the newly created White House Office of Health Reform.

With more than 25 years of experience on Capitol Hill, including stints as both Senate majority leader and Senate minority leader, Daschle has recently been employed as a special advisor for the law firm Alston & Bird, which has several health-care companies as clients. The 61-year-old South Dakota native also published a book on the health-care crisis during his time on the political sidelines.

Daschle supports giving Americans an alternative to private insurance by creating a new public health insurance program modeled on Medicare. But Republicans and some in the health-care community oppose the idea. "Forcing private plans to compete with federal programs, with their price controls and ability to shift costs to taxpayers, will inevitably doom true competition and could ultimately lead to a single-payer, government-run, health-care program," said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. "Any new insurance coverage must be delivered through private health insurance plans."

Right-to-life groups also have issued warnings about Daschle's appointment. The senator had a long record in Congress for "killing" pro-life legislation, said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee: "I'm afraid he will bring the same ideological mindset to his new job."

Ashley Horne, a federal policy analyst with Focus on the Family, said pro-life advocates should be worried about increased federal funding for organizations that support abortion. She said Daschle could also reverse current pro-life regulations at HHS such as those protecting from discrimination medical professionals who refuse to participate in abortions. "There are a lot of unknowns that we are concerned about," she said.

Ron Kirk

U.S. Trade Representative

Obama campaign rhetoric was hostile to free trade; the president even suggested renegotiating NAFTA. But former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, 54, has a relatively pro-free-trade record and says opening up foreign markets is an important part of the "economic toolbox" needed to bring the country out of recession.

Arne Duncan

Secretary of Education

By Edward Lee Pitts

Even Republican senators called Arne Duncan Obama's best cabinet pick. Education officials give Duncan, a Windy City resident like his new boss, high grades as a good communicator and effective, hands-on administrator during his seven-year tenure as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third-largest school district.

The 44-year-old magna cum laude Harvard graduate must tackle the state of the nation's schools at a time when many state and local budgets are hemorrhaging thanks to the ongoing economic crisis. Reauthorizing the controversial No Child Left Behind Act will be one of Duncan's immediate challenges. But Katie Haycock, president of Education Trust, an independent Washington-based advocacy group, said Duncan took a district that former Education Secretary William Bennett in 1987 called the worst school district in America and improved it, particularly among the district's Hispanic student population.

"He is a guy who, in his essence, will do what is best for kids," Haycock said. Duncan was willing to tackle entrenched interests, such as powerful teachers unions, while not being afraid to experiment with new tactics. His support for paying teachers more for teaching well garnered support on the Republican side, with former Education Secretary and current U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee calling him Obama's best cabinet nominee.

But support for teacher merit pay will face roadblocks from the teachers unions. Obama was booed when he mentioned teacher incentive pay last year at the conventions of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

Duncan's background mirrors Obama's in many ways. Both spent time at Harvard and share a love of basketball, with Duncan being named first team academic All-American while serving as co-captain of Harvard's basketball team. And both cut their professional teeth in Chicago's impoverished South Side. Growing up, Duncan said he fell in love with education while spending time with his mother's own South Side inner-city after-school tutoring program.

During testimony before a Senate committee in January, Duncan promised to invest in early childhood education: "In a world where economic success is tied more closely than ever to educational opportunity, we are condemning millions of children to be less than they could be by consigning them to schools that should be so much more." He also testified that he would work to increase the nation's high-school graduation rate (currently at 70 percent) and to make college more affordable by boosting funding and streamlining the financial aid process, including a proposal to provide individuals $4,000 for college in exchange for 100 hours of community service. -Edward Lee Pitts

Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Agriculture

It's no surprise that a two-term governor of Iowa would be a strong advocate of federal support for corn-based ethanol, a record that Vilsack, 58, brings to Washington. Some Obama voters were dismayed by Vilsack's appointment: His support for agribusiness and genetic engineering of crops has drawn sharp criticism from organic food activists.

Shaun Donovan

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

The 44-year-old Harvard graduate served as deputy secretary for multifamily housing for HUD during the Clinton administration, and he led New York City's public housing office for the last four years. Among his accomplishments: Out of 17,000 homeowners participating in the city's affordable housing program, only five faced foreclosure. Donovan says he will make confronting the foreclosure crisis a key initiative for HUD, but he may face resistance from lawmakers to giving bailout funds directly to distressed homeowners.

Ray LaHood

Secretary of Transportation

LaHood is the only Republican newly tapped to serve in the Obama cabinet. After serving 14 years as an Illinois representative in the U.S. House, he retired last year, respected by Democrats as he is by Republicans. An Arab American, LaHood, 63, served on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Under Obama his department is likely to oversee large sums of national infrastructure spending as part of Obama's stimulus plan, and he has promised investment in mass transit.

Eric Shinseki

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Former Army Chief of Staff "Rick" Shinseki, 66, the U.S. military's first four-star general of Asian descent, clashed famously with former defense secretary Don Rumsfeld over the number of post-invasion ground troops required for a secure Iraq. Those who know Shinseki say he will bring concern for people to his new office. "Rick had a real passion for soldiers and that came through in everything he did," said retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who worked closely with Shinseki in 1997 hunting war criminals in the Balkans: "He'll have the same passion for veterans."

Hilda Solis

Secretary of Labor

The Democratic lawmaker from California is a labor, immigrant, and environmental activist. As a state legislator, Solis, 51, sponsored a bill to raise the minimum wage and won a Profile in Courage award for her environmental activism. As congressional representative from a heavily Hispanic district, she sponsored a 2007 bill that granted federal money for "green collar" job training, fought for a bill to make it easier for workers to unionize, and opposed border security measures.

Janet Napolitano

Secretary of Homeland Security

By Lynn Vincent

Immigration reformers believe Napolitano, the two-term governor of Arizona and a hard-edged lawyer by reputation, will retain the Bush administration's enforcement-first approach to homeland security, while backing less punitive policies for illegal immigrants already in the United States. Not so, say some in Napolitano's home state: Arizona Sen. Russell Pearce said that while Napolitano is regarded as "tough" for sending National Guard troops to beef up Arizona border security, she initially opposed the move and restricted them to administrative rather than enforcement roles. Napolitano, 52, supported drivers licenses for illegal immigrants and vetoed a bill that would have rendered invalid in Arizona the matrícula consular, a Mexican ID card. The FBI and Homeland Security told Congress that accepting the card posed "one of the greatest risks to homeland security because of its unreliability," Pearce said.

Julius Genachowski

Chairman of Federal Communications Commission

A colleague of Obama on the Harvard Law Review, Julius Genachowski served as Obama's technology advisor during the presidential campaign. Founder of LaunchBox Digital, a D.C. venture capital firm, and an eight-year executive with IAC/Interactive Corp., Genachowski supports policies to discourage regional information "monopolies"-such as one company owning a TV station and a newspaper in the same town. He will quickly grapple with the transition to digital-only television, as well as legislation on "net neutrality," the principle that web users should be able to access any web content, using any applications, without restrictions imposed by internet service providers.

Leon Panetta

Director of Central Intelligence Agency

The eight-term congressman and former White House chief of staff under Clinton brings a wealth of credentials as a Washington insider but none in supervising the intelligence community. Retired CIA directors George Tenet and Jim Woolsey have noted that they had no regular face-to-face briefings with President Clinton when Panetta was the Oval Office gatekeeper. The choice of Panetta, 70, highlights the priority for Obama and Democrats: a clean break with Bush policies on interrogation and secret CIA detention facilities. But failing to look toward seasoned intelligence experts during wartime isn't going down well among experts. "It is frankly an absurd idea that any intelligence professional working in any intelligence agency over the past eight years is somehow advocating the use of torture," said UCLA's Amy Zegart.

Dennis Blair

Director of National Intelligence

Adm. Blair is a sixth-generation naval officer who served as Commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific and as the Associate Director of Central Intelligence for Military Support under the reorganized national intelligence directorate. Blair, 62, gets high marks for administrative skills, skills needed to manage the 16 spy agencies now operating under the DNI. But he is not without controversy: A fellow Rhodes scholar and friend of former President Clinton, he had to resign over a conflict-of-interest violation when he served with a Pentagon-related think tank at the same time he served on the board of a military contractor. During confirmation hearings he agreed with President Obama's decision to close Guantanamo and said, "I see it as my responsibility to make it clear that protecting the privacy and civil liberties of Americans is as important as gathering intelligence."

Eric Holder

U.S. Attorney General

By Emily Belz

Ronald Reagan provided Holder his first appointment as a district court judge, and the former Obama campaign advisor has a strong judicial background, with two exceptional flubs-his role in the pardon of a wanted fugitive and the clemency given to members of a Puerto Rican terrorist group as deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton.

During the Senate hearings on Holder's nomination, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., persistently questioned Holder about his conduct in the final hour pardon of Marc Rich, a financial fraud fugitive who was also accused of arms deal with Iranians. "The guy had a reprehensible record," said Specter. "Given your competency, how do you explain it?"

The nominee said he expressed an opinion "without the facts," and it was a mistake, the most "searing experience" he has had as a lawyer. On the question of the clemency he supported for 16 members of the Puerto Rican terrorist group FALN, Holder said none of those released had participated in any acts of violence.

Given his loyalty to Clinton, the question that lingers among senators is whether the nation's chief law enforcement agency will be an "independent" arm of the government-and not a tool of the White House.

On Bush policy, Holder, 58, has called the Patriot Act a "very useful tool" but said the Justice Department must adhere to the Constitution and follow "congressional direction." Definitively parting ways with the previous administration, Holder affirmed that waterboarding is torture.

Rahm Emanuel

Chief of Staff

Emanuel has a bulldog reputation among congressional lawmakers and may be counted on to play the role of bad cop enforcer to Obama's good cop. Obama tapped this former Clinton White House senior aide to be his chief of staff, going with this fellow Chicago resident over other top candidates including former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. After a post-Clinton stint as an investment banker, Emanuel, 49, represented Illinois' 5th Congressional District in the House-the seat previously held by current embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich-where Emanuel served from 2003 to 2009. He chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee when Democrats regained control of the House in 2006, earning the loyalty of many freshman lawmakers in the new Democratic majority. After the 2006 elections, his peers elected him chairman of the Democratic Caucus, the fourth-ranking House Democrat.

Gary Gensler

Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission

Chairing an agency with oversight of an industry with $5 trillion in trades, Gensler's slot has been overlooked for its importance and global reach in the economic crisis. Gensler, 50, made a name for himself at Goldman Sachs, where he made partner by the time he was 30. An advisor on Hillary Clinton's campaign, he also spent four years as an assistant Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton. He faces tough questions about his role in pushing legislation to exempt credit default swaps from regulation-a move blamed by many for leading to the current financial crisis. The 2000 bipartisan law created unregulated derivatives that led to the downfall of insurers like AIG.

James Jones

National Security Advisor

A four-star veteran who thinks Iraq made the U.S. "take its eye off the ball" in Afghanistan, Jones at 65 brings 40 years of active-duty experience from Vietnam to Bosnia. He is the former head of NATO, supreme allied commander in Europe, Marine Corps commandant, and a special envoy to the Middle East for security under the Bush administration. As president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy, Jones took criticism from liberals for ties to Chevron and Boeing.

Susan Rice

U.S. ambassador to the UN

A long-time party loyalist who worked in the National Security Council and as assistant secretary of state under President Clinton, Rice, 44, has said she regrets not taking dramatic action in Rwanda and has called Bush policy toward Darfur "anemic and constipated." During her Senate confirmation hearing, she said her priorities at the UN would be peacekeeping operations, climate change, and reducing nuclear weapons and global poverty.

Blank slates

By Kristin Chapman

Secretary of Commerce: No replacement named after New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson dropped out amid scandal allegations in his home state.

U.S. Surgeon General: Obama reportedly offered the spot to CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. But some senior House Democrats question whether the 39-year-old neurosurgeon has enough experience for the job.

Federal Trade Commission: Commissioner Jon Leibowitz, a Democrat with broad Capitol Hill experience, is Obama's likely pick.

Food and Drug Administration: Obama's delay in announcing a nomination likely stems from mounting calls for reform within the agency. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who has led a series of investigations into the FDA, wrote Obama in December and urged him to select someone outside the agency.

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