New thread on vacancies to be filled in the Senate and cabinet

The big news of the day is that the FBI arrested Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on federal corruption charges. Apparently he has been under investigation for some time, and he was caught on tape talking about trying to get something of value in exchange for appointing someone to fill Barack Obama’s Senate seat. Click the link for more details.

If the allegations are true, Blagojevich needs not just to resign, but to go to jail. Also, way to hand the Republicans another great talking point against “corrupt” Illinois Democrats and the Chicago machine. That is sure to be used against Obama and whoever succeeds him in the Senate.

The possibility that New York Governor David Paterson will appoint Caroline Kennedy to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate has divided the blogosphere, with more and more heavyweights speaking out against the move. Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake explains why this would be a “truly terrible idea”:

Her leadership could have been really helpful when the rest of us were trying to keep the progressive lights on and getting the stuffing beaten out of us by a very well-financed right wing for the past eight years.  But when things were tough, she was nowhere to be found.

Now that the Democrats are in power, she’d like to come in at the top.  We have absolutely no idea if she’s qualified, or whether she can take the heat of being a Kennedy in public life.  She’s certainly shown no appetite for it in the past.  She’ll have a target on her back and if she can’t take it, if she crumbles, she will become a rallying point that the right will easily organize around.

The woman has never run for office in her life.  We have no idea how she’d fare on the campaign trail, or how well she could stand up to the electoral process.  She simply picks up the phone and lets it be known that she just might be up for having one of the highest offices in the land handed to her because — well, because why?  Because her uncle once held the seat?  Because she’s a Kennedy?  Because she took part as a child in the public’s romantic dreams of Camelot?  I’m not quite sure.

And the guy with the biggest megaphone, Markos, piles on:

I hate political dynasties. Hate them. But Jane is right, in this case, the idea is particularly egregious — Caroline has done nothing to help beat back the right-wing machine. But now, she’s supposed to be handed by fiat what others fight their whole lives to attain?

I would like to see Paterson appoint one of New York’s 26 Democratic members of Congress. It would benefit the state to have someone with legislative experience replace Hillary. Daily Kos diarist Laura Stein made a strong case for Representative Carolyn Maloney.

Moving on to the cabinet, on Sunday Obama named retired General Eric Shinseki to run the Department of Veterans Affairs. Everyone seems to think this is a great idea. From the Boston Globe:

In the Bush administration, General Eric K. Shinseki committed the crime of truth-telling: He told the Senate in early 2003 that maintaining order in Iraq would take far more US troops than Donald Rumsfeld planned for. It cost him his job as Army chief of staff. That same virtue, honesty, should stand him in good stead now that President-elect Barack Obama has nominated him to be secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The choice is a stinging rebuke not just of Rumsfeld and President Bush for failing to take Shinseki’s advice on the Iraq war, but also of the administration’s weak effort to solve the medical, educational, emotional, and employment problems that veterans are having in returning to civilian life. Just as the Bush administration thought it could oust Saddam Hussein and create a peaceful, democratic Iraq with a bare-bones force, it has tried to skimp on veterans services.

Daily Kos user Homer J wrote this interesting reflection on an afternoon he spent with Shinseki.

Al Gore is going to Chicago today to meet with Obama, leading to speculation that he may be asked to head the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Energy. I think it’s more likely Obama is seeking Gore’s input on other possible choice. I’d be surprised if Gore would consider a cabinet position now. Some people have suggested Obama might create an environment/climate “czar” position, which could go to someone with stature like Gore.

Interior is emerging as a major battleground, with  more than 130 environmental groups signing a letter backing Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona for the position, even though he is rumored to have fallen off Obama’s short list.

Meanwhile, environmentalists are upset that Blue Dog Congressman Mike Thompson of California appears to be the leading candidate for Scretary of the Interior. The environmental blog Grist has some highlights of Thompson’s voting record:

In 2003, he voted for Bush’s controversial Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which enviros saw as a massive gift to the timber industry.

In 2004, he voted against an amendment to an Interior appropriations bill intended to protect wildlife and old growth trees in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest by stopping taxpayer-subsidized logging road construction. The measure passed by a vote of 222-205, and he was the only California Democrat to vote against it. He also opposed an amendment to ban the act of bear-baiting in national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands.

He was also one of only 30 Democrats in 2006 to vote against an amendment to the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act that would maintain areas of the national forests protected under the Roadless Rule. He also voted against another amendment that would have required the Forest Service to comply with environmental protection, endangered species, and historic preservation laws when conducting “salvage logging” operations in national forests. The amendment failed.

Anyone who supported Bush’s policies on “healthy forests” and road-building is by definition not “change we can believe in.” I sincerely hope Obama will do better than this. Another top-tier candidate for Interior is said to be Kevin Gover, who would be the first Native-American cabinet secretary if appointed.

Here’s a list of people rumored to be in the running for secretary of education.

Over the weekend, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius took herself out of the running for any cabinet position, saying she needs to finish her term and deal with budget and economic challenges in Kansas. She had been mentioned for several possible cabinet positions. Some believe she withdrew her name to save face, having gotten the word that she was being passed over. It seems just as likely to me that she has decided to run for Senate in 2010. Scout Finch has more on that possibility.

UPDATE: Maine Senator Olympia Snowe wants Obama to elevate the head of the Small Business Administration to a cabinet-level position. I fully agree with Jonathan Singer that the best move for Obama here would be to elevate the SBA and appoint Snowe to head that cabinet department. She’s a moderate Republican, and it would free up a Senate seat in a blue state.

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