New Obama cabinet discussion thread

Time for a new thread to discuss any Obama cabinet appointments. The Senate Intelligence Committee held a confirmation hearing today for John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nominee for CIA director. I didn’t watch the hearing, but based on reports like this and this, it sounds like he didn’t demonstrate that he deserves to be confirmed.

I loved this story in The Onion: “American Citizens Split On DOJ Memo Authorizing Government To Kill Them.”

The president announced earlier this week that Sally Jewell will be his nominee as interior secretary. She’s an interesting choice. I’ve posted some background after the jump.

The Hill discussed some of the names supposedly on the short list for transportation secretary. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have urged Obama to consider Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina for that job, but Clyburn doesn’t sound interested in leaving the House.

Penny Pritzker, “who made her fortune building Hyatt Hotels” and has been one of Obama’s powerhouse fundraisers, is reportedly the president’s choice to run the Commerce department.

Gretchen Morgenson, one of the best reporters on the finance and banking industries, published a recap of Timothy Geithner’s tenure as Treasury secretary.

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Open thread on Obama's 2010 budget and cabinet

President Barack Obama will present his first budget request to Congress today.

Early leaks indicate that he will propose some tax increases on the wealthiest Americans as well as some spending cuts to help pay for health care reform.

Ezra Klein, an excellent blogger on health care, is excited about what’s in the budget regarding health care reform. Although there is no detailed plan, Obama is submitting eight principles that should define health care reform efforts. Klein believes the principle of “universality” is likely to lead Congress to propose an individual mandate to hold health insurance.

I support mandated coverate only if there is a public plan that any American, regardless of age and income, can purchase as an alternative to private health insurance. The public plan would work like Medicare, in that individuals would be able to choose their own providers. Unfortunately, the Massachusetts model of mandatory private insurance without a meaningful public option has left a lot of problems unsolved.

It is not clear how much Obama will do to roll back George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. I am with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others who would prefer to start rolling back tax cuts for the top 1 percent immediately. Last month the president seemed to be leaning toward letting those tax cuts expire over the next two years rather than fighting to repeal them this year.

According to Bloomberg,

President Barack Obama’s first budget request would provide as much as $750 billion in new aid to the financial industry […]

No wonder Obama went out of his way to make the case for helping banks during his address to Congress on Tuesday night. I firmly oppose shelling out another $750 billion toward this end, especially since the bailout money we’ve already spent hasn’t accomplished the stated goals of the program.

According to AFP, today’s budget proposal will include a plan

to raise money through a mandatory cap on greenhouse emissions.

Obama’s budget director Peter Orszag earlier estimated that a cap-and-trade scheme could generate 112 billion dollars by 2012, and up to 300 billion dollars a year by 2020.

Cap-and-trade may be more politically palatable, but a carbon tax may be a better approach for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

In cabinet-related news, have calculated that expanding the food-stamp program

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar wasn’t the top choice of environmentalists, but I was pleased to read this post:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar canceled oil shale development leases on Federal lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and announced that the Interior Department would first study the water, power and land-use issues surrounding the development oil shale.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary wants to review US Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and told Congress that employers should be the focus of raids seeking to enforce immigration laws at workplaces. Obviously, swooping in and arresting a bunch of undocumented workers does nothing to address the root of the problem if employers are not forced to change their hiring practice.

Yesterday Obama named former Washington Governor Gary Locke as his latest choice to run the Commerce Department. Locke seems like a business-friendly Democrat, which is a big improvement over conservative Republican Judd Gregg, who thankfully withdrew his nomination for this post.

Republicans have been freaking out because of alleged plans by the Obama administration to “take control of the census.” Of course the GOP wants to continue the practices that have caused millions of white Americans to be double-counted in past censuses while millions more Americans in urban centers (largely non-whites) were not counted at all. Click here for more on the political battle over the census.

This thread is for any thoughts or comments about Obama’s cabinet or budget.

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A Republican for Transportation Secretary and more reaction to Obama's cabinet picks

President-elect Barack Obama has apparently decided to appoint retiring Republican Congressman Ray LaHood of Illinois as Secretary of Transportation. LaHood was elected to the U.S. House in the 1994 landslide. He decided not to run for re-election this year because “It’s not any fun being in the minority.” (Are you listening, Tom Latham?)

An Illinois blogger writes that LaHood doesn’t have much of a record on transportation issues, although he has voted for more public transit funding and more passenger rail service on Amtrak.

At Grist, Ryan Avent sees three possibilities:

  1. Obama doesn’t intend the DOT secretary to do the heavy lifting on his transportation policies,

  2. Obama doesn’t really care about transportation, and

  3. It isn’t true.

But I agree with the reader who suggested a fourth possibility:

4) Obama knows this guy personally, finds him to be a trustworthy sort.  

I am going to hope for number 4 and that Obama will have LaHood implement the transportation priorities Obama and Biden believe in. Expanding passenger rail is one of the biggies.

Incidentally, LaHood was one of the leaders of the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton. Let’s hope he won’t try to undermine Obama’s presidency as well.

Regarding Obama’s choice of Senator Ken Salazar for Secretary of Interior, some environmental groups are concerned. He’s far from the environmental champion they were hoping for in Congressman Raul Grijalva. Kate Sheppard has more on the environmental community’s mixed feelings on Salazar at Grist.

However, the Sierra Club praised Salazar, as well as Tom Vilsack, in this press release.

In this Daily Kos diary, Kula 2316 provides more reaction to Obama’s choice of Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture.

Share any relevant thoughts in the comments.

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New thread on Obama cabinet appointments and speculation (updated)

UPDATE: Barack Obama announced the key appointments in his energy and environmental team today. Meteor Blades has a good piece up on the “Green Team” of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, “energy czar” Carol Browner, Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson and head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley.

On Saturday Obama devoted his weekly address to the housing crisis (click the link to watch the video) and announced that New York City Commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development Shaun Donovan will serve as Housing and Urban Development Secretary in his cabinet. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York commented,

Shaun Donovan has been one of the most effective housing commissioners in New York City’s history. At this time, with the housing crisis raging, he is exactly the kind of person we need as HUD secretary.

Sam Dillon of the New York Times discussed some possibilities for Secretary of Education and noted,

As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to announce his choice for education secretary, there is mystery not only about the person he will choose, but also about the approach to overhauling the nation’s schools that his selection will reflect.

Despite an 18-month campaign for president and many debates, there remains uncertainty about what Mr. Obama believes is the best way to improve education.

Will he side with those who want to abolish teacher tenure and otherwise curb the power of teachers’ unions? Or with those who want to rewrite the main federal law on elementary and secondary education, the No Child Left Behind Act, and who say the best strategy is to help teachers become more qualified?

UPDATE: Obama reportedly plans to nominate Arne Duncan, the head of Chicago’s public school system, as Secretary of Education. Duncan is also a longtime friend of Obama’s.

Meanwhile, nearly 45,000 people have signed this online petition at Food Democracy Now. Excerpt:

As our nation’s future president, we hope that you will take our concerns under advisement when nominating our next Secretary of Agriculture because of the crucial role this Secretary will play in revitalizing our rural economies, protecting our nation’s food supply and our environment, improving human health and well-being, rescuing the independent family farmer, and creating a sustainable renewable energy future.

We believe that our nation is at a critical juncture in regard to agriculture and its impact on the environment and that our next Secretary of Agriculture must have a broad vision for our collective future that is greater than what past appointments have called for.

Presently, farmers face serious challenges in terms of the high costs of energy, inputs and land, as well as continually having to fight an economic system and legislative policies that undermine their ability to compete in the open market. The current system unnaturally favors economies of scale, consolidation and market concentration and the allocation of massive subsidies for commodities, all of which benefit the interests of corporate agribusiness over the livelihoods of farm families.

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has set a goal of 100,000 signatures for this petition.

Steph Larsen discussed some names on the short list for Secretary of Agriculture here. Sustainable agriculture advocates would love to see the job offered to Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs. Hassebrook wrote this guest opinion for the Des Moines Register a few weeks ago, saying

Nothing better illustrates the broken politics of Washington than farm and rural policy. The federal government spends billions subsidizing mega farms to drive smaller farms off the land and often penalizes the best environmental stewards with lower payments. It largely fails to invest in the future of America’s rural communities.

For example, in 2005 the Department of Agriculture spent nearly twice as much to subsidize the 260 biggest farms across 13 leading farm states than on rural development initiatives to create economic opportunity for the 3 million people living in those states’ 260 most struggling rural counties. That does not help family farms or small-town Americans. It does not serve the common good.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is among those who want to see Obama nominate a “secretary of food” with a broad vision for agriculture. He named Hassebrook as a good candidate for the job.

The Center for Rural Affairs has launched its own online petition asking Obama’s future Secretary of Agriculture, whoever that may be, to promote a new vision for rural America. It’s a long petition, advocating priorities such as:

policies to support grassroots entrepreneurship in rural America, such as the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, the Value Added Producer Grant Program, and the Farmers Market Promotion Program;

a plan to get affordable high-speed internet service to every rural business and home;

policies to support local ownership of wind turbines by farmers and ranchers, communities, and the rural workers who maintain wind turbines;

a plan to find the right approach to biofuels;

federal policies that work for family-size farms, including caps on payments;

better land and water stewardship using the Conservation Stewardship Program and other programs.

According to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Obama’s two finalists for Secretary of Transportation are former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and Steve Heminger, executive director of the San Francisco Bay area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Kirk was an early Obama supporter and the first African-American mayor of Dallas. Heminger has the strong backing of California’s large Democratic Congressional delegation. I don’t know enough about either man’s views on transportation to have an opinion about who would be better for this job.

New names continue to emerge in the speculation surrounding Obama’s Secretary of the Interior. Among the names previously floated, environmentalists have advocated for Raul Grijalva and against Mike Thompson. Now the Denver Post says Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado is a finalist for the job. Traditionally, someone from the west is named to head the Interior Department. Salazar is up for re-election in 2010, and Swing State Project already has a thread up to discuss possible Democratic candidates to replace him if he leaves the Senate for a cabinet position.

UPDATE: CBS news in Denver says Salazar has accepted Obama’s offer to become Secretary of the Interior. Not a great choice, and it leaves Democrats an open Senate seat to defend in Colorado in 2010.

Post any relevant thoughts or opinions in the comments.

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A scientist for the Energy Department and other Obama cabinet speculation (updated)

Imagine that–Barack Obama is hiring an Energy Secretary who knows a lot about energy. Dr. Steven Chu is a Nobel prize-winner in physics who heads the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (which employs 4,000 people). Click the link to watch a YouTube of Chu.

The New York Times published some biographical information about Chu here. I love this comment:

In his own words: New houses could be made energy efficient with an investment of an extra $1,000, “but the American consumer would rather have a granite countertop.” (At a lecture in Washington on energy options, June 25, 2008)

Three other key appointees worked in the Environmental Protection Agency during Bill Clinton’s administration, the Associated Press reported:

The president-elect has selected […] Lisa Jackson for EPA administrator, Carol Browner as his energy ”czar,” and Nancy Sutley to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Democratic officials with knowledge of the decisions said Wednesday. […]

— Jackson, who would be the first black person to lead the EPA, is a former New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection commissioner who worked at the federal agency for 16 years, including under Browner when she was Bill Clinton’s EPA chief. Jackson is a co-chairman of Obama’s EPA transition team, and currently serves as chief of staff to New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine. A New Orleans native, she grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward, the area stricken by Hurricane Katrina. She holds chemical engineering degrees from Tulane University and Princeton University.

— Browner, who served as EPA chief for eight years under Clinton, will become Obama’s go-to person in the White House overseeing energy issues, an area expected to include the environment and climate matters. Now chair of the National Audubon Society and on the boards of several other environmental groups, Browner has been leading the Obama transition’s working group on energy and environment.

— Sutley, the deputy mayor for energy and environment in Los Angeles and the mayor’s representative on the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, is the first prominent gay to earn a senior role in Obama’s new administration. She was an EPA official during the Clinton administration, including being a special assistant to the EPA administrator in Washington. She also previously served on the California State Water Resources Control Board and was an energy adviser to former Gov. Gray Davis.

No clear favorite has emerged for Secretary of the Interior. There’s a major battle going on behind the scenes over that appointment.

Obama met with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who has been mentioned as a possible Secretary of Labor.

Moderate Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is not going to give Eric Holder a pass when the Senate Judiciary Committee holds confirmation hearings for Obama’s attorney general nominee. But I agree with Daily Kos user Dartagnan:

Specter is going to use the Holder hearing (23+ / 0-)

to shore up his credentials with the right for his primary fight against [right-winger Pat] Toomey.

That’s all this is.

Holder will be confirmed with moderate GOP opposition.

UPDATE: Chu seems to be an advocate of expanding nuclear power.

Regarding Specter’s plans for the Holder confirmation hearings, clammyc has a good commentary.

SECOND UPDATE: Rumor has it Obama will go with a compromise choice for Secretary of the Interior, rejecting environmental groups’ favorite Raul Grijalva as well as Blue Dog Mike Thompson. If true, this is an example of why it’s useful to kick up a fuss when a bad choice is floated for an important job.  

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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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