Northup represented Kentuckys 3rd district from 1997 until 2006, when Democrat John Yarmuth unseated her. Yarmuth held off a challenge from Northup in 2008. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been a strong supporter of Northup throughout her career.
The appointment marks another step by Obama to bring Republicans into his administration. Among Obamas high-profile GOP selections are Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, former Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Rep. John McHugh of New York as Army secretary and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. as ambassador to China. The president also tapped Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire to be Commerce Secretary, but Gregg withdrew his nomination.