CongressNow: Possibilities Abound for Obama Cabinet

Posted August 25, 2008 at 7:05pm

With Democrats having been out of the White House for eight years, there is no shortage of Cabinet-ready personnel for a President Barack Obama to choose from. Here are some names being floated for domestic Cabinet appointments. National security and economic posts are covered in other articles in this series.

Attorney General. With revelations of an affair presumably taking widely touted former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) out of the picture, the AG landscape is wide open.

Eric Holder Jr., a member of Obama’s vice presidential vetting team, is a strong contender. Holder served as a judge and then as deputy attorney general during the final years of the Clinton administration and would be the first black attorney general. The fly in the ointment is Holder’s role in Bill Clinton’s controversial pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.

Jamie Gorelick, another former deputy attorney general under Clinton, could be in the mix, especially given that her service on the 9/11 commission could provide a contrast to Bush Justice Department officials’ stance on torture. However, the troubles in the mortgage industry — including with her former employer, Fannie Mae — pose an obstacle.

Other Clinton administration veterans with a shot include Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan, who was deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council; Drew Days, who served as solicitor general; Walter Dellinger III, who served as acting solicitor general and assistant attorney general; and former solicitor general Seth Waxman.

Obama could also look to Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D). Napolitano served both as Arizona’s attorney general and the U.S. attorney for Arizona, and her stance on immigration is tough enough to get elected in Arizona without being too anti-immigrant for the Democratic mainstream. Some speculate that she might head the Department of Homeland Security instead. However, if she takes either post, she would be succeeded as governor immediately by Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer, the top Republican gubernatorial contender for 2010.

Obama could also tap Washington state Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) if she loses a tough battle for a second term in November. Gregoire, a former state AG, delivered a key primary endorsement for Obama at a time when her state’s Democratic Senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, were going with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Among sitting Senators, freshman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I) is an intriguing candidate, with prior experience as both the U.S. attorney and attorney general in his home state. Since winning his Senate seat in 2006, Whitehouse has criticized the department from his seat on the Judiciary Committee.

Then, of course, there is the potential blockbuster pick: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Health and Human Services Secretary. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), a key adviser to Obama, is often mentioned. Daschle, however, might face scrutiny for his work with clients of his law and lobbying firm, Alston & Bird. Daschle is also touted for White House chief of staff.

Clinton, with her long expertise in health care, is a natural to run HHS if she wanted the job, but it’s not clear that it would be an improvement over the Senate for planning a future presidential run.

With their experience running the federal- state Medicaid program, several Democratic governors could be strong candidates, including Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Phil Bredesen of Tennessee. Bredesen is a former health care executive, although as governor he trimmed state-funded health programs — not an ideal signal for a Democratic HHS candidate to send.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) is another option, if she’s willing to give up her post chairing the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.

Outside of government, Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, could be a dark-horse pick.

Education Secretary. A name that often comes up is Linda Darling-Hammond. She is a top education adviser to Obama and served as principal investigator and co- director of Stanford University’s School Redesign Network and Educational Leadership Institute. Another name often floated is Joel Klein, who has earned plaudits for his work as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Indeed, school chiefs from large cities have been a major talent pool for education secretary appointments in the past. Other big names include Arne Duncan, the CEO for Chicago Public Schools, and Paul Vallas, superintendent of New Orleans’ Recovery School District.

Governors are another big talent pool for education secretary, and this year, the possibilities include Democrats Sebelius, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (if she loses her Senate race this fall) and former Washington state Gov. Gary Locke. (Locke is also touted for U.S. trade representative.)

Two other major figures in education are former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt and former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, who later served as Los Angeles schools chief. But doubts about whether they would want to head to Washington, D.C., at this juncture in their career push them down the list.

Labor Secretary. A natural choice, if he would take it, is former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), who has strong ties to labor unions.

Otherwise, current and former members of the National Labor Relations Board could be in the mix, including Clinton appointees Sarah Fox and Wilma Liebman. If Obama is willing to tap a labor leader directly — an approach that could provoke a confirmation battle with the GOP — then Linda Chavez-Thompson, the former AFL-CIO executive vice president, is a possibility.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. One name surfacing for HUD secretary is Shaun Donovan, commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development as well as former deputy assistant secretary for multifamily housing at HUD during the Clinton years. Other names being floated are Sister Lillian Murphy, CEO of Mercy Housing and a national affordable-housing advocate; and David Gottfried, founder of the U.S. Green Building Council.

If Obama goes for a sitting or former mayor, there are any number of possibilities, from Dennis Archer of Detroit to Shirley Franklin of Atlanta.

Transportation Secretary. Possibilities from Congress include Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Aviation, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a “smart-growth” advocate who is pushing a national transportation infrastructure plan. Among governors, Kaine has made transportation his signature issue, but his troubles with the legislature on the issue could make other Cabinet slots more attractive for him.

Agriculture Secretary. If Obama continues the tradition of naming farm-state politicians to be agriculture secretary, he could find a willing candidate in the House. Possibilities dot the roster of the House Agriculture Committee, from Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) on down. With the farm bill passed and off the table for the rest of Obama’s first term, 2009 would be a good year to jump — and some majority lawmakers on the panel may lose their seats this fall and be looking for a job.

Peterson’s predecessor once removed, former Rep. Bob Bergland (D-Minn.), served as agriculture secretary under President Jimmy Carter.

Among governors, Sebelius and Vilsack would fit the bill, though Sebelius is thought to be aiming for a post elsewhere in the Cabinet.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator. As EPA prepares to assume a greater regulatory role over greenhouse gas emissions, Obama could look to his Capitol Hill colleagues to fill the top spot.

One candidate is 16-term Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a longtime environmental champion whose future as chairman of the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee is uncertain given that the panel expires at the end of the 110th Congress. But he may elect to stay in Congress to see a global warming bill through to enactment, or he could seek to succeed Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) if Kennedy’s illness forces him to step down.

Obama could also turn to Kathleen McGinty, who chaired Clinton’s Council on Environmental Quality before taking the reins of the Pennsylvania Department of the Environment, or Roderick Bremby, who heads the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Bremby’s boss, Sebelius, could also land at EPA, as could another governor, such as Massachusetts’ Deval Patrick (D), who is close to Obama but has only been governor for two years. Former Sen. Tim Wirth (D-Colo.), who now runs the United Nations Foundation, is another possibility.

Energy Secretary. Markey is also mentioned as a possible pick to run the Energy Department. Former 10-term Rep. Phil Sharp (D-Ind.), who heads the environmental think tank Resources for the Future, is also seen as a candidate for either EPA or DOE. A governor such as Sebelius or Colorado’s Bill Ritter (D), both of whom have made energy a major agenda item, could also be in the mix, though Ritter has only been in office for two years.

Interior Secretary. Obama is thought likely to continue the trend of installing a westerner as interior secretary, especially if he runs strongly in sagebrush states such as Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. Napolitano is a possibility if she fails to get AG or DHS, while Wyoming’s Dave Freudenthal (D) would be a contender if he can be persuaded to forgo the wide open spaces for D.C.

It’s also possible that Obama could turn to veteran House Democrats such as Norm Dicks (Wash.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, or George Miller (Calif.), a former chairman of the Natural Resources Committee. While both would be hard-pressed to give up plum positions in the Democratic majority, they may wish to cap their careers with a Cabinet job.

And if either Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) or his cousin, Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), lose Senate bids this fall, they would have a strong shot for the job. Stewart Udall — Tom’s father and Mark’s uncle — served as interior secretary for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

— Charlene Carter, Geof Koss, Stephen Langel and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.