White House Veterans Populate Team Obama

Posted October 29, 2008 at 6:19pm

Correction Appended

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is being advised by a long roster of former aides to President Bill Clinton, a sign that the putative outsider would be ready for inside-Washington hardball, in a way that few newly elected presidents have been, should he win on Nov. 4.

Jimmy Carter entered Washington with his “Georgia Mafia.” Ronald Reagan had his Californians, Clinton his Arkansans and George W. Bush his Texans. But while Obama has a few advisers in tow from his home base of Chicago, there is no talk of a cabal of Illinois-based officials ready to seize the levers of power.

A high-profile gathering last month in Coral Gables, Fla., that was billed as an Obama huddle with his “economic team” looked like a Clinton administration reunion. Among those on hand with Obama were two former Clinton Treasury secretaries — Robert Rubin and Larry Summers — as well as former Clinton National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and Clinton Council of Economic Advisers Chairwoman Laura Tyson.

Obama’s foreign policy team also features Clinton heavyweights. Former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and Navy Secretary Richard Danzig are among the highest-ranking Clintonites now signed up for Team Obama. Even former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who appeared somberly beside Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) after her loss to Obama in the Iowa primary earlier this year, is pitching in with advice.

Though Obama has held a position of power in Washington for only four years, experts note it is four years longer than the several governors who have won the presidency in recent elections. They say the gathering of insiders around Obama could help him avoid the rocky starts of Democratic predecessors Clinton and Carter should he be elected.

“He is here [in Washington] already, and he’s more likely to bring in people with experience,” John Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute said. “Obama would have an advantage over Carter and Clinton and most recent presidents who have been real outsiders.”

The presence of so many Clinton people on the campaign could also signal that Obama may govern as more of a moderate than Republicans — and his own voting record and rhetoric — would suggest. Obama was pegged by National Journal magazine as having the most liberal voting record in the Senate in 2007.

Many of the economic players advising Obama were on hand as Clinton made centrist moves such as signing welfare reform and the North American Free Trade Agreement and pursuing other free-trade deals. The selection this spring of Jason Furman as the Obama campaign’s senior economic adviser caused a minor uproar on the left, where some view him as too much of a free trader. Furman is linked to Rubin and served as a White House adviser toward the end of Clinton’s second term.

Brookings Institution analyst Stephen Hess, author of the upcoming book, “What Do We Do Now? A Workbook for the President- Elect,” said it is not surprising that Obama would be using card-carrying Washingtonians to “change Washington.”

“They know something about how government works,” Hess said. “He hasn’t been in the executive branch.”

Much of Obama’s rhetoric on changing Washington has focused on lobbyists and removing money from the equation, and none of his senior advisers are lobbyists.

Refereeing the post-Election Day interlude should Obama win would be former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, who has been tapped to oversee the transition effort. Presumably, he would have a large role in hiring decisions.

Among the other economic aides who are also Clinton administration alumni are Jeffrey Liebman, who specializes in poverty issues and Social Security, and David Cutler, a health care expert. Both worked on Clinton’s National Economic Council, as did Daniel Tarullo, who specializes in international economic policy. Michael Froman, another adviser who served as Rubin’s chief of staff at Treasury, was a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama’s.

On the foreign policy side, Susan Rice, a former Clinton White House aide and assistant secretary of State for African affairs, is among Obama’s most senior advisers. Also key members of the foreign policy team are Gregory Craig, a senior official in the Clinton State Department who defended Clinton during the impeachment trial, and Denis McDonough.

McDonough is part of a coterie of Obama aides linked to former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.). McDonough served as a foreign policy adviser to Daschle, and Obama’s Senate chief of staff, Pete Rouse, served in the same role for Daschle.

Leading the coterie is Daschle himself, who is widely mentioned as a potential Obama White House chief of staff.

Correction: Oct. 30, 2008

The article incorrectly stated that Denis McDonough, an adviser to the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.