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Filling The Cabinet
2008-10-08 08:02
by Will Carroll

I've started thinking about who might fill the Obama Cabinet. There's going to be a lot of discussion about this in coming days, as Obama's lead solidifies I thought Obama missed an opportunity to win the question last night about who would be his Treasury Secretary by not having a ready answer. Warren Buffett? I don't think so. Who do I think? Let's go down the list:


It may not be highest on the succession list, but Tom Brokaw had it right that it's now the most powerful position. Henry Paulson gets much of his Wall Street cred from being the former boss of Goldman Sachs. Corzine was once CEO of GS, but was pushed out during a crisis (LTCM). That works against him some, but his success as Senator and as a popular Governor in New Jersey will help. Other candidates are former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and NY Fed Chair Tim Geithner, though I'd like to see Mike Bloomberg here. If you want a long shot, how about Ben Bernanke, shifting him upstairs and moving Geithner into the Fed Chair.


A black woman? Named Rice? Yes, but she's nothing like Condi. This Rice is a former Asst. Secretary of State under Clinton and a serious policy wonk. There's little question about her credentials but a bit about her temperament. She seems a bit too much like Condi to some and sending a woman to meet with the sheiks is a tough sell at times. Gen. Anthony Zinni is another strong candidate here, or could be on the NSC. (*A lot of emails about John Kerry here, but as I said with Homeland originally, I think Kerry is stronger in the Senate.)


The new Attorney General might need to start with pardons. I've always said it would be a strong statement to pardon George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as they leave office, both to end the discussion and to leave a cloud of wrongdoing over them. This spot could have been John Edwards', but he's now in no man's land. Davis is a young up and comer in the Democratic party who has solid creds and Obama connections. Patrick Fitzgerald, the man who headed up the Plame Investigation ... and the Tony Rezko case ... is going to get some consideration.


As much as I dislike the idea of a bipartisan cabinet -- it did nothing for Clinton -- Hagel is well qualified and a shoo-in for confirmation. Dick Lugar, who's work with Obama has been touted, is another possibility. This one seems very open, which is somewhat odd given the status. Jim Webb's name is going to be raised here, but if he wouldn't take the VP slot, he's unlikely to take a Cabinet position.

Homeland Security: WESLEY CLARK

I wish Obama would just get rid of this white elephant, but he won't. Clark could also be State or Defense, but the Clinton supporter might start here. Given his PAC is called "Securing America" he could just port his web site over! There's a lot of good things to say about offering this slot to Lee Hamilton, a chair of the 9/11 Committee and another Republican, but I think Hagel is a better pick and doubt there will be more than one Repub in the Cabinet. Webb will also be mentioned here, as will John Kerry, but with Ted Kennedy ailing, it would be tough to have Massachusetts appoint two Senators.

Health and Human Services: HOWARD DEAN

Quick - name the current HHS secretary. In fact, name any of the current heads of departments from here on down. Can't do it? Neither can Bush, who's relied less on his cabinet than any other president. Putting a doctor in charge here, albeit one with partisan issues, to help lead the charge on health insurance might be a bit polarizing. It does give Obama the chance to put his own man (David Axelrod) in at the DNC. David Cutler is probably the most likely choice here, however with John Kitzhaber a close second. (Oh, and it's Mike Leavitt who's the current one.)


Another graduation from House Chair to the Cabinet, Miller is a California congressman in a safe blue district. He's not terribly distinguished, but there's no real downside here. Kathleen Sebelius will be mentioned a lot with her focus on education, but it won't be enough to get her to jump to DC.

Veterans Affairs: MAX CLELAND

Another Clinton vet, Cleland's credentials are impeccable despite the attacks on him that cost him his Senate seat. It's an easy pick that would require almost no thought. Some have suggested that John McCain could be a bipartisan pick here, but I can't see him accepting for a number of reasons, including that his Senate seat would be filled by a Democratic governor.


Uninspiring, but easy choice. Gephardt's got some credibility left in this area and there's not any great choices. The best choice would be David Bonior, but I doubt that he'd move to the Cabinet from his Whip position in the House. I'm less enthusiastic about this choice seeing that Gephardt is working for a big law firm and could conceivably get the lobbyist tar on him. This could also be where we see an Hispanic like Xavier Becerra tapped.


Al Gore is just too cute a pick here, plus I think Gore actually gets more done outside government than he could inside. He's a polarizing figure and the next President can't afford that with energy such a high priority issue. Instead, I think Obama could grab a popular figure who could be key in selling a bipartisan plan to the public. For the guy who "invented the Hummer" to champion alternative fuels is something you can only get in Hollywood.


Lots of names here as possibles - Brian Schweitzer, Chris Gregoire - but do either leave Governor's mansions for this spot? I don't think so. Jeff Bingaman, the long term Senator from New Mexico, is probably senior enough to move up to a Cabinet spot from his current Chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources committee. (One suggestion from email was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a passionate environmentalist ... and would make for two Kennedy's in the cabinet! He might be a bit strong but is certainly worth consideration as is Lisa Renstrom from the Sierra Club.)

Agriculture: CHET CULVER

Patrick Leahy will be prominently mentioned, but again, leaving a power position in the Senate is tough. Culver was a big help to Obama's Iowa campaign, so this could be payback. He's young and ambitious, so this might not be enough of a profile for him. Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, is another possibility, though as a co-chair of Hillary's campaign, he's not exactly an Obama loyalist.


This one might have more power than most people think, given the problems with the housing market and the possibility that the Treasury will nationalize the mortgage industry. Then again, the Treasury could essentially usurp much of this function, leaving it a dead end portfolio. Daschle's been solid for the Obama campaign and this is a nice mid-level area, one that Daschle could use to keep the department "in play" during the housing crisis.


Giving a Cabinet post to a top fundraiser is a tough one, but Pritzker is pretty low-profile outside of the Beltway and has never been involved in big scandal. (TransUnion isn't a plus here, but isn't a disqualifier.) Her family connections, Harvard pedigree and easy style should make her a nice choice if not an inspired one.

Transportation: JIM OBERSTAR

The little known Congressman from Minnesota has been on the Transportation committee and is a strong advocate of integrated transportation policies, especially rail systems. He's worked to shore up infrastructure after the Minneapolis bridge collapse and that work should push him to this post.

UPDATE: I've updated with links to these people since there are so many lesser known ones. I also noticed that I ended up with an odd mix for a Democratic cabinet, with as many Republicans as women and no Hispanics. I still don't think Bill Richardson would go from governor of NM to return to Energy, though it is more powerful than it seems and Schwarzenegger is an admitted longshot. I do think I got the geographic and political structure right, especially after some emails I got in response.

2008-10-08 10:36:11
1.   underdog
How about that Warren Buffet as Treasury Secretary idea that was mentioned last night?
2008-10-08 10:36:34
2.   underdog
(Btw, let's not be jinxing the election now. ;-) )
2008-10-08 12:18:28
3.   Cliff Corcoran
Wow, a vision of Political Prospectus, a world in which people follow politics and the actions of our government with the same passion and curiosity for minutia as they follow sports. My own interest in those subjects has been steadily increasing over the past decade (a product of age as much as anything else, I'm sure), but I'ma not quite there yet. Still, it's encouraging to see it elsewehere. If only "Jim Oberstar" meant as much to me as "Lyle Overbay."
2008-10-08 14:46:33
4.   Will Carroll
Cliff ...

Political Prospectus =

(and apologies for the hosed HTML. Fixed now)

2008-10-08 20:55:25
5.   Cliff Corcoran
4 Sort of. FiveThirtyEight is lots of fun, but it's focus is very narrow. It's Election Prospectus.
2008-10-08 21:25:28
6.   misterjohnny
Getting a little cocky now, aren't we?

Don't count your chickens. What if Obama is the Mets?

2008-10-09 05:46:24
7.   chris in illinois
If Obama is the Mets, then this is 1986 and McCain's 'Buckner Moment' was his selection of Palin.
2008-10-09 07:02:40
8.   Bama Yankee
How about William Ayers for Homeland Security and Tony Rezko for HUD?

As 6 points out, you probably shouldn't count your chickens before they come home to roost... ;-)

2008-10-09 07:20:06
9.   jgpyke
What about Keith Olbermann for WH Press Secretary? He's been auditioning for the gig for months now.

7 Buckner has gotten the rawest deal of anyone in all of sports. Before the BoSox brought in that tomato can of a reliever, they were actually ahead. But all anyone remembers is the Buckner play. Even if he had made the play, it would be a tie game (and the BoSox were on the road). A victory was not guaranteed.

2008-10-09 07:28:34
10.   jgpyke
What's interesting about WCs picks is that they are all pretty safe. This is a far cry from the radical tag that some attach to Obama. Of course, he could put up Alfie Kohn or Jonathan Kozol for ED and prove his radicalism. But I doubt it.

FWIW, is there any reason to have people who are, um, qualified in these areas to be the cabinet heads? I mean, it's all politocrats. Even Dean is more politician than physician.

2008-10-09 07:49:03
11.   chris in illinois
10 Just because 'W' didn't believe that qualifications matter when picking people to head billion dollar government agencies, doesn't mean that qualifications shouldn't matter.

"This is a far cry from the radical tag that some attach to Obama."

Exactly, he is no radical.

Buckner lets ball go between legs, Sox Lose right??

2008-10-09 07:49:59
12.   chris in illinois
9 Tony Snow blazed that trail, no?
2008-10-09 08:25:42
13.   jgpyke
11 Yes, Sox lose when ball goes through legs. My point was that it was a tie game on the road. Victory was never assured. Buckner let one run through, not two. People act like BB woulda made the scoop, stepped on 1B, and the WS would be over. Not so.

12 Guess you never watched his show, huh? Now if Hannity had been press sec., you'd be onto something.

2008-10-09 08:27:24
14.   jgpyke
Larry Flint could draft Obama's kindergarten curriculum.
2008-10-09 08:44:02
15.   chris in illinois
OK, victory was certainly never assured for McCain, Palin's anointment as VP was merely the last action sealing his doom.

14 I heard it was you never tire of the BS?? Do you really think Obama is in favor of spread-eagle centerfolds for every classroom?? That druggie Limbaugh's fantasies aren't so freakin' crazy.

2008-10-09 08:46:29
16.   chris in illinois
13 I did hear his partisan hackery numerous times on that stoner Limbaugh's show.

Snow seemed pretty comfortable lying to a crowd.

2008-10-09 13:37:18
17.   George Y
Why is Edwards' career over? All he has to do is become a Republican--they like men who dump their wives or cheat on them. Of late it almost seems to be a requirement to be nominated for president (not just McCain but Dole, too).

There have been rumors about Hillary as AG. Now that would make Republicans happy.

And why not someone like Marian Wright Edelman for Sect. of Education?

2008-10-10 07:03:43
18.   das411
Wow, fifteen is definintely the most chickens I have ever seen counted before they are hatched, good job Scott!

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