Obama's "Change": Picking the same people that worked under the Clinton/Bush administrations
WASHINGTON — For months on the campaign trail, Barack Obama promised to bring change to Washington. But now that he's president-elect, his first potential Cabinet picks indicate that he may bring more years of Washington experience to his administration than Bill Clinton or George W. Bush did.
Obama's first four likely Cabinet choices, including former first lady Hillary Clinton, have a combined total of more than 60 years of Washington experience.
By comparison, President Bush's first four Cabinet picks had a total of 30 years experience in Washington, and former President Clinton's had 58.
Obama has chosen former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, a 30-year Washington veteran, to be his secretary of health and human services, and former deputy attorney general Eric Holder, a 20-year Washington veteran, to be his attorney general. His transition team is also reviewing Hillary Clinton, who has 15 years of experience in Washington as first lady and as New York senator, for the position of secretary of state.
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Obama's pick to lead the 7-year-old Department of Homeland Security, is a Washington outsider.
Obama signaled early on what kind of Cabinet he would recruit when he named Rahm Emanuel, a veteran of the Clinton administration and a fellow member of Congress, as his White House chief of staff.
Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, said he wasn't surprised that Obama would be relying more on Clinton veterans "who participated in a presidency that is viewed to have its accomplishments and was viewed as well run."
He added that Obama is entering a political landscape that is far different from the one Clinton faced when he was elected.
"When President Clinton came in, Democrats had virtually no farm team of executive branch hands that they could rely on for White House and Cabinet positions," Riley said.
In 1992, Clinton became the first Democratic president in 12 years, compared to the eight year-interval between him and Obama. Clinton also faced difficulty in picking veterans from Jimmy Carter's administration because Carter's four-year presidency was widely viewed as a failure, Riley said.
But Obama faces pitfalls when relying on Clinton veterans because he ran on a mantra of change, Riley said.
"The argument that Obama people would make ... it's possible to rely on people who know how the levers are pulled, but move it in a different direction than the last eight years," he said.
President Bush brought many Texans with him to Washington, but the ones who had the most influence on his administration were the Washington insiders, Riley said.
Bush's first Cabinet choice was his secretary of state, Colin Powell, who had 14 years of Washington experience, including a four-year stint as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the first President Bush and President Clinton.
Bush's treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, had 16 years of Washington experience, including his work as the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, which creates the executive branch's fiscal blueprint.
Non-Washington insiders who were early choices in the Bush administration included Don Evans, a private businessman, as commerce secretary, and Mel Martinez, who had been a Florida utilities official, as secretary of housing and urban development.
Bill Clinton's first Cabinet pick was Lloyd Bentsen to be secretary of the treasury. Bentsen had 28 years of Washington experience, including 22 in the Senate. He also had been the Democratic candidate for vice president in 1988.
Clinton's other early choices included Ron Brown, a former head of the Democratic National Committee, as commerce secretary; Donna Shalala, head of the Washington-based Children's Defense Fund and a Carter administration official, as secretary of health and human services; and Robert Reich, a veteran of the Ford and Carter administrations, for labor secretary.
Riley said it's a good idea to appoint Washington veterans to positions that a president must rely on for so much.
Every president is "at the mercy of the people" he surrounds himself with, he said. "You have to have a good mix of eminence, people you can rely on and not mind being in a foxhole with."