How should we read Obama’s Cabinet choices?

How should we read Obama’s Cabinet choices?

And what else might happen in this term?

I was a little surprised at the recent non-announcement that Hillary Clinton is to be offered the job of Secretary of State by President-Elect Obama. Unlike others, I see her as perfectly well qualified, and can understand that after having come so close to leading her party that her junior status in the Senate was not particularly appealing. I have no doubt that her network and reputation will allow her to do very well, leaving Obama to concentrate on domestic affairs, and without losing a Democratic Senate seat (NY state is fairly safe territory).

    I am surprised that she pipped New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (who has the perfect CV for State) to the post, and that she and President Clinton were prepared to submit to the Cheney-esque vetting procedure, including revealing the 208,000 donors to his Presidential Library (a useful list for Obama to have pending re-election). Richardson is apparently due to inherit the role of Secretary of Commerce, which I think is a little below his pay-grade, but he is a party man and term limited, so will probably accept.

Timothy Geithner at Treasury and Eric Holder as Attorney General overseeing the DoJ have both been welcomed as good solid choices, and Peter Orszag will no doubt revel in being Director of the OMB. The two other confirmed picks are intriguing, and have been carefully calculated. Tom Daschle, former Senate Majority Leader from South Dakota picks up Health & Human Services having seen Rahm Emanuel take the White House Chief of Staff job. Both these appointments imply that Obama is keen to wield influence within Congress, rather than to deny its remit in overseeing the Executive Branch. In both cases, no seat is lost to Republicans – Illinois 5th is safe Democratic, and Daschle lost his seat in 2004.

    The most intriguing choice for me is to see Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano recommended for Secretary of Homeland Security. Whilst she is eminently qualified, and as a border-state Governor will bring expertise to the role, some Democrats have noted that she was the only candidate who could beat John McCain in the Senate race of 2010 that this week he announced he would compete. This appointment hands him re-election on a plate.

So why? The obvious reason is that she is the right person for the job, and that if (as I suspect) Biden retires to allow a next generation Democrat onto the re-election ticket, having promoted a strong female candidate into such a powerful role accords with good succession planning. What I couldn’t help but notice was that McCain’s revelation that he will run again (19th Nov), and the announcement of her appointment (20th Nov) came within days of Obama and McCain meeting for the first time since the election (18th Nov).

    It would not surprise me if that meeting was genuinely cordial, and that McCain’s input helped Obama make some of those choices. Whilst partisan Democrats considered McCain’s Senate seat for the taking, I suspect that Obama would be quite grateful to have the Gang of Fourteen leader in the Senate as a moderating influence on his party, and that bringing Napolitano to Washington worked well for the agendae of both these former rivals.

The only major role still open is that of Secretary of Defense – some say Robert Gates will stay for the time being to provide continuity, others that Chuck Hagel (fmr Senator, R-NE) is the best bet, though I suspect he will be offered Sec. Veterans’ Affairs. Democrats are always nervous about the perception that they cannot handle national security, so I wonder if rumours of Colin Powell (who has not been an active General for over a decade and is now eligible) are disquieting to the partisans. Interestingly, no members of President-elect Obama’s family may be appointed to the Cabinet, unless Congress were to repeal the 1976 so-called Bobby Kennedy Law (RFK was his brother’s AG from 1961).

For those who need a little more fun in their political betting markets, Paddy Power are offering some political novelty bets. Obama is 33-1 to be impeached in his first term (not value), 28-1 to resign (not value), and 10-1 to become a father for the third time (no comment). They are also running a great market on the ‘first thing to happen in Obama’s first term’ – the value bets for me are seeing online gambling legalised (6-1), the discover of aliens on Mars (500-1), and in all seriousness a Federal ban on Capital Punishment (20-1). Obama does not believe in a complete ban, but the Democratic majorities might be large enough that he would sign it, and leave it up to the Supreme Court.

So for those of you still experiencing withdrawal symptoms since the election ended, there are a few novelty bets to tide you over. Happy punting!


PS: The ever-excellent James Forsyth over at the Spectator’s Coffe House blog discusses why Caroline Kennedy being appointed to the Court of St James (as was once her grandfather) should perhaps be welcomed.

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