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3178Summers, Emanuel Candidates for Obama Administration

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  • Greg Cannon
    Nov 5, 2008

      Summers, Emanuel Candidates for Obama Administration
      Albert R. Hunt – 1 hr 50 mins ago

      Nov. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Barack Obama's top priority will be appointing a Treasury secretary and White House chief of staff. The leading candidates: two Clinton administration stalwarts, Lawrence Summers and Representative Rahm Emanuel.

      It's unlikely the president-elect can assemble a Cabinet and staff within 10 days as some have advised, say people who have discussed this with him in recent days, all of whom asked for anonymity. Still, given the financial crisis and two wars, Obama, 47, is bound to move more quickly than either of his two predecessors in making key personnel decisions.

      Summers, 53, is favored to return to the Treasury post that he held under President Bill Clinton because Obama values his experience and familiarity with markets and global leaders, a crucial asset during the markets crisis.

      Still, people close to the president-elect stress no final decision has been reached and that Timothy Geithner, president of the New York Federal Reserve, is also a strong contender. Geithner would also be welcome by many in the financial community; at age 47, he would be a fresh face in an administration that ran on a mantra of change.

      Obama's first decision may be who heads his White House operation. ``A president should pick a White House chief of staff first,'' says Vernon Jordan, the lawyer and investment banker who ran the transition for Bill Clinton in 1992. ``The chief of staff needs to be involved in the selection of other people in the government; that's the quarterback.''

      Washington Insider

      Obama has spoken with Emanuel, the No. 4 ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives and former Clinton White House aide, in recent weeks about the post; if asked, Emanuel is expected to accept.

      ABC News, citing an unnamed source, said today that Obama offered the job to Emanuel and Emanuel has not yet responded.

      Emanuel, 48, would bring an exceptional understanding of the nexus between politics and policy and of the way Washington works, critical requisites for that job.

      His detractors say his tough, take-no-prisoners approach is antithetical to the tone and style of the Obama presidential campaign.

      Still, if, as many expect, top campaign strategist David Axelrod and businesswoman and Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett become counselors to the president, they would form a powerful Chicago troika running the White House.

      Defense Secretary

      On the national security front, the first decision may be whether to ask Defense Secretary Robert Gates to remain for an interim period, a move favored by a number of influential congressional Democrats and the military. As the new president focuses on the financial crisis, they argue, this would offer continuity.

      ``He's done an extraordinary job,'' Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, said of Gates. ``I would hope that in some capacity he could continue to serve.''

      If Gates isn't asked to stay, a leading candidate for Defense would be retiring Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Hagel accompanied Obama on his trip to Afghanistan and Iraq in July, and the two have become close. The Illinois senator has said he wants a bipartisan Cabinet.

      Initially, the Obama camp had hoped to have the Cabinet and White House staff picked by Nov. 15. Several events, including a likely trip to Hawaii for the funeral of the president-elect's grandmother, and a sense that it's important to look at the overall cohesiveness of a new administration, make this unlikely to occur until closer to Thanksgiving.

      Obama needs to strike a balance, assuring that sufficient numbers of women and minorities get top jobs, experienced and fresh faces, longtime supporters and some converts, and at least a Republican or two.

      `Old and New'

      ``It has to be the old and new, the tried and true and geographically representative,'' says Jordan. ``And it has to be educationally balanced -- they can't all come from Harvard or Ivy League schools.''

      Although there is strong sense that Summers and Geithner are the odds-on favorites for Treasury secretary, there is an outside chance Obama would turn to an even more experienced graybeard such as former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker or former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

      More likely, however, is that Rubin -- who talks frequently with Obama -- will be given a senior portfolio to advise on the financial crisis, and Volcker may be used as a troubleshooter on the same issues, dealing with the Europeans and others. Top Obama advisers say none of this has been decided.

      Economic Policy

      Another important post is the National Economic Council, which coordinates policy-making at the White House. Two leading candidates are Peter Orszag, the current director of the Congressional Budget Office, and Jack Lew, who headed the Office of Management and Budget under Clinton.

      There is little consensus yet on who will direct the Office of Management and Budget. One possibility is John Podesta, Clinton's one-time chief of staff, though Podesta has told friends he doesn't want another White House job.

      Austan Goolsbee, an economic adviser to the campaign and a University of Chicago economist, is widely considered to be the leading candidate to head the president's Council of Economic Advisers.

      Two other economic advisers, Gene Sperling, another veteran of the Clinton white House, and Jason Furman, are also in line for jobs.

      Associates say Obama surely will have a woman, and someone from the business community, at the higher echelons of any economic team, perhaps a top Treasury post or the trade ambassador.

      National Security

      Some of the same considerations are at play in picking a national security team. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is lobbying for secretary of State, although Obama has been cautioned that would be received negatively by many Republicans.

      Former Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, who has attracted Obama's attention as a leader of anti-nuclear proliferation efforts, is another possibility.

      Vice president-elect Joe Biden, currently chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is expected to have a major voice on national security. That's why a Biden ally, former Clinton United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, is a dark- horse candidate for secretary of State. Holbrooke supported Hillary Clinton during the primaries.

      Obama, associates say, will also use several prominent retired generals such as ex-NATO commander and former Marine Corps Commandant James Jones for special assignments. This could include one of the top intelligence jobs. California Congresswoman Jane Harman, former ranking Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee, would also be a candidate.

      Napolitano, Sebelius

      One leading candidate for a Cabinet post is Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, an early Obama supporter. Napolitano, a former state attorney general, is being considered for U.S. attorney general.

      Another governor and also an early Obama supporter, Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, is a favorite of the president-elect and probably could have her choice of several top Cabinet posts. Other positions surely will be filled by some Hispanics and blacks as well as faces not as familiar to Washington.

      Time Magazine's Mark Halperin reported last night that Obama is considering asking former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican, to be education secretary. Powell, who endorsed Obama last month, has a longtime interest in the subject.

      Should Emanuel be tapped quickly to be chief of staff, the rest of the White House advisers would fall in line soon. If the Illinois congressman isn't chosen, a strong alternative is former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, Obama associates say.

      To contact the reporter on this story: Albert R. Hunt in Washington at