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Obama team taps three for key positions

- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday morning said that Valerie Jarrett, a longtime family friend and close counselor with a long history in Chicago politics, will serve as a senior White House adviser.

The Obama transition team also announced the choice of two other individuals for key positions.

Phil Schiliro, a longtime congressional investigator for Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, will serve in the Obama administration as the head of the White House legislative affairs office.

And Ron Klain, who has been at the center of battles over the Supreme Court for the past 20 years and served as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore in the Clinton White House, will fill the same position for Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Mr. Biden spent the day Saturday in Nevada visiting his son, Joseph "Beau" Biden, a captain in the Delaware National Guard who is scheduled to deploy for Iraq soon.

Mr. Obama spent the day with his family in Chicago.

An interview with Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, was previewed by the CBS News program "60 Minutes."

"These individuals will be essential members of our team," Mr. Obama said in a statement released by the transition office. "I have the utmost confidence that their broad and diverse experience will serve my administration and the American people well."

Mrs. Jarrett's hiring, one day after her 52nd birthday, removes one of the top names that had been under speculation as a possible replacement to fill Mr. Obama's U.S. Senate seat, which he will vacate Sunday.

Top candidates for the seat from Illinois still include Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and double amputee who now serves as the secretary of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs; Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Illinois Democrat; and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, also an Illinois Democrat.

Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, a Democrat, will appoint a replacement to fill the rest of Mr. Obama's term, which expires in 2010.

Mrs. Jarrett, a Michigan law school graduate who grew up in Chicago, first came to know the Obama family through the president-elect's wife, Michelle, when she and Mr. Obama were engaged.

Mrs. Jarrett, who at the time worked for Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, hired Mrs. Obama to work for her in 1991. Mrs. Jarrett eventually became a trusted aide to Mayor Richard Daley and then took Mrs. Obama with her to the city planning commission when she changed jobs.

In 1995, Mrs. Jarrett, a divorced mother of one daughter, went to work for the Habitat Company, a Chicago-based real estate development and apartment-management company.

In January 2007, she became president and CEO of Habitat after 11 years as executive vice president. Habitat has developed more than 17,000 housing units and currently manages more than 20,000 units, the Obama transition office said.

The Obamas spent two hours Friday night at a birthday party in Chicago for Mrs. Jarrett at the home of friend Desiree Rogers, a Chicago businesswoman.

Mr. Schiliro, who will head up the White House office of legislative affairs, joined the Obama campaign in the summer to work on legislative issues after working on Capitol Hill for more than 25 years.

Mr. Waxman, the current chairman of the House Government and Oversight Reform Committee, hired Mr. Schiliro in 1982.

Mr. Schiliro has been the man behind Mr. Waxman's much-feared and often highly publicized investigations over the past several years.

In the 1990s, Mr. Waxman hauled tobacco executives before his subcommittee on health and the environment, and in recent years has probed the exposure of CIA spy Valerie Plame, steroid use in professional baseball, the death of football star-turned-soldier Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, the disappearance of White House e-mails, and a host of other issues.

Mr. Klain, meanwhile, got his start as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Byron White, and went on to serve as chief counsel to Mr. Biden when the Delaware senator was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Klain presided over the committee's legal vetting of Supreme Court nominees David H. Souter and Clarence Thomas, both of whom were nominated by President George H.W. Bush.

During President Clinton's first term, Mr. Klain oversaw federal judicial nominations, including the successful Supreme Court nominations of Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. During the second Clinton term, Mr. Klain served as chief of staff to Mr. Gore.

Mr. Klain in 2000 oversaw the Gore legal effort during the protracted presidential-election recount.

Mr. Biden said Mr. Klain brings to the job "extraordinary judgment, a deep understanding of the important policy issues facing our nation, a wide range of experience in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, as well as a unique understanding of how the vice president's office works."