- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

UPDATED:

Barack Obama won the presidency despite having relatively little experience in Washington and ran as the candidate of change, but so far he is filling his White House with insiders familiar with navigating politics and policy in the nation’s capital.

The Democratic president-elect’s latest pick — of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to be health and human services secretary — was lauded by colleagues for his decades of service. The Daschle pick is also the latest example of Mr. Obama naming to his team people who have been working years in Washington or held jobs in President Clinton’s administration.

Mr. Daschle, who turns 61 next month, has accepted the Cabinet post, though a formal announcement will not be made until he passes a background review. He also was tapped to lead a health-care transition group.

Mr. Obama has drawn both applause for shoring up an “experience” weakness and scorn from those who fear he is breaking his campaign promise to change the way Washington works.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said Mr. Daschle “knows the Congress and the rhythms of the Senate in particular,” and said the pick of the former senator would improve the chances of passing major health care reform.

Mr. Daschle wrote a book this year about health care reform, saying the Clintons were eloquent about detailing the problem in 1994 but did a poor job of communicating their plan, which ultimately failed.

Mr. Daschle, defeated by Republican John Thune in 2004, was an early Obama endorser and a top adviser who helped Mr. Obama with key staff decisions, policy plans and campaigning over the past two years. The South Dakota Democrat served 25 years in Congress, first in the U.S. House, and 10 years as leader of the Senate’s Democrats.

Republicans quickly blasted Mr. Daschle for his role at a powerful firm that has done lobbying on behalf of health and hospital associations.

Mr. Daschle is not a federally registered lobbyist, but is a special public-policy adviser for D.C.-based Alston and Bird, which has reported $5.9 million in lobbying income so far in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He advises the firm’s clients on public policy related to financial services, health care, energy, telecommunications and taxes, according to Alston and Bird’s Web site.

His wife, Linda, reportedly is stepping down from her post lobbying in the aviation industry.

“For voters hoping to see new faces and fewer lobbyist-connections in government, Daschle’s nomination will be another disappointment,” Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant said.

But Democrats aiming to completely reshape health care policy were thrilled someone with liberal leanings is getting the job, news of which was first reported by the newspaper Roll Call.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, chairman of the House Rules Committee, used her congratulations of Mr. Daschle to criticize the Bush administration, saying she hopes he can “go down deep and clean out some of the 19th-century ideas at HHS.” She specifically mentioned a Bush appointee who said prayer can aid women’s health.

There will be no rest for Mr. Daschle, who will join Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado for a Dec. 5 health care summit in Denver.

Mr. Daschle joins as formal picks Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who Mr. Obama chose as White House chief of staff, and several other Clinton hands.

Mr. Emanuel also worked in the Clinton White House and is currently a member of Congress known for negotiating deals and acting as a liasion between 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the Capitol.

The transition team formally announced Wednesday several members of the future Obama White House staff, with a statement from the president-elect noting he would rely on their “broad and diverse experience.”

Close friend and top strategist David Axelrod will move from Chicago to Washington and become senior adviser.

The transition said Greg Craig, an early Obama supporter, assistant and special counsel to President Clinton, will serve as White House counsel. Also going to the West Wing is Lisa Brown, who had been counsel and deputy counsel to Vice President Al Gore and will serve as staff secretary.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama named 10 leaders for key policy working groups, and seven of them worked in some capacity for the Clinton administration.

Despite all of the speculation, Mr. Obama has yet to formally name any appointments beyond his White House staff.

He was widely expected to name a Treasury secretary before any other Cabinet posts, but also is closing a deal with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the State Department and negotiating with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates the terms under which he would remain at the Pentagon.

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