CHICAGO | President-elect Barack Obama will reach to the middle and offer more than just-for-show appointments to Republicans in his administration, friends and colleagues predicted Wednesday.
An Obama administration “will be reasonable and logical, not ideological,” Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine told The Washington Times in an interview. “It will be about results, not rhetoric.” Mr. Kaine is a longtime friend of Mr. Obama’s and an early backer who campaigned extensively for the Illinois Democrat and has advised him informally on economic matters.
Mr. Kaine speculated that Mr. Obama would run “a very progressive administration,” but also one that will try to find “pragmatic” solutions to problems.
“Much of it will be centrist, but it will be the smart center, using technology and new ideas and creativity to find common ground,” he said.
“He likes to argue, and he certainly doesn’t mind smart, opinionated people around him,” Mr. Kaine said, declining to say whether he’d consider a position himself.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, an Obama foreign-policy adviser, echoed a similar sentiment in a recent interview with The Times.
“I think a lot about what makes somebody a good leader [is] the combination of curiosity, confidence in oneself that you can hear a lot of different ideas that it doesn’t make you upset if somebody disagrees with you,” she said.
She said Mr. Obama shares that in common with President Clinton, the last Democratic president, who included Republicans in his Cabinet.
Mr. Obama is expected to appoint a mix of familiar hands from the Clinton administration, along with some of the nation’s governors and former candidates.
Mr. Obama early on collected friends and endorsers from the governors’ mansions across the country. Among the contenders for an Obama administration are Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas.
Several former candidates who got to know Mr. Obama during his long and historic White House bid may also be on a shortlist for top spots. Among them are Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
On both foreign policy and the economy, Mr. Obama already has a trusted, large team he assembled during the campaign.
Susan Rice, Greg Craig and Denis McDonough are all thought to be top contenders for national-security or State Department posts.
On the economic side, Mr. Obama’s top adviser, Austan Goolsbee, is likely to score a prime position, and billionaire Warren Buffett may even play some role in the administration.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, who is a political hand and not a policy guy, may join him in the White House, along with chief strategist David Axelrod.
But some warned that Mr. Obama, who will take the oath of office Jan. 20, may need to brace for possible showdowns with liberal members of Congress who say he has a mandate for major liberal initiatives.
The liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund boasted Wednesday that Mr. Obama “ran on the most progressive platform of any presidential candidate in at least 15 years.” The group said it aimed to “rise to the occasion” as “leaders who support progressive ideals will take up the reins of government in Washington.”
“We can translate yesterday’s victory at the polls into a victory for health care, clean energy, national security, and a stronger and larger middle class,” the group added. “The American people are ready. Now it’s time to deliver.”
Rank-and-file Obama backers voiced the same hope for progressive leanings.
Marina Santiago, who works for an advertising firm in Chicago, said at the Obama celebration Tuesday night that she expects the new president to keep his word.
“I expect him to do what he’s been saying — to be for the working people, to help young people go to college, get health care for everyone,” she said.
Joe Schaefer, 24, said he believed that Mr. Obama is serious about ending the Iraq war and expects the president-elect to remember his generation when he arrives at the White House.
“He’s going to give the youth hope and a voice, something to look forward to. A future to look forward to,” he said.
However, as he makes the critical choices that will shape his first 100 days in office and beyond, Mr. Obama is likely to pull in people he trusts as competent and not focus on their party affiliation, sources said.
Mr. Obama’s friend, Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican far from the president-elect in ideology, said he was pleased that Mr. Obama’s acceptance speech included an “olive branch” to Republicans to “heal the divides that have held back progress.”
“We would be wise to accept his offer, roll up our sleeves and work together on areas where we can agree,” Mr. Coburn said Wednesday. “The space between the parties is a vast frontier of consensus and possibility. The American people have always called this area common sense.”
Mr. Coburn added that conservatives should be “reassured” that Mr. Obama did not seek an “ideological mandate.”
Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, who served in President Reagan’s administration as secretary of the Navy, said the early Obama appointments will offer a “very clear indication” of his priorities.
“The country is going to come to understand much more clearly President-to-be Obama’s objectives by looking at the people that he chooses,” he said.
He said he believes the president-elect will bring together “strong individuals” who are loyal to his vision.
The groups making up his diverse coalition on Election Day — antiwar liberals, Obama Republicans, working-class and suburban families, young people and black voters — each plan to keep a close eye on the appointments for insight into how Mr. Obama will govern.
Mr. Obama has said he would like to quickly name a Treasury secretary, largely because of the recent turmoil in the global markets and that he plans to review the massive Wall Street bailout passed by Congress last month. Mr. Obama also might retain Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for the start of his administration, insiders speculate.
Still, transitions from one administration to another can be chaotic, said Simon Rosenberg, a former aide to President Clinton. The Obama team appears to be more organized than the Clinton crew was back in 1992.
“They seem a lot more prepared than we were,” said Mr. Rosenberg, now the leader of a Democratic-leaning think tank. “It may seem like a lot of time before Inauguration Day, but it really isn’t. In 10 weeks, they’ve got to build an entire government.”
Mr. Obama would be wisest to duplicate his trust in his close campaign circle and “let them do their thing,” Mr. Rosenberg said.
Patrick Gaspard, an Obama political director now serving as associate personnel director for the transition, once worked for the Service Employees International Union. A labor source suggested there may be plenty of the union’s staffers joining the administration.
Obama staffers are expected to roll out appointments in an orderly manner — much in the fashion of the campaign — thanks to a massive transition team already in place that’s being led by some of Mr. Obama’s closest aides.
Interest groups lined up to make their desires heard from stem-cell research to climate-change policy.
Mr. Kaine said the members of the National Governors Association — facing their own fiscal problems at home — are discussing ways to communicate state needs using common principles as a collective to the new president.
Many lawmakers offered their own suggestions about what the priorities of 2009 should be.
“We must get started right away by passing a Main Street recovery plan that will get Americans back to work and provide immediate relief to families and workers struggling with long-term unemployment and depleted state budgets,” said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat and chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.
However, Mr. Rosenberg said that because Mr. Obama “doesn’t really come from any faction or ideological wing of politics,” he will not be beholden to any one group when he makes his initial choices.
Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Click to Read More and View Comments
Click to Hide
Please read our comment policy before commenting.