Exclusive: Who’s Who as Obama Prepares for the West Wing

by WALTER ANDERSON December 3, 2008


While Barack H. Obama, who will be inaugurated the 44th President of The United States of America on January 20th, 2009, is awaiting his move into the White House, he has been anything but idle. Let’s take a look at the makeup of Obama’s transition team, administrative staff and cabinet appointments announced thus far.
Obama has 8,000 positions available in his administration and his team in charge of vetting those who are interested in a position developed a seven page, 63-question ethics form covering everything from arrests, to social networking site use (MySpace/Facebook), lobbying, relatives in government, gun ownership, etc. It seems especially directed to anything that could “embarrass Obama” if the person was hired! I wonder how many will be dropped from consideration based on their answers.
During a recent interview, Obama was asked about the appointment of Republicans to his staff and he answered, “I have no further comment.” So much for the promises of “change” in government and “bipartisan structure” we were promised during the campaign.
And many of the appointments he has made thus far are people that you will recall from the Clinton administration and the Democrat Political Machine in Chicago. Again, there is no hint of “change” when the people in Washington D.C. are the same as in a previous Democrat regime or those imported to Washington from Chicago. I will give Obama credit for picking people with experience, but I is it the experience the country needs at this time?
This compilation of appointees is by no means complete, but it’s a “who’s who” of the so- called “movers and shakers” that Obama has picked to date.
There is a directory with some interesting and educational material published by the government (GSA) that you may find helpful in wading through some of the questions that may come up: the 2008-2009 Presidential Transition Resources Directory. The Obama team also has an official website that you may like to check out also. The inauguration information is located on the right side of the opening page.
The Transition Team
Obama’s transition team is co-chaired by Valerie Jarrett, John Podesta, Peter Rouse and Rahm Emanuel – all strong, capable and committed to the Obama and the Democrat Party. We briefly discussed Jarrett and Emanuel in my last article. Let’s take a look at the others:
John David Podesta, a Chicago native and a veteran staff member of Bill Clinton’sadministration. He was Clinton’s Chief of Staff for eight years, dealing with the Monica Lewinsky affair and overseeing the pardons Clinton made during the final days of his administration. Podesta is an ultra-liberal and is President of the liberal think-tank, The Center of American Progress, which is allegedly being funded by George Soros.
Peter Rouse is a long time fixture in Washington politics. He has held staff positions for over 19 years with former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and most recently Sen. Barack H. Obama (D-IL). Rouse is also thought to be a candidate for a top staff position in the Obama White House.
Deputy Chiefs of Staff
There have been several persons hired as Deputy Chiefs of Staff who have quite impressive backgrounds working in Washington D.C.
Mona Sutphen, working on the Obama transition team, was named as a Deputy Chief of Staff for Rahm Emanuel. She worked as an assistant to Sandy Berger (you know Sandy, the one who pilfered classified terrorism documents from the National Archives), head of the National Security Council in the Clinton years and has been currently employed by Berger’s strategic management firm, Stonebridge, LLC, as a consultant. She also was with the Council on Foreign Relations and was a Foreign Service officer for a number of years.
Jim Messina, currently Director of Personnel for Obama’s transition team, was chosen to be a deputy chief of staff for the President. He has been on the political scene in Washington as a Chief of Staff for Sen. B. Dorgan (D-ND), Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY).
Ron Klain was appointed Chief of Staff to Vice President-elect Joe Biden. Klain was an advisor to Biden during the primaries and was Chief of Staff to former Vice President Al Gore. While he worked in the Clinton administration, he directed selection of judges for Clinton’s judicial appointments – including Ruth Bader Ginsberg. In addition, he was Chief of Staff to Attorney General Janet Reno and an assistant to President Clinton. It may be interesting to note that Klain, a former lobbyist, was employed as a lobbyist by Fannie Mae several years ago.
Miscellaneous Appointments
Desiree Rogers will be named as White House Social Secretary. Rogers is a Chicago businesswoman, holding positions from president of People’s Gas and North Shore Gas to being in finance at Allstate Insurance. Rogers was also manager for the Illinois Lottery in the late 1990s for then-Republican Gov. Jim Edgar. She is a close friend of the Obama family who has been a fixture in Chicago circles. The Chicago Tribune recently reported that she held a birthday party on November 14th in her gold coast apartment for Valerie Jarrett. Her ex-husband, John Rogers, an Obama fundraiser who played basketball with Michelle Obama’s brother at Princeton, is co-chair of Obama’s Inauguration festivities.
Leon Panetta, a former Chief of Staff in the Clinton White House, has been advising aides to Obama regarding the transition. Panetta was a 15-year California member of the U.S. House of Representatives who started out in political life as a Republican, became disillusioned with the Republicans and switched to the Democrats.
Phillip Schiliro has been tapped to be Barack H. Obama’s liaison to Capitol Hill as Obama’s Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs. Schiliro has been around Washington for over 25 years, with much of that time being an aide to Sen. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD). His main job is to make sure that Obama has a bump-free relationship with the Democrat controlled Congress.
Gregory Craig has been picked as White House Counsel. Craig represented Bill Clinton in his impeachment trial. He was also Sen. Ted Kennedy’s (D-MA) chief foreign policy aide, relying on his expertise on how foreign policy is dealt with in the Senate based on his years in the State Department. He was heavily involved in Obama’s primary, which surprised longtime friends (they went to law school together) Bill and Hillary Clinton. In fact, Clinton had appointed Craig to a position of Assistant to the President and special Counsel. In 1977, Craig represented the first FBI agent ever to be indicted, John J. Kearney, who was accused of illegal wiretapping, burglary, and tampering with the mail in connection with the FBI investigation of the Weathermen, the domestic terror organization co-founded by Obama pal Bill Ayers. The government decided to drop the case against Ayers due to investigational misconduct and in “the interest of national security.”
White House Communications
Ellen Moran, currently employed by EMILY’s LIST (an organization devoted to provide funding assistance to progressive pro-choice Democrat female candidates) as executive Director, has been tapped as Obama’s Director of Communications. She has also worked at the AFL-CIO in the political department and the Democrat National Committee. Dan Pfeiffer will serve as her Deputy Director of Communications. He was with the Obama campaign and worked in several different capacities for a number of Democrat Senators. Interestingly, his wife, Sarah Feinberg, is an aide to Rahm Emanuel (D-IL).
Robert L. Gibbs has been given the duties of Press Secretary for Barack Obama. He has actually worked for Obama since 2004 in his Senate campaign as Communications Director and later Senate Communications Director. He was also in charge of communications for Obama’s Presidential campaign. In the past, Gibbs worked for several Senators and was Press Secretary for the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Homeland Security
Janet Napolitano, the Democrat Governor of Arizona and former U.S. Attorney for Arizona under Bill Clinton. This position is a cabinet post and would need Congressional confirmation. She is known for her partisanship and has openly belittled Republicans who oppose her. It has been her stance that immigration problems and border security, a severe problem in Arizona, are federal problems and has said that she doubts a border fence would be effective.
Budget Team
The current Director, Peter Orszag, of the Congressional Budget Office has been named as Obama’s new budget director. Orszag currently oversees a staff of 235 people and has a department budget of $40 million. His department provides analysis of economic and budgetary issues. He previously worked in the Clinton administration as a special assistant to the President on economic issues.
In addition, Obama named Rob Nabors to the post of Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Nabors is now the staff director of the House Appropriations Committee. I found little background information on Nabors, but what I did find says he is a great choice and knows the appropriation side. I did find that he worked at OMB during the Clinton administration, where he was a senior adviser and assistant director for administration.
Ambassador to the UN
Susan E. Rice has been picked to fill this slot by Obama. Rice, no relation to Condoleezza Rice, spent eight years in the Clinton administration as Assistant Secretary of State and a member of the National Security Council. Rice is considered to be a foreign policy expert. If you review her background, you may begin to wonder why Obama did not choose her for Secretary of State over Hillary Clinton.
Attorney General
Eric Holder is the pick for Attorney General. Currently Eric Holder is a senior legal advisor to Obama’s campaign. He was one of three people on Obama’s Vice Presidential candidate selection team. Holder was a U.S. Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Administration under Janet Reno and a Judge in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. When Clinton was at the end of his last term and was issuing pardons left and right, Holder was directly involved with the last minute pardon of fugitive billionaire and Clinton Democratic donor, Marc Rich. Later, in a House committee investigation of the Clinton pardons, it was determined that Holder had a significant role in the Marc Rich pardon. He has been in private practice since 2001. Holder is on record as opposing the death penalty, wants to close GITMO, and is against the Patriot Act and the NSA Warrantless surveillance program. He’s sure to fit right in with the Obama administration.
Domestic Policy Council
Melody C. Barnes was tapped as Obama’s choice for Director of The Domestic Policy Council. She was the Senior Domestic Policy Advisor to Obama for America, was chief counsel to Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) on the Senate Judiciary Committee for eight years. She has also served as Executive Vice President for policy at the Center for American Progress, the Leftist think tank headed by John Podesta, Chairman of Obama’s transition team and former Clinton Chief of Staff. During the Clinton Administration, Barnes was Director of Legislative Affairs for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well. It is surmised that Barnes will spearhead the healthcare system overhaul that Obama has referred to as an issue of economic concern.
Heather A. Higginbottom is the person picked as Deputy Director of The Domestic Policy Council by Barack H. Obama. She has been a member of the transition staff, she was legislative director during the 2004 Kerry-Edwards Presidential Campaign and soon after the election she founded The American Security Project, a national security think tank.
Economic Recovery Advisory Board
Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve Chairman, will head up this newly created committee dedicated to job creation and stabilization of the markets. Volker was appointed by President Jimmy Carter and also worked with President Ronald Reagan in fighting the severe economic problems of the Nation from 1979 until 1987. Volker will be assisted by Austan Goolsbee, an economist at the University of Chicago who specializes in tax policy. Goolsbee makes his home in the same Hyde Park area of Chicago as Obama. Goolsbee has been an advisor to Obama since his campaign for the Senate in 2004. He will be remembered during the 2008 primary for an embarrassing controversy concerning Obama’s anti-NAFTA rhetoric and a comment to the Canadian government.
Treasury Secretary
In his first cabinet post announcement, Obama selected Timothy Geithner as the nominee for Treasury Secretary. Geithner is the President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and has served under Bush (41), Clinton and Bush (43) in the Treasury Department. He is widely held as authority on economics and financial policy. One thorny area for Geithner will be his substantial role in the Bush financial rescue policies in the last six months.
National Economic Council
Obama’s choice to head up the National economic Council is Lawrence H. Summers, former Treasury Secretary for Bill Clinton . Among other positions Summers has held are  a Professor at Harvard, Deputy Treasury Secretary, undersecretary of International Affairs in the Treasury Department and President at Harvard from 2001 to 2006. While Summers appears to be very knowledgeable and capable of lending expert help in the renewal of our economy, he has been involved in several rather high profile controversies in the past. The most famous of them helped lead to his resignation from the Presidency at Harvard.
Council of Economic Advisors
Obama’s choice to Chair this department is Christina Romer who is, thus far, the only Obama appointee/nominee without some governmental background. She has spent her life in academia and at this time is an Economics Professor at University of California-Berkley and co-director of monetary economics at the National Bureau of Economics Research. Her recent work concerns how tax policy effects government and economic growth. In an odd turn of events, in May 2008 the Economics Department at Harvard voted to offer her a tenured position. However, Harvard President Faust vetoed the appointment. I wonder how President Faust feels today!
National Security Team
Just as everyone expected, Obama nominated Hillary Clinton to be the nest Secretary of State. Clinton has had a long political career and is possibly one of the best known – recognized may be a better word – women in the world. She has a large amount of knowledge on many subjects. However, I believe that “others” have more experience in foreign affairs and may have been a better choice for this position. In her eight years as Senator, she has never served on a committee even close to resembling foreign affairs. Clinton carries some baggage into the arena as well. The biggest is of course her husband, Bill who loves the limelight and may present a problem. The rest is comprised of statements she has made in the past that are, were or could be offensive to foreign nations. Many have expressed the opinion that if Obama’s nominated Clinton for Secretary of State to appease her and help mend Party wounds created in the primaries and by not choosing her for his running mate, only America loses.
The retention of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense is, in my opinion, a masterful stroke on Obama’s part. Since Gates took over the position two years ago, there have been many positive changes in the department and in the war in Iraq. Gates has had a long and distinguished career in government having been in the CIA and was on the National Security Council as well as holding the position of Director of Central Intelligence
Another stroke of genius on the part of Obama in my estimation is his appointment of Gen. James Jones as National Security Advisor. Jones has been Allied Commander in Europe and Commandant of the Marine Corps. He has also has experience in the Middle East that is second to none and can surely add greatly to this team. I can’t locate reference to Jones political beliefs but he is a close friend of John McCain. However, considering their respective backgrounds, I do not find that unusual. I look for great things to come from Gen. Jones!
There are many more cabinet positions and senior staff appointments to be made. It is my intent to provide similar information to you on the upcoming appointments as they occur. I think that reference to the individual’s background can help understand where he/she is coming from. Please realize that I am only grabbing the MAJOR positions reported while there are thousands of support positions that are important but unchronicled.
Until next time…
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Walter Anderson has an extensive background in business, served in the Marine Corps, and is experienced in grassroots political activism. Feedback: editorialdirector@familysecuritymatters.org.

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