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Obama Cabinet Shy on Southerners, Republicans...

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Guest BillyJack

Dec. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Barack Obama has moved faster than any modern president-elect in selecting his Cabinet, scouring Wall Street, academia and the Senate to assemble a diverse team that has won bipartisan praise.


“He has every basic entity within his government,” said U.S. Representative David Scott, a Georgia Democrat. “He’s got Jewish people, he’s got Protestants, he’s got white, black, you name it.”


Republicans including Arizona Senator John McCain, Obama’s opponent in the presidential election, also have applauded his choices.


Still, the Democrat’s star-studded roster lacks representatives from two groups: Southerners and the Republicans that he vowed to appoint during the campaign.


Forty-two days since winning the presidency, Obama has picked 11 members of his Cabinet and 11 senior White House aides. That’s more than twice the number named by Bill Clinton at this point in his transition to the presidency. It also puts Obama ahead of former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, according to the White House Transition Project.


The appointment yesterday of Nobel laureate Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy kicked off a week in which Obama plans to fill the remainder of his Cabinet. He also announced Lisa Jackson -- who has largely spent her career in New Jersey, even though she was born in New Orleans -- as his choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency.


Interior Secretary


Democratic Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado is Obama’s choice to lead the Department of the Interior, three Democrats close to the transition said yesterday. Salazar, 53, a first-term lawmaker, was an environmental lawyer for 11 years and served as the state’s attorney general.


The soon-to-be 44th president made defusing partisan tensions in Washington a centerpiece of his campaign and promised to appoint more than one Republican to his team. So far, he hasn’t named a registered member of that party to his Cabinet or White House staff.


After Obama’s victory, John Podesta, the co-chairman of the transition team, reaffirmed the president-elect’s campaign intentions, saying Republicans would be “spread throughout the administration.”


‘Token Member’


“You’ll see Republicans again, in his administration, not just a token member in the Cabinet,” Podesta said.


Obama’s decision to ask George W. Bush’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, to stay at the Pentagon, comes closest to fulfilling that vow. While Gates isn’t registered in any party, he has said he considers himself a Republican. Retired General Jim Jones, Obama’s national security adviser, counseled both McCain and Obama during the presidential campaign and hasn’t advertised his political leanings.


Those two selections have won plaudits from Republicans, including Scott McClellan, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush who is one of a handful of members of that party to have endorsed Obama during the campaign.


At the same time, McClellan said he regretted that Obama hadn’t reached out further in picking his team.


“I personally would like to see maybe three members of the Cabinet that are not considered members of the Democratic Party,” McClellan said.


Former Representative Jim Leach, who headed a group of Republicans for Obama, was less concerned. The Iowa Republican, who represented Obama at recent economic talks at the White House, has been mentioned to fill the post of Agriculture secretary.


“There are a lot of factors that go into balancing, but the biggest challenge for any president is quality,” Leach said.


Bush Record


Until now, George H.W. Bush was the record holder in modern times for the highest number of Cabinet-level appointments by this point in the transition, said Terry Sullivan, executive director of the White House Transition Project, a nonpartisan group that provides information to transition teams.


With Obama’s appointment of Arne Duncan as education secretary -- which he will formally announce at a press briefing scheduled for 10:45 a.m. Chicago time today -- the president- elect surpassed Bush, who at this stage in his transition had named 10 members of his Cabinet and nine senior White House aides.


Reagan wasn’t far behind, having settled on nine members of his Cabinet and five members of his White House staff; Clinton nominated four Cabinet posts and four for his White House staff.


Obama has yet to announce his choices to head the Departments of Labor, Transportation, Agriculture and the Central Intelligence Agency, increasing the odds that a Southerner or a Republican will be selected.

Colorado Senator


The choice of Coloradan Salazar for Interior secretary doesn’t make up for the lack of a Republican, said former Senator Lincoln Chafee, a Republican from Rhode Island who supported Obama.


“Colorado isn’t really seen as a Red State at this point,” Chafee said.


Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University in Washington, said it would be a mistake for Obama to neglect the South.


“He’d be very much remiss not to name a Southerner,” Lichtman said. “After all, he’s trying to convert the South back to the Democratic Party, and he doesn’t want to be accused of snubbing the South.”


Obama’s White House will have at least one public Southern accent. Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, will brief reporters in his native Alabama drawl.


To contact the reporters on this story: Hans Nichols in Washington at hnichols2@bloomberg.net; Julianna Goldman in Washington at jgoldman6@bloomberg.net


Last Updated: December 16, 2008 00:44 EST


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