White House Cheat Sheet: Grading Obama's Cabinet
President Obama will convene his full Cabinet -- sans Health and Human Services Secretary designate Kathleen Sebelius who remains unconfirmed -- later this morning, bringing together the group for the first time since he took office in January.
The moment is a photo-op of epic proportions and provides an opportunity to reflect on how Obama's Cabinet has come together over his first 91 days in office.
Obama made his initial selections at a historically fast rate, a requirement of the rapidly worsening economy, according to those close to the decision-making process.
While his first round of picks was well-received by members of both parties -- the so-called team of rivals included Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and Bill Richardson as secretary of commerce -- a series of tax problems sidetracked several of the administration's choices.
Former South Dakota senator Tom Daschle was the most prominent departure, stepping aside after revelations regarding unpaid taxes for a car and driver service came to light. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was able to withstand scrutiny of his own tax history -- but barely.
Richardson, too, was eventually forced to drop out amid ethics questions, only to be replaced by New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.) who accepted and then declined the job.
Stung by the series of unexpected withdrawals, Obama and his senior advisers took their time filling the vacancies -- eventually naming former Washington governor Gary Locke to Commerce and putting forward Sebelius, the governor of Kansas, at HHS.
So, as the administration approaches its hundred day mark, how has this collection of 15 men and women fared as a group?
"They deserve credit for some outstanding individual performances and overall talent and potential but [get] points off for the Cabinet-members-who-were-not-to-be and the time it took Geithner to bounce back from his nomination wounds," said one senior Democratic strategist who has followed the Cabinet machinations closely.
Among the Cabinet stars in the early days of the administration, the source listed the obvious (Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates) as well as the not-so-obvious including Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The source said Duncan "benefits from sharing Obama's favorite game (basketball) and favorite issue (education)."
Several people the Fix spoke to for this story noted that aside from Clinton there turned out to be few big names in the Cabinet; we have written before that even Geithner, the most visible Cabinet member to date, remains unknown by roughly a quarter of all Americans.
"This reflects the White House's belief that Obama is the one with the credibility with voters and the only one who should 'make the pitch'" to them, explained one veteran Democratic observer of the administration's approach to its Cabinet.
While that approach has obvious benefits -- Obama is an extremely popular figure at the moment and is able to vouch for his policies best in the eyes of the public -- there is also a potential downside to a fifteen dwarfs sort of Cabinet, according to the source.
"They may be risking exposing the president to this degree -- whether its Obama apologizing for poor vetting of officials (e.g. Dachle) or the 'things are getting a little better' drumbeat on the economy," the source added.
With so many sub-Cabinet jobs unfilled and Obama's "czars" overseeing broad swaths of domestic policy, it remains unclear whether the president is particularly interested in a "strong cabinet," argued former Minnesota Republican congressman Vin Weber.
"Most of the action has remained in the White House," said Weber. "But that could change as departments are filled out and emergency legislating gives way to the normal course of business."
Weber's point is a good one. Obama and his Cabinet took office amid an economic crisis of epic proportions, a situation that makes comparisons to past administrations difficult at best. The next 90 days should tell us more about the quality and staying power of the Obama Cabinet, as well as how they will operate going forward.
What to Watch For:
Monday's Fix Picks: The Kinks were/are underrated. Discuss.
1. President Obama and Venezuelan chief Hugo Chavez: too friendly?
2. Rahm Emanuel tells George Stephanapoulos no second bank bailout is needed.
3. Meghan McCain speaks out on the future of the GOP. And, she's co-hosting The View!
4. Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer considers a run for Florida's 24th district.
5. Oprah twitters!
LCV Hits Blunt: The League of Conservation Voters is launching a television ad today in Missouri that hammers Rep. Roy Blunt (R), who is running for the Senate in 2010, for his opposition to the energy program being pushed by President Obama. "We can create millions of new clean energy jobs and become a global leader in energy technology," says the ad's narrator. "But Roy Blunt says no." The ad goes on to link Blunt's campaign contributions from oil companies to his opposition to the bill. "Call Roy Blunt and tell him its time to start believing in America again," says the narrator at the commercial's conclusion.
Cantor's Profile Rises (And Rises): House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) continues to rise on the national stage -- the latest sign being a profile of him that ran on CBS's "Sunday Morning" show. Anchor Charles Osgood led off this piece this way: "He's young, charismatic, one of the most powerful people in Washington. We're not talking about President Obama. We're talking about the House Minority Whip, Eric Cantor." Not too shabby. (Cantor rose to fifth on last week's Line highlighting the 10 most influential Republicans.)
Finding a Lincoln Challenger: After letting Sen. Mark Pryor (D) go unopposed (!) for reelection in 2008, national Republicans are committed to putting up a real fight against Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) in 2010. State Sen. Kim Hendren became the first Republican to announce for the contest over the weekend -- although he won't be the last. Hendren, who is related by marriage to former Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) and former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), apparently has some personal money but, at 71, is he ready for the rigors of a statewide campaign almost certain to draw national attention? Former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin is also contemplating the race and, if he ran, would likely enjoy considerable help from friends inside the Beltway.
Raising Money, the Norm Way: Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), two liberal third-party groups, are seeking to raise money off the never-ending Minnesota Senate recount. The "Dollar a Day to Make Norm Go Away" campaign is asking supporters to pledge a dollar to PCCC for each day that Coleman stays in the race. "If thousands of us donate $1 to help progressives defeat Republicans in 2010 for each day Norm Coleman refuses to concede, we'll reverse the incentives for DC Republicans," read an email sent to the two groups roughly one million person email list. "They'll tell Norm, 'Go away!'" (The PCCC needs the cash; as of Feb. 21, they had just $8,700 in the bank.) Coleman lost his election contest last week but is expected to file an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court sometime this week.
Say What?: "If you're looking at what we're doing in Washington and you're not upset, the problem is with you, not the protesters." -- South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) on last week's tea parties in an interview with "Fox News Sunday."
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