November 19th, 2008
09:31 AM ET
6 years ago

Obama's staff picks cause critics to question his call for change

Obama's staff picks have critics questioning his call for change.
Obama's staff picks have critics questioning his call for change.

CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) - Barack Obama pledged to bring "fundamental change to Washington" as he campaigned for the White House, but as the president-elect fills out his administration, critics say they're just seeing more of the same.

More than half of the people named to Obama's transition or staff posts have ties to former president Bill Clinton's administration.

The Clinton-heavy team has caused some Republicans to question Obama's call for change.

"I think several individuals are very frustrated to think that President-elect Obama may just cut and paste from some of the Democratic operatives from the Clinton administration and put them into his White House," said Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist and CNN contributor.

Republicans aren't the only ones who want Obama to branch out. Robert Kuttner, a liberal and author of "Obama's Challenge" says the President-elect should broaden his recruiting efforts.

"It's not as if the only competent people who ever served in government or who are capable of serving in government are veterans of the Clinton administration, so he's got to be careful how many Clintonistas he appoints to top level government posts," he said.

Before Clinton, however, Democrats had not been in the White House since Jimmy Carter, and most of those in his administration are too old to serve again under Obama.

Lanny Davis, President Clinton's former special council, lobbied publicly for Obama to choose Sen. Hillary Clinton as his running mate during the campaign. Despite what critics say, Davis says real change is about policy, not people.

"What this conversation is about is laughable if you ask people in America what they care about. They care about the economy, jobs, education, health care. They don't care about whether somebody who fills a particular box is from a prior administration," he said.

The Obama transition team said in a statement that they are dedicated to building a well-rounded administration.

"President-elect Obama is committed to putting together a competent team that is diverse in many ways, including experience. Serving in high level positions, whether in government, in the private sector or in public service, is seen as a positive," spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

Among the so-called "Clintonistas" is the former president's wife, who is widely considered the frontrunner to be the next secretary of state.

Obama last week asked Sen. Clinton if she would consider taking on the post, multiple sources told CNN. Her response is expected this week.

Observers say President Clinton could pose an obstacle to his wife becoming secretary of state, given his extensive international business dealings and global foundation.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the former president has offered to release information related to any future charitable and business activities, citing Democrats with knowledge of the discussions. That move could smooth Sen. Clinton's path to the new job.

Obama's latest selection - Eric Holder - also has ties to Clinton. The newly tapped attorney general served in the Clinton administration as deputy attorney general to Janet Reno.

Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff, is a former top aide to President Clinton.

And Peter Orszag, the head of the Congressional Budget Office, was picked to head Obama's Office of Management and Budget, a top Democratic source told CNN Tuesday. Orszag worked at the Clinton White House as special assistant to the president at the National Economic Council and served on the Council of Economic Advisers.

There has been little word, however, regarding the way the president-elect's transition team is going about business in the Pentagon, but that is because they are under strict orders not to talk to the news media, according to a senior Pentagon official who has been interacting with the transition team.

The reason is because there still is no signed Memorandum of Understanding, an agreement between the Bush administration and President-elect Obama's transition team that spells out who is allowed access to classified information and what degree of classified information that are allowed to see,
sources say. Once that is done, Pentagon officials expect the pace of transition planning to pick up.

– CNN's Jessica Yellin and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

soundoff (158 Responses)
  1. Justin, ny

    I hate this criticism

    Almost EVERY major democrat with enough experience to be worthy of a major (or even minor) cabinet position has ties in one way or another to the Clintons... Prior to Clinton there hadn't been a democrat in charge in over a decade.

    Change will come via his policies.

    November 19, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  2. Remi N.

    What you guys need to worry about or juge is the result of the Obama's Administration;Stop your quick speculation about who he is picking. If the policy is applied and the result is good for the country,we all will be happy.
    Seriously, where do you want Obama to pick the Democrats ? In China? Russia???
    Clinton is the last Democratic President, the one before him was Carter (his folks are too old). So objectively, his pick among the democrats with experience are Clinton's ex-Administration guys. I really don't follow your logic of critics. THE CHANGE, is about the way politic is conducted in Washington.. Let's wait and see it these folks are changing their old ways , to follow what Obama said .
    We have enough time to juge them.

    November 19, 2008 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  3. Jozee

    What is the problem with Pres Elect Obama calling people that have proven that they know how to get things done. Most employers are looking to staff their offices with people that have experience. If these people just happen to have worked for the most successful presidency in modern history, then so be it.

    It is brilliant of the new president to surround himself with talented people, especially in this Bush economy, Bush wars, and Bush's ineptitude at leadship that has brought about deep recession and joblessness.

    Only 62 more days until Inauguration Day!

    November 19, 2008 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  4. jgaj

    That's a change right? Replacing x with y is a change–may be bad, may be good.

    November 19, 2008 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  5. Sam

    CNN,
    Nobody cares about what Rush Limbo and Sean Hannity say. CNN should stop legitimizing these two nuts!!

    November 19, 2008 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  6. ran

    It will be too sad if all that is out there to serve are clintonistas. New blood is needed now and I hope Obama finds them and get them to work with him. I still think Richardson would be a better SOS and HC would be better served if she stayed in the Senate.

    November 19, 2008 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  7. Gretchen

    Yep, we got change same old capital politics with a new band leader. It will be interesting to see how he reacts when Hill and Bill act like they are running the White House again. I guess it will be buyers remorse.

    November 19, 2008 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  8. DC - Saint Louis

    I guess he should bring Mrs. incompetent Caribou Barbie" laughable self-promoting train-wreck SP in the WH. Give me a break... We need competent people in the WH and I Applaud the team he is building at this point. We DO NOT NEED PEOPLE LIKE SP IN THE WH! Period.... President Elect keep doing what you are doing building a strong and competent team.

    November 19, 2008 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
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