November 19th, 2008
09:31 AM ET
11 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. Ted van Tol

    It's the captain who is given the orders. Not the crew!

    November 19, 2008 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  2. Tim...TN

    " Despite what critics say, Davis says real change is about policy, not people.".....

    Well isn't it the people that make the policy, and if so then it's definitely the people that matter. I don't blame one person for the mess the country is in, I blame all of the blow-hards in Washington that only seem to be in it for themselves...not for the people that elected them.

    November 19, 2008 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  3. karen-phoenix

    There are over 5000 jobs that will be replaced. Only top notch democrates came out of the Clinton administration because that is the ONLY democratic pool to get from. If he goes back to Carter's administration–they are just too old. So far a great group is forming around Obama–highly intellegent and change does not mean people, it means attitude and intellegence!! Clinton was one of our most intellegent presidents and Obama is following in his steps–Good Move!!! (PS: And I'm a republican who wants change from the republican party agenda!)

    November 19, 2008 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  4. v

    I think you need to back off and let him select his team and then once he does and gets to work then if you don't like what is happening then let it be know.

    Personally I think he needs some people on his Team that has experience, specially the Secretary of State, and the Justice Dept.

    I read in the Washington Post that he intends to review the Contracted employees of the Government. That is a very good idea because when I worked for the Government there was a lot of Contractors that did nothing but sit around and talk all day long (Most of these Contractors were ex-government workers that either retired and came back or quit the government and then came back). The retired Government workers got their retirement pay and then collected $50 or more dollars per hour to come back and since they knew they wouldn't get into trouble they were the worst offenders. Government needs to be totally reviewed and anyone that sits around and does nothing all day long need to be fired. They need new standards bosses to back up those standards if the employee doesn't do their work.

    November 19, 2008 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  5. Just another CNN poster

    Anybody not following the agenda from the past eight years is change.

    To pick winners from the Clinton administration is smart. Besides, they will following Obamas agenda, it is his agenda that is different.

    Winning team members with a winning agenda, that is change, smart change.

    November 19, 2008 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  6. Jill American

    Where did those critics expect him to find his administration .. at college fairs?

    November 19, 2008 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  7. LyonsPhilly

    Any change is better than going through what Americans have for the last 8 years.

    November 19, 2008 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  8. Independent

    please post.
    I understand where this article is coming from but this is a rather ignorant argument. Roland Martin, last night on No Bull, made the best point. Just because these people served in previous administrations, how exactly does that make them disqualified? It's about change in politics, not change in people. To argue that these guys from the Clinton administration are not welcomed to the Obama administration is simply biased and unfair. If I do not perform well working for one company, does that make me disqualified for working at a similar company with different policies that may potentially benefit me? Absolutely not!

    November 19, 2008 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  9. james

    Well, I just makes sense to surround yourself with those people who served in an economically successful administration. And we didn`t have this HORRIFIC national debt during the Clinton Adm.----After all, " It`s the ECONOMY, STUPID" !!!!!!

    November 19, 2008 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  10. pam Eugene OR

    Can we at least let him finish his choices before we are all over him?
    You hear the three big mouth know it alls on FAUX ready to pounce on everything Obama does.
    Limbaugh, O'Riley and Hannity are pretty disgusting to listen to now. Especially O'Riley. He claims to be fair and he has moved so far to the right with his huge ego that I can't stand to listen to him any more. At least with Rush and Sean you know you are getting right wing wackos. They do not claim to be balanced.
    He won't even be in office for 2 more months so let's not get our knickers in a twist yet.
    I want Obama to have a fair chance so lay off, wait on your judgment and listen before ripping him apart.

    November 19, 2008 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  11. JV

    He has to have people who know what they are doing and how things in Washington work. To know how it works now gives them a leg up on what needs to be changed because they don't have to learn it. The former Clinton admins are also in the pool of best candidates.

    You can't bring in a complete crew of Washington neophytes, ask Jimmy Carter how well that worked out.

    November 19, 2008 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  12. 30-m-PA-Democrat-voted McCain

    Obama is picking all these Clinton people, why didn't the superdelegates simply choose Hillary Clinton instead of Obama? Obama got a piggy-back ride from Clinton during the primaries and he seems to be doing the same now with his administration. He can't think for himself.

    November 19, 2008 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  13. Monique

    You want the best and the brightest, regardless who they have worked for. We all saw what happened when W used the "buddy system". Find the person who is best qualified for the job,and give it to them. Face it, Bill did not suffer fools gladly. The president -elect is a sharply intelligent man, who wants to surround himself with like minded individuals. The ship is sinking, now is not the time to fight over who is going to hold the buckets.

    November 19, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  14. rachel

    Seems like he wants everyone who was on the clinton except if your last name is clinton.

    November 19, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  15. Liz in Texas

    Obama said he will change how Washington works. He didn't say he would change all the people in Washington. Sheesh, give him a break already. He has to have experienced people who know what they are doing if he plans on getting our country back on track.

    November 19, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  16. Dallas, TX

    Why are any of you surprised by this? Obama's just more of the same Washington politics...can't believe you fell for the doublespeak. He's no different than the ones before him and the ones that will follow him.

    Some fundamental change...NOT!

    November 19, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  17. James in Utah

    It is too easy to sit back and criticize. By the time it all works out, the critics won't stand up and say, "I was wrong", they will squawk about something else until they get one thing right and then stand up and beat their chest. With at 50% percent chance or being right or wrong it's not too hard to figure that one out. Shut up and color!

    Smart move to pick proven people who have served and delivered a budget surplus during their time. Would you pick the ones that got us into this mess. No! Unless you want business as usual. I'm sure there will be others placed in positions to make a difference that will draw bi-partisan support and still be criticized. It's how they (critics) keep their jobs.

    November 19, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  18. Obama All The Way

    Obama is smart enough to put people on his staff that has experience. I am sure that they will carry out his agenda of change. He is certainly putting country first and I can see that he means to do a darn good job. I wish USA the best!

    November 19, 2008 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  19. Virginia

    No kidding! How can one affect change when all of the "good ol' boys" from the Clinton administration are being put into place? And where are the women, besides Hillary, who can serve in high ranking Cabinet posts? I seem to recall 8 years ago people complained about Bush doing this very SAME thing. Where are those people now......knocking on Obama's door begging for a place next to the "Great One"!

    November 19, 2008 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  20. Joyce in Florida

    Wah wah wah from the critics of Obama's choice for his cabinet. Obama is being smart in his choices and so what if some of them are from the Clinton Administration. This move shows intelligence. I am sure Obama will cross the aisle. We need change in Washington so badly. Our current president left even a BIGGER mess than when Bill Clinton took office. What a disgrace they are. Just let President-Elect Obama do his job and stop the whining already. I am confident that he will do great things for our country and get it back on track with his choices for his Administration. It will be REAL hard work and will take some time. It will probably take at least one term to fix it; I have no problem if it ends up being two terms. This 58 year old white Hillary Clinton supporter has faith he will do what is right. GO OBAMA/BIDEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 19, 2008 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  21. Chris

    I have to say I’m a big supporter of Obama but, I too am a little tired of seeing all the people from the Clinton era. Mind you I do understand Obama will need a team in place that is experience in the affairs of the White House Administration. However, I'm sure a number of his supporters are ready for some new people, and although Lanny said change is about policy and not people, it is the people that will be offering the advice to Obama, and if that advice is coming from the old guard, then what change will we get?

    November 19, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  22. 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 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  23. K

    President Elect Barack Obama's "change" is tied to the change of policy in washington not people. A U.S. President is only as good as the people they surround themselves with, with that being said under no circumstances should he consider selecting hillary clinton to his cabinet this would be tatamount to a fox living in the hen house and you certainly do not hire someone you can't fire. So far his selections are sound, he should select Colin Powell to head up the military and he should select New Mexico governor Bill Richardson to secretary of state.

    November 19, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  24. Where's the Change??

    If I wanted Clinton Part 2, I would have voted for Hillary. Where's the change I can believe in?

    November 19, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  25. Rob

    Yeah, apparently Change means bringing in all the Clinton cronies back in. Hillary shouldn't be too upset, with all the people Barry's bringing in, it'll be like she and Bill never left in 2001.

    Does this mean we can soon see more cases of lawyer logs disappearing and misteriously re-appearing, or lawyer friends suddenly committing 'suicide'?

    On a positive note, economy wise, the sales of blue dresses should start picking up.

    November 19, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
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