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. Ian

    I'm sure there's a very logical explanation for all of this. Obama promised us change and hope. I love Obama.

    November 19, 2008 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  2. arc, Lugano CH

    The Change that President Obama ran on was in the policies of governing. The people most qualified to carry out his agenda happen be some of the Clinton former cabinet. Maybe there aren’t many Republicans qualified to carry out these duties. They’re too busy being indicted and avoiding going to jail.

    November 19, 2008 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  3. Pete

    Yes, and I see has held to his pledge to not have ANY lobbyists on his team. Seems like he held to that pledge like he held to the no public financing pledge.

    Change lemmings can believe in.

    November 19, 2008 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  4. ck

    no change...

    Slowly the Obamites will realize they were misled by flashy speaches and phoney promises.

    Socialism, here we come!!

    November 19, 2008 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  5. James

    Leslie Sanchez needs to help Arnold in california, It looks like their tortillas are burning!

    November 19, 2008 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  6. JJ in NY

    Same old, same old !
    Just another politician talking out of both sides of his mouth.
    Obama would have said anything to get elected... just like the clintons.

    November 19, 2008 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  7. Bruce

    With the mess that the Bush is leaving him he needs people with experience in positions. I can magine the uproar if he picked people with no experience in government. He is going to lead, and govern...give the picks he make a chance before everyone goes bashing them.

    November 19, 2008 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  8. sky

    The bottom line is who will do the job best and offer what he needs most and obviously he has that under control. Everything he has done so far has been very very carefully planned, every person carefully vetted. he has not made one palinism. The big story you guys are going to need to cover and give us the straight scoop on .....will be all the things that are uncovered about the last 8 years. After Bush is gone we will see things that will shock us. More and more will be uncovered...and that is where you CNN guys will find your dirt.

    November 19, 2008 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  9. Alexander

    More GOP whining. They really need to get over themselves.

    Obama is putting experienced people into key positions. Where did they get this experience? Well, some of them from working under the Clinton administration in different positions. Is Obama expected to hire all new people nobody has even heard of before? Change comes from their actions. Good people in the right positions will help successfully accomplish our goals. It shouldn't matter whether they had ties to Clinton's administration or not.

    November 19, 2008 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  10. Brian

    Wow, everyone's a critic! 😦

    Do this, do that.

    Obama has a right to chose his staff as he sees fit.

    Obama has to fix our nation and if that means a heavily Democratic staff, then so be it!

    'Nuff said.

    November 19, 2008 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  11. frodo

    That's right...change we can believe in...
    Well, we'll see. It really doesn't look like he's bringing fresh ideas to government with the old party stalwarts.

    We must ask again, what change is he referring to? Clinton did one thing right, started reducing the debt and deficit. But everyone agrees that Obama's plan will increase the debt and this the change that he's talking about?

    Just have to wait and see, I guess. Hopefully he will understand that he has to reduce government, debt, deficit. Something neither the Democrats or Republicans have really been focused on.

    November 19, 2008 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  12. Walt, Belton,TX

    I guess CHANGE was just one more lie from the Obama "Lets Make Believe" campaign. Looks like it is the same old buyers, the same old sellers, the same old takers and the tax paying public gets screwed again! Toss in Hillary as Sec of State so she can't run in 2012, let the queers come out in the military, and we may as well start kissing off the rest of our democracy and just come out and admit we're a Socialistic Democracy ruled by minorities and idiots.

    November 19, 2008 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  13. mavericky

    I am tired of right wing nuts saying Obama supporters are uneducated. Why don't you look at the exit polls? Graduates and higher (meaning doctors, Ph.D, juris doctorates, etc.) voted for Obama. I have a Masters and I'm going on to my Ph.D.

    Sorry that you feel you must put us down… poor GOP

    November 19, 2008 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  14. Obama Supporter in Indy

    Republican trolls and Clinton haters would have issues with anybody Obama picked, largely just out of sheer prinicple.

    November 19, 2008 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  15. GOPS are going down!

    Obama has proven to be the smartest politician in our US history, just look how far he's gotten in a short time period so I wouldn't question his judgement on change. He picked the most strongest candidates for his cabinet, Obama will do the right thing. He has proven himself over and over. Leslie Sanchez isn't giving Obama a chance because he is a democrat. She should worry about her fellow party member "W "who is a complete idiot and messed up our country.

    November 19, 2008 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  16. Anna, ATL

    READ his book people and you will know what he meant by Change, folks.

    'the way Washington works', not necessarily new faces.

    Never a supporter before, but I like the fact that the new hires are chosen on credentials, not favors.

    November 19, 2008 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  17. Independent Voter

    Leslie Sanchez makes a good point. I think Obama is trying to please the Clinton party way too much. I was hoping to see a diversity of new appointees instead of a bunch of Clinton retreads. Yes, it's still early in the game, but I do hope Obama change it up a little.

    November 19, 2008 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  18. Glenn Doty, Columbia, SC

    Oh for the love of God. There are ~2000 people that serve with a president, and these are going to be among the most qualified people in the U.S.

    Those that have served before have experience, as well as being qualified.

    The people that have been appointed work to enact the president's will. It doesn't matter that they've served a different president, they will be working for Obama, and his vision will shape the administration even if they had 100% carryovers, which they clearly won't.

    Some people need to learn a little bit about what they are complaining about.

    November 19, 2008 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  19. Not the case...

    I actually really do primarily care about changes in Policies and thats it.. Obama has appointed like only 2 cabinet posts thus far and already the media is branding his administration as Clinton 2. It's all about talent and at the end of the day I just want the best person in the right position whether he/she is Democratic or Republican.

    November 19, 2008 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  20. xcusme

    There will be change. Just becasue some of the old team comes in to play does not mean they are working from the same playbook. When a team is not doing well they fire the coach. We have a new coach and the game will be played by different rules. Regardless of the team. The coach is the leader. I happen to like the new coach. Go Team Obama

    November 19, 2008 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  21. Finally!

    Fundamental Change means HOW he will run the government. It doesn't mean he will appoint a bunch of rookies. He needs experienced people. WE need experienced people.

    November 19, 2008 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  22. Watermann

    It is amazing. Up to now just 2 prominent members of staff are put into place and 2 names for a mayor political cabinet member has been named and the the crap is starting.
    BTW, could Leslie Sanchez, once in a lifetime, talk positive about President elect Obama.

    November 19, 2008 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  23. Mya

    CNN Please stop moderating me an POST THIS!!!!

    Be real you all, OBAMA has to pick people who knows what they are doing..You have to see that Bill Clinton was the last democrat president and he served for 8 years, it just make sense that any qualified democrat will have a connection with his administration...Changes doesn't mean taking a No-name and give them the prestigious job, McCain tried that with PALIN and it didn't work. I think some people (republican) are waiting so bad for OBAMA to fail that they will criticize everything he does..Beside the choice of SOS for HRC I am very happy with his choices so far. The problem with HRC is the conflict of Interest with BILL ,otherwise I believe she is qualified and respected abroad which is important for an SOS. So chill out people and let BO do his Job!

    November 19, 2008 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  24. Kris D, Toronto

    Well, there not the same clowns that were running the show for the last 8 years. That IS the change we need!

    November 19, 2008 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  25. brad

    It really comes down to his policies and for them to be carried out. If those he hires carry that out, it doesn't matter who he brings in. But if I remembered the 90s weren't all that bad.

    November 19, 2008 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
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