November 19th, 2008
09:31 AM ET
12 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. Kris D, Toronto

    Well, they're not the same clowns that were running the show for the last 8 years. That IS change.

    November 19, 2008 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  2. NC=Blue in 2008

    "Change" comes from the leadership that Obama will provide. He will create a vision of how the givernment should be run, and he will manage the team (Clintonistas or not) accordingly. Obama will run a fundamentally different White House than Bill Clinton. His picks thusfar will still be beholden to him. The fact that they also were beholden to Bill at one point does not in and of itself mean that the White House will be the same. Although many of these individuals worked for Clinton, most of them were low level officials and Barack has boosted them into higher positions within his administration. Furthermore, Obama never said he was going to choose different people. Given this, the whining from dissappointed Repubs and Dems is kinda silly.

    November 19, 2008 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  3. JK Ashburn, VA

    I'm not a big supporter of all the crooks in the Clinton administration joining this administration., But, look on the bright side.... for every Clintonista he hires, it's one less crooked Chicago mob boss he didn't hire.

    November 19, 2008 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  4. Tom in Delaware

    Never mind what a man says...look at what he does.

    November 19, 2008 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  5. Irishspacemonk

    Were Republican's expecting jobs? Lisa Sanchez can take her opinion and do whatever she wants with it.

    November 19, 2008 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  6. recycle washington

    -yes , i'm one of those people....

    i can't believe that he is picking hillary for sec of state...

    all my donation to his camp and my vote got wasted...
    once in my life i trusted a politiction and he fooled me....

    shame on obama, shame......

    November 19, 2008 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  7. 20 yr old UM student

    Am I the only one who thought that Obama's call for change meant changing policies? I don't care who is in his cabinet (as long as they add something). So far, they all seem like thinkers, critics, and straight talkers, which is exactly what Obama needs. People need to give it a chance, the man has this! I mean, Obama is already talking about shutting down Guantanamo Bay and repealing some executive orders Bush did, so to me that is definitely the change I like to see.

    November 19, 2008 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  8. Maggie from Virginia

    The change will be the agenda set by Obama, not the people he selects to carry it out. Why is this so hard to comprehend? Can you imagine what the critics would be saying if he filled his cabinet with unknowns? It would be too much of a change, and will shock the system.

    I have worked with the military for years. Although leadership change every couple years, my experience is needed for a smooth transition. So, should I be fired or transfered everytime a new leader comes aboard?

    November 19, 2008 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  9. John

    He spoke of meaningful change not a 5 letter word. Let us see what he brings when the full team is put together. And more importantly let us see where he goes after 100 days.

    This is not a McDonald's drive through. Instant satisfaction that will lead to an upset stomach.

    November 19, 2008 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  10. Gina in Racine Wi

    Obama is just staffing his Administration with the Best of the Best. Period.

    Anyone he picks will serve at the pleasure of the
    President and his agenda. His agenda is CHANGE.

    The media and skeptics need to take a deep breath and relax....give this Intelligent, Diplomatic man a chance.

    I have faith in his ability to bring about the change we so desperately need.

    November 19, 2008 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  11. JC

    Obama ran the same campaign that Clinton ran in 1992. What do you expect?

    November 19, 2008 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  12. cr

    This is beyone pathetic.
    So far, almost every appointment is a recycled Clinton flunkie.
    After 16 years, Obama can't find new blood in Washington or the private sector who doesn't have ties to the Clintons.

    And Bill will release information on "future fundraising and donations".
    If he doesn't have anything to hide and if his past relationships won't affect Hillary's appointment why is he refusing to make ALL of his PAST finances available? Who donated to your library Bill?
    Can't wait to see how they funnel future donations into paying Hillary's remaining campaign debt!

    This is a total and blatant conflict of interest!

    November 19, 2008 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  13. Tabeth


    I do agree that many of those old timer might bring the same thing in Washington. However the philosophy of change does not necessarily mean capable american people should not help or even particiapte in this change process.

    It is sure that the president Bush did damage the image of the country


    November 19, 2008 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  14. vicki

    So who he suppose to put in these positions Joe the plumber?

    November 19, 2008 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  15. Tim in Wa.

    I absolutely do NOT care who he picks as long as they're capable of doing the job they're given and help put this nation back on the right track...

    CHANGE is about POLICY – not PEOPLE.

    The criticism comes from people who a) don't understand how governement works, b) don't want things to change, c) are afraid.

    They need to give this administration the same chance we all gave Bush – THEN you can criticize – until he's actually in office, making decisions, and implementing his agenda, please just give it a rest.

    November 19, 2008 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  16. Tim E

    As usual the politicians and the pundits have their own version of what the people think, while the people suffer their ignorance and await the opportunity to make their own voices heard. Obama's background as a community organizer has served him well to this point; no reason to doubt his ability to continue that success. People keep underestimating this man.

    November 19, 2008 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  17. Stacy from Loudoun County VA

    How many Democratic Presidents have we had since Jimmy Carter? Well, counting Bill Clinton…one. If he brought one a whole cosmos of new people, the media would accuse him of bringing in inexperienced people and they would have said, “This is 1992-1993 all over again.” P.E. Obama has not finished making selections yet, number one. Number two, he has already changed the tenor of government by changing (yes CHANGE) the dialogue on Capitol Hill—see Joe Lieberman. Hence, pundits like Leslie Sanchez should exercise a bit of something we forget here in America called “patience”.

    November 19, 2008 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  18. kevin

    I guess he could choose republicans, but that wouldn't be change either considering Bush has been in office for 8 years. So Memo to Obama: Choose people that are are younger than you, even less experience than you, and have no partisan background so you can please your conflicting critics....

    November 19, 2008 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  19. Helene

    I agree. I want to see new blood in this administration.

    November 19, 2008 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  20. Common sense

    When he said he was bringing change, he meant that Washington was going to listen to the people for once instead of the special interests. He didn't say anything about appointing token Republicans to his staff for show.

    November 19, 2008 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  21. Barbara in NC

    It's a change from Republican Rule. And who wouldn't want experienced people?

    All you nuts that just want to bash our new president, go ahead and show your negative, obsessive nature on-line.

    November 19, 2008 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  22. Thapelo Otlogetswe

    If fundamental change is measured in terms of individuals that Obama appoints to his administration, then it is poorly conceived. It must be measured in terms of the policies and he presides over. Certainly that makes more sense!

    November 19, 2008 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  23. idm

    For all we'd like to believe otherwise, the government is still a game. These people know how to play that game, and, more often than not, win. If they're intellegent, knowledgeable, and supportive of Obama's plans, then why not hire them?? Would it be better to hire an idealistic, naive staff who have no clue how to achieve things in Washington? I'd rather see things get done.

    November 19, 2008 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  24. Turn Texas BLUE

    Its CHANGE to me, because it has nothing to do with the Bush administration or the SAME PARTY!!!!

    I guess everyone is keeping a good eye on Obama, watching every move he makes! but he we had watched Bush we wouldnt be in the situation we are in right now!!!!

    November 19, 2008 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  25. Thapelo Otlogetswe

    If fundamental change is measured in terms of individuals that Obama appoints to his administration, then it is poorly conceived. It must be measured in terms of the policies that he presides over. Certainly that makes more sense!

    November 19, 2008 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7