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. Aaron from Ohio

    I don't think that when Obama ran on "Change" he meant bringing in people who had never been to Washington before or who had never served in the government. I think "Change" meant ending the practice of retribution and partisanship. He is bringing in people who are the best for the job. Barack and Hillary fought bitterly during the primaries and he offered her one of the most prestigious jobs in his administration. Joe Lieberman broke party ranks and slammed Obama from the stage with Mccain and Palin. Obama made it known that he didn't want Joe punished or stripped of his chairmanships. McCain flat out lied about Obama and even questioned his patriotism during the campaign. Obama met with him and wants to work with him. Working together IS "Change". Partisanship and gridlock accomplish nothing. After the nearly flawless campaign that Obama ran and watching him beat the political machines of Hillary and the republican party, I think he knows exactly what he is doing.

    November 19, 2008 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  2. S. Boatman

    I Was Hoping That I Never Had To Hear The Opinion Of Sanchez Ever Again! I Would Rather Have People Cut And Pasted From The Clinton Years Than From The Bush Years!

    November 19, 2008 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  3. Joe Green

    When he meant "Change" he didn't mean Ron Paul or Ralph Nader.

    He meant NO GEORGE BUSH.


    If he appoints Dick Cheney, then I'd be worried.

    November 19, 2008 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  4. carol

    I hate to admit this but I agree, Obama and his choice to keep Lieberman on was totally wrong as far as I'm concerend.....he crossed the line in my book and should have been shown the door.
    The possible appointment of SOS to Hillary I think could also be a mistake if they are talking negotiations......what are they negotiating about!!!!!!
    Having Bill as part of the package is not a good idea as he has been out there involved with all manner of folks with his private work....although it may be good work, it can't be in conflict with Hillary's job!!!!!!!
    If Obama wants change and that's what we want as voters who voted for him...he needs to set a good example and not reward the likes of Lieberman and also choose another SOS without any baggage that could cause conflict of interest.

    November 19, 2008 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  5. Abyssinian Lion

    I am so sick of this no-change ridiculousness.

    He (Barack Obama) is the change. It maybe the same ship but he is a new captain. He will steer the ship AWAY from the iceberg not into it (ala Bush).

    November 19, 2008 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  6. Scott Tucson

    You democrats should have seen this coming when he picked Joe Biden as VP, an old Washington insider whose been in around since the early 70's.

    The only change I see come January is that we will have a black president and a Clinton 3rd term, everything else would be the same politics as usual.

    November 19, 2008 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  7. T'SAH from Virginia

    I think MOST people have the WRONG definition for CHANGE... I NEVER believed it meant OUT with the OLD and IN with the NEW. To me it meant "change the way you do business".

    The OLD is "very capable" of making CHANGE if they are told that is ALL they are there for. If they cannot abide by the CHANGE rules – then OUT you go!!! You need "intelligent" people to make CHANGE. YOU cannot come in with an entirely NEW staff and expect CHANGE. THe NEW staff would have NO IDEA what they are CHANGING!!!!

    Having an Afircan American for PRESIDENT is the right CHANGE. Now all that is needed are the right people. Barack Obama is a very intelligent man and we should continue to give him credit for that!!!!

    Jeez – Barack is the CHANGE we NEED and can BELIEVE in!!!

    November 19, 2008 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  8. Marie banderas

    I wonder if the people "opposing" any Clinton picks, are doing so because of Clinton himself ? I see nothing wrong in Obamas picks of people who have once before helped the nation to get out of a mess and balance the budget, its simply Obama vetting people who already KNOW something about HOW to turn the nation around and help Obama to bring about change ! Its the POLICYS etc, in Washington that have to be changed folks, and I am , as an independent, very confident that in this vetting process, a man as intelligent as Obama, WILL pick the right people to help him accomplish that..Give him a chance folks, before you go ranting that Obama isnt making change, wait and SEE..
    Texas independent

    November 19, 2008 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  9. zenter

    staff is not a perfect indicator of agenda. These are experienced employees, any employer is smart to consider them. Obama is showing change by putting brilliant people in positions rather than cronies or idiots. It is change, its a change to competency.

    November 19, 2008 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  10. Angie-OHIO

    Its change and he is picking the cream of the crop. When Clinton was president he was able to get things done with his cabinet. So why take chances. Go with what works. The American people have been jacked around for the last 8 years. So I say good for President-elect Obama. He is a very intelligent man. Come 1/20/2008 he will have his cabinet in place and can start taking care of thing. That is what everyone is excepting so, lets get started. No time to waste. And the people he is selecting will not need on the job training.

    November 19, 2008 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  11. Jim in Texas

    You would have to be stupid to believe Obama's picks are "Change".........same "good old boy" network at work in Washington.

    November 19, 2008 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  12. Kimberly In AZ

    If I am not mistaken, all these people are CHANGE from the bush error. THAT is what the people wanted. They want SMART people running the country, if these people are some from the last Democrat, so be it!!! I was a Clinton supporter, who like a GOOD REAL Democrat, supported Obama when he beat her. I also support him bringing in some of President Clintons people, they are QUALIFIED! You want him to bring in a bunch of people with no experience, and no idea how to run the country? THATS WHAT BUSH DID! The CHANGE we wanted was SMART PEOPLE IN THE WHITE HOUSE~ We got it, and I say THANK GOD!

    November 19, 2008 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  13. Jackie in NY

    He doesn't know what to do, what do you expect? The change will not be so much who is in what post, but it will be in the conversion of our social and economic system into one of communism.

    November 19, 2008 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  14. Frustrated Republican

    It's time for my fellow Republicans to get a grip! We cannot both criticize the President-Elect for being inexperienced AND attack for for picking experienced advisors!

    WE, as Republicans, are better than this! If he picks these advisors and promotes policies that are the same as we saw in the 1990's, then and only then will we have grounds for criticism.

    If we expect to recover as a party, we need to realize that the American People are tired of the sniping and present a valid alternative...not attack and divide.

    November 19, 2008 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  15. Obama considers gays to be Freaks

    Obama, the unity candidate, the candidate of tolerance, did not come out against Prop 8 and was silent as gays marched last weekend for their rights.

    Does he think rights are only for certain minorities like blacks and not others?

    Evidently Obama does not see gays as human beings but rather as freaks.

    Obama-stop being a woos and walk the talk.

    November 19, 2008 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  16. Troy from NJ

    I know you guys need a new story line for ratings since the election is over, but this is ridiculous. Obama was talking about changing the way Washington conducts business; I think he is off to a great start. He is picking bright and well respected people in his cabinet who can reach across party lines and conduct the business that needs to be done.

    I wish you guys would have paid this much attention to deatil when Bush was picking his cabinet. Maybe we would not had to deal with the likes of Ashcroft, Meyers, Gonzalez, Rumsfield, Cheney, Whitman, and my favorite, Brownie.

    November 19, 2008 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  17. Mickie

    If those same critics would have spent half the energy criticizing Bush & Cheney for their "crimes" as they have on Pres. Elect Obama before he even has a chance to take office, our Country may not be in the sad shape it is in now. Most of these critics would have jumped up citing he is too inexperienced if he picked people who did not have the type of experience these appointments would take. They certainly didn't cry out too quickly when Bush tried to appoint Harriet Meyers to the Supreme Court. It's sour grapes and most of them work for republican owned media to begin with.

    November 19, 2008 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  18. bitter_in_pa

    Business as usual ... Obama lied to us. Change is not coming anytime soon. So what kind of evil deal did he cut with the Clintons?

    November 19, 2008 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  19. KLEE

    Has anyone heard of "intelligent" change – thats what we're talkin' about!

    Obama will tweak the system and get better results – I already have a bet with someone who is a big nay-sayer regarding the election of Obama – now Obama has 4 years to get his show on the road and turning things money is on him and his administration.

    we will see.

    November 19, 2008 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  20. Rochelle

    Just because you-all did not want to pick these people because they are vet-able, doesn't mean that President Obama has to choose who you-all want. He is after all going to be the President of these United States of America and he's picking the people that he feels will have his back. Although I am not truly sure of Hillary the BACK STABBER! Even with her 18 million cracks in the ceiling. they have come to see that voting for a Democrat is the best thing. I also hope that the Democrats in Georgia (all of Georgia) go out and VOTE FOR MARTIN!

    November 19, 2008 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  21. CnoMoPalin n NC

    Nag... Nag... Nag.. The republicans always find something to nag about. It's a BIG change...a smart change from the Bush Plague!

    November 19, 2008 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  22. RC Toronto

    By winning the election, change hasn't come. It has to be created. Everyone in Washington is part of it. Getting all his cabinet and appointees from outside DC is not what change is, having the same old people now play with changed rules is what will give this administration success.

    November 19, 2008 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  23. Sue T

    Change it is!!!! Change from the last 8 years... Obama said change from these last 8 years.......he is making changes and we were doing good when we were under the Clinton years, if that means putting these people back in his administration then so be it, anything that will get this country back on it's feet.......Go Obama.....

    November 19, 2008 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  24. Chris

    My God... The man isn't even President yet. Give it a rest.

    November 19, 2008 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  25. New Day

    This is ridiculous. Change doesn't mean you pick all new people regardless of their qualifications. Bush did that by picking Brown to head Fema. How did that work out? Change means you get the best people for the job and you lead in a post partisan way. Are any of his appointments unqualified? It would seem that, if they were qualified 16 years ago, they are that much more qualified now. As for post-partisanship, cant we wait to see how he governs before judging?

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