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. Mike Dallas

    So America is in the worst financial shape since the Great Depression and the Repug's want Obama to appoint economists from say Kansas and Utah to help dig us out because they are outside the Washington loop and would be new faces?

    While I realize Repugs want Obama to fail, it seems that bringing in folks that helped engineer the best financial uptick this country has had in 30 years would be EXACTLY the folks we need now to clean up this mess the Repugs and their stupid shrub have left.

    Change can be using the same tools as in the past but in a different manner to achieve either the same or greater success.

    Try to understand that dittoheads.

    November 19, 2008 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  2. sophia nyc

    Shut up, CNN.

    I'm proud of our new President. He'll end the nightmare.

    November 19, 2008 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  3. Deb n Texas

    This is just crazy. Obama is going to originate change not the people he is hiring to work for him. The media is just trying to find some news, this is getting to be insane.

    November 19, 2008 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  4. Bill in DC

    Idiot critics.

    I agree with Lanny Davis. Real change is about policy not who is hired to fill a position.

    November 19, 2008 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  5. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    Obama often said that America "needs change." It would appear from Obama's appointments that what Americans are seeing is "cut and paste." Is this really an Obama footprint or is it just a "mirror image" of the past Clinton Administration. Time will tell...and it will determine if Americans got "hoodwinked" by the "hoodwinker."

    November 19, 2008 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  6. Hope

    I really don't understand everyone's problem. He said he'd fundamentally change the way Washington worked. But, in order to do that, doesn't he still need people who know how Washington works already, so they are knowedeable enough to change it? Changing Washington doesn't mean putting green newbies in who don't have experience! It means hiring people who are experienced in the thing they want changed, and are open-minded enough to do it! Just where would you find these people, except for another adminstration's former supporters! If we don't want Bush's team, you go for people experienced before his administration, which happens to be Clinton's. You go further back, and you get a Bush again! Everyone before that might be too old. I think he is making good choices out of the pool of experienced and open-minded politicians, who are willing to join him in changing Washington for the better! I'm proud of you already, Obama. It must be tough picking a cabinet with a million critical people who have never been in Washington (but think they can do better) critiquing every move you make!

    November 19, 2008 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  7. Peggy - TX

    Every pick so far are outstanding individuals with impressive track records. Where else other than the former Clinton administration will Obama find people with similar ideals and relevant experience. High quality, idealistic people gravitate to Obama and Obama has proven to be able to select qualified, intelligent, highly capable people. Obama never ceases to amaze me with his strong leadership abilities.

    November 19, 2008 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  8. Tired of W, OH

    And if Obama were to staff his administration without people of experience, critics would cry about that too. Give him a break. He hasn't even been inaugurated yet.

    November 19, 2008 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  9. Breanna - Military Brat

    Like I've said before:
    As long as President Elect Obama is choosing qualified people for these positions that can implement the future Obama admin.'s vision of change, I'm happy with his choices.

    By change, do people think that he's going to select inexperienced/political virgins to fill these positions? Should Obama have chosen a McDonald's worker, a warehouse worker, or a pyschic? That would be change, but a bad, stupid kind of change.

    I'm sure that if he found a Republican, or an Independent, or just someone with no political ties at all, that was more qualified than the people he has selected so far, they would be filling these positions. It's not like having "served under Clinton" on your resume will automatically make you qualified.

    November 19, 2008 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  10. Anne

    So what? Bill had no morals, however during this run we had jobs, homes and money in our 401K accounts.

    So what?

    November 19, 2008 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  11. Washington Observer

    Folks I am sorry to take you out of your fairy tale dream about a black Camelot, but there is no change coming to Washington.

    It is now forecast by DC insiders that 80% of Obama's administration will be made up of long time DC talking heads and beauracats. Heck, half of his transition team are former Clinton people, and the other half are lobbyists (oops, what is that you say, Obama will not work with lobbyists). Get a grip people. Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely, and Obama is quickly learning the ropes and he will take his marching orders from Pelosi, Reod, Kennedy, Kerry, Dodd, Frank, and the rest of the Democratic Majority. He may sit in the Oval office, but he ain;t running the country.

    November 19, 2008 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  12. Bjoerlingfan

    Sure! You know what? They're right! In fact, let's fill all of these high-level positions with people who haven't spent a day in Washington and have had no contact with government whatsoever. That's the smart thing to do. No one will know what the heck is going on but at least Obama's cabinet won't be filled with political insiders...

    Give me a break!

    November 19, 2008 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  13. (Former) Lifelong Republican supporting Obama, Columbia, TN

    I sort of agree with the criticism. Now, I am as strong an Obama supporter as any other, but the main reason I supported Obama was because of his calls for fundamental change. I don't mind a few Clinton Veterans in the White House, but I do think Obama can find qualified people outside of the Clinton Administration to fill these posts. I don't want to see a virtual repeat of the Clinton Administration! I didn't care too much for it just like I don't care too much for the Bush Administration. In order for Obama to set himself apart, he needs to establish is own Administration with unique, never before seen, faces in the White House.

    November 19, 2008 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  14. Simmy

    Leslie Sanchez and Robert Kuttner are irrelevant! One belongs to a losing party, that makes her a LOSER! The other one is a WINDBAG! His words are blowing in the wind!

    LOSER:Stay Lost

    WINDBAG: Fly Away into oblivion!

    President Obama is the Change that has come to Washington. He is selecting people around him, regardless of whose cabinet they came from, to help him successfully bring about change! Stop hating on the Clintons and get a freakin' life!

    November 19, 2008 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  15. Ed

    The headline is a ridiculous suggestion. . .without any backup. While Obama's general message was for change, no doubt, the principal change advocated was from the past 8 years. As the article discusses, it would be ludicrous for Obama to avoid highly qualified persons who served in the Clinton administration - simply because they so served. In addition, to the extent that Obama subscribes to the Lincoln theory of selecting persons on the merits of their strength, not on how they may have at any time been aligned against you (real or perceived), seems to make a lot of sense.

    I think CNN - who would in my view be hard to replace for our news - should avoid this type of headlining.

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

    People are going to whine no matter whom Obama picks for positions. The Republicans especially after their DISMAL showing in the election. Maybe Obama could/should appoint McCain as Chief of Staff since he did such an outstanding job running his campaign and Palin as SOS since she has such extensive foreign policy experience in dealing with Russia:) Give it a rest folks. ANYBODY Obama puts in his Cabinet will be better than the CRIMINALS that have "led" us the past 8 years!

    November 19, 2008 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  17. R U Serious

    Change is the man and the policy set at the top. The players will always remain the same. Its the game that will change. Besides that is why they are called critics they have to have something to talk about.

    November 19, 2008 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  18. Sloganmeister

    I still believe in the kind of change we need to hope for...


    November 19, 2008 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  19. Tim Walters

    Hmmm, let's add up the non-Republicans that Dubya had on his "team"... well, there's... no, or... not her either... hmmm, almost all neocons, huh? This whole bipartisan rant by the GOP makes me laugh... talk about hypocrisy.

    November 19, 2008 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  20. Tolu

    Please. This whole fuss is all quite silly, really. Obama's entire staff's not going to be composed of old Clinton hands, but it IS inevitable that there will be quite a handful of those people in the mix; those are the top democratic movers and shakers of recent time, and you don't overlook them and go all out for the untested simply to make a point, that's ridiculous. Change is still going to happen, and the experienced are usually well placed to make it so alongside the newbies. Please Obama's thus far proven that he's not a foolish man; give him some breathing room and let him actually make mis-steps (and he will – he is ONLY a man, y'all) before you dig your ever-sharpened talons into him. In the mean time, shut it up and get back to work!

    November 19, 2008 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  21. CR in WI

    Retreads are not getting me too excited about "Change". The catch-22 is that with current economic conditions, we as a nation can not afford for these appointees to learn by making mistakes. Therefore, someone with experience is needed, and since no one in there the past 8 years is acceptable, we look at the Clinton establishment. Hopefully, we will start to see some Washington outsiders come into the fold. I have supreme confidence that Barack is the captain of the ship, who will not stand for mutiny or insubordination. Time will tell.

    November 19, 2008 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  22. TKW- New Mexico

    The change Obama means is change from the Bush/Cheney/Rove downhill spiral. Clinton had great people in his administration. The country was alot better off when Clinton was president. He hasn't picked all Clinton people but Obama is smart, he will affect change.

    November 19, 2008 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  23. Dee

    Change we can believe in!!!

    November 19, 2008 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  24. Terry from GA

    I think people are just making a big thing out of nothing. Due to the situation with the economy, he had to make a decision between experience and change. Obama is going to pick the best people for each of the top positions. I think he will show more flexibility in the lower positions that need to be filled.

    November 19, 2008 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  25. Danny from Phoenix

    And if McCain had won they wouldn't be questioning his administration full of neo cons and extreme conservatives. Please. He's hiring the most qualified people in this country. I don't want my local Bank of America bank manager managing the country's budget, just so one could say that person has no political ties to anyone and is therefore an agent of change. Let the man run his administration. I have full confidence it will turn out to be extraordinary.

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