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. Tim

    Look...I am sure Obama is a fine man and I wish him all the success in the world....But

    Please stop comparing this man to President Lincoln....that is insulting both to my intelligence and President Lincoln's legacy.

    November 19, 2008 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  2. DG

    Why not use Clinton's people? After all, the eight years of Clinton were some of the best years our country has ever seen. I think the complainers are just jealous. Obama is a smart man and he can pick the cream of the crop. If this means people from Clinton's bunch, then so be it. I wish him much success.

    November 19, 2008 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  3. Joe Regis

    The country is in a very precarious situation, one has to understand the sense of urgency and the absolute necessity to get everything right the first time and negate any possibility for errors.

    In view of the financial crisis and the wars among other pressing needs, I believe it is necessary to be entrenched in selecting the team to will have to fix Washington and repair the image of America in the rest of the world.

    November 19, 2008 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  4. Scott NYC Independent

    Remember who is making the decisions. That is where the change will come from his staff are hired to carry out his withies. There is an urgent need for a government with experienced professionals. Considering that the Clinton administration was the last democratic administration in office that still has fairly young staffers and that the republican party really can't be trusted with many of the sensitive positions it is not only logical and reasonable but also imperative that President Elect Obama utilizes ex Clinton staffers. Come on people we're running a business here not a game show.

    November 19, 2008 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  5. Georgia Gal

    Obama needs to hit the ground running and it would help him tremendously in doing that if he had an experienced staff behind him. Clinton was in power for 8 years and most of the truly experienced people in Washington that were Democrats were part of his administration at some point or another. Besides the type of "change" Obama was talking about had more to do with policy than with people.

    November 19, 2008 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  6. mark from new york

    i don't understand why some people keep criticizing the elected president. he is the president, he chooses people with experience that can heal the country. he cannot choose rookies to the white house. we need a smart government not a dumb government.

    November 19, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  7. Richard

    Change? What Change? Just an a word to win the election. Go get em Dems!

    November 19, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  8. Michael -Ventura,CA

    If you are looking for experienced people to help you in transition, you sure wouldnt use gwb's folks- Clinton is the only choice unless you go back to Jimmy Carter.
    'Let Obama pick his cabinet and then groan. (If you must)
    'We will see REAL CHANGE in the next Administration- Rather than rant and rave like republicans, give him a chance!

    November 19, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  9. Nancy

    Leslie Sanchez would look for something to criticize no matter what Obama does! I have never seen her look for the positive in anyone unless they are Republican.

    November 19, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  10. Ray Fisher

    President Obama is making wise and prudent decisions regarding his cabinet choices. While he may be staffing from the Clinton Era, he requires the experience they possess to tackle the many challenges confronting his administration. The current economic, war and energy challenges do not lend themselves to any learning curve thus our new President must have proven performers on day one. No doubt, the media and the people will grant no slack for mistakes or misjudgements. I think is is performing very well thus far and wish him the very best of everything during his endeavors.

    November 19, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  11. beevee

    I think his change in Washington message is misunderstood. What he meant by change is not just recruiting persons new Washington politics but, I think, even old hands with now policy approaches. After all he is the change person and he directs how the old hands of Washington run his show. Critics should lay off from criticizing his every move.

    November 19, 2008 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  12. BTGH, Streamwood, IL

    Say what you want, but at least Bill Clinton (not my favorite person in thw world) and his staff gave this country a budget surplus.

    So anything different than the Republicans who have been running things since 2001 would be a change in the right direction.

    Down with the spend, spend, spend Republicans.

    November 19, 2008 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  13. amused but happy in Vegas

    I'm not sure what people are expecting – political gods who spring fully grown from the head of some "outsider" to run the government?

    I expect change from Obama.

    Most importantly, from the disasterous 8 years of the Bush administration.

    I expect his administration to raise the level of civility in Washington, to be open to all ideas – not just "new" ideas. Listen, analyze, decide.

    I do not expect them to re-invent the wheel where is come to governance. Nor do I expect them to reinvent the constitution.

    We have a government which has served us well for 200+ years. We have evolved and changed, but we do not need to throw out the good of the past just to show that we have "change".

    Unfortunately, the knives are already out, ready to disect and criticize every decision made.

    I am not looking for a revolution. If Obama looks around and sees the necessary qualifications to implement his policies in a person who has worked in Washington before, I have no problem with this.

    November 19, 2008 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  14. Nimi from NY

    As an Obama supporter I am questioning his picks too. He ran such a brilliant campaign with unknown names in the business of politics. Why he thinks he needs all these big names to succeed in governing is beyond me. Experience does not necessarily translate into good judgment otherwise he wouldn't be where he is today. It 's what you do with the little or great knowledge that you acquire that makes one a good or great leader. So for him to go after these big guns is not pleasing to me either.

    November 19, 2008 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  15. Marge

    Stop and think. There hasn't been many democrats around in big positions for the last eight or so years. We don't have prominent fresh democrats. So what does obama have to pick from.

    Only from Democrats that have a proven track record. At least Eric Holder isn't an Alberta Gonzales, the crooked, butt kisser who was bush's AG and caused all the trouble with appointed republican imbedded local AG's that turned the country up side down.

    November 19, 2008 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  16. Raymond

    Ahhh politics you got to love it!!! Do you really believe that the so called change is coming?? Ha! It's nothing but a political ploy just to get your votes. Politicians have been doing this for hundreds of years, promise one thing and after being elected give you a diffrent thing. No exceptions for Barack for he is a politician and he did well to campaign his promise of change and now we get the same. At least we made history of electing the 1st colored president other than that "change" I dont expect anymore.

    November 19, 2008 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  17. H. Charles

    This is hilarious to me because critics like Leslie Sanchez, who only talk to hear themselves, would have criticized Obama if he had brought in people who were new that no one knew. But what he's doing is bringing in experienced people to help him because he has holes in his experience. If he were to bring in people with limited experience, these critics would be criticizing him on that front. So its a no-win situation. One thing that was said this morning was that the American people don't care that he picked people from Clinton's administration. They care about Barack Obama's policies. CNN, PLEASE STOP GIVING THESE PEOPLE A FORUM TO SPEAK. ALL THEY DO IS COMPLAIN ABOUT EVERYTHING WHEN THEY HAVE NO ANSWERS THEMSELVES.

    November 19, 2008 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  18. Pat F

    On "the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell":

    A short history lesson: Bill Clinton tried to fully integrate openly gay people into the military right after his inauguration in 1993. But then-Senator Sam Nunn destroyed the idea, bombed Clinton for it, and created Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Clinton lost all of his mandate overnight at Nunn's hands, and the Republicans took the House and Senate in 1994.

    Two pieces of advice for Obama:
    (1) Don't pick Nunn for ANYTHING – avoid him like the plague, he's toxic, and very anti-gay.

    (2) Follow Truman's lead. Don't eliminate Don't Ask Don't Tell immediately. Wait until the spotlight dims a little, like Truman did when he integrated the services racially.

    November 19, 2008 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  19. Marie

    Why would people think that this won't be change because he is selecting former cabinet members of the Clinton Administrition.He's feels these people will help him bring the change the american people needs .Don't underestimate Obama he is smarter than some people are given him credit for just wait and see.As for Lieberman I can understand that Obama needs him in the senate and after the way he treated Obama during the election one would wonder why Obama should trust him well guess what Obama as the old saying goes keep your friends close and your enemy closer.Obama is no dummy and Leiberman will be an advantage to his presidency

    November 19, 2008 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  20. An American

    Obama is good talker and full of hot air. He will put in Washington insiders – he was always going to. And by the way, Obama is NO Abrham Lincoln – so stop trying to compare him!! He is no Kennedy, no Lincoln, no nobody. All of you who voted for him are in for a rude awakening folks. Most of you do not know anytthing about the person you voted for other than he is an African American. No racisim there!!

    November 19, 2008 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  21. ohio

    You pick people who are capable not plumbers or forgive me the Palins around the world. This isn't a circus he is building...its something better...get this... a working White House. Change of how things are done, change of ideas, change of leadership, change in partisanship...not simply change of clothes or no-name faces. Not to mention he hasn't even selected his large cabinet positions.

    November 19, 2008 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  22. Eric

    Is this the change that America was promised? This is nothing more than a third term for Clinton. I thought Obama was tired of the old politics of Washington and wanted to give America a "NEW HOPE" and a "NEW DIRECTION" and "REAL CHANGE". It seems like the most important qualification for a position in Obama's White House is that you just need to have ties to Bill Clinton.

    Sorry, but my personal opinion is that the man simply said what he needed to say to get elected and we are seeing Clinton III materialize right before our eyes. Remember that a majority of independent economic advisers have pointed out that the Clinton administrations poor handling of financial institutions and the housing industries lending standards as a major reason that we are facing the economic downturn we see now. Surprise, surprise dems, not everything is Bush's fault (although he is not totally innocent either).

    November 19, 2008 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  23. usualone

    Change doesn't necessarily mean new people. It may be new ideas and a new direction. One does need to realize that old timers sometimes know how to get things done - while it takes time for newcomers to learn how to proceed in Washington. Having grown up in DC area with government people in the family, it is understandable that people outside of that environment don't know how government operates. And believe it or not, not all is negative about government operations. Does anyone remember a President-elect getting so many critics expressing their opinions before January 20 every four years?

    November 19, 2008 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  24. Cleavette

    This only means that Bill Clinton was a great president. Every choice so far is excellent. Anything different from the last eight years is CHANGE. It sound like the critics do not want the country to do well.

    November 19, 2008 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  25. Beverly, NYC

    These people would complain about the opening of an envelope. If Obama picked people no one in the beltway knew they would complain that these people don't "know Washington" , he picks people who have experience in doing the jobs they are being appointed too and its a big to do. As long as he picks none of the Bush/Cheney flunkies I'm fine with former Clinton staffers as long as they are wiling to do a good job and remember which President they serve.

    November 19, 2008 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
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