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Obama's Cabinet: Who Might Fill Some Key Roles

Reuters
Wednesday, 5 Nov 2008 | 12:03 PM ET

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has no time to waste.

Two wars and a deepening financial crisis have raised expectations that he will quickly announce picks for senior government jobs after winning Tuesday's presidential election.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., answers a question during the first Democratic presidential primary debate of the 2008 election hosted by South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C., Thursday, April 26, 2007. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., answers a question during the first Democratic presidential primary debate of the 2008 election hosted by South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C., Thursday, April 26, 2007. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Obama, a Democrat who triumphed over over Republican John McCain to become the first black U.S. president, has a transition operation well under way to enable him to unveil selections for positions such as Treasury secretary and secretary of state soon.

Illinois Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel has emerged as a strong contender for the crucial position of White House chief of staff and an announcement could come as early as Wednesday, sources familiar with the matter said.

Former government officials and public policy experts say such early preparations are both prudent and necessary given the challenges the United States faces amid the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and economic turmoil.

"The need for a seamless transition is greater than it has been in our adult political lifetime," said William Galston, a former domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton who is now a professor at the University of Maryland.

"With two wars abroad and an international financial crisis going on, there cannot be a period in which the new administration is just getting up to speed," Galston added.

Some analysts believe certain jobs, such as Treasury secretary, could be announced within days and speculation is already rife about several names.

The next Treasury secretary will inherit one of the hottest seats in Washington, faced both with guiding the $700 billion economic bailout package and the regulatory reform needed to prevent a repeat of the current crisis.

In an Obama administration, the short list for Treasury likely includes former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Obama has also spoken favorably about investor Warren Buffett, while University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee and former Clinton White House aide Jason Furman are also important economic advisers to the incoming president.

New Jersey Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, whose name has also been floated for the Treasury post, told CNBC on Wednesday he had not discussed joining the Obama administration with anybody, though he added he would never rule anything out.

Foreign Policy Advisers

For secretary of state, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry, former diplomat Richard Holbrooke, outgoing Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel and former Georgia Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn are among the names in the mix.

James Steinberg, a former Clinton adviser, is a top contender for national security adviser. Susan Rice, another former Clinton aide, could be considered for that job or another senior post.

Obama also relies heavily on three foreign policy experts on his campaign staff who are likely to end up in the White House or State Department. Those three aides are Mark Lippert and Denis McDonough, both former Senate aides, and Ben Rhodes, Obama's foreign policy speechwriter.

With wars under way in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama might consider keeping Robert Gates on as secretary of Defense. He might also consider tapping former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, a close adviser.

Obama's campaign is maintaining the utmost secrecy on planning for the transition, which will occur in the 11 weeks between Nov. 4 and Jan. 20, when he will be sworn in as successor to President Bush.

Obama has said he had "some pretty good ideas" about people he might tap for senior jobs and that he would "absolutely" include Republicans in his Cabinet.

Many political analysts also say the new administration must also get crucial White House jobs filled quickly in order to establish a decision-making hierarchy.

Emanuel's name has been circulating for some time as a possible chief of staff, who is the main gatekeeper to the president.

A former senior adviser to President Clinton, Emanuel has a reputation as a tough strategist with keen political instincts and is known as the main architect of the Democrats' recapture of Congress in 2006.

Sources said Emanuel was a real contender for the position, but might be weighing a White House job offer against possible ambitions to become speaker of the House.

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