WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama promised the voters change but has started his Cabinet selection process by naming several Washington insiders to top posts.
Obama is enlisting former Senate leader Tom Daschle as his health secretary. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a well-known Washington personality, seemed more likely than ever to be his secretary of state. Clinton is deciding whether to take that post as America's top diplomat, her associates said Wednesday
Obama is ready to announce that his attorney general will be Eric Holder, the Justice Department's No. 2 when Clinton's husband was president. Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, is another veteran of the Clinton White House.
Daschle's selection to head the Health and Human Services Department — confirmed Wednesday but not yet announced — isn't at the same level of Cabinet prestige as the top spots at the State and Justice departments. But the health post could be more important in an Obama administration than in some others, making Daschle a key player in helping steer the president-elect's promised health care reforms.
Daschle could push Obama for quick action on health care reform next year, if he follows his own advice.
Daschle said efforts during the Clinton administration, led by Hillary Clinton, took too long and went into too much detail, giving every interest group an opportunity to find something they didn't like about the plan.
"The next president should act immediately to capitalize on the goodwill that greets any incoming administration. If that means attaching a health-care plan to the federal budget, so be it," Daschle wrote in a book he released this year, "Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis." "This issue is too important to be stalled by Senate protocol."
The former South Dakota senator's return to the government will be a vindication of sorts. He was the Senate Democratic leader when he was defeated in 2004 by Republican John Thune, who convinced voters back home that Daschle was more concerned with Washington than with them.
In fact, Daschle stayed in the capital city after his defeat, becoming a public policy adviser and member of the legislative and public policy group at the law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird. Daschle isn't registered as a lobbyist. He advises clients on issues including health care, financial services, taxes and trade, according to the firm's Web site.
Health care interests, including CVS Caremark, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, Abbott Laboratories and HealthSouth, are among the firm's lobbying clients.
Daschle's appointment was not formally announced, but Democratic officials said the job was his barring an unforeseen problem as Obama's team reviews his background. One area of review will include the lobbying connections of his wife, Linda Hall Daschle, who has worked mostly on behalf of airline-related companies over the years. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Republicans sniped at what they saw as an unwelcome trend. Alex Conant, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said, "Barack Obama is filling his administration with longtime Washington insiders."