Obama's Cabinet Picks Heavy on Washington Experience

WASHINGTON -- President-elect Barack Obama promised to bring change to Washington on the campaign trail. But his first potential picks for his Cabinet indicates that he could bring more years of Washington experience to his administration than either Presidents Bush or Clinton.

Obama's first four likely Cabinet choices, including former First Lady Hillary Clinton, bring a combined total of more than 60 years of Washington experience.

By comparison, President Bush's first four Cabinet picks had a total of 30 years experience in Washington and President Clinton's had 58 years.

Obama has chosen former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, a 30-year veteran of Washington, D.C., to be his secretary of health and human services, and former deputy attorney general Eric Holder, a 20-year Washington veteran, as his attorney general. His transition team is also reviewing former first lady and current New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has 15 years of experience in Washington, for the position as secretary of state.

Obama's pick to lead the seven-year-old Department of Homeland Security, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, is a Washington outsider.

Obama signaled early on what kind of Cabinet he would recruit when he named Rahm Emanuel, a veteran of the Clinton administration and a fellow member of Congress, as his White House chief of staff.

Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, said he wasn't surprised that Obama would be relying more on Clinton veterans "who participated in a presidency that is viewed to have its accomplishments and was viewed as well run."

He added that Obama is entering a political landscape that is far different from the one Clinton faced when he was elected.

"When President Clinton came in, Democrats had virtually no farm team of executive branch hands that they could rely on for White House and Cabinet positions," Riley said.

Clinton was the first Democratic president in 12 years after Jimmy Carter, compared to the eight year-interval since the Clinton presidency. Clinton also faced difficulty in picking veterans from Carter's administration because his presidency was widely viewed as being a failure, Riley said.

Obama, however, still faces pitfalls in relying on Clinton veterans when he ran on a mantra of change, Riley said.

"The argument that Obama people would make, it's possible to rely on people who know how the levers are pull but move it in a different direction than the last eight years," he said.

President Bush brought many Texans with him to Washington but the ones who had the most influence on his administration were the Washington insiders, Riley said.

His first Cabinet choice was Colin Powell for secretary of state, who had 14 years of Washington experience, including a four-year stint as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the first President Bush and President Clinton.

Bush also selected Paul O'Neill to be his secretary of treasury, who had 16 years of Washington experience, in part working as the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, which creates the executive branch's fiscal blueprint.

Non-Washington insiders who were early choices in the Bush administration included Don Evans, a private businessman, as commerce secretary and Mel Martinez, who had been a Florida utilities official, as secretary of housing and urban development.

President Clinton's first Cabinet pick was Lloyd Bentsen as secretary of treasury. Bentsen had been an old hand in Washington with 28 years of experience, including 22 years in the Senate and a stint as a vice presidential candidate.

Clinton's other early choices included Ron Brown, a former head of the Democratic National Committee, as commerce secretary; Donna Shalala, head of the Washington-based Children's Defense Fund and a Carter administration official, as secretary of health and human services; Robert Reich, a veteran of the Ford and Carter administrations.

Riley said it's a good idea to appoint Washington veterans to these positions that a president must rely on for so much.

Every president is "at the mercy of the people" he surrounds himself with. "You have to have a good mix of eminence, people you can rely on and not mind being in a foxhole with."