Breaking Down Obama's Cabinet Contenders

This story was written by CBSNews.com political reporter Brian Montopoli.


Rumsfeld. Condi. Alberto. Colin. Ashcroft.

They're some of the best-known cabinet members of the Bush administration, officials who became household names while leading departments such as State, Defense, and Justice. Now President-elect Barack Obama is building his own cabinet, and speculation over who will get the top positions has risen to a fever pitch in Washington. Below, a look at the contenders, compiled from CBS News reporting and other sources:

Secretary Of State:

The 2004 Democratic nominee for president, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, is reportedly interested in the job, though his spokeswoman has cast claims that he is pushing for it "ridiculous." Kerry scored major points with Obama when he endorsed the Illinois senator just one day after Obama's surprise loss to Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire Democratic primary. And as The New Republic's Michael Crowley pointed out on The Early Show Thursday, Kerry gave Obama the speaking slot at the 2004 Democratic convention that propelled him to national attention, without which Obama likely could not have made his White House run.

Another name thought to be under serious consideration is New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who stressed his negotiating skills with hostile foreign leaders during his failed run for president last year. Richardson also endorsed Obama relatively early, and took some heat from his former boss, Bill Clinton, for doing so. The choice of Richardson would, as Newsweek points out, bring a Hispanic face to the Obama cabinet, a move sure to be celebrated by the Latino voters who helped push Obama to victories in Colorado and New Mexico.

And then there are the Republican options: Obama has vowed to reach across the aisle in governing the country, and both Indiana Sen. Richard G. Lugar and Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel are considered strong candidates who would signal that he is doing so.

Secretary Of The Treasury:

As Jim Axelrod pointed out on the Evening News Wednesday, the sorry state of the economy puts Obama's selection to head the Treasury department under perhaps the most scrutiny of any of his picks. At the top of the list? Two former Clinton treasury secretaries: Larry Summers and Robert Rubin. Summers became embroiled in controversy for comments he made about women while Harvard University president, a factor that could complicate confirmation hearings. But he is a widely respected economist, and many see him as the steadiest hand available to guide the economy through troubled times.

Other candidates include Tim Geithner, who runs the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and played a key role in addressing Wall Street's recent collapse, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, one of Obama's principle economic advisors. Also said to be under consideration, though they're thought to be longshots, are Warren Buffett, the celebrated investor whom Obama repeatedly invoked on the campaign trail, New Jersey governor and former Goldman Sachs co-chair Jon Corzine, and Laura D'Andrea Tyson, who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers for Clinton.

Secretary Of Defense:

Could Robert Gates stick around? Obama has stressed a desire to break with President Bush in almost every way, but Donald Rumsfeld's successor is respected by both parties and offers much-needed experience and stability for a new administration reckoning with two wars. Even if Obama wants Gates, however, he might not get his wish: On Oct. 24th, the Defense secretary suggested he planned to return to Washington State when Mr. Bush's time in office expires.

Richard Danzig, the Obama supporter who was the Secretary Of The Navy under Clinton, is believed to be under consideration, as is Hagel, a Republican who broke with his party over the war. Also thought to be possibilities are former senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn, who has said he is "not interested" in an Obama cabinet position, John Hamre, the deputy secretary of Defense under Clinton who has worked closely with Gates, and Sen. Jack Reed.

Attorney General:

Obama needs to find someone who can "restore professionalism and nonpartisanship within the Department" following "Alberto Gonzales' disastrous reign," argues CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. Among the contenders for the job are Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a former U.S. attorney who endorsed Obama early on. Napolitano would bring a female presence to a cabinet that is likely to be male-dominated, at least at the upper levels, and has also been mentioned as a potential Homeland Security chief.

The favorite, however, is probably Eric Holder, an African-American former Clinton deputy attorney general who serves as Obama's senior legal advisor. "Holder is a Democrat, but it will be hard for Republicans to tag him as a crony of the Left," writes Cohen. "He knows the ropes at Justice, has some experience in dealing with terror law and domestic crime (which is up), and has the intelligence and demeanor to generate confidence in the halls of Congress."

Other possible candidates who would also bring a high-profile African-American presence to the cabinet include Charles Ogletree, the Harvard law school professor who taught both Michelle and Barack Obama, and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Republican candidates include James B. Comey, who, while sitting in for an ailing John Ashcroft, refused to sign off on the White House's domestic surveillance program, and Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who prosecuted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Key Staff:

Though Obama has vowed to take his time filling cabinet positions - expect announcements after Thanksgiving - he has already indicated that hard-charging Rep. Rahm Emanuel will be his chief of staff, a cabinet-rank position that comes with vast authority. He has also tapped longtime top aide and campaign communications director Robert Gibbs, perhaps best known for his tussles with Fox News anchors, as his White House press secretary. And Obama's Senate chief of staff, Pete Rouse, will be one of Emanuel's deputies. The selection of the pugnacious threesome is being taken as an indication that Obama will play hardball and not shy away from pushing an ambitious agenda - and that he "doesn't want yes men," in the words of one member of his transition team.

The Rest:

South Dakota's Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader who lost his seat four years ago, has been something of a mentor to Obama. He is seen as a potential Health & Human Services chief, should he want the job. Another potential HHS chief? Democratic National Committee chairman and doctor Howard Dean.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, an early Obama backer who was seriously considered for the vice presidential slot, is also seen as an HHS candidate, as well as a potential secretary of Education, Commerce, or Energy.

Then there's Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, an early Clinton supporter who became an enthusiastic Obama supporter, who could go to Energy or the Department of Transportation; former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, a candidate to head the Department of Agriculture; and the candidates to head Homeland Security, among them Sept. 11 commissioner Tim Roemer, New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly, and former Federal Emergency Management Agency head James Lee Witt.

For the Labor department, former House majority leader Richard Gephardt is seen as a strong candidate; Richardson is seen as a candidate for the Department of the Interior, along with Rep. Jay Inslee; and South Carolina Rep. James E. Clyburn could head the Department of Housing & Urban Development.

Among the highest profile names popping up is that of Colin Powell, the Republican former Secretary Of State who endorsed Obama, who could become secretary of Education or Defense. Also in the mix is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who could be tapped to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
By Brian Montopoli

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