Obama Keeps Several Bush Picks in Top Jobs

President Barack Obama announces he is keeping Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, left, to a second term, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2009, during a news conference in Oak Bluffs, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
AP Photo/Stephan Savoia
For all the Republican howling about Barack Obama radically steering the government to the left and leading the nation toward socialism, some of his major appointments are Republican men and women of the middle.

In what may be the top two national posts in light of today's crises at home and abroad, Obama stuck with the picks of former President George W. Bush in reappointing Fed chief Ben Bernanke and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Bernanke last week was given another four-year term to preside over nothing less than saving the U.S. economy and then keeping it strong. He was appointed by Bush in 2006 after a short stint as chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. Gates was kept in his Pentagon post to wind down the war in Iraq and build up the one in Afghanistan.

The loss of Sen. Ted Kennedy to brain cancer led to a chorus of laments about the dearth of politicians these days able to reach across party lines. While Obama has had little luck with the highly polarized Congress in building bipartisan support on legislation, he has reached out often to Republicans in filling major jobs.

The notion that he is moving the government to the left "is laughable, it's utterly laughable," said Thomas E. Mann, a government scholar at the Brookings Institution. Mann said the decision to keep Bernanke and Gates "doesn't buy him a thing with Republicans but was a sign of good judgment in both cases" because Bernanke and Gates were doing good jobs.

Obama's larger problem is that he still does not have his own people in a majority of the government's top policymaking positions requiring Senate confirmation. But those he has put in top positions include a number of Republicans or nontraditional Democrats.

Along with Gates and Bernanke, they include:

Sheila Bair as holdover chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. She has played a major role in the management of the financial crisis. A one-time unsuccessful candidate for a Kansas House of Representatives seat, Bair was appointed by Bush in June 2006. Forbes Magazine ranks her as the second most powerful woman in the world behind German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Ray LaHood, a former congressman from Illinois, as transportation secretary. He was elected as part of the "Gingrich Revolution" by Republicans in 1994's elections and was so trusted by both Republicans and Democrats that he was selected to preside over the House during the impeachment vote against President Bill Clinton.

Former Rep. John McHugh from upstate New York, as Army secretary. McHugh was known by his House colleagues for an even temperament and willingness to work with Democrats.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who was a Mormon missionary in China in his youth, as ambassador to China.

Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian, as director of the National Institutes of Health.

Unlike the others on the list, Collins is not a Republican and worked in the Obama presidential campaign. But he does not fit the usual mold of liberal Democrat as portrayed by many Republicans.

Collins discussed his religious views in a 2006 book. Although some questions have been raised about whether he could keep his religious views separate from his work, the physician-geneticist is well respected in his field for landmark discoveries of disease genes and as head of the Human Genome Project.

Meanwhile, Obama has been contending with an angry left in his own Democratic Party who are upset at him for not insisting more forcefully on a government-run health insurance option and for his decisions to retain some Bush-era counterterror policies.

"The effort to portray Obama as dangerously leftist just doesn't have any traction," said Stephen Cimbala, a political science professor at Pennsylvania State University. "I think if they want to pick up seats in 2010 and get back up off the floor where Bush left them, they're going to have to find a way to go beyond the very narrow core Republican base and reach out to moderates. The case they have to make against Obama is a case about competency and performance. Not about ideology."

Republicans are going all out on the warpath, especially on health care overhaul and budget issues.

"Obama and his liberal congressional allies want to saddle taxpayers with even more debt through their government-run health care experiment that will cost trillions of dollars," said Republican party chief Michael Steele. House Minority Leader John Boehner accused Obama of a management style that is "not leadership; it's negligence." Republican Sen. Mike Enzi said in Saturday's Republican video and Internet address that Obama's Democrats favor "cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from the elderly to create new government programs."

In asking Bernanke to stay on, Bush praised the former Princeton economist for "his calm and wisdom" in steering the economy through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

At the time he announced he was sticking with Gates at the Pentagon, Obama said he didn't ask the member of the Bush war cabinet to remain because of his party affiliation but because he felt he could best "serve the interests of the American people." Obama said he was "going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House."

Meanwhile, Obama returned from his vacation in Massachusetts on Martha's Vineyard and, after a few days at the Camp David presidential retreat north of Washington, will increase his efforts "toward getting a bipartisan result" on health care overhaul, said deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton. "After he gets a little time to recharge his batteries ... he's going to come back as rip-roaring as he was before," Burton said.