Obama: Don't judge the diversity in my cabinet yet

President Obama is catching some criticism over his cabinet nominations. Scott Pelley speaks with John Dickerson about Mr. Obama's picks and the controversy surrounding them.
Chuck Kennedy

Amid some scrutiny for nominating all white men to four high-profile cabinet positions, President Obama said today that it's too early to judge the diversity in his second-term administration.

"I would just suggest that everybody kind of wait until they've seen all my appointments, who is in the White House staff and who is in my cabinet, before they rush to judgment," he said in a White House news conference today. "Until you've seen what my overall team looks like, it's premature to assume that somehow we're going backwards. We're not going backwards, we're going forward."

As Mr. Obama prepares for his second term, some have taken note of the lack of diversity in his first few cabinet nominations. While the president has chosen four white men to add to his team, a number of women are leaving the administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. Some Democrats in Congress are asking the president to add more diversity to the administration.

Mr. Obama today noted the highly influential role that female members of his administration played in his first term, alluding to Clinton, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Nancy-Ann DeParle and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

"If you think about my first four years, the person who probably had the most influence on my foreign policy was a woman," he said. "The people who were in charge of moving forward my most important domestic initiative, health care, were women. The person in charge of our Homeland Security was a woman. My two appointments to the Supreme Court were women. And 50 percent of my White House staff were women."

The New York Times recently reviewed personnel data in the Obama administration, finding that 43 percent of Mr. Obama's appointees have been women -- about the same percentage as in the Clinton administration and a larger percentage than in President George W. Bush's administration.

Mr. Obama said his record of diversity will be "built on during the next four years."

"When you look for the very best people, given the incredible diversity of this country, you're going to end up with a diverse staff and a diverse team," he said, "and that very diversity helps to create more effective policy making, and better decision making for me, because it brings different perspectives to the table."

The president also addressed the criticism that his White House has been too insular, failing to reach out sufficiently to politicians and policymakers who have different views from the president's. Some have criticized the president specifically for failing to have friendly, social relationships with Republicans.

"Most people who know me know I'm a pretty friendly guy," Mr. Obama said. "And I like a good party. And you know the truth is that, you know when I was in the Senate, I had great relationships over there, and up until the point that I became president, this was not an accusation that you heard very frequently."

His friendly relationships with Congress, however, haven't trumped the stark policy differences that remains, Mr. Obama said.

"I like Speaker Boehner personally," he said. "And when we went out and played golf, we had a great time. But that didn't get a deal done in 2011. You know, when I'm over here at the congressional picnic, and folks are coming up and taking pictures with their family, I promise you, Michelle and I are very nice to them, and we have a wonderful time. But it doesn't prevent them from going onto the floor of the House and, you know, blasting me for being a big-spending socialist."

The president said his political opponents are too concerned with their political reputations and that if the American people reward lawmakers who are willing to compromise, "then I think you'll see behavior in Congress change. And that'll be true whether I'm the life of the party or a stick in the mud."