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Questions Surround Some Obama Cabinet Picks

(CBS/ AP)
With five days until President-elect Barack Obama's swearing in, the vast majority of his Cabinet picks have now faced relatively smooth confirmation hearings.

Four of Mr. Obama's choices had hearings today: Homeland Security nominee Janet Napolitano, U.N. Secretary pick Susan Rice, Interior Secretary designee Ken Salazar, and Attorney General designee Eric Holder. Of the four, only Holder faced tough questions, and he still appears to be on the path to confirmation. (See Andrew Cohen's dispatches for more on the Holder hearing.)

Still, there are cabinet picks whose hearings have yet to come, and their status demonstrates how the confirmation process has not gone as smoothly as Mr. Obama had hoped. There have not been hearings for the president-elect's Commerce pick, for starters, because he no longer has one: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew from consideration over an ongoing grand jury investigation, and Mr. Obama has yet to name a replacement.

Mr. Obama's pick to lead the Treasury Department, Tim Geithner, will not face hearings until Jan. 21, after the inauguration. Geithner's hearing was postponed after revelations that he had failed to pay tens of thousands of dollars in taxes in the past. Though Geithner is still likely to be confirmed, he will face uncomfortable questions when he appears before the Senate Finance Committee next week.

Health and Human Services Pick Tom Daschle had a hearing back on Jan. 8, but he must now appear before the Finance Committee as well; his confirmation process has slowed, the Wall Street Journal reported today, "as the Republican staff on the Senate Finance Committee staff examines his tax records and his association with an education-loan provider that is separately under committee scrutiny." (The good news for Daschle: The complexity of the situation, not any suggest of impropriety, appears to be what is holding up the process.)

And hearings for Mr. Obama's nominee for secretary of transportation, Ray LaHood, have been pushed back to next week; according to the Washington Post, the holdup appears to be tied to the fact that LaHood "has close ties to a Republican power-broker indicted in the pay-to-play scandal that also led to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's recent arrest."

And though he is not officially part of the Cabinet, Leon Panetta, Mr. Obama's pick to head the CIA, could also face tough questions: Some in the Senate, including Sen. Diane Feinstein – who, as chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence, will oversee Panetta's confirmation hearing – have signaled their skepticism concerning the selection of the former Clinton staffer, who lacks an intelligence background. Feinstein has since indicated she will support Panetta, but his hearing could be far less comfortable than what a more conventional pick would have faced.

For more, check out the CBS News Cabinet page.

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