Who’s Who in the Obama Cabinet
Economic and Budget Policy
PATRICK MARTIN / WSWS 19jan2009
We are here posting the first in a series of profiles of
the major appointees to the
cabinet and top White House staff of Barack Obama. [Other parts follow below this one.]
Timothy Geithner, treasury secretary
A career government official involved in overseeing financial markets, Geithner is one of three protégés of Clinton administration Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs and until January 9 board member and special counsel at Citigroup) who have been named to top economic and budget positions in the Obama administration. He served in the Clinton administration, helping manage the 1995-96 Mexican peso crisis and the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. He then worked for the International Monetary Fund before his appointment by President Bush to his current position as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which conducts the day-to-day operations of the Fed on Wall Street.
Since the Wall Street meltdown began 18 months ago, with the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, Geithner has worked closely with the current treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. During that period, all five of the major New York investment banks—Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns—have been compelled to convert into commercial banks, merged, been taken over or collapsed.
Once confirmed as treasury secretary, Geithner’s first task will be to distribute the second half of the $700 billion bailout for Wall Street approved last year by the Democratic-controlled Congress. Geithner, Paulson and Bernanke headed the bailout effort that funneled the first $350 billion into the coffers of the major banks, as well as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the insurance company American International Group and US auto companies. Geithner will play the lead role in doling out the remaining $350 billion, which was released to the Treasury last week after the Senate defeated a resolution to block further handouts, and is currently involved in plans to further expand the bank bailout. Lawrence Summers, director of the White House’s National Economic Council
Formerly undersecretary and then secretary of the treasury in the Clinton administration, Summers was considered the key crisis manager during the Mexican and Asian currency collapses in the late 1990s. A magazine cover at the time depicted Summers, his boss Robert Rubin, then treasury secretary, and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan as “the committee to save the world.” In 1999, the Republican-controlled Congress adopted legislation repealing the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial from investment banking and imposed other restrictions on banking operations. Summers and the Clinton administration backed this deregulation of financial markets, which contributed to the collapse of 2008.
After leaving government with the end of the Clinton administration, Summers became president of Harvard University, but his stormy tenure came to an abrupt end after a series of clashes with the faculty, which included his now-notorious comments about the supposedly innate differences between male and female students in relation to the most abstract scientific fields, particularly mathematics.
Summers served as a top economic adviser to the Obama campaign but was chosen for the lower-profile White House position, which, unlike treasury secretary, does not require Senate confirmation, in part because of the prospect of contentious questioning about his views on gender. If Fed Chairman Bernanke is not reappointed this year—his term expires next January—Summers is a likely candidate to succeed him.
Paul Volcker, chairman of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board
The 82-year-old former investment banker was the key figure in the Reagan-era onslaught against the working class which, combined with the betrayals of the trade union leadership, destroyed the unions as a significant social force in the United States. Volcker was appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve Board by Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and promptly adopted an inflation-fighting strategy based on driving up interest rates to unprecedented levels (above 20 percent at one point), so that corporations could use the resulting mass unemployment to slash wages and benefits and undermine other hard-won workers’ gains.
During most of Volcker’s eight years at the Fed, he worked in tandem with the Reagan administration in its offensive against the labor movement. He hailed Reagan’s mass firing of the striking air traffic controllers and the destruction of their union, PATCO, as a key turning point in bringing inflation under control. At the worst point in the Volcker-induced recession, in 1982-83, the US unemployment rate approached 10 percent, the highest in the post-World War II era.
In his new position as an Obama adviser, Volcker serves as a guarantor to big business and the financial interests that the new administration will proceed ruthlessly against the working class. The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial last week, suggested that Volcker be given the authority to set new financial regulations. Other business spokesmen have suggested Volcker or someone like him as the new “car czar,” with authority over the bailout of the US auto industry and the accompanying cuts in auto workers’ jobs, wages and benefits.
Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget
The third Robert Rubin acolyte to take a top financial position with Obama, Orszag moves over from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), where he was appointed by the new Democratic majority, elected in 2006. He is regarded as the foremost Democratic Party expert on cutting spending for entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, and has written extensively on the need for fiscal austerity.
Orszag worked in the Clinton White House, first as an economist at the Council of Economic Advisers, then as a special assistant to the president for economic policy. After leaving the Clinton administration, he served as head of the Hamilton Project, a think tank devoted to controlling government spending set up and financed by Robert Rubin.
In an interview on his role at the CBO, he declared, “I have not viewed CBO’s job as just to passively evaluate what Congress proposes, but rather to be an analytical resource. And part of that is to highlight things that are true and that people may not want to hear, including that we need to address health-care costs.” Mary Schapiro, chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission
A former member of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) first appointed by Ronald Reagan, Schapiro is a classic case of an industry insider taking over a supposedly independent regulatory agency. After six years on the SEC, Schapiro was appointed chairman of the federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission by President Clinton in 1994, where she was responsible for regulating the US futures markets in agricultural commodities, metals, energy and financial products. She also served on the President's Working Group on Financial Markets with other top federal officials.
For the past 12 years, after leaving government at the end of Clinton’s first term, Schapiro has worked for the securities industry as an advocate of “self-regulation,” first with the National Association of Securities Dealers, the industry trade association, and most recently as head of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. She served on the board of directors at Duke Energy and Kraft Foods.
A front-page article in the January 15 Wall Street Journal carried the headline “Obama's Pick to Head SEC Has Record of Being a Regulator With a Light Touch,” and noted that “a close examination of Ms. Schapiro's record as a regulator shows she has infrequently pursued tough action against big Wall Street firms.”
Who’s Who in the Obama Cabinet
TOM ELEY / WSWS 20jan2009
This is the second in a series of profiles of the major
appointees to the cabinet and
top White House staff of Barack Obama. Part one, "Who's who in the
Obama cabinet—Economic and budget policy" was posted January 19.
President-elect Obama has assembled a cabinet drawn from the upper echelons of American society and the right wing of the Democratic Party. The right-wing character of the Obama nominees is described by the media under the approving labels of "centrist," "moderate," and—most of all—"pragmatic." This terminology signifies that the incoming Obama team consists entirely of individuals who pass muster with the corporate financial aristocracy.
The New York Times reported Monday that Obama has repeatedly discussed his cabinet selections with his defeated Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, and that McCain has told colleagues "that many of these appointments he would have made himself," according to Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and arch-conservative who has also had input into the formation of the new administration.
McCain, Graham and Co. have a far greater role in the selection of Obama's cabinet than the millions of young people and working people who supported Obama in the belief that he would put an end to the war in Iraq and reverse the right-wing, pro-big business policies of the Bush administration.
Today's series of profiles deals with those cabinet and other high-ranking officials in the incoming administration responsible for the Justice Department, intelligence and Homeland Security—i.e., the domestic repressive functions of the US government.
Eric Holder, attorney general
While Holder is being hailed as the first African-American to hold his position, his selection does not represent a reversal of the anti-democratic policies pursued by the Justice Department under the Bush administration. Holder is a trusted defender of both corporate America in general and the American capitalist state, having served as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration (1997-2001) and then as a high-priced lawyer at Covington & Burling, where he represented an assortment of major corporations.
Most notorious was his role defending the food giant Chiquita Brands International, Inc., whose multimillionaire executives were facing potential charges of aiding terrorism because of their financing and arming of right-wing death squads in Colombia. Using his Justice Department connections—and taking advantage of the Bush administration's sympathy for the Colombian fascists—Holder managed to get Chiquita off the hook with a small fine, despite overwhelming evidence that it had hired gunmen to kidnap, torture and murder Colombian workers, peasants and union officials.
With support emerging from prominent Republicans, it is likely Eric Holder will be confirmed as attorney general in the incoming Obama administration. Holder's nomination has withstood somewhat muted criticism from the Republican right. This related to Holder's involvement, as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, in the presidential pardon for billionaire fugitive investor Marc Rich, as well as in commutations for 16 Puerto Rican nationalists who had been imprisoned for decades on politically motivated convictions for nonviolent crimes.
Republicans announcing their support for Holder include Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who serves on the Judiciary Committee; Mel Martinez of Florida; Frances Townsend, President George W. Bush's homeland security adviser; William P. Barr, attorney general under President George H.W. Bush; and Larry Thompson, who served as attorney general in the current Bush administration. After Holder expressed agreement with Sen. Lindsey Graham that the nation is at war with terrorists, Graham responded, "I'm almost ready to vote for you right now."
Republicans may fondly remember Holder's critical role in expanding an independent counsel's investigation of Bill Clinton that ultimately led to his impeachment over his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Holder advised then-Attorney General Janet Reno to allow for the expansion of the investigation's scope.
Under John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales and Michael Mukasey in the Bush administration, the office of attorney general served as a center of conspiracy against democratic rights, authorizing torture, illegal wiretapping, and firing United States Attorneys who did not completely toe the Bush administration line, among other nefarious activities. Holder will attempt to effect a change of image. In congressional hearings, he said that he considered "waterboarding"—that is, drowning—torture. The Bush administration has defended the procedure as a "harsh interrogation method."
However, in other areas, Holder has made clear that he intends to carry on the policies of the Bush administration. He both supported the initial passage of the Patriot Act in 2001 and played a key role in the talks that led to its reauthorization in 2005—when Obama himself voted for it.
As attorney general, Holder would be obliged to investigate the crimes of the Bush administration. In his nomination hearings, he said he would do no such thing. "The decisions that were made by a prior administration were difficult ones," he said. "It is an easy thing for somebody to look back in hindsight and be critical of the decisions that were made." He indicated that, while he favors closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, this will be a lengthy process in which prisoners' legal status will remain indeterminate.
Leon Panetta, director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Panetta was a surprise selection to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the US spy agency and long a center of counterrevolution, because of his lack of hands-on experience in intelligence work. This was almost a requirement for the job, however, under the current circumstances, since Obama was seeking to rehabilitate the image of an agency that has become identified worldwide with kidnapping, secret imprisonment and torture. Obama initially intended to name a CIA veteran, John Brennan, who was the candidate's top intelligence adviser, but Brennan faced criticism over his role in decisions on interrogation during the Bush administration.
Panetta would play the same political role as George H.W. Bush, another "outsider" but a trusted ruling class figure, brought in to refurbish the agency after the assassination scandals of the early 1970s. He began his political career as a Republican working in the administration of Richard Nixon, but switched to the Democratic Party in 1971, and was elected to the US Congress from California in 1976, serving there for 16 years and specializing in budgetary matters. Clinton chose him as his first director of the United States Office of Management and Budget.
In 1994, Panetta became White House chief of staff, serving in that capacity until 1997, the critical years in which Clinton governed in collaboration with the Republican congressional leadership that took control of Congress in 1994. The single "achievement" of those years was the elimination of the federal welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, in a bipartisan deal.
More recently, Panetta has shifted his focus to foreign affairs, working as a member of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan establishment group that sought, beginning in 2006, to effect a tactical change in US policies in Iraq. Also serving on the group were Robert Gates, secretary of defense in both the Bush and Obama administrations, and former secretary of state in the first Bush administration, James Baker.
Admiral Dennis C. Blair, director of National Intelligence
Blair is one of a record four retired military officers chosen for high positions in the Obama administration, and the second Navy man in a row, following retired Vice Admiral Michael McConnell, to hold the position of DNI, created to oversee the entire intelligence establishment in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Blair is a career military man who rose to the rank of commander-in-chief of United States Pacific Command, which is the highest-ranking position for all US forces in the Asia-Pacific region. He also served as director of the joint staff in the Office of the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff. After retiring from the US Navy in 2002, Blair has been involved in US military and foreign policy circles, holding a chair at the US Army War College and serving on and holding a chair at a geo-strategic think tank, the National Bureau of Asian Research. He also served as president of the important US-government think tank, Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA).
Blair could be prosecuted for war crimes in relationship to the 1999 East Timor massacres, which took place during his period as head of the Pacific Command. Apparently, Blair disobeyed orders from the Clinton administration on two occasions. As the massacres against the pro-independence movement in East Timor became an embarrassment for the Clinton administration, which presented its simultaneous imperialist adventure against Yugoslavia as a "humanitarian mission," Clinton called on Blair to meet with General Wiranto, head of the Indonesian military, and order him to end support for the pro-Indonesian militia. Blair instead presented Wiranto with an offer of increased military assistance and invited the Indonesian strongman to be his personal guest in Hawaii. Wiranto took this as an American blessing for an escalation of violence in East Timor. When State Department officials learned that Blair had not delivered the message to Wiranto, they called on him to do so again. Again he refused. Only several months later, after many more independence supporters had been killed, did Blair act to cut off US military assistance to the Indonesian army.
Blair's career also highlights the incestuous relationship between the military and the defense industry. In 2006, the US Department of Defense inspector general determined Blair had violated IDA's Conflict of Interest regulations by recommending the US government purchase production contracts for F22 Raptors. Blair served as the president of the IDA, which made the recommendation, and on the board of directors for EDO Corporation, which did subcontracting work on the F22. He received only a slap on the wrist, and there is no congressional opposition to his appointment.
Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security
The two-term governor of Arizona, Napolitano has built a reputation for being "pro-business" and a proponent of increased militarization of the US border with Mexico, much of which lies in her state. In state politics, Napolitano supported Arizona's ban on same-sex marriages, opposed restrictions on gun ownership, and supported the death penalty. Her nomination has been warmly received by the Republican Party, with Arizona's two Republican senators, Jon Kyl and John McCain, lobbying on her behalf.
Napolitano has criticized the "Federal government's failure to fulfill its responsibilities in securing our border," and it is her supposed expertise on immigration that was her prime qualification for the Department of Homeland Security. Napolitano made her political name in Arizona through her opposition to immigration, signing into law reactionary legislation that made possible the prosecution of illegal immigrants as felons. She also deployed the Arizona National Guard along the border with Mexico, winning praise from anti-immigration zealots.
In questioning during Congressional hearings related to her nomination, Napolitano spoke in favor of the militarization of the Mexican border, saying that border fences should be used to separate urban areas from Mexico, but that higher technology should be used in the more remote expanses of the border area. She did not oppose the "Real ID program," which would create an internal passport system in the US, saying only that the financial burden it will impose on states needs to be lessened.
Napolitano leaves Arizona just as the state budget has been plunged into crisis by the economic slump, and in particular the housing crisis. The state faces a current deficit of $1.25 billion and a deficit of $2.65 billion for 2010. Napolitano has proposed major cuts to higher education to lessen the deficits. As part of proposed spending cuts of $975 million, $100 million would be cut from the state's university system and $40 million from community colleges. Also, $145 million will be slashed from the state highway fund.
Who’s Who in the Obama Cabinet
National Security and Foreign Policy
PATRICK MARTIN / WSWS 21jan2009\
This is the third in a series of profiles of the major
appointees to the cabinet and top White House staff of Barack Obama.
Part one, "Who's who in the Obama cabinet—Economic and budget policy" was posted January 19.
Part two, "Who's who in the Obama cabinet - Internal security" was posted January 20.
National security and foreign policy is the area of the most obvious continuity between the Bush administration and the Obama administration. The erstwhile "antiwar" candidate of late 2007 and early 2008 has long since made the transformation into flag-waving commander-in-chief, grimly vowing to use military violence against anyone who stands in the way of the geo-political interests of American imperialism.
Obama took the oath of office Tuesday only hours after a truce temporarily ended the US-backed slaughter of innocent Palestinians in the Gaza strip, a bloodbath backed by the incoming Obama foreign policy team as fervently as the outgoing Bush retinue.
Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense
First selected by George W. Bush in November 2006, Gates is being retained in his post by Obama, the first time that a Pentagon chief has been held over when control of the White House has passed from one of the two US ruling parties to the other. Gates, a former CIA director and career functionary of the military-intelligence apparatus, symbolizes the militaristic character of the incoming Democratic administration.
The selection of Gates has been hailed by the most fervent supporters of US aggression in Iraq, like Obama's opponent in the presidential election, Senator John McCain, and his fellow right-wing Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham. "Picking Gates is a good statement that they are not going to pull out of Iraq in a way that undercuts the gains achieved," Graham told the New York Times last week.
Those gains have nothing to do with the welfare of the people of Iraq, who have suffered more than 1 million deaths, countless wounded, physically and psychologically, 5 million people internally displaced, and the eruption of sectarian violence stoked by the wholesale destruction wreaked on Iraqi society by the US invasion.
The "gains" associated with Gates—who implemented Bush's order for the escalation of the war in Iraq with the "surge" of an additional 30,000 US troops—were another thousand US deaths, countless thousands of Iraqi deaths, and a dramatic increase in the bomb tonnage. The US control of the conquered country has only been temporarily stabilized through the implementation of a "divide and rule" strategy, arming Sunni tribes in Anbar province and parts of Baghdad, Kurdish militias in the north and the Shiite-dominated central government, which sets the stage for the outbreak of even bloodier civil wars, or a regional conflict drawing in neighboring states.
Along with Gates, Obama has retained all the key military officers responsible for the last two years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan: the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, who is likely to be reappointed for a further two years when his first two-year term runs out in September; General David Petraeus, the former Iraq commander, now head of Central Command, with jurisdiction over both wars; and General Raymond Odierno, the field commander in Iraq.
Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State
It is significant that Obama selected his main rival for the Democratic presidential nomination to fill his top foreign policy post. Clinton consistently attacked Obama from the right on foreign policy during the campaign for the nomination, a tactic that served to reinforce Obama's support among the rank-and-file Democratic voters, who overwhelmingly oppose the war that Senator Clinton voted to authorize.
Clinton gained some traction against Obama, after a series of primary defeats in February, by repositioning herself (however hypocritically, given her own standing as a multimillionaire member of the ruling elite) as a fighter for working people. But Obama did not choose her for a position where this talent for populist demagogy would be put to use, as the head of his healthcare or economic policy initiatives. Instead, he chose Clinton to lead the State Department.
Like the retention of Gates, the selection of Clinton was thus a signal that Obama was moving to the right on foreign policy, and that he would not fulfill the hopes of antiwar voters but rather the mandate of the American corporate aristocracy, which sees an aggressive and militaristic foreign policy as the key to beating back its international rivals like China, Russia and the European Union.
At her confirmation hearing, Clinton reiterated her support of the traditional foreign policy and defense policy nostrums of American imperialism—a strong military, the use of alliances and institutions like the United Nations to promote US interests, all-out support for Israeli violence against the Palestinians.
James Jones, National Security Adviser
A retired Marine general, Jones was commander in chief of NATO forces under the Bush administration and advised McCain (a longtime friend) during the election campaign, as well as Obama. The 64-year-old Jones served for 40 years in the Marines, beginning as a platoon commander in Vietnam.
After retiring from the Marines in 2007, Jones was appointed by Bush as his special envoy for Middle East security and also chaired a congressional panel, the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, that was to assess the readiness of Iraqi troops (and by extension, the possibilities for drawing down American military forces while maintaining the US-backed puppet government in Baghdad).
During his brief retirement, Jones cashed in quickly on his expertise in the Middle East, chairing the Institute for 21st Century Energy, an arm of the US Chamber of Commerce aimed at promoting US access to oil resources. He also became a director of Boeing Corp., one of the biggest Pentagon contractors, and of the giant oil company Chevron. He served on the board of both companies until Obama named him to the White House post.
Jones is most closely identified with Obama's proposal for a major escalation of the US military intervention in Afghanistan, which Obama has declared (aping Bush's description of Iraq) to be "the central front of the war on terror." Jones will retain much of the National Security Council staff assembled by the Bush White House, including Lt. General Douglas Lute, who coordinates policy for both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Susan Rice, ambassador to the United Nations
A former assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration, Rice (no relation to the outgoing State Department chief) is the scion of a black bourgeois family in Washington, D.C. Her father Emmett is a professor of economics at Cornell and a former governor of the Federal Reserve Bank. She graduated from Stanford and was a Rhodes Scholar.
Now 44, Rice has spent nearly her entire career as a foreign policy adviser to Democratic presidents and candidates, first working for the 1988 presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis. During the first Bush administration, she worked for the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. before joining the Clinton administration as a member of the National Security Council staff.
After leaving the Clinton administration, Rice worked at Intellibridge Inc., a consulting firm run by former Clinton national security adviser Anthony Lake, which was acquired by Eurasia Inc., a firm specializing in advising large corporations on the oil-rich Caspian Basin region. She joined the Brookings Institution in 2003, advised the Kerry campaign in 2004, and then finally enrolled with the Obama presidential campaign in 2007.
Rice was in charge of US Africa policy during 1998, when twin bombings hit the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and Clinton ordered a retaliatory missile strike that destroyed a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. She has espoused a far more aggressive interventionist policy in Africa, particularly in relation to Darfur and Zimbabwe, than that carried out by the Bush administration.
Who’s Who in the Obama Cabinet
TOM ELEY / WSWS 23jan2009
This is the fourth and final in a series of profiles of the major appointees to the cabinet and top White House staff of Barack Obama. Part one, Who’s who in the Obama cabinet—Economic and budget policy” was posted January 19. Part two, “Who’s who in the Obama cabinet—Internal security” was posted January 20. Part three, “Who’s who in the Obama cabinet—National security and foreign policy,” , was posted January 21.
The bulk of Obama’s appointments for cabinet positions covering domestic policy are secondary figures who will be expected to administer the agencies rather than make major policy decisions. Many of these were rubber-stamped Tuesday in a 99-0 vote of the US Senate, without a single Republican voting no, including Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu as secretary of energy, Chicago School Superintendent Arne Duncan as secretary of education, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture, and retired General Eric Shinseki as secretary of veterans affairs.
Sean Donovan, the New York City housing director named to be secretary of housing and urban development, Lisa Jackson, the New Jersey environment secretary named head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas, are similar figures, as are the two sitting members of the House of Representatives named to the cabinet, Democrat Hilda Solis, nominated as secretary of labor, and Republican Ray LaHood, nominated as secretary of transportation.
Three of the top appointments, however, give a glimpse of the Obama administration’s political direction in domestic policy.
Tom Daschle, secretary of health and human services
The long-time leader of the Democratic Senate Caucus, Daschle played a critical role in cultivating Barack Obama for the presidency after the latter graduated to the US Senate in 2004. Obama’s presidential campaign was largely staffed by former Daschle aides, and Daschle himself served as Obama’s national campaign co-chair. He has been rewarded with his position at Health and Human Services (HHS), and a second appointment as the top White House coordinator of health care policy, giving him the leading role in both formulating and winning congressional approval for the promised overhaul of the health care system.
Given Daschle’s political views and his role (along with his wife) as a top lobbyist for corporate America, any Obama health care plan will be firmly based on the capitalist market, and therefore hostile to the interests of the vast majority of working people whose needs have been failed by the profit-based health care system.
After losing his South Dakota Senate seat in the 2006 elections, Daschle took a position as a “special consultant” with a powerful Washington law/lobbying firm, Alston and Bird, reputedly earning more than $1 million per year. Alston and Bird represent major health care industry corporations, such as HealthSouth, CVS Caremark, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, and Abbott Laboratories. Because Daschle was never officially registered as a lobbyist, his influence-peddling on behalf of health corporations does not create a legal obstacle to his installment at HHS—where he will have significantly more influence over decisions affecting the corporations he formerly represented.
Daschle and his wife, Linda Hall, are one of Washington’s “power couples.” An administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration in the Clinton administration, Hall parlayed that political experience and the clout of her well-placed husband into one of the top lobbying positions in Washington. Her representatives include the major aerospace and defense firms Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
If confirmed, one of Daschle’s primary tasks will be to “reform” Medicare. At a January 8 hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Daschle indicated that whatever overhaul of Medicare emerges will be based upon bipartisan consensus—i.e., it must have the support of the right wing of the Republican Party. Daschle said that Medicare “just isn’t working right,” but rather than demanding billions more in funding, he envisions a drastic restructuring of the program, which will require super-majorities of over 70 votes in the Senate. “I really want to work in a collaborative way. It’s the only way we’re going to get this done,” he said.
Daschle played a critical role in October 2002, mobilizing Democratic Congressional support behind the resolution authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq. Throughout his decade as leader of the Democrats in the Senate, and particularly during his two years as Senate majority leader (2001-2002), he was most noted for his “soft-spoken” leadership style, which amounted in practice to a mealy-mouthed and hypocritical subservience to the Republican right.
Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior
Ken Salazar was confirmed unanimously on Tuesday by his fellow senators for the post of secretary of the interior. Barack Obama’s nomination of the Democratic senator from Colorado won broad support from the Republican Party and powerful mining and ranching interests.
The Department of the Interior is one of the most important federal agencies, overseeing approximately 500 million acres, about 20 percent of all land in the US, most of it located in the West. The position is traditionally given to a representative of Western mining, mineral and ranching interests, and Salazar fits that bill.
During his four-plus years as a senator, Salazar was among the most right-wing in the Democratic caucus. He was an ardent supporter of the war in Iraq. He enthusiastically backed a number of President Bush’s nominations for cabinet and judicial appointments, including Alberto Gonzales for attorney general and the virulently anti-environmentalist ranching lobbyist William Myers III for federal judge.
In an earlier perspective statement, the World Socialist Web Site summed up Salazar’s reactionary voting record: “While in the Senate, Salazar voted: against increased fuel efficiency standards for the US cars, in support of offshore oil drilling on Florida’s coast, against the repeal of tax breaks for Exxon-Mobil, and in support of subsidies to ranchers using public lands. He also fought against attempts to beef up protection for endangered species and the environment in the US Farm Bill.”
Environmentalist groups, who worked assiduously for Barack Obama’s victory in the general election, lamented Obama’s choice, which one called a “travesty.” The ranching and mining industries, which worked just as hard for the victory of John McCain, Obama’s Republican rival, celebrated Salazar’s selection. When possible nominations were still being considered, Dan Keppen, head of ranching group Family Farm Alliance, said that “of all the names mentioned, Salazar is the one we’re happiest with.” Laura Skaer, executive director of the Northwest Mining Association, said, “Salazar is the first name mentioned that we could support.”
Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff
Rahm Emanuel is notorious as one of the most fervently pro-Israeli figures in the Obama administration, illustrated by his service as a civilian volunteer with the Israeli Defense Forces during the 1991 Gulf War. This is in part due to family ties. Emanuel’s father, who was born in Jerusalem, was a member of the fascist organization Irgun that carried out brutal crimes against Palestinians between 1931 and 1948. Interviewed by the Israeli daily Maariv about whether or not his son would push Obama toward continuing support of Israel, the elder Emanuel replied in racist terms. “Obviously, he will influence the president to be pro-Israel,” he said, “Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”
But Emanuel will play a more central role in domestic policy, particularly because of his close ties to the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives, where he served for six years, rising to the number four position as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
A top domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton, Emanuel championed “welfare reform” that aimed to balance the federal budget on the backs of the working class. Upon leaving the Clinton administration, Emanuel converted his political connections into a lucrative position with the global investment banking firm of Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, taking home $18 million from 1999 to 2002. This fortune was parlayed into easy victory in a safely Democratic House seat in northwest Chicago. He became a top recipient of campaign funds from Wall Street. In return, he played a key role in securing the votes necessary for passage of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout in October.
In 2006, Emanuel, together with Bruce Reed of the Democratic Leadership Council, coauthored a book entitled The Plan, which outlined the Democratic Party’s militarist agenda. Emanuel proposed a new mass conscription program called “universal citizen service,” in which “all Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 should be asked to serve their country by going through three months of basic civil defense training and community service.” Emanuel is a prominent member of the New Democrat Coalition, a grouping of reactionary congressional Democrats that lists its four critical issues as “national security, economic growth, personal responsibility, and technology.”