Obama’s Bipartisan Cabinet
CQ is calling Barack Obama to task for seemingly reneging on his campaign pledge to have a bipartisan cabinet.
Now that President-elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet is, by his count, half picked, the odds are fading that he’ll have more than one Republican on his team — suggesting that his campaign promise to include Republicans may have meant nothing more than the usual token appointment from the other side.
Obama did attract a lot of attention by asking Robert Gates to stay on as Defense secretary, and liberals have debated whether he’s the right man to oversee a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. But that debate overshadows the fact that Gates isn’t likely to have much, or even any, company. Of the Cabinet jobs that are left at this point, virtually all are domestic policy positions that would be hard to give to a Republican without prompting vicious internal fights, and it’s almost impossible to find Republicans who have been mentioned as candidates for any of them.
Josh Marshall retorts that, “In recent decades it hasn’t been particularly common for presidents to have any appointees from the opposite party. And when they do it’s usually like Bush appointing Norman Minetta to be Transportation Secretary, a secondary cabinet post of no real consequence to the president in question.”
Which the CQ piece pointed out. They also noted, though, that John Kennedy had two Republicans (SECDEF Bob McNamara and Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon) and that Bill Clinton also appointed a Republican (William Cohen) as SECDEF. Their point is that Obama made a point of emphasizing a bipartisan cabinet during the campaign.
This does strike me as a weak attack, however. I don’t recall this being a central point of Obama’s campaign. The closest thing CQ comes to as evidence is one interview:
Charlie Gibson of ABC News asked Obama in late October if he wanted Republicans — plural — in his Cabinet, Obama replied, “Absolutely.”
As Josh notes, in addition to Gates — who considers himself a Republican even though he’s not registered — there’s General Jim Jones, who is coy about his partisanship but widely presumed to be a Republican given his Marine Corps past and his gig at the Chamber of Commerce, who will be Obama’s National Security Advisor. That’s traditionally an Executive Office of the Presidency position rather than a Cabinet post, but it’s splitting hairs. Jones will have Obama’s ear much more frequently than most Cabinet secretaries.
And, as CQ acknowledges, there are only so many spots where a Republican could realistically serve. There are only 15 cabinet agencies and a handful (currently 5) of positions that the president designates as “cabinet-level” for one reason or another. Obama is expected to make UN Ambassador a cabinet-level post in his administration; it’s not one under Bush.
Unless Obama turned the entire foreign policy and security apparatus over to the opposition party — a rather unreasonable suggestion — he’d be forced to put Republicans in key domestic policy posts. That doesn’t make sense, either, since those are the issue areas where bipartisanship is least likely.
AP Photo by Charles Dharapak