As Obama Fills His Cabinet, Opinions Come Down on His Picks

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Seriously? Photo: Getty Images

While one conspicuous pick remains unresolved, the rest of Obama's Cabinet is quickly falling into place. Though vetting is ongoing, it's being reported that Obama has tapped Arizona governor Janet Napolitano for secretary of Homeland Security, former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle to head up the Department of Health and Human Services, and Obama national finance chair and very rich person Penny Pritzker as secretary of Commerce. He's not exactly following the Team of Rivals model here, but that's because these picks are about finding solutions for long-intractable issues, like universal health care in the case of Daschle, immigration reform with Napolitano, and, in the case of Pritzker … well, we don't know exactly what the issue with the economy is, but it might be a moot point anyway.

UPDATE: As some had expected, Penny Pritzker has taken herself out of the running for secretary of Commerce, saying she can do more for the country in her "current capacity: building businesses, creating jobs and working to strengthen our economy." [CNN]

Daschle
• Ezra Klein is ecstatic about this choice, calling it "huge news, and the clearest evidence yet that Obama means to pursue comprehensive health reform." You only tap the former Senate majority leader for this role because he has the knowledge and ability to "get your health care plan through Congress." Compare this to the people Bill Clinton put in charge of health-care reform: Hillary Clinton and Ira Magaziner, neither of whom "had any relevant experience in Washington, either with the health care bureaucracy or with the legislative branch." [American Prospect]

• Michael Tomasky tries in vain to find something not to like about the Daschle pick, but sadly cannot, calling it a "very savvy" move. [Guardian UK]

• Karen Tumulty recalls Daschle driving her around fifteen years ago in the poorer, older parts of South Dakota to demonstrate the need for health-care reform. As head of HHS, it's "hard to imagine a more useful ally for Obama to help lead his bid for health-care reform, both because of Daschle's understanding of the legislative process and for his belief in the new President-elect." His selection also signals that Obama agrees with Daschle that the economy can't be fixed without fixing health care as well. [Time]

• Jonathan Cohn calls it a "perfect role for Daschle," who has "become a true wonk" on health care and has urged "precisely the sorts of reforms President-Elect Obama and his congressional allies are promoting right now." [Plank/New Republic]

• David Kirkpatrick wonders if the Daschle pick could conflict with Obama's "campaign promises to limit potential conflicts of interest among his appointees." Daschle is a member of the Mayo Clinic board and has worked as "a highly paid adviser to health care clients at the law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird." Daschle's appointment may not be in danger, but he may have to "recuse himself from any matter related to either the Mayo Clinic or some of the clients he advised at Alston & Bird — a potentially broad swath of the health secretary’s portfolio." [NYT]

• James C. Capretta suggests Daschle set his sights on HHS, as opposed to higher-profile posts in the Cabinet, because "like many of his former colleagues in Congress, he wants to cap his career by being closely associated with passage of a nationalized-health-care plan." [National Review]

Napolitano
• Steve Benen thinks she is a "terrific choice" for Homeland Security, a role which requires "a strong, competent manager to clean up the department, bring some competence to the agency, and reverse some of the dysfunction that has burdened DHS for years." However, Napolitano's rumored Senate run against John McCain in 2010 will be "far more difficult" to pull off. [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Nate Silver says a "promotion to Homeland Security would not inherently dash Napolitano's prospects of running for the Senate," but she "would presumably have to vacate her position by early 2010 to run a competitive race against McCain." [FiveThirtyEight]

• Mike Madden notes that a big part of the Homeland Security gig is illegal immigration, and Napolitano has "already made that a major focus back home." She actually "surprised some immigration advocates" with her tough border-control policies, like punishing businesses who hire illegal immigrants and calling for the National Guard to help "well before President Bush finally did so in 2006." [War Room/Salon]

• Chuck Todd and friends say picking Napolitano "would show that Obama views the immigration part of the DHS job as the priority." However, "one Dem source says that while she’s a leading contender for DHS, it’s not the only post she’s being vetted for." [First Read/MSNBC]

• Kathryn Jean Lopez, however, doesn't think "a governor who doesn't like enfocing [sic] immigration laws" is very promising for secretary of Homeland Security. [Corner/National Review]

• Michelle Malkin believes that Napolitano "may seem like a promising pick," but in reality "she’s a double-talker and double-doer who will ensure the immigration chaos status quo." [Michelle Malkin]

Pritzker
• Matt Yglesias writes that her appointment as Commerce secretary "fits firmly into the model of giving the job to a friend of the president’s so he can have a buddy in the cabinet." Of course, "the president’s buddy is usually a dude." [Think Progress]

• Andrew Malcolm thinks Pritzker may face questions "about her role as onetime chairwoman of Chicago's Superior Bank, which went under due to a significant number of the kind of subprime loans that Obama so often denounced on the campaign trail." [Top of the Ticket/LAT]

• Shailagh Murray and Matthew Mosk report that Pritzker "has run into business obstacles that will likely prevent her from becoming Commerce secretary." The issue is whether she is both willing and able to "disentangle herself" from her financial holdings "to the extent necessary to meet Obama's strict standards for service in his administration." [44/WP]