Obama's New Team Has an Old Look

Veterans chosen over new faces as Obama reboots for 2014.

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On Dec. 20, President Barack Obama honored 102 mathematics and science teachers with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

President Obama says he wants new blood to re-animate his administration and extract it from a second-term slump. But the key appointments he has made so far rely heavily on officials who are already members of his team, former members of his administration, or familiar faces in Washington.

Obama's most important selection has been naming John Podesta as White House counselor. Podesta is a bona fide Washington insider, former White House Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton and a prominent strategist and theorist for the Democratic party. Podesta is expected to reinforce Obama's desire to use executive orders and unilateral actions to bypass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in implementing the president's agenda on limiting climate change, protecting federal lands, and reaching other objectives.

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Obama also tapped his former chief legislative lobbyist Phil Schiliro to take charge of implementing the administration's trouble-plagued health care law. Schiliro knows his way around the White House and Congress as a former senior official but conservatives wonder if he will listen to their concerns about Obamacare or shunt them aside. Another key appointment of an Obama veteran was naming former acting budget director Jeffrey Zients, a wealthy businessman currently in charge of improving the administration's health-care web site, to be director of the National Economic Council starting in February.

Obama also promoted veteran Senate Democratic aide and current White House staffer Katie Beirne Fallon to be his new legislative director. Fallon is being criticized by congressional Republicans for not developing relationships with them over the years and focusing instead on fellow Democrats.

Echoing a common complaint against Obama, a senior Republican strategist who advises many members of Congress says, "They are not opening the door of the Oval Office to new people and new ideas. It's more of the same."

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But Obama loyalists say his staff appointments show, at a minimum, that he recognizes his team needs an infusion of new energy, and he understands that veteran policy makers have a better chance of success than government neophytes.

Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.

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