One of President-elect Barack Obama's biggest challenges in forming his government is balancing the need for experience with his desire to bring change and a diverse wave of newcomers to Washington, says Valerie Jarrett, cochairwoman of the Obama transition team.
"It's like a jigsaw puzzle," Jarrett told U.S. News yesterday. Obama wants to populate his cabinet, subcabinet, and senior White House staff with people who know the ropes, but he also wants people from a variety of backgrounds who reflect the nation's gender, racial, geographic, and other differences, she said.
So far, Obama appears to be surrounding himself with veteran Washington officials, including U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, a former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton whom Obama named last week as his White House chief of staff. The speculation about cabinet officers and other administration leaders is also dominated by Washington insiders and officials who served in the Clinton years.
But Obama aides say he remains intent on bringing new faces and new thinking to his government and not just choosing Democratic officials from the past. He also intends to expand his outreach into the Republican Party, aides say. "It's complicated, and it's so important that he gets it right," Jarrett says.
"Our challenges as a country are daunting," she added, referring to the deeply troubled economy, two wars, and problems in the healthcare system and elsewhere. "Probably never before has a president taken office with the magnitude of challenges we are facing today."
Jarrett, a Chicago businesswoman and former senior city official, is a longtime confidante of Obama and his wife, Michelle.
Jarrett said Obama is eager to bring conciliation and healing to Washington, as he pledged to do during his campaign. One sign of that is his belief, explained to the media this week, that Senate Democrats should allow "independent-Democrat" Joe Lieberman to caucus with them, even though Lieberman endorsed Republican presidential nominee John McCain, campaigned with McCain, and had harsh criticism of Obama's fitness to be commander in chief. Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said, "We don't hold any grudges."
In other Obama-related developments, John Podesta, cochairman of the Obama transition, told reporters at a briefing yesterday that Obama would insist on very strong ethical standards for his transition team—including the rule that federal lobbyists cannot contribute to or raise money for the transition. This is designed to limit lobbyists' influence.
Podesta said the transition would employ 450 people and have a budget of $12 million.