President-elect Barack Obama has selected his cabinet and assembled most of his senior White House staff, and as Inauguration Day approaches, he is ready, as one of his senior aides says, to "hit the ground running." The social topography of any administration is always a good guide to how a new chief executive will govern, and that's certainly true in Obama's case. He is surrounding himself with a diverse combination of centrists and liberals, experienced Washington players and newcomers to the capital, loyalists from his campaign, and people he barely knows—all with the goal of delivering results as quickly as possible. In this series, U.S. News looks at Obama's team and explores what it will mean for governing the country.
The gatekeepers. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will play a key role in trying to find consensus where possible, controlling access to the president, and making sure the West Wing runs efficiently. Emanuel, a former senior White House aide to Clinton and a U.S. representative from Chicago, is expected to form a powerful alliance with David Axelrod, who was Obama's chief campaign strategist and has been named a senior adviser in the White House. But it will be Emanuel's task to keep the infighting to a minimum and to enforce Obama's will. Some of Emanuel's critics say he is too abrasive to promote conciliation, which is a main goal of the new president. But many who have met with Emanuel recently, including congressional leaders, say he has been courteous, respectful, and a good listener—suggesting that he is changing his ways.
The other principal gatekeeper—for international issues—will be James Jones, the incoming White House national security adviser and a retired Marine general who is charged with coordinating Obama's options on foreign policy and national security issues. The former supreme allied commander in Europe, he is popular with the military and is expected to create a hierarchical, orderly system for decision making, much as retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft did in holding the same post for President George H. W. Bush. But Jones has little direct experience with White House intrigue, and this void gave him pause as he considered taking the post in the first place. Obama promised him lots of authority, but how he deals with equally strong-minded colleagues such as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remains to be seen.