Fresh faces in 'team Obama'
A look at some of the people who could shape policy in the Obama administration.
Last Modified: 26 Nov 2008 07:37 GMT

Obama will spend the next few weeks assembling a new administration [EPA]

Afs Barack Obama, the US president-elect, prepares to take over the White House after his inauguration on January 20, work has begun on shaping his cabinet.

With only one position - the White House chief of staff - so far confirmed, there has been widespread speculation about who Obama will bring in, from seasoned veterans of the Bill Clinton administration to relative newcomers from his own campaign.

Al Jazeera looks at the possiblities for some of the most important positions within the future Obama administration.

White House chief of staff

Rahm Emanuel, Obama's White House chief of staff, was the first person to be confirmed as a member in Obama's pending administration.

Emanuel's appointment was the first to be confirmed by Obama [GALLO/GETTY]
The son of Israeli parents whose father fought against the British during the British Mandate of Palestine in the 1940s, the Chicago-born-and-raised Emanuel was a senior adviser to former US president Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1998.

He is most notable for organising the famous signing of the Oslo peace accords in the White House rose garden in 1993.

He is considered socially liberal, although some analysts have pointed to his firm support of Israel as potentially problematic when the new Obama administration begins to turn its attention to the Middle East conflict.

Emanuel ran for congress from Chicago in 2002 and quickly became a power-broker on Capitol Hill.

He is credited with masterminding a successful Democratic effort to retake the House of Representatives from Republican domination in 2006.

A tough, hard-nosed and highly partisan political operative, he is known for his fiery temper and penchant for profanity.

Secretary of state

One of the most coveted positions within any US administration, a host of names are reportedly being considered for this role.

John Kerry, left, is considered a possible
secretary of state [EPA]
However, whoever is granted the position will face a slew of problems - including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a resurgent Russia and the ongoing turmoil in the Horn of Africa and Pakistan.

Names mentioned so far include John Kerry, the former Democratic presidential candidate and current senator for Massachusetts.

The Vietnam veteran's record as a senator is said to be "patchy" but he is highly regarded for his knowledge and international experience.

However, he may be considered too much a part of the Democratic "old guard".

Bill Richardson, the Latino governor of New Mexico and a Nobel peace prize nominee, is considered by many to be the frontrunner for the position.

He has a long and illustrious history of international political arbitration, formerly serving as a US ambassador to the United Nations.

A friend of Bill Clinton, he has travelled to Iraq and other nations to secure hostages' freedoms in often delicate negotiations.

Other names floated by the media include Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator for Nebraska and a member of the key senate foreign relations committee. 

Hagel has been highly critical of both the Iraq war and its chief architects, in particular Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.

In addition Richard Lugar, the Republican senator for Indiana and former chairman of the senate foreign relations committee, and Richard Holbrooke, the former US ambassador to the United Nations and assistant secretary of state under Bill Clinton, have also been mentioned as possibilities.

In recent days there has also been speculation that Hillary Clinton, Obama's former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, could be given the post, after Democratic party sources told AP that Clinton met Obama for talks in Chicago on Thursday.

Neither side has confirmed the meeting or the possibility of Clinton joining Obama's cabinet but, if confirmed, the move would indicate both a clear willingness by Obama to include many Clinton insiders in his administration and a desire to reach out to Clinton supporters angered by her defeat in the Democratic primary campaign.

Defence secretary

Robert Gates, the current defence secretary, is respected on both sides of the political divide and there are reports Obama will keep him as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq rumble on.

The Republican served under George Bush as the Director of Central Intelligence before taking on the position vacated by Donald Rumsfeld.

Despite a mis-step earlier this year when he criticised Nato forces in southern Afghanistan which led to angry protests from nations whose forces were serving under the organisation in the region, he is widely respected.

Other possibilities include Chuck Hagel, Republican senator for Nebraska, and Jack Reed, the senior senator for Rhode Island.

Reed has impeccable military credentials, having graduated from the famed West Point military academy and having served in the army and reserve.

Reed is also a member of the senate armed services committe and is considered one of the most liberal senators serving in the senate.

Other names mentioned include Richard Danzig, former secretary of the US navy and current security adviser to Obama, who has also been mooted for the role of national security adviser.

Treasury secretary

The next treasury secretary faces some of the toughest economic challenges the US has faced since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Timothy Geithner, the current president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, has been confirmed by Obama's as his choice to lead the department.

As head of the New York Fed, he has served as vice-chairman of the US central bank's policy setting committee and has been closely involved with the US government in its response to the current crisis in the banking sector.

He also worked with Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, and Henry Paulson, the current US treasury secretary, on a federal loan to JPMorgan Chase, which enabled the firm to take over struggling rival Bear Stearns.

Attorney general

The next US attorney general inherits, among others, the thorny issue of what to do with the detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.

Kaine, left, could be attorney general
under Obama [GALLO/GETTY]

The frontrunner is Eric Holder, a former deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton and senior legal adviser to Obama.

Holder, who was the first African-American to hold the deputy attorney general position, also served on Obama's vice-presidential selection committee.

Another strong possiblity, as mentioned in the US media, is Janet Napolitano, the well-regarded current governor of Arizona, who has also been mentioned as a possiblity for the secretary of homeland security position.

Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, Artur Davis, the congressman for Alabama and Tim Kaine, the governor of Virginia, have also been mentioned, as has Jamie Gorelick, another Clinton veteran, who served in his administration as deputy attorney general.

Homeland security secretary

Aside from Napolitano, candidates for the position of homeland security secretary, a role created following the September 11, 2001, attacks, include Bill Bratton, the police chief for the Los Angeles police department and former commissioner of the New York police department - where he was credited with reducing crime.

In addition, Jamie Lee Witt, the former director of the troubled Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been mentioned, as has Tom Kean, the former governor of New Jersey and chairman of the commission investigating the September 11 attacks.

Reports have also linked Jane Harman, a congresswoman for California and chairwoman of the Homeland Security intelligence subcommittee, to the role. 

National security adviser

Retired Marine General James Jones is Obama's choice as national security adviser, report says.

A highly decorated Vietnam war veteran, Jones could provide Obama with military advice tailored to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He has the respect of both Democrats and Republicans and experts say he would be a uniting figure in a bipartisan admistration.

One of the other frontrunners for the job is Susan Rice, a US foreign policy expert who served in Clinton's adminstration on the National Security Council and as assistant secretary of state for African affairs and was also a senior foreign policy adviser to Obama during his presidential campaign.

Other names include James B Steinberg, another Clinton veteran, who served as deputy national security adviser in Clinton's second administration.

He was also the co-author of Obama's address to Aipac, the pro-Israeli lobby organisation, earlier this year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Danzig, the former US navy secretary, has also been linked to the position.

Senior economic advisers

Obama's new economic advisers face the
worst US turmoil in years [EPA]

Obama already has several economic advisers working with him as he prepares to take on the US economic crisis.

He has named Lawrence Summers, a treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, as director of the National Economic Council.

Summers will co-ordinate a federal plan to tackle the economic crisis gripping the US, with the aim of creating 2.5 million new jobs.

While working for the Clinton administration, he helped create a support package for Mexico aimed at staving off that country's 1995 financial crisis.

Obama plans to create most of the new jobs in his stimulus package through the modernising of infrastructure, such as roads and schools.

Press reports say that the president-elect is also set to name Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, as chair of an economic advisory panel tasked with with finding ways to steer the US through the current economic difficulties it faces.

During Volcker's eight-year stint at the helm of the Fed, which ended in 1987, inflation was lowered from 13.5 per cent to 3.2 per cent but the central bank was widely criticised for the impact of high interest rates on agriculture and construction.

Jason Furman, a Harvard graduate and World Bank economic adviser, is Obama's senior campaign aide on economic policy and was also a former adviser to John Kerry.

He is known to be a close ally of Robert Rubin, the US treasury secretary under Bill Clinton. The pair worked together at the Hamilton Project, a research organisation that promotes free trade among other policies.

Furman's position has angered Democrat-supporting trade unions which are concerned about the impact of free trade on jobs as the US faces a recession and global financial crisis.

He has been criticised for describing Wal-Mart, the giant US retailer partly known for its low-wage and anti-union practices, as a "progressive success story".

Obama also has Austan Goolsbee, the economics professor at the University of Chicago, known as the home of free-market economic ideology.

The economist is a supporter of free markets and trade but he is also a tax specialist who has written extensively on the role of the internet and technology.

Although he was not on the staff of the Obama campaign, Goolsbee has been a major influence on Obama's economic plans.

But an article he wrote for the New York Times in 2007, in which he defended the high-interest subprime mortgages which sparked the recent global financial crisis as a way for poor Americans to get into the housing market, appeared to contradict Obama's recent attacks on predatory lending.

He sparked controversy after a memo from a meeting with Canadian officials suggested Goolsbee played down Obama's opposition to the Nafta free trade agreement.

The Obama campaign said the memo was inaccurate.

Senior White House adviser

David Axelrod, a former political journalist and chief strategist for the Obama campaign, is widely tipped to become senior White House adviser.

Gibbs, left, and Axelrod have long been
close advisers to Obama [GALLO/GETTY] 
Axelrod, a good friend of Rahm Emanuel, is credited with shaping the Obama campaign's message and has known the Illinois senator from his Chicago days.

After spending years as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune newspaper, Axelrod joined a local political campaign and worked towards the successful re-election of Harold Washington, the city's first African-American mayor.

He also worked on former North Carolina senator John Edwards' 2004 presidential campaign and has worked with Hillary Clinton, Obama's former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.

He is also credited with harnessing the internet to galvanise Obama's young supporters.

White House press secretary

Robert Gibbs, currently Obama's communications director, has been chosen as the president-elect's White House press secretary.

Gibbs, who is originally from the southern state of Alabama, was the press secretary for Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004 and he worked on Obama's senate campaign in 2004.

He is reported to be a proponent of swift responses to percieved smear tactics by opponents, perhaps mindful of the "swift-boating" which destroyed Kerry's presidential hopes.

Kerry's communications team was widely criticised for failing to respond rapidly enough to accusations over his war record.

Some reports have accused Gibbs of excessively restricting media access to Obama.

US health and human services secretary

Recent US media reports say Obama has chosen Tom Daschle, the Democratic former majority leader of the US senate, to be health and human services secretary in his new administration.


He served as the top Democrat in the senate between 1994 and 2004, and was majority leader when Democrats controlled the senate between 2001 and 2003.

He was also one of the earliest supporters of Obama and reportedly encouraged him to run for the presidency.


Democratic party officials told the Associated Press news agency on Wednesday that Daschle, a former senator for the state of South Dakota, had accepted the post.

Daschle, who served as a co-chair and adviser on Obama's presidential campaign, recently wrote a book on healthcare and is currently working with former senate majority leaders on recommendations to improve the healthcare system.

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