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Obama Names Vilsack, Salazar To Cabinet

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Obama's News Conference

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President-elect Barack Obama has selected former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack to head the Department of Agriculture and Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar to serve as secretary of the Interior Department in his administration.

Obama made the announcements Wednesday at a Chicago news conference, his third in as many days to present new Cabinet appointments.

"It is time for a new kind of leadership in Washington that's committed to using our lands in a responsible way to benefit all of our families," Obama said.

Vilsack, 58, was among the field of Democrats who faced off against Obama in the 2008 primary. After dropping out of the race early on, he threw his support behind Hillary Clinton. Vilsack is the fourth rival of Obama's from the Democratic primary campaign to join his administration.

Vilsack was first elected Iowa governor in 1998 and served two terms. He has a reputation as a centrist who balanced Iowa's budget and resisted tax increases. He has pushed alternative energy sources as a way to revive the nation's struggling rural areas.

"I look forward to working with congressional leaders who share the president-elect's vision of bringing hope to rural America, of being good stewards of our natural resources, of providing American leadership on climate change, and making America a nation truly dedicated to health and nutrition," Vilsack said.

As agriculture secretary, Vilsack — who led the largest corn-producing state — will play a key role in shaping the nation's ethanol policy.

At the Interior Department, Salazar, 53, will be charged with overseeing controversial oil and gas drilling on public lands and managing the nation's parks and wildlife refuges. He is expected to implement a difficult balance outlined by Obama during the election campaign — to protect natural resources while tapping the nation's energy potential.

"I will do all I can to help reduce America's dependence on foreign oil," Salazar said. "As we take the moon shot on energy independence, the energy imperative will create jobs here in America, protect our national security, and confront the dangers of global warming."

In Congress, Salazar co-sponsored a bill to create a new land conservation system to permanently protect 26 million acres of national monuments and wilderness areas. The legislation died during the lame-duck session of Congress after the November election.

Salazar, who was elected to the Senate in 2004, has opposed drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and objected to the Bush administration's efforts to lease Western lands for oil shale development. However, Obama's pick has angered some environmentalists, who dislike his ties to ranching and were hoping instead for a loyal ally of the movement such as Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).

Salazar will also be responsible for relations between the U.S. government and American Indians.

"Ken and I will work together to make sure that tribal nations have a voice in this administration," Obama said.

Answering a question about charges that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried to sell Obama's vacant Senate seat, the president-elect said his team is "abiding by the request of the U.S. attorney" not to release until next week the results of their internal investigation as to whether any of the Obama transition staff had improper dealings with Blagojevich. Neither Obama nor anyone on his team has been accused of any wrongdoing in the probe.

From wire reports