Californians Play Big Role On Obama's A-Team

California may have some major political clout with Barack Obama's administration. The president-elect has appointed Californians to key positions, and the state already has muscle on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of the California delegation will head a half-dozen powerful congressional committees. All of this means California is back on the Washington "A" list.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. After a stretch on the outside politically, California may be headed back to Washington's A list. President-elect Barack Obama has picked a number of Californians for top jobs in his administration; California Democrats will also chair half a dozen powerful committees in Congress; and Californian Nancy Pelosi remains speaker of the House. As NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, it means the new president may look west when he wants to get something done.

INA JAFFE: There are a lot of big items on the agenda of the upcoming Obama administration. There's that humongous stimulus package, for example, that's supposed to promote, among other things, green jobs. There is universal health-care coverage, global warming, energy independence - all of those items will go through congressional committees headed by Californians like Representative Henry Waxman, the new chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Representative HENRY WAXMAN (Democrat, California; Chair, House Committee on Energy and Commerce): Both the health issues and the energy and environmental issues, they were the reason I decided to seek the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee, because those two issues do go through our committee.

JAFFE: Waxman will have an ally in the Senate, where California's Barbara Boxer chairs the Committee on Environment and Public Works. Californians, says Waxman, take particular pride in leading the way on energy and environmental issues.

Rep. WAXMAN: We've set standards for automobiles so that they are cleaner-burning than the rest of the country, and we're trying to do the same with carbon omissions and mileage efficiency.

JAFFE: The state of California has had to fight the Bush administration over such policies and suffer national ridicule for others, like investing in wind power years before it came cool. But in the next four years, California's long-held philosophy on energy could become the nation's. President-elect Obama suggested as much when he introduced his pick for Secretary of Energy.

(Soundbite of press conference, December 16, 2008)

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: Dr. Steven Chu is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who has been working at the cutting edge of our nation's efforts to develop new and cleaner forms of energy.

JAFFE: Chu's done this as head of the National Laboratory, run by the University of California at Berkeley. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren was thrilled with Chu's nomination.

Representative ZOE LOFGREN (Democrat, California): There's a convergence here of new thinking of technology, of progressive policies and science led, really, by California-type thinking.

JAFFE: Some of the other Californians joining the Obama administration will head the Council of Economic Advisors and the Council on Environmental Quality. And in the Cabinet, Congresswoman Hilda Solis will serve as Secretary of Labor.

Rep. LOFGREN: Hilda's a friend.

(Laughing) I mean, she knows my home phone, and I know her home phone.

JAFFE: Says Zoe Lofgren.

Rep. LOFGREN: We can always get a hold of each other, and I'll always be able to at least say, here's what I think for your consideration.

Mr. CHRIS LEHANE (Democratic Political Consultant; Co-founder, Fabiani & Lehane): There's going to be a real synergy that's going to exist in Washington, D.C., that will benefit California.

JAFFE: Political consultant Chris Lehane has been a spokesman for both President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

Mr. LEHANE: For the people of California, it's obviously much nicer to go to Washington, D.C., and knock on the door of people who are in power who are actually from your home state.

JAFFE: That means California could have more to gain than just influence on the policy front, says Lehane.

Mr. LEHANE: You look at this economic recovery plan; it's predicated on putting money out the door to infrastructure programs, and there's a lot of shovel-ready infrastructure programs that exist in California, the state, just by its sheer size.

JAFFE: So, Californians may have the double pleasure of seeing federal dollars flow into their state, while ideas they've longed championed take root in the nation's capital. Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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