Obama's Cabinet Takes Shape President-elect Obama's choices to lead the Commerce, Treasury and State Departments emerged Friday. One of his picks would return a Clinton to the executive branch.
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Obama's Cabinet Takes Shape

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Obama's Cabinet Takes Shape

Obama's Cabinet Takes Shape

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This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Leaks usually drip, but in Washington, D.C., they can come in gushers. President-elect Obama has reportedly made his choices to lead the Commerce, Treasury and State departments. One of his choices, of course, may return the name Clinton to the executive branch. Joining us to talk about the Cabinet nominees, NPR news analyst Juan Williams. Juan, thanks for being with us here in the studio.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And on the phone, David Leonhardt, economics columnist for The New York Times. David, thank you for being with us.

Mr. DAVID LEONHARDT (Economics Columnist, The New York Times): Good morning.

SIMON: Now, Juan, you're still dripping wet from that gusher.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Let's begin with apparently the choice and the acceptance of Senator Clinton because this was - maybe it just surprised the pundits, but it surprised a lot of people.

WILLIAMS: Well, this is a, sort of, now week-old surprise when she made her trip to Chicago and talked with President-elect Obama, and he offered her the job contingent on the fact that her husband would reveal all the sources of his donations to his various foundations, some of his travels. And Bill Clinton came up big for his wife and said absolutely - made it clear to John Podesta, the transition chief, that he was willing to play ball. Of course, he knew Podesta, a former White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration.

So, all the barriers were cleared. And then there was a - here in Washington - a back and forth with people saying, oh, she really doesn't want the job, she's going to lose her independence, versus people who were saying, oh, no, you know, she just wants to protect herself in case she doesn't get offered the job. But she had been offered the job. And then it was a matter of whether she would keep her word this week, and she did.

SIMON: To try and think a little bit craftily now, is this - of course, a person of superb qualifications and popular among millions of people in America - but is this also some attempt to put her on the inside of the tent?

WILLIAMS: Without a doubt, Scott. If you think of Hillary Clinton going back to the U.S. Senate, you're thinking of her going back as a junior senator, not having the opportunity to take a lead on health care, even in terms of Democratic policy issues. But here is the key: that she, I think, would have been the face of left-wing opposition to Barack Obama. Any sense of impatience with Obama as he moves towards the middle to become the president of the United States would have been reflected, I think, through the person of Hillary Clinton. She would have become the receptacle for every person in America who felt, you know, Obama is not living up to the mantra of change.

SIMON: David, let's talk about the news that Tim Geithner will be secretary of the Treasury, or appointed - nominated to be secretary of the Treasury. He and Larry Summers, formerly of the Clinton administration, were both in the mix. We are told that Mr. Summers will be an economic adviser and apparently in line to replace Ben Bernanke at the Fed.


SIMON: Tell us what these gentlemen might - the impact that their appointments might have for economic policy.

Mr. LEONHARDT: The first thing to know is that they are quite close to each other. In fact, Summers was Geithner's mentor at the Treasury Department back in the '90s. And to a large extent, Geithner owes his rise to Summers. I mean, he rose because he did very well when he was given opportunities, but Summers and then Bob Rubin, who was Summers' predecessor as Treasury secretary, gave him a lot of those opportunities.

I think we know that in many ways, Geithner is very, very similar to Summers and Rubin in that we can expect him to be significantly more aggressive than the Bush administration has been in responding to this financial crisis. Even on the inside, as best as we can tell, he's been pushing for a more aggressive response this year because he has been the president of the New York Fed and so has had a role in a lot of this.

What I think we don't know so well is what is Geithner's view on some of the less financial economic issues that the Treasury secretary is definitely going to play a role in - things like how big is it OK to left the deficit get, things like the trade-off between the deficit and tax cuts for the middle class, which Obama has put a lot of emphasis on. And what's so interesting is that Geithner's clearly had enormous experience dealing with crises. He's only 47, but he's been involved in simply every major economic crisis in the last 15 years. We know fairly little about his views on other matters of economic policy.

SIMON: Of course, the market went up on reports that he would be appointed. And President Obama is apparently saying today that he is putting together a two-year economic stimulus plan that he hopes would create 2 and a half million jobs. Could - David, could you project Wall Street's reaction Monday morning?


SIMON: There's an honest man. Thank you.

Mr. LEONHARDT: I try to make it a law that I don't predict short-term movements in Wall Street. And I also think it's hard to know exactly how to read Friday's rally. I mean, it does - the timing really does seem to be clearly - make it about Geithner. But is it about Geithner or is it about the fact that we have a Treasury secretary? And I think a lot of people viewed Geithner and Summers as clearly the two leading candidates and two best candidates. So it's hard to know: Is it about the fact that he chose one of them, or is it about the fact that he chose Geithner? It's really difficult to know.

SIMON: Juan, three or four days ago, the Great Mentioner said Penny Pritzker is going to be Commerce secretary. Now, apparently, it's going to be Governor Richardson of New Mexico. Are you convinced that it's going to be Governor Richardson, and why Commerce? His name hadn't been mentioned for that before.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I'm convinced that it will be Governor Richardson of New Mexico and of course, a former Energy secretary and someone who was up for the secretary of state job - very much wanted it. And I think the reason is that it's seen as part of international relations in this administration. As you know, there was a great deal of back and forth about international trade and some fear that in fact President-elect Obama was going to be a protectionist.

And therefore, I think, with Richardson there, the whole idea is here's someone who's going to go out and be aggressive about maintaining America's position in the world, at the same time protecting American workers where possible - that Richardson can strike that balance.

SIMON: Well, thank you, NPR news analyst Juan Williams. Thanks very much, David Leonhardt, economics columnist for The New York Times. Thank you both very much.

Mr. LEONHARDT: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

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