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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Filling Out the Cabinet

We are getting close to the end of cabinet nominations for president-elected Obama. In a dual surprise (at least at the time they were first leaked), he’s picked Colorado Senator Ken Salazar to head Interior, and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack for USDA.
Some observers wonder why Salazar would want to go from being a senator to heading a “second-tier” Cabinet agency, but that may understate the importance of Interior to westerners. The department is, well, something of the regional landlord, and given Salazar’s background (particularly on water issues), it’s probably a good fit. There’s some initial handwringing in Democratic circles about yet another Senate seat coming open prematurely, but given the steady drift towards the Donkey Party by Colorado and the talent vacuum afflicting Republicans in that state (Tom Tancredo is their likeliest Senate candidate!), it shouldn’t be that big a problem.
Vilsack was a surprise if only because he had signaled some time ago that he was not under consideration for a post in the Obama administration. There will be some serious grumbling about Vilsack from the rapidly growing “foodie” movement, if only because of his background in the very lair of Demon Corn, Iowa. But with Tom Harkin standing athwart the Senate Agriculture Committee, the Obamaites may have figured it was better to get a prominent and famously wonky Iowan to fill the post, even if they do plan some sort of major changes at USDA. And the potential Ag Secretary that most speculators expected as of last week, John Salazar, was a no-go for obvious reasons.
In terms of the remaining major posts, there are now reports that California Rep. Xavier Becerra has taken himself out of the running for US Trade Representative on grounds that trade policy didn’t look to be a major Obama priority. Labor could go to any one of a number of labor-friendly wonks or pols, from David Bonior to Mary Beth Maxwell to Jennifer Granholm (from a diversity point of view, there does seem to be a relatively low number of women on board, though that’s not true at the White House staff/subcabinet levels).
But while you never know what will transpire when Obama’s nominations move to the next stage, so far there’s a grand total of one major appointee who looks to be in line for a difficult confirmation process in Congress: Attorney General-designee Eric Holder. And that’s simply because Republicans and some Democrats will enjoy the opportunity to work out some anti-Clinton tensions by rehashing the Mark Rich pardon.

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