Tuesday, December 2, 2008



By Al Kamen
December 2, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama yesterday introduced a war cabinet that is more diverse than that of any other president in recent history, appointing three women and two African Americans to his top national security and foreign policy posts. But the six folks nominated mirror the national security slates of the last three presidents in one key demographic: age.

Obama appointed a record number of women to his top national security posts, naming three -- Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state, Janet Napolitano as secretary of homeland security and Susan E. Rice as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations -- to key jobs.

When he took office in 2001, President Bush named just one woman -- Condoleezza Rice, as national security adviser. His father, George H.W. Bush, filled all of his posts with white men. Bill Clinton named two women to his first national security team: Janet Reno as attorney general and Madeleine K. Albright as ambassador to the United Nations.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Emily's List President Ellen R. Malcolm issued a statement to "strongly commend" Obama for nominating "exceptional women to top posts on his national security team."

Obama appointed two African Americans -- Susan Rice and Eric H. Holder Jr., who would be the first African American to be attorney general. While Clinton and the elder Bush had no minorities on their first national security slate, the younger Bush's initial team had two black members: Condoleezza Rice and Colin L. Powell.

The average age of Obama's six national security nominees is 57.1, which puts the president-elect squarely in line with the current president, Clinton and George H.W. Bush, whose first war-cabinet nominees had average ages of 58.5, 56.6 and 56.2, respectively.

Returning Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, who will be Obama's national security adviser, will be the eldest members of the new national security team. Both will be 65 at the inauguration. But previous administrations have had older nominees. Donald H. Rumsfeld was 68 when Bush named him defense secretary, and Warren M. Christopher was 67 when Clinton named him secretary of state.

At 44, Susan Rice will be the youngest member of a president's first national security team in at least two decades, besting the record set by Condoleezza Rice, who was 46 when she was named national security adviser.

A Third of the Way Done

Meanwhile, at the end of the fourth week of the transition -- we count weeks beginning on Wednesday, the day after the election -- Obama continues his record-setting rate of appointments, far outpacing his predecessors at least as far back as Richard M. Nixon.

As of yesterday, Obama has named one-third of his 21 Cabinet selections, including the top four -- at Defense, State, Treasury and Justice. He's also named more than two dozen White House aides, including his chief of staff and two deputies, counsel, and national security and economic security chiefs.

George H.W. Bush nominated nine Cabinet and White House folks by the end of his first month in transition. Nixon picked nine White House staffers but no Cabinet members until the sixth week. Even Ronald Reagan picked only a couple of top White House aides in the first five weeks.

The First Flip-Flop

In a break with what is becoming a long-standing tradition at the Chicago Hilton ballroom, Obama ceded the microphone to his nominees yesterday during the news conference at which he introduced his national security team.This was the first time Obama has allowed his nominees to speak at a news conference announcing their appointment. Timothy F. Geithner and Lawrence H. Summers stood patiently -- and silently -- last week when the president-elect announced they would anchor his economic team.

This had been an unusual trend for Obama, as both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton usually let their nominees make remarks at news conferences, our colleague Glenn Kessler reports.

But yesterday's national security rollout featured some high-wattage political celebrities, and they were not shy for words. Hillary Rodham Clinton was first to take to the podium after her new boss and promptly lowered the twin microphones so they wouldn't obstruct her face.

Transition officials yesterday declined to comment on this first important flip-flop of the young administration-in-waiting.

Security Alert

A turf war is underway that has people around Foggy Bottom asking: Who will protect Madam Secretary?

Hillary Rodham Clinton's nomination to serve as secretary of state creates a unique dilemma regarding her security. Should the Secret Service, which protects all current and former presidents and first ladies, continue protecting Clinton? Or should the Secret Service pass the baton to the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which protects the secretary, visiting foreign dignitaries and U.S. diplomatic missions abroad?

The Secret Service already knows Clinton and her routine, but if Clinton passes over the Diplomatic Security force she would create immediate tensions at State, where our colleague Ed O'Keefe reports the security issue has been topic du jour among employees.