News & Politics

Election Watch: Who’ll Get the Big Jobs?

With 3,000 presidentially appointed positions, there will be a lot of jobs to fill in February.

Whether Barack Obama or John McCain wins on November 4, transition planning for both sides is well under way. There are some 3,000 presidentially appointed positions. Amassing all the résumés is a big job, which is why it starts before there’s a winner. Somewhere filed away are the plans for the Al Gore and John Kerry White Houses.

Jockeying for positions is also well under way. Kerry’s said to be angling for secretary of State under Obama, a move that on the diplomatic circuit might make potential vice president Joe Biden seem the more concise speaker.

Susan Rice, one of Obama’s top foreign-policy advisers and considered a likely secretary of State, is said to be more interested in becoming national-security adviser—bad news for James Steinberg, the former Bill Clinton deputy national-security adviser and current head of the LBJ School at the University of Texas. Steinberg’s on any Obama NSA short-list, and the only class he’s teaching this fall wraps up just before the election.

In Susan Rice’s case, foreign-policy officials are worried about continuing a trend in which the President appoints a friend to the top NSC position. It didn’t work well for either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush—and raises talk of bad karma around another national-security adviser named Rice.

For the top staff position in the White House, sources say that Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader and a key Obama adviser, might become White House chief of staff. If not Daschle, then perhaps his longtime confidante Valerie Jarrett.

For secretary of Defense, top hands are sizing up Obama adviser and former Navy secretary Richard Danzig, who many believe might head the Pentagon come January.

On the Republican side, McCain’s skipping over Joe Lieberman for vice president means that the senator and Democratic pariah is a near lock for Defense secretary with Richard Armitage at State—or Lindsey Graham may end up at the Pentagon and Lieberman at Foggy Bottom.

Top adviser Randy Scheunemann, whose work with the Republic of Georgia has raised some controversy, would make the shortlist for McCain’s national-security adviser.

Some Republicans are concerned about their bench: With many top Republicans and conservatives burned out from eight years under President Bush—or already back in the private sector earning big money—there’s talk that a McCain administration may include out of necessity more Democrats and moderates. One new face to bet on: businesswoman Carly Fiorina at Commerce.

As for White House chief of staff, McCain might follow Reagan’s example and turn to a business executive like Don Regan to ensure a smooth operation. McCain’s right-hand man, Mark Salter, may officially stay outside of the administration to avoid the challenges Karl Rove saw under George W. Bush.

What Obama's Cabinet might look like.
A possible McCain Cabinet. 

This article first appeared in the October 2008 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here

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