Posts Tagged ‘presidential cabinets’

Let’s imagine this scenario for a moment. It is a brisk, rainy, mucky June evening as I walk through the leafy, mildly bohemian section of Rochester I call home. As I zip up my jacket and turn up my collar up against the wind, a limo pulls up alongside of me. It’s the Clinton team! They’ve tracked me down to ask for some advice on who should be in the cabinet for a possible Hillary Clinton administration.


This cabinet reflects the advice I would give, although there are no doubt plenty of experts with greater policy experience and more extensive rolodexes than I. Now that Secretary Clinton generally won the 26 April primaries in the Mid-Atlantic and the nomination is statistically about as secure as it can get, it’s never too early to think about the transition to governing. Broadly, I think the key is to avoid filling the cabinet wholly with people with whom she is already comfortable. Historically, the problem with the first Clinton administration was trusting things to a tiny cabal of family loyalists. This is surely a recipe for failure.  The very best administrations in American history- Washington’s, Lincoln’s, FDR’s, Monroe’s, Kennedy’s- had divergent points of view, free access to the president, and the right mix of autonomy and accountability. The following sketch tries to balance old Clinton people with worthy Obama folks, some people outside of the rough and tumble of politics, and even a Republican or two.  If there’s a bias anywhere, it’s that I did pick a number of people committed to ending poverty and hunger- both in the U.S. and abroad. More fundamentally, I wanted a cabinet of people who were ethically clean, undeniably competent, and could enact just and fair reform within the system. This isn’t a cabinet full of hash-tagging revolutionaries. These are mostly people with governing and managerial skill who can get shit done. I’ve listed here both the formal cabinet departments as well as offices that are considered “cabinet-level” but whose occupants aren’t considered “secretaries” and who are removed from the presidential line of succession.

Secretary of State: Jon Huntsman, Jr. He’s a classic tax-cutting conservative in domestic economic policy, but he won’t be handling the domestic economy in this office. Huntsman instead embodies the best of three worlds, with business experience, governing experience from his 8 years in Utah, and foreign policy experience from his time as ambassador to both China and Singapore. I strongly believe that a smart, productive pivot to Asia is the best foreign policy, and Huntsman embodies that to the tee. As a Republican, his commission would signal that politics stops at the water’s edge, and he got along well with Clinton when they were both in the State Department. Conspicuously, he has been silent on an issue many Republicans have roundly denounced, the recent nuclear agreement with Iran. And as far as this goes, silence probably signifies agreement. Or ambition.

Secretary of the Treasury: Jeffrey Sachs. I was blown away when I heard him speak in South Dakota back in 2006. Sachs would be an unconventional choice: someone who hasn’t worked in the banking industry and is instead considered one of the foremost economists alive today. In the aftermath of the Cold War, Sachs helped multiple countries adjust their economies to a market system, and in recent years has been heavily invested in ending the cycle of poverty that plagues the developing world. His relationship with 90s Clinton administration mainstay Larry Summers is none too cozy, but Summers’s moment has passed, and a more conscientious philanthropist-economist model is what today’s economy calls for. He’s respected by the economic establishment but is able to make pointed critiques and challenges to their authority: he once called the IMF “the Typhoid Mary of developing economies.”  Sachs is smart- he was a tenure-track professor at Harvard before he turned 30- but he has a good heart alongside one of the sharpest and most responsive minds in the world of markets.

Secretary of DefenseMichele Flournoy. Perhaps the biggest mystery of this list is why Flournoy isn’t already Secretary of Defense. James Carafano, a defense expert at the Heritage Foundation., noted that “she’s already mastered the Pentagon bureaucracy and shown herself to be in lockstep with President Obama as a team player who is easy to work with.” In the past, she’s served as under-secretary of Defense for Policy, and led the Obama administration’s Defense Department’s transition team. In the interim, she’s started a think tank called the Center for the New American Security.  I considered UN ambassador Samantha Power (she did, though, call Hillary a “monster” in the heat of the 2008 primaries), and Rhode Island senator Jack Reed (he’s allegedly been offered the job multiple times and has refused). But Flournoy will do nicely. She would be the first woman to serve as Secretary of Defense.

Attorney General: Lori Swanson.  Unless you live in Minnesota, there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Lori Swanson. She’s served as attorney general of the Land of 10,000 Lakes since 2007, and has been a big part of the DFL’s recent success in what had been considered a swing state ten years earlier. She’s been roundly acclaimed for her work in consumer protection, cracking down on fraud and fleecers. As one watchdog group writes, “Attorney General Swanson has been a tireless champion for consumers in America, whether leading the charge against predatory mortgage lending, protecting seniors from marketing abuses, or defending our basic American right to have credit card disputes resolved impartially and not through a stacked deck.”  In an age of Trump University, she’s also taken on for-profit colleges that were little more than disreputable degree mills. The only problem is that she might want to run for Governor of Minnesota in 2018 when Mark Dayton retires. Other options I weighed were Deval Patrick (he’s retired to the private sector and seems done with politics) and Carmen Ortiz (talented, but often over-prosecutes for minor offenses).

Secretary of the Interior: Christy Goldfuss.  With responsibility over the vast swath of national parks, wildlife refuges, and other federal lands, this department couldn’t be more important. Goldfuss would be ready to hit the ground running. Sharp and well-connected, she has held a variety of positions. She’s worked as a reporter, and a staffer on the House Committee for Natural Resources, and the National Park Service, before becoming made manager of the Council on Environmental Quality by President Obama last year. Goldfuss is genuinely skilled at media interaction and public engagement. Moreover, her work at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress makes her a natural fit with my Chief of Staff selection.  At 39 (this is an estimate based on when she graduated college), she’d be the youngest cabinet member in this administration.  A native of Connecticut, she’d also be only the second east-coaster to hold this job since 1900. I wanted to put Mark Udall in this spot; his father is still considered the best Secretary of the Interior ever, but there were already enough scions on this list.  My other instinct was to put a environmentalist Bernie supporter here, like Michael McGinn or Rocky Anderson, but each has a reputation for being ornery and a bit self-righteous. This position, frankly, changed hands more than any other: other names I thought about were another CEQ head Nancy Sutley and environmental lawyer Carolyn Raffensberger.

Secretary of Agriculture: David Beckmann. For this job, I considered former Arkansas senator Blanche Lambert Lincoln and Marshall Matz, who was George McGovern’s right hand man on the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. But I remembered how the Eisenhower administration ran, when Ike selected a Secretary of State known in large part for his active lay churchmanship, John Foster Dulles. This inspired me to look for someone from a religious organization doing good social justice work- a choice resonant with Clinton’s sincere, but often unacknowledged, Methodism. For the last 25 years, Beckmann has served as president of Bread for the World, raising awareness, producing scholarship, and coordinating interfaith efforts to combat global and domestic hunger. A Lutheran pastor who is also a trained economist, Beckmann understands the nuances of the Agriculture Department’s most fundamental charge: make sure hungry people get enough to eat. Part lobby, part charity, Beckmann has been at the forefront of successful efforts to get Congress to increase its spending on development assistance. In terms of getting food to people who need it, Beckmann is one of the sharpest, most effective thinkers and administrators one can imagine.

Secretary of Commerce: Indra Nooyi. For over a decade, Nooyi has served as CEO of Pepsico. In that capacity, she’s made Pepsi not just successful but socially responsible as well. She’s removed potentially harmful substances like aspartame from their beverages. As it turned out, the right thing to do was also the profitable thing to do. Pepsico is more vibrant than ever, and has successfully positioned its offerings as “fun for you” (potato chips and regular soda), “better for you” (diet soda or baked potato chips), and “good for you” healthy treats. Moreover, Nooyi has an inspirational life story, a good corporate citizen, and regularly appears on annual lists of the Most Powerful Women in the World.  Others on my list included Ashifi Gogo, Ursula Burns, and Andrea Jung.

Secretary of Labor: Tom Perez. If beltway buzz is to be believed, Perez may find himself at Number One Observatory Circle as vice-president, rather than the Department of Labor. But tradition holds that one cabinet member from the previous administration who is doing good work be kept on board. George W. Bush kept on Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta, and Barack Obama asked that Robert Gates stay on as head of the Department of Defense. Perez may choose to run for Governor of Maryland, or for Ben Cardin’s seat in 2018 if he retires, but for now, he’s a terrific fit for the Department of Labor. He’s been, frankly, brilliant at framing the issues of working people in terms of social justice when there’s often a disconnect between the lunchpail and the activist wings of the Democratic Party.

Secretary of Health and Human Services: Audrey Haynes. One of the clearest Obamacare success stories in its early years was its state exchange in Kentucky. Although a redoubtable red state in presidential elections, under Democratic Governor Steve Beshear and Health and Family Services secretary Haynes, the efficient Kynect system came into being.  While the Obamacare website rollout was wracked with bugs, Kynect worked smoothly from the start.  Over 400,000 Kentuckians signed up, and the state’s uninsured rate was cut in half with smooth public relations and easy coordination with Medicaid, private insurance companies, and national Obamacare policies. Haynes will have little difficulty transitioning from provincial Kentucky to the White House: she was once Tipper Gore’s chief of staff. I also considered Steve Beshear himself, Illinois congresswoman Cheri Bustos, and United Therapeutic executive Martine Rothblatt.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Andre Carson. Carson represents much of Indianapolis, a city with very high foreclosure rates. During his time in the House, he’s worked on the Financial Services Committee to make sure fraudulent housing loans are more widely known to the public. And as a former policeman, Carson has a sense of how urban neighborhoods work in a way that escapes many seasoned politicians. Janette Sadik-Khan might also work in this capacity.

Secretary of Transportation: Gabe Klein. Klein was once described as a “guerrilla bureaucrat,” a policy wonk with a cult following and a record of getting stuff done. He’s been the transportation commissioner in Chicago and DC, where he’s faced the challenge of urban sprawl with private-public partnerships and finding innovative solutions such as bikeshare programs and his work at Zipcar. In short, he’s left the cities he’s worked for as more walker-friendly and better able to handle the oppressive traffic tantamount living in cities today. For years, “transportation” meant cars, but now it means pedestrians and cyclists. Klein might do the impossible and make the U.S. Department of Transportation sexy. The other contender for this spot was former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, but two Minnesotans seemed a little…much.

Secretary of Energy: Susan Eisenhower. For years, Eisenhower- Ike’s granddaughter- has been a key advocate, advisor, and consultant on energy issues. Her chief area of expertise is nuclear proliferation, particularly with regards to Russia. She’s sat on the Nuclear Threat Initiative Board and has worked as a blue-ribbon panel member for Department of Energy commissions more than once in the past. Ideally, my Secretary of Energy would be more of a climate change guru like Dan Reicher, but with Russia’s menacing maneuvers, and the nuclear capabilities of Iran and North Korea of no small importance, a “national security” kind of Secretary of Energy might be wiser in the short term.

Secretary of Education: Eduardo Padron.  Time named him one of the ten best college presidents in America. That’s an accomplishment, because Padron isn’t a president of an Ivy League school; quite to the contrary, he’s president of Miami Dade College, the nation’s largest community college. Obama has been a vocal advocate of transforming the role of the community college in America in a more affordable, academically rigorous and career-friendly way, and Padron has spent years making these goals a reality. Padron, an economist born in Cuba, is a tireless advocate for helping members of poor, underserved communities get the education they need to escape the poverty cycle. He boasts, not without cause, “In Miami, almost everybody you talk to is a graduate of this college, everybody in leadership positions, from our people in Congress, our people in the state legislature, our mayors, our commissioners, the state attorney, the public defender, the chief of police, the fire chief. I could go on and on and on, but it’s even more impressive in the private sector. … Right now, we have about 17 bank presidents who are Miami Dade graduates.”

Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs: Mike Michaud.  In 2014, Congressman Michaud averred re-election to Maine’s rural 2nd district to run for Vacationland’s governor. That didn’t work out, and after some speculation about his future, took a job as an Assistant Secretary of Labor in a role that facilitates the training and hiring of veterans. Maine- especially the 2nd district- has an unusually large number of military veterans, and Michaud is no stranger to representing their interests. He was one of the first to identify the VA incompetence under Eric Shinseki and demand reform. Michaud also sponsored an act in Congress that would have given tax credits to businesses that hire veterans. As someone conversant in the fields of veterans’ affairs, health care, and labor, he’d be a slam dunk at the VA.

Secretary of Homeland Security: William McRaven. McRaven will bring compelling leadership and a determined problem-solving mindset to this crucial office. He is, of course, best known for leading Operation Neptune Spear, the mission to take out Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout. In the meantime, he’s had time to readjust to civilian life as the president of UT Austin. The Washington Post calls him “an one of the most experienced terrorist hunters in U.S. government” who would often accompany teams even as a three-star admiral.  A Politico longform article called him “the last four-star hero…a transformational leader in a tumultuous time.” McRaven is seemingly the perfect candidate- lots of character, widely described as “humble,” not even the barest whisper of scandal, an ability to inspire subordinates, and a striking amount of courage. According to the Politico article, he confronted SEAL legend Dick Marcinko when he ordered McRaven to perform a risky and highly illegal and unethical operation. McRaven would have no trouble making tough choices and using clear insight for the bevy of challenges faced by Homeland Security.

Chief of Staff: John Podesta. I’m putting him on here no matter how badly my auto-correct wants him to be John Pedestal. He’s the only true Clintonista on this list, the only one who played a large role in the 90s Clinton administration. In the last 40 years, the role of Chief of Staff has become one of no small importance, a gatekeeper who is responsible for coordinating access to the president, the person who has to serve as the bad cop to the POTUS’s good cop. Podesta has served in this capacity before, as Bill Clinton’s second chief of staff. He’s the current chairman of Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and was a key part of the Obama-Biden transition team, making him an important bridge between Clinton Democrats and Obama Democrats, if such a distinction even makes sense any more. Although clearly part of an “establishment,” he’s also been one of liberalism’s staunchest defenders from the 90s going forward, and founded the seminal think tank, the Center for American Progress. In terms of connections, administrative ability, and standing up for a set of principals while working towards feasible solutions, Podesta’s by far the best choice.

Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors: Joseph Stiglitz. This is not a glamorous position- most Americans have no idea it exists- but it is an important one for setting the tone for economic policy. This one is a major sop to Bernie Sanders and his supporters, as Stiglitz has been an important advisor to his campaign. His work, which is cited more than almost any other economist at work today, is deeply critical of unchecked free market boosterism. In recent years, he’s been at the forefront of resolving Greece’s debt problem without resorting to austerity. Like Podesta, Stiglitz is returning to a job he held in the 90s under Bill Clinton.

OMB Director: Jeffrey Zients. Zients has the job now, and I’d say let’s keep him where he is. He’s a known problem solver, who’s finest moment was supervising the overhaul of the buggy healthcare.gov website during its problematic rollout. One colleague has expressed amazement at Zients’s ability to “solve seemingly intractable problems” and dedicate his life to public service after a lucrative career in the private sector that made him a millionaire many times over. He and his South African-born wife formed the Urban Alliance Foundation, which helps provide job training and mentorship for underprivileged inner-city youth. As a fun point of trivia, Nelson Mandela even attended his wedding!

Trade Representative: Jennifer Granholm. Trade policy has unexpectedly become a sexy topic, and free trade fever that’s dominated the last 30 years of public policy has been called into question by grassroots groups across the political spectrum. They even successfully pushed Hillary to reconsider her position on TPP. International trade is inevitable, and rightly so, but who better to protect U.S. interests than someone who was Governor of Michigan for eight years? As the governor who weathered the automotive crisis, she’s been a sharp-elbowed advocate for policies that favor U.S. industrial development while maintaining strong internationalism- working with Sweden in recent years to support a green energy economy.

EPA director: Marc Edwards. There weren’t many heroes that came out of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, but Edwards was one of them. When one Flint mother brought water from the beleaguered city to be tested, Edwards found that the amount of lead in the water supply was hundreds of times higher than safe levels. As Scientific American put it, “Edwards’s team uncovered the widespread use of lead testing practices that deviated from EPA protocol” and blew the whistle on their findings. Steven Chu’s work as Secretary of Energy has shown that a professor can serve effectively in a cabinet department, and in that tradition, putting Marc Edwards in charge of the EPA would send a powerful message. I might have considered former New Mexico senator Jeff Bingaman, but this job may be too small for a guy who was in the Senate for 30 years.

UN Ambassador: Ertharin Cousin. Cousin has a long history in the United Nations already. For the last four years, she’s worked as the Director of the UN Food Program that works out of Rome. Her efforts have ensured that millions throughout the world get enough to food to survive in precarious situations. In the process, she is, like others on this list, a regular on Forbes and Time lists of powerful and influential women in the world. She’s in charge of what the Telegraph calls “the world’s largest humanitarian organization,” and has worked hard to mix providing immediate aid in disaster and famine conditions with sustainable development. “So often, we’d come in and say, ‘We have the answers.’ But now we’re allowing governments or communities to lead, and then we’ll come in with long-term strategies. That’s what will ensure that we’re moving towards the solutions that will end hunger.” As UN Ambassador, Cousin is uniquely qualified to advocate for these causes on an even greater stage.

Small Business Administration: Hala Moddelmog. As head of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Moddelmog has personified a strong civic-minded business model. She’s worked as CEO of Arby’s and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. When the Georgia state legislature tried to follow North Carolina’s lead and pass a “religious freedom” bill that would in practice limit LGBT persons ability to be hired or buy goods or services from, a wide array of businesses. Moddelmog led the business community in opposing the law, and ultimately Governor Deal pledged to veto the bill. Atlanta has long prided itself as the city that was “too busy too hate,” prioritizing economic innovation and growth over petty prejudice. Moddelmog is a nice continuation of that tradition. A second choice might be a one-time small-business owner, former New Mexico Lt. Governor, Diane Denish.

So that’s who I would advise if I were asked. It’s a tentative list, and necessarily so. Elements like personal chemistry can also factor into the decision, and I’m simply not privy to this kind of information in regards to who would work in a President Hillary administration and who wouldn’t. Still- it works. And without really trying to, this cabinet achieves some important milestones. Of the 22 positions, 9 are held by women- not parity, but an all-time high. We’ve also got our first Muslim cabinet member (Carson) and our first two Hindus (Nooyi and, surprisingly, Klein.) Nooyi would also become the first person of Indian descent to hold a cabinet office (I think), and Michaud would be the first openly gay cabinet secretary (although others have held cabinet-rank offices). In a xenophobic chapter in our history, three (Padron, Granholm, and Nooyi again) are immigrants.  When President Obama formed his cabinet, he was criticized for having no CEOs and no Southerners. Well, there are plenty of CEOs and company presidents (Huntsman, Moddelmog, Nooyi, and Zients). And there’s no shortage of Southerners either, between McRaven (Texas), Padron (Florida), Moddelmog (Georgia), and Haynes (Kentucky). There’s a good mix of policy wonks like Klein and Eisenhower, effective governors like Huntsman and Granholm, and congress-folk like Carson and Michaud.  Add in some academics (Sachs, Edwards, Stiglitz), humanitarians (Beckmann), military men (McRaven), old cabinet hands (Podesta, Perez) and people who have worked effectively at the state level (Haynes, Swanson), and you’ve got an effective breadth of experience.

Any problems? Well, for one, I wish I had some more relatively young people on this list. Only 4 of the 22 will be under 50 on Inauguration Day, 2017 (Carson, Goldfuss, Zients, and Klein). And there’s far too many people on the list who are 60 years old, plus/minus a few years (a shockingly high 8 cabinet members fall in that age range.) That’s not a knock, necessarily, on older people. It’s just that different generations, I’ve found, have very different problem solving styles, and more Gen X’ers, and even an odd millennial, might have added some more flavor to a cabinet stocked with people on the younger end of the Baby Boom. I also wish I could have added another Republican (I wrestled with Sachs vs. Sheila Bair as Secretary of the Treasury). I also do not have any senators- past or present- on my list, which is astonishing because I love studying the history of the Senate. But when I see people predict a cabinet, there’s a tendency to lazily pick out senators rather than casting a wider net (through obvious choices like Elizabeth Warren on Treasury, or Jack Reed on Defense, Michael Bennet on Education, and so on.)

I’d love some feedback, if anyone cares to provide some. Who would you pick for the next cabinet?




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