The nominations underscore how little time Obama has left to accomplish an enduring governing legacy, and that on-the-job training, political drama and the unpredictability he discovered in some of his outside-the-Beltway nominees last time around have no place in a second-term administration. Nearly all of the men — and so far they are all men — have been with Obama, one way or another, since his first presidential campaign or early days in office.
“Unlike the first term, which was often referred to as a team of rivals, I think this is going to be more like a band of brothers,” said Karl F. Inderfurth, an assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration.
It is not an uncommon approach for second-term presidents to take. But it leaves Obama vulnerable to criticism, including from his supporters, that he is burrowing deeper into an insular inner circle rather than reaching out for new people and their ideas about how to work most effectively with a sharply divided Congress.
In recent weeks, Obama has tapped former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to head the Pentagon, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) to lead the State Department, and John O. Brennan, his chief counterterrorism adviser, to run the CIA.
On Thursday, he looked again to someone he knows well to fill what has been the most influential economic post in his administration, picking Lew, his chief of staff, to run the Treasury Department.
If confirmed, Lew would replace Timothy F. Geithner, a former central banker who helped steer the economy from crisis to tentative recovery during his high-profile tenure.
Obama has worked closely with all of the recent nominees — either in the Senate, during his abbreviated term there, or in the White House during difficult times. Only Kerry was a second choice, named after U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice, one of Obama’s first and most loyal foreign policy advisers, bowed out last month in advance of a confirmation fight that the president did not want.
He now must select a chief of staff, the fourth of his tenure, and is again apparently leaning toward old hands. Denis McDonough, the deputy national security adviser and perhaps Obama’s most dedicated defender, and Ron Klain, Vice President Biden’s former chief of staff, are among those in consideration.
Both men have long experience working on or with the Hill, and each would be expected to quickly ramp up a White House operation that during the last election year has been more interested in avoiding mistakes than in pushing new initiatives.