The man without a binder

Al Kamen
Columnist November 29, 2012

What do women want? That’s the age-old question.

But in the context of what women’s groups hope for — and expect — in President Obama’s second term, the answers aren’t all that mysterious.

The National Organization for Women is pressing for a full half of the Cabinet to be made up of women — just like the U.S. population generally. NOW President Terry O’Neill says there’s no reason it can’t be done. “Gone are the days when you really had to search high and low for qualified candidates,” she says.

There’s a chance, though, that the number of women in Cabinet-level jobs could dip. Of the five top appointees likely to depart soon — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson — two are women. Of course, others appear to be staying put, at least for now, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and Small Business Administration chief Karen Mills.

O’Neill says candidates such as U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for secretary of state (whose potential nomination is running into resistance from Senate Republicans) and former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman Sheila Bair for Treasury would fit the bill. And there are women among the candidates being talked about for other jobs.

Obama’s record on hiring women has generally won praise, though reports from the early days of his first term had some female White House staffers feeling frozen out of his inner circle.

Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock says she expects Obama to “keep building on” his track record, citing the women in his first-term Cabinet and among his senior campaign staff (she pointed to campaign officials Jen O’Malley Dillon, Stephanie Cutter and Juliana Smoot as evidence of his continued willingness to staff up with women). And she thinks there’s a call for even more such hires.

“Last election was a clear mandate for women’s leadership,” she says. “Voters want to see women in the highest levels of government.”

Like O’Neill, she says the problem isn’t a lack of capable, confirmable candidates. “There are so many qualified women who are ready to serve — and the great news is that the guy who doesn’t need a binder to find them won the election.”

USDA choice

Update on the Obama second-term Cabinet watch:

Right after the election, we had put Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the “stay” list in terms of Cabinet members’ future status in the second Obama term.

The chatter then was that, while he’s in very good standing with the White House, he might leave if his wife, Christie Vilsack , lost her bid for a House seat back home in Iowa. Christie Vilsack, running in a distinctly conservative-leaning district, did indeed lose to incumbent Rep. Steve King (R), 53 percent to 45 percent.

But the latest chatter is that Tom Vilsack, rather than heading west, might be staying on, and Christie Vilsack might instead be moving east to join him here.

The value of a dollar

Financial disclosures can be such pesky things for folks in the political limelight.

What a relief, then, not to have a salary high enough to require them, such as the one Burson Taylor Snyder, deputy chief of staff to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), is making. Her husband, Pete Snyder, just announced that he is running for lieutenant governor of Virginia.

Like any candidate, he might prefer to keep personal details close to the vest as long as he can — though he’ll eventually have to fill out a candidate’s disclosure form — particularly since, as one of the founders of the GOP firm New Media Strategies, he’s probably worth millions (according to a 2007 form his wife filed as a House staffer, his stake in the company was worth between $5 million and $25 million).

Under Senate ethics rules, Snyder would have been required to file another financial disclosure form — which also would list her husband’s assets and income, possibly including those associated with his investment firm, Disruptor Capital — if she made more than $119,554.

But with a salary under the minimum — just barely — she doesn’t quite meet the reporting requirement. According to salary-tracking service LegiStorm, she pulled down $119,552.88 from April 1, 2011, through March 31, 2012, and appears on track to make that same amount in calendar year 2012, though the pay records aren’t yet available.

That’s exactly $1.12 (you can barely buy a pack of gum for less than that!) under the bar for disclosure. Coincidence?

Snyder wouldn’t comment.

But it seems that figure might make her underpaid, at least according to some measures. Her counterpart in the office of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), for example, makes $133,000 annually, and her predecessor in Blunt’s office made even more, about $160,000 a year.

Snyder would hardly be pioneering new territory here. “We’ve seen this process before,” says Jock Friedly, LegiStorm’s president and founder. “A lot of people would rather not disclose if they don’t have to.”

Such disclosures have proved politically embarrassing, as when House records on Callista Gingrich’s finances revealed that she and hubby Newt Gingrich had a line of credit at Tiffany’s.

So when it comes to revealing information that could be used by political foes, it seems less really is more.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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