Next on Obama's Dance Card, Mother Nature

By Al Kamen
Friday, December 5, 2008

The Obama transition team, moving along smartly to fill Cabinet posts, is planning to trot out nominees as early as next week for three jobs much watched by enviros: the secretaries of energy and the interior and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

There's no shortage of names floating for energy secretary, a job where the majority of the workload in the past has been dealing with nuclear waste, nuclear weapons handling and the various nuclear laboratories. Even so, a cast of luminaries have been mentioned, including Duke Energy executive Jim Rogers, former Energy Department official Dan Reicher, former top Clinton White House environmental aide Kathleen McGinty, FedEx chairman and Republican backer Fred Smith, New Jersey utility chief executive Ralph Izzo, and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.).

The chatter about each of them seems to have waxed and waned, doing more of the latter of late. Recently retired California energy utility executive John Bryson, who's well liked by the environmental community, may not make the cut, but Kansas Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius's considerable stock seems to be holding steady for energy -- or at least some Cabinet post.

There's buzz that the transition folks are also looking hard at some scientific types for the energy job, including Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at Cal-Berkeley. Chu co-chaired a group producing the international study "Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future." He also shared the Nobel Prize for physics, but that was back in 1997.

As for EPA administrator, California state environmental official Mary Nichols and New Jersey environmental agency official Lisa Jackson have long been considered the leading picks for the job. Jackson is said to have been edging up in recent days.

There's been a very crowded field in the running for interior secretary. Inslee seems to have faded in the stretch, while former Oregon governor John Kitzhaber and Richard Moe, former vice presidential chief of staff to Walter Mondale and now president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, appear to still be contenders.

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), had been edging up a bit, but his rise may now have stalled. There's talk that Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) may be making a move and could land the job.

It's not lost on transition officials that Thompson is an avid hunter and angler whose candidacy has been endorsed by sportsmen's associations. President-elect Barack Obama told Field & Stream magazine in September that he wants a sportsman or sportswoman in the post. "I think that having a head of the Department of Interior who doesn't understand hunting and fishing would be a problem," Obama told the magazine.

Looking for More Diversity

If Grijalva loses out, Obama may look elsewhere to boost diversity; the president-elect is said to be seeking three Latinos in his Cabinet. Although New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was named commerce secretary and Rep. Xavier Becerra is the leading contender for U.S. trade representative -- he met with Obama in Chicago yesterday -- two new names have surfaced as leading Latino candidates for administration posts.

Sources were buzzing yesterday that Monica C. Lozano, publisher of La Opinión, the nation's largest Spanish-language newspaper, is being eyed for a top job. A powerful business and political player in Southern California, Lozano is a board director of several universities, nonprofits and corporations, including Bank of America.

Also enter Rick Noriega, a Texas state representative who ran unsuccessfully this year against Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). Noriega, an Army veteran who served as a National Guard officer in Afghanistan and oversaw the evacuation of Hurricane Katrina victims to Houston, met with Obama recently about a position in the administration, perhaps as veterans affairs secretary, a source said. Former Clinton administration official Federico Peña, a close adviser to Obama's transition, is said to be lobbying for Noriega.

One More Question . . .

Question No. 58 in the transition team vetting document for the Obama White House asks that applicants "please provide the URL address of any websites that feature you in either a personal or professional capacity (e.g. Facebook, My Space, etc.)."

Question No. 63 asks that applicants "please provide any other information . . . that could . . . be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the President-Elect."

For a while yesterday, Obama's immensely talented chief speechwriter, 27-year-old Jon Favreau, may have been pondering how to address that question.

That's when some interesting photos of a recent party he attended -- including one where he's dancing with a life-size cardboard cutout of Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton, and another where he's placed his hand on the cardboard former first lady's chest while a friend is offering her lips a beer -- popped up on Facebook for about two hours.

The photos, posted by one of his contacts, quickly disappeared -- along with all the photos Favreau had of himself on the popular social networking site, save for one profile head shot. Asked about the photos, Favreau, who was recently appointed director of speechwriting for the White House, declined to comment.

A transition official said that Favreau had "reached out to Senator Clinton to offer an apology."

"Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon's obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application," said Philippe Reines, Clinton's senior adviser.

Better Briefed Than Bush?

Obama apparently is absorbing more intelligence than President Bush. Before even being sworn in, Obama has been receiving top-secret intelligence briefings every day of the week, exceeding the six-days-a-week routine of Bush, according to Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell.

"I don't know if there's a little competition there or not . . . but it's seven days a week," McConnell joked at an appearance Tuesday at Harvard University.

McConnell gave Obama his first full-blown briefing on Nov. 6, two days after the election, and other top intelligence officials have been giving the president-elect daily updates in Chicago. The briefings last 30 minutes to an hour, McConnell said.

"It's quite a thrill," McConnell said. "The subjects are absolutely incredible. The speed with which these two particular gentlemen [Bush and Obama] absorb information and move on is astounding."

So what a minute. Obama, who isn't president and can't take action on the intel, gets more briefings than Bush?

Money Man Hedges His Bets

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, in Washington this week making the rounds on Capitol Hill and with Obama transition officials to press his foundation's agenda on education and global health, said he is keeping an open mind about helping the new administration.

Asked yesterday whether he would consider serving, Gates left the door open. "Certainly my full-time job is being chairman of the foundation," he said. "If there was some committee or pretty focused task where I could contribute, I'd be glad to consider that."

He'd probably demand at least a GS-15 salary.

Congratulate My Wife, Please

Former president Bill Clinton has not, despite some Obamians' fondest wishes, receded from the scene. And on Tuesday, the day after Obama formally picked Hillary Clinton as his nominee to be secretary of state, he e-mailed her campaign workers: "Her experience and judgment will help President Obama restore America's reputation in the world and make our nation more secure." So "take a moment and celebrate this wonderful news by sending Hillary a message of congratulations." Clinton was in Hong Kong doing a fundraiser for the Clinton Global Initiative.

"This nomination would not have been possible without the hard work of everyone like you who has supported Hillary throughout the years," the former president said. "I know I speak for her when I say thank you for everything you have done for her."

Wait a minute! Wasn't the deal precisely that he was not going to say he's speaking for her?

With Philip Rucker

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