By Al Kamen
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
President Obama's Cabinet was finally filled yesterday after the Senate, on the eve of President Obama's 100th day in office, voted 65 to 31 to confirm Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Hours later, the former Kansas governor was sworn in in an Oval Office ceremony.
Democrats had sought a quick vote on Sebelius as Congress moves ahead with health-care reform this summer, but Republicans slowed her advancement because of her support for abortion rights. But GOP procedural objections faded with the recent outbreak of swine flu and the threat of a global pandemic, our colleague Shailagh Murray reported from the Senate.
Sebelius, an early Obama supporter and term-limited two-term governor, had been courted by Democratic leaders to run next year for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sam Brownback. But Sebelius accepted the HHS post after former senator Thomas A. Daschle withdrew from consideration following questions about his tax returns.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.), who is leading the Senate's health-care reform effort, cited Sebelius's success in a Republican state as vital experience to building support for the legislation across party lines. "Governor Sebelius's record shows that she approaches problems from all sides," Baucus said on the Senate floor.
But Republicans criticized her record on abortion and her campaign contributions from a Wichita doctor who performs the procedure.
Brownback, an ardent opponent of abortion rights, supported Sebelius's nomination, as did Sen. Arlen Specter (now-D-Pa.).A SLOWER SHADE OF FAST
The 100-day numbers are in. As expected, Obama, with 102 nominations pending before the Senate and 65 officials confirmed, has far outpaced his modern predecessors back to Ronald Reagan in terms of overall appointment activity. Obama nearly beat the Reagan juggernaut in terms of confirmed nominees, though the Reagan White House still holds the record at 73 appointees confirmed, according to the White House Transition Project.
For a complete, interactive look at Obama's appointees, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/headcount.
The White House decided not to put out its own comparisons with prior administrations, we were told. There are, aside from the unseemliness of gloating, some good reasons not to do that.
For one thing, you inevitably compare what are often very different situations -- some dictated by outside circumstances, some self-inflicted.
For example, Reagan was the first president to grapple with the 1978 amendments to the Ethics in Government Act that created the time-consuming, redundant financial disclosure process. Bill Clinton ran a chaotic transition, including the ill-fated Zoe Baird nomination for attorney general, and had to deal with 1989 ethics changes that greatly expanded the vetting process. One willful mistake on the forms -- see, for example, former Cabinet member Henry Cisneros -- can get you prosecuted.
George W. Bush had the long recount, which cut his transition by five weeks. Obama had the Daschle-Geithner miscues, which stalled his nominations process by a good three weeks and led to a Cabinet not filled until yesterday.
In addition, as transition expert Paul Light notes, Obama may be moving faster than his predecessors, "but he's not going to beat them by much."
"Obama's a faster turtle, but he's still a turtle." Obama's current pace, about 10 to 15 nominations a week, Light said, means the president is on track to have most all his top agency officials in place by fall.
Not exactly NASCAR.MORE NAMES
Latest word is that Jackie Berrian, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, is said to be the pick to become chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The vice chairmanship is expected to go to Thomas Saenz, counsel to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D). There had been talk that he was a likely pick to run the civil rights division at Justice, but that didn't pan out.
There was also talk a while back that White House deputy counsel Cassandra Butts might take over the troubled EEOC, but she's been spending lots of time these days on judicial appointments -- there are 69 vacancies and only three nominees so far. With that many seats left to fill, she decided to stay on at the White House.NEW DIGS IN KABUL
Seems as though we're settling in for a while in Afghanistan. The State Department has asked Congress for an extra $87 million to buy "a 30-to-40-acre site" in Kabul, noting that the department "is currently negotiating with landowners of adjacent sites regarding potential purchase for an Embassy expansion."
Seems kinda pricey, even in glitzy downtown Kabul, at $2 million to $3 million an acre. But we were assured the money includes provisions for a considerable expansion of facilities on the site, including housing for nearly 400 Americans now living in "permanent and temporary housing."
One plan under consideration is to provide living and office space on the site to handle 567 people by the end of 2011. Another option is "placing additional trailers on current space available in the compound."
Maybe they could get some slightly used ones -- preferably with hardened roofs -- from Baghdad?NO JOKE
A Clintonite gets an embassy! Lee Feinstein, who was Hillary Rodham Clinton's national security director on the campaign and principal deputy director of the State Department's policy planning shop in the Clinton administration, is the pick to be ambassador to Poland. Okay, it's Warsaw, but Poland is an important post.