Obama likely to shift from ‘Team of Rivals’ to close allies in second term

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In his first term, President Obama picked big names such as Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton and James Jones for his cabinet, bypassing campaign aides and longtime advisers with whom he had strong alliances for people who had more gravitas and higher standing in Washington. Some compared it to Abraham Lincoln, who famously tapped a “Team of Rivals” in which three of his top advisers were people who had opposed him for the presidential nomination in 1860.

Now, with his second term secure, Obama seems intent on picking a team of allies. The top contenders for Secretary of State, UN Ambassador Susan Rice and Sen. John Kerry, both endorsed Obama’s campaign early in the 2008 cycle and have long advised him on foreign affairs. Kerry is also being considered for Secretary of Defense. Jack Lew, who has served as budget director and now chief of staff, is a leading contender for Treasury Secretary. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who was one of the first prominent Washington backers of the president, could also be tapped for a major post, as well as Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, long a close ally of Obama. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick could be the next head of the Department of Justice, although he would replace Attorney General Eric Holder, who is perhaps Obama’s closest friend in the cabinet.

This approach is not surprising; George W. Bush picked Condi Rice and Margaret Spellings, two top White House advisers in his firs term, to run agencies (State and Education respectively) in the second term. He opted against reappointing Colin Powell, a popular figure but one with whom Bush clashed with, particularly over the Iraq War.

What will this mean for policy? It could mean a more aggressive direction for Obama, on both foreign and domestic policy. Susan Rice was one of the strongest voices in 2011 urging the administration to intervene and support rebels in Libya, while some of Obama’s other security advisers were more cautious. Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, at one point unsuccessfully tried to persuade the president to stall his push for the universal health care law Obama eventually signed into law. In contrast, many of the people being considered for top posts now are to the left politically of Emanuel.