Barack Obama was famously able to impose discipline and control over his presidential campaign, but it didn't take long for him to discover running a transition is quite different.
WASHINGTON — Barack Obama was famously able to impose discipline and control over his presidential campaign, but it didn’t take long for him to discover running a transition is quite different.
Top aides to the president-elect had hoped to take a methodical approach to selecting and unveiling their new team, starting with the announcements of top national-security and economic players shortly after Thanksgiving. But leaks and rumors have disrupted that plan, suggesting the “no drama Obama” mantra may not be as operational in Washington as it was at campaign headquarters in Chicago.
Obama has not officially announced any Cabinet appointments, but transition officials have reluctantly confirmed that former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota would be nominated as Health and Human Services secretary, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano is Obama’s leading choice for the Department of Homeland Security and Eric Holder will likely be named attorney general.
Meanwhile, the fate of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., remains up in the air, with varying reports on whether she will accept the job of secretary of state that she discussed with Obama last week in Chicago. And late Thursday, aides were confronted with unconfirmed talk that retired Gen. James Jones could be tapped for national-security adviser.
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In the case of Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker, leaks apparently proved detrimental to her getting a Cabinet job. An architect of Obama’s record-shattering fundraising operation, Pritzker emerged as the top choice to run the Commerce Department. Sources close to the Hyatt hotels heiress said she was seriously interested in the job, and Obama allies said the president-elect, who considers Pritzker a close friend and who views her as a stellar manager, was eager to make an offer.
But as her name began to circulate, sources close to the campaign said Pritzker came to realize she could not extract herself from the vast and complex business obligations that make her one of the country’s wealthiest individuals. Thursday afternoon, she took herself out of contention.
“Speculation has grown that I am a candidate for secretary of commerce. I am not,” Pritzker said. “I think I can best serve our nation in my current capacity: building businesses, creating jobs and working to strengthen our economy.”
Pritzker is one of three cousins who manage their family’s fortune, which includes Hyatt hotels, casinos and other ventures. She oversees a chain of luxury retirement communities, an airport parking company, a realty group and the credit-rating agency TransUnion.
The talk of a Cabinet post, which would require Senate confirmation, had cast a spotlight on her secretive family’s empire and her past business dealings, including episodes that might prove politically embarrassing.
Earlier in her career, Pritzker was involved in running and overseeing Superior Bank, in a Chicago suburb, which focused on bundling subprime mortgages into securities, the practice that later helped set off the current financial crisis. The institution collapsed in 2001.
Moreover, Pritzker’s family is renowned for finding ways to avoid paying taxes on its wealth. The Pritzkers were pioneers in using tax loopholes to shelter their holdings from the IRS, and many of their dealings have never been made public.
By considering Napolitano to run the Department of Homeland Security, Obama is rewarding one of his earliest high-profile supporters and enlisting a border-state governor with law-enforcement credentials to oversee a sprawling agency with jurisdiction over immigration policy and domestic security.
Information from The New York Times is included in this report.