Key figures likely to be appointed quickly

 

US Elections: PRESIDENT-ELECT Barack Obama is expected to move quickly in appointing key figures in his administration as he prepares to take office next January amid a deepening economic crisis and numerous foreign policy challenges.

Mr Obama's choice of Rahm Emanuel as his White House chief of staff suggests that the new president plans to run an administration as tightly disciplined as his orderly election campaign.

When the Illinois congressman worked in the White House under Bill Clinton, he won a reputation as a ruthless enforcer who set tough standards for subordinates. Mr Emanuel has carried that reputation into Congress, where some Republicans criticise him as a partisan given to colourful language.

Mr Obama believes that Mr Emanuel, who trained as a ballet dancer in high school before turning to politics, has mellowed since his early days as a political operative, when he once posted a dead fish to a pollster who had annoyed him.

A Chicago native and a close friend of the president-elect, Mr Emanuel hesitated for 24 hours before accepting the appointment as chief of staff because he was reluctant to move his wife and three children to Washington.

"I've been in the White House. I used to joke in the White House that on Fridays, I would say: it's two more workdays till Monday. When I was in the White House, I didn't have children. I do know something about the White House, and I do have children now. I have a family. And so you weigh these - what is the opportunity for your children, and what is the cost?" he told a Chicago TV station on Wednesday night.

Despite his reputation as an attack dog, Mr Emanuel could provide the new president with an effective link to Congress, where he has long been tipped as a future speaker of the House of Representatives.

In view of the economic and financial crisis, perhaps the most urgent appointment Mr Obama must make is his choice of treasury secretary. Among the names being floated by Democratic officials are Larry Summers, who held the post under Mr Clinton, and Tim Geithner, chairman of the New York Federal Reserve.

If Mr Emanuel can be abrasive, Mr Summers has made enemies everywhere he has worked, provoking an insurrection at Harvard among academics who were horrified by his high-handed style when he led the university.

His fiercest detractors agree, however, that Mr Summers has a first-class mind and an intimate knowledge of the economy and he would bring incomparable experience to the post of treasury secretary.

Mr Geithner is widely admired in financial circles but he has played such a key role in dealing with the crisis on Wall Street that the new president could be reluctant to move him from his current post.

Some pundits have suggested that Mr Obama could choose former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volker or even billionaire investor Warren Buffet. New Jersey governor Jon Corzine has also been mentioned.

Like current treasury secretary Hank Paulson, Mr Corzine is a former chairman of Goldman Sachs. Allowing one former investment banker to succeed another could be an unpopular choice in the current climate.

The most senior cabinet post is that of secretary of state and the names most commonly mentioned are those of Massachusetts senator John Kerry, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and former ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke. Mr Richardson, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination this year, has more diplomatic experience than almost any elected official in the US and he has maintained an interest in foreign affairs as governor.

He is viewed with suspicion, however, by some of Mr Obama's foreign policy advisers, who regard him as excessively conservative and too closely linked to the Clinton administration.

Mr Holbrooke played a central role in negotiating the Dayton accords that ended the war in Bosnia during the 1990s but he supported Hillary Clinton during the primaries.

Mr Kerry was an early supporter of Mr Obama and he is a senior member of the Senate foreign relations committee but he voted to authorise the Iraq war and his appointment would do little to signal the change the president-elect has promised in US relations with the rest of the world.

Mr Obama has signalled that he wants to include some Republicans in his cabinet and senators Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel are often mentioned for the post of secretary of state. Mr Lugar has said he is not interested in a cabinet post and although Mr Hagel opposed the Iraq war, he has a conservative record on many other issues, including climate change.

Mr Obama could signal his willingness to work with Republicans by retaining Robert Gates as defence secretary, although it is not clear that Mr Gates wants to stay at the Pentagon. Robert F Kennedy jnr has been floated as a potential head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The son of the late attorney general and presidential candidate, Mr Kennedy chairs the Waterkeeper Alliance, which promotes water quality in the US and abroad, while serving as an attorney at the Natural Resources Defence Council.

Caroline Kennedy, who helped Mr Obama to vet vice-presidential candidates, has been tipped as a possible ambassador to the UN or to London.

Democratic officials suggested yesterday that Robert Gibbs, a senior strategist and spokesman for Mr Obama during the presidential campaign, will be the new White House press secretary.