Obama’s Cabinet Doesn’t Roar

National Journal

IN THE NEWS: Hagel: U.S. rethinking arming Syrian rebels … Obama taps Pritzker for Commerce … Time running out for states on Medicaid expansion … How ESPN influences Obama administration … Why immigration reform won’t have much impact on wages

THE TAKE

Obama’s Cabinet Doesn’t Roar

President Obama’s second-term cabinet is finally complete. During the winter, when his cabinet selections were dominated by the appointments of Secretary of State John Kerry; Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel; and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew even Obama allies—perhaps especially Obama allies—asked, “Where’s the diversity?”

At the White House Correspondents Association Dinner Conan O’Brien joked that the president’s hair was so white it could be in his cabinet. The president promised more diversity and it came: women at Commerce, EPA and Interior; an Hispanic at Labor; an African-American at Transportation.

But the more interesting thing is that this is not an in-your-face cabinet. The president’s Commerce pick, Penny Pritzker, has great business ties and is also an old friend. A process that began with Susan Rice being shot down for State and Hagel being pilloried as soft on Iran has ended on a calmer note, if not a whimper.

Now on to filling the bevy of sub-cabinet slots that remain open.

Matthew Cooper
mcooper@nationaljournal.com

TOP NEWS

HAGEL: U.S. RETHINKING ARMING SYRIAN REBELS. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that the Obama administration is reconsidering its opposition to arming rebels who oppose the Syrian government, the Associated Press reports. “Arming the rebels — that's an option," he said at a press conference. "We must continue to look at options.” He said the U.S. is looking at a range of ideas and consulting with allies. Read more

  • National Journal’s Michael Hirsh writes that memories of Iraq and Libya are weighing down Obama’s decision on Syria.

OBAMA NOMINATES PRITZKER FOR COMMERCE, FROMAN AS TRADE REP. President Obama on Thursday nominated Chicago business executive Penny Pritzker to serve as Commerce secretary, calling her “one of our country’s most distinguished business leaders,” The New York Times reports. Obama also tapped Deputy National Security Adviser Michael Froman to serve as United States Trade Representative, noting that Froman “has established himself as one of the world’s foremost experts on our global economy.” The president cited his personal friendships with Pritzker and Froman and lauded their integrity and commitment to the interests of the American people. Read more

  • Obama’s second-term Cabinet includes fewer women and fewer minorities than his first, with an expected 10 white men (up from 8), seven women (down from 8), three blacks (down from 4), one Asian-American (down from three) and one Latino (down from two). Read more

DESPITE HIGH-PROFILE NODS, KEY POSITIONS REMAIN VACANT. The New York Times notes that “the lights remain off in essential offices across the administration.” The No. 2 slot at Treasury is empty, and Homeland Security is minus its top two cybersecurity officials.  Apparently one of the worst backlogs is at the State Department, where a quarter of senior posts remain unfilled. And like everything in Washington, who is to blame is a subject of great debate. Read more

  • “I don’t think it’s ever been this bad,” --- Representative Frank R. Wolf, R-Va.

OBAMA DEPARTS FOR MEXICO, COSTA RICA. President Obama traveled Thursday to Mexico, where he will attempt to get the country’s support for the proposed U.S. immigration law overhaul, the Associated Press reports. “To sell his immigration overhaul back home, [Obama] needs a growing economy in Mexico and a Mexican president willing to help him secure the border,” the AP writes. At home, the path to passing a bill is long and winding, but international support will not hurt. Despite some uncertainty in therelationship between the U.S. and Mexico since the election of new Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, National Journal’s George E. Condon Jr. reports Obama can expect a warm welcome as he is still seen as a different kind of American president in Mexico. Read more

TIME RUNNING OUT FOR STATES TO DECIDE ON MEDICAID EXPANSION. Medicaid expansion remains “in limbo” in 16 states that have yet to accept or decline federal funds offered under the Affordable Care Act, The Washington Post reports. State legislatures are running out of time to decide on expansion, as most must opt in by the close of the current session to ensure implementation next year. Health care providers and advocacy groups have allied with business groups to promote Medicaid expansion, while conservative groups have opposed the proposal as an element of the broader federal health care overhaul. Read more

KAZAKH GOVERNMENT ‘STRONGLY CONDEMNS ANY FORM OF TERRORISM.’ Following the arrest of two Kazakh nationals in connection with the April 15 bombing at the Boston Marathon, the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan issued a statement Thursday condemning “any form of terrorism” and pledging cooperation with American authorities on the case. “We would like to emphasize that our citizens did not receive charges of involvement in the organization of Boston Marathon bombings,” the ministry said in the statement. “They were charged with destroying evidence.” Read more

OBAMA’S LEGACY: A HEALTH CARE LAW THAT HURTS HIS PARTY. At Tuesday’s press conference, President Obama delivered an unfocused eight-minute defense of his central legislative accomplishment in office – the Affordable Care Act. In the face of intraparty criticism that implementation of his health care law will be a “train wreck,” new polls showing support for the law near all-time lows, and even the Democratic nominee in next week’s House special election calling the law “extremely problematic”– there’s plenty of evidence piling up to believe health care will be a political millstone for Democrats in 2014, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar reports. Read more

ESPN A NEW VENUE FOR POLITICAL, ISSUE ADVERTISING. Companies and trade associations interested in reaching President Obama and administration officials are turning to ESPN to get their message across, Politico reports. “It’s not just targeting Obama, but doing it in a way that is both interesting and will get the attention of the audience, but not so unusual that it will put the client in a bad position,” says one media strategist whose clients employed the tactic during Obama’s first term. Microsoft ran ads on ESPN as part of its “Scroogled” campaign while federal regulators were weighing potential action against Google, while the American Petroleum Institute bought airtime on the network during the NCAA basketball tournament. Read more

TOMORROW

OBAMA TO COSTA RICA. On Friday afternoon, the President will depart Mexico for Costa Rica.  While in Costa Rica, the President will meet with President Laura Chinchilla in addition heads of state of the other Central American countries and the Dominican Republic. Obama will talk trade and economic development Read more

JOBS NUMBERS DUE OUT. The closely watched jobs report is out Friday morning, with a consensus of economists expecting roughly 153,000 jobs added for April, up from a disappointing 88,000 in March. The unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 7.6 percent. Still, fears have been stoked this week that the numbers could be lower following a weak jobs report from payroll processor ADP, USA Today reports. Read more

QUOTABLE

"You attack power, not weakness." --Democratic aide on why Democrats don’t attack Boehner like Republicans attacked Pelosi when she was House speaker (National Journal)

BEDTIME READING

I’M STILL HERE: BACK ONLINE AFTER A YEAR WITHOUT THE INTERNET. “One year ago I left the internet,” writes Paul Miller for The Verge. “I thought it was making me unproductive. I thought it lacked meaning. I thought it was ‘corrupting my soul.’” But after a full year unplugged, Miller decided, “I was wrong.” In 2012, Miller was mired in a quarter-life malaise and wanted to drop off the grid. “I unplugged my Ethernet cable, shut off my Wi-Fi, and swapped my smartphone for a dumb one. It felt really good. I felt free.” At the beginning, Miller writes, things were great. “My life was full of serendipitous events.… With no clear idea how I did it, I wrote half my novel.… In one of the early months my boss expressed slight frustration at how much I was writing.” But after six months, “I’d learned how to make a new style of wrong choices off the internet. I abandoned my positive offline habits, and discovered new offline vices.” Read more

PLAY OF THE DAY

BLEEPS, BLURS, ROMNEY, AND GUANTANAMO.David Letterman marked the nomination of a new FCC chairman by using blurs and beeps to mock the commission itself. Letterman also marked the second anniversary of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound by relaying the Al-Qaeda leader’s last words. Mitt Romney spoke at Southern Virginia University over the weekend and both Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon touched on Romney’s advice for the graduates. On The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart riffed on the news of President Barack Obama’s recent pledge to close the detention centers at Guantánamo Bay. Stewart took a look at statements the president has made since he made his first pledge to close Guantánamo, eventually comparing Obama to a supervillain. Watch it here

REALITY CHECK

WHY IMMIGRATION MAY NOT HAVE A BIG IMPACT ON WAGES. How immigration affects the wages of American citizens is one of the most contentious concerns in the immigration reform debate. Wages are at an all-time low. But, don’t worry. The impact, if there is any, is small, National Journal’s Niraj Chokshi reports. Read more

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