President-elect Obama is forming a White House leadership team that combines experienced Washington insiders who could help build a bridge with Congress and trusted associates who share his Chicago roots.
The West Wing appointments Obama has announced in recent days stand in contrast to those of George W. Bush, who relied heavily on fellow Texans for top posts. They had virtually no experience dealing with Congress, nor did the former Texas governor who was their boss.
Obama comes to the Oval Office with an ambitious list of campaign promises that will require Capitol Hill's cooperation and approval, and his team is heavy on the legislative experience that Obama is lacking. He resigned his Illinois Senate seat Sunday after just under four years of service, half of which he spent on the presidential campaign trail.
During that time, Obama had Pete Rouse as his Senate chief of staff to take care of his business on the Hill. On Sunday, Obama named Rouse to be a senior adviser in his White House. Rouse has 24 years of experience as a top Senate aide, also running the offices of former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Obama's Illinois colleague, Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin.
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Other names that have begun to roll out recently come with varying degrees of Washington experience. Obama is drawing on accomplished Chicago friends, longtime congressional aides and former Clinton administration officials.
The new chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., combines Chicago roots and legislative connections. Vice President-elect Joe Biden's chief of staff Ron Klain held the same role for Vice President Al Gore.
Obama has picked Mona Sutphen and Jim Messina as his deputy chiefs of staff. Like Rouse, Messina has served as chief of staff for three different lawmakers – Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y. – and has a vast network of relationships to show for it, which he can tap on Obama's behalf.
Philip Schiliro, who has more 25 years' experience working for Congress, is Obama's liaison to Capitol Hill.
Biden, a longtime senator from Delaware, has said he intends to be a frequent voice on the Hill and use his 36 years' experience as a lawmaker to promote the administration's agenda. That's a departure from Vice President Dick Cheney, who appeared only occasionally on the Hill to meet with Republican members and cast a tie-breaking vote.
Obama is keeping some campaign advisers close in the West Wing. He has named longtime confidant Valerie Jarrett as a senior White House adviser and is expected to bring along Robert Gibbs as press secretary and David Axelrod as another senior adviser.
The senior adviser title is a vague one, but those who fill it have held vast authority. Karl Rove and Karen Hughes had the title at one time in Bush's White House, and had very different but influential roles – Rove was the political strategist with a big say over policy, while Hughes was the communications chief.
Obama is expected to name campaign adviser Gregory Craig, who was President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial lawyer, as White House counsel.
Obama, making his Senate resignation official, said in a letter published in Illinois newspapers Sunday that he was “ending one journey to begin another. … But I will never forget and will be forever grateful to the men and women of this great state who made my life in public service possible.”
In his published letter, Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln, “another son of Illinois” who had left for Washington, “a greater man who spoke to a nation far more divided.”
Lincoln, Obama wrote, said of his home: “To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.”
Obama wrote, “I feel the same, and like Lincoln, I ask for your support, your prayers, and for us to ‘confidently hope that all will yet be well.'”