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Shaping the President’s Cabinet

The makeup of President-elect Barack Obama’s cabinet and senior advisers began to take shape Wednesday.

The makeup of President-elect Barack Obama’s cabinet and senior advisers began to take shape Wednesday as the fashion industry kept a vigilant watch on who would fill key trade and economic slots overseeing billions of dollars worth of trade and global commerce.

This story first appeared in the November 6, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.


Obama was said to be close to making his first key appointment: Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D., Ill.) as his chief of staff. A rising star in the Democratic party, Emanuel was a former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton’s White House.

Obama’s transition team, headed by top Democrats such as John D. Podesta, former White House chief of staff under Clinton, was gearing up to lay the groundwork for the new president’s cabinet. Obama has vowed to build a bipartisan cabinet and administration, boosting it with key Republicans. He’s said one of his favorite books is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” which discusses the 16th president’s bipartisan approach.

The broad makeup of his administration is also expected to encompass former Clinton officials and a diverse group of minorities, including women.

Meanwhile, four cabinet posts — U.S. trade representative and the secretaries of commerce, treasury and, to a lesser degree, state — will play a role in framing and shaping Obama’s nascent trade agenda.

Among the apparent top contenders for the USTR are Jason Furman, an economist and former Clinton aide; Daniel Tarullo, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center who held several senior positions in the Clinton administration, and Lael Brainard, vice president and director of global economy and development for the Brookings Institute and former economic adviser for Clinton.

“I think there is a strong flavor associated with Clinton days, so you would assume that there would be a similar economic policy bent if individuals from that grouping are appointed to high-ranking economic positions,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition. “There were people in the manufacturing and labor movements who were severely disappointed with the Clinton approach to trade policy, so there is a legitimate concern as to whether or not there will be a significant difference from the Clinton era if key Clinton protégés or appointees end up being placed in an Obama administration.”

Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation, said, “On trade, my guess is he’ll pick those people who have been his campaign advisers on trade, and they will probably play key roles in his administration,” pointing to Furman, Brainard and Tarullo.

Autor said former Rep. Cal Dooley (D., Calif.) is also a possible pick for the U.S. trade chief’s slot, adding: “He was a key player on trade when he was in the House and he has run a couple of trade associations.”

The short list for commerce secretary, which oversees trade remedy laws and operates the Office of Textiles and Apparel and the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, is under wraps and industry officials could not provide any possible contenders for the post, although they did outline a key qualification: Historically, the cabinet post has been filled by a chief executive officer of a major corporation.

“That goes back a long time and I expect [Obama] to stick with that model,” said Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow for the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics. “I’m sure there are some important chief executives who have supported him who do not come from a beleaguered industry like autos or textiles or the kinds of industries who are seeking a government bailout.”

Contenders for the post of the treasury secretary, a key position for industry watchers because foreign currency policies fall within the agency’s jurisdiction, include former Clinton treasury secretaries Larry Summers and Robert Rubin, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, is considered a key figure in an Obama administration, but most observers said he might be appointed short term to help oversee the financial bailout package.