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So Far, Obama Has Approval Ratings On His Side


Next we're going to ask what else we can learn from the early decisions of the president-elect. A new Gallup survey shows nearly four of five Americans approve of President-elect Obama's Cabinet selections so far. Of course, you have to be mindful of those words, "so far." NPR news analyst Juan Williams is asking what's next? Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve. That was funny. So far, huh?

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Well, that's what I'm here for, to be witty and personable over breakfast, Juan. Which key jobs need to be filled?

WILLIAMS: Well, he's got a couple coming up. It looks like for health and human services, the choice will be Tom Daschle, the former senate leader from South Dakota. And at EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, it looks like Lisa Jackson, who was formerly with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, will be the choice. So, what you've got, Steve, is seven Cabinet appointments made by President-elect Obama to date, more than half of his Cabinet, including the top jobs at State, Defense, Treasury and Justice.

And he's yet to name an intelligence team. As Tom Gjelten pointed out earlier in the show, John Brennan, who was the likely choice, was ruled out because of protest over his alleged role in detention and interrogation. So Obama again is looking for veterans for CIA. He's looking for veterans for the Director of National Intelligence. And he's got jobs open - again looking for veterans in Education, Transportation, Agriculture, and more.

INSKEEP: What patterns are emerging from the jobs that you know about so far?

WILLIAMS: Well, Tom Daschle, I think fits the mold to a tee. He's an experienced political player, you know, someone who's run for office, had rough times. And now I think you would describe him as a pragmatist, someone who's not a grand visionary, not necessarily a reformer. What you've got here on the part of the Obama transition team, Steve, is I think a fear of failure to launch. And as a result, they brought in veteran players with lots of firepower who can help them get over any rough patches in the early days of the Obama administration.

INSKEEP: Also, as has been pointed out, a lot of large egos and some people who ran against President-elect Obama for the job that he's getting. What do you have to do as president to make a Cabinet like that work for you?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know what, he's now going to be in charge of a very big kindergarten. He's got to manage some strong egos all running around. You know, he had to, for example, give Secretary of State-designate Clinton her own team at State. So he wasn't going to appoint any of her people. He had to put the U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, back in the Cabinet, assuring her she would have an important job. Same thing for Bill Richardson at Commerce, assure him that he's going to be a full partner in all the economic discussions. So, he has to let them all be stars, and that means he has to trust in his own brilliance. And. he's got to prove, time and again, that he's able to merge ideas from all the players so that they feel they are being properly represented in any decision that's being made.

INSKEEP: You know, Juan, when the president-elect did a press conference yesterday to announce the selection of Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor, as commerce secretary-nominee, he got a question where he was asked is this a kind of consolation prize for Hispanics who will be disappointed that Richardson didn't get a bigger job? I wonder if that points to some tensions within the coalition that elected Obama.

WILLIAMS: I think there are some. I think, you know, of course it begins with people who are more liberal and who think, you know, gee, has this been a bait and switch? We're getting all these kind of centrists, all these veterans, people who are long in the tooth, but they don't exactly represent any big change, or vision of change. What we've seen so far is, you know, a situation where this could open its way up to backbiting. It could have a lot of leaks if people start to have separate agendas around Washington. And Obama could be painted as an (unintelligible) inexperience. Remember, he's younger than almost all of these Cabinet appointments so far, Steve.

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR news analyst Juan Williams. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Juan Williams
Juan Williams, one of America's leading journalists, is a news analyst, appearing regularly on NPR's Morning Edition. Knowledgeable and charismatic, Williams brings insight and depth — hallmarks of NPR programs — to a wide spectrum of issues and ideas.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.