March 25, 2009 -- On Jan. 20, President Obama inherited a nation in financial turmoil and waging wars on two fronts overseas, which made a quick, smooth transition imperative.
Obama has been working hard to select his Cabinet and administration to stand beside him through that shift. But several of the people he selected to navigate those challenges hit bumps in the road during the confirmation process. Obama's initial picks for secretary of Commerce and secretary of Health and Human Services had both withdrawn by early February. Several chosen by the president also faced questions about their taxes as their histories were examined in the early weeks of Obama's presidency.
Here are Obama's picks:
Obama's Foreign and National Security Leaders
Former Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. was officially announced as Obama's secretary of state Dec. 1, just months after she lost her own historic bid to become the first female president. On Jan. 13, Clinton faced tough questions on her husband's charity work during her confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate but was confirmed the day after Obama's inauguration. During the primaries, Clinton and Obama fought each other over foreign policy, especially the Iraq War. Clinton voted to authorize President Bush's use of force against Saddam Hussein in 2003, but during her campaign, she denounced the war. Perhaps the most infamous episode during the campaign occurred when Clinton claimed in a speech that on a trip to Bosnia in 1996, she had landed under "sniper fire." Only a video from her trip later showed that Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, had walked calmly off the plane in Tuzla, forcing her to take back her words. Clinton served as New York's junior senator beginning in 2001, and sat on the Armed Services, Budget, Health, and Environment and Public Works committees. In 1996, Clinton published her best-selling book, "It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us." She won a Grammy award for the recorded version.
Susan Rice, picked as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has her work cut out for her. Under the Bush administration, relations between the U.S. and the U.N. became strained, with many unhappy with the unilateral goals of the U.S. government and the means with which it pursued them -- including the invasion of Iraq. With a new administration, there is a hope at U.N. headquarters that "business as usual" with the United States will change. Rice's experience in government includes serving on the National Security Council during the first Clinton administration, where for two years she was special assistant to the president and senior director for African affairs. In 1997, she became assistant secretary of state for African Affairs. During her tenure, the twin embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania took place, giving her exposure to al Qaeda. In 2002, she joined the Brookings Institution and during the 2004 presidential campaign, she was an adviser to Sen. John Kerry. During the 2008 presidential campaign, she was a top foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama, and it appears that her counsel, wisdom and advice, along with her experience, have earned her the trust of President Obama.
Two-term Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano was confirmed to lead the Department of Homeland Security on Inauguration Day. Napolitano, who served as adviser on Obama's transition team, is the first female Homeland Security secretary. An early supporter of the president, Napolitano has been a popular Democrat in Republican-leaning Arizona, which went to native son Sen. John McCain in the November election.
Napolitano was Arizona's first female attorney general before her appointment as governor. She has been outspoken on immigration issues and has been an advocate of more federal government responsibility in border control issues.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- a registered independent -- will be staying on in the top Pentagon job for at least the first year of the Obama administration. Obama has indicated he wants a bipartisan Cabinet, and keeping Gates in his position might avert criticism of partisanship. Gates was appointed by president Bush in 2006 following Donald Rumsfeld's departure. Before taking the top job at Defense, Gates served as president of Texas A&M University but had spent a lifetime in intelligence and military, having worked as an adviser to President Reagan and as CIA director from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush.
Marine General James L. Jones will serve as Obama's National Security Advisor. The 64-year-old served for 40 years in the Marine Corps, rising from a platoon commander in Vietnam to Commandant of the Marine Corps and later served as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. Since retiring last year as a four-star general, he served as the Bush administration's special envoy for Middle East security and chaired the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, a blue ribbon panel appointed by Congress that assessed the readiness of Iraqi troops. As National Security Adviser, Jones will serve as President Obama's chief adviser on national security affairs and help coordinate the interagency efforts of the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community. Some of the national security issues Jones will face include the management of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and combating the terrorist threat in Pakistan; and containing the nuclear aspirations of an ambitious Iran and a flip-flopping North Korea.
On Jan. 28, 2009, the Senate confirmed retired Navy Adm. Dennis Blair to be director of national intelligence. Blair was the top contender for the post since the beginning, but sources initially said "Hill problems" could keep him from being confirmed. Some Democrats had pressed Obama to keep Mike McConnell, former President Bush's intel chief, to ensure a smooth transition. Blair is only the third person to serve as the nation's most important intelligence officer. The post was created in 2004 as part of the intelligence community reforms that followed the attacks of Sept. 11. The goal of the director of national intelligence is to streamline the gathering and analysis from the 16 different agencies that make up the intelligence community. Blair last held a job in government in 2002, when he retired -- after 30 years in the U.S. Navy -- as leader of U.S. Pacific Command.
Obama tapped former California Congressman Leon Panetta as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Panetta was confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 12, 2009. Panetta previously served as President Clinton's White House chief of staff, but throughout the confirmation process critics said he lacked hands-on intelligence experience, other than time spent in the Army, from which he was discharged in 1966. While some in the CIA approved his pick, some former top CIA officials said that the choice could have a chilling effect on the agency. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also expressed concern about Panetta's appointment, saying that "the agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time." Still, Obama officials defended their pick, saying Panetta had gained extensive intelligence experience during his time in the White House. Human rights groups also applauded the pick. ABC News learned that initially Obama may have been considering retaining Michael Hayden for the post but that may have changed because Hayden took a lot of heat for defending and implementing the Bush administration's counterterrorism strategies, including waterboarding and wiretapping. Panetta has stated in an Op-Ed that "torture is illegal, immoral, dangerous and counterproductive." As CIA director, Panetta would report to Dennis Blair.
Obama's Economic and Health Leaders
Obama announced his economic team Nov. 24, including his selection of Timothy J. Geithner to be secretary of treasury. At the time, Geithner was president of the New York Federal Reserve and well-known on Wall Street, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared almost 500 points Nov. 21 when the news of Obama's pick leaked out. Similarities between Geithner and the President are clear at every turn. Geithner was confirmed on Jan. 26, 2009 after relatively tough confirmation proceedings. The Senate voted 60-34 in Geithner's favor after examining questions about his failure to pay the correct amount of taxes on time, and employing a housekeeper whose work authorization had expired.
Obama had paged CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta for the post of surgeon general in early January. But Obama never made an official announcement and Gupta said he was taking himself out of the running in early March. CNN cited his desire to continue working instead as a neurosurgeon and CNN medical analyst. At the time, Gupta's wife was pregnant with their third child.
Obama's third pick for Commerce Secretary is former Washington governor Gary Locke, the first Chinese-American governor in the country. The president's first pick, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, bowed out on Jan. 4, 2009, amid questions about whether he played any part in a "pay-to-play" scheme. Obama's second choice, Republican senator Judd Gregg likewise withdrew from consideration on Feb. 12, 2009, citing differences over policy with the Obama White House. The Senate vote to confirm Locke for the job on March 24, 2009.
On Dec. 19, 2008, Obama announced his selection of Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., for secretary of labor. In early January, Solis told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that, at the helm of the Labor Department, she would give priority to fair pay, retirement security and investing in work force development and job growth. One of seven children whose mother emigrated from Nicaragua and whose father worked as a Teamsters shop steward, Solis said, "My passion for improving opportunities for middle-class Americans is the product of my life story." Senators voted 80-17 Feb. 24 to confirm Solis for the position. Solis, from east Los Angeles, became a U.S. House representative in 2001 after many years as a California state lawmaker. She became California's first Latina state senator in 1994.
Barack Obama tapped 81-year-old Paul Volcker to chair the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which will be responsible for offering independent, non-partisan economic analysis and advice to Obama. Volcker served as Federal Reserve Chairman under presidents Carter and Reagan. He has been criticized for driving up interest rates during his time but is also known for cutting inflation. One of Obama's top economic advisors during the campaign, Volcker has been a staunch proponent of government regulation. Austan Goolsbee, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, will serve as Staff Director and Chief Economist of the Recovery Advisory Board and act as the primary liaison between the Board and the Administration.
Larry Summers has been picked to lead Obama's National Economic Council. Summers was Treasury secretary under Clinton and became president of Harvard University after leaving Treasury in 2001. He resigned from his post at Harvard a year after making a controversial speech about women's success in math and science careers.
Before serving in the Clinton administration, Summers was one of the youngest tenured professors in Harvard's history, served as chief economist of the World Bank, and worked as an economic adviser in the Reagan administration. Summers' appointment to the National Economic Council does not require Senate confirmation.
To lead the Council of Economic Advisers, which is in the executive office of the president, Obama selected Christina Romer. Romer is a well-respected economist and economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Previous chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers include Ben Bernanke, Greg Mankiw, Laura D'Andrea Tyson, and Alan Greenspan.
Obama also announced that Melody Barnes would be director of the Domestic Policy Council. Barnes was the executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress. She has also served as Sen. Edward Kennedy's chief counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee and as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's director of legislative affairs.
Dallas' first black mayor, Ron Kirk, was confirmed by the Senate on March 18 to be U.S. trade representative. Kirk ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Senate in 2002, but lost to Republican John Cornyn. Kirk, a native Texan, has had a lengthy political career, having served as secretary of state in the administration of former Gov. Ann Richards and as a lobbyist on behalf of the city of Dallas to the Texas legislature. After stepping down as mayor, Kirk worked for the Houston-based law firm Vinson and Elkins, which represents several airline companies and lobbied Congress for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit and Southwest Airlines.
On March 2, Obama announced his selection of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to be the nation's next secretary of Health and Human Services. Sebelius is the president's second choice for the position. Obama named her for the job after former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., withdrew his nomination. Daschle's exit came after the public learned he'd failed to pay more than $120,000 in taxes.
On March 2, Obama also announced Nancy-Ann DeParle as his pick for director of the White House Office for Health Reform. The president had originally intended to have Daschle fill both posts.
The HHS Secretary will guide critical, high-profile federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the National Institutes of Health. Before serving as governor of Kansas, Sebelius also served as a two-term state insurance commissioner, helped draft a proposed national bill of rights for patients and served as the president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
Obama's Energy and Environment Picks
President Obama nominated Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu as Department of Energy secretary. Chu was confirmed by the Senate on Inauguration Day, becoming the first Nobel laureate serve in a Cabinet position. Chu was part of a three-man team that won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1997 for developing and advancing methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light. Before entering the Obama administration, he taught physics and molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley and served as the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Former Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., was confirmed as secretary of the Department of Interior on Inauguration Day. Obama has said the Interior secretary will play a "critical role" in working with energy and environmental appointees on energy independence. Salazar, formerly a farmer, was elected as a senator in November 2004 after serving as attorney general for six years. His political portfolio also includes a stint on the staff of Gov. Roy Romer as chief legal counsel and executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Salazar's older brother, John, was elected to Congress at the same time as his brother.
More of Obama's Cabinet
Obama announced retired Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki for secretary of Veterans Affairs on Dec. 7. In his former job, Shinseki clashed with the Bush administration about troop levels in Iraq before his retirement. He'll now be tasked with helping those troops make the transition to becoming veterans. Shinseki is the first Asian-American named to Obama's Cabinet. The Senate Veterans Affairs panel held a hearing on Shinseki's nomination of Jan. 14 but did not take a vote on whether to approve him. Instead the full Senate confirmed the nomination by voice vote on Inauguration Day, making Shinseki's new position official.
Obama nominated Shaun Donovan to his Cabinet as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. In his radio address on Dec. 13, Obama praised the New York City housing commissioner for his efforts in creating the "largest housing plan in the nation" and "helping hundreds of thousands of our citizens buy or rent their homes." The native New Yorker led a $7.5 billion proposed plan that entails adding 165,000 reasonably-priced homes to New York's expensive housing stock by 2013. Like several of Obama's Cabinet appointments, Donovan is also an alumni of the Clinton administration, serving as a deputy assistant secretary at HUD.
Washington lawyer Eric Holder is Obama's selection for attorney general. Holder, 57, was the first black to hold several top Justice Department positions and is likewise the first black attorney general.
During the Clinton administration, Holder served as deputy attorney general, working under then-Attorney General Janet Reno. While at the Justice Department, Holder was viewed as a centrist on most law enforcement issues, though he has sharply criticized the secrecy and the expansive views of executive power advanced by the Bush Justice Department. Holder faced a tough audience during his confirmation hearings, addressing old controversies of Clinton-era pardons. The Senate voted 75-21 to confirm him on Feb 2.
White House Staff Picks
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., has accepted the position of White House chief of staff. A veteran of the Clinton administration and a close Obama political ally from Chicago, Emanuel brings experience, knowledge of Capitol Hill and a sense of duty and loyalty. Obama reportedly told associates, according to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, that he believes Emanuel will "have his back."
Emanuel served 6½ years under Clinton and has been a member of Congress for four terms. He has moved up through the congressional ranks and knows how to work Washington. While these are certainly qualifications for his new job, they also may have posed some reservations in him accepting the position. Emanuel was said to have ambitions to someday be House speaker. He also has young children and cited his family as a big consideration when making the decision.
Obama chief campaign strategist David Axelrod has been tapped to be White House senior advisor. The Chicago native has known the president-elect since 1993, longer than anyone else in Obama's inner circle. He is widely credited for helping Obama's political ascent and has been on the forefront of his campaign.
In his acceptance speech, Obama said Axelrod has been "a partner with me every step of the way." Axelrod is not new to the political scene. He has advised several Democratic candidates since 1985 and is reportedly close friends with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.
In a profile of Axelrod, the Los Angeles Times cited a description of him as "Obama's answer to Karl Rove and the most powerful political consultant not on a coast." Axelrod has said he became interested in politics at the age of 5, when he watched John F. Kennedy become president.
Robert Gibbs, one of Obama's top aides, is Obama's White House press secretary. Gibbs helped lead the campaign's communication team as the senior strategist for communications and message.
The 37-year-old Alabama native is a regular on cable news and the morning talk show circuit. Despite the occasional sparring with "Fox and Friends" host Sean Hannity, the lighthearted Gibbs is said to have a good rapport with reporters.
The new White House podium dweller is a longtime Obama loyalist and has been a constant force on the trail ever since the president first ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004. Before working for Obama, Gibbs was an aide to Sen. John Kerry in 2003. He left the Kerry campaign before Kerry clinched the 2004 presidential nomination.
Obama nominated Peter Orszag as director of the Office of Management and Budget director. Orszag, confirmed by the Senate on Jan. 20, previously served as the seventh director of the Congressional Budget Office, a job he began in January 2007. During his term, he was credited for his work on health care and climate issues. Like many other Cabinet picks, Orszag is a veteran of the Clinton White House where he previously served as an economic adviser.
Close Obama family friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett is serving as a White House adviser. An Obama campaign source tells ABC News that Jarrett has been named senior advisor and assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations and public liaison.
John Podesta heads up Obama's transition team. Podesta served as White House chief of staff under Clinton from October 1998 until the end of his term and is currently the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress.
ABC News' Martha Raddatz, Richard Coolidge, Kirit Radia, Luis Martinez, Jake Tapper, Huma Khan, Sunlen Miller, Nitya Venkataraman, Matt Jaffe and Kate Barrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.