Most diverse Cabinet in history still incomplete

ByRichard Wolf, USA TODAY
April 20, 2009, 1:13 AM

WASHINGTON -- Three months after taking office, President Obama will convene his first Cabinet meeting on Monday — still one seat short of a complete Cabinet.

Eager to promote budget-cutting efforts by all federal agencies, Obama will hold the meeting a day before the Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to vote on his last nominee, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, as secretary of Health and Human Services.

Outside experts say Obama's Cabinet is among the latest to be filled since Inauguration Day was moved up six weeks, to Jan. 20, in 1937. The delays were caused by ethics problems that forced his first nominees for the Commerce and Health and Human Services departments to withdraw, and the more extensive vetting process that followed.

If she is confirmed by the Senate, Sebelius will complete a Cabinet that experts say is the most diverse in history. It will have seven women and nine racial and ethnic minorities among its 21 members — and only eight white men. Average age: 54.

"He has a majority-minority Cabinet," says Paul Light, an expert on presidential appointments at New York University. "In terms of white males, they're in the minority now."

Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president, had five women and six minorities in a first Cabinet that he said "looks like America" — one more in each category than George W. Bush had. Obama has shattered those numbers:

• There will be seven women with Sebelius, led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

• There are four African-Americans, including the first as attorney general, Eric Holder. There are three Asian-Americans and two Hispanics.

• Seven Cabinet members are in their 40s, eight in their 50s and six in their 60s. The youngest is Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, who just turned 40. The oldest is Eric Shinseki, 66, who heads the Department of Veterans Affairs.

• The closest Obama comes to having a southerner is former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, the U.S. trade representative. Three each hail from California, New York, the District of Columbia and Obama's home state of Illinois.

• The president has a preference for previous office-holders. His Cabinet includes four former governors, two ex-senators, and three former House members.

• Obama's effort to have a bipartisan Cabinet was set back a bit when his second Commerce secretary nominee, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, withdrew because of ideological differences. That leaves former GOP congressman Ray LaHood of Illinois as Transportation secretary and Robert Gates, a holdover from Bush's administration who considers himself a Republican, as Defense secretary.

The delay in completing the Cabinet hasn't stopped Obama's major initiatives. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's confirmation was stalled because he underpaid federal income taxes for several years, and his top deputies still aren't confirmed. Yet the administration pushed through a $787 billion economic stimulus package and other recession-fighting measures.

Obama called for overhauling the nation's health care system for the first time since Clinton's failed effort in 1994, without the benefit of a Health and Human Services secretary. His first nominee, former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, withdrew because of tax underpayments.

The delay is the longest in at least 20 years. Dick Cheney became President George H.W. Bush's Defense secretary in March 1989. Janet Reno became Clinton's attorney general in March 1993. "Any organization works better when there's somebody sitting in the first chair," says Calvin Mackenzie, government professor at Colby College.

Who's who in Obama's Cabinet

President Obama holds his first Cabinet meeting on Monday, but the Cabinet still isn't complete. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' nomination as secretary of Health and Human Services is scheduled for a Senate committee vote Tuesday, which could lead to Senate confirmation this week. That would complete the Cabinet:

Source: USA TODAY research

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