President-elect Barack Obama announced Monday that Robert Gates would remain as defense secretary, making President Bush’s Pentagon chief his own as he seeks to wind down the U.S. role in Iraq. Obama picked former campaign rival Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.
At a news conference, Obama also introduced retired Marine Gen. James Jones as White House national security adviser, former Justice Department official Eric Holder as attorney general and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as secretary of homeland security.
The announcements rounded out the top tier of the team that will advise the incoming chief executive on foreign and national security issues in an era marked by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and terrorism around the globe.
“The time has come for a new beginning, a new dawn of American leadership to overcome the challenges of the 21st century,” Obama said as his Cabinet picks stood behind him on a flag-draped stage.
“We will strengthen our capacity to defeat our enemies and support our friends. We will renew old alliances and forge new and enduring partnerships.”
Obama said his appointees “share my pragmatism about the use of power, and my sense of purpose about America’s role as a leader in the world.”
Gates’ presence in Chicago made him a visible symbol of the transition in power from the Bush administration to one headed by Obama.
The president-elect, reprising a campaign vow, said he would give the military a new mission as soon as he takes office: “responsibly ending the war in Iraq through a successful transition to Iraqi control.” He did not mention his oft-repeated pledge to withdraw most U.S. combat troops within 16 months.
Clinton, Holder and Napolitano all require confirmation by the Senate.
Jones, as a White House official, does not. Nor does Gates, already confirmed to the post.
He also appointed campaign foreign policy aide Susan Rice as his ambassador to the United Nations. Obama said he would make her a member of the Cabinet, an increase in stature from the Bush era.
Obama’s announcements marked a shift in emphasis, after a spate of appointments last week for his economic team.
He now has selected half the members of his Cabinet, and is doing so at an unusually quick pace during his transition as he seeks to fulfill his goal of being able to “hit the ground running” when he takes the oath of office on Jan. 20.
Obama introduced Clinton first, saying of his former presidential rival, “She possesses an extraordinary intelligence and toughness, and a remarkable work ethic. … She is an American of tremendous stature who will have my complete confidence, who knows many of the world’s leaders, who will command respect in every capital, and who will clearly have the ability to advance our interests around the world.”
Clinton will give up her seat as a senator from New York to join the Obama Cabinet. Her appointment was preceded by lengthy negotiations involving her husband, the former president, whose international business connections posed potential conflicts of interests.
The former president also agreed to disclose the donors to the foundation that built his library, as well as contributors to his international foundation.
She said to Obama, in a brief turn at the lectern, “I am proud to join you … and may God bless you and our great country.”
Sen. Clinton had scarcely finished speaking when her husband issued a written statement. “She is the right person for the job of helping to restore America’s image abroad, end the war in Iraq, advance peace and increase our security, by building a future for our children with more partners and fewer adversaries, one of shared responsibilities and opportunities,” he said.
Gates said he was “mindful that we are engaged in two wars and face other serious challenges at home and around the world.”
“I must do my duty as they do theirs,” he said of the men and women in uniform in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. “How could I do otherwise?”
He said he was “honored to serve President-elect Obama.”
Gates’ appointment fulfilled a campaign promise by Obama, the naming of a Republican to his Cabinet.
Holder vowed to revitalize a Justice Department staggered by scandal during the Bush administration, both over the dismissal of federal prosecutors and the administration’s program of wiretapping as part of its war against terrorists.
Napolitano, like Clinton, must resign her current job. As a border state governor, she has experience with immigration issues, one of the pressing concerns that will confront the new administration.
Obama said Jones, his national security adviser, “will bring to the job the dual experience of serving in uniform and as a diplomat. He has commanded a platoon in battle, served as supreme allied commander in a time of war and worked on behalf of peace in the Middle East.”
The event was unlike those of last week, when Obama was the only one to speak. This time, he called on each of his appointees to make remarks, beginning with Clinton.
Vice President-elect Joe Biden said each member of the team shares the goals and the principles of the new administration that “strength and wisdom must go hand in hand,” and that America’s security “is not a partisan issue.”
Obama has settled on additional members of his Cabinet, although they have not yet been announced.
Among them are former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle to be his secretary of health and human services and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to be commerce secretary.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asked about Clinton at a news conference in London, said Monday: “I think that she will bring enormous energy and intellect and skill to the position.”
“Most important, I know her to be somebody who has what you need most in this job, which is a deep love for the United States of America,” Rice said. She added, “As to advice, I’ll give her that advice privately, and then she won’t — and you won’t — hear from me again.”
The decisions mean Obama has half of the 15-member Cabinet assembled less than a month after the election, including the most prominent positions at State, Justice, Treasury and Defense. With the world grappling with war, recession and terrorist threats that erupted this week during coordinated attacks in India, Obama was moving swiftly to try to bring reassurance and continuity in the federal government when he takes over in less than two months.
Clinton’s nomination is the latest chapter in what began as a bitter rivalry for the Democratic presidential nomination. To make it possible for his wife to become secretary of state, party officials said, former President Bill Clinton agreed to:
—Disclose the names of every contributor to his foundation since its inception in 1997 and all contributors going forward.
—Refuse donations from foreign governments to the Clinton Global Initiative, his annual charitable conference.
—Cease holding CGI meetings overseas.
—Volunteer to step away from day-to-day management of the foundation while his wife is secretary of state.
—Submit his speaking schedule to review by the State Department and White House counsel.
—Submit any new sources of income to a similar ethical review.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that he plans to vote to confirm Clinton.
Lugar said there would still be “legitimate questions” raised about the former president’s extensive international involvement. “I don’t know how, given all of our ethics standards now, anyone quite measures up to this who has such cosmic ties, but … hopefully, this team of rivals will work,” Lugar said.