Sunday, January 27, 2013

Republicans Bristle at Obama's New Roster

President Barack Obama's most recent nominations and appointments show that he is assembling a muscular senior team of trusted allies to carry out his second-term plans, without concern for Republican sensitivities, some GOP officials say.

With his second-term appointments largely complete, the president has built a cadre of officials and aides that some say is more for combat than consensus—to execute policies rooted in the Democratic ideals laid out in his inaugural speech last week.

By contrast, midway through his first term the president named William Daley as his chief of staff, choosing someone with ties to the corporate world in an overture to Republicans and business leaders.

On Friday, Mr. Obama announced he was naming someone of a different mold as his top aide: Denis McDonough, a longtime deputy with no independent political base, whose primary purpose will be to put in place the president's policies.

Mr. Obama wants to elevate his current chief of staff, Jack Lew, to Treasury secretary, though Republicans soured on Mr. Lew during the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. Some Republicans who worked with Mr. Lew said he spent hours in fruitless attempts to persuade Republicans that their position was the wrong one.

Earlier this month, Mr. Obama nominated as his defense secretary former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, whom critics describe as an ersatz Republican who broke party ranks and endorsed Mr. Obama in the 2008 presidential race. Mr. Hagel will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday for his confirmation hearing.

Senate Republicans are expected to zero in on Mr. Hagel's vote in opposition to naming the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and to question a comment he once made about the "Jewish lobby."

Appearing Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) was asked if, in a private meeting last week, Mr. Hagel had addressed his concerns.

"Not really," Mr. McCain said.

Another battle with Republicans may lie ahead: Mr. Obama will soon name a new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and he is likely to choose someone in sync with the aggressive approach he hinted at in his inaugural speech. In that address, Mr. Obama gave an unusually prominent warning about the threat of climate change. His best option for rolling back greenhouse-gas emissions rests with the EPA, which won a string of recent court cases upholding its authority to regulate the pollutants.

"You've gone through a lot of legislative achievement in the first term, and execution is everything in a second term," said John Podesta, who has close ties to the White House and who served as chief of staff under Bill Clinton. "So he has a clear strategy. … And what he needs are people who can execute that strategy."

Ken Duberstein, who served as chief of staff in Ronald Reagan's second term, said Mr. Obama might rethink his approach and find ways to compromise. "He has to do it if he is to accomplish his broad agenda," he said. "You can't just do it by sticking your finger in people's eyes."

Mr. Obama has four more years in office. But in practical terms, he needs to move quickly to advance his domestic agenda. A re-elected president has finite political capital and a compressed period to act before Congress is diverted by the midterm elections and then the next presidential election.

Were Mr. Obama inclined to reach out to Republicans, he might not have renominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In making the Cordray announcement last week, the president renewed a fight with Senate Republicans who have said they want changes in the bureau's structure as the price of confirming a nominee.

Mr. Obama seems unmoved by that argument, which has angered Republicans.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.), a member of the Senate committee that will conduct Mr. Cordray's confirmation hearing, called the renomination "a troublesome situation."

"We just wanted the opportunity to try to bring some common sense remedies to what we saw as a very flawed system," Mr. Johanns added. "I have misgivings about that nomination. It's very possible I won't be able to support him."

More insight into the president's second-term approach may come when he nominates an EPA administrator. Both environmentalists and oil-and-coal industry lobbyists have said they would approve of an internal choice, such as Bob Perciasepe, currently the No. 2 EPA official. Mr. Perciasepe helped negotiate vehicle fuel-economy rules during Mr. Obama's first term and is viewed by both sides as a person who seeks common ground.

But the president could make a more assertive statement by choosing an official who has waged climate battles, such as former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, who signed an emissions-cutting law.

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