Obama Picks a Fight—and He’ll Get One

National Journal

IN THE NEWS: Three-pack of Obama nominees: EPA, Energy, OMB ... Administration: sequester already impacting air travel ... House looking to reinstate some defense cuts ... First Lady has advice on dog diet, exercise ... Mark Sanford's job offer for ex-wife


Obama Picks a Fight—and He’ll Get One

A Rhodes Scholar, a physicist, a loyal deputy — these are the president’s latest and last cabinet picks.

By choosing Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Obama went with an experienced hand at the Office of Management and Budget — a former OMB deputy director, chief of staff to then- Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, a deputy White House Chief of Staff, and, most recently, head of the Walmart Foundation. She’ll get cheers from Capitol Hill Republicans.

Ernest Moniz, who has been tapped to replace Energy Secretary Steven Chu, is an academic, but also an experienced government hand. He’ll get some sniping from the GOP, but there’s not much there to stop him.

But Gina McCarthy, Obama’s nod to head the Environmental Protection Agency, will be the Chuck Hagel nomination of this tranche. She was behind lots of the EPA rules that have inflamed coal interests and congressional Republicans. Picking her, Obama knew he’d have another fight on his hands. It’s one he relishes, given the Democratic Party’s environmental base — and one he’ll get.

Matthew Cooper


ADMINISTRATION: SEQUESTER ALREADY CAUSING AIRPORT DELAYS. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is warning passengers that the sequester is already causing delays at the nation’s airports, Reuters reports. Overtime for Transportation Security Administration and Customs workers has already been cut, and a hiring freeze has gone into effect. Soon, furloughs will exacerbate the problem, she said. “And please don’t yell at the Customs officers or the TSA officers,” Napolitano pleaded. “They are not responsible for the sequester.” Read more

THE CABINET, PART I: OBAMA TAPS MIT PROFESSOR TO HEAD ENERGY. President Obama has again chosen to appoint a scientist rather than a politician to head the Energy Department. On Monday, he nominated MIT professor Ernest Moniz, long-rumored for the post, to succeed Steven Chu as Energy secretary. Moniz is an advocate of nuclear energy and has spoken favorably about America’s natural-gas boom. Sen. Lisa Murkwoski, R-Alaska, ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has signaled her openness to a Moniz nomination, offering the administration hope of a smooth confirmation. Read more

  • Check out National Journal's visual guide to Obama’s second administration picks.

THE CABINET, PART II: FORMER ROMNEY ADVISER NOMINATED FOR EPA. The president on Monday also nominated another long-rumored candidate, Gina McCarthy, to head the Environmental Protection Agency . McCarthy, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, has served as a top environmental administrator to five Massachusetts governors, including Republican Mitt Romney, and has a history of working successfully with industry. Still, she’s expected to face a bruising confirmation fight from Republican climate-change deniers and allies of the coal industry. Read more

THE CABINET, PART III: WALMART FOUNDATION HEAD PICKED TO LEAD OMB. Perhaps hoping that good things come in threes, Obama announced Walmart Foundation President Sylvia Mathews Burwell as his choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget. Expect an easy confirmation, writes National Journal’s Matthew Cooper, but she’s got a brutal job ahead of her as OMB director. Read more

HOUSE LOOKING TO REINSTATE DEFENSE CUTS THROUGH THE CR. The House plans to take up a continuing resolution this week to keep the government funded through the end of the current fiscal year. The bill, written by Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., includes language already negotiated with the Senate to give the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs some flexibility to manage the severity of the spending cuts mandated by the sequester. Politico reports that House Republicans will seek to restore roughly $7 billion in Defense-related operations and maintenance budgets. Read more

GET TO KNOW THE CHIEFS OF STAFFS FOR FROSH SENATORS. The top aides to the Senate’s freshman class have their work cut out for them as they seek to simultaneously make sure their bosses are up to speed on issues while keeping the logistics straight on moving into offices and hiring staff. Here are chiefs of staff to know for five of the Senate’s new members, including Ted Cruz, R-Texas and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who are poised to play key roles this Congress. Read more

DHS SECRETARY CALLS IMMIGRATION REFORM ‘NO. 1 PRIORITY.’ Homeland Security  Secretary Janet Napolitano called immigration “our No. 1 priority in terms of legislation,” Monday morning, but noted that the sequester and other budget planning problems have forced her department to release several hundred low-risk immigrant detainees. Napolitano was joined by her two predecessors, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff. “We’ve had three secretaries that had to do triage because Congress cannot find a way to create an immigration policy” Ridge said. Read more

SYRIAN REBELS REPORTEDLY TAKE KEY CITY. In a potentially significant turn in the nearly two-year old civil war, rebel fighters in Syria have reportedly taken the northern city of Raqqa, a provincial capital, The New York Times reports, after days of fierce fighting. The rebels smashed the statue of Bashar al-Assad’s father and occupied the governor’s palace. Read more

FIRST LADY HAS ADVICE ON DOG DIET, EXERCISE. In her Google hangout today, first lady Michelle Obama had lots of ideas for keeping families healthy and active. Then the conversation turned to pets. The first lady said President Obama teases Bo, the “first dog,” for being lazy: “Dogs are no different,” from humans, she said, adding, “You want to make sure they are eating a balanced diet, and if they are not an active dog, make sure that their food is reflective of an inactive dog and then get them out there and throw that ball and get them running.” The headline atop Drudgereport.com: “Michelle goes to the dogs.” Read more


HOUSE COMMITTEE HEARING ON ‘VIOLENCE AND SEVERE MENTAL ILLNESS.’  The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will hold a hearing Tuesday entitled “After Newtown: A National Conversation on Violence and Severe Mental Illness.” Among those testifying will be Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute for Mental Health; Harold Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute; and parents of children who suffer from mental illnesses. Read more

ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEES TO GET EARFUL ON SEQUESTER. Marine Gen. James Mattis, who heads the U.S. Central Command, and Adm. William McRaven, who commands the U.S. Special Operations Command, are testifying before a Senate committee Tuesday and a House panel Wednesday about the threats in their areas of responsibility, as well as the impact a sequester and a continuing resolution may have on U.S. forces. Read more

HOUSE JUDICIARY TO TAKE UP HIGH-SKILLED IMMIGRATION. The House is proceeding with more hearings on isolated pieces of immigration policy. On Tuesday, House Judiciary’s Immigration Subcommittee will tackle one of the less controversial topics: skilled immigration and enhancing America’s competitiveness. Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has refused to speculate on the broad legislation being discussed in the Senate, saying lawmakers should proceed slowly and cautiously. Read more


UNDERSTANDING THE AARON SWARTZ PHENOMENON. The New Yorker attempts to get to the bottom of the Aaron Swartz phenomenon — not just the federal prosecution and suicide of the internet wunderkind, but also why his death resonated with so many people the world over. At one point, author Larissa MacFarquahar writes that Swartz, who was the co-founder of the site Reddit and a former Capitol Hill intern, began to disdain computers. “In the last years of his life, he decided that he disliked programming, that computers were awful in many ways, and that there were things more interesting than freedom of information,” she writes. “He would have liked to give up computers altogether. In the summer of 2009, he spent a month offline—no computer, no phone; mostly he just sat in his apartment and read—and he always described this month as the happiest of his life.” Read more


"He keeps calling my office and wants to know if I'll sit down with him. I'm saying 'no' because I know it's not going to turn out well for me, right? Well, then they tell me he's going to play a Democrat. I said, 'Sure, come on in!'" —House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on meeting with actor Kevin Spacey for his "House of Cards" role (Sacramento Bee).


MARK SANFORD TO EX-WIFE: ‘I COULD PAY YOU THIS TIME.’ Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford — the Republican who made headlines for going missing for six days in 2009 to pursue an affair — has asked his ex-wife to help him win a congressional seat — by working as his campaign manager. New York magazine quotes Jenny Sanford’s recollection of what her erstwhile husband told her: "Since you're not running, I want to know if you'll run my campaign. We could put the team back together,” Mark Sanford reportedly said. When he was rebuffed, he made one last appeal: “I could pay you this time." Read more


Sylvia Mathews Burwell

  • Why she is in the news:Nominated today by the president to lead the Office of Management and Budget.
  • Current Job: President of the Walmart Foundation
  • Born: 1965; Hinton, West Virginia.

Career Highlights

  • White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, 1997-98
  • Chief of Staff to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, 1995-97
  • President of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Global Development Division, 2006-11

Of Interest

  • After graduating Harvard in 1987, she attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar
  • A scholarship for political science students has been established in her honor at West Virginia University
  • Went on a 100-mile, two-day bike ride date with future husband Stephen Burwell.


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