White House photo
President Obama holds his first cabinet meeting in April 2009.
While we wait for the official announcement from President Obama about Chuck Hagel's nomination, it's worth pausing to note the larger context: as a candidate, Obama promised a bipartisan team, and whether one approves of the goal or not, it's a promise the president has kept.
Traditionally, this hasn't been much of an issue -- presidents were largely expected to create cabinets from their own party -- but Clinton added some Republicans to his team in the 1990s, including naming William Cohen to head the Pentagon, and when George W. Bush ran in 2000, he presented himself as a relative moderate by assuring voters there would be a Democrat in his cabinet, too.
Bush later tapped Norm Mineta to lead the Department of Transportation.
But even before Obama nominates Hagel as Secretary of Defense, as best as I can tell, this president has given more administration positions to Republicans than any modern president has given to members of the other party.
For all the talk on the right about Obama being a bitter partisan, the president made former Republican Rep. John McHugh the Secretary of the Army; he made former Republican Rep. Ray LaHood the Secretary of Transportation; he put former Republican Rep. Jim Leach in charge of the National Endowment for the Humanities; he named former Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman as U.S. Ambassador to China; and he put former Republican Rep. Anne Northup in charge of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Obama also kept Bush's Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, in his post, and for a while, nominated former Republican Sen. Judd Gregg as his Commerce Secretary. Indeed, Hagel has already been on the White House team, serving as a co-chairman of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board.
To be sure, opinions can vary widely as to whether this is a positive development or not.
There's a credible school of thought that suggests if Americans wanted Republicans in key administration posts, they would have elected a Republican president. For that matter, it's not as if Obama's GOP's detractors are giving him credit for crafting such a bipartisan team -- the right still considers the president a radical, left-wing partisan who refuses to reach out to Republicans, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
Still, for good or ill, this is largely what Obama promised the public four years ago, and at least in theory, it's what Americans say they like -- a leader who's not afraid to surround himself with a diverse group of advisors, including folks from the other party.