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Obama Picks Rep. Hilda Solis as Labor Secretary

posted on December 19, 2008

CHICAGO (AP) - Nearing completion of his cabinet, President-elect Barack Obama has selected Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D., Calif.) as his labor secretary and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk as U.S. trade representative, officials said yesterday.

Obama planned to announce those selections as early as today along with that of Rep. Ray LaHood (R., Ill.) for transportation secretary and perhaps others.

Democratic officials also said that Dennis Blair, a retired admiral and the former head of U.S. Pacific Command, was a leading contender to become director of national intelligence.

Yesterday, Obama named three veteran regulators to help clean up financial debacles. Amid a year-old, still-deepening recession, Obama blamed government regulators who "dropped the ball" for much of the nation's economic troubles, and he called for a return to ethics and tough enforcement.

The officials who talked about the selections spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss positions not yet announced.

Solis, 51, the daughter of Mexican and Nicaraguan immigrants, has focused on immigration and environment issues while in the House. Kirk, 54, a partner in the Texas powerhouse law and lobbying firm of Vinson & Elkins, was the first black elected mayor of Dallas.

Obama is trying to get most of his major appointments out of the way before heading to Hawaii for a holiday vacation and has held a news conference each day this week to announce top nominees. He has yet to announce senior intelligence positions, and numerous sub-cabinet posts remain unfilled.

Yesterday, Obama introduced Securities and Exchange Commission veteran Mary Schapiro as his pick to head the SEC, former Treasury Department official Gary Gensler to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and law professor Daniel Tarullo to fill an empty Federal Reserve seat. All three must be confirmed by the Senate.

Obama pointed to Wall Street money manager Bernard Madoff, under investigation in an alleged $50 billion fraud, saying the scandal underscored the need for tougher regulators. It "has reminded us yet again of how badly reform is needed," he said.

Obama said his team would help put in place new rules that would help "crack down on the culture of greed and scheming."

"There needs to be a shift in ethics on Wall Street," he said.

As Obama spoke in Chicago, the White House said it was considering "orderly" bankruptcy organized by the federal government as a possible way to deal with the desperately ailing U.S. auto industry. Obama did not immediately comment on the idea.

He would not say whether he would support a decision by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson to tap the second $350 billion installment of the $700 billion financial bailout program. Major automakers are pleading for emergency aid, which could come from that pot.

"I think it's important that the Treasury, the Fed and all of us do whatever's required to make sure that our financial system is stable and secure," Obama said. But he added: "We cannot afford a collapse of our financial system. Main Street can't afford it." He said he would evaluate any Paulson signals about what is necessary.

More broadly, Obama blamed regulators for the financial debacle, saying that they, along with congressional committees, "have been asleep at the switch."

Americans, as they watch their investments tank, are frustrated that "there's not a lot of adult supervision out there," Obama added.

Schapiro, who would be Obama's top Wall Street regulator and investor protector, said investor trust was "the lifeblood of financial markets." She called for tough enforcement action by incoming regulators.

If confirmed, she would take over an agency that faces growing criticism for its failure to protect investors and detect trouble brewing on Wall Street. As the Madoff scandal continues to stun the financial world, revelations have surfaced that staff at the SEC repeatedly failed over a decade to fully investigate credible allegations against him.

Gensler, a Treasury Department official in the Clinton administration, would lead the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, an independent agency created by Congress to regulate trading in the commodity-futures and option markets.

Tarullo, a Georgetown University law professor who also worked for President Bill Clinton, would fill an open seat on the Federal Reserve board. All the present Fed board members, including chairman Ben S. Bernanke, were picked by President Bush. Tarullo would fill one of two vacant seats on the seven-member board.

Tags: Barack Obama government jobs news presidents