January 18, 2017
President Obama is making one last push to secure appointments for dozens of political allies, celebrity athletes and members of his administration before he leaves office Friday.
The White House announced a wave of nearly 60 appointments earlier this week to relatively obscure commissions, boards and other bodies — which, despite being largely unpaid positions, still offer a degree of prestige and influence for those chosen.
These assignments included:
- National Security Adviser Susan Rice and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett as general trustees of the Board of Trustees for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
- Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and former Michelle Obama head speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz as members of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
- Deputy National Security Adviser Avril Haines as a member of the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service.
- Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law, Marjorie Margolies, as a member on the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.
It is not unusual for presidents to find such positions for allies in the last days of their tenure. President George W. Bush also announced late appointments at the beginning of his final month in the White House.
But former Bush senior adviser Karl Rove, a Fox News contributor, said there was one notable difference.
“If he has vacancies on these boards, he can certainly fill those, but what’s unusual is that a lot of them seem to require Senate confirmation,” he told FoxNews.com. “We made similar moves, but probably had our act together and had fewer slots to fill.”
David Goodfriend, former deputy staff secretary to President Bill Clinton, told FoxNews.com “there is nothing wrong” with such appointments.
“They’re all Americans and great public servants and we’re lucky to have them continue to serve,” he said.
In addition to the current and former administration staffers, Obama also appointed to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition:
- Retired NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, also a vocal critic of President-elect Donald Trump
- Gabrielle Douglas, U.S. Olympic gymnast gold medalist
- American soccer player Carli Lloyd
The term limits for these posts range from four years to life.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest, at his final White House press briefing on Tuesday, defended the late appointments for friends and allies.
“This is sending a clear signal to Congress about who are the people who are qualified for these jobs, and this can send clear signals, both in terms of career trajectory, and that the president has confidence in their ability,” Earnest said in the briefing. “Even if they’re not confirmed, there may be future opportunities where they can continue to serve the United States.”
Earnest wrapped by saying there are “many deserving Americans” put forward by the administration that were treated in “breathtakingly unfair ways” by Congress.
“That’s a source of disappointment we continue to feel,” Earnest said.
Richard Painter, White House ethics attorney under George W. Bush, told FoxNews.com that while there were a large number of appointments, they were to relatively low-level posts.
“You have a 98 percent takeover by the new administration, but you will have some people on these boards who are carryovers, and I think that’s good for the bipartisan nature of this country,” Painter said. “It’s a quite dramatic shift from one party to another, and it works, but I do think there should be some participation from Democrats in this new administration — you’ll have Democrats working with Republicans, and it will help socially.”
Trump would appear to have limited say for many of the appointees if they’re confirmed. Only a few of the posts Obama filled have term limits that specify they “serve at the discretion of the President,” meaning Trump could ask them to step down.
“Trump will do the same thing at the end of his presidency — he’ll use his powers to the bitter end,” Goodfriend said. “And he’s allowed to do that — they all are — that’s what the Constitution says.”