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Obama makes key Cabinet picks

/ Source: NBC News and news services

Just over two weeks after Barack Obama won the presidential election, his new Cabinet and economic team are starting to take shape.

Several key appointments, including State and Treasury Department secretaries, appear to be nearly done deals, with Democratic officials confirming Obama's intended nominees.

Hillary Clinton will give up her Senate seat and accept the nomination for secretary of state, The New York Times reported Friday.

NBC's Andrea Mitchell and Political Director Chuck Todd reported that Obama will unveil his economic team on Monday, with New York Federal Reserve President Tim Geithner likely taking the helm as Treasury secretary.

Wall Street got a boost of confidence following NBC's report. Stocks surged, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing up nearly 500 points.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the market's advance was because of a favorable consensus over Geithner or because investors are looking to pin down as many unknowns as possible about the new administration.

The Times said Clinton decided to take the secretary of state post after an additional discussion with President-elect Obama on his plans for foreign policy.

But senior Clinton adviser Philippe Reines said, "We're still in discussions, which are very much on track. Any reports beyond that are premature."

Clinton's post-holiday nomination?
NBC's Andrea Mitchell confirmed on Thursday night that the New York senator was poised to take the job, saying that Clinton would likely be nominated sometime after Thanksgiving.

Transition sources and Democratic officials told NBC News that the Obama team and the Clintons have worked out potential problems, including complex financial disclosure issues for former President Bill Clinton and his international foundation, which operates in 27 countries.

Some Democrats and government insiders have questioned whether Clinton is too independent and politically ambitious to be an effective secretary of state.

But a senior Obama adviser said the president-elect has been enthusiastic about naming Clinton to the post from the start, believing she would bring instant stature and credibility to U.S. diplomatic relations and that the advantages to her serving far outweigh potential downsides.

Geithner, Obama's pick for Treasury secretary, has worked at the Treasury Department during three administrations and under five secretaries, dating to 1988.

Geithner has also been a key player during the recent economic crisis — helping current Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and his team manage Wall Street bailout plans.

Wall Street surge following news
In addition, some on Wall Street have grown frustrated with outgoing Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson over his handling of the government's effort to rescue the banking system.

Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers — also reportedly considered for the post — may still play a major future role in the Obama administration, according to sources.

Summers came under fire from women's groups because of controversial comments he made about gender issues while president of Harvard University, but sources say the decision to choose Geithner had more to do with Obama's interest in "change" and getting someone new on the team.

Richardson tapped
Also expected Monday — an announcement that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will be named secretary of the Commerce Department.

Richardson, a former Democratic candidate for the presidency, was a United Nations ambassador and energy secretary under President Bill Clinton.

Obama is also likely to choose Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to be secretary of homeland security, top Obama advisers and several Democrats said Thursday.

The Obama advisers cautioned that no final decision has been made on putting Napolitano in charge of the Homeland Security Department, the massive agency created by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But the advisers said she was easily the top contender.

Thus far, Obama has informally selected Washington lawyer Eric Holder as attorney general and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as health secretary. But any plans could be sidetracked by unexpected glitches in the final vetting process, officials note.

Additionally, retired Gen. James Jones, a former Marine Corps commandant and NATO commander, was among those under consideration for national security adviser. James Steinberg, an Obama campaign aide who served in Clinton's White House, was another possibility, according to officials.

Obama faces unusual challenges and has moved swiftly in assembling his team. Former President George H. W. Bush made his first Cabinet pick the day after his election in 1988, but former President Clinton did not name any members until after Thanksgiving. The current President Bush's transition was delayed by the contested result in Florida.

Obama also is filling out the ranks of his White House staff.

He named Patrick Gaspard as his political director. Gaspard was Obama's national political director during the general election campaign, and has long ties to labor.

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