Obama taps Chicago schools chief

/ Source: The Associated Press

President-elect Barack Obama announced the head of the Chicago school system as his education secretary Tuesday and said failing to improve classroom instruction is "morally unacceptable for our children."

Obama announced Arne Duncan's appointment at a school that he said has made remarkable progress under Duncan's leadership. "When it comes to school reform, Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners," Obama said.

Duncan, a longtime friend of Obama and a former professional basketball player in Australia, said in brief comments that education is "the civil rights issue of our generation." His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Obama combined his announcement with a brief news conference in which he refused to say whether he supports the idea of a special election to fill the Senate seat he recently vacated.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has the power to make the appointment, but he was arrested last week and charged with, in effect, trying to enrich himself by appointing a new senator who could help him financially or politically.

Some Democrats have called for a special election, while others prefer to wait for Blagojevich to resign, a step that would allow Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn to appoint a new senator. The second alternative would ensure the seat remains in Democratic hands, and on a faster timetable than a special election would allow.

Obama cut off a reporter who sought to ask a question about Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff, who was reportedly heard on a federal wiretap talking with an aide to Blagojevich about potential Senate replacements. The president-elect said he has not been able to confirm that is the case.

Neither Obama nor Emanuel has been accused of any wrongdoing, and the president-elect has said he will make the results of an internal investigation into the matter public soon.

On the economy, the president-elect said the Federal Reserve was "running out of ammunition" in terms of lowering interest rates to combat the recession. He said it was "absolutely critical" that his economic recovery program be put into place to deal with what he called the toughest time economically since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Obama said he was meeting with his economic team later Tuesday.

The Fed on Tuesday cut its target for a key interest rate to the lowest level on record. The central bank says it reduced the federal funds rate, the interest that banks charge each other, to a range of zero to 0.25 percent. That is down from the 1 percent target rate in effect since the last meeting in October.

The appointment of Duncan left a handful of Cabinet appointments yet to be made public, and in response to a question, Obama hinted broadly a Republican would be among them.

The posts yet to be filled include secretaries for the departments of Labor, Transportation, Agriculture and Interior. Democratic officials said Tuesday that Obama has selected former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack for the Agriculture job, and officials have said Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado has been tapped for the Interior post.

Obama not yet named leaders for the intelligence agencies, or a trade representative.

So far, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, is the only Republican member of the incoming Cabinet.