Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will serve as the official chair of Hillary Clinton’s transition team, the campaign announced today.
The transition team’s role is to start planning for how a candidate will actually do the job of president if she wins. Starting months before the election, they lay the groundwork for key decisions about executive branch appointments, outreach to Congress, and legislative priorities.
To an extent, of course, nothing can be truly decided until the candidate herself has time to focus full-time on governing rather than campaigning. But the staff work does a great deal to shape the options the president-elect has. Consequently, the candidate’s decisions about who should shape those options is an important indication of where she wants to go.
Alongside Salazar there will be a group of four co-chairs — Neera Tanden, Maggie Williams, Tom Donilon, and Jennifer Granholm — as well as an initial team of two staffers, Ed Meier and Ann O’Leary. Heather Boushey has been tapped to serve as chief economist.
It’s a little bit early to say precisely what these different positions amount to, since the notion that presidential candidates should do extensive transition planning before Election Day is relatively new, and campaigns are free to design their teams however they choose. But the makeup of the team does give some hints of what Clinton might prioritize and focus on if elected president.
The predominantly female cast of characters, for instance, is likely a sign of things to come. Clinton has promised a half-woman cabinet, and she is building a transition team that won’t need anyone to hand them binders full of women in order to get that done.
The team has experience in areas from national security to the environment. But the team’s deepest expertise is around early childhood and labor market conditions for parents — indicating that Clinton might be planning to focus as president on questions of children and family that have been the policy through-line of her career.
Ken Salazar was a fairly moderate senator from Colorado at a time when the state was considerably redder than it is today. When Barack Obama initially tapped him to serve as Interior secretary, environmentalists had significant concerns about his record. Most greens I’ve spoken to about his actual service in office, however, have been quite pleased. He’s also Hispanic, and his presence at the top of the transition group offers Latinos a sign that they will be well-represented in the Clinton administration.
Jennifer Granholm is a former two-term governor of Michigan, former state attorney-general, and former US attorney who’s long been well-liked in the Democratic Party and speculated about for cabinet positions and other posts. That never happened under Obama, but Clinton seems to like her. She has a gig with Correct the Record, David Brock’s pro-Clinton outside group; she had a speaking slot at the convention; now she’s a transition co-chair. You could easily imagine her being US attorney general or some other prominent job.
Neera Tanden has worked directly for Clinton in a number of capacities over the years: She held a position back when Clinton was first lady and did a stint in the Obama administration focusing primarily on health care. Clinton appointed her to the Democratic platform committee and she is head of the Center for American Progress. She seems very likely to serve personally in a very senior staff role in a Clinton administration, so she’s a natural pick for an important transition job. Her predecessor at CAP, John Podesta, chaired Obama’s transition effort back in 2008 and is now chair of Clinton’s campaign.
Maggie Williams is a bit of a bridge to an older iteration of Hillaryland. She was Clinton’s chief of staff when Clinton was first lady and then chief of staff at the Clinton Foundation. Back in February of 2008, when Clinton’s primary campaign was in a state of crisis, she was brought in as campaign manager and partially righted the ship, even though Clinton ultimately lost. She’s been director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard for a couple of years now and has not had much of a public-facing role in Clinton’s 2016 campaign until this point.
Tom Donilon is a veteran foreign policy hand who worked in Bill Clinton’s State Department and Barack Obama’s National Security Council. He ran Obama’s State Department transition group and in the structure of Clinton’s transition team seems to be doing essentially the same thing — but with a wider mandate across the national security realm.
Ann O’Leary was Clinton’s legislative director at the start of her term as a US senator and dealt with a wide range of issues. She then moved on to think tank gigs mostly focused on child and family policy. These are issues that haven’t necessarily played a large role in the 2016 campaign but are very much the center of Clinton’s work over the whole course of her career. They’re likely to be important to her actual approach to governing.
Ed Meier is a relative newcomer to the Clinton circle, but entered government as a senior adviser to the deputy secretary of state when she was running the State Department. After leaving, he was chief operating officer of Big Thought, a Dallas-based nonprofit focused on children and education. He’s been working in the Clinton campaign with the title of director of policy outreach.
Heather Boushey is the chief economist for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a policy organization focused on growth and inequality. Her specific expertise is in labor market issues related to women and family life. She published a book earlier this year on the subject, Finding Time: The Economics of Work-Life Conflict. Her involvement, and the broadly adjacent expertise of O’Leary and Meier, again indicates a likely focus on family policy when Clinton turns the page to governing.