Former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota to be nominated for Health and Human Services post in Obama cabinet. (Photo: Chris Maddaloni / The New York Times)
Washington - President-elect Barack Obama has decided to nominate former Senator Thomas A. Daschle of South Dakota as secretary of health and human services, and is leaning toward former Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general, people close to the transition said Wednesday.
But most attention in Washington continued to be focused on the possibility that Mr. Obama might nominate Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to serve as secretary of state. Democrats close to the situation said Wednesday that former President Bill Clinton has agreed to several restrictions on his future business and philanthropic activities to pave the way for his wife to become the nation's chief diplomat..
Mr. Clinton agreed to disclose some major donors to his charitable foundation and to subject his future foundation activities and paid speeches to ethics reviews, Democrats close to the negotiations said, speaking on the ground of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the selection process.
The former president would also cede day-to-day responsibility for the William J. Clinton Foundation and would alert the State Department to his speaking plans and new income sources while his wife served as secretary of state, according to the Democrats. But he would not necessarily have to disclose all the contributors to his foundation.
The concessions suggested that the two camps were moving closer to an accord that would team up the leading figures of the Democratic Party just months after they ended one of the toughest, closest presidential nomination fights in modern times. Although both sides said no offer has been made or accepted, the seriousness of the discussions over Mr. Clinton's role underscored that the two sides want to make her nomination a reality.
While the two sides continued their discussions, people familiar with the state of play said they did not expect any announcements this week and possibly not before Thanksgiving. Much like past presidents, Mr. Obama wants to announce his major appointments in clusters, so the secretary of state would be disclosed along with figures like the defense secretary and national security adviser.
Mr. Clinton, whose relationship with Mr. Obama has been particularly fraught with tension, has been trying to send public signals through his representatives and friends that he will not stand in the way of his wife's chances to serve as secretary of state.
"I'm certain President Clinton will do whatever it takes, which means whatever President-elect Obama wants, to make the nomination acceptable, if he offers and she accepts," said Lanny J. Davis, a longtime friend of the Clintons who was a special counsel in his White House and has consulted in recent days with the Clinton camp.
But the dance between the two is complicated, and some in Mr. Obama's circles were irritated that details of the discussions were leaking out, seeing that as an attempt to blame the incoming president if a deal does not come together. The former president's concessions were first reported Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal.
It was not clear that the conditions he has agreed to so far during discussions would be enough to satisfy Mr. Obama's concerns about potential conflicts of interest.
Some close to Mr. Obama said they believe Mr. Clinton would have to agree to forswear any personal income from foreign sources. Their goal, they said, is to head off any perception of conflict in the future rather than excavate all of Mr. Clinton's activities in the eight years since he left the White House.
Mr. Clinton's foundation has received contributions from the Saudi royal family, the king of Morocco, a foundation linked to the United Arab Emirates and the governments of Kuwait and Qatar. His tax returns show that he collected at least $12.6 million since 2002 as an adviser to the billionaire investor Ronald Burkle, whose Yucaipa Companies have invested money for the Dubai government and acquired a stake in a Chinese media company.
At the same time, Mr. Obama is also moving forward on other fronts, offering the job of health and human services secretary Mr. Daschle.The former Senate Democratic leader, who lost his seat in 2004, became an important early supporter of Mr. Obama's run for the presidency.
Democratic sources said Mr. Daschle has accepted the job. But aides to Mr. Obama said a formal announcement would not be made until after the national security and economic teams were unveiled. Mr. Obama's transition team did announce Wednesday that Mr. Daschle will oversee the new president's health policy working group.
Mr. Daschle was initially considered for White House chief of staff, but Mr. Obama chose instead to name Representative Rahm Emanuel of Chicago. If confirmed, Mr. Daschle could end up being the point man on any efforts to overhaul the country's health care delivery and insurance system, a tall order, health policy experts say, because of the current economic situation.
The transition team has also signaled to Mr. Holder that he will be chosen to head the Justice Department, although no final decision has been made, according to people briefed on the discussions. Mr. Holder would be the first African-American to serve as the nation's chief law enforcement official.
Mr. Obama's advisers appear to have overcome concerns that Mr. Holder's involvement in a presidential pardon scandal as Mr. Clinton left office in 2001 might cloud his nomination for the job. But some Republicans made clear they still plan to make an issue of that.
Mr. Holder was sharply criticized for not opposing a pardon for Marc Rich, the financier, and allowing the White House to bypass the normal pardon review process. Mr. Holder told the White House that he was "neutral, leaning toward favorable" on a pardon for Mr. Rich, whose former wife, Denise Rich, had contributed heavily to Mr. Clinton's presidential library.
"Instead of bringing the bipartisan 'change' to Washington that he promised voters, Barack Obama is rewarding yet another one of his political loyalists in Eric Holder," Amber Wilkerson, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said in a statement Wednesday. "The only person who thinks Eric Holder represents 'hope' is Marc Rich."
On other fronts, the Obama transition team on Wednesday named seven policy working groups that will help to transform campaign promises to specific initiatives. Among the group leaders will be a former deputy national security adviser, James B. Steinberg, and a former assistant secretary of state, Susan E. Rice, for national security; a former White House aide, Daniel K. Tarullo, for economic issues; and a former director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Carol M. Browner, for energy and the environment. All four of those served in the Clinton administration.
The Obama team also planned on Wednesday to designate several other White House officials whose appointments have previously been reported. Among them are David Axelrod, who was Mr. Obama's chief campaign strategist and will now serve as the president's senior adviser, and Gregory B. Craig, who was an impeachment defense lawyer for Mr. Clinton and will now be White House counsel.
Reporting was contributed by Jackie Calmes, Brian Knowlton and Eric Lichtblau in Washington, and Jeff Zeleny in Chicago.