President-elect Barack Obama promised an administration that would reach across party and ideological lines. He said he would put Republicans in his cabinet.
He’s keeping those campaign promises and is naming retiring Republican Congressman Ray LaHood of Illinois to serve as Transportation Secretary in his new cabinet.
LaHood will join Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush Administration, in an Obama team that combines officials from the past administrations of Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and even Ronald Reagan.
But there will still be some who question the selections.
Ray LaHood has said he wanted to write his memoirs now that he is retiring from the U.S. House of Representatives after 14 years. But it looks like the Peoria legislator will have to add at least another chapter, which he could title: "My Days as a Republican inside a Democratic White House."
The 63-year-old LaHood, who fellow Illinoisan and President-elect Barack Obama is expected to select Thursday as his transportation secretary, would be the second Republican Obama invites to join his administration. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whom Obama asked to remain in office, is the other GOP member tapped so far for the new Cabinet.
The transportation secretary would be a high-profile job in the Obama administration, especially early on. The president-elect vowed recently to create millions of jobs by making the single largest investment in national infrastructure "since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s."
LaHood has less experience in transportation issues than other contenders Obama reportedly considered, and many industry experts — even in LaHood’s home state — were hard-pressed to say where he stood on specific issues.
"I’m quite surprised as he’s not one of the names run by me earlier," said Aaron Gellman, a professor at Northwestern University’s Transportation Center near Chicago. "But the fact he’s not a known quantity shouldn’t necessarily disqualify him."