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The transition: A lobbyist loophole?

Per the Obama team, the president-elect and vice president-elect are in Chicago today, where they will hold private meetings. There are no public events scheduled.

The Boston Globe's front-page headline: "Obama softens ban on hiring lobbyists." "President-elect Barack Obama, who vowed during his campaign that lobbyists 'won't find a job in my White House,' said through a spokesman yesterday that he would allow lobbyists on his transition team as long as they work on issues unrelated to their earlier jobs. … [I]ndependent analysts said yesterday that the move is less than the wholesale removal of lobbyists that he suggested during the campaign -- and shows how difficult it will be to lessen the pervasive influence of more than 40,000 registered lobbyists. 'That is a step back and there is no other way of seeing it,' said Craig Holman, who lobbies on governmental affairs for the watchdog group Public Citizen. Nonetheless, he said, Obama is still making 'a very concrete effort to avoid what I consider a potentially corrupting situation.'"

The New York Times adds that "the new rules do seem to leave some wiggle room. Aides to Mr. Obama, who declared during the campaign that lobbyists would not 'find a job in my White House,' said the guidelines allowed for lobbyists to work on the transition in areas where they have not done any lobbying. Further, the rules apply to lobbyists who must register with the federal government; many people who work for lobbying firms or in other areas of the influence business in Washington do not have to register, because they do not personally lobby federal officials on specific issues." 

Bloomberg notes that while lobbyists will have a hard time getting in the door, major bundlers for Obama who did not lobby will be able to be involved.

The price tag on the Obama transition? $12 million.

Politico's Martin writes on how Obama faces less pressure for a diverse cabinet. "It's a potentially dicey decision. Obama campaigned around the notion that old divisions should be consigned to the past, a belief his election underscores. But he also won with overwhelming support from black Americans and is the very embodiment of the hopes and dreams of that community. To surround himself with a mostly white coterie of top advisers could turn off African-Americans."

However… The Wall Street Journal writes that Hispanic groups, crediting Obama's win to a surge in Latino support for the Democrat, are urging the President-elect to appoint a high-profile Hispanic to the Secretary of State post. "The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, an umbrella organization of 26 Hispanic groups, called on Mr. Obama to select Gov. Richardson, who endorsed Mr. Obama in March after dropping out of the Democratic race for president in January. Gov. Richardson, a Mexican-American, is a seasoned diplomat, having served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton."

The AP says, "President-elect Obama has hired former Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sam Nunn to help shepherd his Pentagon transition, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. … Transition spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said Nunn will perform 'an informal senior adviser role throughout the defense transition process.' Nunn's role has been described by others, speaking anonymously because the transition teams have not been announced, as the leader of Obama's defense transition. Similarly, a senior administration official said former Secretary of State Warren Christopher would advise Obama on his State Department transition."

But NBC's Savannah Guthrie reports that Nunn has an informal advisory role only, while Christopher has no role whatsoever. NBC's Libby Leist adds that a senior US official confirmed that Tom Donilon and Wendy Sherman have both been tapped to help the Obama transition team at the State Department

A source close to the Secretary of Defense tells CQ Politics that Robert Gates is "reluctant but willing to stay on in the short term" in a new Obama administration.  The expectation under that scenario would be that Gates be replaced after as much as a year in his current post by former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig.  
 
Former Iowa governor and one-time presidential candidate Tom Vilsack is shaping up to be the frontrunner for Obama's Secretary of Agriculture.

Obama wants the U.S. Senate to accelerate the confirmation of his top appointees to help Obama get started early in tackling major problems, a top Obama adviser said on Tuesday.