Bill Daley Barack Obama


When Rick Perry had that Texas-sized brain freeze and couldn’t remember the last of the three departments he’d eliminate immediately as president, he did manage to name—and first—Commerce, a mishmash agency that encompasses everything from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the National Weather Service to the Patent and Trademark Office to the Census Bureau.  (Perry next named Education and never did remember the third, Energy.)

One can imagine Bill Daley watching the pathetic Perry performance last November and laughing, ‘You’ll never have the chance to put your hands on my old department, Commerce, or any other department for that matter.”

Daley became Secretary of Commerce, surely the outstanding line on his résumé, at the start of the second Clinton term in 1997. Clinton owed Bill Daley big-time for shepherding NAFTA through Congress—with Rahm Emanuel’s help. Then-VP and presidential aspirant Al Gore also hustled to get Daley the job; Gore needed Daley’s help in the 2000 election.

But Perry may end up getting the last laugh because it looks like Commerce is first on President Obama’s just-announced hit list: he announced Friday that he intends to cut the federal bureaucracy, starting with Commerce. According to CNN, “Under the move, the Commerce Department as currently constituted would be eliminated. Some of its responsibilities would be shifted to a new department yet to be named, while other functions would be shifted elsewhere.”

Yet to be seen is whether the Republicans will help Obama accomplish his goal, or, more likely, try to deny the president a campaign plank as a slasher of government regulation and bureaucratic hell for small businesses. 

But it’s a good bet that whether or not Obama has a second term, Commerce will be reconfigured and the secretary title will disappear.

Daley’s reputation is already suffering with his upcoming exit later this month as the Obama’s Chief of Staff—especially after his portfolio was chopped last November to give to veteran White House aide Pete Rouse the COS’s day-to-day operational control. So this seems like insult to injury—and a bookend to Daley’s first major Washington experience.

At the start of the first Clinton term in 1993, Daley was assured that he would be named Secretary of Transportation. Again, he could be excused for believing that he richly deserved the job. He had helped Clinton survive the Gennifer Flowers and draft-dodging charges, helped Clinton come in second in the New Hampshire primary to claim the resonant title of “Comeback Kid,” helped Clinton win the Illinois primary and, as chairman of the Clinton-Gore campaign in Illinois, helped him carry the state in the general election.

Both Chicago newspapers reported the coming Transportation appointment. Daley was publicly humiliated when, while awaiting the president’s call and reportedly scoping out suitable housing in D.C., Clinton named former Denver mayor Frederico Peña to the job.

Both Bill’s brother, Rich, and his father, Richard J., made it known that Chicago was big enough for them, that they had no interest in ever being part of the D.C. elite. Bill Daley may finally realize they were right.


Photograph: The White House