Obama administration is a family affair

By Carol Eisenberg

May 11, 2009 at 8:45am

Declan Power-Sunstein, born last month to power couple Samantha Power and Cass Sunstein, has been hailed as the Obama administration’s “first baby.”

Even the infant’s father, Cass Sunstein, gave a shout-out to the president, noting he and Power met and fell in love while working on the campaign trail.

“All three of us are grateful to the President,” Sunstein wrote in an emailed birth announcement several weeks ago, which boasted the newborn “looks like a basketball player just like his mom. … Twenty one inches, seven pounds eight ounces, one inch vertical leap.”

But the Power-Sunstein offspring is only the most tangible illustration of how the Obama team is a family affair. Besides Power and Sunstein, both of whom moved to full-time jobs with Obama, (Sunstein as the OMB’s regulatory chief designate, Power as a senior adviser on the National Security Council), Muckety counts five married couples and two sets of siblings working on the Obama team. (We took some liberties, counting some spouses who are not Obama appointees but were already on the federal payroll.)

Our list starts with the sibling sets, both of which are children of overachieving immigrant fathers:

Howard K. Koh, nominated to be assistant health secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, is the brother of Harold Hongju Koh, nominated to be the State Department’s top legal adviser.

The wildly successful doctor and lawyer are two of the six children born to a Korean legal scholar and his sociologist wife who sought asylum in the U.S. after the North Korean invasion of Seoul, settling in New Haven. The Kohs parents became the first Asians to teach at Yale.

But Howard H. Koh, a director of the Harvard School of Public Health and a former Massachusetts health commissioner, may have an easier time getting confirmed than his brother.

Despite being one of the country’s leading experts on international law and the dean of Yale Law School, Harold Koh’s nomination is being challenged by conservative Republicans who contend he wants to “subjugate” the U.S. Constitution because he supports voluntary U.S. participation in bodies like the International Criminal Court.

Then there are Rahm and Zeke Emanuel, two of the brainy, hard-charging offspring of a Jerusalem-born pediatrician, Benjamin Emanuel.

Long before his kid brother became chief of staff to a president pledged to health-care reform, Zeke Emanuel, 51, a bioethicist and physician, was a policy expert on the issue and a member of Bill Clinton’s Task Force on Health Care Reform.

Earlier this year, he was tapped as the special health-care reform adviser to White House budget chief Peter Orszag. Which means that Ezekiel Emanuel now plays on the turf of his younger brother, a blunt and often combative Chicago politician known for his instinct for the political jugular who is the president’s alter ego.

Among the married duos we found on the federal government’s payroll are:

  • Under Secretary of Defense Michele A. Flournoy, who is married to W. Scott Gould, deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    Flournoy is a co-founder of the Center for a New American Security, a progressive foreign policy think tank which has become a farm team for defense positions in the administration. Gould, a former naval reservist, was chosen because of his experience in leading modernization efforts. He worked in former President Bill Clinton’s Treasury and Commerce departments, and also served in Iraq as an intelligence officer.

  • Jane H. Lute, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, who is married to Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, coordinator of Iraq and Afghanistan policy on the National Security Council, a holdover from the Bush administration whom Obama decided to keep in that job.

    Jane Lute spent most of the past decade working with the United Nations and its charities, helping give away the $1 billion donated by Ted Turner. A former National Security Council staffer herself, she also ran the Carnegie Commission on Ending Deadly Conflict during the 1990s. Lt. Gen. Lute was called the war czar during the Bush administration.

  • Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg, an unofficial adviser to the Obama campaign, who is married to Sherburne B. Abbott, associate director of the White House Office of Science Technology Policy

    Steinberg, who had been Bill Clinton’s deputy National Security Advisor and played a key role in crises in Kosovo and East Timor, left his job as dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas to return to Washington.

    Shere Abbott, as she is known, was formerly director of the Center for Science and Practice of Sustainability at the University of Texas.

  • White House Counsel Gregory Craig, who is married to Margaret “Derry” Noyes, a designer of specialty postage for the U.S. Postal Service (whose work long predates Obama’s presidency).
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, formerly the two-term governor of Kansas, is married to Gary Sebelius, a federal magistrate judge appointed to an eight-year term by George W. Bush.

    Kathy Sebelius’ father was the Democratic governor of Ohio; Gary Sebelius’ father was Congressman Keith Sebelius, a conservative Republican. “I’m converting Republicans one at a time,” Kathy Sebelius said at the time of their marriage.

  • Let us know if you think of other examples we haven’t listed.

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    • #1.   Olderone 05.11.2009

      This gives me a stomach ache. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours!”

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