SCENARIOS: Richardson move leaves hole in Obama cabinet

Sun Jan 4, 2009 5:20pm EST

(Reuters) - New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's decision to withdraw as President-elect Barack Obama's nominee to head the commerce department leaves Obama with a hole in his cabinet line-up.

Following are details on Richardson and several other possible nominees for commerce secretary, the government's chief spokesman for business.

RICHARDSON BACKGROUND

Richardson, New Mexico's governor since 2002 and a former seven-term Democratic U.S. congressman, said he was withdrawing because an investigation into a company which had done business with the New Mexico state government might delay his confirmation.

Richardson, 61, is one of the highest-profile Hispanic politicians in the United States and served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during President Bill Clinton's administration as well as secretary of energy.

He made his biggest mark as a sort of special U.S. mediator abroad and negotiated with leaders from Myanmar to Haiti, Sudan and North Korea.

He had been a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination before dropping out and backing Obama.

OTHER CANDIDATES

Possible candidates for the job include Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sibelius -- who was suggested for a number of senior Obama administration posts but has yet to be nominated for any -- and Scott Harris, managing partner of the Washington DC law firm Harris, Wiltshire and Grannis who is an expert in trade issues.

Also mentioned is Leo Hindery, a former chief executive officer of The Yes Network, the nation's largest regional sports network and a senior economic policy adviser to former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

Another Obama backer whose name had surfaced was Oracle President Charles Phillips.

THE JOB

The commerce secretary is seen as the voice of the U.S. business community in the White House and is tasked with promoting U.S. business interests overseas.

The department also houses the Census Bureau, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Patent and Trademark Office among other agencies.

If the 2010 census goes badly, it is the commerce secretary who will have to explain it to Congress.

The commerce department's oversight of NOAA gives the secretary a voice in the climate change debate. He or she will face pressure from the steel industry and other businesses to oppose heavy taxes on U.S. carbon emissions unless developing countries adopt similar measures.

TRADE AND IMMIGRATION

The next secretary is expected to play a role in pushing for congressional approval of free trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea, once President-elect Barack Obama determines how to handle trade deals negotiated by the Bush administration but opposed by many Democrats.

The secretary will also take up the difficult task of selling U.S. business on Obama's plan to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement to include stronger labor and environmental provisions.

DIGITAL TV

An early challenge could be one for which the next secretary has little time to prepare.

The Government Accountability Office has warned that about 15 percent of U.S. households with analog TV sets could see their screens go black when the country switches to digital television on February 17.

Regulators are offering consumers $40 coupons to help pay for converter boxes, but a Republican on the five-member Federal Communications Commission said in October he expected the transition to be "messy."

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