US president-elect Barack Obama was on a pre-holiday roll to fill his Cabinet, with two more nominations in former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack for agriculture secretary and Colorado Senator Ken Salazar to lead the Interior Department.
Obama was appearing with his latest picks yesterday, his third news conference in as many days to announce Cabinet appointments.
Transition officials said more announcements were likely this week, before Obama planned to head to Hawaii for Christmas vacation with his family.
Democratic officials familiar with the selection process discussed Obama’s plans on condition of anonymity because a formal announcement had not yet been made.
On Tuesday, Obama named Arne Duncan, the head of the Chicago school system, as education secretary and said that failing to improve classroom instruction is “morally unacceptable for our children.”
Duncan, a longtime friend of Obama and a former professional basketball player in Australia who has a reputation as a reformer, called education “the civil rights issue of our generation.”
Duncan has been running the third-biggest US school district since 2001, pushing to boost teacher quality and to improve struggling schools and closing those that fail.
“He’s not beholden to any one ideology and he’s worked tirelessly to improve teacher quality,” Obama said.
The appointment of Duncan leaves a handful of Cabinet appointments yet to be made public. The posts yet to be filled include secretaries for the departments of labor and transportation.
Nor has Obama named leaders for the intelligence agencies, or a trade representative.
US Representative Xaver Becerra of California had emerged as the leading candidate for US trade representative, but he said on Tuesday he wants to stay in the House of Representatives where he was just chosen vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Obama combined his announcement of his choice of Duncan with a brief news conference in which he refused to say whether he supports the idea of a special election to fill the Senate seat he recently vacated.
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has the power to make the appointment, but he was arrested last week and accused of trying to enrich himself by appointing a new senator who could help him financially or politically.
Some Democrats have called for a special election, while others prefer to wait for Blagojevich to resign, a step that would allow Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn to appoint a new senator.
The second alternative would ensure the seat remains in Democratic hands, and on a faster timetable than a special election would allow.
On the economy, the president-elect said it was “absolutely critical” that his economic recovery program be put into place to deal with what he called the toughest time economically since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Vilsack will be the fourth former opponent of Obama in the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination to join his administration.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has been tapped for secretary of state and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson selected to head the Commerce Department.