President Bill Clinton's Cabinet

Instructor: Michelle Penn

Michelle has a J.D. and her PhD in History.

Bill Clinton's Cabinet members were a politically diverse group of experienced individuals who helped him achieve a centrist domestic and foreign policy.

A Cabinet that Looks Like America

After his election with Vice-President Al Gore in 1992, Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, proclaimed that he would put together a Cabinet ''that looked like America.'' While Clinton's Cabinet may not have looked exactly like America, his Cabinet was made up of an ideologically diverse group of qualified individuals, ranging from an alligator-wrestling Attorney General to more traditional politicians, like former governors and senators. Together, Clinton's Cabinet achieved a centrist domestic and foreign policy agenda that was popular with a majority of Americans at the time, although it has been viewed less rosily by many historians, who rank him as an average president.

President Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton picture

Despite their high-stress jobs, a few members of Clinton's Cabinet stayed in their jobs for the entire eight years of Clinton's presidency, from 1993 to 2001. These consistent faces ranged from a longtime Clinton friend in charge of Health and Human Services, a tough-on-crime Attorney General, a fire-fighting environmentalist for Interior, and a Secretary of Education said to be the nicest man in politics.

Donna Shalala

Donna Shalala is a Cleveland native, born to Syrian-Lebanese-American parents. Shalala's mother encouraged her children to get involved in politics and to care about the world. Shalala, inspired by her mother's influence, answered President Kennedy's call for young Americans to serve their country and promote international understanding; she was one of the earliest Peace Corps volunteers, going to Iran in 1962. When Shalala returned the United States, she continued her education and eventually got involved in higher education administration. She also joined the board of the Children's Defense Fund and became good friends with another board member, Hillary Clinton.

Donna Shalala
Donna Shalala picture

Because Shalala had management experience through her work in higher education, and the Clintons knew her well, Shalala was chosen for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Friendship aside, Shalala didn't hesitate to let Bill Clinton know when she thought he was wrong. She made it clear that she opposed his 1996 Welfare Reform Bill, which reduced the number of welfare recipients but did not reduce poverty. The best friends are those that are honest with you.

Janet Reno

Janet Reno was a Florida attorney and occasional alligator wrestler who became the first female Attorney General. Reno originally caught Clinton's eye because she had a reputation for being as tough on crime as she was on alligators, an approach that Clinton agreed with at the time, and she supported his 1994 crime bill, which increased many prison sentences. Unlike Shalala, Reno didn't have any connections with the Clintons before becoming Attorney General. And also unlike Shalala and the rest of the long-timers on the Cabinet, she didn't have a very good relationship with President Clinton.

Janet Reno
Janet Reno picture

Even so, Reno stayed on the Cabinet for all eight years. This was likely because Reno was willing to take the blame when she made mistakes on the job, and people respected for her for it. People who worked with Reno thought that she learned her toughness in part from her height—she was six foot two inches tall and stood out among both men and women—and also from her mother, a famed Florida alligator wrestler who built her own house and taught Reno to wrestle alligators herself (but only small ones, according to Janet).

Bruce Babbitt

Bruce Babbitt, a former governor of Arizona, served as Secretary of the Interior under Clinton. While the ''Secretary of the Interior'' sounds like it could have something to do with interior decorating, the Secretary is actually in charge of all of America's national parks and public land. Babbitt was a good choice for the job because he had been President of the League of Conservation Voters and was familiar with many environmental issues.

Bruce Babbitt
Bruce Babbitt picture

As governor of Arizona, Babbitt worked to protect public lands from mining and grazing interests. As Secretary, Babbitt brought a similar approach to the environment. Babbitt helped Clinton declare 22 new national monuments during his presidency. He also used his experience as a firefighter to create new fire policies for federal wildland.

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