WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) as his Transportation secretary, a key role in an administration that has signaled plans for an ambitious public works program, officials of both parties said Wednesday.
A spokesman for the Obama transition team declined to comment, as did LaHood. But his nomination, which is expected to be announced soon, would fulfill a pledge Obama made to name a Republican to his Cabinet. Although Obama has asked Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to stay on, the Pentagon chief is a registered independent -- even though he says he considers himself a Republican.
There is precedent for using the Transportation post to reach across party lines. President Bush appointed Democrat Norman Y. Mineta of San Jose as his Transportation secretary.
LaHood, 63, had planned to step down from Congress at the end of the current session. A former chief of staff to then-House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.), LaHood was elected to his former boss' seat in 1994. While the tide of Republicans elected to Congress that year ushered in a rancorous and highly partisan era, LaHood maintained a diplomatic style and co-sponsored retreats designed to promote civility in Congress.
LaHood is Catholic and of Lebanese descent. He is the first Arab American to be chosen for Obama's cabinet.