Intense process for Obama White House hopefuls

The resignation is no surprise. But the timing, just nine days after the election and 69 days before the inauguration, puts a lot of pressure on Gov. Rod Blagojevich to name a replacement as soon as possible.

Because the Senate goes back to work in Washington on Monday and Illinois needs representation, Barack Obama says that it's been an honor and a privilege to serve the people of Illinois. But to realize their simple hopes and common dreams as president, he has to put all his energy into the transition.

Barack Obama is resigning from the U.S. Senate now instead of later so there won't be any divided loyalties as he puts together a new administration.

And if you want a top-level job in the Obama White House, you have to answer 63 very personal and wide-ranging questions on a seven-page personnel application. Questions include whether you've sent any emails or text messages that could embarrass the new administration, or access Web sites like Facebook and My Space that have personal information about you. The application asks about gun ownership, legal problems, including traffic violations with fines above $50, and ties to financial institutions involved in the federal bailout.

"If they're asking every applicant for a job to fill out that kind of questionnaire, it's going to make a lot of people nervous," said Sam Skinner, former White House official.

Chicago lawyer Sam Skinner, who was chief of staff and transportation secretary in the first Bush administration, says the information is necessary. But he worries about confidentiality.

"Whoever submits that application has the absolute right to privacy as it relates to that information. So if you're going to ask that kind of information that you've talked about here, you've got to have some real safeguards for it," said Skinner.

Meanwhile, Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is apologizing to the Arab-American community for something his father said after his appointment. Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, who was born in Israel but now lives in Wilmette, told an Israeli newspaper that "obviously he'll influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn't he? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to be mopping floors at the White House."

"I'm not offended because the source of that comment is someone who in my mind is irrelevant. I'm concerned his son is a gatekeeper to the next U.S. president," said Ahmed Rehab, Council on Arab-American Relations.

On Thursday afternoon Rahm Emanuel telephoned the head of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee to apologize and to suggest a face-to-face meeting in the future.

But the future is now for Gov. Blagojevich who is likely to face a lot of heat if he doesn't fill the seat quickly and a lot of heat if he picks the wrong person in the eyes of the politicians, the pundits and the public.

One reliable source said the final list includes Tammy Duckworth from Veterans Affairs; Emil Jones, the former senate president; Obama's mentor, Congressman Luis Gutierrez; and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Fifth on the list, according to one source, is the governor himself, even though he said previously he wouldn't appoint himself.

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