In reassembling his White House staff two weeks ago, Obama elevated legislative director Rob Nabors, who is African-American, to senior adviser and named Jennifer Palmieri as his communications director.
The attention to the composition of a president's Cabinet and to the inner circle that advises him not only serves political purposes but helps introduce more views to presidential decision making and provides a symbolic mirror to the country.
"People speak specifically about looking carefully at what President Obama is doing and holding him to a certain standard, but I think the bigger reality is that going forward every president will be held to that standard, or should be held to that standard," said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist who worked in the Clinton White House. "You want to have a staff that reflects diversity. Different perspectives around the table help make better decisions."
If Obama selects Pritzker for commerce, he will be choosing a businesswoman who is well-known in Washington and is held in high regard within groups such as the Business Roundtable. Pritzker was Obama's campaign finance chairwoman in 2008 but took a lower profile in the re-election campaign. Obama picked her to be one of 16 members of his Presidential Economic Recovery Advisory Board in 2009, and when that board expired, Obama included her in his 26-member Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
She is an heir of the Pritzker family that founded the Hyatt chain of hotels. Her name emerged in late 2008 as a potential commerce secretary, but Obama eventually tapped former Washington Gov. Gary Locke.
Burwell, if confirmed, would assume the leadership of the Office of Management and Budget as Congress and the White House struggle over fiscal policies, including Obama's demand for deficit reduction through a mix of spending cuts and higher tax revenue. Burwell was chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin during the Clinton administration and served as deputy OMB director under Jack Lew, the current treasury secretary nominee.
Before taking her job at the Wal-Mart Foundation in 2011, Burwell was the president of the Gates Foundation's Global Development Program.