- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama is quickly shaping his White House staff and policy - considering former Sen. Max Cleland and Eric H. Holder Jr. for top administration posts and promising governors and world leaders he would pursue an aggressive global-warming plan because “denial is no longer an acceptable response.”

The Democratic president-elect has offered the attorney general’s post to Mr. Holder, who served as No. 2 in the Justice Department in the Clinton administration.

A source familiar with transition planning said Mr. Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee, is under consideration for either secretary of Veterans Affairs or secretary of the Army in an Obama administration, and liberal grass-roots support is building for his selection.

Mr. Cleland, 66, is a hero among many on the left for his Democratic activism since losing his U.S. Senate seat in 2002.

In 2002, the one-term Georgia Democrat was defeated by Republican Saxby Chambliss, who ran an ad reviled by liberals because it used images of Mr. Cleland, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden while claiming the Democrat was weak on homeland security issues.

Reached on his cell phone Tuesday morning, the normally talkative Mr. Cleland would not comment and referred the call to a retired aide, Lynn Kimmerly, who said he has not been contacted by the Obama transition team, adding, “It’s all speculation.”

The Obama team has strictly warned those under consideration not to speak to the press under any circumstances.

The transition team declined to comment on Mr. Cleland and also would not speak to reports about Mr. Holder, 57, who helped Mr. Obama select Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. as his vice president and is a close adviser. Obama aides have been floating Mr. Holder’s name on Capitol Hill to gauge support among Republicans for his candidacy.

Three top Republicans said they had not been contacted by Team Obama, including Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who said it was “too soon” to judge whether he’d vote for him.

“I’d have to take a much closer look at his record and talk to him and think about it,” he said, adding the Marc Rich pardon at the end of the Clinton administration “would be a factor to consider.”

If selected and then confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Holder would become the nation’s first black attorney general. Now a lawyer with Covington and Burling in Washington, Mr. Holder did not return calls for comment.

Mr. Holder surfaced in 2000 in the middle of a controversial pardon by President Clinton of Mr. Rich, a fugitive billionaire financier. It was one of 140 granted by Mr. Clinton less than two hours before he left the White House for the last time as president.

He was accused by critics of cutting the Justice Department out of the pardon process and, according to a congressional report, of working with former White House Counsel Jack Quinn, then Mr. Rich’s attorney, to ensure that Justice officials - particularly federal prosecutors in New York who handled the Rich case - “did not have the opportunity to express an opinion on the Rich pardon before it was granted.”

The report said Mr. Holder, who served on Mr. Obama’s vice-presidential selection committee, failed to notify prosecutors under him that the Rich pardon was under consideration, and he failed to offer “any credible justification” for his support of the pardon.

But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said in a statement that Mr. Holder would make an “outstanding” nominee.

A top Justice Department official, who asked not to be identified, said that if Mr. Holder is nominated, “at least Justice will have a chance to survive the Obama administration.”

“He is very highly regarded by almost everyone who knows him, present company included. The business with the pardons at the end of the Clinton administration drove him crazy. I don’t believe his heart was in it. He is a gentleman and a good manager. In fact, as I sit here and think it through, I cannot imagine a better person to be AG than Holder.”

Newsweek and NBC reported the job had been offered and accepted, though vetting is still under way, and no formal announcement is expected before economic appointees are named.

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama spoke in a video to the Governors’ Global Climate Summit in Los Angeles, which includes more than a dozen top world leaders and U.S. governors who are crafting a blueprint for the next global agreement on the issue.

He promised to begin with a federal cap-and-trade system that would reduce emissions to their 1990 levels within 12 years and achieve an 80 percent reduction by the year 2050.

Mr. Obama also said the government would tap safe nuclear power and develop clean-coal technology while investing $15 billion annually to help the private sector develop and improve solar and wind power and biofuels.

Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a climate-change critic, blasted the president-elect as facing “significant hurdles” to his proposals.

“Even before our current economic woes, nearly 30 percent of Senate Democrats opposed the costly Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill in June. In the end, supporters only had at most 35 Democratic senators willing to vote for final passage on the largest climate-tax bill in U.S. history,” he said, predicting an even tougher path given the economy.

But Mr. Obama said his plans for new funding can create up to 5 million new “green jobs” to help the struggling economy and said companies willing to invest in clean energy “will have an ally in Washington.”

The news - and speculation - about Mr. Obama’s future administration are flying fast.

Susan Rice, a top adviser to Mr. Obama on foreign policy and national security, was at the White House Tuesday.

National Journal reported that Mr. Obama will tap another Clinton veteran, Peter Orszag, for the Office of Management and Budget. Mr. Orszag is now at the Congressional Budget Office.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported that an Obama “intermediary” has approached current Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to negotiate terms for him staying at the Pentagon after the new president is sworn in on Jan. 20.

With respect to the veterans and Army posts, a Democratic source familiar with discussions going on between the Obama transition team and potential appointees said Mr. Cleland would like to return to the nation’s capital and serve in either role.

Mr. Cleland served several years on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States after being appointed by President Bush in 2002. He also served as an administrator in the Veterans Administration under President Carter, a department that later became known as Veterans Affairs.

Mr. Obama’s friend, Tammy Duckworth, a major in the National Guard who unsuccessfully ran for a congressional seat in Illinois in 2006, also is under consideration for an administration position dealing with veterans issues. She lost both legs and severely injured her arm in the Iraq war and is currently serving as the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

The political action committee VoteVets has collected more than 5,700 signatures on an online petition detailing Mr. Cleland’s and Ms. Duckworth’s service and asking Mr. Obama to consider both for administration positions.

“They have experience dealing with issues that affect troops and veterans every day and can convey that and bridge that gap between the administration and the military and veterans community,” said Brandon Friedman, vice chairman of the group.

• Jon Ward and Ben Conery contributed to this report.