- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

UPDATED:

President-elect Barack Obama is on track to pick former rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as his secretary of state while signaling that immigration will be a homeland security priority by considering Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano for that post in his Cabinet.

An Obama transition aide said the president-elect has been engaging in “good, substantive” conversations with Mrs. Clinton, who is expected to be named to the post of America’s top diplomat after Thanksgiving.

The aide said all of the issues related to financial disclosure for Mrs. Clinton and former President Bill Clinton had been worked out. Mrs. Clinton’s term as senator from New York expires in January 2013.

The aide also said the full Obama national security team is still being worked out.

Miss Napolitano, a border state Democratic governor who in 2005 declared a state of emergency related to immigration and who for years has criticized the lack of federal solutions, is the leading choice to serve as Department of Homeland Security secretary.

The Obama transition team declined to comment but sources said Miss Napolitano is expected to get the job once Mr. Obama begins formally announcing and introducing Cabinet choices. Lawmakers were already talking in public Thursday as if she were the choice.

The move drew praise from Mr. Obama’s Republican presidential opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who said he called his home-state governor to offer his congratulations.

Miss Napolitano was widely speculated about as a possible Obama running mate and it was long expected that she would play a role in an Obama White House. She endorsed the Illinois senator early in the primary process over Mrs. Clinton and campaigned for him across the country all year. In early January, reporters asked Mr. Obama on a conference call whether she would get a job in his Cabinet.

“Any wise Democratic president would see the potential for Governor Napolitano to do all kinds of important things,” he said. “I don’t want to prejudge or put her on the spot but anybody would be lucky to have her working with them in any capacity.”

He also said she showed a bipartisan record and “the kind of tone and temperament” he would want in his administration.

Miss Napolitano, who turns 51 this month, is serving her second term as governor. She narrowly won the job in 2002 but was re-elected with nearly 63 percent of the vote in 2006. Her term expires in 2010, and if she joins the Obama administration Arizona’s Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer would become governor.

Republicans lauded the Napolitano news, though the background review is not yet complete. Rep. Jeff Flake, a conservative Arizona Republican, praised Miss Napolitano and said he hopes the pick brings “a fresh perspective” to border security.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., praised her as a “good leader” who understands immigration and has key contacts with leaders in Mexico as well as a track record of working with Western governors.

“I think she understands homeland security in ways that many people might not,” he said Thursday on CNN.

During the endorsement conference call 10 months ago, Miss Napolitano said immigration reform would have to be a top issue for the next president. She said she was confident Mr. Obama was willing to tackle the problem, by examining more law enforcement and visa rules.

In recent years Miss Napolitano took the lead in calling for the National Guard to put troops on the border but also opposed building a border fence because people would just find other ways into the U.S.: “You build a 50-foot wall, somebody will find a 51-foot ladder.”

Miss Napolitano was lauded by Government Executive magazine in 2003 for implementing an integrated state homeland security plan.

Mr. McCain, who championed a comprehensive immigration platform that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, said he “looks forward” to working with Miss Napolitano through the nomination process. He and Mr. Obama spoke about immigration Monday during a private meeting in Chicago.

“Governor Napolitano’s experience as the former U.S. attorney for Arizona, Arizona’s attorney general, and as governor warrants her rapid confirmation by the Senate and I hope she is quickly confirmed,” Mr. McCain said.

Republicans also cautiously applauded future White House Chief of Staff Rep. Rahm Emanuel’s visit to Capitol Hill to meet with the opposing party. Speaking briefly to reporters, Mr. Emanuel, Illinois Democrat, said he stressed cooperation to help the middle class during his closed-door meetings with Republican leaders.

“I told them we would like to welcome their ideas on a host of fronts — education, health care, taxes, energy policy, national security,” he said. “Give us those ideas as we are formulating what we’re going to do in the Obama administration.”

The president-elect continued to hold private meetings at his transition office in Chicago.

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