- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2008

As President-elect Barack Obama assembles what he says could be a team of rivals, his choice for secretary of state is a high-stakes game with the potential to disappoint or anger powerful Democrats.

The prediction markets think it’s in the bag for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is undergoing the vetting process even though the Obama transition team is mum on her chances.

It would leave the other possible contenders for secretary of state in the dust with bruised egos.

Sen. John Kerry ushered the political upstart onto the national stage and early on became an Obama confidant. The 2004 Democratic nominee privately taught Mr. Obama the lessons from his loss four years earlier and campaigned for him across the country.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson took a gamble and endorsed Mr. Obama despite drawing wrath from Democratic insiders who felt he was being disloyal to Mrs. Clinton and former President Bill Clinton because he served in the Clinton Cabinet.

“The irony of the situation is both Bill Richardson and John Kerry faced enormous criticism from Clinton supporters for endorsing Obama and there’s a good chance that she will get the position they both want,” said Boston-based political strategist James Boyce, who worked for Mr. Kerry’s presidential bid and who also did consulting for Mr. Richardson during the 2008 primary.

A former Clinton aide said that the public speculation creates an awkward position for Mr. Obama because it seems “the Clinton people put it into the public domain prematurely and have created a pickle.”

During the competition for vice president over the summer, a “Dream Team” effort sprouted to unite the two rivals. Many Clintonites were furious when the former first lady was never vetted for the vice presidency.

“Obama will take some heat if he doesn’t give it to her, and to a degree she’ll be looking as if she’s rejected twice,” said the aide, who predicts Mrs. Clinton will be chosen.

Mr. Obama regularly cites historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” about President Lincoln’s strategy of bringing his political enemies into his Cabinet. The book, first published in 2005, soared to a No. 12 ranking on Amazon.com.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time reading Lincoln. There is a wisdom there and a humility about his approach to government, even before he was president, that I just find very helpful,” Mr. Obama said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” Sunday.

Asked whether Mrs. Clinton was on a “short list” for a Cabinet selection, Mr. Obama said his one-time opponent is “somebody who I needed advice and counsel from,” adding: “She is one of the most thoughtful public officials that we have. Beyond that, you’re not getting anything out of me.”

Considering passing up pals for his one-time political foe has created a thorny path for Mr. Obama to navigate.

But elevating Mrs. Clinton to secretary of state would eliminate any potential Senate showdowns with his former rival over policy down the line.

Mrs. Clinton, who holds her post as New York senator until 2013, has not been swatting away the rumors. Her husband, meanwhile, is being subjected to vetting of his own work and finances, and told a group in Kuwait on Sunday he thought his wife would make an excellent choice for the post.

During Mr. Clinton’s administration, Mr. Richardson served as both energy secretary and as ambassador to the United Nations. He has told friends privately he does not think he will be chosen for secretary of state.

A Democratic source thinks it’s a done deal because the Obama transition team has not shut the rumors down and Mrs. Clinton is acting like the presumptive choice. “Given her prominence within the party and in the primary process to have her name discussed at this level, it would make it very difficult for him not to offer her the position,” the source said.

If they are passed over for this post, both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Richardson could be considered for other positions, or keep their day jobs.

Mr. Kerry was just re-elected to a term that will not expire until 2015. With Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s election as vice president, he will vacate his post as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and Mr. Kerry is likely to receive the prominent chairmanship.

Mr. Richardson’s second term as governor of New Mexico will expire in 2011.

Lanny Davis, a longtime friend of both Clintons who worked as special counsel for them in the White House, said that Mrs. Clinton would “carry out [Mr. Obama’s] agenda, not her own agenda … especially engaging the world in a conversation rather than dictating to other nations.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide