Several Obama transition advisers are strongly advocating Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) for secretary of State, a move that would create the ultimate “Team of Rivals” cabinet, according to officials involved in the discussions.
President-elect Obama has narrowed the possibilities for secretary of State and Clinton is among those being strongly considered, the officials said. Some even call her the favorite.
It is not known what Obama himself thinks of the idea. But the fact that it is being entertained within his camp shows how much things have changed in the months since he defeated her for the Democratic nomination in a protracted primary marathon.
A possible clue to Obama’s willingness to consider Clinton for chief diplomat can be found in a January interview he gave to Katie Couric, anchor and managing editor of the “CBS Evening News.” As part of her “Primary Questions” series, she asked him what books besides the Bible he would considers essential if he were elected president.
“Doris Kearns Goodwin's book ‘Team of Rivals,’” Obama replied. “It was a biography of Lincoln. And she talks about Lincoln's capacity to bring opponents of his and people who have run against him in his cabinet. And he was confident enough to be willing to have these dissenting voices and confident enough to listen to the American people and push them outside of their comfort zone. And I think that part of what I want to do as president is push Americans a little bit outside of their comfort zone. It's a remarkable study in leadership.”
Obama is exceedingly confident now, in a way that only a president of the United States can be. And officials say that therefore the calculation is very different than it was when he was picking a vice president, and did not seriously consider her.
During the general election, she campaigned tirelessly on his behalf throughout the country.
Even officials who like the idea held up strong “caution” flags. Fresh off his electoral triumph, Obama does not feel he needs the Clintons. The president-elect has never liked the idea of former President Bill Clinton as a back-seat driver. And the former president has had many tangled foreign business dealings that could complicate his wife’s entry into an administration that is promising transparency.
But some Obama advisers argue that her celebrity and credibility would be a huge asset in his goal of reengaging the United States with allies.
“You can send John Kerry or Chuck Hagel,” said one adviser, mentioning some other candidates for secretary of state, “or you can send Hillary Clinton. That’s totally different.”
Clinton would be most attractive if Obama concludes that he will have to focus his early days in office on the domestic economy, and will have to essentially outsource heavy-duty foreign travel to his secretary of State.
The officials said Clinton becomes even more attractive if Obama retains President Bush’s last secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. Some Obama advisers are advocated that course because he would provide cover for drawing down troops in Iraq: Gates has said he believes that is possible, and it would keep Obama out of a fight he can’t afford with the Army Gen. David Petraeus, now the head of the U.S. Central Command.
The Clinton camp refused to comment on the possibility. Senior Adviser Philippe Reines said: “Any speculation about cabinet or other administration appointments is really for President-Elect Obama's transition team to address.”
An Obama adviser threw out one final rationale: It’s better to have the Clintons inside the tent than outside, causing trouble.