Saturday, November 22, 2008
Hitlary Clinton Is Said to Opt for Secretary of State Position
Hillary Rodham Clinton has decided to give up her Senate seat and accept the position of secretary of state, making her the public face around the world for the administration of the man who beat her for the Democratic presidential nomination, two confidants said Friday.
The New Team
Mrs. Clinton came to her decision after additional discussion with President-elect Barack Obama about the nature of her role and his plans for foreign policy, said one of the confidants, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the situation. Mr. Obama’s office told reporters Thursday that the nomination is “on track” but Clinton associates only confirmed Friday afternoon that she has decided.
Audio Back Story With Peter Baker (mp3)
“She’s ready,” said the confidant. Mrs. Clinton was reassured after talking again with Mr. Obama because their first meeting in Chicago last week “was so general,” the confidant said. The purpose of the follow-up talk, he added, was not to extract particular concessions but “just getting comfortable” with the idea of working together.
A second Clinton associate confirmed that her camp believes they have a done deal. Senior Obama advisers said Friday morning that the offer had not been formally accepted and no announcement will be made until after Thanksgiving. But they said they were convinced that the nascent alliance was now ready to be sealed.
Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, Philippe Reines, issued a statement Friday afternoon cautioning that the nomination is not final. “We’re still in discussions, which are very much on track,” he said. “Any reports beyond that are premature.”
The apparent accord between perhaps the two leading figures in the Democratic Party climaxed a week-long drama that riveted the nation’s capital. Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton fought the most competitive Democratic nomination battle in modern times, one that polarized their party for months and left bitterness in both camps. But in asking Mrs. Clinton to join his Cabinet, Mr. Obama signaled that he wants to turn a rival into a partner and she concluded that she could have the most influence by saying yes.
The decision followed days of intense vetting and negotiations intended to clear any potential obstacles to her taking the job due to her husband’s global business and philanthropic activities. Lawyers for Mr. Obama and former President Bill Clinton combed through his finances and crafted a set of guidelines for his future activities intended to avoid any appearances of conflict of interest should she take the job.
People close to the vetting said Mr. Clinton turned over the names of 208,000 donors to his foundation and library and agreed to all of the conditions requested by Mr. Obama’s transition team, including restrictions on his future paid speeches and role at his international foundation.
As secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton will have a powerful platform to travel the world and help repair relations with other countries strained after eight years of President Bush’s policies. But at the same time, she will now have to subordinate her own agenda and ambitions to Mr. Obama’s and sacrifice the independence that comes with a Senate seat and the 18 million votes she collected during their arduous primary battle.
Driving Mrs. Clinton’s deliberations in part, friends said, was a sense of disenchantment with the Senate, where despite her stature she remained low in the ranks of seniority that governs the body. She was particularly upset, they said, at the reception she felt she received when she returned from the campaign trail and sought a more significant leadership role in the expanding Democratic majority.
“Her experience in the Senate with some of her colleagues has not been the easiest time for her,” said one longtime friend. “She’s still a very junior senator. She doesn’t have a committee. And she’s had some disappointing times with her colleagues.”
In particular, the friend said, Mrs. Clinton was upset when the Senate Democratic leadership rejected the possibility of her heading a special task force with a staff and a mandate to develop legislation expanding health care coverage. The idea of giving her an existing leadership post was also dismissed because the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, did not want to force out any senators currently holding those jobs.
But Mr. Reid wants to come up with some sort of leadership position to recognize Mrs. Clinton’s standing and aides said he was confident he could arrive at something with sufficient muscle to appeal to her. He told a closed-door meeting of the Senate Democratic caucus on Tuesday that he was looking for a way to create a new leadership role for her, two people in the room said.
Mrs. Clinton would bring a distinctive background to the State Department. As first lady, she traveled the world for eight years, visiting more than 80 countries, not only meeting with foreign leaders but also villages, clinics and other remote areas that rarely get on a president’s itinerary. Mr. Obama during the primaries belittled that experience as little more than having tea and pointed to schedules showing many ceremonial events on those trips.
But more than any first lady before her, Mrs. Clinton dived deep into particular policy issues in the international arena, from women’s rights to microlending to alleviate poverty. As a senator for the last eight years, she served on the Armed Services Committee and continued her interest in foreign affairs.
She and Mr. Obama agree on the broad outlines of a new foreign policy for the post-Bush era, but they disagreed sharply in several key areas, particularly over how to deal with Iran and Pakistan. She characterized Mr. Obama as naïve in his view of those two countries, while he criticized her judgment for going along with Mr. Bush on the war in Iraq at first.