Of all the tough choices President-elect Obama will face between now and the inauguration, none are likely to have more far-reaching political consequences than his pick for Secretary of State. The two front-runners, Senator Clinton and Governor Richardson also happen to be the most prominent female and Hispanic leaders, respectively, in the Democratic Party, and it looks like both may want the post. Jonathan Weisman reports on Obama’s dilemma in the Wall Street Journal
Sen. Clinton, of New York, could be a crowd pleaser in that role, and she has staunch advocates in Rahm Emanuel, the new chief of staff, and transition director John Podesta, according to Democrats familiar with the transition process…But Mr. Obama risks alienating Latino supporters if he passes over New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, currently the favorite of a lobbying campaign by Hispanic activists, for the State Department job.
It’s hard to imagine either Richardson or Clinton being satisfied with any post south of State as a consolation prize. Richardson’s bio practically screams “future Secretary of State,” and, as a 2-time Clinton administration appointee, he went out on a long limb endorsing Obama. But picking Richardson would almost certainly crank up ire among Clinton’s supporters as a double-diss, since she wasn’t picked for veep. While Richardson’s formidable diplomatic experience may give him an edge, Clinton is clearly one of the most capable leaders in the Democratic Party, and her experience as an actively-involved First Lady for 8 years who traveled the world on diplomatic missions merits consideration.
In picking Richardson, it’s possible Obama could offset criticism from feminists by making sure the “more than 300 cabinet secretaries, deputies and assistant secretaries and more than 2,500 political appointees” cited in Weisman’s article includes a record number of women. Conversely, making sure Latinos get a record number of those appointments might offset negative buzz in the Latino community if he picks Clinton for State. Either way there will be much grumbling in the short run.
WaPo‘s Chris Cillizza weighs the pros and cons of chosing Clinton:
Making Clinton the Secretary of State would ensure buy-in from the former first couple…While the chances of Clinton free-lancing are far less if she is a member of the Obama cabinet, there is absolutely no way of ensuring that her own views on matters of foreign policy would be subsumed in favor of those of the administration…it would be impossible to put the toothpaste back into the tube.
Cillizza may be overstating the likelihood of Clinton being a rogue Secretary of State, and Obama and Clinton do share many foreign policy positions in common. However, Cillizza doesn’t weigh the negative impact that passing over Richardson would have with many Latinos.
Of course, Obama could dodge the dilemma by selecting Senator Kerry for State. In that event, he could tick off both many Hispanics and Clinton supporters. Anyway you slice and dice, it is a very tough choice. The upside is that the country would be well-served with any of these three.