ABC News’ Martha Raddatz and Richard Coolidge Report: Defense Secretary Robert Gates has landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in what was originally scheduled to be a farewell tour, but due to his re-appointment as Secretary of Defense by President-Elect Barack Obama, has instead turned into more of a checking-in-on-US troops tour, which will include town hall meetings with servicemen.
On the 14-hour flight from Andrews AFB to Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan — his first stop — Gates spoke to the traveling press and talked about his work so far with the president-elect.
“I have had several telephone calls with him, but they have been focused principally on personnel. So we really haven’t sat down yet for a thorough discussion of specific foreign policy issues, national security issues. I do not have specific candidates for specific jobs, and so they are providing me with names and I’m giving them feedback. And what I’m focused on more is the skill set that’s necessary for certain jobs," he said.
Does he have veto power?
“Well I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I certainly will interview everybody at the senior level and I’ll make a recommendation to the president-elect. I guess the way I would leave it is I believe I have substantial influence over those decisions, but if the President of the United States wants to appoint somebody to a job, nobody in the executive branch has a veto.”
Does he feel he has two bosses now?
“Well, first of all, as both the President and the president-elect have said, there’s only one commander in chief at a time and so I’m not forgetting at all for a second who is the president until noon on January 20th. And I think everybody recognizes that. It does create [some] occasional awkwardness though.”
“Well, I would love to come to this meeting at the White House, but I actually have a meeting with the transition.”
Did he tell the President that?
“Well, not to the President.”
So he would choose to go to a meeting with the transition team over a meeting at the White House?
“Well, first of all it depends on – I haven’t missed any meetings with the President, let me put it that way. But, let’s just say that if I’m faced with a choice between attending a principals meeting on an issue that I think it not particularly hot, and a meeting with the transition folks, I’ll opt for the latter.”