The Note, 12/01/08: The State of Hillary

By Arnab Datta

Dec 1, 2008 8:01am

By Rick Klein with Arnab Datta:

It’s a good thing we marked Joe Biden’s words, because he was right: The world is testing President-elect Barack Obama.

And the president-elect isn’t taking these exams without some help.

Monday brings probably the biggest day for Obama since he won the election: He unveils his national-security team at 10:40 am ET in Chicago. (And if you don’t know who the headliner is, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.)

Hollywood, surely, would reject the script that Obama is submitting for publication.

But here’s the thing about surrounding yourself with rivals after you’ve won: It’s done from a position of strength, not weakness. Yes, they’re reminders of what you don’t know, of mistakes you’ve made and might yet make — but that’s the point.

Obama’s first dramatic moves on national security signal confidence. Hillary Clinton as running mate would have meant Obama needed her to win; Hillary Clinton at State means he wants her to help govern. And Clinton wanted the job badly enough to make significant concessions impacting her husband’s livelihood and activities.

They both know — as last week’s terrorist attacks in India drive home — that the world is watching.

Change begins deep inside the incoming administration: “It will include two veteran cold warriors and a political rival whose records are all more hawkish than that of the new president who will face them in the White House Situation Room,” David E. Sanger writes in The New York Times.

“The shift would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states,” Sanger writes. “Whether they can make the change — one that Mr. Obama started talking about in the summer of 2007, when his candidacy was a long shot at best — ‘will be the great foreign policy experiment of the Obama presidency,’ one of his senior advisers said recently.”

With the economy battered and teetering, Obama last week decided to jettison that quaint notion of easing into the presidency in an extended transition period. (That notion should have lasted about as long as a news cycle does these days.)

Now comes action, on national security and foreign policy.

Your new team, as they’ll be unveiled Monday in Chicago by Obama and Biden (and pending Senate confirmation): Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., as Secretary of State; Gov. Janet Napolitano, D-Ariz., Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; Eric Holder, Attorney General; Retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones, National Security Adviser; Dr. Susan Rice, Ambassador to the United Nations; and Secretary Robert Gates, staying on at Defense for at least a year. 

“These announcements were scheduled before the terror attacks in Mumbai, India, but obviously recent developments have given the announcements some added resonance,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports.

Clinton, Gates, and Jones “come from three very different political worlds, and often hold very divergent points of view on key national security issues. So for President-elect Obama, is this the brilliance of open-minded confidence — or a recipe for disaster?” Tapper reported on “Good Morning America” Monday.

“The choice says as much about Obama’s strategic judgment and his temperament as anything else he’s done. It says that he’s confident he can control the Clintons. I think it also says that his understanding of the new media cycle is that Clinton-driven distractions will be no more than that and won’t consume his administration if he doesn’t let them,” per Politico’s Ben Smith.

High hopes in some quarters: “President-elect Barack Obama’s expected nomination today of Hillary Clinton as the next secretary of state has energized human rights and women’s rights activists, who expect the former first lady to bring a dramatic new focus to the plight of women around the globe,” Susan Milligan reports in The Boston Globe. “The former first lady was a strong advocate for development programs for women — such as loan assistance to help women in third-world nations start small businesses, giving them both a higher household income as well as a stronger role in the local economy, her supporters note. Such development programs can be crucial forces in empowering women, they said.”

Maybe not so much in others: “Cautiously, Israelis are now applauding Clinton’s all-but-certain nomination as a sign that Obama can be trusted to act firmly against Iran’s nuclear ambitions and to refrain from pressing Israel to accept a weak, violence-prone Palestinian state on its borders,” Richard Boudreaux, Jeffrey Fleishman and Paul Richter report in the Los Angeles Times. “Arabs and especially Palestinians, on the other hand, say the news has damped their optimism that Obama will veer from the Bush administration’s hawkish policies and from what they call America’s long-standing pro-Israel tilt.” 

Hitting the ground . . . “The Obama administration has a more advanced and organized transition than any we have seen in recent times. When Obama is inaugurated on January 20, he will already have been working on the problems facing America for months, and his team will have much more experience than when the campaign ended,” Julian Zelizer writes in his Daily Beast column.

Who should be worried about whose power plays? “The question for Hillary Rodham Clinton . . . is whether she can forge the sort of close relationship with a former rival that is crucial to giving the nation’s top diplomat the credibility to get things done,” USA Today’s Susan Page writes. “Now, associates of both describe their differences on foreign policy as overblown in the heat of battle.”

This can’t happen without some rumbles from the left: “President-elect Barack Obama will unveil a national-security team today headed by a former rival who once called him ‘naïve,’ a Bush administration holdover and a retired Marine general who appeared with Republican presidential nominee John McCain on the campaign trail,” Bloomberg’s Ken Fireman and Indira A.R. Lakshmanan report.

“The public voted for something different,” said Matt Stoller, a Washington-based consultant and Obama supporter who blogs at the Web site “If he’s going to pick the same old people, that’s a repudiation of the voters. . . . The problems can’t be handled by the experienced technocrats who got us into this mess.”

Or rumbles from inside the Senate. Full disclosure on Bill’s post-presidential work is  nice, but: “I think the wide-ranging activities of President Clinton are very substantial on this earth, they will continue to be,” Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the top Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Sunday.

“I would vote in favor of Sen. Clinton knowing what we have here on this program today,” Lugar told Stephanopoulos. “I suspect, however, that I’m not alone in suggesting there will be questions raised and will probably be legitimate.”

They’re not all this, well, easy: “Mr. Obama appears to be having a harder time filling his top intelligence posts, a harbinger of the tough choices facing the president-elect as he considers whether to retain the Bush administration’s controversial interrogation and surveillance policies,” Yochi J. Dreazen and Siobhan Gorman report in The Wall Street Journal. “Several officials close to the transition process said retired Navy Adm. Dennis Blair was the front-runner to be the director of national intelligence, though they cautioned that the decision hadn’t been finalized and probably wouldn’t be announced Monday. The officials said that Mr. Obama was impressed by Adm. Blair’s reputation as a strong manager.” 

As for Gates — expect more rumbles: “President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to keep Robert Gates as Defense secretary reflects a pragmatic approach to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a step back from campaign rhetoric,” Jim Michaels writes for USA Today

“By picking Mr. Gates, in short, Mr. Obama isn’t deciding against change at the Pentagon, but rather buying into the change that already has occurred there,” The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib writes.

Same goes for Jones: “A year ago it would have seemed all but impossible. Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate with the earliest and most outspoken record of opposition to the war in Iraq, wouldn’t name the man who led the Marines during the run-up to the war — and failed to publicly criticize the operation’s flawed planning — as his closest national security aide,” Time’s Massimo Calabresi writes.

“One thing Obama can count on is that he’s getting in Jones an experienced military hand who should be able to handle two tough players in the cabinet,” Calabresi writes. “Whether all four can actually work together to tackle the global crises the country faces is another matter.”

On Susan Rice: “The choice of Ms. Rice to represent the United States before the United Nations will make her one of the most visible faces of the Obama administration to the outside world aside from Mrs. Clinton. It will also send to the world organization a prominent and forceful advocate of stronger action, including military force if necessary, to stop mass killings like those in the Darfur region of Sudan in recent years,” Peter Baker writes in The New York Times.

Hispanic groups want more than Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., at Commerce: “Obama promised hope and change, and Hispanics hoped for the usual two Latinos in the Cabinet. And heck, why not three or four? Now that would be a change,” Politico’s Gebe Martinez reports. “But at this early stage in the appointments process, there is a trickle of disappointment running through the Latino community.”

Early markers: “Barack Obama promises to steer the nation straight again. He better be ready for a strong force pulling left,” the AP’s Ben Feller reports. Said’s Eli Pariser: “We’ll see. . . . If they turn out to be all disappointments, we’ll have a good three years to storm the gates at the White House.”

The Washington Post’s Al Kamen has a list of some of those who’re saying thanks, but no thanks. Included: John Brennan, Jim Clyburn, Susan Collins, Artur Davis, Chet Edwards, Claire McCaskill, Sam Nunn, and (for now, at least) Colin Powell.

After Monday’s press conference, per the Obama-Biden transition office: “Vice President-elect Biden will then travel to Boston, MA to attend a special convocation ceremony at Harvard University honoring Senator Ted Kennedy.”

“Also today, on the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, President-elect Obama will deliver taped remarks by video to the Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health hosted by Pastor Rick Warren in Washington, D.C. The video link and the remarks will be released later this morning.”

“Prior to tomorrow’s National Governors Association meeting, tonight, President-elect Obama will meet informally with members of the Democratic Governor’s Association in Philadelphia.”

President Bush participates in the Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health, at the Newseum in Washington.

From the White House: “Prior to the forum, President and Mrs. Bush will also mark World AIDS Day by presenting the 28-foot World AIDS Day ribbon on the White House North Portico, as they first did for World AIDS Day 2007.”

The president and First Lady Laura Bush sat down with ABC’s Charlie Gibson aboard Marine One and at Camp David, with some reflections on their impending exit from the public stage.

“I’d like to live life without the limelight for a while,” the president said.  “I don’t — I think it’s going to be real important for me to get off the stage. We got a new man coming on the stage; I wish him all the very best. And I don’t want to be a — I don’t want to be out there critiquing him, his every move.”

And President Bush answers a question about do-overs, calling intelligence failures in Iraq the “biggest regret” of his presidency.

Look for more Monday on “World News with Charles Gibson,” and other ABC broadcasts and platforms.

One more day of campaigning in Georgia, and it’s Sarah Palin vs. Ludacris (!). “Alaska governor and former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin will appear with Saxby Chambliss at four campaign rallies Monday after headlining private Atlanta fund-raisers Sunday night at the tony W Hotel in Midtown,” Jim Tharpe reports in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Jim Martin will spend the day on a statewide bus tour that will take him from a MARTA stop in Atlanta in the morning to Augusta, then Macon and back to a rally at the state Capitol at 5:30 p.m. with civil rights veterans and hip-hop star Ludacris.”

Obama’s not on the ballot, but is he on the line? “President-elect Barack Obama’s promise of post-partisan politics got put on hold as he lent his voice to the roaring battle over Georgia’s runoff election for the U.S. Senate, trying to help Democrats win a supermajority that would let them push their agenda through Congress,” S.A. Miller writes in the Sunday Washington Times.

Al Gore weighs in on the Detroit bailout: “Whatever assistance might be forthcoming should be focused on speeding the changes that are absolutely essential to ensure that our companies are competitive in the global marketplace,” Gore tells Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria. “I think the whole industry should be transformed. It’s really tragic that General Motors, for example, allowed Toyota to get a seven-year head start on the hybrid drivetrain in the Prius. I personally believe that the U.S. auto fleet should make a transition as quickly as possible toward plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. . . . We cannot allow an illusion to be the basis of a strategy for human survival.”

On raising the gas tax: “I don’t think that’s likely to happen, but that’s my preferred alternative,” Gore said.

Presidential hoops, anyone? “If he doesn’t build his own court, Obama could play at several of the nearby military bases around the capital,” James Gordon Meek writes in the New York Daily News. “And there’s buzz that Obama has his eye on the glass-enclosed court less than a mile from the White House at the upscale Sports Club/LA gym, where Secretary of State Rice works out. There’s also the excellent facility at the National Capital YMCA just north of the White House.”

The Kicker:

“He does have game and he takes a leadership role. . . . He takes it seriously and he likes to handle the ball and, sure, he likes to shoot.” — Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., after playing Election Day hoops with the soon-to-be-president-elect.

Our new format:

The Note has a new format and a new look starting today. The morning Note will continue to serve as a tipsheet that lays out the day ahead in politics, publishing every weekday morning, though it will typically be shorter than it has been in the past. The Note’s “Must-Reads” will continue to provide an early set of links to the stories that are likely to drive the day.

Both products will live on the *new Note blog,* which will be updated throughout the day with the latest reporting from ABC News’ political unit and reporters. Be sure to check back regularly for the latest.

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