Political Junkie: Clinton, Lieberman and Holder

Will Bill Clinton affect Hillary Clinton's chances of being nominated for secretary of state? Also: Sen. Joe Lieberman is allowed to continue as the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, and Obama chooses Eric Holder for attorney general.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Alison Stewart in Washington sitting in for Neal Conan. Ted Stevens is out. Joe Lieberman stays in. Tom Daschle's back in the fold. But really, what everyone wants to know? Is Hillary Clinton Madame Secretary or staying as senator? It is Wednesday and it's our time for our weekly dose of the Political Junkie.

Former President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad, Where's the beef?

Mr. BARRY MORRIS GOLDWATER, Jr. (Former Republican Representative, California): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Former President RICHARD NIXON: You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): I love those hockey moms. You know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull? Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

STEWART: On Wednesday, NPR's political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk about all the latest political news from Washington to Wasilla, the transition, the recount, the run-off and the race is still too close to call. Later, we'll discuss Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and should Barack Obama go off the grid and give up his Blackberry? Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. Hi, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Alison.

STEWART: I'm prepared, the staff has prepared me that there is a trivia question today.

RUDIN: There is. It only takes about 45 minutes of the show. OK. John McCain has filed paperwork to allow him to run for Senate if he chooses in 2010 for re-election. Who was the last senator to run for president who is defeated in his next bid for re-election to the Senate?

STEWART: All right. One more time?

RUDIN: OK. So, John McCain, who ran for president and lost, and he's going run for - he's a senator. Who is the last senator who ran for president, and after - and lost, and after that defeat, was defeated in his re - in his bid for re-election to the Senate?

STEWART: All right. So who is the two-time loser?

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: It's the sure (unintelligible). If you think you know the last senator to run for president who was defeated in his next bid for re-election to the Senate, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. The email is talk@npr.org. It's been a busy day in politics already today. Tom Daschle, former Senate majority leader, what's his new job going to be?

RUDIN: Well, it's been confirmed that he has been offered the job of Health and Human Services secretary in the Obama cabinet, and he has accepted. It's been confirmed by NPR's Don Gonyea. So, he was once originally thought to be the next chief of staff when Rahm Emanuel got that position. I have a very new data that Daschle will get the position. He was an early Obama supporter. You know, he was very strong with him with the members of Congress. And apparently, he'll be HSS Secretary.

STEWART: Does he have a level of expertise here?

RUDIN: He's very strong on health policy, and he also - as a matter of fact, even he wasn't offered this, everybody thought that he would be the health care czar in the new administration. But apparently, he'll be secretary as well.

STEWART: And John Boehner, he's had a good day as well.

RUDIN: Well, he didn't have a good day a couple of weeks ago when under his leadership, the Republican Party lost at least 20 seats in the House. Two years ago, they lost 30 seats in the House but somehow, he survives. There was not a major challenge to his post as House minority leader. Dan Lungren, a Republican of California, a conservative, made a symbolic attempt to beat him. It was not even close, Boehner leads.

STEWART: All right. And Eric Holder, apparently, has been tapped to be the attorney general for Barack Obama. Again, this is one of these leaks that has come out of who's going to be in the cabinet, who are going to be appointees. Was this a surprise to you about Eric Holder?

RUDIN: Well, this has not been confirmed. We don't have it confirmed, but he was always on the short list. Eric Holder would be, of course, the first African-American to be attorney general. And a lot of people have talked about his role in the Mark Rich pardon in the latter days of the Bill Clinton administration where he, perhaps, did not vet that decision strong enough but.

STEWART: Because he was deputy attorney general to Janet Reno, right?

RUDIN: Exactly, under the administration. But I don't think anybody feels that that's going to hold him back at all nor should it. He's very - he's highly thought a very smart and from the beginning, he was likely to be at a position like that, and attorney general's one of them. Of course, we also have to mention Joe Lieberman.

STEWART: Oh, yes.

RUDIN: What's happened yesterday, the Senate Democrats - and secret vote - now, this is very interesting. 42 to 13 was the vote they decided not to strip him of his Homeland Security Committee. And what's interesting about that is that of course in a secret vote, you'd thought there'd be more people who are Democrats in the Senate who are upset that he not only endorsed John McCain for president, but criticized the Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

STEWART: But Senator - Majority Leader Harry Reid, he sort of intimated at his press conference that people - Democrats may be - still have questions about what Senator Lieberman did. Let's listen to Senator Reid and then Senator Lieberman.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): We're moving forward, recognizing that there's a period of time that in Joe Lieberman's political career that I will never understand or approve.

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): Some of the things that people have said I said about Senator Obama are simply not true. There are other statements that I made that I wish I had made more clearly. And there are some that I made that I wish I had not made at all. And obviously in the heat of campaigns, that happens to all of us, but I regret that, and now it's time to move on.

STEWART: Never understand or approve. Is this a "forgive but not forget" moment?

RUDIN: Well, I think it started because Barack Obama said we should look forward, there should be no recriminations, what happened in the election is past. We're going to a new start. And I think the Senate Democrats followed that up but Connecticut Democrats back home are not so forgiving. On December 17th, there's going to be a motion to censure Joe Lieberman. Of course, he's no longer a Democrat in Connecticut. He was re-elected in 2006 as independent, having lost the Democratic primary. But they're going to censure him perhaps ask him to resign as a - resign from the party, assuming he's still a member of the Democratic Party.

STEWART: And there was also some concern that if they did take away his Homeland Security chairmanship, that he might become a Republican and that the Democrats are so close to getting 60, to being filibuster proof.

RUDIN: Well, that would have been a disastrous thing for the Democrats two years ago had he decided to become a Republican after his 2006 victory because then he would get - kept the Republic - the Senate in Republican hands. Now, they're approaching 58, they have 58 right now. If they win Minnesota, it's 59. If they win Georgia, run off its 60.

STEWART: We should explain to people why they have 58 because the.

RUDIN: 58 because Ted Stevens yesterday on his 85th birthday, he got a very unhappy birthday present. He was decided - Mark Begich, the Democratic mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, has a 3,724 vote lead with only 2,500 votes yet still to be counted. And so we have declared Mark Begich the winner in that Alaska Senate race. He's the first Democrat to win a Senate race there since 1974. Ted Stevens, the longest Senate - Republican senator in history, and Ted Stevens' career was over.

STEWART: We have a little bit of Mark Begich on what perhaps was a stumbling block for Senator Stevens.

Mayor MARK BEGICH (Democrat, Anchorage): People were concerned about where are we going to be as a state 30 - 40 years now and who can bring us down that path. And I think - and in the case of Ted Stevens, they were concerned that maybe he would be not be able to do that because of his personal challenges that he has in front of him.

STEWART: Is that the euphemism personal challenges for convicted felon?

RUDIN: Mark Begich was magnanimous He has seven counts convicted felony. And what of course that means is that Ted Stevens will not be re-elected. And that means that he will not resign the seat. And the Political Junkie fantasy, of course, not my personal fantasy but - that Sarah Palin runs for that special seat comes to Washington and tortures all the senators who tortured her during the campaign. And so Mark Begich, the first Democrat in decades representing the Alaska in the U.S. Senate.

STEWART: Mike Gravel giving up this pump(ph) somewhere.

RUDIN: Alaska and it was Mike Gravel, exactly.

STEWART: Well, since we're talking about senators losing their seats, we go back to your trivia question.

RUDIN: OK.

STEWART: All right. The question was, name the last senator to run for president who was defeated in his next bid for re-election to the Senate. Let's talk to Richard in San Antonio, Texas. Hi, Richard.

RICHARD (Caller): Hi.

STEWART: What do you think the answer is - who do you think the answer is?

RICHARD: Walter Mondale.

RUDIN: Well, actually no. Walter Mondale was not only a former senator but he was a former vice president when he ran for president in 1984. We're talking about an incumbent senator who sought the presidency like Bobby Kennedy. Of course, Bobby Kennedy was not defeated. He was assassinated. Hillary Clinton is a senator who ran for president. John McCain is a senator who ran for president, not a former.

STEWART: All right. Go back to the Google, Richard.

RICHARD: OK.

RUDIN: There were two answers, by the way. There were two answers to this question here. ..TEXT: STEWART: Two answers. All right, let's - let Victoria from Denver try. Hi, Victoria.

VICTORIA (Caller): Hi.

STEWART: Who do you think this is?

VICTORIA: Oh, it's a total guess. I'm in my car side and get Google anything, but my guess is Bob Dole.

RUDIN: Well, actually, no. Bob Dole, he's never been defeated for the Senate when he ran for president in 1996. He resigned his Senate seat after he won the Republican nomination. He thought that dismissing his Senate career might give the voters a new look at him, but he was never defeated for the Senate. He resigned the Senate seat that year.

STEWART: Victoria, thank you so much for calling.

VICTORIA: Thank you.

STEWART: Now, we have two sets of races that are still undecided at this point.

RUDIN: We do. One is on Georgia. There's a runoff on December 2nd. Bill Clinton is in Georgia today, campaigning for the Democratic nominee, Jim Martin. Al Gore will be in Georgia on Sunday on behalf of Martin. The reason there's a runoff is because Georgia law says, you must get 50 percent of the vote, plus one. Saxby Chambliss got 49.8 percent of the vote. He's a Republican incumbent. Jim Martin fell about 100,000 votes behind. Mitt Romney will be campaigning on behalf of Saxby Chambliss on Friday. It's a real - it's almost like a Spanish Civil War. Both the big powers are taking sides between Chambliss and Martin, and this can be a very important race.

STEWART: And now in Minnesota, they're just counting at this point by hand?

RUDIN: They started to hand count 2.9 million votes.

STEWART: Wow!

RUDIN: Only 206 votes separate the Republican incumbent, Norm Coleman, who declared yesterday. Very interesting because it's, you know, hardly over. And Democrat, Al Franken - 206 votes as of now separate the two candidates.

STEWART: All right. So we try to see if we can find somebody who knows the answer to this question.

RUDIN: Please, somebody call now.

STEWART: If you think you know the last senator to run for president, who was defeated in his next bid for reelection to the Senate. We're going to caller number five. Caller number five, you're Scott. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT (Caller): Hello.

STEWART: Where are you calling from?

SCOTT: Nampa, Idaho.

STEWART: You're calling from Idaho. All right. Ken is smiling. Go ahead, Scott.

SCOTT: How about Frank Church?

RUDIN: Well, Frank Church is one of the two answers. Frank Church is the Democrat who ran for president in 1976 Democratic primaries and was defeated in the Reagan Revolution. In 1980, he lost his seat. Is somebody else, another Democrat who also ran for president in 1976 and was defeated in 1980. But Frank - along with Frank Church, that is the correct answer.

STEWART: Scott, you have bragging rights for the day.

SCOTT: Woohoo!

STEWART: Woohoo! Thanks a lot.

SCOTT: (unintelligible) from Idaho. I'd like to tell you that.

RUDIN: We should also - we always separate Church from Scott. You know, the old expression.

STEWART: You can use that one today, Scott, if you like. Thanks for calling. You want to tell us who the other person is?

RUDIN: The other answer is Birch Bayh of Indiana, who also...

STEWART: Evan Bayh's

RUDIN: Evan Bayh's father.

STEWART: Father.

RUDIN: It's funny that we now know him as Evan Bayh's father.

STEWART: Yeah.

RUDIN: But Birch Bayh was - ran for the Democrat nomination in '76, defeated by Dan Quayle in 1980 in Indiana.

STEWART: Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor here at the studio 3-A. You can read his column and download his podcast at npr.org. We are going to talk more with Ken, our Political Junkie, in a moment. But up next, we'll discuss what do we know about Hillary Clinton being the next Secretary of State? I'm Alison Stewart. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

STEWART: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Alison Stewart in Washington. We're speaking with Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor and our Political Junkie every Wednesday. So, we're going to just dive into the story that everybody is talking about. We're going to spend the rest of the segment, discussing all that is being discussed around Senator Hillary Clinton, that she could become Madam Secretary, the Secretary of State. Now, here's a bigger question for you. What role do you think that Senator Hillary Clinton should play or could play in the Obama administration, if any role at all?

Tell us why, 800-989-8255. Email us also at talk@npr.org. On the line now, we have Washington Post reporter, Anne Kornblut. She covered the presidential election, and is now writing a book about Hillary Clinton. She joins us on the phone from her home here in Washington. I understand you're a little bit under the weather, so you're a real super for joining us. Hi, Anne.

Ms. ANNE KORNBLUT (Reporter, Washington Post): Hi. Thank you.

STEWART: So Anne, tell us why would Senator Clinton want this job, a Secretary of State?

Ms. KORNBLUT: Well, I should first correct the record in saying I'm not writing a book about Clinton per se, but about women in 2008. But I can tell you, having covered her, that she, you know, would want an executive job that would present a lot of new challenges different from her day-to-day job as a senator, although her aides have been careful to say that she likes it. It's obviously a lot less interesting. There's no guarantee that she would get to do health care if she were to stay. And being Secretary of State comes with a big coterie and a lot of attention around the world and would give her kind of a place to play out the star power that she built up during the campaign as opposed to being just one of a hundred senators.

STEWART: Now, why do you think Barack Obama would offer it to her?

Ms. KORNBLUT: Well, from what we understand, he viewed her as - obviously, somebody who knew a lot about the world, who would give instant name and recognition to that job. There are some people close to the Obama circle who think it would be a way of co-opting her and husband, but there's no way - I certainly have no evidence if that is his thinking, but that he brings together a team of rivals. We've talked about it a lot over the last few weeks, but he really does like people who have different points of view and is confident enough in his own leadership abilities that he wouldn't be threatened by having somebody of her stature on his cabinet.

STEWART: Ken, let me bring you into this. Why would you think Senator Hillary Clinton, who spent so much time trying to establish herself as a senator, came in with right to work, put her nose to the grindstone, didn't see the limelight, really dug in? I'm from New York. She really dug in to her work as a senator. Why would she give that up, perhaps an incredible career in the Senate to be Secretary of State?

RUDIN: Well, some people buy the argument that the only reason she ran for the Senate in 2000 was a stepping stone to the presidency. And so by doing that, she was elected in 2000, reelected in 2006, and she made her bid in 2008. Right now, she's only 34th in seniority. Perhaps, you know, as Anne said, that maybe she just - you know, she's not going to move up. She's not going to have the responsibility for health care that she so must want.

Now, some people say that she could do - Hillary Clinton could do what Ted Kennedy did. Ran for president in 1980, decided it was not - it didn't work, and then became a lifer. He dedicated his entire career to pushing issues like that across, you know, in the Senate. But you know, again, the fact is, there are 33 Democrats ahead of her in the seniority thing and perhaps she has an opportunity to go out. She'll be 69 years when Barack Obama finishes two terms. Perhaps, maybe this is the way she wants to be most remembered.

STEWART: Now Anne, you've been covering the presidential election and from other reporters who have, we all know the Obama camp is called No Drama Obama. That was - that sort of his mantra. Let's keep the steady ship, keep it going, yet this story is leaked out and kind of taken on a little bit of a life of its own. Why is this playing out so publicly, Anne?

Ms. KORNBLUT: Well, it's a really interesting question and there's no question about it. I mean, I think we heard some complaints from Obama loyalists and even from Obama advisers about how rapidly every detail of the Clinton interaction in this process has weak. That's just sort of the way the Clintons operate in general. There's been some differences of opinion to - sort of different descriptions. You know, we have a Clinton aid, telling us today that she was offered the job when in fact, Obama aids are saying that it wasn't an informal offer, that they've said that she would probably be offered it if she could passed the vet and they expect her to accept it. So there's some daylight between the two sides now.

This is often the way it is with the Clintons because this is such a big operation and they're in such a very chatty group. But so far, the Obama campaign has not said that that would be a deal breaker for them. Presumably, they understood that that was what they were getting. They ran against her and her people for a long time. They know them very well. And so far, that does not seem to be diminishing her chances of actually winding with the job.

RUDIN: Anne, the question of vetting seems to be less about Hillary Clinton and more about Bill Clinton, his presidential library, his international financial deals. What can you tell us about that?

Ms. KORNBLUT: Sure. Well, he would undergo the same - is under going in fact the same kind of vetting that any spouse of anyone who will be up for that kind of a cabinet position would. He is obviously a lot more high profile and could be more significant because so much of his work is international and he's paid by foreign entities to do the work he has, including just a few days ago, getting a ton of money to speak in (unintelligible). So, lawyers on both sides are going through all of this now and looking to see if there would be any kind of potential conflict. He has, apparently, also agreed to air any of his future dealings with the state department if she were to get the job. But I'm told by Obama advisers that a standard operating procedure that would be the same for any spouse of any Secretary of State.

RUDIN: And the donors to his presidential library, too. He may reveal those names if she...

Ms. KORNBLUT: Some of those names, if they reach a certain status, not all of them. Apparently, they're still some haggling back and forth, you know, with the Clintons some parameters on what he would disclose, but not so much thought that it would preclude her from getting the job. What we were told earlier today is that he will disclose what he needs to disclose and that if she decides not to do this job, it will be her own decision not because he could not cooperate.

STEWART: And I do want to let some of our listeners weigh in here. Paul wrote to us via email. "I personally think if she takes a cabinet post, she will remain in Bill Clinton's shadow. I think the Dem Party owes her for her support of Obama in the election and that she should demand some serious, quote, "affirmative action" by having her select which committee she would like to chair despite her being the junior senator from New York. If the Democrats will let Lieberman keep his post, then she should be offered one as well." Let's also talk to Steven. Steven is joining us from Oakland, California. Hi, Steven.

STEVEN (Caller): Hi. Glad to be on. I think Hillary should be appointed to the Supreme Court.

STEWART: Why do you think that?

STEVEN: Because she's an attorney and she had a lot of national perspective for many years and I think she has enough of the background.

STEWART: You would rather see her as a life-long justice than in the administration?

STEVEN: Yes.

STEWART: All right. Steven, thanks for calling in. You know, that was floated around a little bit right after Hillary Clinton lost the nomination to Barack Obama that possibly, she would be on the Supreme Court. And is there - are there any teeth to those rumors?

Ms. KORNBLUT: Well, he's a long way from actually appointing anybody to the Supreme Court. When that was being talked about, it was strictly in the realm of hypothetical.

STEWART: Sure.

Ms. KORNBLUT: He's now sitting down, trying to look at actual names. It's kind of hard to see. It doesn't really - it wouldn't really suit her character. She likes being in the public eye and she clearly reveled in the attention that the presidential campaign brought her. It wouldn't give her the same kind of immediacy and as Ken alluded to before, you know, the nose to the grindstone in the Senate really was just a stepping stone to run for president. She has not been one to sort of enjoy just burrowing down and not having any attention the way a Supreme Court justice does. So it's an easier leap, I think, to see her in the Secretary of State role because of that kind of profile.

STEWART: And for a short time, when Bill Clinton was running for president, he told voters he'd get two for the price of one if he was elected. So, does this mean Barack Obama might be getting two for the price of one? I remember (unintelligible) say, the problem with having Hillary as vice president is then you have three people who want to be president.

Ms. KORNBLUT: And he wasn't the only who said that. I mean, that was one of the concerns. It's been a very interesting shift since the vice presidential selection process because at that time, we were all told by the Obama people in no uncertain terms. She wouldn't have passed the vet there. They had too many because of the opposition research they have done. They had too many concerns about his work and the way he would function to consider putting her on the ticket. Obviously, something has changed since then and they also have said that the standards are somewhat lower for the Secretary of State that having him as the spouse of the Secretary of State wouldn't be all that different from having him the spouse of the New York senator.

STEWART: We're speaking to Anne Kornblut of the Washington Post and also, Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, about the possibility of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. It's a possibility that Caroline from Chicago - Caroline, you're not into that, are you?

CAROLINE (Caller): No, I am not into that. I think that the Obama administration is supposed to look for the new 21st century type of ethics and transparency and integrity. The Clintons, in their more 25 year in public life, have had a lot of dealings that are less in moral of the highest ground, OK? They have not exactly been at the forefront of honesty, integrity and transparency. And I think that this country do not now need a secretary of state who the whole world saw her lie. The whole world saw her stand up in front of her daughter and everyone else, and why would she never apologize for and that's not the type of integrity you need for someone who would be the secretary of state. I think if the Obama administration is about a new type of statesman or stateswoman, they need to select someone who is in sync with the integrity of the Obama. President-elect Obama has made an effort to be high in his moral dealings, him and his wife.

STEWART: Caroline from Chicago. Thank you so much for your opinion, Caroline. Having Hillary Clinton in his cabinet, does that go against the Obama brand, Anne?

Ms. KORNBLUT: Well, I mean, its change in so far as being magnanimous towards among that he defeated. So in that sense, it's something different. But you know we're hearing a lot of complaints from Obama loyalists about the makeup of the cabinet and his staff so far that it's extremely Clinton heavy. And it's interesting that he's chosen in one of the first weeks of his being president-elect to allow this to be the focus. Really for about a week now, the focus has been entirely on Senator Clinton. So I suspect that at some point in the not too distant future, we'll see him and his aides trying to change the subject on to something - away from the Clintons on to something more Obama-specific.

STEWART: We got an email from Malia. We're assuming it's not Malia Obama. "It says though I love the idea of Hillary as Secretary of State, I feel that she's one of the most powerful and proactive voices for women's rights in the Senate. I hope she can stay in the Senate and continue to work for families of 9/11 victims and first responders, women rights and health care. When all is said and done, I've always loved the walk in her and I'd like to see her on the Supreme Court as well. It's interesting about the health care issue because Ted Kennedy - he announced plans for this new health care legislation and he's asked her to work on it. Now, if health care is near and dear to her heart, wouldn't it be the right choice or a good choice to stay in the Senate and work on the health care issue that way?"

Ms. KORNBLUT: Well, it's a really interesting question. Because by taking this job, he would be basically giving that up as something she would work on - health care, domestic women's rights - I mean all the domestic issues that she has talked about on the campaign trail, that would be over. So it was an interesting decision to have him give her that. On the other hand, it's not something that it's irrevocable. If she does go to the secretary of state position, someone else can do it.

If she stays, which I think is probably a diminishing possibility at this point - but if she stays, she has that there. I think there's no question that she has competition for health care. She is not the only one in the Senate who'd want to do it. Ted Kennedy, although he's been ill, is still in charge of it and there are other Senators too who hold it dear to their hearts. So I think the clearest shot to having turf that really is her own would be the secretary of state one.

STEWART: I got a question for you. I mean, obviously we're talking about the person who is going to be the spokesperson for foreign policy for the president, they were so far apart on Iraq during the primary. She voted for Iraq and Barack Obama, quite a bit of his campaigning early on, was obviously I'm against the war in Iraq. I wouldn't have sanctioned the war in Iraq.

RUDIN: Well, he did say that I had the judgment to vote against it, to oppose the war from the beginning but I don't think that they were really that far apart on the war for the longest time. And also, look who he picked for vice president. Joe Biden was even more of a champion of the war I think then Hillary Clinton was. And I wonder if Hillary Clinton really would be one of a hundred in the Senate, because she will always be the former first lady, she will always be a nationally known person. But I just wondered though if she doesn't get the position of secretary of state - either she's turned it down or Barack Obama doesn't offer it - and Anne may ask you this question, too. Do you think that the bad blood that we saw between the so-called Hillary people and the Obama people, might that continue or might that come to the surface again?

Ms. KORNBLUT: I think it's a really open question. I mean it certainly persisted until two weeks ago. You know, I heard from a lot of Clinton people who are upset that Obama hadn't done more to help her retire her debt and many of them were very upset that she didn't even get vetted for the vice presidential position. So it's not as though it all went away at the convention. We've felt it up until recent days. Now, whether this would be enough to placate them or whether there would be an ongoing rivalry, I don't think we know. There are such large looming operations and I think it's hard to know. But I think it's a valid question. I think it's one that they've got to both be asking themselves at this point.

STEWART: You are listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. We're speaking with Anne Kornblut, political reporter for the Washington Post; and Ken Rudin, political editor for NPR News about the possibility of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Let's talk to Ken in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Hi, Ken.

KEN (Caller): Good afternoon. Terrific show you have here.

STEWART: Thanks.

KEN: Yeah. She tried to defeat - Hillary Clinton did - Barack on a foreign policy platform at the end there that fell flat on its face as far as not talking to your enemies and keeping up that blustery cold war attitude that the Republicans like. And for that alone, I don't think she deserves it and I don't think she's going to get it. And another issue why I don't believe she would get secretary state is kind of a machismo thing around the world. I feel that Condi Rice was kind of marginalized over in the Middle East by the Middle East dignitaries. And for that reason, I know that it's not prevalent here in America - that attitude - but overseas and a lot of countries, it is; and I think she can serve a better purpose at home.

STEWART: Ken from Fort Lauderdale. Thanks, Ken.

KEN: Yeah. Thank you.

STEWART: So Anne is there something to this idea that the president and a secretary of state need to be in lockstep about foreign policy, that this person is going out there to the world and being the spokesperson for this president, not somebody with their own ideas and their own foreign policy agenda.

Ms. KORNBLUT: Oh, well, I think absolutely. That is traditionally the case; that would have to be the case. Effective secretaries of state are ones that foreign leaders know that they are speaking directly to the president or to somebody who has the authority to make decisions on behalf of the president. So I think if she were to take the job and travel around the world, the expectation she would be conveying is Barack Obama's foreign policy and not her own. And if that weren't the case, I would not expect him to leave her in the job.

On the question of women in that role, if she takes it, she'd be the third. And I think although people have debated the effectiveness of both Madeleine Albright and Condi Rice, there's very little to suggest that gender is the reason and not other things that had to do with the way they did the job.

STEWART: Anne Kornblut covered the presidential election for the Washington Post. She's now writing a book about women and the election cycle in 2008. Anne, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. KORNBLUT: Thank you.

STEWART: Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor. He joined us in Studio 3A. You can read his column, download his podcasts at npr.org. Thanks, Ken.

RUDIN: Thanks, Alison.

STEWART: Up next. Unplugging the president. Should Barack Obama hang on to his BlackBerry? Stay with us. I'm Alison Stewart. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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Will Bill Clinton Doom Hillary For Secretary Of State?

Sen. Hillary Clinton talks with a neighbor after casting her ballot in Chappaqua, N.Y., on Nov. 4. i i

Sen. Hillary Clinton talks with a neighbor after casting her ballot in Chappaqua, N.Y., on Nov. 4. Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Sen. Hillary Clinton talks with a neighbor after casting her ballot in Chappaqua, N.Y., on Nov. 4.

Sen. Hillary Clinton talks with a neighbor after casting her ballot in Chappaqua, N.Y., on Nov. 4.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
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Some aides to President-elect Kennedy wanted Adlai Stevenson, a JFK rival, as secretary of state in 1960. hide caption

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If Hillary Clinton leaves the Senate for the Cabinet, RFK Jr. — whose father also held the seat — is one of those mentioned as her replacement. hide caption

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One undecided House race has now been settled: Don Young (R) wins re-election in Alaska. hide caption

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Democrats decide Joseph Lieberman's fate on Tuesday. hide caption

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We never bought into the "Hillary Clinton for VP" talk that was the topic du jour (actually, du mois) last summer as Democrats approached their nominating convention in Denver. The emotions between Clinton and Barack Obama were still too raw. There was the inevitable "what to do with Bill" question. And not everyone in the Obama camp was convinced that she would be a plus for the ticket.

But that was then. Since then, Hillary Clinton campaigned long and hard for Obama, far more enthusiastically than two other famous defeated presidential hopefuls who come to mind. Ted Kennedy (D) in 1980 and Ronald Reagan (R) in 1976 did not exactly exert themselves on behalf of their victorious rivals after they lost out at their respective nominating conventions.

Now comes the latest buzz: Hillary for secretary of state. It's an intriguing thought, more so than the running-mate speculation. And people are not necessarily dismissing it out of hand.

The first question is: Would she want it? If you buy the argument that Clinton only ran for the Senate back in 2000 as a steppingstone to the White House — and, mind you, she would be 69 years old after two Obama terms — maybe this is how she wants to complete her service. Alternatively, she could do what Kennedy did: After failing in his presidential bid, he became a Senate workhorse, a Senate lifer, putting aside personal ambition on behalf of pushing through his liberal agenda. But it took Kennedy, who was only 48 years old when he ran for president, many years to reach the iconic status he now holds. Clinton had hoped to be put in charge of a subcommittee to deal with health care issues in the new, 111th Congress, but that has been met with resistance and is not going to happen. And as for her moving into the post of Senate majority leader, as some of her supporters had hoped, current leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has shown no indication he is willing to cede the position.

The most surprising thing about all this is that it has become so public, especially given the fact that the vice presidential vetting process was done in such secrecy. Certainly there can be private discussions, even between these two very high-profile Democrats, without the entire world knowing. But the secret Clinton-Obama meeting last Thursday in Chicago became anything but secret. In addition, there apparently have been conversations with other hopefuls, such as New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), a former Bill Clinton Cabinet official for whom Hispanic groups are lobbying. Sen. John Kerry (MA), the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, has been mentioned as well. Both Kerry and Richardson bring pluses and minuses to the table.

What if, after this whole episode has become public, Obama doesn't offer the post to Clinton? It could reopen an intraparty wound that seemed to be healing.

But some of the questions that surround Hillary Clinton are the same ones that were there during the VP process, and for the most part they are about Bill Clinton's business dealings around the world and the contributors to his presidential library — information that he has refused to reveal. That, more than anything else, could put a kibosh on the whole thing.

REQUIRED READING: Doris Kearns Goodwin's 2005 Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, a book that discusses Lincoln's decision to bring his rivals into his Cabinet.

FAMOUS QUOTES: Hillary Clinton, in an April interview with ABC News, when asked what she would do if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons: "I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran. In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."

THE LAST SENATOR NAMED SECRETARY OF STATE: That would be Maine's Ed Muskie (D), who was picked after Cyrus Vance, Jimmy Carter's secretary of state, resigned in April 1980 in protest of Carter's ultimately disastrous decision to attempt a rescue of the American hostages in Iran.

CLINTON'S SENATE SEAT: There is no shortage of Democrats who are hoping for an appointment by New York Gov. David Paterson (D) should Clinton leave to join the Cabinet. The list includes state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who unsuccessfully sought the governorship in 2002 and who might have been looking at a primary challenge to Paterson in 2010; Rep. Nita Lowey of Westchester, who was planning to run for the Senate herself in 2000 until Clinton decided she was a New Yorker; Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo, who would give the Democrats an upstate presence; Rep. Nydia Velazquez of Brooklyn, the first Puerto Rican woman in the House; and environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose father once held the seat. Any appointee would have to face the voters in a special election in 2009.

LAST NEW YORK SENATE VACANCY: That came, tragically, in June of 1968, when Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican, named GOP Rep. Charles Goodell to the seat in September.

Now, a word or two about those Nov. 4 races that are still unresolved:

UNDECIDED SENATE RACES

Alaska: When we last left you, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens was leading his Democratic challenger, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, by about 3,200 votes, with 80,000 votes still to be counted. No longer. Begich has now taken a lead of 1,022 votes, with the remaining votes scheduled to be counted Tuesday. Even Republicans are starting to concede that Begich may win this race; if that happens, he would be the first Democrat to win an Alaska Senate seat since 1974. The 84-year-old Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in Senate history, was first appointed to the seat in 1968. He was convicted of seven felony counts regarding unreported personal gifts eight days before the election.

Georgia: Now it's official: The race between Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) and former state Rep. Jim Martin (D) goes to a Dec. 2 runoff. After the counting had concluded, Chambliss received 49.8 percent of the vote — topping Martin by more than 100,000 votes — but state law mandates the winner receive a majority of the vote. Some conservatives voted for Libertarian Allen Buckley instead of Chambliss because they were angry over the senator's vote in favor of the $700 billion financial bailout/rescue package; many may return to the GOP fold. Republicans are arguing that a Chambliss victory is needed to keep the Democrats from obtaining a 60-vote, filibuster-proof Senate — something thought to be most unlikely just a few weeks ago. Defeated GOP presidential nominee John McCain, who carried the state on Nov. 4, has already been in to campaign for Chambliss, as has Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who won the state's presidential primary back in February. Zell Miller, the former Democratic senator and governor, has also endorsed Chambliss. Obama will not personally stump for Martin, but his operation is working tirelessly on his behalf, and Bill Clinton will be in the state later this week. Democrats want revenge against Chambliss, whom they accuse of running a dishonest campaign six years ago when he defeated Max Cleland, the Democratic incumbent. The last time an incumbent Georgia senator was forced into a runoff was in 1992, when Democrat Wyche Fowler led in the initial balloting but lost the runoff to Republican Paul Coverdell.

Minnesota: This one, in which Sen. Norm Coleman (R) leads challenger Al Franken (D) by 206 votes out of nearly 2.9 million cast, has turned especially nasty, with each side accusing the other of dishonestly handling disputed votes. Republicans, dismayed that Coleman's lead has narrowed since Election Day, are crying foul, implying that Mark Ritchie, the Democratic secretary of state, is fixing the tally on behalf of his party (not unlike Democrats' complaints about Katherine Harris, Florida's secretary of state during the 2000 presidential recount). Democrats, proud of the state's reputation of honesty when it comes to handling elections, are furious at accusations impugning Ritchie's integrity. A hand recount begins on Thursday, with the results not likely to become official before Dec. 19.

UNDECIDED HOUSE RACES: One has been called since last week's column: the Alaska At-Large seat. Rep. Don Young (R) was re-elected over Democratic challenger Ethan Berkowitz. Three have yet to be finalized:

California 04: As the count continues, Republican Tom McClintock's lead over Democrat Charlie Brown is up to 970 votes out of more than 312,000 counted. The incumbent, Republican John Doolittle, is retiring.

Ohio 15: In the battle for the seat of retiring Republican Deborah Pryce, GOP candidate Steve Stivers leads Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by 149 votes.

Virginia 05: Tom Perriello (D) has increased his lead over GOP incumbent Virgil Goode to 745 votes. Perriello has already declared victory.

In addition, two Louisiana races go into December runoffs.

THE LADY FROM MAINE: We made the argument in the Oct. 22 column that while Hattie Caraway (D-AR) was the nation's first elected female senator, Maine's Margaret Chase Smith (R) was the first woman elected to the Senate "in her own right" — that is, without having first been appointed to the seat to succeed her late husband (as was the case with Caraway). But Frank Conaway of Hinsdale, Ill., and Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., point out that while that may be true, we shouldn't forget that Smith was first elected to the House in a special June 1940 election to succeed her husband, Rep. Clyde Smith (R-ME), who died in office. Better to say, suggests Frank, that it was Nancy Kassebaum (R) of Kansas, elected in 1978, who was the first woman in the Senate who came to office without succeeding a late husband somewhere along the way.

By the way, a nice note about Margaret Chase Smith from Paul Doering of Rochester, N.Y., who writes that Smith "normally wore a single red rose as part of her ensemble. A broadcast report after her death said that when the Senate next convened, New York's Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) quietly placed a red rose on her empty desk. That gesture, apocryphal or not, speaks to the stature and humanity of two people whose memory I revere."

VOTE NPR: Our offer still holds. If you want that nice "Listen/Vote/NPR" button featured in the Nov. 3 column, I will mail it to anyone who has a Senate or congressional button from 2008 that I need. Shoot me a photocopy of what you've got c/o NPR, 635 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, DC, 20001.

ON THE CALENDAR

Nov. 18 — Party leadership elections in the House and Senate. Democrats decide what to do with independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, who endorsed GOP presidential nominee John McCain. Republicans may vote on a motion to kick the convicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) out of their conference. In the House, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) faces a challenge from Rep. Dan Lungren of California. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) challenges House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI), the dean of the House.

Nov. 19 — Hand recount begins in Minnesota Senate race.

Dec. 1 — "Political Junkie" goes from a weekly column to several-times-daily blog. (America, you've been warned.) Also, a winner is expected to be certified in the Alaska Senate race.

Dec. 2 — Senate runoff election in Georgia between incumbent Saxby Chambliss (R) and challenger Jim Martin (D).

POLITICAL JUNKIE CONTINUES ON TALK OF THE NATION: Despite popular demand, we remain a fixture every Wednesday on Talk of the Nation, NPR's live call-in program, beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern. We're no longer live at the Newseum, but the usual concoction of somewhat interesting conversation, useless trivia questions and sparkling jokes remains intact. And remember, if your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can hear the program on the Web or on HD radio. And if you are a subscriber to XM or Sirius radio, you can find the show there as well (siriusly).

IT'S ALL POLITICS: And until someone rats on us to the FCC, our podcast continues as well. Current edition can be found here. New podcast every Thursday.

POLITICAL JUNKIE, THE BLOG: Our mail has been split down the middle on this, but it looks like we're going to try to make "Political Junkie" a several-times-daily blog instead of a weekly column, with the option of producing a larger weekly feature if the situation warrants. It starts Dec. 1.

A SAD FAREWELL: And heartfelt thanks to some outstanding members of NPR's 2008 Political Unit, without whom we could not have brought you the kind of election coverage, editing, guest booking and podcast production you got from National Public Radio this year. We will miss Thomas Pierce, Michael Olson, Laurel Wamsley, Sean Bowditch, Josh Figueira, Nancy Cook, Natalie Friedman and Kyle Gassiott. You have not heard the last of them, I guarantee that.

*******Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state. *********

This day in political history: Sen. Ellison "Cotton Ed" Smith, a South Carolina Democrat and proponent of "white supremacy," died at the age of 80. First elected in 1908, Smith was the longest-serving senator in history (Nov. 17, 1944).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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