Clinton, Gates On Obama National Security Team President-elect Obama this morning unveiled his national security team. He nominated one-time Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State and others, including two African Americans, to key posts. NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving offers analysis.
NPR logo

Clinton, Gates On Obama National Security Team

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Clinton, Gates On Obama National Security Team

Clinton, Gates On Obama National Security Team

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is News & Notes. I'm Farai Chideya.

From top rival to top aide. This morning, President-elect Barack Obama unveiled his national security team. He nominated one-time Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state. He also announced others to key posts, including two African-America nominees. To give us some more perspective, we've got NPR senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.

RON ELVING: Hello, Farai. Good to be with you.

CHIDEYA: Great to be with you, too. So the big news was the nomination of Senator Hillary Clinton as secretary of state following weeks of speculation. Let's listen to a little bit about Mr. Obama speaking about his one-time political foe.

(Soundbite of speech)

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: I have known Hillary Clinton as a friend, a colleague, a source of counsel and a tough campaign opponent. She possesses an extraordinary intelligence and a remarkable work ethic. I am proud that she will be our next secretary of state.

CHIDEYA: Now, those are some very nice words, and they were not always quite so nice to each other during the campaign. That's normal, but what do you make of their relationship? If this nomination goes through, what do you think their interactions will be? Equals, still a bit of rivalry, conciliatory?

ELVING: I think the rivalry will fade, although, obviously, it will never be forgotten. Hillary Clinton was quite convinced this was her turn to be president. She ran for the job, she did almost everything right. Some very small mistakes that her campaign made in retrospect turned out to be fatal, not emphasizing the caucus states, what have you. But in the end, she didn't win. Although she came very close, 18 million votes, she was just a few delegates behind, and so it is a great deal for her to swallow to say, now I am going to serve this man who defeated me.

But I think she is a large enough person to do it, and I think she certainly realizes that the best thing for her to do now for history and for her future and for women who have looked to her for leadership is to step into this new job and do as well as she possibly can to serve the foreign policy interests and needs of the United States and the Obama administration. And I think they'll have that in common, and that will be the basis of their new relationship.

CHIDEYA: There were several other people named. I'm going to talk about just two of them and get your perspective. Robert Gates is secretary of defense under the current Republican president, but he's also the nominee for the Obama administration. Is that unusual?

ELVING: Yes. It's unusual to keep the defense secretary. It's a key position. It's one of the four in the inner cabinet, the original cabinet of treasury, secretary of war and then later defense secretary, attorney general and secretary of state. This is a big job, and you are running the biggest, most visible part of the federal bureaucracy, that is, the Pentagon and all the armed services. And Bob Gates has done such a job of it in the last year or so as he has tried to deal with all the wreckage of Donald Rumsfeld's time as secretary of defense. And I mean that in the sense not only of policy, Iraq, what have you, but also in the sense of the relationships within the Pentagon, which have been rarely worse than they were during the Rumsfeld years.

And so Bob Gates had a big job. He has handled it well. He has been applauded almost universally and certainly across the aisle, bipartisan-fashion in Congress. So he provides some continuity, and I think he's also going to surprise a lot of people with his willingness to shift his priorities measurably, substantially, in order to serve his new boss, in order to serve a new set of policy imperatives that are going to come down to him from the rest of this foreign policy team we saw on stage today.

CHIDEYA: Give me just a quick bit on Susan Rice. She's been nominated as the U.S. ambassador to the UN. Who is she?

ELVING: Susan Rice is a far less high-profile figure than the others who were on the stage today. That group included senators and governors and so on, people who have been very visible in Washington. Susan Rice has not been a stranger to Washington. She was on the National Security Council of President Bill Clinton. She was assistant secretary of state for a period of time under President Clinton. And of course, most recently, she has been a key foreign policy - really the first foreign policy adviser for the Barack Obama campaign. So he is rewarding her with this highly visible international position of being the permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations. We also call it UN ambassador.

CHIDEYA: Now, when you look ahead at the challenges that the U.S. faces including, certainly over the past few days, we've been looking at the question of terrorism in the India-Pakistan region with the attacks in Mumbai. Can this group of people speak with one voice to the president?

ELVING: No. I don't believe any group of people that is this varied and various and also high-powered and individually ambitious could ever speak with just one voice. We've got to throw Joe Biden into the mix here, the vice president. He's been the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and certainly considers himself to be a lifelong and world-class foreign policy expert. We have to include him in this mix, and then also let's include Eric Holder, the new attorney general because in this age of terrorism, one of the biggest parts, the biggest focus of the attorney general's job has recently been trying to battle terrorism in the United States and prevent another 9/11.

So all of these people come from terribly different backgrounds. They bring different expertise, and they're not going to speak with one voice to the president. The real question will be after the president has made his decision, can they all speak in one voice to support the president and defend his decisions?

CHIDEYA: Well, Ron, thank you.

ELVING: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Ron Elving is NPR's senior Washington editor and he joined me from our headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.