Will Bill Clinton Doom Hillary For Secretary Of State? The latest buzz has Hillary Clinton as a potential choice for secretary of state in the Obama administration. But some of the same questions that surrounded Clinton during the vice presidential process are still around, and for the most part, they are about her husband.
NPR logo Will Bill Clinton Doom Hillary For Secretary Of State?

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. Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

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

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

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

toggle caption

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

toggle caption

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

toggle caption

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

toggle caption

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:


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.


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