Political Junkie: Obama Selects His Team In this week's edition of the Political Junkie, Matt Bai, writer for The New York Times Magazine, gives a rundown of this week's news in politics. Also: Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, talks about President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet and White House picks.
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Political Junkie: Obama Selects His Team

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Political Junkie: Obama Selects His Team

Political Junkie: Obama Selects His Team

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This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Daily news conferences to announce appointments, leaks of an appointment to come - team Obama starts to gel. The Senate? Not so much. It may be the Wednesday before Thanksgiving but there's still plenty to chew on in this week's edition of the Political Junkie.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE (United States): There you go again. 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 don'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.

Mr. HOWARD DEAN (DNC Chairman): Aaaah!

CONAN: So, let's see. 207 EST, Ken Rudin is probably somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike. But no fear. Guest junkie Matt Bai of the New York Times magazine joins us to sort out this week's political news. Joe Biden's seat warmer is named. Long-red Virginia morphs to a deeper shade of blue. Big guns on both sides, stump for next week's run off for Georgia's Senate seat and they are counting drip, drip, drips on in Minnesota. Later, we focus on President-elect Obama's cabinet and the White House picks with Lanny Davis who vetted candidates for Bill Clinton's cabinet. And after that, we want you to nominate your favorite rest top along America's highways. You can vote early with an email to npr.org. But first, if you have questions about the politics of President-elect Obama's picks or any of the election hangovers, give us a call, 800-989-8255. That email address again is talk@npr.org. And you could join the conversation on our website. You can go to npr.org and click on Talk of the Nation. Matt Bai covers politics for the New York Times magazine and wrote "The Argument: Inside the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics." He is with us here in the Studio 3A. Happy Thanksgiving, Matt.

Mr. BAI: Same to you, Neal. Nice to be here. I suspect that if Ken is on the Jersey Turnpike, he's going to be able to way in on that rest area question.

CONAN: I think he may be calling in for the Molly Pitcher Red Sox any minute. Joe Biden's successor for his Senate seat has been chosen by outgoing Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner. It is not, however, the person who is expected to serve the bulk of that term.

Mr. BAI: No, but I love this decision. I mean, you know, aides never get the credit they deserve. This is a guy who's served in the Senate for how long - you know decades, right? I mean these guys run the place, they never get to be the principal, they're never out front. I mean this is great. It gives the guy who has been Joe Biden's chief aid, a major person in the Senate a chance to actually serve the term for two years, and of course, it achieves the political objectives presumably of setting up Senator Biden's son who is well qualified in his own right but probably would have suffered more than he would have gained from the appearance of having given the job by his father. So I think it works out for everybody.

CONAN: Beau Biden is the attorney-general at Delaware. However, he's serving currently in Iraq in the National Guards so Ted Kaufman will be the Democratic senator from Delaware for the next couple of years. Two Senate races still undecided. Minnesota - a recount is underway. Is this ever going to end?

Mr. BAI: No. It's actually not because it's one of those races we're growing accustomed to now, where no matter who wins, somebody feels cheated. It basically just gets deferred until the next race, and they can go settle it again. And so at a certain point - I remember the good old days, on Election Day as it seemed, used to be Election Day and then it was over. We are not at that point anymore now. Now, it just drags on somewhere and Minnesota is where it's going to drag.

CONAN: And it seems like Groundhog Day and it's still November 3rd in Georgia. There's a runoff there between Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin. Saxby Chambliss, the incumbent Republican. High-profile people on both sides have been campaigning there - John McCain and Mitt Romney for Chambliss on Monday, the day before the runoff election. Sarah Palin is going to be there, and Saxby Chambliss is running this ad.

(Soundbite of campaign ad)

Unidentified Man #1: Our economy is in turmoil. Jobs lost. Pensions in jeopardy. Barack Obama's new taxes would be a disaster. Yet, Jim Martin supports them. But that's no surprise, Martin voted for the largest tax increase in Georgian history, raised the sales tax 32 percent, even trying to raise property taxes 150 percent.

Unidentified Man #2: In this election you have a simple choice. I want to cut your taxes. Jim Martin wants to raise your taxes.

CONAN: And for Jim Martin no less than Bill Clinton has rallied for him. Noticeably, no visit yet by the president-elect though he did produce this radio ad.

(Soundbite of radio ad)

President-elect BARACK OBAMA (Democratic Senator, Illinois): This is Barack Obama, I want to thank everybody who turned out and voted for me in November. Together we can get America moving again. But the elections aren't over. In Georgia there's a runoff on Tuesday, December second and I want to urge you to turn out one more time and help elect Jim Martin to the United States Senate.

CONAN: The ad actually goes on and so does the election, Matt Bai, this one is going to be decided on next Tuesday.

Mr. BAI: I mean what a silly system, Neal, honestly. Like in this day and age it's antiquated enough when you think about it that we have one Election Day where everybody has to come in the middle of the week in person, wait in line and cast their vote. All the technology we have, now...

CONAN: Wait, we going to get a lot of all calls from Oregon.

Mr. BAI: OK, well early voting is a way to deal with this, but now we need two election days where everybody has to come back? I mean if the turn out so unpredictable. Right now it seems that Chambliss is basically holding the lead he had before, I mean turn out can really affect this, but he's certainly in a good position. I understand the strategy here with President-elect Obama, I mean I think, you know, obviously you want him to do the ad the seat matters to him, he certainly needs to weigh in, he can drive a lot of turnout, but at the same time he has only so much political capital, he needs it right now, he needs to see him above the fray a visit was probably one step further than they were willing to go.

CONAN: And so he is unlikely to go down to Georgia in the time remaining to campaign for Jim Martin. Still a couple of House seats that remain to be decided though the Democrats did pick up another seat this past week in the state of Virginia which astonishingly it's done a 180 to the state of Virginia?

Mr. BAI: It has, I mean and if you look it's a little complex. There was a few things going on here right? There are some significant demographic changes going on that are going all over the country, the exorbitant suburban growth, outsiders, immigrants coming in, outsiders building the tech industry in the northern part of the state that have changed the political shape of it. There is a Democratic brand that's been built over the last decade starting with Mark Warner and Andy (unintelligible), they've showed a kind of governance that people like and then you just had this wave, the anti-Bush wave and this, you know, of course will be huge catalyst, the economic picture that's driven people. So, some of it, you know, the first part where it show a demographic change very lasting, very significant, not just in Virginia, but in other parts of the south and the country, but the last part I talked about obviously, you know, very unique to this election climate and so, you know, it doesn't necessarily reflect such a major shift, but certainly there is a gradual change ground in Virginia and in other states.

CONAN: Virgil Goode represent this district (unintelligible) in Charlottesville normally considered a safe Republican seat, he is the one who just lost by 745 seats - votes rather and he is getting a recount so this may go on until the next year as well as there's a couple of others still undecided one in California, one in Ohio. Well, we'll get Ken Rudin in on those when he gets back.

Mr. BAI: You'll have plenty of time, I think.

CONAN: And we do want to get some calls in on the picks that have been announced by President-elect Obama, but, you know, in some ways the most interesting votes certainly of this week it's going to be tomorrow in the Iraqi parliament when they vote on the status of forces agreement. We forget that Iraq was such a huge part of this election and the major issue early on.

Mr. BAI: We do forget, that's going to make and I think a little bit easier for a President Obama to navigate this issue because so much focus now in the economy domestic issues, he can finesse where he wanted to go on Iraq. Right, he can moderate his view maybe the timetable that he had in mind, and at the same time I think there's, you know seems to be emerging a general consensus for a gradual withdrawal. So, I think that's posing less of a challenge to him as a result of the political climate than certainly we would have thought it would have six months or eight months after Election Day.

CONAN: We're going to be talking about the picks for the cabinet and the White House, the process by which those picks are made and the politics of this. So, if you liked to be in on the act give us a call 800-989-8255, email us talk@npr.org. We're talking right now with Matt Bai who's our guest political junkie. In a few minutes we'll be joined by Lanny Davis, who was a special counsel to President Clinton, helped to vet many of his cabinet appointments. So give us a call if you'd like to weigh in on that. Let's go with Kevin. Kevin is joining us on the line from St. Augustine in Florida.

KEVIN (Caller): Hey, how are you doing?

CONAN: Very well. Thank you.

KEVIN: I'm wondering, for your opinion, what does picking a former Federal Reserve governor to head the Treasury and now, Paul Volcker to head the Economic Advisory Committee, have to do with all these promises of real change. I mean, these are the guys who were the architects of the trouble we're in. And Obama talks about reading Lincoln, but Lincoln despised the Central Bank as much as the founding fathers.

CONAN: Change - Obama certainly campaigned on that change we can believe in and we have seen a lot of Washington rethreads. Matt Bai, come out, including Larry Summers. And as Kevin is mentioning, the next Secretary of the Treasury, the former Fed chairman, Paul Volcker, announced today - it looks like Robert Gates is going to be continuing on at the Defense Department.

Mr. BAI: Well, there is certainly a storyline taking shape that Barack Obama will talk more about change than his appointments would reflect him. In some ways, I think that's unfair because when it doesn't change, it doesn't mean you bring in a bunch of people who have never worked in government, right? There has to be some continuity in the past. I think what's actually happening, if you look at least from my point of view, it's a little more complex. In that there's a theory behind it that I find interesting, which is I think if you looked at a lot of the people who were around, who were the architects of the change model, the sort of insurgency that he ran, are being installed with him in the White House, in the executive branch.

And then in the cabinet picks - in the picks, as you radiate out in Washington, they've obviously gone with a lot of people who have experience in the Clinton era and in the Congress. I think what that says is not so much that they've just thrown the rhetoric away and are bringing rethreads, as you say. I think what it indicates is the Barack Obama thing that most public servants, most principles can sort of go either way. They can either be tools of an establishment, they can govern the same old way or they can be changed agents depending on the kind of leadership and the marching orders that they get.

And that he and his team, if they embody real change, if they're true to the rhetoric of their campaign, then the Tom Daschle's and Paul Volcker's of the world or the Hillary Clinton's - well, all the people who have been in the Democratic establishment for a long time can actually be the agents of that change because they know how to pull the levers of government. I think that's a more complex theory than he's generally getting credit for.

CONAN: Your book, "The Argument," is about the rise of the so-called net-roots that played such an important part in the revival of the Democratic Party. It's so much an important in Barack Obama's victory not only in the primaries, but in the general election. Are some of those people getting nervous?

Mr. BAI: Oh, they're more than nervous. They're furious and I think they really did. A lot of folks in the so-called net-roots really did think that this was going to be the moment for everyone who'd never been in Washington to come and quote, unquote, crash the gates. But look, in a sense, you know, there's a message being sent here. I don't know that it's being sent purposely. Obama supplanted those people. I mean, the bloggers and the move on folks, I mean, they built the apparatus here. They engaged a lot of people online. They came to a massive certain amount of power and capital. But the Obama movement is much bigger than them. It's bigger in terms of names. He's got up worth of 10 million emails. It's bigger in terms of money. I mean, what he raised warps what anyone else has been able to do and there's a challenge in translating that to a governing model. But still at the end of the day, the online progressive movement is his, more than it belongs to any bloggers or any organization, and he intends obviously to, you know, follow his own instincts in that space and not to bend. It's going to disappoint some people.

CONAN: Nevertheless, those people can bounce back at you once the bloom is off the rose.

Mr. BAI: They can make noise, but you know, his political capitals, his (unintelligible) waste and as long as he uses it wisely, I think the damage they can do to him is pretty minimal.

CONAN: Kevin, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. We'll talk more with Matt Bai, our guest Political Junkie. And when we come back, Lanny Davis on what may be the toughest job in Washington - vetting the new Obama team. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. For the third time in his many days, President-elect Obama held a news conference. He named former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to head a new economic recovery advisory board. Peter Orszag, the current director of the Congressional Budget Office, was tabbed to head the White House Office of Management and Budget. More personal announcements are due next week. And behind all these nominees is an intense vetting process. More about that in a moment. Our guest Political Junkie this week is Matt Bai of the New York Times Magazine. And we have a caller on the line. This is Ken. Ken, calling us from the New Jersey Turnpike.

KEN (Caller): Yes. First of all, I understand that Ken Rudin isn't on the show today.

CONAN: He's - that's right. Ken Rudin is traveling to be with the bosom of his family.

KEN: Oh, because I have a great trivia question. The last New York senator named Secretary of State.

CONAN: The last New York senator to be named Secretary of State. Who would that be, Ken?

KEN: That would be John Foster Dulles, 1949.

CONAN: He worked in the Senate?

KEN: Yes, he was. Before he was Secretary of State, he was New York senator named by autonomous governor, Thomas Dewey.

CONAN: And Ken, are you one of those fabulous rest stops of the New Jersey Turnpike?

KEN: I'm in the New Jersey Turnpike and (unintelligible) just met by guy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Look, we have one important vetting question for all of our guest Political Junkies. Are they Yankee fans? So, you know, he passed that one. And so Ken, we'll see you again next week.

KEN: See you guys. Happy Thanksgiving.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Bye-bye, Ken. Let's introduce Washington lawyer, Lanny Davis, who was in charge of vetting candidates for Bill Clinton's cabinet. He's been kind enough to join us here in studio 3-A, and to put up with this nonsense. Lanny, good to have you back on the program.

Mr. LANNY DAVIS (Special Counsel, President Bill Clinton): I am a New York Giants fan before they went to San Francisco, and I hated the Yankees.

CONAN: Well, that's why you're the guest, not the guest junkie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's talk about the politics of these appointments for just a minute, picking up on what Matt was talking about just before the break. A lot of people are going to say boy, these are a lot of old, familiar faces.

Mr. DAVIS: Well, first of all, the simple answer to that and I think Matt suggested is that change is about policy change. It's not about people change. If Barack Obama changes policies and people who were veterans of prior administrations are the agents of that change, it's a silly argument to me. Barack Obama still has the same agenda. We get national health insurance. Hillary Clinton is the agent of change on national health insurance and she would have been had she'd been president. He's going to set the agenda for change, and that's the only thing that matters. And regarding the so-called net-roots, Barry Goldwater had - before the internet, his right wing base that...

CONAN: That was before electricity, I think.

Mr. DAVIS: To take over the Republican Party. George McGovern had what was the version of net-roots before there was net. Every political party has an ideological core that I call purest, intolerant, dogmatic, and ultimately hates the person they started out supporting when they slightly compromise. So Barack Obama, having the backbone to stand up to some of the more intolerant strands of what Matt has written about, is good for Barack Obama and good for the Democratic Party and good for the country.

CONAN: Well, let me ask you. What are the benefits of having some of these familiar faces come in? They've already been vetted. This is a horrible process.

Mr. DAVIS: Look, my vetting experience was quite unusual because I had a couple of explosions occur that were completely unanticipated. Most vetting is pretty standard. You get tax returns. You ask a bunch of questions from a questionnaire and then you go over the gut instinct to tell whoever the president-elect is. This is what you might be worried about if there are confirmation hearings. In my case, I started out with somebody named Zoe Bear(ph), she's a great lady from Connecticut who's being looked at for either White House Counsel or for Attorney General. It turned that she and about 10 million other people have been careful about paying Social Security for a nanny. And that began the whole...

CONAN: Nannygate, Yes.

Mr. DAVIS: And she took very unfair heat on that issue. But we discovered that in the course of vetting. And it wasn't quite appreciated as the explosive issue that it became because at one point, she was looked at for White House Counsel where there weren't going to be confirmation hearings. Then I went on to do vetting for Janet Reno and for Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico and there was less controversy about those two.

CONAN: And Governor Bill Richardson coming back. Apparently, he's secretary of Commerce. So, this is going to be pretty interesting, Matt.

Mr. BAI: Oh, boy. I just want to say I don't want to re-litigate the past, Lanny. But speaking for the millions of Americans who labor to pay our taxes properly for our domestic health, I think you may have written off the significance of that issue just a little bit.

Mr. DAVIS: Well, I don't write off the significance because I was right in the middle of it and it was quite significant. But at that time, there were millions and millions of people who didn't realize that domestic health required - and it turned out to be there were so many people who shared that problem that we then found a whole bunch of people that had to take themselves out of the running when they discovered they were doing the same thing.

Mr. BAI: Right.

Mr. DAVIS: I'm just not passing judgment on Zoe, who's a great person. But she got caught up in something that retroactively, you can say probably she should have known at that time.

Mr. BAI: She certainly knew it at that time.

CONAN: Yeah, yeah. Is it fair to say though, one way or another, somebody whose name we're going to hear either this week or in the weeks to come, is going to blow up in their face?

Mr. DAVIS: Look, this is the moment of - if I could brag about my own book, "Gotcha Politics." I wrote a book, which is really the history of scandal in American politics. But the subhead is "How Gotcha Politics Is Destroying America." So what's going to happen is the Republicans are going to pick out one or two or three. They can't go for more than that to try to play Gotcha, to find something in that individual's background that they can try to blow up, use talk radio and a lot of other people on the pundit land to blow up into an issue and cause Barack Obama to be set back. It won't work this time. I think because there's nothing - it's likely to show up. And secondly, people are fed up with this. And this time with Barack Obama as president, I think he's created a culture of less tolerance for Gotcha politics.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And let's start with Peter. Peter, calling us from Oakland, California.

PETER (Caller): You know, I called to just offer an opinion on the appointments. But I have to challenge the thing that the gentleman involved in the vetting process just said. I think - you know, it seems a gross generalization to say that everybody who critiques candidates or at first, some of these cabinet officials somehow, you know, rigidly ideological or intolerant. I mean, that just seems very condescending to much of the American public. But in any event, I think, you know, an awful lot of folks, whether they're involved with the netroots or not, really voted for change in American foreign policy. And I think right now, they have every reason to feel like, you know, kind of Charlie Brown of the football.

You know, having had it egged away (unintelligible), Robert Gates, emerging as the Defense secretary is very disappointing. A month ago, he gave a speech in favor of a new generation of nuclear weapon. That's, you know, the exact opposite of Obama's platform. You know, obviously, Obama and Hillary famously feuded on some approaches to different countries around the world and I think people voted in the primaries for a different approach and they have to feel a little bit of reservation about what they're getting now and ditto for General Jones, who you know, actually campaigned for McCain. So right now, we have every reason to feel disappointed and I think Americans should pay very close attention to these types of appointments because they ultimately have a huge influence on policy. I think it's very unrealistic to say that it flows from the White House and that the, you know, that the lead policymakers have new influence.

CONAN: I'm not sure you're right about General Jones, campaigning for Senator McCain. But in any case, Lanny...

Mr. DAVIS: First of all, you must have been listening to somebody other than me or maybe something in your head phones because I didn't say anything about criticizing the net-roots for what they may bring up on people we're nominating. I was talking about every political movement whether it's the net-roots or the Barry Goldwater rights or the McGovern rights have an ideological wing when a candidate heads to the center and actually gets elected, they get unhappy. As I hear, you might be about some of the decisions by President-elect Obama.

To me, he is governing from the center where the American people live and he also has to be faithful to his base, which is where I happened to be. I'm a liberal Democrat. I want him to be faithful to his policy commitments. But I want him to govern from the center, which means reach across the aisle and compromise. Compromises are going to make certain number of people in his base unhappy. That's important that he'd be willing to do that because he can't avoid doing that if he's going to govern from the center.

CONAN: And Matt Bai, let's go back on the status of forces agreement, negotiated by the Bush administration. It does call for a withdrawal of American forces from Iraq by 2011. It doesn't say they have to wait until 2011 to withdraw.

Mr. BAI: Right. Like I said before, I think there's a general consensus emerging around the Senate. It does seem at least from the reports I've read that Secretary Gates is not a long-term appointment. It's probably just a continuity for about a year. And I think that's grossly unfair actually to Jim Jones, who I spoke to for one of my pieces during the campaign. He's actually quite different. He's a close friend of John McCain, who actually advised Barack Obama during the campaign, which took no small amount of conviction on his part. But you know, I actually think you could level questions at Obama from the other side here not to further irritate the caller. But he talked about a bipartisan administration.

There was actually a great deal of intimation, I wrote about it, about putting not more than one Republican and at a senior level in the administration. We've not seen that. Republicans don't think that Gates is even a Republican. I don't know that we know that. We have no, I don't know, Paul Volcker may be registered as a Republican. But we really have actually no bona fide Republicans in any senior role in the cabinet and it looks like, with everything filling up as fast as it is, maybe Transportation Secretary, one of the traditional departments that gets tossed over to the other party but it doesn't look any different in character in terms of partisanship as what we saw from Bush or President Clinton's.

CONAN: Maybe except for the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee? Joe Lieberman.

Mr. BAI: Well yeah, OK. That he has a little control over. But in general, I'm not seeing him actually make good on the notion of a bipartisan administration in the cabinet nearly to the extent that I expected.

Mr. DAVIS: I actually had some hopes that when he met with John McCain, he would surprise everyone and name John McCain director of the CIA or something that might have allowed John McCain to say yes. The team of rivals that he refers to, often by Thomas Jarvis(unintelligible)Goodwin wrote about in a column last week is not just about putting together rivals from the Republican in 1960 nomination which he did with Stewart and Chase and Gates, he also reached out and picked Democrats who had supported his opponent to be in the cabinet, Montgomery Blair, Gideon Wells.

CONAN: Who became among his biggest supporters.

Mr. DAVIS: Yes. There really was a Lincoln bipartisan cabinet and so far, I think Matt's exactly right. But how does Barack Obama do that without putting somebody in the cabinet that disagrees with him on fundamental issues. Maybe, I was looking for Chuck Hagel to be the Secretary of Defense to replace Gates, that would probably be...

CONAN: Well, a lot of Republicans wonder whether he's a Republican, too.

Mr. DAVIS: Exactly.

Mr. BAI: And by the time you replace Gates, I think the statement that you would have made is significantly more reduced. I mean, the time to do that was now, presumably.

CONAN: There are still some important appointments left in the national security side in terms of the intelligence czar and the Central Intelligence Agency so that remains to be seen. But he seems to be picking technocrats rather than ideologues for the most part from both parties.

Mr. BAI: Well, I think he's run up against a reality wall. There are things you can do and things that you can't. We've talked about how his angering some of his base and that is as Lanny says, I think he's right, it's inevitable. But I think when they really sat down and looked at the cabinet, they could have quashed this idea earlier and I think they had ideas about it. And then when they sat down and really looked at who was out there, what are you going to give away to a party at a time of such an intense partisanship - state? I mean, defense, they could but they want a continuity. It's certainly not going to be justice where they've had all these intense differences in philosophy. I think the differences with the outgoing administration are so severe that the reality was there was no good way to make that bipartisan statement without significantly sacrificing their core beliefs.

CONAN: So Lanny Davis, is the Veterans Administration or the Department of Transportation, though Energy could be a big one still left. There aren't the great plumbs left.

Mr. DAVIS: Right, and it's interesting to me the names that are being floated are still major Democratic names. Look, one thing we have to say and I don't know whether I'm right about this math but in my long lifetime in this city and in politics, I can never remember a transition this quickly in place with people literally looking as if they're running the government. I mean, Barack Obama with his economic team looks a lot like to me that he's president of the United States with people starting to make policy.

So with John Podesta and there's a choice of Clinton chief of staff, very loyal person to the Clintons who literally is the best there is and Barack Obama discounted what he knew would be complaint and there were a lot from his campaign when he picked Podesta. He picked the very best there is and we're at Thanksgiving and look how much has already occurred. Looking back to the Bill Clinton years in 1991 at this time, we weren't nearly this far. So, I think Obama has done great in the middle of this economic crisis to do as quickly as he's done as well as he's done.

CONAN: And Washington lawyer Lanny Davis, guest political junkie Matt Bai. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's see if we can go now to Troy. Troy with us from Iowa City. Hello, Troy.

Mr. DAVIS: His phone must have frozen, Neal.

CONAN: Yeah, it might have. Thanks very much for the call, Troy. We'll move on instead to Sean. Sean with us from San Francisco.

SEAN (Caller): Hi, how are you?

CONAN: Very well, thank you.

SEAN: Thank you for taking my phone call. I have a kind of a comment and a question, two of them. Both of them regarding Hillary Clinton. I don't see her as an honest broker despite the fact that I understand the earlier comments regarding Obama's visions. But she doesn't seem to me to be an honest broker. She's been consistently on the Israeli side regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And secondly, during her campaign, she threatened to obliterate Iran despite the fact that Israel's the one that always threatened Iran with attacks under nuclear facility. I would like to hear the comment on that.

CONAN: Hillary Clinton did have that dramatic ad - who do you want answering the phone at three o'clock in the morning? Well, it's going to be Barack Obama answering the phone but he may make the next call to the state department and Hillary Clinton, Lanny Davis.

Mr. DAVIS: Look, to his great credit. First of all, the caller obviously got it perfectly understandable perspective, he seems to be anti-Israel and that's fine, there are many people who don't like the state of Israel but I can't think...

CONAN: Or it's policies.

Mr. DAVIS: Or it's policies. I can't and that's fine but I can't think of a government or a secretary of state in my lifetime that wasn't very much pro-Israel. But on the other hand, we have to have peace and the person has to be credible with the Palestinians. The two-state solution has long ago been accepted under to his credit, President Bush and the government of Israel. So I think Secretary of the State Clinton - that sounds funny - will be a partner to the president and implement the president's policies. He's the president. And I think she has great credibility because of her stature to reach out and to deal with the Palestinians and to try to help with the peace settlement that's fair to both sides.

CONAN: Sean, thanks very much for the phone call.

SEAN: Thank you.

CONAN: And Matt, before we let you go, a little business to clean up in the senate and that includes new appointments in Illinois and New York. And those are pretty plum appointments. We've even heard the name of Bill Clinton in the paper this morning as maybe junior senator from the state of New York.

Mr. BAI: I think Bill Clinton's name comes up with just about everything except about baseball commissioner or what have you.

Mr. DAVIS: I've heard that, too.

Mr. BAI: Every job opening in America, somebody sees Bill Clinton and I have a hard time seeing that. I mean, John Quincy Adams went back to Congress, right? And snoozed away in the House floor.

CONAN: That's not quite fair.

Mr. BAI: But he'd had a pretty terribly presidency. I suspect that you know...

CONAN: He became a leading abolitionist and speaking of William Stewart, he's quite...

Mr. BAI: And had a very famous legal case. He did a lot in his older age but I don't mean to be unfair to all the Quincy Adamses out there but I suspect that Bill Clinton would rather put his head through a cement wall than have to deal with the senate for one day. I do think it's kind of cool, though, that we are seeing all this turn over. Its one of the unintended are the ripple consequences of this that we'll going to see when all the dust settles and it's not just because we had two senators elected. It's also because the margins are such that we haven't had a period in a long time where presidents felt relatively free to pick from the senate or the House because it wasn't going to shift the balance significantly. Even then it's still not filibuster proof but it's enough so that we'll see some appointments like Hillary Clinton and so, we will have a bunch of fresh faces from states where people entrenched normally for decades which is pretty cool.

CONAN: Matt Bai, thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. BAI: Glad to do it, Neal. Thanks.

CONAN: Guest political junkie Matt Bai who writes for the New York Times Magazine. His book is called "The Argument." And our thanks, too, to Lanny Davis, special counsel to President Clinton, in charge of vetting Clinton's cabinet choices, a Washington lawyer and a political analyst, with us here in Studio 3A. Thanks for your time Lanny.

Mr. DAVIS: Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: Up next: with so many of you hitting the road today, tell us about your favorite rest stop in America. Got a favorite rest stop story or horror story maybe? 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. If you saw somebody blogging in to Politico, yeah, that was Ken Rudin in New Jersey. I'm Neal Conan. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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