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Is Hillary Clinton The Next Secretary Of State?


It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Popular among political pundits these days is the guessing game over who will be Barack Obama's Cabinet. Among the names being floated for secretary of state is Senator Hillary Clinton. Clinton met with President-elect Barack Obama last week, and she appears to be a serious contender for the position. Joining us to talk about that is Peter Baker of The New York Times who's covered the White House for many years. Good morning.

Mr. PETER BAKER (Reporter, The New York Times): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, as everyone knows, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama waged a really tough primary campaign. At different points, she questioned his foreign policy credentials or experience. He questioned hers. Would they have difficulty working together?

Mr. BAKER: Well, clearly they are not long-time friends and partners. But, you know, it's not unprecedented for primary opponents to get together after an election and find ways to work together. This is a relationship, of course, that has been fraught with all sorts of ups and downs this year - very complicated, sometimes Freudian almost. But, you know, President-elect Obama clearly has decided that he wants to - or if he does do this, he wants to follow the Doris Kearns Goodwin book "Team of Rivals" which described Lincoln's efforts to bring his own opponents in the 1860 election into his Cabinet.

MONTAGNE: Now, how does Bill Clinton figure in this? He's been considered something of an obstacle because of his activities since leaving the presidency, and those range from getting big fees for speeches, often in foreign countries, to donations that he seeks and gets for his foundation. How much of a problem would he be?

Mr. BAKER: Well, it's a significant complication here. I don't think we've had a secretary of state yet whose spouse was such a prominent figure around the world, who can get a meeting with any world leader just with a phone call and who also took, you know, six- and seven-figure checks for paid speeches or donations to his foundation. Now, you know, the Obama people say, look, they don't want to stop the good work of his foundation, which fights AIDS and under-nutrition and malaria and climate change around the world.

But on the other hand, there is obviously a conflict, an issue here, if you have, say, the Saudi royal family writing million-dollar checks to his foundation, or the Bank of Kuwait giving him six-figure checks to come give a speech. These are, you know, people and entities and organizations that have great vested interests in the policy of the United States government that would be determined and represented by his wife as secretary of state.

MONTAGNE: Would the problem, though, be what he has done or what he might do during her tenure, should she made secretary of state?

Mr. BAKER: Well, I think it's a question of disclosure of his past financial activities, some of which have not been made public. The donors to his foundation have not all been disclosed because the law doesn't require them to be disclosed. But mostly I think the Obama people are trying to look forward, or trying to say, OK, what would the policy be from now on that would prevent conflict in the future? Rather than trying to, you know, re-litigate(ph) anything from the past.

MONTAGNE: But Mr. Clinton would have to reveal who has given money to his foundation, would he not?

Mr. BAKER: Well, that's not a hundred percent clear. I mean, would he have to reveal it to the Obama transition team vetters? Would he have to reveal it to a Senate confirmation committee? Would he just have to reveal it to all of us in a disclosure of some sort? Those are the questions that I think are being chewed on right now.

MONTAGNE: And should she be named, how would a Secretary of State Hillary Clinton be received?

Mr. BAKER: Well, she'd be, I think, a very prominent, very powerful secretary of state around the world in the sense that she's well-known. She comes from an administration that was popular in different parts of the globe. You know, she talked during the campaign about her travels to more than 80 countries around the world. President-elect Obama kind of belittled them at the time as having tea with world leaders, but there was something to it. She did in fact get to know how the world worked a little bit. She's been to more places than a lot of potential incoming secretaries of state have been, who haven't had the kind of high-profile position that she's had in the past. She would be a real star in the Cabinet and a significant figure around the world.

MONTAGNE: Peter, thank you very much.

Mr. BAKER: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Peter Baker, a correspondent with The New York Times, who has written extensively on both Clintons. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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