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Obama To Name National Security Team


This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne at NPR West.


And I'm Steve Inskeep in New York. This is the day that New York's junior senator is expected to embrace a job in the Cabinet. President-elect Barack Obama plans to announce key appointments for national security and foreign policy.

MONTAGNE: And those choices are likely to include Senator Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts, who's watching the Cabinet choices, joins us now. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, how have people responded in the days since Hillary Clinton's name first came up and has been much talked about, of course?

ROBERTS: Much talked about. Well, in a recent ABC News poll, 66 percent say they approve of her being named as secretary of state. That includes 88 percent of Democrats and 38 percent of Republicans, which is a - even though it sounds like a low number, it's actually a pretty strong number for Republicans endorsing Hillary Clinton. And the strong approval is much higher than the strong disapproval of her being named. So that's in the general public.

Much more important, though, Renee, is the United States Senate, which, of course, would be in the position to confirm her. And Republicans in the Senate, Republicans who are in foreign policy positions in the Senate on the Foreign Relations Committee and have speaking about these issues for a while have overwhelmingly endorsed her. Lindsey Graham, John Warner, Richard Lugar - who was for a while chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee - have all said that they think it's a very fine appointment. Lugar expressed some concerns about Bill Clinton's involvement around the world, but said he will definitely be voting for Hillary Clinton.

MONTAGNE: Well, good news for the Obama administration. Why, though, is this happening this way - this level of support?

ROBERTS: Because the Senate is the Senate. And, you know, we talk about it as the most exclusive club and all of that. And it's true. I mean, it's only a hundred people. They do see each other all the time. They work together. And Hillary Clinton has been especially good at working across party lines with a lot of these people, particularly Lindsey Graham and that group. And there's a rule of thumb that if you want an easy confirmation, name a senator.

Now, the exception to that rule was John Tower, George H.W. Bush's first pick for secretary of defense, who was a senator from Texas. And the reason that he was not confirmed was because of the way he had behaved in the Senate. So it was really the exception that did prove the rule. Senators didn't like him because he had been rude to some senior senators, and they didn't feel he was very much a nice member of the club. But if you want to get a confirmation, name a senator. That pretty much works.

MONTAGNE: Well, Cokie, among the other names or appointments being named today, one is a name we know well from the current administration, President Bush's own secretary of defense, Robert Gates. How's that likely to go over with Obama partisans?

ROBERTS: Well, you're hearing some liberal commentators upset about it, saying that somebody who was against the Iraq war to begin with should be in this Cabinet in a national security position. And the question is, where's the change? And it's true that there are no new people here coming to Washington, with the exception of Janet Napolitano, the Arizona governor, who is expected to go to the Department of Homeland Security. The others are familiar in Washington: Eric Holder to Justice, Susan Rice to the United Nations, and Jim Jones, General Jim Jones, to the National Security Council. These are all old hands in Washington.

But Bob Gates is a very interesting character, Renee. He has over the last year or so been out on the hustings, really out talking to people about public diplomacy and saying how important the State Department's role is and how much more important it can be than what the Defense Department is doing when it comes to United States security. So I think that you will find that he and these other members of the Obama team are singing from the same book, that they are not going to be rivals of each other, even though this series of picks has put Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "Team of Rivals" back on the bestseller list.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much for joining us.


MONTAGNE: NPR's Cokie Roberts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. 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.

Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.