Typically at this point in the life of an administration, we're writing about turf wars and personality clashes, and there have been some in President Obama's case, notably last week's forced resignation of the director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair. But the more unlikely buzz in the no-drama Obama administration is the seamless bond that has developed between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration. It is so remarkable that Politico writes about their relationship almost as if they are office husband and wife enjoying a pleasant working marriage, even venturing that Clinton, with her hawkish image, would be the most logical successor to Gates, who has long made clear his wish to step down once he felt comfortable the time was right.
Politico reports that some of Clinton's most senior allies have quietly begun to float the Clinton-to-defense scenario. Without taking away anything from Hillary and her ability to master a new situation, the notion that she would want to trade departments and have to learn the culture of a whole new bureaucracy leads one to ask: For what? It would be a lot of grief to create one more crack in the glass ceiling as the first female secretary of defense. She's ambitious, but I suspect there's not enough payoff for her in that lateral move. And imagine the outcry if the secretary of state most associated with soft power were suddenly put in charge of hard power.
On the other hand, it is plausible that she could trade places with Joe Biden at some point. If polls show an Obama-Clinton ticket is stronger going into the 2012 election, the president might well have Biden step aside. Obama's loyalty only goes so far. He is proving to be one of the least sentimental chief executives, dispatching people once they're no longer useful. Plus, he could argue that the talents of each player are better utilized with Hillary in the White House. As the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden would be a natural at the State Department. He has long coveted the job of secretary of state and could argue it is a step up that takes full advantage of his background.
The mechanics of such a switcheroo wouldn't be so simple -- the 25th Amendment spells out rules of succession for the vice presidency, and Congress would have a say in approving the president's choice -- but it could be done.
If the handoff were made after the 2012 election, even better because Obama will want to set up a successor for 2016, and it likely isn't Biden, who would be over 70 at that point. But it could be Hillary, who would turn 69 that year, a mere pup if she were a man with national ambition. The rules have yet to be written for women of a certain age, but if she continues to play a prominent role on the national stage, cementing her standing with the American people, anything is possible. Just the fact that she's mentioned as a credible replacement for Gates, the most influential member of the Cabinet, shows how far Hillary has come in the power circles of Washington, and in the Oval Office, where the man who was almost beaten by her has done the most to raise her up in his administration.
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