What is happening behind the scenes in the pas de deux between Obama and Hillary on her possible appointment as Secretary of State? It’s hard to tell, but the smoke signals suggest a pattern.
Move One: Obama Makes An Offer
At their meeting last week, Obama seems to have discussed the possibility of appointing Hillary to State. He may not have overtly offered the job and may have done so out of politeness, but he must have raised the prospect and discussed it with her.
Move Two: Clinton Leaks the “Offer”
Whether or not Obama really offered her the job, Hillary tried to lock him into the appointment by leaking the “offer.” The leak would not have come from Obama and must have come from the New York Senator. It was likely an attempt to force Obama to give her the job by making it public. Now, if he says no, he will have lots of explaining to do to Hillary’s famed “18 million voters,” those who backed her candidacy in 2008.
Move Three: Obama Puts Out Mikva To Throw Cold Water on Appointment
President-elect Obama, sensing that he was being boxed into making the appointment, and possibly angered by Hillary’s brazen tactics, likely suggested to his buddy former President Clinton counsel Abner Mikva that he discuss the drawbacks of the appointment in public. Mikva, a former federal judge who gave up a lifetime appointment to serve as President Clinton’s first White House counsel, dislikes the Clintons and spoke privately about needing to take a shower after he resigned one year into the first term. Mikva spoke in public about the conflicts of interest between Bill’s foreign activities and his refusal to release his foundation and library donors and Hillary’s possible appointment. The message to the Clintons was: this could get embarrassing.
Move Four: Bill Offers to Come Clean, Partially
Responding indirectly to the Mikva statement, former president Clinton offered to cease some of his foreign activities, vet others, and submit his “major” donors to Obama and ethics office scrutiny. In a hilarious move, Clinton named best friend Bruce Lindsay and former counsel Cheryl Mills to negotiate with his own former chief of staff and now Obama transition head John Podesta on the disclosures and ethics limits.
Move Five: Hillary Has Her Aides Talk Up the Appointment
Continuing her desperate efforts to get the job, Hillary likely had her aides issue statements about how thrilled she was at the prospect of doing all the good she could do as Secretary of State. But they were all still careful to offer an out by saying that she was torn between her love of serving the world and her love of shaping health care reform in the Congress.
Move Six: Obama Gets Kennedy to Give Hillary an Out
Meanwhile, Obama, probably thinking more and more about the downside of appointing Hillary, got Ted Kennedy to offer Hillary the job he had denied her when she asked for it last week – a legislative role in shaping health care reform. Hillary had asked Kennedy to appoint her to head a subcommittee on health care reform, a request the Massachusetts Senator turned down. Now, likely on prompting from Obama, he offered her the chairmanship of a working group on health insurance reform. The offer was probably designed by Obama to offer Hillary a graceful way to decline the State Department rather than admit that it was Bill’s financial dealings that made the job impossible.
Where is this all heading? In the world of Hillary and Bill predictions are almost impossible. But Obama and the world would be well served if Hillary did not get the job.