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Clinton considering secretary of state post, associates say

Friends say she is torn about leaving Senate

Associates of Hillary Clinton say the New York senator and her husband have undergone an intense vetting process. Former senator Tom Daschle (right) has reportedly accepted Barack Obama's offer to be secretary of Health and Human Services. Associates of Hillary Clinton say the New York senator and her husband have undergone an intense vetting process. Former senator Tom Daschle (right) has reportedly accepted Barack Obama's offer to be secretary of Health and Human Services.
Associated Press / November 20, 2008
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Associates of Senator Hillary Clinton said yesterday she is weighing whether to leave Congress and become secretary of state in the Obama administration, a job they say she believes is hers if she wants it.

Transition officials for President-elect Barack Obama said that other candidates have been vetted for the job as well, but that Clinton has emerged as the leading contender. The vetting of the New York senator's husband, former president Bill Clinton, has been particularly intense, the officials said, adding that he has offered several concessions to help his wife get the post.

Former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle has accepted Obama's offer to be secretary of Health and Human Services, Democratic officials said yesterday. And Obama appears to have settled on Congressional Budget Office chief Peter Orszag to be his budget director, Capitol Hill Democrats said.

Face-to-face meetings between the transition team and lawyers representing the Clintons have ended, but aides to the president-elect said some final vetting is still underway.

Hoping to ease concerns about possible conflicts of interest, Bill Clinton has shifted a longstanding policy and agreed to publicly disclose the names of all donors who have given more than $250 to his presidential library and foundation. Officials were trying to work out the details on how to handle those who gave money on the condition that their names would not be revealed.

The former president has also agreed to submit future foundation activities and paid speeches to a strict ethics review, Democrats knowledgeable about the discussions said. They also said that Clinton would step away from day-to-day responsibility for his foundation while his wife serves and would alert the State Department of any new sources of income and to his speechmaking.

"I'll do whatever they want," he told reporters yesterday.

Friends said Hillary Clinton is torn about leaving the Senate, where she served for nearly eight years and where she had hoped to be a leading voice on healthcare and other issues. She is expected to make a decision soon.

The appointment of Daschle has not been announced, but Democratic officials said the job is his barring an unforeseen problem as Obama's team reviews his background. Obama has pledged to reduce the influence of lobbyists in Washington, which means one area of review will include the lobbying connections of his wife, Linda Hall Daschle, who was acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration in the Clinton administration and has since become one of Washington's top lobbyists, representing mostly airline-related companies.

Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, was a close adviser to Obama throughout the presidential campaign. He recently wrote a book on his proposals to improve healthcare, and he is working with former Senate leaders on recommendations to improve the system.

After losing reelection to the Senate in 2004, Daschle became a public policy adviser and member of the legislative and public policy group at the law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird. Daschle isn't registered as a lobbyist. He advises clients on issues including healthcare, financial services, and taxes and trade, according to the firm's website. Healthcare interests - including CVS Caremark, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, Abbott Laboratories, and HealthSouth - are among the firm's lobbying clients.

Organizations seeking to expand health coverage were quick to praise the selection.

Daschle "has a deep commitment to securing high-quality, affordable healthcare for everyone in our nation," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. "His new leadership position confirms that the incoming Obama administration has made healthcare reform a top and early priority for action in 2009."

But the Republican National Committee quickly panned the pick as more of the same instead of the change that Obama promised.

"Barack Obama is filling his administration with longtime Washington insiders," Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant said. "For voters hoping to see new faces and fewer lobbyist connections in government, Daschle's nomination will be another disappointment."

The budget director job is among the toughest in Washington, but Democratic aides say Orszag seems likely to accept if it is offered. Orszag served as an economist in the Clinton White House and made a small fortune after establishing an economic consulting firm. Within the Clinton administration and as director of the Congressional Budget Office, he has preached the need to address the budget deficit.

Yesterday, Obama also announced more White House staff members, a lineup that suggests the West Wing will look like the top echelon of his campaign.

David Axelrod, his campaign's chief strategist, will be senior adviser to the president. Greg Craig, a senior foreign policy adviser during the campaign and Bill Clinton's lawyer during his impeachment, will serve as White House counsel.

Christopher Lu, a policy adviser during the campaign, will serve as cabinet secretary, and Lisa Brown, counsel to then-Vice President Al Gore, will serve as staff secretary.

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