WASHINGTON President-elect Obama has interviewed primary election rivals Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson for secretary of state, according to Democratic officials who revealed his secret meetings with both as he weighed the decision on folding former foes into his new administration.
Obama met with Richardson late Friday afternoon, a day after conferring one-on-one with Clinton at his Chicago office, said several Democratic officials.
He plans to meet there Monday with Republican Sen. John McCain, but advisers to both of the general election rivals say they don't expect Obama to consider McCain for an administration job.
The meeting with Clinton excited a burst of speculation that Obama would transform the former first lady into one of his top Cabinet officials and the nation's chief diplomatic voice.
She and Richardson are not the only candidates Obama has talked to about the job, Democrats said. One senior Obama adviser said the president-elect has given no evidence whom he is favoring.
Obama asked Clinton directly whether she would be interested in the job, said one Democrat, who cautioned that it was no indication that he was leaning toward her.
The president-elect was also making decisions on his staff as well, naming longtime friend Valerie Jarrett as a White House senior adviser.
Richardson is the governor of New Mexico and has an extensive foreign policy resume. He was President Clinton's ambassador to the U.N. and has conducted diplomacy for the U.S. in such hot spots as Sudan and North Korea. Richardson also served in Clinton's Cabinet as energy secretary.
All this fits with an idea that Obama often talked about on the campaign trail, as he praised the presidency of Abraham Lincoln as described by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book “Team of Rivals.”
“Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who had been running against him into his Cabinet because whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was: How can we get this country through this time of crisis?” Obama said at one point.
It's far from clear how interested Clinton would be in being secretary of state. She'd face a Senate confirmation hearing that would certainly probe her husband's financial dealings — something the Clintons refused to disclose in the presidential campaign.
But remaining in the Senate may not be Clinton's first choice, either, since she is a junior senator without prospects for a leadership position any time soon.
Democratic officials, speaking only anonymously about private negotiations, say Clinton asked Sen. Edward Kennedy to establish a subcommittee that she would lead that would allow her to shepherd health care reform through the Senate. But Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, wants to lead the effort as a capstone to his career, and there also are other members with more seniority than Clinton whom he wouldn't want to bypass.
Being secretary of state could give Clinton a platform for another run at the presidency in eight years. Obama could also get assurances from her that she wouldn't challenge him in four years.
And, unlike the vice presidency that Obama never seriously considered her for, as secretary of state she would serve at his pleasure.