Bill Clinton, Chief Of Staff?

[ Posted Monday, January 21st, 2008 – 18:00 UTC ]

I was watching the Chris Matthews Show yesterday, and amidst the usual blather about Hillary Clinton was an interesting question: what's Bill going to do if she gets elected? Now, this wasn't the first time I'd heard the question asked, but it was the first time I've heard people actually take it seriously. Several facets of the question were explored, including whether Bill will have a West Wing office or not (the First Lady has traditionally had a less-prestigious East Wing office), whether he'd be "in" on briefings and decisions, and (most interestingly) whether Hillary is going to have a problem getting a Vice President (since anyone considering the job would have to ask whether Bill would be more important in the administration than the VP). But none of them even mentioned what may be the perfect solution to the problem. How about Bill Clinton, White House Chief of Staff to President Hillary Clinton?

To me, this seems an obvious answer to an unprecedented problem -- what is a former president going to do as First Husband? You can bet he'll be eager to help out in any fashion Hillary allows him to, and his wealth of experience and knowledge would be an asset to pretty much anything he does to help his wife. He's still popular within the party, and he's going to have an influence on his wife's administration whether he's in an official position or not. So what to do with him?

The one official job that would truly blow everyone's mind is not open to him -- he cannot be his own wife's Vice Presidential candidate. To be VP, you have to be legally able to serve as President if need be. Bill Clinton cannot -- he has already served two terms, and is therefore ineligible both for the Oval Office and for VP. So there won't be any "Clinton/Clinton 08" bumperstickers this year.

What else could Bill do in Hillary's administration? One answer with strong possibilities is Ambassador to the United Nations. Bill is still a respected figure worldwide, and would probably be a very effective UN Ambassador. Plus, it would get him out of the house and back up in New York City.

Cabinet-level positions are an option as well. But probably not any of the ones that carry real weight (State, Defense, or Attorney General, for instance). Hillary will likely have better candidates for them, although Secretary of State might be a remote possibility for the same reason UN Ambassador is. Bill probably wouldn't accept any of the minor cabinet positions, either -- I can't see him as "Secretary of Agriculture Bill Clinton."

It should be mentioned in here somewhere that this is all merely rampant and uninformed speculation on my part. I'm just holding Bill Clinton up to important administration jobs and thinking to myself: "Would he be a good fit?"

It also bears mentioning that Hillary may have her own ideas about what is the best thing for Bill to be doing. I can see her saying, "Honey, that's fine, but I think I'd rather have you in charge of state dinners at the White House." She may feel she has to prove her independence from her husband by keeping him under some heavy wraps, in other words.

But to me, there is one answer that might work to everyone's advantage: White House Chief of Staff. For those of you who remember, this would be the character Leo McGarry's job on The West Wing. The Chief of Staff's job can be summed up as the "gatekeeper" to the President. The Chief of Staff controls access to the Oval Office (who gets in and who doesn't), calls and controls meetings for the President, and is the final word on any question not important enough to warrant the attention of the President.

Not only does the job have enormous power, it is also the Chief of Staff's job to keep the White House running day to day. All the wonky nuts-and-bolts workings of government are overseen by the Chief of Staff, so the President herself doesn't have to deal with minor issues. It's seen by some as being the second most important job in Washington, and has even been referred to as "co-president" (sound familiar?).

Bill Clinton could definitely start this job on "day one" and hit the ground running. He knows how the White House works. He knows all the nuts and bolts of how to run an administration. There's really nobody else who could produce a better résumé for the job, when you get right down to it. If he agreed to not try influencing her policy decisions, but merely to implement them successfully, he might be acceptible to her -- and acceptible to the public at large.

I also believe (although I'm not 100% sure) that the job of Chief of Staff (unlike cabinet positions or ambassadorships) is not confirmed by the Senate. So there wouldn't be any hearings or questioning by Republicans to overcome to install Bill in the position. Which would be a big plus. There might be federal nepotism rules to worry about, though, but I doubt they'd be an insurmountable obstacle to Bill being Chief of Staff.

Now, I don't expect Hillary will announce her plans for Bill until after she's been elected, so it's a little early for such wonderings since she doesn't even have the Democratic nomination yet. She will not want to frighten anyone by saying what Bill's going to be doing, because there's no way she can be sure she won't lose votes by doing so. So she'll most likely wait. But the more I think about it, the more I believe that if Hillary Clinton is elected, Bill Clinton would be an excellent choice for White House Chief of Staff.


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


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