Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Clinton's New Cabinet To Keep Centrist Creed

By Lawrence J. Goodrichand Peter Grier, Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / November 8, 1996



WASHINGTON

Hotel workers throughout Washington are still sweeping up debris from Tuesday's election night parties. But Clinton II, The Final Term, is already playing in the nation's capital.

Skip to next paragraph

Evidence is as close as the White House itself. Among other things, President Clinton's Cabinet shake-up is likely meant to convey that the administration will get a fast start on the work of the next term.

With Congress still controlled by the GOP, the search for new Cabinet members is likely to look different than it did in 1992, note experts. Creative enthusiasts capable of energizing and redirecting the bureaucracy may no longer be top priority.

Instead, centrism may be in. The ability to work with Capitol Hill and keep the wheels of government turning smoothly may be high on the list of skills new secretaries need.

"Under the circumstances, with the Republican Congress, the idea may be more to promote efficient management of government than to change the direction of that government," says Georgetown University political scientist Stephen Wayne.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher stepped down yesterday in a Rose Garden ceremony. A senior Pentagon official confirmed that Secretary of Defense William Perry had already told key colleagues that he, too would be returning to private life. Other Cabinet members reportedly leaving include Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor, Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary, Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, and possibly Transportation Secretary Federico Pea and Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

In addition, adviser George Stephanopoulos has said publicly that he's likely to leave. Chief of staff Leon Panetta may also announce his departure within days.

It should come as no surprise that Clinton wants to shake up his Cabinet, observers say. For one thing, turnover in the first four years was relatively light.

And such musical chairs are a common feature of second presidential terms - at least recent ones. Ronald Reagan's second term saw four Cabinet changes, including the move of chief of staff James Baker across the street to the Treasury secretary's office. When Richard Nixon won reelection, he called for a resignation letter from every politcal appointee in his administration. Six of his Cabinet members left shortly thereafter.

Personal plans can play a big role in Cabinet shake-ups. Both Secretary Christopher and Secretary Perry hold demanding jobs that require constant travel and attention to world crises, for example. It's not surprising that someone should find four years of dealing with the Middle East peace process enough.

But presidents also typically change their Cabinet in an overall effort to keep their administration fresh. After his '72 win, President Nixon talked often of the need to keep the White House from becoming an "exhausted volcano." Nixon said the phrase "didn't apply to individuals, but it does apply to the entity, and it's the responsiblity of the leader to be sure we don't fall into that situation," wrote chief of staff H.R. Haldeman in his memoirs.

Whether changing faces around the Cabinet table really helps is another question. Nixon later mused that it had perahaps been wrong to have high second-term turnover, as overall morale suffered. James Baker proved an able Cabinet secretary but Reagan sorely missed Mr. Baker's chief-of-staff skills during his second term.

It may be just difficult to avoid that burned-out feeling in a second four-year White House stint.

"If you've had a lot of things you want to accomplish in domestic policy, you tend to have done them in a first term," says George Edwards, a presidential studies scholar at Texas A&M. "Also, second terms rarely provide a basis for a mandate. Presidents are frequently going to be thinking of foreign policy."

In that sense, the departure of Mr. Christopher could provide Clinton with an opportunity. Naming a high-profile replacement could help the foreign policy direction of his second term.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, the shape of the 105th Congress that the new-look Clinton administration will deal with became clearer as results trickled in in close races. In the Senate, Republicans will pick up two seats - for a total of 55 versus 45 Democrats - if Gordon Smith is declared the winner in Oregon. At press time he was leading with about 49 percent of the vote; Democrat Tom Bruggere had 47 percent. Counting was slow because of the large number of absentee ballots.

In the House, with six races still undecided at press time, the GOP had captured 225 seats and was leading in two more, while the Democrats won 204 seats and were leading in three. If those races go as expected, the result will be a 227-to-207 Republican majority, or a net loss of nine GOP seats from the 104th Congress. Rep. Bernard Sanders (Ind.) of Vermont generally votes with the Democrats.

Among undecided races is that of Rep. Bob Dornan (R) of California, who led by a few hundred votes over challenger Loretta Sanchez. Runoffs are anticipated in suburban Philadelphia, where GOP Rep. Jon Fox won by a mere 10 votes, and on Boston's North Shore, where GOP Rep. Peter Torkildsen went down to defeat by fewer than 600 votes.

Three Texas races will not be decided until a Dec. 10 runoff. GOP freshman Rep. Steve Stockman will face Democrat Nick Lampson near Houston; Democrat freshman Ken Bentsen faces GOP moderate Dolly Madison McKenna in a Houston district; and two Republicans, Kevin Brady and Gene Fontenot, are vying for the seat of retiring GOP Rep. Jack Fields.

While the Republicans gained their first back-to-back House majority since 1929, it's the smallest House majority since '53.