'Supercabinet' -- Reagan may depend upon it

Ronald Reagan is considering setting up a supercabinet -- one that will physically be located almost within arm's length and will work with him on an hour-by- hour basis.

In this concept, the secretaries of state, defense, the Treasury, and doubtless two or three other departments would work out of their own private offices next door to the White House in the Executive Office Building.

The President-elect is insistent that a "cabinet government" be set up -- one where his Cabinet secretaries actually help him run the executive side of the government.

Other presidents have talked about leaning primarily on their cabinets. And on a sporadic, or what is called a "need," basis, they have done so.

But the gravitational pull is for the White House senior staff and senior advisers to become the most influential people around the president. This is partly because they work so closely with the Oval Office but also because they usually are longtime allies and friends of the president, and he has learned he can trust them.

The man who is expected to make this cabinet government work is Edwin Meese, newly named counselor to the President-elect, who, with Cabinet rank himself, will see that the Cabinet maintains daily association with Mr. Reagan.

Mr. Meese, a longtime top Reagan aide and chief of staff during the presidential campaign, also will be charged with keeping the White House staff from moving in to influential positions where they could exert influence on policymaking.

Even if Reagan is not able to put his supercabinet concept into effect, he will insists on having Cabinet heads almost constantly at his side -- again with Meese as the coordinator of the project.

The highest White House "inside" position -- chief of staff -- has been given to James Baker, a longtime political aide of former President Gerald Ford and, up to the Republican National Convention, campaign manager for George Bush.

During the general election campaign Mr. Baker served as a senior advier to Reagan, in which capacity he earned the respect and trust of the President-elect.

Mr. Ford was influential in bringing about the Baker appointment. Earlier, Ford had recommended to Reagan that he make the Vice-President-elct his chief of staff.

When Reagan would not accept the former president's advice -- wanting to reserve Mr. Bush for outside assignments, particularly in foreign affairs -- Ford pushed for Baker to play this important role.

It is understood that Reagan found one argument about appointing Baker particularly persuasive: that by choosing him he would be making it clear he intends to have no "California mafia" in his admiration. Baker is a Texan.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.