William Cohen for vice president?

Friends of the president who have had conversations with him in recent days disclose that Bill Clinton is "pushing" for Defense Secretary William S. Cohen to be Vice President Al Gore's running mate. The president sees Mr. Cohen, a Republican, as the ticket-sharer that would give Mr. Gore the help he needs to win - among moderate Republicans and independents.

Mr. Clinton also believes Cohen's record as a highly effective member of Congress, followed by what the president feels has been an exceptional performance as secretary of defense, fully qualify Cohen for the vice presidency and for the presidency, too, should he ever have to fill that position.

I was given the impression that Clinton was not only "pushing" the Cohen idea with friends but that he had certainly passed this along to Gore as a recommendation.

One can conclude that as much as Gore seems to be pulling away from the president these days - when not clinging to what he sees as positive achievements of this administration - he'd give a lot of weight to a presidential suggestion: Gore knows Clinton has one of the country's best political minds.

Would Cohen be interested? Well, he came to a Monitor breakfast the other day and got this question: "There are rumors on the Hill that your name is on the list with those names for vice presidential nomination for Gore. Have you changed your party affiliation and would you consider it?"

"I have not changed my party affiliation," he said. "And I think that the speculation has been, as I thought, idle. I'm flattered by it, but my plans are to be a private citizen."

But Cohen didn't leave it at that. He went on to say this: "I think anyone, if a president comes to anyone and says would you be my secretary of defense or my secretary of state or vice president, anyone has to give that very serious consideration."

So - very obviously - Cohen is willing.

Cohen's performance at breakfast was, incidentally, of presidential caliber as he - for one hour - gave a far-ranging report on the trouble spots throughout the world and the United States' defense posture in those regions.

At one point Cohen was asked: "Are we prepared to defend Taiwan should the occasion arise - should there be some kind of attack from the mainland?"

He said he saw signs of tempers cooling on both sides, then added: "We support the Taiwan Resolutions Act, we support the 'one China' policy. We do not support military action on the part of China to try to resolve it militarily. We'll leave it at that.

"We are undertaking a number of diplomatic efforts. This is by [former Congressman] Lee Hamilton and others who are in Taiwan. We've had significant contact with Chinese leaders. I plan to go to China sometime either late spring or summer, and will carry the same message. There has to be a way to work this out peacefully and not through military means."

This was an excellent example of how this defense secretary has won his reputation for dealing carefully - but still very helpfully - with potentially explosive subjects. Then there was a question - also requiring a very skillful response - about the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military. Referring to a new Pentagon report on the subject of homosexuality in the military, Cohen said there clearly was "a way to go.... We've got a lot of work to do to make sure that the program works."

Then he announced: "I'm going to be setting up an oversight committee to make sure that [the policy] goes from top to bottom, that the education materials are in fact not only received but communicated and the policies effectively implemented."

After the breakfast I heard reporters talking about what they saw as Cohen's impressive performance - how knowledgeable he was on every aspect of defense, his friendly, soft way of dealing with people - even the press. As a vice presidential candidate he'd start off with a press that liked him. Not a small thing.

Yes, this personable fellow would indeed grace the ticket - either ticket, for that matter.

This personable fellow would indeed grace the ticket - either ticket, for that matter.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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