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Richardson joins Clinton on Obama's short list

President-elect Barack Obama is interviewing some of his one-time political opponents as he ponders building his own "team of rivals" to help him run the country.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President-elect Barack Obama is interviewing some of his one-time political opponents as he ponders building his own "team of rivals" to help him run the country.

Primary election foes Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Richardson both have been interviewed for secretary of state, according to several Democratic officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the secret meetings.

Obama met with Richardson late Friday afternoon, a day after conferring one-on-one with Clinton at his Chicago office, the officials said. He plans to meet there Monday with his Republican opponent, John McCain, but advisers to both of the general election candidates 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 and fierce campaign foe into one of his top Cabinet officials and the nation's chief diplomatic voice.

But where the New York senator stands in contention for the post came into question as other Democrats, also speaking on condition of anonymity about the private discussions, said Richardson was brought in as well.

It's far from clear how interested Clinton would be in the secretary of state job. She would 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 or committee chairmanship anytime soon.

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.

Richardson is the governor of New Mexico and has an extensive foreign policy resume. He was President Bill Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations and has conducted freelance diplomacy for the U.S. in such hot spots as Sudan and North Korea.

The two 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 for the post. 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.

'Not going to speculate'
Obama was deciding on his presidential staff as well, naming longtime friend Valerie Jarrett as a White House senior adviser. Jarrett met Obama when she hired his wife for a job in the Chicago mayor's office years ago and has been close to the couple since.

Obama was silent and out of sight in Chicago. Clinton addressed a transit conference in her home state and said emphatically, "I'm not going to speculate or address anything about the president-elect's incoming administration, and I'm going to respect his process."

Obama's aides say he would like to have McCain as a partner with him on legislation they both have advocated, such as climate change, government reform, immigration and a ban on torture.

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 presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book "Team of Rivals."

Lincoln appointed three of his rivals for the Republican nomination to his Cabinet. Obama turned to one rival for vice president, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden.

Obama said at one point: "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?"

Democratic officials say President-elect Barack Obama is considering former primary election rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Richardson to be his secretary of state. The officials said Obama met with Richardson Friday in Chicago, a day after meeting with Clinton.

Richardson is the governor of New Mexico and has an extensive foreign policy resume. He was President Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations and has conducted freelance diplomacy as governor in such hot spots as Sudan and North Korea.

Both meetings were at Obama's transition office in Chicago and kept secret until after they were over.

Clinton was rumored to be a contender for the job last week, but the talk died down as party activists questioned whether she was best-suited to be the top U.S. diplomat in an Obama administration. The talk resumed Thursday, a day after Obama named several former aides to President Bill Clinton to help run his transition effort.

A Democratic official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said the two met Thursday afternoon in Obama's Chicago office.

Clinton's motorcade — she receives Secret Service protection as a former first lady — was seen leaving the office complex shortly before Obama left for the day. Clinton's office told NBC News Thursday that any decisions about the presidential transition are up to Obama and his team. Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines, on Friday, would say only "Senator Clinton had no public schedule yesterday," and referred questions to the Obama transition team, which said it had no comment.

Clinton pushed Obama hard during the campaign, and was rumored to be a possible pick for vice-president after she lost the nomination to the young Illinois senator. Obama instead chose veteran Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate, prompting speculation that, among other reasons, he didn't want to be saddled with Clinton's restless husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton was cool toward Obama following the bruising nomination battle between Obama and his wife. However, any lingering animosity was put aside when both Clintons gave rousing endorsements of Obama at the Democratic National Convention in August, and later campaigned for him.

Since then, Obama has surrounded himself with several former staffers of Bill Clinton's presidency. Some of them are pushing Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Other senators, including Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts and Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, also are thought to be under consideration.

The two Democratic officials who spoke Thursday did so on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering Obama and his staff.

In his first two weeks as president-elect, Obama has struck a bipartisan tone. He paired a Republican and a Democrat to meet with foreign leaders this weekend on his behalf in Washington, for example, and on Friday his transition office announced Obama would meet with vanquished Republican rival John McCain on Monday.

The meeting will be the first since Obama, the Democratic Illinois senator, beat McCain, an Arizona senator, by an Electoral College landslide in the Nov. 4 election.

"It's well known that they share an important belief that Americans want and deserve a more effective and efficient government, and will discuss ways to work together to make that a reality," Obama spokesman Stephanie Cutter said in announcing the meeting.

Cutter also said the two will be joined at Obama's Chicago transition office by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a McCain confidant, and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois Democrat whom Obama has chosen to be his White House chief of staff.