Cabinet: No Swift Changes

Having already delayed his vacation once in order to name Erskine Bowles his chief of staff, President Clinton will leave for Hawaii today -- before embarking on a nine-day Asian tour -- without having named a replacement for Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Clinton, however, may be ready to announce another member of his national security team before leaving.

Referring to media speculation about various posts, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said, "A lot of you are frankly right now chasing vapor trails." McCurry described a "slower, more methodical" process that will delay announcements of key appointments until next month or even January. Associates say the methodical process reflects Bowles' influence. Bowles "would rather be criticized for delays than plagued by the background 'vetting' problems" that plagued the first transition, according to a report in USA Today.

The Maine Man. Ex-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, "is still considered the leading candidate" for State, but a "strong faction" in the White House is "pushing" for assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, reports The New York Times today. One "possible problem" for Mitchell, according to administration officials, is that he might be seen as an "irritant" rather than an asset in relations with Congress. Some GOPers told the Timesthey considered Mitchell an "extremely partisan" leader, "though they would not block his confirmation."

Cohen for the Defense. Retiring Sen. William Cohen, R-Maine, "has emerged as the leading contender" to replace Perry at Defense, but he does not have the post "wrapped up," the Times reports. One White House official said while Cohen is currently the frontrunner, "his chances could diminish" if a great deal of time passes before an announcement is made. Several officials said it was "unlikely" Clinton would announce anything today and would instead wait until after Thanksgiving to put all the members of new national security team in place at once. Several factors are involved here, including "the question of how it would look" if both Defense and State were lead by former Maine senators. The Washington Post reports White House aides "began investigating" Cohen's background, but Clinton has not "settled" on him. CIA director John Deutch "remains a strong contender," according to administration sources. Sources also said Clinton may want to "move or replace" National Security Adviser Anthony Lake.

Beat the Press. Attorney General Janet Reno fended off questions about her future yesterday, saying recent news articles "taking potshots" at her "would be an embarrassment to her late father, a former reporter." Reno's comments were aimed at The New York Times, which ran a story yesterday contending Reno was "twisting in the wind," and quoted anonymous White House sources questioning Reno's stewardship at Justice. "I think until you find some substantial sources who are willing to put their names on the line, you should end all this and let [Clinton] be about his business," said Reno.

Looking Less Like America. There is "concern" in the black community that Clinton's Cabinet shuffle "could further reduce black representation at the highest levels of government," USA Today reports. The concern was "heightened" with the departure of assistant attorney general for civil rights Deval Patrick. "The thing that frightens me is the very little attention that is being paid to diversity in the construction of this Cabinet," Walter Broadnax, an ex-Administration official told The Washington Post. "I think the composition of a Cabinet is one of the strongest signals an administration can send. If you aren't at the table, you aren't at the table."

White House officials acknowledged that women's groups had complained when an anonymous Administration source said United Nations Ambassador Madeline Albright had been demoted to the "second tier" of possible Christopher successors at State, the Post reports. The Coalition for Women's Appointments released the names of 21 women to fill key posts in the second-term and called for Clinton to fill "fully 50 percent of its Senate-confirmed positions with qualified women." The list includes several names already floated for posts, including Albright and Maria Echaveste, currently the administrator of Labor's Wage and Hour Division and who is considered a possible replacement for Robert Reich at Labor. Also listed is deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick, who has been mentioned for several Cabinet posts including Defense, Energy and the CIA. The list also includes, among others, Puerto Rico Comptroller Illiana Colon Carlo, New Jersey Transportation Authority executive director Shirley DeLibero, ex-New York City budget director Carol O'Cleireacain and Felicia Stewart, a physician and researcher at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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