This struck some Republicans as over the top -- the test Rubin had in mind comes after Inauguration Day, not before -- but it impressed R.W. Apple of The New York Times enough to earn Rubin a mention in The Times as a possible national security adviser in a Kerry White House.
As it happens, history recorded Rubin's reaction that morning when he saw the mention: He placed a damage-control call to Kerry foreign-policy adviser Rand Beers, the man most Democrats around the Kerry campaign consider the front-runner to head the National Security Council. Beers is an unpretentious sort, but he couldn't resist a little needle -- even in the presence of a reporter. "So I hear you are the next national security adviser," Beers told Rubin. On the other end of the line, Rubin must have made light of Apple's mention, because Beers ended their conversation by saying, "I fully intend to make a joke of it."
Such is the quadrennial Washington pastime of staffing the executive branch.
Campaign aides, particularly those who work for a challenger, are typically reluctant to discuss any pre-Election Day planning, if for no other reason than superstition. "You've got to win the election first," said P.J. Crowley, a veteran of the Clinton White House national security team. "Besides, the people who you need to talk to about this stuff are busy. The candidate is busy." True, but waiting until the election is over is not a luxury a presidential candidate can afford if he wants to hit the ground running.
"A new administration has to start on personnel, and they really need to do it before the election," says presidential scholar Martha Joynt Kumar, an expert on presidential transitions. "There are crucial things you must think through. The first is: What policy area is the greatest emphasis going to be put on, in the administration's opening days?"
Twenty-four years ago, soon-to-be White House Director of Personnel Pendleton James and incoming White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker believed that the economy was the top issue facing President-elect Reagan. They identified 87 appointive jobs in that issue area and used the time of the transition to match jobs with people. President-elect Clinton used a less methodical approach -- one reason for his fractious beginning.
With the Clinton experience in mind, Kerry adviser James A. Johnson has been discreetly putting down on paper the beginnings of a Kerry administration. Last week, he flew to Florida, where Kerry was campaigning, to brief the candidate on his progress so far, ideas for handling the transition, and procedures for vetting candidates.
"Kerry thinks talking about transition is a jinx, even though he knows that the campaign needs to prepare some advance plans for post-election," said one top Kerry adviser.
With the nation at war in Iraq, Osama bin Laden still on the loose, and several long-term alliances fraying at the margins, the need is especially urgent in foreign policy, which is expected to be the subject of Kerry's earliest emphasis.
National Security Team
National Security Adviser -- Rand Beers is the logical choice to be Kerry's in-house national security adviser, because he is playing that role in the campaign. Other qualified candidates are around, too, including Jonathan Winer, who was previously Kerry's security aide in the Senate. Susan Rice, who worked at the National Security Council for Clinton and later in the State Department under Secretary Madeleine Albright, has been one of the Kerry aides leveling harsh criticism of President Bush's foreign policy. Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael E. O'Hanlon, who has helped write some foreign-policy speeches for Kerry, might also be in line for a high-level job at the NSC, as might -- yes -- Jamie Rubin himself, along with James Steinberg, of Brookings. Some observers have mentioned Richard Holbrooke, although most who did so expect him to be secretary of State. It depends, in part, on what kind of foreign-policy operation Kerry envisions.
Presumably, Kerry will be looking for a bit more harmony between State and the Pentagon than currently exists. But just to be safe, he might tap the strong-willed Holbrooke to run the foreign-policy show out of the White House, a la Henry Kissinger. "Could be," mused one former Clinton administration official. "He has the personality for it."
Secretary of State -- Those close to Kerry keep naming the same two people, Richard Holbrooke and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., for this post. Holbrooke has plenty of detractors, but many foreign-policy scholars think he might be the right fit for the job in these contentious times. "He's the kind of guy who, even though he has some faults, would be sufficiently tough-minded and sufficiently energetic to perhaps pull off Kerry's promise of bringing off more international support for the Iraq quagmire," says Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich. "This is a guy who bangs heads together."
The loquacious Biden also has a following in Kerryville, partly because he has the complete trust of the candidate. If Kerry was looking for a bipartisan foreign-policy team, two Republican senators, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Richard Lugar of Indiana, enjoy respect in both parties. Democratic former Maine Sen. George Mitchell, who so ably helped broker a peace deal in Northern Ireland, is mentioned by some Democrats, as is former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., vice-chairman of the 9/11 commission. Timothy Wirth, a former lawmaker with foreign-policy experience, is close to Kerry personally; he represented Colorado in the Senate and now heads the United Nations Foundation. Wirth is qualified to be U.N. ambassador as well -- although some Democrats think that Kerry might retain the recently appointed John C. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, in that job. Another name mentioned for a top foreign-policy job is that of retiring Florida Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat.
Defense Secretary -- For the top Pentagon jobs, as with all of the senior national security positions, Kerry's main problem would seem to be choosing from among a glut of highly qualified people. "He's got far more people than he has positions," says John Pike, of GlobalSecurity.org. "[It will be] a very intense game of musical chairs because there are going to be three or four eminently qualified people for every position."
Earlier this year, Kerry himself mentioned four names. Two of them, John Warner of Virginia and John McCain of Arizona, are Republican senators. The other two are Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and former Clinton administration Pentagon chief William Perry.
Levin's availability, like that of other senators, might depend on the makeup of the Senate itself after November 2. "If it gets to 50-50 in the Senate, Levin may decide he'd rather be Armed Services [Committee] chairman," said one former Clinton official. As for Warner and McCain -- and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., another Republican whose name crops up -- party affiliation could be a handicap.
"The problem with outsourcing DOD to a Republican is that it sends the message that Democrats can't handle national security issues, and that's the wrong message," says Kurt Campbell of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Campbell himself earned a mention, as did another up-and-comer, Richard Danzig, former secretary of the Navy under Clinton. "He distinguished himself as the most charismatic and personable of the service secretaries during Clinton's tenure, and he has been a big fundraiser for the Democrats in recent years," said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute.
Former Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia once let it be known that he'd rather be secretary of State than Defense secretary, but many Democrats nonetheless think he'd be a good fit at the Pentagon. Likewise, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, has his backers. Thompson calls him "a smart choice." Lieberman did not burn his bridges with the nominee; nor did Gen. Wesley Clark, whose support for Kerry has been unwavering. Some say Joseph Biden is a possibility for Defense, if he does not land at State. So also are Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Reps. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, Jack Spratt of South Carolina, and Ike Skelton of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Others thought to be under consideration for top posts include Ashton Carter, a Harvard professor with Pentagon experience, and Norman R. Augustine, chairman of Lockheed Martin's executive committee.
One intriguing name that has been added to the mix is that of former Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado whose 1988 presidential bid was cut short by a sex scandal that looks tame when viewed through a post-Monica prism. "Hart has forgotten more about defense than most people ever knew," says one pro-Hart Democrat. "It's time to bring him back." Other possibilities include Republican former Sen. Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, Merrill McPeak, former Air Force chief of staff, who has made television ads for Kerry, and former Sen. Max Cleland, a Georgia Democrat.
Homeland Security Secretary -- James Lee Witt, who headed the Federal Emergency Management Agency under Clinton to rave reviews, has emerged as one contender for DHS. Another is Rep. Jim Turner of Texas, ranking member on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security and a vocal critic of the administration's approach to improving the safety of ports, planes, and borders -- a recurrent Kerry theme. Still another candidate is Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., who pushed for a Department of Homeland Security before Bush embraced the idea, and who quips that she was Tom Ridge's "headhunter" -- she got him a real job. Harman, who wrote the original House bill to create a National Intelligence Director, may also be considered for that post. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark's name has also surfaced for Homeland Security chief. A more likely pick might be John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He is another former Clintonite, and the Bush White House consulted him when the department was being assembled. Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, who chaired the 9/11 commission, is another possibility.
Director of National Intelligence -- One reason that Rep. Jane Harman or John Hamre might not get the Department of Homeland Security is that they could be needed at the CIA or in the newly created post of director of national intelligence. In this area, said one liberal intelligence official, "the bench [for Democrats] is perennially the weakest." Another possibility for DNI: Jeffrey Smith, former CIA general counsel. Kerry friend Gary Hart might be a good fit here, some Democrats believe. The same is true of former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana and 9/11 commission chief Thomas H. Kean.
Treasury Secretary -- Most-often mentioned are Wall Street financiers and Kerry campaign advisers Steve Rattner and Roger Altman. Altman, who was deputy Treasury secretary under Clinton, is also mentioned as a possible White House chief of staff. So is James Johnson, another potential Treasury Secretary -- although Democrats are talking about him as a possible White House chief of staff. Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin has influence with Kerry, although if Rubin takes a new job in government it might be an even higher one -- say, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, should Fed Chairman-for-Life Alan Greenspan ever step down. "How do you not want to be God?" quipped Clinton Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, a Rubin fan.
Rubin's former partner at Goldman Sachs, Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., could land at Treasury -- though Democrats believe he wants to run for governor of New Jersey. Laura D'Andrea Tyson, Clinton's first national economic adviser, could also be considered for a range of jobs, including ambassador to Great Britain. Currently dean of the London Business School, Tyson has expressed interest in returning to Washington to lend her oar to a Kerry administration.
Office of Management and Budget Director -- One Clinton alumnus has floated the names of John Spratt of South Carolina, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee; and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Spratt's counterpart in the Senate. Several other names have arisen as well, including that of Bruce Reed, Clinton's domestic policy adviser and now president of the Democratic Leadership Council; and Gene Sperling, who, like Reed, served all eight years in the Clinton White House, the last four as director of the president's National Economic Council. Sperling has clear qualifications for the job, is interested in it, and has Kerry's trust.
Rest of the Best -- Kerry has the opportunity to build his own crew of economic advisers by filling other posts at the Treasury Department and OMB, as well as at the National Economic Council and the Council of Economic Advisers, both of which operate out of the White House.
One Rubin protege who has had a meteoric career rise is Tim Geithner, who heads the New York Fed. W. Bowman Cutter, who served on Clinton's NEC and in President Carter's OMB, is mentioned by one former Clintonista as a likely pick. Another Rubin favorite is Tom Steyer, a Goldman Sachs alumnus who funded and runs the San Francisco-based Farallon Capital Management, a giant hedge fund for Ivy League universities. Steyer could be in line for a key Treasury post such as undersecretary for domestic finance. Brookings Institution senior fellow Peter Orszag also has impressive credentials. A former Clinton administration colleague mentions him in connection with the top Treasury tax post, or as head of the Council of Economic Advisers.
Democrats think highly of Alan Blinder, a professor at Princeton University and a former Federal Reserve governor; and of Lael Brainard, a senior fellow at Brookings and a former deputy NEC adviser. Brainard is mentioned by one source specifically for U.S. Trade Representative, as is Bill Reinsch, who runs the National Foreign Trade Council. Gary Gensler, a former Treasury undersecretary, is yet another veteran of Goldman Sachs. If Kerry wants to dip into the expertise of the House, he could tap Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.
Attorney General -- One of Kerry's biggest rounds of applause on the stump has come when he says the first thing he'll do as president is fire Attorney General John Ashcroft. He won't really have to -- Ashcroft will leave on his own -- but a President Kerry would get to replace him as head of the Justice Department. Interviews turned up several likely candidates.
They include former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, outgoing president of the American Bar Association and a onetime Michigan Supreme Court judge; and Eric Holder and Deval Patrick, who were both top-level lawyers in the Clinton Justice Department. Jamie Gorelick, another veteran of Janet Reno's tenure at Justice, is often mentioned. During her stint on the 9/11 commission, Gorelick fought with Republicans -- though none on the commission itself -- over Ashcroft's contention that she helped build the infamous "wall" that prevented the CIA and FBI from sharing information. Consequently, she might have confirmation issues. Two other women, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, are also touted for AG. And depending on the success of his Senate race against Pete Coors, Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar might be an attractive choice. He'd be the first Latino to head Justice. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is under consideration; one source also mentioned Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
Names being floated for other top-level Justice jobs include famed trial lawyer David Boies, former Clinton White House Counsel Greg Craig, and U.S. District Judge Sven Holmes of Oklahoma.
Labor Secretary -- Kerry says his secretary will come from organized labor's ranks, but observers don't believe he has Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, or Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, in mind. Both outspokenly backed Howard Dean before the Iowa caucuses.
But other candidates fit the bill. One possible choice is Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass. Lynch headed an ironworkers local before being elected to Congress. Another strong candidate is Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters. The firefighters endorsed Kerry early and loudly, and Schaitberger has an impressive resume. Democrats as prominent as Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle have taken to lightheartedly calling Schaitberger "Mr. Secretary," at party meetings.
Others mentioned include Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, and Rep. Dick Gephardt, long a friend to labor when he was in the House leadership. "We're for our guy, but you're not going to upset anyone in labor if you pick Gephardt," said one firefighters union official. "He has the heart of labor."
Education Secretary -- Kerry anointed former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt as the front-runner when he referred to Hunt as "Mr. Education" at a recent campaign rally. "Jim is the consensus candidate," said one person with ties to the campaign. Hunt was one of a cadre of Southern governors in the 1980s and 1990s -- along with Bob Graham, Bill Clinton, Richard Riley, and, yes, George W. Bush -- who helped lead a reform movement to set national standards in public education.
But if Kerry wanted to send a message that he intends to continue the kinds of reforms envisioned in the No Child Left Behind Act, he might choose one of several big-city school administrators with solid Washington and Democratic credentials. They include former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, now the superintendent in Los Angeles; San Diego schools Superintendent Alan Bersin; and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Other candidates include Boston Mayor Tom Menino and his schools chief, Tom Payzant; Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who cannot succeed himself; and former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board.
Transportation Secretary -- The Kerry campaign has been advised to pick someone with bipartisan appeal, someone like former Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey or Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, the Democrats' transportation guru in the House. Others mentioned are Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Mike Honda, D-Calif.; Clinton-era Transportation Deputy Secretary Mort Downey; Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels; Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell; and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
Commerce Secretary -- This Cabinet post often goes to a large donor. Business leaders supportive of Kerry's candidacy include investment banker Steve Rattner; Gateway co-founder Ted Waitt; and John Merrigan, a partner at law firm Piper Rudnick, who has been among Kerry's top D.C. fundraisers. Some others mentioned by those close to the campaign are Alexis Herman, Labor secretary under Clinton; Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television; and John Thompson, CEO of Symantec, a computer-security company based in Cupertino, Calif. Nobody in history has raised more money for Democrats than DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe has, but the Senate would have to go Democratic before he could win confirmation.
Agriculture Secretary -- Gus Schumacher, former Massachusetts agriculture commissioner and World Bank official, has long-standing ties to Kerry, but Schumacher himself believes that Kerry would pick someone from the Farm Belt. If so, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack fits the mold. He'd stress the importance of conservation as well as commodity programs at USDA. If he loses his House seat, Texas Democratic Rep. Charles Stenholm might make sense for Agriculture -- if Team Kerry didn't mind rewarding a Texan. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., also figures in the mix.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary -- This job often goes to a mayor, and if Dennis Archer of Detroit doesn't land Justice, he would be extremely qualified for HUD. Other names include Boston's Mayor Tom Menino, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, and former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice. National Urban League President and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial might be interested, but some Southern Democrats think that Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin would be a great pick for HUD -- or for HHS. Renee Glover, an African-American who heads the Atlanta Housing Authority, has won rave reviews for her management of Atlanta's public housing stock.
Health and Human Services Secretary -- Front-runners are former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, and current Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who were both early backers of the Kerry campaign. Other possibilities include retiring Sen. Bob Graham of Florida and retiring Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, and Missouri Gov. Bob Holden. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., is a possible candidate to head HHS or another Cabinet department if he loses his close re-election contest. Likewise, Rep. Denise Majette, D-Ga., will merit consideration if she loses her Senate race. Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., was an early Kerry supporter. Former New York Rep. Thomas Downey has also earned mention.
If Kerry turns to the health care industry, one possibility is Jim Mongan, who heads a hospital system in Massachusetts. Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a physician, has been mentioned for HHS and for other posts ranging from National Institutes of Health director to Interior secretary.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator -- If Jeanne Shaheen doesn't land at HHS, the EPA post might work for her. Environmentalists laud Shaheen's record as governor of New Hampshire. But there's a big pool of candidates for this job, some of whom would also be considered to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Top contenders for either post include John DeVillars, EPA's regional director for New England during the Clinton administration and secretary of Environmental Affairs for Massachusetts when Kerry was lieutenant governor; New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer; and New Jersey Commissioner of Environmental Protection Brad Campbell.
Mary Nichols, director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment, is respected by environmentalists and has also worked well with industry. Environmental activists Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and David Hayes, a former deputy Interior secretary under President Clinton, are both close to Kerry. So are George Abar, a legislative director in Kerry's Senate office, and Roger Ballantine, senior adviser on energy and the environment on the Kerry campaign. Katie McGinty, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under Clinton, and Deb Callahan, head of the League of Conservation Voters, are popular with Democrats. Under Callahan's direction, the LCV endorsed Kerry during the Democratic primaries -- an unprecedented move for the group.
Interior Secretary -- By custom, this job goes to a Westerner, because the vast majority of federal lands are in the West, but one candidate is an Easterner: former Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan. New Mexico's Jeff Bingaman, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, would be a more traditional pick. So would former Sen. Tim Wirth or Rep. Mark Udall, both of Colorado. Washington Gov. Gary Locke has been suggested for Interior as well as for other posts, including Education. If New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson delivers his bellwether state to Kerry, he can probably have Interior if he wants it. He may not. Former Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon is also mentioned for this or other environmental jobs, as is John Leshy, the solicitor in the Clinton Interior Department. Udall, Bingaman, and Wirth are all mentioned for secretary of Energy as well.
Energy Secretary -- Former EPA Administrator Carol Browner has worked hard for the campaign and might want this job. The same is true of Virginia Gov. Mark Warner. Other possibles include John Northington, an energy consultant for the Kerry campaign; and retiring Sen. John Breaux, D-La., but Breaux would be a hard sell to environmentalists because of his pro-oil-and-gas record.
Contributing to this report were Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., Brian Friel, Siobhan Gorman, Jerry Hagstrom, Julie Kosterlitz, Margaret Kriz, Kellie Lunney, Marilyn Werber Serafini, Alexis Simendinger, Paul Starobin, Bruce Stokes, and Bara Vaida.