Certainly, to the extent that she still aspires to the presidency, secretary of state hasn’t exactly been a good way to get there for a while. (The last secretary of state to be elected president was James Buchanan.)
At press time, things were still in the air.
A source familiar with Mrs. Clinton’s thinking said that Mr. Obama did indeed offer the job to her and that she was weighing the decision with her husband, who returned home on Nov. 17 from a speaking engagement in Kuwait. But, the source said, reports that she had decided to accept the position were premature and wrong. (The Obama transition would not comment as to whether any position was or was not offered. Mrs. Clinton’s referred questions, once again, to the Obama transition team.)
According to the Democratic source with knowledge of the Clinton’s thinking, the Obama transition team and Clinton team were, as of the afternoon of Nov. 18, still “working through” the parameters of Bill Clinton’s charitable activities to check for real or perceived conflicts of interest, and that the process was going “smoothly.”
“She is still weighing it,” said another source, a close associate of Hillary Clinton, who added that the sticking point of the negotiations was not Mr. Clinton’s willingness to be vetted, which the source said had been overblown in importance, but rather “a question of whether she wants to give up her Senate seat.”
The associate said that at this point, there was some concern among Clinton’s supporters that all the talk about the job has forced her hand, because declining it would create suspicion about her husband’s finances. But “that is no reason to take the job,” the associate said.
One Obama foreign policy adviser on the transition team, who is not involved in the negotiations, said on background: “Obviously, she has tremendous skills and it would be up to Senator Obama to make that decision in the end on how he feels comfortable with integrating her in. I’m totally confident that he is going to be able to manage his team to get done what he thinks needs to be accomplished.”
Ms. Slaughter said that if Mrs. Clinton did end up becoming secretary of state, it would be only natural that Mr. Clinton give up some of his activities.
“He’s going to operate within more constraints,” she said. “They will find a solution, but there is no question he will be less free to do the kinds of things ex-presidents can do in terms of boards and speeches and businesses deals. It’s a fair exchange.”
For Mr. King, who, though a Republican, is fond of telling people about his good personal relationship with the Clintons, it would make sense for the former first lady to move back into the executive branch.
“From where is she is sitting right now, it looks like Obama is going to be there for at least the next four years, maybe the next eight,” he said. “He is going to be the dominant force in the political scene for the next eight years. She in the Senate is not the chair of any committee or any major subcommittee. She will be less of a political force in a day-to-day sense, but she will be much more of a national force in an international sense. I think she is making the decision to go for history. Also waking up in the morning as secretary of state in the world in which we live is more exciting than being the junior senator from New York.”
Ms. Slaughter said that plucking a secretary of state from among the ranks of elected officials was a tradition that went back almost to the founding of the republic.
“But honestly,” said Ms. Slaughter, “if ever there were a time to do it, that time is now.”