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Cabinetmaking Slows At White House

By Wolf Blitzer/CNN

WASHINGTON (Nov. 14) -- Contrary to earlier indications, President Bill Clinton is now dramatically slowing down his decision making process on his new Cabinet.


Right after his re-election, Clinton decided to delay his departure for his vacation in Hawaii for several days so that he could at least nominate new secretaries of State and Defense this week. At one point, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell seemed Clinton's clear first choice -- but now there's competition.

Press secretary Mike McCurry says, "There really is an attempt to meet our goals of excellence and diversity and to think of those people that the president has encountered over the last four years who could truly make a contribution to doing those things he talked about in the campaign."

McCurry says the president remains committed to recruiting high-level Republicans, and the names most frequently mentioned include former Joint Chiefs chairman Colin Powell, retiring Maine Sen. William Cohen, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, and now, Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, who lost in his bid to unseat Democratic Sen. John Kerry.


Weld's name has been mentioned as a possible successor to Attorney General Janet Reno, though she's continuing to signal her strong desire to remain on the job. Weld is a former U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts and served as assistant attorney general in the criminal division during the Reagan Administration. Sources say he also would consider a top State Department position.

Kean, another moderate Republican, has been mentioned as a possible education secretary. Republicans have been calling for the elimination of that Cabinet position, and putting a Republican in charge could ease that opposition.

Meanwhile, there's another issue on the president's agenda that's more pressing right now: a decision to keep U.S. troops in Bosnia for at least another year, despite Clinton's earlier promise to have them out of Bosnia by the end of this year.


"That country is at peace," says McCurry. "The war did end, and that is largely because of the negotiations that we undertook, and I think [we] preserved those gains by having the deployment of the forces there... And the point is, ending that mission and removing all presence does run the risk of seeing that there would be some return to hostilities."

But Republican critics maintain the president needs to do a better job explaining the mission. Texas GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said, "I certainly think we are in danger of having a prolonged mission without a clear rule of engagement and without a clear mandate for exactly what victory will be. That is what happened in Vietnam. And I think if we aren't clear about what our role will be and what the end game is that we could be in a long, protracted engagement in the former Yugoslavia."

Despite those fears, expect the president to make the formal Bosnia announcement Friday morning before he leaves for Hawaii.

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