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Hillary Clinton as Mrs. Foggybottom?

Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth is a contender at VA.
Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth is a contender at VA. (M. Spencer Green - AP)
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Martin, a Bush appointee, was asked whether he intended to stay on when Obama takes over in January. "I don't have any plans to go anywhere yet," he said, adding that he might stay awhile to help with the digital conversion.

He may be one of the commissioners, but given the Democratic unhappiness with him, odds are he won't be chairman by sundown Jan. 20.

Tammy and the Cabinet

Those reading tea leaves about Barack Obama's favored choices for Cabinet secretaries should look no further than the president-elect's Veterans Day photo op. Joining Obama at a wreath-laying ceremony in Chicago was Tammy Duckworth, a National Guard helicopter pilot who lost both legs in combat in Iraq and now directs the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Duckworth, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2006, has surfaced as the leading contender for secretary of Obama's Department of Veterans Affairs, several veterans advocates said.

"Tammy is an incredibly inspiring leader and she has the potential to be our generation's Max Cleland," said Paul Rieckhoff, director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "She's been innovative, empathetic, intelligent, aggressive and forward-looking."

Cleland, a former Democratic senator from Georgia and decorated Vietnam War hero who lost three limbs in combat, headed Veterans Affairs under President Carter, and some say he could return there under Obama. Arnold Fisher, head of Fisher House Foundation, a leading veterans' charity, is said to be among the other contenders.

But veterans advocates say Duckworth's diverse background -- she was born in Bangkok in 1968 and raised in Hawaii -- and advocacy on behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans makes her a compelling choice. Disabled Veterans of America is singing her praises, as is Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

Duckworth has not been shy about her interest in the job, telling CNN this week: "When my commander in chief calls, I've always run for my helicopter and executed the mission I was given. And I would be deeply honored if President-elect Obama were to call."

Another option for Duckworth could be succeeding Obama in the Senate; she is among the leading contenders for the post, which Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) will fill after Obama steps down.

A dark horse is the incumbent, James Peake, appointed by Bush in 2007. A Peake aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the boss "has not yet made any plans, and his focus is on the transition."

Will He Stay or Will He Go?

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who said not long ago that it was inconceivable that he'd stay in his job under a Democratic administration, is likely to remain for a while if Obama asks him to, Pentagon officials told McClatchy.

Many of Gates's aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they expect the president-elect to ask Gates to stay.

On Monday, the transition co-chairman, John Podesta, wouldn't say whether Gates has been asked to stay in his job. Obama "has great respect for Secretary Gates," but before any decision is made, a transition team will be briefed at the Pentagon about "ongoing operations" and Obama will "render judgment as a result of and after those briefings occur and he's had a chance to meet with his key advisers," Podesta told McClatchy.

A Man, a Plan . . .

President Bush, in a speech yesterday in New York, called on Congress to approve "free-trade agreements with Colombia, Peru and South Korea." The White House transcript notes at the bottom of the page, "*Panama," not Peru.

With Philip Rucker

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