The Washington Post

Obama team ups control of foreign policy slots

President Obama and ex-Secretary of State Clinton on “60 Minutes” in January. (Uncredited/AP)

In 2008, incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cut a deal with incoming President Obama giving her virtually complete control over hiring scores of her top aides — not just her outer office team — thus protecting her extensive campaign network. Foggy Bottom was Hillaryland.

In contrast, Secretary of State John Kerry has so far brought in perhaps a half-dozen or so of “his” top people. We’re told there are still a fair number of Kerry’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff, who’d dearly love to move to State, just awaiting a call.

But if Kerry does offer them jobs, those folks — and any named by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — will be subjected to the hairy eyeball by the White House personnel operation.

In contrast, White House personnel rarely vetoed a Hillary pick. We know of only one example, though obviously there may have been others. And Gates, of course, already had his team in place. But Team Obama folks are branching out.

State’s spokeswoman-in-waiting Jen Psaki, despite a stint on the 2004 Kerry campaign, is far more identified for her Obama ties, having senior press jobs in both his presidential runs and as deputy White House communications director.

And Steve Krupin, Kerry’s new chief speechwriter, was the Obama reelect campaign chief speechwriter. He’d been Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s press secretary and worked press in Florida for Obama in 2008.

Meanwhile, insiders are watching to see what happens to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s deputy if, as expected, she becomes National Security Adviser later this year.

The deputy, Rexon Ryu, a former State Department official, is highly regarded by the White House for his work on the National Security Council staff on non-proliferation issues. But he was also deputy chief of staff and senior foreign policy adviser to former senator, now Defense Secretary Hagel and is still very close to him. Hagel, who also has a small personal team at Defense might be looking for a few more pals.

So does Ryu follow Rice to the White House, Hagel to the Pentagon or head back to State? Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, who tangled with Ryu at the State Department back in 2003, doubtless will be tracking this one.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.


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