Clinton confidant Wendy Sherman could be State’s new No. 3

Former State Department counselor Wendy Sherman, a longtime confidant of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, has emerged as the “leading candidate” to replace Bill Burns as the third-highest-ranking official in Foggy Bottom, according to two State Department officials.

Sherman, the vice chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group, an international-affairs consulting firm, was counselor to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, while also serving as North Korea policy coordinator. She was assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs from 1993 to 1996 under Secretary of State Warren Christopher. She is currently chair of the board of directors of Oxfam America and serves on the Defense Department’s Defense Policy Board.

Sherman was a major player on the nomination preparation and transition teams when Clinton was nominated as secretary, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive internal matters. Along with national security adviser Tom Donilon, Sherman served as an agency review lead for the State Department’s transition after the 2008 election.

The opening that Sherman is expected to fill is a result of a shuffle at the top levels of the department. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg , the current second-in-charge, is leaving to become dean of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of public affairs. Burns is ascending into Steinberg’s job, and Sherman would become the new No. 3, taking the position now held by Burns. With her experience dealing with East Asia, she would help fill the void being left by Steinberg’s departure.

The short list for Burns’s replacement once included former ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson, but President Obama announced last week that he intended to nominate Patterson as ambassador to Egypt.

The Cable is told that the Sherman appointment is close to a done deal. If confirmed, she would be a political appointee taking over a job that is normally filled by a career Foreign Service officer. But Burns, a career Foreign Service officer, is taking over a job normally reserved for a political appointee, so the general balance between politicos and diplomats in the leadership atop the State Department would remain the same.

Burns, who has been integral to the department’s response to the Arab revolutions, had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

Skepticism on Hill about aid for Egypt

Obama announced $2 billion in new aid to Egypt in his May 19 speech on the Middle East, but top appropriators in the House said on Monday that they don’t support giving the money to any government that includes a large presence by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The chairman of the House Appropriations state and foreign operations subcommittee, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.), and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Nita Lowey (N.Y.), spoke at a Monday afternoon panel at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington. Asked by The Cable if they supported Obama’s new aid initiative to Egypt, especially if the Muslim Brotherhood has a large presence in the government, Granger said: “The answer for me is no. I don’t approve of it.”

The crowd erupted in applause.

“Who is the new Egyptian government? We don’t know. That’s the problem,” Granger said.

The issue of foreign assistance to Egypt was part of a larger discussion about funding emerging democracies that include elements hostile to U.S. interests. Granger and Lowey, for example, promised that no U.S. money would go to a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas.

Lowey said that while she supported the funding for Egypt, she urged the administration to seek the funds from multilateral organizations because finding money in the budget appropriated by Congress would be difficult in this year’s tough fiscal environment.

“We are not going to appropriate this money to the Egyptian government,” Lowey said. “We are currently giving them billions of dollars in military aid, and we’re going to have to see about that as well.”