NPR

Obama's Cabinet Reshuffle, What's Next For Hillary?

President Barack Obama is expected to make some key changes to his second-term cabinet. As Hillary Clinton prepares to step down as Secretary of State, many wonder whether she will run for president in 2016.

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The 2012 election concludes. DeMint's departure sets up a 2014 trifecta in the Palmetto State, and it's still a slow walk to the fiscal cliff. It's Wednesday and time for a...

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Wasted another week...

CONAN: Edition of the political junkie.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. Swift action yesterday in Lansing as the Michigan legislature defied loud protests to adopt right-to-work laws. Here in Washington, glacial progress toward a deal on taxes and spending cuts. Republicans vow to stay on through Christmas.

Tea Party champion Jim DeMint resigns. Mitch McConnell filibusters his own bill. Charlie Crist completes the political cycle from GOP to independent to Democrat. Cory Booker debates himself on his political future. But all the buzz is 2016 and the plans of the soon-to-be former secretary of state, more on that later in the program.

We'll also look at the other likely changes in the Cabinet, and we'll visit South Carolina. But first political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi Neal. Well, you just mentioned Charlie Crist, he's the former governor of Florida who was elected in 2006 as a Republican. He also left the GOP in 2010 to run for the Senate. He announced last week he's switching to the Democratic Party, presumably to run for governor in 2014 as a Democrat. The question is: Who was the last person elected governor of one party, switched parties while out of office and then was elected governor again in his new party?

CONAN: So if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, if you can remember this week's trivia question, the last person to be elected governor representing one party who then switched parties while out of office and got elected again as governor, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org.

And Ken, in the meantime, while people line up to answer that one, the winners of course get a fabulous political junkie no-prize button and a free T-shirt, but we have actual votes.

RUDIN: Well, we do. The - we can now officially say goodbye to 2012, at least when it comes to electoral politics. In Louisiana's 3rd Congressional District, or as I call it House Bayou, Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry, they were two Republican incumbents thrown together in the same district. Boustany easily beat Landry. Boustany had seniority, he had money, he had geography, he was close with John Boehner. But because of redistricting, he was thrown in with another Republican. Jeff Landry is out, and that is the end of the 2012 House races. So the official total is the Democrats have a net gain of eight seats in the House. They need 17 now if they're going to win a majority in 2014.

CONAN: And they get their first two chances because there's going to be special elections in two seats.

RUDIN: Yes because Jo Ann Emerson is retiring, resigning in February, and Jesse Jackson Jr. already announced his resignation. But of course Jo Ann Emerson's district in southeastern Missouri, Jesse Jackson's district in Chicago's South Side, both respectively Republican and Democrat not likely to switch parties, although the only news is Sandy Jackson, Jesse Jackson's wife who's a member of the city council, said she will remain as an alderman - alderperson.

CONAN: Alderperson...

RUDIN: Yes, aldercaca(ph). She will not run for Congress.

CONAN: OK, in the meantime there's a sudden opening in the United States Senate.

RUDIN: Well, that was a big shock. I mean, even though he's not part of the leadership, even though he's not, you know, put his name on any major bill, Jim DeMint is in his second term, Republican, 61 years old. He has tremendous power. He has the capability of being a kingmaker or a breaker. We've seen that many times. He's backed many conservative Republicans such as Marco Rubio over the establishment choice...

CONAN: Christine O'Donnell.

RUDIN: I'll get to that in a second, but some of this stuff has succeeded. Ted Cruz over the establishment in Texas. As I said Marco Rubio, things like that in other states, where they've won primaries, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania against Arlen Specter, wanted Robert Bennett out in Utah in favor of Mike Lee, Rand Paul in Kentucky, those kind - and all those Republicans won.

But he also backed conservative candidates who were disasters, and I'm talking about - and as you say Christine O'Donnell against the establishment in Delaware two years ago, even Richard Mourdock over Dick Lugar. Whatever you think of Dick Lugar, the point is the Republicans lost a sure Senate seat by having Mourdock as the nominee.

So there are some Republicans who love him; there are some Republicans who are glad to see him go.

CONAN: And his departure sets up a trifecta, as we mentioned, in South Carolina in 2014: both Senate seats and the governorship are up. We'll talk much more about that in a couple of minutes. And one more item that we have to address before we get to some of the answers to this week's trivia question is the big news of the week yesterday.

It turns out the legislature can pass a bill very quickly when it wants to, a lesson for here in Washington, D.C., but this is the Michigan Legislature. It passed a right-to-work law. The governor signed it all in one day despite tumultuous protests and vociferous protests by Democrats.

RUDIN: This is big news, and the reason it's big news is that whenever you think of unions, you think of Michigan. Whenever you think of Michigan, you think of the unions and especially the auto industry. But the point is the unions have been taking it on the chin lately in a lot of states. Indiana passed right to life - right to life - right-to-work legislation not long ago.

We saw what happened in Wisconsin, which led to a recall, an unsuccessful recall of Governor Scott Walker. We saw the curtailing of collective bargaining rights in Ohio that was overturned by the voters. But the point is Rick Snyder was not one of these bomb-throwing Republicans. He said he'd be more measured about this.

He said it would be too hot to handle, he wasn't going to do it, but then maybe perhaps some member of the legislature pushed his hand. But they passed this right-to-work law, and James Hoffa says this is going to be civil war in Michigan. Democrats are talking about there'll be blood on the floor. It's pretty tough stuff, big stuff there.

CONAN: The legislature signed it, passed it, and the governor signed it yesterday. On Monday the president of the United States weighed in as he visited a diesel factory just outside of Detroit.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, these, these, these, these so-called right-to-work laws, they don't have to do with economics. They have everything to do with politics. What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.

CONAN: Politics and economics, of course, tied together pretty closely. But nevertheless, the president carried Michigan fairly handily in November. Democrats seem to be shut out, though, of - well, at least the lame duck session, and the Republicans will retain control come the changeover in January.

They will, yes, but of course we're going to see what happens in 2014. They were already talking about recalls and threats like that. And of course they could - if they get 258,000 signatures, they can get a measure on the ballot that would overturn what the legislature just passed.

So Wisconsin east I guess...

RUDIN: Perhaps, and it's not going to change. And they're looking for the fight. I mean, they've been seen as very dormant, very perhaps, you know, weakened as we've seen in previous elections. But maybe you stir them a little bit, they'll get excited, and perhaps something will happen.

CONAN: So we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and again the question is the last person to be elected governor representing one political party to then leave office, change his political or her political party and get elected governor again, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. And let's start with Dexter(ph), Dexter on the line with us from Des Moines.

DEXTER: Hi, how about Ronald Reagan?

CONAN: Ronald Reagan, I didn't leave my party, my party left me.

RUDIN: Well, Ronald Reagan was already a Republican when he was first elected governor in 1966, so he didn't - he wasn't elected two different parties when he was governor, as governor.

DEXTER: Oh, OK, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we can go to Ken(ph), and Ken's with us from Lincoln, Delaware.

KEN: Seasons greetings, guys.

CONAN: You, too.

RUDIN: Hi.

KEN: I'm thinking John Connelly, although I'm not sure whether he got re-elected as a Democrat.

CONAN: He got elected as Democrat.

RUDIN: He did elected in '62 as a Democrat, re-elected as a Democrat when he ran for - when he switched to the Republican Party, he ran for president but never as governor.

KEN: Thanks, guys.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we can go next to George(ph), and George is on the line from Tallahassee.

GEORGE: I would say Mills Godwin.

RUDIN: Mills Godwin is a very good guess. Mills Godwin was elected governor of Virginia as a Democrat in 1965, as a Republican in 1973, but he is not the most recent person to do that.

CONAN: Ah.

RUDIN: Mills Godwin is a good guess, though.

GEORGE: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much. Let's see if we can go next to Peter(ph), and Peter's with us from Roseville in California.

PETER: Hi, I remember Wayne Morse doing it in the Senate, also an independent. He ran as both Democrat, Republican and independent, got elected. But as far as the governorship, I don't think he did that in the governorship, either.

RUDIN: Well, you're right about Wayne Morse, he was elected as a Democrat, became an independent then was elected as a - I'm sorry, he started as a Republican, switched to the independents, got elected as a Democrat, as well, but never ran for governor.

PETER: Yeah, that's what I was afraid of. Well, thank you.

CONAN: Nice try, Peter. Let's see if we can go next to - this is...

RUDIN: You know, when it Waynes, it pours.

CONAN: Amy's(ph) with us from Birmingham, Alabama, and we apologize for that, Amy. Go ahead, please.

AMY: I was going to say George Wallace. Didn't he switch from Democrat to Dixiecrat?

RUDIN: No, actually every time George Wallace was elected governor, and that was in '58, '62, '70 and '78 and '82, anyway every time was as a Democrat. He never ran as another party. He ran for president, he ran for president as a third-party candidate.

AMY: He ran for president as a third-party candidate. Well, thank you so much.

CONAN: Thanks, Amy. Let's see if we can go next to Jonathan, and Jonathan's on the line with us from Dauphin, Alabama.

JONATHAN: Yes, sir, nice show, I love to hear it.

CONAN: Thank you.

JONATHAN: My answer would be Governor Fob James. In 1979 he was elected as a Democrat. He ran again in the state for a Republican, and he won.

RUDIN: And that was in 1994, and Jonathan, you are absolutely correct.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Fob James of Alabama elected as a Democrat and then elected as a Republican.

CONAN: So stay on the line, Jonathan, we'll collect your particulars and send you off a free political junkie T-shirt and that, well, precious political junkie no-prize button that you get for victory in exchange for a promise that you'll send us a digital picture of yourself wearing self same, and we can post that on our Wall of Shame. All right, congratulations, Jonathan.

RUDIN: You know, Neal, before we were talking about the decline of unions. I guess you saw that Ravi Shankar died, and he was that great head of the teacher's union in New York.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: That was Al Shanker, something different, pronounced somewhat differently. In the meantime, we just have a few seconds before we have to go to a break, but the strange process in the Senate at the end of last week where the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, introduced a bill meant to provoke the Democrats on the fiscal cliff and ended up filibustering it himself.

RUDIN: The Republicans don't seem to have exactly a set plan of what they are planning to do. Everything, really, when we're talking about fiscal cliff, it really is President Obama and Speaker Boehner. And while they come outside from their talks in saying we're not any closer, the fact is they're still talking. So we're not jumping off the fiscal cliff just yet.

CONAN: Well, we've got 20 days to go. Ken, stay with us. After a short break, we'll talk with Andy Shain in South Carolina about who may replace Senator Jim DeMint and, well, how that all sets up that three-ring circus we're talking about for 2014. Stay with us. We'll be back in just a minute. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, which means Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us here in Studio 3A. Ken, we have a ScuttleButton winner last week?

RUDIN: We absolutely do. We had four buttons there. It was - one button said: I'm a voter too. The second button said: Anna Eshoo for Congress, the Democrat from California. The third button said: Impeach one-half of LBJ, they obviously like the domestic policy, not the foreign policy. And the fourth button was a picture button of Lyndon Johnson and two other men.

So if you said - if you add I'm a voter too, Anna Eshoo, impeach half of LBJ, and pictures of three men, you have too Anna half men, which is a very enlightening, sophisticated...

CONAN: I'm told it's a popular television program.

RUDIN: Well, anyway, Seth Denny(ph) of Danville, Iowa, is this week's winner.

CONAN: And of course gets that free Political Junkie T-shirt, which are available on sale at the NPR shop, by the way.

RUDIN: Do you know Neal Conan and Ken Rudin will be at NPR Friday from 6:00 to 6:00 selling items from the NPR shop? The people deserve...

CONAN: Including that Political Junkie T-shirt. But you cannot buy the button that will also be (unintelligible); that's only for winners.

RUDIN: They'll have to rip it off our clothes, and hopefully they will.

CONAN: A bit later in the program we'll talk about possible presidential contenders, 2016. We'll want to hear from you. Who are you and your friends talking about? Inauguration hasn't even happened yet. But we're talking 2016, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org.

But first to North Carolina, where Governor Nikki Haley faces a choice on who she shall appoint to the seat vacated by Senator Jim DeMint. Several names have circulated as potential replacements, including former State Attorney General Henry McMaster, current Congressman Tim Scott. But another candidate threw his hat into the ring...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

STEPHEN COLBERT: I'm not going to sit here and say I should be South Carolina's next senator, not when so many other people are saying it for me.

USA Today: Is Stephen Colbert running for the U.S. Senate? Huffington Post: Stephen Colbert for Senate? Roll Call: South Carolina for Stephen Colbert? New York Post: Are we ready for Senator Colbert?

CONAN: Here to discuss Colbert's chances is political reporter Andy Shain. He's been covering the potential replacements for The State, South Carolina's largest newspaper. He joined us by smartphone from his office in Columbia. Nice to have you with us today.

ANDY SHAIN: Thanks for having me today.

CONAN: And we assume that besides the Colbert shoo-in, Governor Haley may appoint somebody else.

SHAIN: I think so. She's actually ruled out Colbert for not knowing the state drink during their interview in April. That's milk, by the way. Now, mind you, the governor did not know the state amphibian, which I know you all know; that's the spotted salamander.

CONAN: I was going to guess that. It was coming out of my mouth.

SHAIN: I figured as much. But what you have right now is five finalists that have been named, according to a source close to the governor, with Representatives Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy on the list, as well as Henry McMaster, who was an attorney general here, a two-term attorney general, as well as former first lady Jenny Sanford and the head of our health environmental agency, a woman named Catherine Templeton as well has been put on the final list.

CONAN: Now Tim Scott, if he were to be appointed, would be the first African-American to be serving from the - a Republican from the Senate and the only African-American in the U.S. Senate right now. This would be a popular choice.

SHAIN: You know, it would be a historic choice and certainly something to build on the governor's resume, you know, as having done this. Tim Scott is reportedly the favorite of Jim DeMint's. He has apparently told the governor that this is who he would like to replace him. And Tim Scott was - just like Senator DeMint has a lot of Tea Party support.

He has been popular in Congress. He was named head of the GOP freshman caucus. And he was recently appointed to the Ways and Means Committee.

CONAN: I'm told even other Republicans like him, and that's unusual in South Carolina. But the question is: Mr. McMaster would be seen, were he to be appointed, as a caretaker, and that sets up an interesting situation for 2014.

SHAIN: Exactly, and he has been talked a lot about as a caretaker, but actually the governor said early this week she doesn't want a caretaker or a placeholder. She wants someone who will run in 2014 for the final two years of Senator DeMint's seat and then of course move on to the election in 2016.

So, you know, but Henry's name is still on there. As I said, he's a venerable Republican here in South Carolina. He has won - he's the only candidate of the finalists who has won a statewide race. So he would be, you know, obviously considered a formidable senator if he did that.

But right now all the bets are on Senator - are on Representative Scott.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Whatever my name is. First of all, I think - I'm not sure if you said this, but you said that he would be the first Republican senator - of course African-American Republican senator, but Edward Brooke, of course, of Massachusetts was that. Tim Scott is fascinating. The history, it would be, you know, unmistakable.

Of course Henry McMaster ran against Nikki Haley for governor, so that might be a problem. But the Jenny Sanford thing seems to be the most fascinating of all. Of course she got screwed by - I mean, she was just - what happened in her divorce situation with Mark Sanford was pretty...

CONAN: The former governor, if anybody's forgotten.

RUDIN: No, no, he's off of his trail with his love interest. But Jenny Sanford (unintelligible) never run for office, but she is extremely popular in the state.

SHAIN: Yes, she is. There was a recent poll that was done that showed that Mark Sanford has about a 30 percent approval rating and Jenny's was 44 percent. Jenny is a former Wall Street executive. She helped her run her husband's campaign, was a key figure in his administration, even though she didn't have a formal position beyond being first lady.

She - a lot of people talked about how she would sit in meetings. But as you've mentioned, she's a political newcomer as far as elected office, and there had been some questions raised about is this the time to have a political newcomer in office.

But today Governor Haley reminded us that she was a relative newcomer when she got into the statehouse and became governor, and she said what matters is philosophy and how - where you want to take the country and not necessarily how much experience you have under your belt.

RUDIN: And Jenny Sanford also made a very key endorsement of Nikki Haley early in the gubernatorial primary that really put Nikki Haley on the map.

SHAIN: That's correct.

CONAN: There is another consideration, though, and that is 2014. You would have - this seat would come open again for 2014. Whoever's appointed now would have to run for the seat in 2014. Of course Lindsey Graham's seat also is open in 2014. He had been looking, I guess, forward to a challenge from the right. That might not occur if the Tea Party favorite, Tim Scott, is also up for re-election in that time.

But as I read one quote, Nikki Haley would also be up for re-election, the governor's race as well. And of those three, somebody described her as the slow zebra in that race.

SHAIN: Well, I mean it's certainly - it certainly changes the dynamic a great deal, having the seat, the second Senate seat in 2014. Certainly a big winner in this is Lindsey Graham. He was expected to get competition from candidates who voters might perceive as being more conservative and a little more like, I guess, Jim DeMint. But I think that will now go to the 2014 - the race for DeMint's seat in 2014.

Even if Tim Scott is appointed, I think there will be some, there could be some challenge for him because he will only have been in that seat for a year and change.

CONAN: So this is a one-party state for the most part, but does any Democratic candidate have an opening here?

SHAIN: Possibly. The head of the Democratic Party here, Dick Harpootlian, has been lobbying in Washington hard with Democratic leaders to try to get funding from the Governors Association, from the National Committee, to help Democrats in South Carolina. They think they have an opportunity here both with the governor's mansion and possibly with this Senate seat.

Governor Haley won by four percentage points over a state senator who is expected to face her again in a rematch, and there's a belief that maybe - again, because you're talking about - you're talking about a guy who, as I said, will be in office for a little more than a year having to face competition. There could be a candidate or two on the Democratic side who could make a run.

RUDIN: Andy, we know about Jim DeMint's power in Washington. We talked about all the things he's done and all the influence he (unintelligible) in Republican primaries. How strong was he back home? I mean, he always said he was going to retire after his term was up in 2016, but how strong is he?

SHAIN: You know, he was strong in South Carolina. He had the support of the conservative portion of the state, which is the upstate, Greenville, Spartanburg. But he really was more of a national figure. You know, he played - he wanted - in the past year or so, playing much more of a role as trying to help get other like-minded senators elected: Marco Rubio, for example.

And so, you know, while he was good for South Carolina, I think he's seen more as a national figure these days.

CONAN: Well, Andy Shain, it looks like you're going to have a really interesting couple of years.

SHAIN: That's for sure. It'll be a good time to be a political reporter here in South Carolina.

CONAN: Andy Shain, political reporter for The State; he spoke with us by smartphone from his office in Columbia, South Carolina. Thanks very much, we'll be in touch.

SHAIN: Thank you, thanks for having me.

CONAN: Paul Light is a professor at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service. He's written about the appointment and confirmation process and joins us now from a studio at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California. Paul Light, nice to have you back on the program.

PAUL LIGHT: Very nice to be with you.

CONAN: And we wanted to talk about some of the Cabinet changes that are in the offing - traditional for many if not most of a president's Cabinet to depart at or around the time of the inauguration.

LIGHT: It is. There are some precedent-setting or near precedent-setting departures. It's very unusual to lose so many members of the inner Cabinet, the very close Cabinet. So you've got the secretary of state, the treasury secretary, possibly the attorney general all thinking about or already announced as departing, and that's going to put a little pressure on the nomination process next January and February. Ordinarily, the president gets his choices for those jobs, but this is not an ordinary period, obviously.

CONAN: And Susan Rice who some think is his favorite to be the next secretary of state obviously running into difficulties on Capitol Hill.

LIGHT: Totally. And it's a very unusual and difficult moment for the president. The president knows and mentioned this just last week that the Senate is a difficult place to navigate. He mentioned this in the context of getting a businessman through the Senate, yet the Senate is very close to an agreement on changing the filibuster cloture rule which would accelerate the appointments process quite dramatically. But if you send Susan Rice up and the Republicans, who are so adamantly opposed to her, say, look, there's no way to stop her if there isn't a strong filibuster rule still in place, you're kind of trading a wonderful opportunity to get filibuster reform for a particular candidate.

That could be the dilemma that Obama will face, and frankly, I think the filibuster reform is far more important than any candidate he might select for the State Department job at this point.

CONAN: Particularly when the person thought to be also on his shortlist, the Senate - the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, would sail through any Senate confirmation.

LIGHT: That's correct. Again here, you know, you've got just an extraordinary opportunity to do something that will benefit the president, this president and future presidents in this unbelievably difficult and brutal, nasty, brutal and brutish and not very short process. And, you know, to trade that for a single candidate, as I said, is very problematic.

CONAN: The president - this president in particular also looks for diversity in his Cabinet. He wants the Cabinet to as much as possible reflect America. He has an opportunity at the Defense Department. Leon Panetta thought to be leaving, maybe not right at the inauguration but shortly thereafter. There's the chance to appoint a Republican. That's some diversity. Also, Michele Flournoy, the former deputy secretary.

LIGHT: Correct. There are plenty of opportunities here. There is going to be a lot of flux at the sub-Cabinet level. People say, well, gee, you know, it's the second term of an administration, how can the transition be particularly important? But if you think of this rather like a lava floe, it looks pretty stable on top. Maybe you could even think that you might walk on it, but underneath there's a lot of floe. And you're going to see a lot of undersecretary level, deputy secretary level, assistant secretary level appointees moving around, leaving the administration, new people coming in, developing that pipeline of credibility for future appointments, then it's another way that a second-term president does shape the future by credentialing people who four years, eight years from now will be considered for deputy secretary and even secretary positions. So he's got to worry about that subterranean, if you will, pipeline of diversity and work that equally hard.

CONAN: We're speaking with Paul Light, NYU Wagner's Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ken?

RUDIN: Paul, you've watched this stuff for a long time. You've watched this whole confirmation process go on for a long time. But what fascinates me most about the Susan Rice story is that unlike other people who've been nominated and then make the calls of members of the Senate, Susan Rice hasn't even been nominated. It's almost like the president is afraid to make the nomination because he's seeing what kind of reception he's gotten so far.

LIGHT: Well, you do get trial balloons here just like in a presidential campaign. Very interesting to hear the conversation before I came on about people starting to talk about 2016. He's floating - and those are trial balloons, obviously. He's - the president is floating her name. He knows that there's controversy associated with it, particularly tied to Benghazi. And so the name is being floated. She's going up to repair broken relationships or to try to reduce the threat of a filibuster, so she is walking around right now.

And to be honest, you know, The New York Times' story yesterday or editorial perhaps on her relationships with some of the African nation leaders...

CONAN: President Kagame in Rwanda, yes.

LIGHT: Yes. You know, this is not good. She's not selling particularly well, and again, you can expect a personal hold on her nomination if she goes up, and that could jam up the whole process. It's risky. So, yeah, they are selling right now, but Republicans on the Hill are not buying. And these are substantial opponents that she's lined up against.

CONAN: Let's put a dark horse into the race. The mayor of San Antonio, Texas, Mayor Castro, who made such a strong impression at the Democratic National Convention in his speech there, yet has nowhere to go really in Texas politics. It's hard for a Democrat there to get elected statewide. Could we see him appointed to a national position, a Cabinet position?

LIGHT: Well, which one is the question. I mean this would be a normal and actually very expected appointment if you had HUD open, but that's unlikely. He's not quite right for commerce. Where would you put him? I mean...

CONAN: Secretary of the interior might be open.

LIGHT: You could do that, but some would argue, well, you really need somebody more Western perhaps. Do you have a geographical balance issue? So, you know, there's a - it's a little bit of a crossword puzzle or a multi-piece puzzle where you've got to make a lot of things come together. It's rather like choosing a vice president, only you've got 15 of them to fill. So you've got movement. We don't know who's going to leave in the secondary Cabinet posts. Will Napolitano leave, you know, two others, you know, what's going to happen there? And there haven't been any announcement on that just yet, but some expectation that there will be rotation there.

CONAN: When would you expect an announcement? Well, yeah, we start to hear names, start to hear plans. The inauguration is not all that far away.

LIGHT: Well, it's not going to be too long. I rather doubt that they're going to sit - put somebody out there. I don't think they're going to leave with Susan Rice if they go that direction. They'll put some safe nominees out there. They're going through the White House clearance process no doubt right now. So you'll start to hear of announcements, I would guess, maybe one or two before Christmas, before the end of next week. But you have to pave the road if you're going to go with somebody like Susan Rice, so that it's not out there front and center.

CONAN: Paul Light, thanks very much for your time today.

LIGHT: You are so welcome.

CONAN: Coming back, we'll speculate about 2016. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: Political Junkie Ken Rudin is here, as he is every Wednesday. Today, though, we'd like to plant the seeds for something new, a Political Junkie mailbag segment. We read from your letters on all of our programs every week. We'd like to start doing a special version just for Junkie, so if you've got questions, quips, comments, criticism or clarifications for us, send us an email, talk@npr.org, put Junkie mailbag in the subject line. And, Ken, we could start off with a correction.

RUDIN: Well, yes. I made a mistake, one, by showing up today, and two...

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: ...we were talking about the right to life - right to...

CONAN: Work.

RUDIN: ...work legislation in Michigan, and I said that 258,000 signatures are needed to get the bill - to get language on the ballot that would overturn the bill, and a lot of folks from Michigan pointed out correctly that the Republicans deliberately added some appropriations language in this bill, and anything that has appropriations language cannot be overturned or challenged. So therefore, that's why the Republicans put this is the language, so, of course, you can recall Republicans. You can defeat them in 2014.

CONAN: You can recall Democrats too.

RUDIN: I recall them very well. They used to be in power. But the law itself cannot be challenged.

CONAN: All right. If you'd like to have Ken read more clarifications...

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: ...like that, send it to Political Junkie mailbag, again, put Junkie mailbag in the subject line, talk@totn - talk@npr.org is the address. So let's talk about the political story everybody is buzzing about: 2016. A lot of familiar names come up as potential contenders, some newer notables. We'd like to hear from junkies in our audience. Which candidates are you and your friends talking about? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can send us a tweet, @totn.

And, Ken, I just remember how accurate all the prognostications were eight years ago when Hillary Clinton was thought to be the prohibitive front-runner in the Democratic stakes.

RUDIN: You know, I was thinking of that this morning. There was - there have been a lot of articles about - talking about how she is the clear front-runner. She has the name. She has the money. She has the rolodex. She has the, you know, the support around the country. And she was clearly the front-runner going to 2008. Nobody saw Barack Obama and his courting of caucus states, things like that. His support - the history there. I mean it was history of the first woman versus the first - history of the first African-American.

It was an amazing story, but nobody questioned the fact that Hillary Clinton was the front-runner. Now, yes, we're going to get a lot of calls or not about people saying that we're - it's too early to be talking about 2016. But this is about political junkies, and this is what it is. And we're not going to spend every day from now until 2016.

CONAN: We're only on one day a week.

RUDIN: Well, there you go. But, look, a lot of people are talking about what will Hillary Clinton do, and I think it's a very legitimate question. We don't have the answers, and she may not have the answers either.

CONAN: And Jim Carville, of course, ran her husband's presidential campaign. He was talking about this on the talk shows this past Sunday. He thought he knew the answers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JIM CARVILLE: Every Democrat I know says, God, I hope she runs. We don't need a primary. Let's just go to post with this thing. We don't want to fight with anybody over anything.

CONAN: That sort of skips over the fact there might be a few Democrats who might want to fight about this thing.

RUDIN: Well, let's start with the sitting vice president. I mean Joe Biden has talked about not ruling out a run for president in 2016. I think he'll be - I'm not sure - 70s, late 60s, early 70s, but, of course, but he's very active, very - and he still has a lot of support, and he's - and by all accounts and certainly according to the White House, he's been a very effective and loyal vice president. You can't rule him out either.

CONAN: There are two governors, sitting governors who could be interested. That is Mr. Cuomo in New York and Mr. O'Malley in Maryland. The - Mark Warner, the senator from Virginia, could present a centrist Democratic challenge. There's John Hickenlooper, the governor of Colorado, could be somebody from the West. There's all kinds of people available. Then, of course, there's the other party. They get - let's say this as well, though, again, appearing on some of these Sunday talk shows. Newt Gingrich, who, of course, ran for president unsuccessfully this past year, said, well, the Republicans got a problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

NEWT GINGRICH: Every Republican should be focused on what we just talked about. I mean, if their competitor in '16 is going to be Hillary Clinton, supported by Bill Clinton and presumably and still relatively popular President Barack Obama, trying to win that will be truly the Super Bowl. And the Republican Party today is incapable of competing at that level.

CONAN: Well, President Gingrich would've taken care of that.

RUDIN: No,, and look, that makes sense. But remember, no Democrat was going to compete with the first President Bush after the Persian Gulf War when he had 91 percent approval rating. So to talk in 2012 that the Republicans would not be competitive in 2016 against Hillary Clinton or anybody else is just, well, nonsense.

CONAN: All right. Andrew in Athol, Massachusetts, emails: Besides Martin O'Malley and Mark Warner, who seemed to be obviously running for the Democrats, I've heard buzz from progressives about outgoing Montana governor Brian Schweitzer.

RUDIN: Schweitzer is very interested too. We did mention - first of all, Schweitzer is interested. He made some great speeches at Democratic conventions. He is very popular. Of course, he was term limited. He's out. When we mentioned Andrew Cuomo, we have to point out, of course, that Andrew Cuomo would never run if Hillary Clinton were running as well. And he's been less aggressive than Martin O'Malley.

CONAN: Let's go next to Sonny. Sonny is on the line with us from San Antonio.

SONNY: Yes. I'd like to bring up a name I haven't heard, but I have talked with my friends about Colin Powell. And it wouldn't matter whether he was a Democrat or a Republican. He would have my vote.

CONAN: I was going to ask what party would he run in. That's interesting. Colin Powell, Ken, would have, boy, a lot of trouble getting the Republican nomination and a lot of trouble getting the Democratic nomination.

RUDIN: Well, he would never get the Republican nomination, having supported President Obama two terms, two elections in a row. And, you know, there are a lot of people in line. He has said when he dropped out of the 1996 race or when he decided against entering, and he said electoral politics is not for me, and I'm not - I've seen nothing to indicate that he feels any differently.

CONAN: And he would have to win one vote first, and that is his wife, Alma.

RUDIN: And Alma maters, matters.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Sonny. Let's see if we go next to - this is Ryan. Ryan with us from Denver.

RYAN: Hello.

CONAN: Hi.

RYAN: Hi. Yes. So I'm always a fan of Bill Richardson from New Mexico.

CONAN: Bill Richardson has tremendous resume for this, both international affairs. Of course, he's former ambassador to the United Nations, secretary of energy, former governor of New Mexico and an Hispanic.

RUDIN: But he did leave office under a cloud. He was up for perhaps a cabinet position in the Obama cabinet, and there were some questions about a pay-to-play scandal. His name was never mentioned, but there was - there were investigations going on. And I think that Richardson may be too tainted. And perhaps he's an old face. There are a lot of newer guys out there, guys and gals, looking at 2016.

CONAN: Thanks, Ryan.

RYAN: Yeah. Sure thing.

CONAN: Here's an email. This is from Charles in Orlando: As a swing state independent, if Chris Christie ran and promise to focus only on fiscal and not social issues, I don't know of a Democrat who could beat him.

RUDIN: Well, you know, I mean, the people who love Chris Christie really love him. The people who don't really don't like him. Certainly, the unions and the teachers and the Democrats in New Jersey don't like him or were waiting to see if Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, decides to run against him. First, he has to win re-election next year, and that's going to be a tough one no matter who the Democratic candidate is. But he is also not a pure-bred conservative, and there may be some people in their Jim DeMint wing of the party who say that Christie is likeable but - well, I don't know about likeable, but, you know, he's a forceful kind of candidate but may not fit the conservative mold.

CONAN: Let's go next to Mark, and Mark's on the line from Milton, Florida.

MARK: Thank you, guys. I think that Walker of Wisconsin has proved that he can get both Democrat and Republican votes. He's not a bomb thrower. He enters to end the public sector unions, are draining the state economically, and he's able to carry the ball. I would think he would an excellent president.

CONAN: And Scott Walker, of course, has survived a recall and after he passed that controversial legislation that championed the controversial legislation to rein in public service employees in the state of Wisconsin. But he'd better be - I can't imagine him getting too many Democratic votes, Ken.

RUDIN: No. But we're talking about the Republican nomination. But as long as we're talking about Wisconsin, then we should be talking about Paul Ryan, who is Mitt Romney's running mate, who clearly is looking at 2016. And a lot of young conservatives in the House are slowly or considering getting behind Ryan in a possible presidential bid.

CONAN: Thanks, Mark. Let's see if we go next to - this is John, John with us from Grants Pass, Oregon.

JOHN: How about the only really honest presidential candidate that would ever run - Elizabeth Warren. Please.

CONAN: Elizabeth Warren, won a thumping victory, as it turned out, over Scott Brown in Massachusetts, also delivered a crackerjack speech, by almost everybody's evaluation, at the Democratic National Convention. Ken?

RUDIN: Yeah. I mean, clearly, there are bigger and better things for Elizabeth Warren in her future. She is the progressive that all progressives wish President Obama was. I mean, she is a no-nonsense progressive, and a lot of people are talking about her as a possible - I would think she may have want another term under her belt. But, you know, she may decide to do what Barack Obama did, said that, you know, I've done everything I can in the Senate in my one term and maybe look at the White House.

CONAN: She is a little older than Barack Obama was at a comparable point in his career. I think 57 years old right now. Obviously, not too old to be president of the United States.

RUDIN: Yeah. And also, there's also a possibility that Deval Patrick, who would be outgoing governor by 2016 in Massachusetts, is also looking at a possible - but absolutely keep Elizabeth Warren in mind because she's very, very popular with the grassroots.

CONAN: Let's go to Matt. Matt with us from Concord, California.

MATT: How are you doing? I think for 2016, it would be hard to be Hillary Clinton because Hillary has already been put to the test, and she showed a great leadership. And it's a great time for women to step up and lead this country. We made history to have African-American president. And now it's time to have a female president, and the only female I could see right now is Hillary Clinton.

CONAN: And, well, a lot of people agree with you, Matt. And, Ken, you look at Secretary Clinton. She's clearly tired. She - all talks about taking a good, long rest and reading some books, and then making up her mind down the road. But at the moment, she says not interested.

RUDIN: Well, she's exhausted now and deservedly so. I mean, she's done, by most accounts, an excellent job as secretary of state. But the point is there may be tremendous pressure on her. And, you know, just as Ted Kennedy felt all that pressure in 1979, even though he may not have wanted to run, there will be tremendous pressure on Hillary Clinton, saying, look, you know, we had it in our grasp in 2008. But remember, she's always most popular when she's not running for office. When she was running, then her negatives went up. When she was first lady, her negatives went up. When she's in an ostensibly a nonpartisan secretary of state position, her numbers are tremendous.

CONAN: Why not, emails Joshua, why not Bernie Sanders or Rand Paul? Those would be my picks.

RUDIN: Well, Bernie Sanders, you know, of course, he was just re-elected in Vermont, the independent senator from Vermont. Rand Paul, a lot of people are saying that he might succeed Ron Paul as the small L libertarian candidate to run, and Rand Paul is looking at bigger and better things as well.

CONAN: Well, as a liberty Republican, as they style in the shows in the party. Interesting, the state of Maine, the liberty Republicans took over that state organization.

RUDIN: Yeah. And we had Ron Paul on the show not too long ago. And while he didn't talk about Rand Paul as a future candidate, he said, look, this movement will be fine without me. But having the name Paul, you know, head that, it wouldn't be the worse thing for them either.

CONAN: Before we end, we want to let you know about a special event coming up January 16 here in Washington, D.C. Ken and I will be putting on the Political Junkie road show inauguration edition, an evening of political wit - man, our wit, I'm not so sure - trivia contest, bad jokes and special guests, including Clarence Page, Nina Totenberg and Ted Koppel. To find out how to get tickets, send an email to talk@npr.org. Put road show in the subject line. Ken, you're going to be - join us for that?

RUDIN: Ask not.

CONAN: Ken Rudin is our resident Political Junkie. He will be back again on Wednesday. He joined us here in Studio 3A. See you next week, Ken.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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