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National Security Team Tasked With Obama's Vision

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. President-elect Barack Obama's national security team has won praise in surprising quarters. His choice for defense secretary is acceptable to the Bush administration, since President Bush chose the same man.

MONTAGNE: Hillary Clinton's nomination as secretary of state won praise from Rush Limbaugh. The conservative radio host told ABC News it was a brilliant stroke for political reasons.

INSKEEP: The nominee for secretary of homeland security was immediately praised by John McCain.

MONTAGNE: And in this way, Mr. Obama's choices resemble the announcement of his economic team.

INSKEEP: Both groups bring to mind words like pragmatist or centrist, rather than liberal. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: The news was no surprise. Hillary Clinton to head the State Department. Still, the moment demanded attention. There stood two former rivals, having fought long and hard for the Democratic presidential nomination. But now she prepares to join the incoming administration in the most prestigious of Cabinet posts. The president-elect introduced Senator Clinton.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: Hillary's appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances.

GONYEA: Any animosity these two might have once felt seemed long-buried yesterday.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Mr. President-elect, thank you for this honor. If confirmed, I will give this assignment, your administration, and our country, my all.

GONYEA: Mr. Obama has said repeatedly he will bring Republicans into his administration. But during the campaign, few imagined a member of the Bush administration would be running the Pentagon under President Obama. After all, his early success in Democratic primaries was built in large part on his opposition to the Iraq war. But yesterday he named Robert Gates who has presided over that war for the Bush administration for the past two years. Mr. Obama praised Gates for restoring confidence in the military and for earning respect from Republicans and Democrats after the controversial Pentagon tenure of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. But the president-elect also stated flatly yesterday that this campaign promise holds.

President-elect OBAMA: Responsibly ending the war in Iraq through a successful transition to Iraqi control. We will ensure that we have the strategy and resources to succeed against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. As Bob said not too long ago, Afghanistan is where the war on terror began and it is where it must end.

GONYEA: Here's Secretary Gates.

Secretary Robert Gates (Defense Department): With a profound sense of personal responsibility to and for our men and women in uniform and their families, I must do my duty as they do theirs. How could I do otherwise?

GONYEA: At one point during the news conference, a reporter asked if the Gates appointment means Mr. Obama has made good on his promise to have a Republican in his Cabinet.

President-elect OBAMA: I think the point here is that I didn't go around checking people's political registration. What I was most concerned with was whether or not they can serve the interests of the American people.

GONYEA: Less well-known to the American people, but in a job that may require him to play mediator between Clinton and Gates, is retired General James Jones. He's been tapped to be Mr. Obama's national security advisor. His presence puts a decorated military man just down the hall from the Oval Office. And yesterday the president-elect seemed eager to have his team engage in real debate within the White House walls.

President-elect OBAMA: But understand, I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out. And I expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made. So, as Harry Truman said, the buck will stop with me.

GONYEA: Three other nominations were announced yesterday: Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano to head the Department of Homeland Security, long-time Obama advisor Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations, and former Clinton administration Justice Department veteran Eric Holder as attorney general. Today the president-elect is in Philadelphia to meet with the National Governors Association, a meeting where the focus will likely shift back to the other crisis that awaits Mr. Obama, the economy. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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