President shakes up his Cabinet Secretaries of state, defense, commerce, energy on the way out

Senior aides to leave

Officials were warned before the election of Clinton's plans

Election 1996

November 07, 1996|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Warren Christopher resigned yesterday, the first departure in what is expected to be an exodus of top Cabinet officers and White House aides as President Clinton moves to shake up his administration for a second term.

Joining Christopher in the first wave of leave-takings, White House officials said, will be Defense Secretary William J. Perry, .. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor and Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary, as well as some highly visible White House aides, including chief of staff Leon E. Panetta and senior adviser George Stephanopoulos.

Speculation about a successor to Christopher, 71, centered on national security adviser Anthony Lake, U.N. Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright, former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, longtime diplomat Richard Holbrooke and deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.

Retiring Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn was mentioned as a possibility for both State and Defense.

Perry, 69, has told family and friends that he intended to leave after a first term, officials confirmed yesterday.

He came on board three years ago when the Pentagon was reeling, first from the forced resignation of Les Aspin and then from the odd and brief saga of retired Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, who first accepted the job, then declined it in a rambling news conference.

Besides Nunn, the names heard as likely replacements include CIA Director John M. Deutch, who was Perry's top assistant at the Pentagon before moving to Langley; and Indiana Sen. Richard G. Lugar, a Republican who specializes in foreign policy on Capitol Hill.

The president flew from Little Rock, Ark., to Washington yesterday, stopped briefly at a "welcome back" rally on the South Lawn -- and then applied himself to the business of putting his new team together, aides said.

A Cabinet meeting that could result in more resignations is scheduled for tomorrow.

Speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One, Clinton declined to talk publicly about specific resignations or replacements, saying he intended to "do it all together," presumably in a news conference either tomorrow or early next week.

Nevertheless, news of who was out was being leaked by officials before the president stepped off the plane and headed for the White House, where he was met by several hundred loyal aides '' and fellow Democrats.

"Two years ago, not many people thought we would be here," Clinton said. "I begin this new tenure with high optimism and renewed energy."

Feeling sufficiently relaxed, the president emerged from his compartment on Air Force One to talk to the press, a group he had pointedly shunned in the last weeks of the campaign.

Clinton donned a "fun-meter" button given to him by a White House photographer, which he had set on "max." Asked about his morning-after feelings on the election, the president replied, "I'm just elated."

The president deflected questions about the impending staff shake-up, except to offer a tribute to the cautious and even-tempered Christopher, who has at times been like a father figure to the more volatile president.

"We have an unusual relationship," Clinton said. "We're very close. I've never known anybody quite like him."

The 71-year-old Christopher, a California lawyer with solid diplomatic credentials, informed Clinton of his decision to resign Tuesday night in Little Rock as they savored Clinton's re-election victory, an administration official confirmed.

Christopher set a record for miles traveled -- more than 700,000 -- as a secretary of state in a four-year period.

His low-key manner helped keep the Clinton administration's foreign policy team from being wracked by the bitter public turf battles that troubled previous administrations, but he was criticized in some quarters for lacking a sweeping vision of America's role in the world.

In May 1993, Christopher warned darkly that "the clock is ticking" on Serb aggression, but it was another two years before the United States acted forcefully to stop genocide in Bosnia.

Progress in the Middle East has been slow, as usual, but Christopher was the most visible target for those frustrated with the pace -- especially after he was kept cooling his heels recently for two days by Syrian strongman Hafez el Assad.

The administration's most conspicuous successes in foreign policy have probably been in expanding international trade.

Christopher had his hand in these initiatives, too, and in interviews he expressed satisfaction with what he called the "triple play" of the NAFTA trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, the expansion of U.S. economic ties to Pacific Rim nations and the GATT accord on international tariffs and trade.

Last week, at a Cabinet meeting chaired by Panetta, the chief of staff informed the officials that the president appreciated their service during the past four years but needed running room in order to make changes and go in new directions during a second term.

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