Barack Obama rolled out his national security team on Monday morning, bringing together a group of highly qualified stars tasked with carrying out his foreign policy vision.
But while six major advisory and cabinet positions were officially announced, one clearly stood out from all the rest. Sen. Hillary Clinton's appointment as Secretary of State has been greeted as everything from a shrewd political move, a tragic over-interpretation of the 'team of rivals' concept, and -- for the press -- a wonderful lifeline to stories of infighting, ideological fissures, and Bill going rogue.
During the course of the question and answer session, the President-elect was asked repeatedly to address how individuals who once criticized his gravitas (Peter Baker of the New York Times was the first to point specifically at Clinton) could now be relied upon to implement his agenda.
"This is fun for the press to try and stir up quotes that were generated from the campaign," replied Obama. "I understand, you are having fun and there is nothing wrong with that. I'm not faulting it. But if you look at the statements Hillary Clinton and I have made outside the heat of the campaign, we share a view that America has to be safe and secure and in order to do that we have to combine military power with strength and diplomacy. And we have to build and enforce stronger alliances around the world so we're not carrying the burdens and these challenges by ourselves."
It was a valiant effort and, it should be noted, a rightful poke at the press. But, in the end, Clinton was dominating the stage even if she was not fielding the questions. It did not seem coincidental that the New York Democrat was the first appointee to address the room of waiting reporters, speaking behind a lectern that was a bit too tall.
"America is a place, founded on the ideal that everyone should have the right to live up to his or her potential... while we are determined to defend our freedoms and liberties at all cost, we must also reach out to the world again," Clinton said. "I believe the best way to continue serving my country is to join President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect Biden... I am proud to join you on what will be a difficult and exciting adventure in this new century."
The remarks were the end point of several weeks of buildup towards the Clinton appointment. The New York Democrat seemed, at first, to be a long shot for the diplomatic post, owing primarily to her primary conduct. But Obama, speaking on Monday, said the decision to send her to Foggy Bottom was one of logic and prudence: "After the election was over and I began to think about my team it occurred to me she could potentially be an outstanding Secretary of State. I extended her the offer and she accepted. I know that's not as juicy a story as you were hoping for, but that's all you're going to get."
Some factions of the GOP, to their partisan credit, continued to remind reporters of the days when heads butted. Minutes before Monday's press conference, the RNC blasted out an email with the subject line: "As Sen. Clinton Accepts Secretary Of State Position, It Is Worth Noting The Many Disagreements She And Obama Have On Critical Foreign Policy Issues."
But by then, such knee-jerk politicking seemed of little consequence. Several major Republicans, including Sens. Lindsey Graham and Dick Lugar, had offered praise for the Clinton appointment during the Sunday talk show circuit. The New York Democrat, they said, has the work ethic, international Rolodex, and team-player conviction to serve admirably in the post. Moreover, everyone understood that this was not a time for "partisan issues," as Joe Biden would say at the presser. "Witness the team."
Indeed, if anything would complicate the situation it wouldn't be Hillary Clinton but, rather, Bill. On this front too, however, things seemed to move smoothly. The former president has promised to release the names of more than 200,000 donors to his presidential library. The ease of this disclosure suggested that an appointment-killing revelation was not in the cards.
"As an American, I am thankful that President-elect Barack Obama has asked Hillary to be Secretary of State and that she has accepted," read a statement from his office. "As her husband, I am deeply proud."
Still, there was a certifiable obsession over the merging of one-time foes. The press kept prodding for Obama to explain how he could, say, ask someone who lambasted his pledge to meet with adversarial world leaders to spearhead that very effort. Would the message be muddled? Would the agenda be scuttled? Were too many cooks in the foreign policy kitchen?
"The buck will stop with me," Obama, a little irritated by the exercise, told the press. "And nobody who is standing here would have agreed to join this administration unless they had confidence that that vision was one that would help secure the American people."