Clinton-era figures re-emerge in Obama team 

President Obama larded his transition last year with former Clinton administration figures, fueling speculation that his own White House would echo with the voices of the last Democratic team.

Four high-profile names from the Clinton administration are back in the news this week -- in some ways that underscore how little fears about Clinton-era influences have materialized.

"I don't think the Clinton administration is hanging over the Obama administration," said Cal Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political scientist. "Although it's not yet clear Obama has put his own stamp on the administration."

Obama is expected to tap former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles to co-chair a new commission to study the federal deficit and spending.

Bowles, president of the University of North Carolina since 2006, was chief of staff to President Clinton during the first half of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He resigned in October 1998.

Still, the contemplated appointment was garnering early positive reviews for Obama. Bowles during his time at the White House helped develop the bipartisan Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

"The Clinton people will always be around in a Democratic administration," said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution. "At the same time, on things like health care and Congress, Obama's approach was designed to be the un-Clinton way."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also is drawing notice for remarks made during her current Middle East trip -- including warnings that Iran is heading toward a military dictatorship.

Obama's nomination of Clinton raised concerns at the time about the role Bill Clinton could play in international relations, and also whether the senator from New York, a former political rival, could serve effectively in the new administration.

Hess noted that reviews of Hillary Clinton's work at the State Department have been largely positive.

Garnering less-positive reviews is Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. The perpetual lightning rod was a policy adviser in the Clinton administration, and as bad cop in the Obama administration, he often generates calls from both parties to go.

"No one I've talked to believes he has the management skills and discipline to run the White House," Leslie Gelb, a former New York Times writer and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote this week in The Daily Beast.

Gelb's recommendation is to move Emanuel to a policy position and bring back either Bowles, CIA Director Leon Panetta, Center for American Progress director John Podesta or Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation executive Sylvia Mathews Burwell to serve as chief of staff.

All are former Clinton administration officials.

Podesta also drew notice in recent days with a critical interview in the Financial Times, deploring the partisan climate in Washington but laying heavy blame on Obama for failing to manage the health care debate.

Podesta, who led Obama's transition team, is president of the Center for American Progress, a think tank that has sent numerous staffers to the Obama administration. He was deputy chief of staff in the Clinton administration.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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