‘President Dean’s’ Band of Outsiders?

Posted January 15, 2004 at 3:20pm

In keeping with his campaign’s call to shake up the Washington, D.C., political establishment if elected president, a Howard Dean Cabinet would be largely populated by mayors and former governors with few Members of Congress likely to receive serious consideration, according to informed Democratic sources.

Dean’s plan to draw on more local elected officials is a stark contrast to the approach taken by former President Bill Clinton in 1992, when a number of Members were nominated to Cabinet posts with often disastrous results. Traditionally, however, new presidents often look beyond the Beltway and Congress to stock their inner circle.

The former Vermont governor in particular has tried to sell himself as the anti-establishment, anti-Washington candidate, at one point referring to Members as “cockroaches.” That said, Dean has been courting K Street, laid plans to open a D.C. office and secured 37 Congressional endorsements (the most of any of the eight candidates currently seeking the Democratic nomination).

Still, sources say few Members who have backed Dean — many of whom are low profile — look like a fit for his Cabinet.

“If you take a look at his Congressional endorsements, it’s like someone opened up the door of the asylum,” cracked one Democratic insider. “It’s a catalog of crazies.”

The highest-ranking House Democrat backing Dean is Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), the No. 3 in leadership and among the nation’s most prominent Hispanic politicians.

Menendez clearly has higher ambitions, having been mentioned as the future House Democratic leader and repeatedly for Senate in the Garden State.

Some have even floated him as a possible vice presidential candidate or as secretary of Housing and Urban Development or Labor. But Albuquerque, N.M., Mayor Martin Chavez, an early and active Dean ally, is seen as the leading candidate for HUD. Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley is also mentioned, although he is also seen as a contender to run for Maryland governor in 2006.

Dean also has captured nods from Sens. Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Vermont Sens. Jim Jeffords, an Independent, and Patrick Leahy (D).

If Dean opts to surround himself with a prominent official from his home state, Leahy as the ranking member on Judiciary could be a possible attorney general pick. Leahy, however, has his eye on a nomination to the Supreme Court in a Democratic White House, sources indicated.

Harkin would be a natural fit as Agriculture secretary but may choose to stay in the Senate, where he has served since 1984. A better fit might be Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), a black Member who has long been a voice for farmers from his post on the Agriculture Committee.

And, while he appears to be the leading candidate for Dean’s vice presidential pick, Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.) could also be a potential Central Intelligence Agency head. Graham briefly ran for president this cycle before dropping out and announcing he would not seek re-election.

Despite the Congressional names mentioned, high-level aides discounted the possibility of any more than one or two current Members being plucked from the House by Dean.

“There’s nobody there that’s going to be a Cabinet secretary — no way,” predicted a senior Democratic House aide, noting that the bar to tap a Member is “pretty high,” especially for a candidate running as an outsider.

That does not mean, however, that Dean will completely ignore the Washington establishment in choosing his closest advisers.

In fact, a number of former Clinton-Gore officials currently serve in high-level posts for Dean and would likely reap the benefits of that support if he is elected.

Former Vice President Al Gore himself is mentioned as a potential secretary of Defense or secretary of State. Gore provided Dean perhaps his biggest bump of the primary season last month when he backed the one-time insurgent’s campaign.

Former United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke is the odds-on favorite for secretary of State.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who was the chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 cycle, is mentioned as a possible secretary of Education. Rendell is likely aiming significantly higher as he is often discussed as a future presidential candidate.

Others with Clinton-Gore ties mentioned as possible Cabinet officials include Leon Fuerth as national security adviser, a role he currently fills on the Dean campaign; Maria Echaveste, Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, who is interested in the Labor secretary post; and Lynn Cutler, a lobbyist at Holland & Knight, who is mentioned as Interior secretary.

A slew of former elected officials might also be tapped by Dean.

Leading that list is former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, who challenged Gore in the 2000 presidential primary but joined his former nemesis in endorsing the Vermont governor earlier this month.

Bradley seems most attuned to the Treasury Department.

Other officials with close ties to Dean include former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (Maine), former Oklahoma Gov. David Walters, former Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.

Those familiar with the early speculation emphasize that as other presidential candidates drop out of the primary process, the pool of potential Cabinet officials will grow exponentially, which makes predicting how the pieces may fall after Nov. 2 difficult.

Dean may even look beyond his early supporters to those who endorsed other candidates for his appointments, a move not uncommon among new presidents.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who gave Dean his first Congressional endorsement, said it’s far too early to starting naming prospective Cabinet members.

“I think it’s way too premature to even have that discussion,” she insisted. “I have not talked to the governor about it, but knowing him if he’s president he will have an excellent team that is professional, experienced and looks like America.”

Lofgren, with experience on the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, also shut down any talk about a post for herself, saying: “This is a campaign where as far as I am aware no deals have been made. I support him because I want him to win. I’ve asked for nothing and I’m happy with that.”