CongressNow: Gore Likely on Sidelines in Obama Administration

Posted August 27, 2008 at 5:11pm

For the better part of the 21st century, reporters and bloggers have been parsing the words of Al Gore to divine some hint of the former vice president’s political intentions.

While Gore devotees in 2004 waited breathlessly for word on whether he would again throw his hat in the ring for the presidency, more recent speculation was centered on whether the Nobel Peace Prize laureate would join forces with Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) to create a Democratic “dream team.”

At the very least, supporters have suggested that Gore could advance his global warming agenda through a position in an Obama Cabinet — a prospect first floated by the Illinois Senator last year when he publicly promised Gore a future role in a “very senior capacity, if he’s willing.”

But in recent weeks, Gore himself has thrown cold water on such talk, and observers say they take him at his word when he says he’s not interested in another government job.

“He’s been at the highest levels of the federal government in the legislative branch as well as the executive branch,” said former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), a national co-chairman of Obama’s campaign who served with Gore in the House and Senate, in an interview this month. “My guess is that he feels he can do as much or more outside of government today, and I think that might be true.”

Since losing the 2000 election to George W. Bush, Gore has focused his energy on raising awareness of climate change, transforming himself into a global figure and winning a Nobel Peace Prize and an Oscar along the way.

“He’s done a remarkable job in making this much more of an issue people are much more comfortable talking about,” Daschle said. “I think you’re going to see him stay very vocal and visible, and I don’t think he needs to be in government to do that.”

Daniel J. Weiss, a climate expert with the Center for American Progress Action Fund, agreed, saying Gore’s influence is more likely to be wielded from the sidelines. “It’s hard to see him take on a Cabinet post,” Weiss said recently.

Remaining outside of the official sphere of government would allow Gore to play what Weiss termed “the role of the conscience of the climate.” To that end, Gore, in an ambitious July speech, challenged the United States to produce 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in 10 years — a goal that is seen as challenging, if not impossible, in both technical and political terms.

However, Weiss said a less informal administration position, such as a temporary appointment as a special envoy to international climate talks, could be one outlet that may appeal to the former vice president.

Officially, Gore spokeswoman Kalee Kreider told CongressNow, “Mr. Gore has taken off the table any formal role in an Obama administration.”

However, Gore left himself a little wiggle room when asked about his intentions at a convention of bloggers in July.

“I am really honored by the suggestion that some have made that I would consider taking a position of some kind in the next administration, and I want to convey my respect for the idea even as I explain why I don’t think it’s the best idea,” he said. “The best use of my talents and experience is to expand the political space in which these members and politicians address the climate crisis.”

The We Campaign — a group started in part by the Gore-founded Alliance for Climate Protection — has burnished the idea of cross-partisan cooperation by running a series of striking advertisements that pair endorsements by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) as well as one featuring the liberal Rev. Al Sharpton and the conservative Rev. Pat Robertson.

But Gore’s effort to place himself and his climate cause above the political fray is a tough sell for past critics. His July speech drew a predictable response from across the political spectrum, winning praise from environmentalists and their Democratic allies but mostly silence from business interests. One Republican, Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio), labeled the plan “ridiculous.”

Gore’s role in campaigning for Obama likely won’t help his post-partisan outreach, either. In announcing his endorsement of Obama earlier this year, Gore pledged to do “whatever I can to make sure he is elected president,” although it’s unclear how hard he will stump for Obama during the fall.

Gore earlier this month headlined a fundraiser for Obama with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), and similar events are expected before November, Kreider said. Gore and Obama speak “regularly,” she added, but she declined to comment further on the “confidential” talks.

Nick Shapiro, an Obama campaign spokesman, said the Senator is honored by Gore’s support and shares his concerns about the urgency of addressing climate change. “Sen. Obama strongly agrees with Vice President Gore and looks forward to working together with him throughout this campaign and as president,” he said.