The Senate’s Part

Posted November 18, 2008 at 5:42pm

With the apparent exception of complications that former President Bill Clinton’s financial dealings pose to nominating Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to be secretary of State, the Bush-to-Obama transition process seems to be proceeding apace — and more smoothly than previous transitions.

Now, it’s up to Senate leaders to do their part and be prepared to promptly process nominations to key Cabinet and sub-Cabinet positions as soon as President-elect Barack Obama makes them.

As we’ve observed before, the Bush administration commendably took steps months ago to speed up what previously has been an unduly delayed clearing and briefing process. And Obama’s campaign set up an extensive transition apparatus weeks before the election.

We have some concern that Obama will deprive his administration of knowledgeable talent by excluding registered lobbyists from serving in posts in their area of expertise and by establishing vetting procedures so onerous that qualified potential officeholders will balk at taking jobs.

Yet Obama has shown considerable flexibility in setting limits on his appointments — for instance, changing his dictum “no lobbyists will serve in my White House” to “lobbyists will not dominate my White House.”

The Obama transition is requiring potential appointees to fill out an intrusive, 63-item questionnaire designed to prevent the kind of embarrassment that caused several appointments in the Clinton administration to be withdrawn.

One question — “Are there any categories of personal financial records … that you will not release publicly if necessary?” — is believed to be complicating Sen. Clinton’s appointment because the former president has refused, so far, to disclose his sources of income and those of his foundation.

However this is resolved — we hope, if Obama wants Sen. Clinton, by full disclosure and appropriate cessation of questionable contacts — we trust that key Cabinet and sub-Cabinet appointments will be forthcoming.

This week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ought to be arranging for the committees that will clear the secretaries of State and Homeland Security — and Defense, if a new one is named — to do all the preliminary work necessary to confirm them and their key aides on Jan. 20, immediately after Obama’s swearing-in.

Members of those committees — Foreign Relations, Armed Services and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs — ought to be prepared to meet in December to hold informal hearings on the nominees, preparing a record for new Members of the Senate to study before they take office on Jan. 6 so they can vote in committee prior to the inauguration.

Another step leaders should have taken already — but apparently have not — is to arrange for all committees to use the same paperwork in clearing nominees.

White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten told Roll Call last month that he moved to fast-track the transition process because the country is at war and needs continuity. The Senate should act in the same spirit.