Defense Secretary Robert Gates may be closer to being tapped for extended duty by Barack Obama because of the near certainty a Democrat -- possibly Hillary Clinton -- will be named secretary of state and Gates's willingness to accept a new team around him, according to Democratic and Republican experts.
It isn't certain that President-elect Obama will ask Gates to remain or that he would accept if asked. Still, a bipartisan group says Gates would provide stability at the Pentagon as the new administration inherits wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and confronts the global credit crisis.
"It would be a very powerful signal of bipartisanship and continuity," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican who sits on a board that advises Gates on policy issues and favors his being kept on under Obama.
Several Democrats have spoken favorably of keeping Gates, 65, who was appointed two years ago by President Bush. They include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
Reed, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in an interview that Gates has "done an extraordinary job."
"I would hope that in some capacity he could continue to serve," he said.
The chairman of the committee, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, believes Gates "has done a good job"' as secretary and is "deserving of consideration" for the Obama administration, said Levin spokeswoman Tara Andringa late yesterday.
Former Defense Secretary William Cohen said Gates would be an "outstanding" choice. Cohen said Gates would have to stay on the job for "a minimum of a year, I'd prefer to see two," to ensure proper continuity.
Cohen, a former Republican senator from Maine, served under a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, from 1997 to 2001. He spoke in an interview today in New Delhi.
Obama told the CBS News program "60 Minutes"' in an interview aired last night that he plans to name a Republican to his Cabinet.
One potential obstacle to retaining Gates appears to be waning as Clinton, a New York senator, has emerged as the top candidate for secretary of state.
Earlier, two Republican senators close to Obama -- Richard Lugar of Indiana and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska -- were among the candidates to run the State Department. Choosing one of them would likely have scotched a Gates reappointment because Obama, a Democrat, would avoid naming Republicans to the two top national- security positions.
Obama and Clinton aides are trying to work out details of how she could meet Obama's rigorous financial-disclosure requirements for appointees, given the extensive business and philanthropic interests of her husband, Bill Clinton. Those include the Clinton Global Initiative, which won $8 billion in pledges at a September conference for worldwide projects to improve the living conditions of about 158 million people through health care, education and microloans.
During the weekend, people close to Obama and to Clinton reported progress in working out this arrangement.
If an agreement can't be reached, Obama is likely to turn to another Democrat, with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts at the top of the list, according to a top transition official.
The question of whether Gates would want to keep most of his team of appointees has been raised as a potential obstacle by some critics of the departing Bush administration, such as Lawrence Korb, who served as assistant secretary of defense during the 1980s.