November 19, 2008 / 12:26 AM / 9 years ago

Obama moves closer to key cabinet pick

4 Min Read

<p>Eric Holder in an undated photo. A Democratic source said a conditional offer for the post of attorney general had been made to former Clinton administration official Eric Holder, making him the automatic front-runner for the nation's top law enforcement position.GWU/Handout</p>

CHICAGO (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama moved closer to filling a key spot in his cabinet on Tuesday as his transition team plotted a careful course to shaping the next U.S. administration.

A Democratic source said a conditional offer for the post of attorney general had been made to former Clinton administration official Eric Holder, making him the automatic front-runner for the nation's top law enforcement position.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had also been approached about staying in his position, the senior Democrat said.

In keeping with his decision to maintain a low profile during the transition period before he takes office on January 20, Obama spent most of the day in private meetings at a federal office building near his home in Chicago.

But he delivered a video address to a global warming conference and pledged to "engage vigorously" in international climate change talks when he becomes president.

The Democratic president-elect, who will succeed Republican President George W. Bush, told the conference in California he would stick to his promise of a sharp reduction in U.S. greenhouse gases by 2020 despite the ongoing financial crisis.

While Holder emerged as the top candidate for attorney general, Obama also continued to weigh the idea of naming his former rival, Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state.

The prospect that the New York senator and former first lady could become the top U.S. diplomat has sparked a media frenzy as the world eagerly awaits news of who will take important positions, including Treasury secretary, in the coming Obama administration.

Clinton is said to be interested in the job and her high profile could bolster Obama's aim of reaching out to allies and improving America's image in the world.

Before an official offer is made, Obama's transition team is reviewing the post-White House work of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to see if there are any potential conflicts of interest.

The ex-president has played the role of roving ambassador, and his philanthropy has raised millions of dollars from around the world to combat AIDS, malaria and global warming.

He also has had some business dealings abroad, including giving speeches, which he might need to curtail if his wife becomes secretary of state.

Seeking Broad Support

Meanwhile, a senior Democrat told Reuters that before the offer to Holder is made official, Obama's team wants to determine if he could win Senate confirmation with broad support from both Democrats and Republicans.

If the appointment is confirmed, Holder would be the first African-American to head the Justice Department.

He served as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. In the top spot, he would be the senior U.S. law enforcement officer and deal with issues from crime to terrorism.

Senate Democrats were trying to gauge how much opposition there would be to Holder from Republicans over his role in Clinton's 2001 pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, said one source. At the time, Holder said he was "neutral, leaning toward favorable" on the pardon.

The senior Democrat said at this point it does not appear to be "a fatal flaw concern."

Obama had been expected to move swiftly in choosing a secretary of state and a Treasury chief, but so far he has opted to take more time.

While their father worked on his cabinet from his home city, Obama's children got a glimpse of their new rooms at the White House during a trip with their mother, Michelle, to Washington, where they also visited schools.

First Lady Laura Bush last week invited her successor to bring Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, for a tour, according to Katie McCormick Lelyveld, Obama's spokeswoman.

Back in Chicago, Obama spoke by phone with six foreign leaders: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, Jim Vicini and Steve Holland; Editing by Chris Wilson

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