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Clinton to Consider Members From Both Parties for Top Jobs

By John H. Harris
The Washington Post

President Clinton said Thursday he will consider Republicans for top jobs in his second administration, a bipartisan approach that he plans to amplify Friday with a call for early talks with Republican congressional leaders on the budget and campaign finance reform.

At a news conference scheduled for this afternoon, aides said Clinton will accommodate himself to the reality of continued divided government by offering to meet soon with congressional leaders on two issues that last year were marked by sharp and incessant conflict between the White House and Capitol Hill.

As an unusually rapid exodus of top appointees from his administration continues, Clinton Thursday promised "to cast a wide net" for their replacements and consider "Republicans and Democrats and independents alike." He made his remarks at the official White House announcement of Secretary of State Warren Christopher's decision to step down.

Also, Clinton continued his intense discussions about replacing Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta, who plans a return to California. Aides said Clinton would like to be able to announce today that former Deputy Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles will take the job, but that the North Carolina businessman has not agreed to take it.

Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, a dark horse candidate himself for the top job, reportedly wants to stay at the White House for another year even if he is not promoted, a prospect that leaves Bowles cool.

One option that may not be open to Clinton is replacing Attorney General Janet Reno, an unpopular figure among some at the White House. Some administration officials said Reno may have effectively ensured her continued tenure by stating her wishes publicly. "As I have said all along, if the president wanted me to stay, I would be honored to do so," Reno said Thursday at her weekly news conference.

Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich in an interview Thursday publicly confirmed his widely anticipated departure. Still unofficial, but confirmed by senior administration officials, was a firm decision by Transportation Secretary Frederico Pena to step down, a move that likewise had been foreshadowed earlier this week. And in Tokyo Thursday, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale said he was stepping down as U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Reich, a longtime Clinton friend since their days as fellow Rhodes scholars in the late 1960s, is eager to return to Boston with his family. Pena, who some administration aides said was eager to keep his job, is being nudged out of it in part because of White House dissatisfaction over his handling of the May ValuJet crash in Florida, and what turned out to be a too-hasty endorsement of the airline's safety record.

Among the other Cabinet officials whose departures are confirmed but unannounced are Defense Secretary William J. Perry, Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor, and Energy Secretary Hazel R. O'Leary. Others considered likely to move on include Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, and Education Secretary Richard W. Riley.

Christopher has said he will stay on the job until a successor is chosen and he completes his trip to China and other Asian nations later this month.

Among the leading candidates for this job is former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, who is close enough to Clinton that he played the role of Bob Dole in the president's debate preparations and currently serves as chairman of peace talks among warring parties in Northern Ireland.

Also on the list is retiring U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga. U.N. Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright, widely believed to be among the top contenders for the job, in fact belongs in the "second tier" of likely candidates, one Clinton adviser said Thursday, a judgment confirmed by two administration officials.

The State job could also provide an opportunity for Clinton to make good on his pledge to look for Republicans. Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., and retiring Sen. William S. Cohen, R-Maine, have been mentioned for the post, although neither has yet emerged publicly as a strong possibility.

Clinton said the need for bipartisanship is part of the message "the American people sent us" in the election. "They like it when we try to have principled compromise,"Clinton said, "And they want us to create a vital center that moves the country forward in an aggressive way, Republicans and Democrats and independents alike. And I will be looking across a broad span of American people to try to get the best people to create that vital center and take this country into the 21st century."

Clinton and aides have not repeated the 1992 refrain that the Cabinet "must look like America." White House press secretary Michael McCurry said the de-emphasizing of that slogan does not mean Clinton is less committed to the goal of diversity.

The emphasis on bipartisanship is a contrast from four years ago, when Clinton appointed only Democrats to his Cabinet and relied almost exclusively on what was then the Democratic majority in Congress to push his agenda.