Bill Richardson, Ever Diplomatic, Settles for Commerce Secretary


It took him a while, but by March Bill Richardson saw the way the wind was blowing, and threw his support and, supposedly, the support of every Hispanic voter in the nation, behind Barack Obama. This decision meant turning his back on Bill Clinton, the man Richardson had served as Energy secretary and U.N. ambassador, and who transparently tried to court Richardson earlier by hanging out with him during the Super Bowl. For this, Richardson was labeled a traitor (“Judas!” squawked James Carville). But it would surely be worth it, for when Obama won, the highly qualified Richardson would be elevated to the position he longed for, the one he had dreamed of as a small boy: secretary of State. And then Hillary Clinton exacted her revenge by remarkably, somehow, securing that spot for herself. Now Obama is offering Richardson the less prestigious role of Commerce secretary, what the TimesPeter Baker refers to as “a consolation prize of sorts.”

So why is Richardson even taking it? Politico’s John Martin explains that New Mexico is nice and all, but Richardson is “a pol’s pol” who “knows where the political action will be in the years ahead and would rather be a second-tier player than altogether out of the game entirely.” And anyway, the post “could end up being a good fit for the New Mexico governor,” says Chuck Todd and his First Read posse. Commerce secretary “can be seen as a business cheerleading post, and Richardson is certainly an optimistic cheerleading guy.” He definitely has a good relationship with the business community — but perhaps it’s too good. Kenneth Vogel at Politico notes how Richardson parlayed his Clinton-administration experience into numerous board gigs and consulting positions, which perhaps may not jibe with Obama’s pledge “to close — or, at least, slow — the revolving door between government and the influence industry.” Not that it’ll impede his confirmation, though, and it’s a good thing too, because Hispanic leaders aren’t overjoyed as it is. Bloomberg’s Hans Nichols reports that Richardson’s nomination “won’t satisfy top Latino lawmakers,” who are ominously warning of consequences if Obama doesn’t make additional Hispanic appointments. As Rick Klein and Hope Ditto point out, Hispanics are the ethnic group Democrats would “most like to lock down long-term after last month’s election,” so if Obama is smart, he’ll play ball.