Tony Clark on Powell's appointment
CNN's Tony Clark
CNN National Correspondent Tony Clark is reporting from Austin, Texas, on President-elect George W. Bush's transition.
Q:How does Gen. Powell's wife feel about his taking such a high-profile position?
CLARK:She has acquiesced, in this case. She had some concerns about him getting back into political life, when there was talk of his running for office. She was at the ranch a couple of weeks ago when Gen. Powell visited, and the feeling now is, that since he didn't have to go through a campaign, it is fine that he be secretary of state.
Q:Given the fact that so many people admire Powell and clamored for him to run for the presidency, is there any fear in the Bush hierarchy that he could overshadow the president-elect?
CLARK:I don't think so, and the reason is this: If Gen. Powell had wanted the key spot, in terms of the vice presidency, he could have made that known, and would likely have been the candidate running with George W. Bush. Even in 1992, Ross Perot was talking about him as a vice presidential running mate, and there were others who were looking at him as a presidential candidate. He had that opportunity.
I think that has allayed some of the fears of the Bush campaign. I noticed, in the introduction by the president elect today, one of the things he said was, "I will set our priorities." He made it clear, while Gen. Powell is an experienced and well-liked public figure, that President-elect Bush is the one who will set the direction of the administration.
Q:Is there any talk of the Bush/Powell opinion of the woman Powell will replace?
CLARK:There have not been comments in recent days. There were differences of opinion when Gen. Powell was chairman of the joint chiefs and he had one direction he wanted to go in and Madeleine Albright wanted another. In specific areas, there have been disagreements over the use of the U.S. military in peacekeeping, and that's an area that Gen. Powell says they will look at and reassess.
Q:Powell is the third former general to become secretary of state. George C. Marshall is considered the savior of Europe after World War II. History may still be out on ranking Alexander Haig. What might be Powell's State Department legacy?
CLARK:Gen. Powell was picked by President-elect Bush because of his military experience, the fact that he is respected both in the United States and around the world, and also because he is a symbol.
He is a symbol of a couple of things, at least. (One is) bipartisanship, which is something the Bush administration wants to stress. It was pointed out in today's announcement that he had served under at least the last three presidents, which include two Republicans and a Democrat.
He is also a symbol because of his work as head of an organization called America's Promise, which works with Democrats and Republicans to help with education and other issues.
Thirdly, he is an important symbol to the Bush administration because he is the first African- American secretary of state. Gen. Powell even pointed out in his acceptance that he hopes to be an inspiration to other African-Americans -- in fact, to people of every background -- that, in his words, no matter where you began, you can succeed.
He performs a variety of roles. That's why I think he was such a welcome first pick. Democrats and Republicans have expressed support for him with his nomination to secretary of state.
Q:You say he is an important symbol to the Bush administration because he is the first African-American secretary of state. Does the African-American community see him that way?
CLARK:He is often viewed more as a retired general than as African-American. While he said today that he experienced many areas of discrimination in his lifetime, he is not known for being a civil rights agitator. It's because of that that he's not thought of in those terms.
I think that's one of the reasons he brought it up in his announcement today; to say to the African-American community that he was exposed to discrimination in his lifetime, he knows what discrimination is, and he wants to be an inspiration to others. What the Bush campaign appeared to be doing is having him as an example of the Bush campaign reaching out to African-Americans.
The African-American community, by and large, supported Vice President Al Gore, so President elect Bush, with his first cabinet nomination, is trying to signal to the African-American community that he shares their concerns.