A Possible McCain Cabinet: Buffett Heads Treasury, But What About Jeb Bush?

As he campaigns across the country, John McCain has been leaving bread crumbs to follow as to who might make up his cabinet.

By: Garrett M. Graff

On the economic front, he has strongly hinted that he would ask business leaders to join his team. As he’s said, in mentioning names like FedEx’s Fred Smith, Cisco’s John Chambers, and Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, “You’ve done very well in this country. Now give back something to your country.” He’s even mentioned the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, whose appointment to any position would send electricity through Wall Street.

McCain has also said that in the White House he’d rely on the same circle of economic advisers who have helped him: Jack Kemp, Phil Gramm, Warren Rudman, and Pete Peterson, meaning that any of them would be a good bet for Treasury or the National Economic Council. Many close to McCain believe Gramm is a shoo-in at Treasury. The quartet has very different views, with Kemp as a tax cutter and Peterson a tax hiker.

Three other likely members of McCain’s economic team are the well-respected former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former congressman Rob Portman, and former congressman John Kasich, who might end up head of the Office of Management and Budget.

If McCain doesn’t go with one of the CEOs, Republican power broker and former Goldman Sachs executive Lewis Eisenberg might be Commerce secretary.

Mike Huckabee, an unlikely pick for vice president despite lots of speculation to that effect, could be rewarded for supporting McCain with a post like Health and Human Services secretary. Another possible HHS secretary would be Mitt Romney, who might want to reshape a domestic Cabinet agency just as he did the Salt Lake Olympics to bolster his credentials for the future.

If former Law & Order DA Fred Thompson doesn’t head the real-life Justice Department, Deborah Wong Yang might become attorney general. A former state judge now at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, she was the first Asian-American woman to serve as a US Attorney and led the largest US Attorney’s office outside of Washington as head of the Central District of California, which includes LA. Ohio’s Mike DeWine is a friend of McCain’s and a possible AG as well.

On foreign policy, McCain has expressed admiration for Bill Cohen, Gary Hart, and Sam Nunn, any of whom could be a wild-card choice for Defense, State, or the National Security Council.

At the Pentagon, McCain might be inclined to keep on Defense secretary Robert Gates, whose approach to the Iraq War he mostly backs.

Sources close to the McCain campaign report that he would like to tap fellow Senate maverick Joe Lieberman as a running mate—but with that option mostly off the table because of his need to shore up the conservative base, Lieberman could land in the Cabinet at Defense or State. Another possible Defense secretary: South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham. For State, Richard Armitage is a close adviser to McCain.

Tom Ridge and Rudy Giuliani have been bandied about as possible Homeland Security secretaries.

Wherever he lands in a McCain administration, Mark Salter would be among the most powerful people in the White House. Salter has been at McCain’s side for nearly two decades, cowrote the senator’s books, and has been on the campaign every minute of its up-and-down roller coaster.

Sources around the campaign report that Newt Gingrich might find a home somewhere in the West Wing, as might firebrand former UN ambassador John Bolton. One hint as to an eventual assignment for Bolton, who never made it through the Senate confirmation process, is that the post of national-security adviser does not require confirmation.

An open question for McCain’s Cabinet is whether former Florida governor Jeb Bush would find a home in the administration. He’s still incredibly well respected in Republican circles, even though his last name makes a future presidential run difficult.

This article can be found in the April 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.