Riley's Fate May Hinge on Other Cabinet Decisions
More than four weeks after winning re-election, President Clinton has not picked the person to lead his education team for his next term.
While many observers and some insiders predict Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley will stay in his job, the decision had not been made as of late last week, according to Rick Miller, Mr. Riley's spokesman.
Mr. Riley's fate may be determined by other choices Mr. Clinton makes for his depleted Cabinet. More than half of the president's department secretaries have announced their resignations since Election Day.
The president could shift Mr. Riley, who has handled the education agenda for the past four years, into a vacant Cabinet post. A final decision probably won't be made or announced until after the searches to fill open positions are finished, Mr. Miller said.
Late last week, Mr. Clinton started filling the blanks in his Cabinet by announcing his new choices to lead the departments of State and Defense and to direct the CIA.
Whatever the options, Mr. Riley, a former governor of South Carolina and a confidant of the president's, is not talking.
While other Cabinet members announced their second-term plans through unnamed sources in newspaper articles, Mr. Riley has kept mum.
Some reports say he might be transferred to the White House to be a policy adviser there. Others have floated the names of potential successors at the Department of Education should Mr. Riley leave.
But nothing will be definitive until Mr. Clinton makes an announcement, Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Riley and Mr. Clinton have discussed the secretary of education's future in the administration several times since Election Day, but have not made a final decision.
Education groups are encouraging the president to keep Mr. Riley in the education post. They cite his deep knowledge of the subject and his ability to build consensus on Capitol Hill. ("Riley's Fate in Clinton's Second Term Up in the Air," Nov. 20, 1996.)
After building his re-election campaign around education proposals for college-tuition tax credits, a literacy campaign, and improved classroom technology, Mr. Clinton may need somebody experienced working with Congress to convince skeptical Republican leaders to adopt such plans.
Any decision is unlikely to be made until the president selects people to fill other posts, including vacancies at the departments of Labor, Energy, and Transportation.
Watching the Indicators
Until other selections are made, Mr. Miller added, Mr. Riley will not say anything other than that he is consulting with the president about his role in the second four years of the administration.
Those who work with Mr. Riley, both as aides and as colleagues, say he plays close to his vest when making important decisions.
He keeps his conversations with the president confidential, even from trusted aides, they say.
But there are several indications that Mr. Riley may stay.
Most departing Cabinet members announced their intentions shortly after the Nov. 5 election. With no word of Mr. Riley's departure more than a month after Election Day, the readers of tea leaves here take that as a signal that he is staying in the administration in some capacity.
Another sign is that only one of his assistant secretaries at the department, Sharon Robinson, is moving on. If others thought someone new would be in charge at the department soon, they might be looking for positions elsewhere, fearing a new boss might clean house upon arrival.
Despite the speculation, nothing will be certain until word comes from the White House.