Should the presidential transition go public?
Updated 12:57 p.m. ET
Presidential campaign and transition veterans on Wednesday agreed with the findings of a new report on the Bush-Obama presidential transition, but cautioned any efforts to shine more light on the process could cause major headaches for future candidates.
The report by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service calls on major party presidential candidates to publicly name transition directors after their nominating conventions. The report's authors argue that opening up the process and securing support from the incumbent administration would allow campaigns to make preparations without being accused of presumptuousness.
But Russ Gerson, who ran transition operations for John McCain, said the process, "needs to be somewhat stealth" to avoid unwanted attention.
"And at the same time you need cover so that when somebody's critical of a candidate because they're doing transition planning, there should be a mechanism, whether it's the Partnership, or an understanding that this is an important part of running a campaign in preparing to govern," Gerson said.
White House Cabinet Secretary Christopher Lu, who served on President Obama's transition team, cautioned against publicly naming transition directors.
"I think that bodes well in theory, I don't know the enforcement mechanism," Lu said. "Let’s say you say to a campaign, 'We’ll give you a million dollars of funding if you name a transition director.' I suspect in our case we wouldn’t have taken the money. We and any campaign is singularly focused on winning, and the last thing you want to do is create a target for anybody with what you'd do after you take office.
"People can argue it both ways -- that actually the American people have a right to know who your secretary of state or secretary of defense is. The problem becomes that you may end up throwing out names for the sheer reason to pander to different groups in an effort to buy votes," Lu said.
The Obama campaign was especially sensitive to claims of presumptuousness once the McCain campaign and President George W. Bush attacked and joked about Obama "measuring the drapes" at the White House.
"That incident taught us that we could never, ever say anything about a transition, because it would feed a broader narrative," Lu said.
Gerson and Lu spoke Wednesday at a presentation about the transition report at the National Press Club. Audience members learned that outside forces attempted to get both campaigns to publicly commit to early transition planning in the summer of 2008.
The American Enterprise Institute's Norman J. Ornstein, an expert on the presidency and Congress, said he spoke with Obama adviser David Axelrod and McCain campaign chief Rick Davis about a joint statement.
That statement would have said that "we know many Americans would believe it presumptuous for us to start planning for president before you make a choice, but we both believe it's the responsible thing to do," Ornstein said. The discussion "exploded" and "made the two teams gun shy" once McCain attacked Obama, he said.
"I think in a post-9/11 world it's irresponsible not to plan for a transition," said Lu, who admitted he's unsure how future campaigns will manage the preparations while still keeping things under wraps.
Regardless, "One of the commitments that President Obama will make, whether that's four years from now or eight years from now, is to provide the next administration the same level of extraordinary cooperation that we received from our predecessors."
ALSO: The Senate Finance Committee's ranking Republican, Charles E. Grassley, disputes any suggestions in the transition report that his panel has made the vetting and nomination process any harder.
“The vetting process has been the same since January 2001 and maybe even before that. We ask for the same materials for every nominee," Grassley said in a statement sent out by his office on Wednesday.
"It’s a myth that the committee is asking harder questions of Obama nominees than prior administration nominees over the last nine years. The fact is, we’ve seen more and bigger tax-related problems associated with the current administration nominees than we’ve seen in the past," Grassley said.
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