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A Marshall Plan for Protocol Chief

Former White House Social Secretary Capricia Marshall, seen here in 1997. (Craig Herndon/The Washington Post)

After months of waiting, the White House sent Capricia Marshall's name to the Hill this week for the plum chief of protocol slot -- but it's not quite the job it used to be.

If confirmed, the former White House social secretary and Hillary Clinton confidante gets the title of ambassador, but not necessarily the usual seat on Air Force One when POTUS travels abroad, reports our colleague Al Kamen. President Obama plans to name someone he knows better to be at his side on foreign visits.

It's a big change for the high-profile post, which typically had three main duties: babysitting the diplomatic corps, handling U.S. visits by foreign leaders and accompanying the president on official trips abroad. On those trips, it was the chief's job "to interface with his or her counterpoint in the host country -- to smooth over glitches, but basically to keep the show on the road," said Ambassador Donald Ensenat, chief of protocol from '01 to '07. Ensenat joined his Yale roommate George W. Bush on 40 trips, working with almost every major foreign leader. "I loved it," he told us yesterday. "Best thing I've ever done."

In 2002, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair is flanked by then-British Ambassador to the U.S. Christopher Meyer, left, and then-U.S. Chief of Protocol Donald Ensenat, upon his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, POOL)Enlarge Image

Some big names have held the job: Shirley Temple Black, tobacco heir-diplomat Angier Biddle Duke, billionaire Leonore Annenberg, social titans Lucky Roosevelt and Lloyd Hand. In many ways, the glamorous and energetic Marshall -- a JD with an MD husband, popular in both social and political circles -- fits the profile.

However: While on paper the job is part of Clinton's State Department, its primary focus is White House diplomacy. Which is why most presidents handpick close friends for the gig. Marshall, though, is a longtime soldier in Clinton's camp, a veteran of her Senate and presidential campaigns.

But one administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, denied the change represents a slight by the White House. "It's a different dynamic. ... She's going to have a much higher workload" from State because of Clinton's reliance on her and Clinton's own busy travel schedule. Marshall said she can't talk to the media during her confirmation process.

By The Reliable Source  |  May 15, 2009; 1:02 AM ET
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