December 11th, 2008
08:22 AM ET
10 years ago

Balancing act: Defense Secretary to bridge two administrations

Gates has the tough task of bridging two administrations.

Gates has the tough task of bridging two administrations.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates is learning that becoming the first defense secretary to bridge two administrations can lead to some awkward moments.

Last week, President-elect Obama announced that he would keep Gates on to run the Pentagon.

He still answers to President Bush, since, as both President Bush and President-elect Obama have pointed out, "there's only one commander in chief at a time," Gates said. But he is not blind to the fact that his new boss and his transition team have demands too, which leads to "occasional awkwardness."

Asked for an example, Gates said that at times he's had to choose between meeting with the transition team or meeting with members of the current administration.

Apparently the incoming president's staff wins out over outgoing president's staff.

"Let's just say that if I'm faced with a choice between attending a principals meeting on an issue that I think it not particularly hot, and a meeting with the transition folks, I'll opt for the latter," Gates said.

But the current president doesn't have to worry about being ignored.

"I'm not forgetting at all for a second who is the president until noon on January 20th," Gates said. "I haven't missed any meetings with the president, let me put it that way."

Gates has had "several telephone calls" with the president-elect to talk about personnel to replace the outgoing political appointees, he told reporters traveling with him on a trip overseas.

"We really haven't sat down yet for a thorough discussion of specific foreign policy issues, national security issues," Gates told the traveling reporters, according to a transcript.

He's also met with Vice President-elect Joe Biden, who was in town Monday to meet with the defense secretary and the incoming nominee for Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Filed under: Robert Gates
soundoff (92 Responses)
  1. Bob

    sorry but Gates cant get Osama and unfortunately that is a strategic defeat. we'll never get him.

    December 11, 2008 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  2. Ed Stack

    Robert Gates would probably make the best President of this century for this country........

    December 11, 2008 08:37 am at 8:37 am |
  3. Just finish the war

    How about stop with the over analyzing and just get the country (Iraq) up and running, Rumsfeld/Powell did such a bad job

    December 11, 2008 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  4. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    Given his situatution, he seems to be handling it well. It doesn't seem all that often that anyone goes from one presidential administration to another. Has that happened with US Attorneys before? I know that most dismiss the ones that were there during the previous administration.

    December 11, 2008 08:46 am at 8:46 am |
  5. Myrna Ulrich


    December 11, 2008 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  6. Brad

    Mr. Gates has earned a lot of my respect over the past months. He's going to have a hard job and he's accepted the challenge.

    December 11, 2008 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  7. Jozee

    It was so smart of PE Obama to retain Gates in the Secr of Defense position so that less will fall thru the cracks. Gates should have replaced Rummy a long time ago.

    The differences in the incoming and the outgoing Commander in Chiefs are striking. Oh what a relief it is!

    December 11, 2008 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  8. Sweetie

    Robert Gates is enough of a Professional to handle two masters at once!

    He will be able to write a Great book about the two administrations in a couple of years.

    December 11, 2008 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  9. Randy, San Francisco

    Advice to Gates: Listen politely and then ignore Bush. Bush didn't make good decisions in the past and that isn't going to change.

    December 11, 2008 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  10. steve from somerset

    I'm reminded of that phrase from the Bible–"No man may serve two masters."

    December 11, 2008 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  11. KJL

    I can't imagine that working with both the president's administration and the president-elect's incoming administration is the most complicated thing in his life. This man is dealing with a couple of major wars!

    December 11, 2008 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  12. Flip in NC

    He should probably ignore Obama and Biden, they do not know about national defense and security. He can tell them what they need to do at a later time.

    December 11, 2008 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  13. Bruce WExler

    Keeping them honest:
    Robert McNamara also bridged two administrations, although in the same party. What's the big deal?

    December 11, 2008 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  14. jaye

    I have lost faith in cnn – they have their favorite "talking heads" trying to tie Obama into the Chicago governor scandal.
    Shame on you cnn. I thought you would take the high road.

    December 11, 2008 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  15. Ernie

    He should listen to Bush while he is President and screw Obama until Jan. 20.

    December 11, 2008 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  16. Bush's men

    Obama has to rely on Bush's men, Gates, Powell and Fitzgerald. It is no real change. Good job, president Bush!

    December 11, 2008 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  17. Tim

    This man is the right choice to stay on and run the Pentagon. I hope Obama persuades him to stay and not just be a temporary caretaker. He's a solid individual and knows the ropes. We need Gates to manage the most effective powerhouse on the planet.
    Did you know there is a reason why we used this shape for our national defense headquarters? Look it up.

    December 11, 2008 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  18. Malcom

    Hey Blagovich spoke up in support of workers in the plant in Chicago. Does that mean he can go free?

    December 11, 2008 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  19. David in Dallas

    I've served multiple bosses. It's never fun, and they weren't president and president-elect of the United States! For the first time, Gates has my sympathies.

    December 11, 2008 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  20. Vic of New York

    Like the rest of America, I've no doubt Gates can't have January 20th come soon enough.

    December 11, 2008 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  21. what bridge?

    gates "joked" to Texas A&M crowd in a speech :

    "when we (the US government and CIA) overthrew medium-size governments around the globe, we didn't have as much controversy as when i threw out the texas A&M football coach."

    that's your secretary of "defense"!

    be proud!

    December 11, 2008 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  22. beevee

    I think Gates is good man and he knows and does what is the right thing to do.

    December 11, 2008 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  23. Senate Candidate 13

    I believe it should be Gov Blago... he and Obama have a long standing good working relationship.

    December 11, 2008 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  24. Luis

    Obama, is making his decision on good qualifications, as far as Bush's man is concerned.....Dude, if you remember Powell quit the Bush's Admnistration....he was too honest for the Bush Administration.
    Bush is a loser, and his only redeeming quality in the 8 disastrous years disastrous years was the pick of Robert Gates....nothing else.

    December 11, 2008 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  25. Stacy from Loudoun County VA

    The most complicated thing Gates struggles with on a day-to-day basis is how that walking train wreck George W. Bush got elected. He is thankful to have someone who speaks in complete sentences conversing with him in P.E. Obama.

    December 11, 2008 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
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