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How Washington ranks President's top advisers and Cabinet members

The "Top 10" in President Reagan's power structure are now emerging. In practical terms, Edwin Meese III is clearly the administration's No. 2 man behind the President -- although James A. Baker III, Michael K. Deaver, and Vice-President George Bush are nearly on his level.

Mr. Meese often speaks for the President, as he has recently on the West Coast at briefings on arms for Israel and the MX missile decision. And he is Mr. Reagan's closest adviser on the day-to-day running of the presidency.

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But Messrs. Baker, Deaver, and Bush are also often at the President's elbow. And Bush is understood to be the adviser the President turns to most frequently on how to deal with both domestic and foreign issues.

Below these four generalist come the President's most-used, and most influential, specialists.

Just in the last few weeks Secretary of Treasury Donald T. Regan has risen to the top of the heap among those whose advice is limited to their particular areas of expertise -- in this case, the economy.

Then comes Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger. Mr. Weinberger's clout stems in part from his long and close association with Reagan, going back to Sacramento days.

Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. is next. Mr. Haig's personal relationship with the President has been firmed up after a shaky start. But Haig will probably never have the "buddy" rapport with the President enjoyed by others on Reagan's first team of advisers.

Attorney General William French Smith, another close friend of Reagan's, comes next in both access and influence.

After Mr. Smith comes the President's budget director, David A. Stockman, and his chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Murray L. Weidenbaum.

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David R. Gergen, recently made director of communications for the President, is a rising star, just below the above-named "Top 10" in terms of presidentially reflected influence.

The power of presidential counselor Meese was spotlighted by his decision not to awaken the President in the middle of the night to tell him about the clash between American and Libyan fighters. The fact that Meese was the one to make that decision -- and, later, to defend it -- vividly illustrated the powerful role he now plays in this administration.

Actually, Meese, along with chief of staff Baker and deputy chief of staff Deaver, is part of a pivotal threesome. they keep in close touch with the President on an hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute basis. This troika is Reagan's main administrative unit, central to making his administration run.

Vice-President Bush, like Vice-President Mondale before him, comes close to being an assistant president. Until he became Reagan's running mate. Bush was both a political opponent and a severe critic of Reagan's economic program. But now they have become good friends as well as close associates. Some top aides to Reagan say they believe that in time Bush will be seen as the President's No. 2 man in all respects. But others contend that Bush's insistence on a low profile will always keep his importance in the background.

Another highly influential presidential adviser is Deputy Secretary of State William P. Clark, another close friend and longtime political ally of the President's.

Reagan also does a lot of coordinating and sounding out of ideas with three old friends on Capitol Hill: Sen. Paul Laxalt (R) of Nevada, Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee, and Jack F. Kemp (R) of New York.


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