Now that President Obama has secured a second term, the official Washington speculation machine — and, no, that doesn’t actually exist (or does it?) — has turned to the heavy turnover expected in his Cabinet.
While only Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made clear she plans to leave early in the Obama second term, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has also clearly suggested he is on his way out, and Attorney General Eric Holder has been noncommittal of late about his future plans. CIA Director David Petraeus’ stunning resignation on Friday creates another high-profile opening (although not a Cabinet-level position) for the president to fill.
While those inner Cabinet jobs will draw the lion’s share of attention, it’s likely there will be more turnover in secondary Cabinet positions too, if for no other reason than the Obama Cabinet has seen historically low levels of turnover in the first term. One example: The Commerce Department has lacked a top official since the resignation of John Bryson following a car accident in June.
Below is a baseline handicapping of who might step into the major Cabinet jobs when they come open. Remember: The choice is ultimately up to Obama and no one else, which makes much of the talk about whom he might pick decidedly speculative. But, that’s never stopped us before! Away we go!
* State: Following in the footsteps of Clinton, one of the best-known and most well-respected politicians/diplomats in the world, is no easy task. (Clinton continues to play somewhat coy about what she’ll do after State but has left little doubt she’s leaving as the country’s top diplomat.) Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry clearly pines for the job, but to pick Kerry would mean a special election to replace him in the Bay State in early 2013 with soon-to-be former senator Scott Brown (R) lurking. Democrats’ surprising gains in the Senate may give Obama the wiggle room to pick Kerry — special election be damned! — but it’s clearly a consideration. Other names mentioned include U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.
* Treasury: Given the still-struggling state of the economy, Obama’s pick to succeed Geithner could well be the most important one he makes heading into a second term. White House chief of staff Jack Lew seems to have the inside track, but if he is chosen, Obama would have to find a new chief — his fourth during his time in office. Former Clinton Administration official — and two-time failed North Carolina Senate candidate — Erskine Bowles appears to be a rising choice thanks to his work on the eponymous debt commission.
* Justice: Holder’s unwillingness to commit to a future in the Cabinet coupled with the stress that comes with being among the most high profile — if not the highest profile — member of any Cabinet has led many to conclude he is on his way out. If that happens, Department of Homeland Security’s Janet Napolitano would badly want the job and has a resume — elected to two terms as governor of Arizona, former state attorney general — that would strongly recommend her. Of course, putting Napolitano at Justice would create another opening at DHS for the president to fill. Other names mentioned include Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. Aides to Patrick and Whitehouse both deny their bosses want the job but that, of course, is standard operating procedure in the Cabinet shuffle.
* Defense: Leon Panetta split time during Obama’s first term — serving as CIA Director and then Secretary of Defense. There’s widespread speculation that he wants to return to his native California sometime in the early(ish) part of 2013. If Panetta does head west, two names are regarded as the leading replacements: former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. If Flournoy is the pick, she would be the first female Secretary of Defense ever. (For more on Flournoy, read Emily Wax’s 2011 profile of her.)
The Washington Post