Washington – President Barack Obama’s first task as he launches his second term will be to fill a number of key vacancies expected in the White House, positions that will be instrumental in helping him tackle his legislative agenda as well as navigate conflicts around the globe.
Already, a pair of high-profile officials – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner – have said they’ll step down.
No other Cabinet members have said they plan to leave, but the heads of the departments of Defense, Justice and Transportation may quit in the coming months. The position of commerce secretary already is vacant.
Other Cabinet officials are expected to stay, including those who run the departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services.
While Obama’s Cabinet remained relatively stable in his first term, several senior aides left.
Political observers expect half of the president’s Cabinet – as well as a handful of senior staffers – to change at the start of his second term, as has been the nature of life and work at the White House. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each replaced half of their Cabinets after they were re-elected.
Obama is also likely to look at rewarding some campaign aides with high-level positions. Here’s a look at some of the possible vacancies and potential replacements:
Geithner, the longest-serving member of the president’s economic team, already has said he’ll leave.
This vacancy is arguably the most difficult to fill, as Congress and Obama face a deadline to ward off looming tax increases and spending cuts that threaten to throw the nation into another recession. The next secretary needs to be a name with clout on Capitol Hill, as well as one that global financial markets respect. Earlier this year, Geithner said on ABC that his replacement needed to be someone “willing to tell (Obama) the truth.”
Possible replacements include: Jack Lew, the president’s chief of staff and a former head of the Office of Management and Budget; Larry Fink, a founder of financial giant BlackRock, the largest money management firm in the world; Roger Altman, a deputy treasury secretary in the Clinton administration; and Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to President Clinton and a co-head of Obama’s special commission that drafted a report on fixing the budget deficit and debt problem.
Hillary Clinton plans to step down, though she recently said she’d stay on until Obama picked a replacement. Her successor will have to deal with situations across the globe, including the unresolved debt crisis in Europe, the rise of militant Islamist factions in transitional Arab states, a nuclear showdown with Iran and violence in Syria.
Possible replacements: Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who’s the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; National Security Adviser Tom Donilon; Samantha Power, special assistant to the president and senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights; William Burns, the deputy secretary of state; and R. Nicholas Burns, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs.
U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was widely considered a top contender until she went on TV with what turned out to be misleading information about the attacks in Libya on Sept. 11 that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hasn’t said publicly whether he’ll stay on for a second term. But some speculate that the 74-year-old Panetta, who commutes to his California walnut farm every weekend, will retire in a few months, after Congress debates making cuts to the military.
Possible replacements: Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy; Jack Reed, a Democratic senator from Rhode Island; Ashton Carter, the deputy secretary of defense; Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska ; Richard Danzig, a former secretary of the Navy; and Sam Nunn, a former Democratic senator from Georgia.
Attorney General Eric Holder may depart. Already under fire from Republicans for his role in the botched Fast and Furious gun operation, he told a congressional committee earlier this year: “What my future holds, frankly, I’m just not sure.”
Possible replacements: Deval Patrick, the Democratic governor of Massachusetts; Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic senator from Minnesota; Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democratic senator from Rhode Island; Claire McCaskill, a Democratic senator from Missouri; Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security; and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Ray LaHood, a former Illinois congressman who’s the only Republican in Obama’s Cabinet, told the Chicago Tribune last year that he’d serve only one term, but he backed off a bit in September, saying he’d first sit down and talk to the president.
Possible replacements: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who served as the chairman of this year’s Democratic National Convention and has championed mass transit, and Ed Rendell, a former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania.
Secretary John Bryson stepped down after suffering a seizure in June. The department has been led by acting Secretary Rebecca Blank.
Potential replacement: Ron Kirk, the U.S. trade representative, who plans to leave his current position.
WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF
Jack Lew, the budget director who became Obama’s chief of staff last January, is said to be interested in the treasury position.
Possible replacements: Ron Klain, Vice President Joe Biden’s former chief of staff, and Tom Nides, a deputy secretary of state.
Jay Carney is expected to step away from handling the daily news briefing.
Potential replacements: Jen Psaki, the Obama campaign traveling press secretary, who often shared briefing duties with Carney on Air Force One; and Joshua Earnest, the principal deputy White House press secretary, who’s stood in for Carney several times during the televised briefings.
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