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Stocking the Cabinet: Who Might Serve in a Romney Administration?

When he was a governor, Mitt Romney prided himself on bringing in the best and the brightest. As president, he would be under pressure to tend to Republican Party interests in stocking the government with loyalists.


Business class: Romney with Beth Myers and other advisers.(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect year Joe Lieberman was the Democratic vice presidential nominee: He ran with Al Gore in 2000. 


The day after his election as governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Mitt Romney welcomed reporters to his transition headquarters in the People’s Republic of Cambridge, informed his new constituents that managing the state’s pressing budget crisis would be his top priority, and began fleshing out the top posts within his pending administration.

A decade later, a President Romney would again face immediate fiscal problems. But a vastly different set of circumstances would shape the personnel decisions that Romney could make during his transition to the Oval Office. For one, Romney, despite a 1994 U.S. Senate challenge to Democrat Edward Kennedy, had few concrete ties to the state GOP back then. During this presidential campaign, he has consistently ridden at the front of the 2012 Republican field, is a favorite of the K Street and establishment types, and has become far more thoroughly wired into the party’s power centers.

That, for Romney, is both liberating and confining. In Massachusetts, he had a free hand to pick his top aides, and he won plaudits from Democrats for doing so with evident ideological blinders. And Romney was ruthless in restructuring the bureaucracy, collapsing, for instance, the silos of transportation, housing, and environment under one “supersecretariat.” That post went to Doug Foy, head of the Conservation Law Foundation, a liberal group that had spent much of the previous decade exerting legal pressure on the state to offset the environmental insults of the “Big Dig” tunnel project by investing in mass transit. Romney tabbed former Fidelity Investments Vice Chairman Robert Pozen to oversee a portfolio of economic development, consumer affairs, and labor.


In Washington, a Republican Party awaiting its restoration to the executive branch would have needs. And having been freshly elected as president of the entire nation, Romney would have to balance the party’s interests with the country’s. To help him navigate that terrain, Romney has turned to a longtime friend and political power broker, former Utah Gov. and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, to lead the effort, largely separate from the day-to-day campaign operation, to people a Romney administration.

“Leavitt has a good idea from an insider’s perspective, as someone who worked in the Cabinet and knows that relationship with the White House,” said Martha Joynt Kumar, a Towson University professor writing a book about the Bush-Obama transition after the 2008 election. “You have to know what you’re working with. You have to have the process nailed down.”

Early in the effort, Leavitt was joined by longtime Romney confidants: Beth Myers, his senior campaign adviser and Statehouse chief of staff; campaign Chairman Bob White, a friend from Romney’s Bain Capital tenure who led his gubernatorial transition; and Ron Kaufman, a veteran Washington lobbyist and former White House political director.

Game-planning a Romney ascendancy to Washington has been divided between domestic and international issues. Glenn Hubbard, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Al Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council under President George W. Bush, helm the domestic side, while the international team includes former World Bank President Robert Zoellick.


That circle has expanded. Former Deloitte global CEO Jim Quigley, former Bush 43 White House liaison to Health and Human Services Jamie Burke, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Steve Preston have all taken leadership roles. American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard has long been close to Romney. Also involved in plotting the transition are, among others, Patton Boggs partner and Romney campaign counsel Ben Ginsberg; Citigroup Managing Director and former diplomat Kent Lucken; George W. Bush’s Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James; former Treasury Undersecretary for International Affairs Tim Adams; former Veterans Affairs Secretary and Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson; former Microsoft and General Motors CFO Chris Liddell; former Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Tevi Troy; and RNC external-affairs adviser and former Ogilvy Government Relations CEO Drew Maloney. Campaign policy czar Lanhee Chen and foreign-policy Director Alex Wong would also likely figure in helping to staff a Romney administration.

For all the pressure on Romney to tend to the GOP erogenous zones, some still envision a transition that hews to his Massachusetts model: nondogmatic, the “best and brightest.”

“He was hiring on merit,” said Dan Winslow, now a Massachusetts GOP state representative who was among Romney’s first hires as chief counsel and who helped oversee the recruiting and vetting process on Beacon Hill. “His focus, when he developed his administration, was entirely on getting the best possible people to the table, and whatever got them to the table didn’t matter. I expect the same focus from President-elect Romney.”

Winslow said that a Republican Party grateful to Romney for parting President Obama from the White House would allow him flexibility. “The fact of the matter is,” Winslow said, “Republicans will back Romney.”

That may be. But if Romney awakes on Nov. 7 as president-elect, he’ll find himself a long way from Cambridge.


At the top of any list of possible chiefs of staff for a President Romney would have to be Mike Leavitt, the former Utah governor who is heading Romney’s transition team. Leavitt was the secretary of Health and Human Services during the George W. Bush administration, as well as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. He now heads a consultancy that specializes in health care, and he is in Romney’s inner circle. With that expertise, Leavitt could be particularly helpful if Romney wants to repeal health care reform and transform the Medicare program.

Another possibility would be longtime aide Beth Myers, Romney’s chief of staff when he was governor of Massachusetts and a top adviser ever since. She is the one who headed the secretive search for a running mate: She vetted all the candidates and provided comprehensive assessments. The deal was even sealed at Myers’s home, and the announcement of Paul Ryan’s selection came off flawlessly. “It’s reflective of how a Romney administration would work,” said Doug Gross, an Iowa lawyer who chaired the former governor’s 2008 campaign in the state.

Myers took some heat for Romney’s failed bid for the Republican nomination in 2008, when she was the campaign manager of a national operation. By her own admission, she is not best suited for organizing hundreds of people and details on a daily basis, and the top White House job could be daunting. Still, Myers, who would be the first female chief of staff, spent eight years in Texas GOP politics, under the guidance of none other than Karl Rove.

Other candidates for high-level West Wing positions with broad portfolios include American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard; former Bain Capital colleague Bob White; senior campaign adviser and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie; longtime Romney advisers Peter Flaherty and Eric Fehrnstrom; and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.

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Romney’s pick as secretary of State would likely signal which way his foreign policy is going to go: a harder-line, more neoconservative direction, reflective of his campaign rhetoric? Or traditional Republican realpolitik?

If he moved in the latter direction, as Romney’s recent speech at Virginia Military Institute seemed to indicate, then one could easily see as possibilities such prominent moderate Republicans as Rob Portman, the senator from Ohio and former U.S. trade representative who was on the short list to be Romney’s vice president (and is also in the running for Treasury secretary); Robert Zoellick, the former World Bank president who is now serving as coordinator of national-security transition for the Romney campaign; or Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, ambassador to China (under Obama), and GOP presidential rival. Two dark horses on the more moderate side are Robert Kimmitt, who was ambassador to Germany and undersecretary of State under George H.W. Bush and, most recently, deputy Treasury secretary under George W. Bush; and Richard Haass, who drew the ire of neoconservatives when he served as policy-planning chief in Colin Powell’s State Department in George W. Bush’s first term but who has been a prominent voice of restrained realism as president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Most of these candidates would likely stir anger in the hawkish precincts of the party, where they are generally viewed as too friendly to China and Russia and not friendly enough toward Israel.

Picks that would tend more toward the hawkish or neoconservative side include some of those within Romney’s inner circle today, in particular Richard Williamson, who has served in various senior-level foreign-policy positions going back to Ronald Reagan and, most recently, was special envoy to Sudan under George W. Bush. An outside possibility is John Bolton, a former U.N. ambassador and undersecretary of State under George W. Bush. But while Bolton is prominent, he proved too far right even for the Bush administration and would be a very risky pick for Romney. A favorite of Vice President Dick Cheney, Bolton ran afoul of senior officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, because of his sometimes lacerating rhetoric and extreme policy positions, and he failed in successive bids to be named Rice’s deputy and to take Douglas Feith’s place as No. 3 at the Pentagon.

Of course, even a moderate secretary of State might not tell us where Romney would go; consider the cautionary example of Colin Powell after Bush picked the retired general as his secretary of State in 2001. Powell was Bush’s first major Cabinet choice, just two weeks after the election. When he introduced Powell in Texas that fall, Bush called him “an American hero” and—as Romney did recently in a major foreign-policy speech—the president-elect evoked Powell’s personal role model, George C. Marshall, another retired general who graced the office in Foggy Bottom. But as it turned out, the hard-line axis of Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, along with a phalanx of neoconservative policymakers, marginalized Powell’s views during the Bush administration.

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When the Romney campaign named former World Bank President Robert Zoellick to head its national-security transition team, it set off alarms and prompted a firestorm among a national-security advisory community that runs the gamut from old-school Republican realists, to Israel-first neoconservative idealists, to hawkish nationalists. Coming from the realist wing, Zoellick is seen by the latter two camps as unduly moderate—someone who is too cozy with China and insufficiently pro-Israel. A circular firing squad quickly formed among the Romney team of rivals, who let loose in the press with volleys of non-attributable criticisms aimed at each other.

The incident speaks to the defining elusiveness of Mitt Romney’s worldview. That fundamental uncertainty makes anticipating his likely Cabinet a difficult exercise. However, a few consensus picks for Defense secretary stand out from the likely pack of wannabes.

Former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., has emerged as the most likely choice. He has been a close adviser on national-security issues since Romney’s first run for the White House in 2008. In the current campaign, Talent’s profile has become even more prominent, as he has raised money and acted as a reliable surrogate for Romney on defense and national-security issues. Perhaps tellingly, when Romney met with British leaders in London on his overseas trip last summer, Talent was one of three advisers in the room.

Talent certainly came by his defense credentials the old-fashioned way. In his freshman year in the House in 1993, he formed a special congressional panel on the decline of military readiness, and he went on to serve on both the House Armed Services and Senate Armed Services committees, eventually chairing Senate Armed Services’ Seapower Subcommittee. He would be well positioned to implement Romney’s plan to enlarge the Navy and increase annual shipbuilding.

Since leaving the Senate in 2007, Talent has continued to focus on military readiness as a distinguished fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “Jim Talent has been with Romney from Day One, and even after being deeply involved in defense as a member of Congress, he has immersed himself in national-security issues at Heritage to the point of essentially earning himself a Ph.D. on the subject,” said James Carafano, a defense expert and the director of foreign-policy studies at the Heritage Foundation. “I don’t hear any other names mentioned as prominently as a likely secretary of Defense” in a Romney administration.

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Romney would face an interesting choice here. Does he follow his proclivity for private-sector experience, or does he chose someone with a law-enforcement background (as Obama did with Eric Holder) or someone with a proven record in fighting terrorism?

If he went with the first option, a natural candidate would be Richard Wiley, the longtime Washington insider and former FCC chairman who serves as a cochair of Romney’s Justice Advisory Committee. If Romney wanted to go the other way, one possibility would be Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary and high-level Justice official during the George W. Bush administration.

Still another potential choice in that vein is Kenneth Wainstein, the former U.S. attorney in D.C. who served as a high-level national-security specialist under George W. Bush. If Romney chose to go the politician route, as Bush did with his selection of ex-Sen. John Ashcroft as his first AG, a no-brainer selection would be Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who was under consideration for the vice presidency. McDonnell, a former state attorney general, is prohibited under Virginia law from seeking a second term.

A long-shot contender along that line? New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the former U.S. attorney in that state. If Romney wanted to look to the Senate, he could consider John Cornyn, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, or Mike Lee, the first-term member from Utah. Either senator would likely be succeeded by a Republican, preserving the chamber’s balance of power. Lee might also be a candidate for the Supreme Court.

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The man deemed most likely to serve as CIA director in a Romney administration: current Director David Petraeus. The hero of the counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the now-retired Gen. Petraeus is widely considered the sharpest and most influential military strategist of his generation of officers. Petraeus’s hand in turning the tide in Iraq and Afghanistan at low points in the conflicts—under Republican and Democratic presidents—has won him accolades and deep support on both sides of the political aisle. Since transitioning to Langley, Va., Petraeus has also honed to a lethal edge the network-centric operational model melding CIA analysts and operators and special-forces troops—a model that was responsible for the deaths of high-value terrorists, including Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki. It’s a safe bet that if Petraeus wants to stay on the job, he would have a place in a Romney administration.

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The recent controversy over the intelligence timeline behind an apparent terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, coupled with frustration in Republican ranks about the intelligence community’s cautious assessment of Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program, means that a President Romney would almost certainly want his own man as director of national intelligence.

The Romney campaign counts two former senior intelligence officials as close advisers. Cofer Black spent his career in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, and he served as coordinator for counterterrorism in the Bush administration (2002 to 2004). However, Black’s stint as vice chairman of Blackwater USA—the security firm that was involved in a number of questionable secret operations, as well as shootings of civilians in Iraq—could make him too controversial a pick.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, another close Romney adviser, is widely admired for his intellect, broad experience, and integrity. A retired four-star Air Force general, Hayden was the longest-serving director of the supersecret National Security Agency—which snoops on communications worldwide—and played a key role in expanding the agency’s operations and in tracking Qaida terrorists in the years after 9/11 (he served as director from 1999 to 2005). From 2005 to 2006, Hayden was principal deputy director of national intelligence. Since leaving government, he has worked as a principal at the Chertoff Group, a security consultancy cofounded by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, where he has specialized in the kind of cybersecurity issues that will be prominent in the DNI’s in-box of urgent topics.

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Typically, a member of the candidate’s inner circle fills this position. Among the possibilities are Richard Williamson, who has served in various senior-level foreign-policy positions going back to Ronald Reagan, and who most recently was special envoy to Sudan under George W. Bush; Eric Edelman, who was principal deputy assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney and later Defense undersecretary for policy under both Donald Rumsfeld and Bob Gates; Mitchell Reiss, who was policy-planning chief under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the second Bush term and has been a close Romney adviser since the 2008 presidential campaign; and Elliott Abrams, a longtime neoconservative who served as No. 2 in George W. Bush’s National Security Council, in charge of promoting democracy in the Middle East.

An outside possibility, although he would be more likely to get a more junior position, would be Dan Senor, the former spokesman for President Bush’s Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, who has been advising Romney for years, especially on Israel and Iran. Senor, like Romney, is a Harvard M.B.A. and a successful Wall Streeter who has nimbly straddled the worlds of finance and politics, and whose somewhat hawkish, neoconservative views of the world are largely in accord with Romney’s.

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Romney would have a variety of choices among the experts in law enforcement and security who have homeland-security experience, several of whom were schooled in the ranks of DHS during the George W. Bush administration. The possibilities include Frances Townsend, Bush’s outspoken former homeland-security coordinator; Michael Hayden, the former Air Force general who headed the National Security Agency and CIA under Bush; Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who has advised Romney on homeland security; Thaddeus Allen, the retired Coast Guard commander who was credited for his response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita during the Bush administration; and former Attorneys General William Barr and Michael Mukasey, who cochair the Romney campaign’s law-enforcement advisory group.

Another possible pick should Romney seek to strike a bipartisan tone as promised, would be Joe Lieberman, the independent and former Democrat who ran as Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 presidential race. Lieberman has a hawkish reputation, but even after he endorsed his friend John McCain in 2008 and left the Democratic Party, he was respected enough by the Democratic Caucus (which wanted to keep him in) that he was permitted to keep his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Lieberman is retiring from the Senate this year.

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A Romney victory could put Glenn Hubbard, dean of the Columbia Business School, and Robert Zoellick, former World Bank president, in the running for the Treasury job. An expert on taxes and regulation, Hubbard did a stint at Treasury under President George H.W. Bush. He served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush and has been advising Romney’s presidential campaign. Zoellick, who left his job at the World Bank in June, would bring a great deal of expertise in global affairs and international economics. He is a former deputy secretary of State and a former U.S. trade representative. If Romney wins, some also see Zoellick as a strong candidate for secretary of State. Romney could opt to pick someone from the private sector to lead Treasury, likely a nominee with experience in the financial world rather than a captain of industry.

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OMB director is a key job for any Republican who wants to wage major policy fights through the federal budget—an idea that Romney seems to embrace. He has promised to cap federal spending at 20 percent of GDP by 2016, and by picking self-avowed budget geek Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate, Romney also seemed to signal that tough spending choices would be part of his first-term agenda.

Possible names being thrown around in Republican circles for the top budget slot include:

• Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the conservative think tank American Action Forum and the former director of the Congressional Budget Office. He’s as good at politics as he is at policy, having advised Sen. John McCain on his presidential run in 2008.

• Former Rep. Jim Nussle of Iowa, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush and was also chairman of the House Budget Committee. It’s unclear, though, if Nussle would want to return to OMB.

• Former Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who chaired the Senate Budget Committee and remains part of the D.C. conversation through his work with the deficit-reduction advocacy group Fix the Debt.

• Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who also served as OMB director under President George W. Bush and who helped Romney prep for the presidential debates by playing Obama. Overseeing OMB would also be a repeat performance for Portman, and he might be more interested in becoming Treasury secretary.

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Look for Romney, if elected, to pick someone from the close inner circle of economists advising him. All are big proponents of reducing tax rates and limiting deductions to promote efficiency and growth; designing such a tax-reform plan figures to be the first signature economic policy of the new administration.

It won’t be easy: The reform plan would need to navigate a minefield of special-interest groups seeking to protect favored tax breaks. It would also have to deliver 12 million jobs, as Romney has promised, while coming as close as possible to Romney’s three-part goal of lowering marginal rates by 20 percent, maintaining revenue neutrality, and not raising taxes on the middle class or the poor. Independent analyses believe that achieving all three is mathematically impossible, so the CEA chair would need to make a case for which pillars are the most important for maximizing growth.

Two of the candidates have chaired the council before, under President George W. Bush: Glenn Hubbard, the dean of Columbia Business School and Romney’s top economic adviser, and Greg Mankiw, an economist at Harvard. Both names are being floated for other jobs, as well—most notably, Federal Reserve Board chairman. Stanford University economist John Taylor, another Romney adviser and possible CEA candidate, is thought to be in the running for the Fed job, too.

If all three are out, Romney could choose Kevin Hassett, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute who has assumed a growing surrogate role for Romney late in the campaign.

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If a President Romney has a choice between a private- and public-sector leader, all things being equal, he would likely go with the business leader. And  that holds doubly true for Commerce secretary. But with much of corporate America on his Rolodex, narrowing down the list of possibilities would be tough.

“I tend to think this will bend conventional wisdom on its ear. I don’t think it will be very easy to be predictive here,” said former Michigan Gov. John Engler. “He would be looking for a point person who could really go out and lead the charge for U.S. competitiveness and winning globally. It would not be a passive role.” Engler, now the president of the Business Roundtable, added that he thinks Romney’s Commerce secretary would be an activist in the mold of Malcolm Baldrige under President Reagan and Ron Brown under President Clinton.

Here are some people who might fit the bill.

• Tom Stemberg, cofounder of Staples, credits Romney’s firm with helping to build the successful office-supply chain, a case he made from the stage of the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

• Bob White, a longtime Romney friend and the chairman of his presidential campaign, could take on any number of roles in a Romney administration. But his background at Bain Capital makes him a contender for Commerce.

• Carly Fiorina was the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company, and the former Hewlett-Packard CEO made a name for herself in GOP politics by unsuccessfully challenging Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

• Kerry Healey, as Romney’s former lieutenant governor, understands how Romney thinks and would be well positioned to talk up Romney’s economic record, as she did at the Republican National Convention.

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The Energy Department’s role would likely diminish significantly in a Romney administration. Although Obama pumped up the department by devoting $40 billion from the economic-stimulus package to clean energy, those funds are now gone, and Romney would further trim the funding and purview of a department that some in his party want to eliminate.

Essentially, “they’re going to deemphasize the green [initiatives],” as one source close to the Romney campaign put it. DOE’s focus would likely return to its core mission: overseeing the nation’s nuclear-weapons arsenal and network of national science laboratories.

On the short list to lead a lower-profile Energy Department is James Connaughton, the former head of George W. Bush’s Council on Environmental Quality and currently the executive vice president of Exelon, the nation’s largest electricity generator, which oversees a fleet of gas and nuclear-power plants. Connaughton has a good relationship with Romney, but his affiliation with the Bush administration—and possibly his moderate views on climate change—may hurt his prospects. Since leaving the Bush White House, Connaughton has been active in conversations about global warming, and he traveled to the 2009 U.N. climate-change summit in Copenhagen.

One big energy player who would be a good bet to get some kind of role in a Romney administration is the candidate’s close friend Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies for the oil industry. However, some Romney insiders say they’re cautious about the optics of appointing Gerard—literally putting the lobbyist for big oil at the head of the Energy Department—because it would give Democrats too much ammunition to attack Romney for being in the pocket of the oil industry.

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Romney would have no shortage of health-policy wonks in his camp to choose from to head the Health and Human Services Department. The position would be key in a Romney administration that wants to undo the Affordable Care Act and implement a major overhaul of Medicare.

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, the head of Romney’s transition team, could reprise his role as head of HHS, a job he had in the George W. Bush administration. But he is widely expected to take on a White House post.

Romney could call on Tim Murphy, the man who led Massachusetts’ state health department while Romney was governor, to head up the federal health department. Murphy was Romney’s go-to man in developing, passing, and implementing the state’s health reform law. He now runs Beacon Health Strategies, a health consulting firm, in Boston.

Two of Romney’s campaign health advisers are often included on the short list of potential HHS heads: Tevi Troy and Scott Gottlieb. Troy served in several high-level positions at HHS in the George W. Bush administration, including deputy secretary to Leavitt. He also spent five years inside the Bush White House, working as a deputy assistant for domestic policy and running the Domestic Policy Council. Gottlieb worked at the Food and Drug Administration in several positions, including as deputy commissioner for medical and scientific affairs, and as a senior policy adviser at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Mark McClellan could be a possibility as well. He has carved out a role for himself as a conservative who doesn’t hate the Affordable Care Act, heading a center for health reform at the Brookings Institution. McClellan ran two key agencies within HHS during the Bush administration: the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Food and Drug Administration.

Finally, Romney could pluck Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal from Louisiana to take on the visible role of HHS secretary. Jindal ran the Louisiana Health and Hospitals Department in 1996 at the age of 24, and he served as an assistant secretary at HHS during the Bush administration from 2001 until 2003.

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HUD—the department dedicated to administering loans, grants, and vouchers to low- and moderate-income families—is not exactly the highest-profile department in Washington, and that tends to be especially true in Republican administrations. Take, for example, the fact that President Reagan forgot who his own HUD secretary was—a Wall Street lawyer named Sam Pierce—calling him “Mr. Mayor” at a White House reception.

Perhaps that is one reason there has been virtually no buzz in housing circles about who the Romney team would consider picking for the position. Another reason could be that Romney himself has signaled little interest in the post. He announced at a fundraiser in April that he may want to eliminate HUD (even though his father, George Romney, served as department secretary in the first Nixon administration). “I’m going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I’m probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are going to go,” Romney was quoted at the time. “Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later.”

Romney’s campaign describes a less terminal vision for HUD, saying that his administration would look for ways to give states more latitude in steering HUD rental programs, reduce fraud and abuse, and reduce taxpayer risk from the Federal Housing Administration, which insures mortgages for
moderate and first-time homebuyers and is in danger running in the red.

Republican sources following the campaign say that an up-and-coming mayor, respected housing commissioner, or former lawmaker would be the type of candidate most likely to fit the bill. One possibility would be former Rep. Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., who is a surrogate for Romney and who advises him on housing policy. In Congress, Lazio was chairman of what was then the House Banking Committee’s Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity and ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2000 and for governor in 2010. In June, he joined Jones Walker, as a partner heading the law firm’s New York office and focusing his practice area on affordable housing and housing finance.

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The department that oversees oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters would play a high-profile role in a Romney administration, after the candidate campaigned on the promise of expanded fossil-fuel production as a major job creator.

Typically, a Western governor fills this spot, and Romney insiders say that Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a rising star in the party, fits the bill perfectly. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez could also be in the mix, as could Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno. Former Rep. Bob Beauprez of Colorado is working hard with the Romney campaign to deliver his state in November; if he succeeds, one GOP insider says, “a substantive role at Interior is his.”

If Romney wants to please his party’s red-meat base, he could appoint Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who is perhaps the member of Congress most reviled by environmentalists, for his gleeful pro-drilling stance and his assertion that climate-change science is a hoax.

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A Romney Labor Department would be busy. Romney has targeted for dismantling what his campaign says are 47 discrete employment and job-training programs spread across nine different federal agencies at a cost of $18 billion. And he says he intends to amend the National Labor Relations Act to ensure secret-ballot union certification elections and to encourage states to pursue right-to-work legislation.

To overhaul Obama’s labor policy, Romney could draw from a thin bench of Republicans who are tight with organized labor or, more likely, could turn to a party stalwart well schooled in the GOP’s often testy relations with unions.

Republican operatives and labor-policy specialists say that one name stands out: Bill Kilberg, a partner in the Washington office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and the Labor Department’s solicitor during the Nixon administration. Kilberg, who was a special assistant to Reagan Labor Secretary George Shultz, led a labor-policy roundtable at a Romney fundraiser in Washington earlier this year. Thoroughly versed in both department history and Romney’s plans for Labor, Kilberg said that one key to the job would be reviewing regulations promulgated by the Obama administration to determine which ones obstruct job creation.

Another name that crops up is Mercury Public Affairs Cochairman Jim Talent, the former senator who has been mentioned for several Cabinet-level capacities. The Romney campaign deployed Talent during the GOP primaries to question whether former Sen. Rick Santorum was too cozy with unions.

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It’s been a difficult year for agriculture. The 112th Congress was unable to pass a farm bill before the lame-duck session, and the country suffered from one of the most devastating droughts in decades. To demonstrate agriculture’s importance (and, of course, to try to win support from farmers), Romney created an Agricultural Advisory Committee and, in doing so, tipped his hand about whom he might select as his Agriculture secretary.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who cochairs the advisory committee with Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., tops the short list. Putnam served five terms representing Florida’s 12th District, sat on the House Agriculture Committee, and was elected chairman of the House Republican Conference for the 110th Congress. His experience as agriculture commissioner gives him the chops to head the department, but what really makes him a front-runner is his early and avid support for Romney. In addition to serving on the advisory committee, Putnam chairs Romney’s Florida campaign and is the chairman of Farmers and Ranchers for Romney. “The job seems to be his if he wants it,” says Mary Kay Thatcher, director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “But who knows if he wants it?”

If not Putnam, another possibility would be Chuck Conner, the president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and a former deputy secretary of Agriculture under George W. Bush. Conner also sits on the Romney advisory committee, and he has the combination of personal history with agriculture and support for Romney to be in consideration. “I was raised on a family farm, and having policies which help agriculture thrive is close to my heart,” Conner said after the advisory committee was formed. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m supporting Mitt Romney.”

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A few big political names in the Romney camp who have backgrounds in transportation policy would likely be in line for the top spot at the Transportation Department—Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas—but they are also possibilities for other Cabinet posts, including Commerce or Interior. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., would be a logical choice because his term as chairman ends this year. But, because he is not close to the Romney camp, Mica might not be the first pick if others ahead of him want it. He also has a reputation as a maverick who advocates for pet policy issues, which has irked House GOP leaders. Still, Mica knows transportation better than almost any Republican on Capitol Hill.

Another logical pick would be Marion Blakey, who has headed both the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board. The downside is that her current position is CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, which could smack of revolving-door syndrome. Yet Blakey’s private-sector work could be a boon; Romney has consistently said he wants people with business experience in his administration.

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For a candidate who has pledged to make the Education Department “a heck of a lot smaller,” Romney has a long list of possibilities to head this tiny fiefdom. The biggest name is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a staunch advocate of education changes (assessments, school choice) that could require a larger federal role in education than some Republicans may be comfortable with. Still, Bush would bring the kind of heft to the role that would look, well, presidential. If Romney wants to be bipartisan, he has scrappier versions of Bush in two Democrats—former District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee or former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Rhee and Klein have both gained favor with the GOP for publicly taking on the teachers unions.


A wonkier choice would be Idaho Superintendent Tom Luna, who headed the Republican National Committee’s Education Platform Committee and has made waves in the state for altering teacher-tenure rules. Along similar policy lines is Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett (who wins points for his celeb name); New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf; or former Education Department Assistant Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Nina Rees, who advised the Romney campaign. (Rees recently began running the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, so she may be reluctant to leave her current position so quickly.)

The Education Department would be a fine spot to put former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who challenged Romney in the presidential primary. Other possibilities include Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. Lots of people want New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the post, but odds are that the Education Department isn’t quite big enough for him—so close to the White House, and yet so far.

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Under a President Romney, the EPA administrator would be tasked with trying to delay or abolish some of the biggest rules the agency has promulgated during Obama’s first term. These include regulations controlling greenhouse-gas emissions and mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.
According to sources close to the campaign, at least four officials from the George W. Bush administration are in the running for the top post at EPA: Susan Dudley, who was the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget from 2007 to 2009; Ann Klee, who was EPA general counsel from 2004 to 2006; James Connaughton, who was director of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality from 2001 to 2009; and Jeff Holmstead, who was EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation from 2001 to 2005.

Dudley, who is director of the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University, has deep expertise on economics with a specialty in resource economics, which could appeal to Romney as he seeks to streamline environmental regulations on a macro level. As a lobbyist for Bracewell & Giuliani, Holmstead has been one of the most outspoken critics of Obama’s clean-air rules. Connaughton and Klee are on the more moderate side of the spectrum. Connaughton has lobbied in support of EPA rules as a lobbyist for Constellation Energy and now as an executive vice president and senior policy adviser for Exelon, the biggest nuclear-reactor operator in the country, which recently merged with Constellation. Klee is vice president for environmental programs at General Electric, a company known for having strong credibility in the renewable-energy industry and whose CEO, Jeff Immelt, has served as chairman of Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has led the Lone Star State’s ambitious attack on several of EPA’s clean-air rules, is one of the top state officials the campaign is considering.

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Don’t expect Romney to select a moderate justice for the Supreme Court who could morph into a liberal in the fashion of the retired David Souter. The candidate has said he supports a strict reading of the Constitution—and his Justice Advisory Committee is cochaired by none other than Robert Bork, the conservative firebrand who was denied a seat on the Court during the Reagan administration. On his website, Romney pledges he’ll send to the Court nominees in the mold of Justices Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Roberts, however, fell out of favor with Romney after he was the swing vote to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. “I certainly wouldn’t nominate someone who I knew was going to come out with a decision I violently disagreed with—or vehemently, rather, disagreed with,” Romney said in July after the health care ruling.

There is one clear favorite for a high-court nomination and that’s Paul Clement, the George W. Bush administration solicitor general. Clement, just 46, recently argued against the constitutionality of the Democratic health care law in the most highly watched Supreme Court case of the past term.

Viet Dinh, a former Justice Department official during the Bush administration, would make history as the first Asian-American justice and brings a compelling personal story as the child of Vietnamese immigrants. Another possibility: Miguel Estrada, who was blocked by Democrats from a federal Appeals Court appointment in 2003. Republicans have wanted revenge ever since.

Still other potential choices include Jeffrey Sutton, a judge on the U.S. Appeals Court in Cincinnati (who could be hampered by his decision to uphold “Obamacare”); Diane Sykes, a judge on the U.S. Appeals Court in Chicago; Michael McConnell, former judge on the U.S. Appeals Court in Denver and a member of Romney’s Justice Advisory Committee; Brett Kavanaugh, the former Kenneth Starr aide who sits on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Janice Rogers Brown, another D.C. Circuit Court judge who also served on the California Supreme Court.

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Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke’s term ends on Jan. 31, 2014, and Romney has said he wouldn’t reappoint him. Some possible picks:

• John Taylor, an economics professor at Stanford University, is an adviser to the Romney campaign and a top contender for the Fed post. He has public-policy experience, having served on the White House Council of Economic Advisers and as undersecretary of Treasury for international affairs. His “Taylor rule” for setting interest rates is widely used. Taylor has criticized Bernanke’s unconventional policies in the wake of the financial crisis, and he would be likely to raise rates sooner, and keep monetary policy tighter, than the current Fed.

• Fellow Romney adviser Glenn Hubbard is dean of the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University. He has experience in government, serving in the Treasury Department from 1991 to 1993 and as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers from 2001 to 2003. Hubbard, however, has said that the next president ought to consider keeping Bernanke, a fellow Republican, in the job, putting him at odds with the GOP nominee.

• Like Hubbard, Harvard professor and Romney adviser Greg Mankiw served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush. Mankiw has also advised the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and been a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His economics textbooks are widely read. Mankiw, too, wrote a New York Times piece in 2011 arguing that “Mr. Bernanke’s record shows that the fears of both sides have been exaggerated,” also potentially putting him at odds with Romney’s denunciations of the Fed’s aggressive actions.

• Fellow Harvard professor and Romney adviser Martin Feldstein served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Reagan and as president of the National Bureau of Economic Research for almost three decades. He expressed skepticism in a CNBC interview at the August meeting of the central bank in Jackson Hole, Wyo., that the Fed could do much more to help the economy. His name was floated for the Fed chairmanship before Bush appointed Bernanke. This time, his age might be an obstacle: Feldstein will be 74 in 2014. (Bernanke’s predecessor Alan Greenspan was 79 when he left the post but a much younger 61 when he assumed it.)

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This article originally appeared in print as Team Romney.

Caren Bohan, Nancy Cook, Coral Davenport, Chris Frates, Amy Harder, Catherine Hollander, Michael Hirsh, Fawn Johnson, Meghan McCarthy, James Oliphant, Jim O’Sullivan, Lori Santos, Jim Tankersley, and Ben Terris contributed

This article appears in the October 20, 2012 edition of National Journal Magazine.

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