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White House / WHITE HOUSE

Obama Reshapes Cabinet For a Second Term

President Obama announces two cabinet picks: Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense and John Brennan as CIA Director. (Richard A.Bloom)

photo of Catherine Hollander
January 15, 2013

With Inauguration Day approaching, President Obama is reshaping his Cabinet and White House staff for his second term. In the latest change, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said he will leave his job at the end of March, creating an opening at the helm of the agency that oversees public lands.

Obama has already made selections for the prized Cabinet jobs at Treasury, State and the Department of Defense. The president has faced criticism for a lack of diversity in his new Cabinet, but has responded that he is only at the beginning of the process of picking people for the top jobs. "I would just suggest that everybody kind of wait until they’ve seen all my appointments, who’s in the White House staff and who’s in my Cabinet before they rush to judgment," he told reporters at a recent press conference. 

"I’m very proud that in the first four years we had as diverse, if not more diverse, a White House and a Cabinet than any in history," he said. "And I intend to continue that, because it turns out that when you look for the very best people, given the incredible diversity of this country, you’re going to end up with a diverse staff and a diverse team."


National Journal looks at the appointments that have yet to be made, as well as who's expected to stay, and who's already been appointed:

The Upcoming Appointments 

  • Commerce Secretary. The post has been unfilled since John Bryson resigned in the aftermath of a hit-and-run car accident this summer. Export-Import Bank Chair Fred Hochberg is in the running and, if confirmed, would become the first openly gay Cabinet member. Alternatively, the job could go to a someone from the business world or to someone else inside the administration, such as U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk or Karen Mills, head of the Small Business Administration.
  • Energy Secretary. Steven Chu is expected to step down, and the short list for his replacement includes Energy's Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman, North Dakota's Democratic former Sen. Byron Dorgan, who served on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, who heads the Center for American Progress.
  • Environmental Protection Agency Administrator. Lisa Jackson announced last month that she plans to step down after Obama’s State of the Union address in January. In recent days, outgoing Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire seems to have emerged as a frontrunner for the post. Other potential successors include the agency’s deputy administrator, Bob PerciasepeMary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, EPA air chief Gina McCarthy, and Heather Zichal, the White House's top aide on energy and climate issues.
  • Homeland Security Secretary. If Janet Napolitano takes the AG spot, Obama may need to nominate a new head of the Homeland Security Department. Possible picks include New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, law-enforcement expert Bill Bratton, and retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen
  • Interior Secretary. Ken Salazar plans to step down in March, and the president is likely to look west for his replacement, to candiates like Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire. John Berry, current director of the White House Office of Personnel Management and former director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, is another possibility.
  • Labor Secretary. Hilda Solis, who has served in the job for four years, is stepping down, creating an opening at the helm of the Labor Department. The list of possible replacements is long and includes Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
  • Transportation Secretary. Secretary Ray LaHood indicated a year ago that he would leave during a second term, and he's still planning to head for the door. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is seen as the frontrunner for the job. Democratic former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is another potential candidate.  
  • White House Chief of Staff. With Jack Lew headed for Treasury, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough is the top contender for the job.
  • White House Office of Management and Budget Director. Obama might give OMB Acting Director Jeffrey Zients the full-time gig. If decides to go in another direction, Douglas Elmendorf, director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, are also seen as contenders.

The Folks Expected to Stay for a Second Term

  • Attorney General. Eric Holder plans is staying, a White House official tells National Journal.
  • Council of Economic Advisers Chairman. Alan Krueger has only been in the position since Nov. 2011, and some insiders believe he will stick around into Obama’s second term. 
  • Director of National Intelligence. James Clapper told colleagues last month that he plans to stay on as director.  
  • Education Secretary. Arne Duncan told National Journal he plans to stay on for a second term.
  • Health and Human Services Secretary. Kathleen Sebelius is expected to stay on for another term, a White House official says. 
  • Housing and Urban Development Secretary. The Wall Street Journal reports that Shaun Donovan is staying on for a second term. This fall, Donovan said he was “very, very happy with the work” he’s doing. 
  • National Security Adviser. Tom Donilon is expected stay on, at least into the beginning of the next term.
  • Veteran Affairs Secretary. Eric Shinseki is staying, according to a White House official.

The Maybe

  • Agriculture Secretary. Tom Vilsack could stick around to help implement Obama’s “detailed plan” for the rural economy. But he may also be replaced by someone with closer ties to Capitol Hill — someone like former Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, or current Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana and the chamber’s only working farmer. 

The Nominees

  • Central Intelligence Agency Director. President Obama has nominated his top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to fill the post. Brennan’s nomination may spur a debate about Obama’s counterterrorism tactics, including the use of drones. But his path to the CIA is easier than it was four years ago, when Brennan was a candidate for the same job, National Journal reports.
  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director. Obama re-nominated CFPB Director Richard Cordray for the job, setting up a contentious confirmation process in which the structure and budget of his agency is likely to be questioned once more.
  • Defense Secretary. Obama nominated Chuck Hagel, a two-term Republican  former senator from Nebraska, to head the Defense Department. Although he’s widely perceived as qualified for the job, Hagel is expected to face a rocky road to confirmation, with controversies over everything from his stance on Israel to gay rights.
  • Secretary of State. Massachusetts' Democratic Sen. John Kerry won the nomination for this position in December. He is not expected to face a tough confirmation fight in the Senate.
  • Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman. Obama nominated tough-as-nails former prosecutor Mary Jo White to fill the post.
  • Treasury Secretary. President Obama nominated White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew to replace Tim Geithner in the post. The selection of Lew, who has lots of experience in Washington budget battles, is thought to signal the president's intention to focus on fiscal issues in the coming years.
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