Despite an ever-changing White House senior staff, President Obama has had a remarkably stable Cabinet throughout his first term. Only two of the 16 Cabinet seats turned over: the secretaries of Defense and Commerce.
However, on average only one or two secretaries stay for the second term of any two-term presidency. Knowing this history and based on secretaries’ statements, in the coming year we can expect new faces around Obama’s table.
Although the president nominates individuals to each post, the Senate must confirm each appointment through committee hearings and then a vote. Each nominee must receive majority support from the committee as well as the entire Senate body.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has expressed his wish to step down after the fiscal cliff is muddled through. Jacob Lew, Obama’s current chief of staff, has expressed interest in the seat, but that would leave a gaping hole (again) in Obama’s White House staff. Other possibilities are Clinton’s former White House chief of staff, Erskine Bowles; former Goldman Sachs vice chairman Suzanne Nora Johnson; and Roger Altman, deputy Treasury secretary during Clinton’s administration.
There is no doubt that the secretary of Treasury has a tough job ahead of him or her: stagnant unemployment rates, restructuring of the budget, and a eurozone in threat of collapse.
If Lew were to take that seat then Obama would need to fill the office that sits directly adjacent to his own. Lew is already the third person to hold the chief of staff position in the Obama administration. Unless his successor remains for Obama’s entire second term, the president will have had more chiefs of staff than any of his predecessors. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton each had four.
Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett remains the only original loyalist in the White House and thereby well-positioned to take Lew’s place. Jarrett has been an adviser to Obama since his early days in Illinois and is a trusted confidante of the first couple.
The rest of Obama’s inner circle have each moved on. Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first chief of staff, successfully ran for mayor of Chicago after a year and half in Washington. Robert Gibbs, a force behind the Obama campaign and the administration’s first press secretary, left the administration after two years to become an “outside” adviser. He did, however, return to the inner circle for the 2012 campaign. There has been no suggestion that Gibbs will return to the White House. David Axelrod is Obama’s top campaign strategist and was a senior adviser in the White House from 2009-2011. He left the White House to run Obama’s re-election campaign. However, Axelrod has publicly stated that the 2012 campaign was his last job as a political operative.
Jarrett is a somewhat controversial figure, though, with no international policy experience. The other contender for chief of staff could be Ron Klain, both Vice President Biden’s and Gore’s former chief of staff.
Asking Jarrett to lead his White House team would be telling of what we can expect from Obama’s second term. Jarrett has been seen as more liberal than Obama’s other Clinton-centrist advisers. If Jarrett leads the White House, we can expect bold moves.
Attorney General Eric Holder has suggested he has not decided whether to remain for a second term, but odds are he’ll be leaving the post soon. During a speech last Thursday at the University of Baltimore School of Law, he made off-the-cuff remarks about needing to make sure he still has “gas left in his tank” for a second term.
Current Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has expressed interest in the post. Napolitano was Arizona’s attorney general before being elected governor, but she is also rumored to be on a White House short list of Supreme Court nominees. Other candidates are former Rhode Island attorney general and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D), Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (who was assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration), and former governor and attorney general of Michigan Jennifer Granholm.