If Napolitano does become the new attorney general, that will leave her seat open, but the lack of rumors of a replacement suggests that if she is making a move it will not be for a while yet.
The most high-profile departure is, of course, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. She is reported to be leaving “as soon as she can.” Her replacement is already making headlines as the presumed nominee, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, has recently been strongly criticized by lawmakers for her response to the Sept. 11 attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Rice appeared on news shows the Sunday after the attack saying it was a result of an anti-Muhammad YouTube video instead of a coordinated terrorist strike. Several Republican senators have already expressed concern over her nomination and stated her confirmation in the Senate would be difficult.
Though presumed, Rice’s nomination is far from certain. She faces a stiff contender: Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). Kerry was the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee and is current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. With the controversy swirling over Rice, Kerry could be looking at a new title in a few months. If this happens, a Senate seat in Massachusetts would open up, causing some concern among Democrats who want to maintain their comfortable majority in the Senate.
Obama, in an interview with Bloomberg TV last Tuesday, reiterated that Rice is “highly qualified” for the job, but said, “I haven’t made a decision about secretary of State.”
The Pentagon is likely to see its second turnover during the Obama administration as Leon Panetta reportedly eyes retirement. Several names are surfacing for Panetta’s replacement, including his deputy, Ash Carter, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), and former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig. There is also the possibility of the first female secretary of Defense: Michele Flournoy was the undersecretary of Defense for Policy from Feb. 2009-Feb. 2011, when she left to work on Obama’s campaign. On the campaign she was a strong advocate for Obama’s foreign policy.
Reuters reported that Hagel met with the president last week to discuss a post on his national security team, but there has been no announcement yet from the White House.
The Washington Post reported that President Obama is considering Kerry for secretary of Defense, making it possible for both him and Rice to have seats in the cabinet. The Pentagon is likely to face huge budget cuts and will need a leader who knows Congress well to navigate through budgets. Unless the post goes to Hagel, this would leave secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood as the only Republican among the 16 cabinet members. LaHood has made no mention of leaving and will most likely stay through Obama’s second term.
“He and I are going to continue our discussions,” LaHood told Politico last Wednesday. “We had a meeting a week or so after the election and we agreed to continue talking. … I think the president will get back to some of these discussions after some kind of a deal is reached on the fiscal matters.”
Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar are also potentially on their way to new jobs. Chu has been tainted by Solyndra, and Salazar was criticized for his handling of the BP oil spill. Salazar also had to apologize last month for threatening to punch out a Colorado Springs reporter.
Though not cabinet positions, the chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mary Schapiro, and the director of the CIA, David Petraeus, have both already stepped down, leaving important roles to be filled.