Possible Replacements for Big Sis at DHS

The ink isn’t even dry on Janet Napolitano’s resignation statement, but Washington being Washington, there’s already some speculation about who might replace her as Homeland Security secretary.


And there was a definite mixed reaction from Congress about Napolitano stepping down.

From the National Journal:

Napolitano’s departure leaves very few cabinet officials left from the beginning of Obama’s presidency. As ABC’s Jeff Zeleny pointed out, the original cabinet is down to Kathleen Sebelius at Health and Human Services, Tom Vilsack at the Department of Agriculture, Eric Holder at the Department of Justice, Sean Donovan at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Arne Duncan at the Department of Education, and Eric Shinseki at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Secretary Napolitano has not been a favorite of conservative Republicans. On Friday, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) issued a statement saying that the secretary’s tenure “was defined by a consistent disrespect for the rule of law.” Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement that “While Secretary Napolitano and I have disagreed on issues like the secuirty of the border, I respect and thank her for her service.” The Chairman also noted the growing number of unfilled top positions at the Homeland Security Department, and said the Obama administration “should move swiftly” to close the gaps.

Sen. John McCain, from Napolitano’s home state, said in a statement that “we have had our share of disagreements during her time as Secretary, but I have never doubted her integrity, work ethic or commitment to our nation’s security.”

In the run-up to the 2012 election, National Journal named New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Bill Bratton, and retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen as possible successors for Napolitano at Homeland Security if she were to step down. In the political world, former Senator Joe Lieberman is also a rumored possibility to take the job, in part because he could help make a possibly contentious Senate confirmation process a bit easier. NBC’s Chuck Todd also mentioned former Rep. Jane Harman as a possible replacement.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley could also be something of a dark-horse candidate. O’Malley was named by President Obama as a chairman of a national homeland security panel in February. The governor also has strong 2016 ambitions.


DHS secretary is a lightening rod position, attracting criticism from all sides for just about anything the secretary proposes. None of the three permanent secretaries — Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff, or Napolitano — have been well thought of on the Hill. The department is so massive, encompassing so much of national and domestic security, as well as agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, that the potential for screwups is greater than in other executive departments. Scandal management is a prerequisite for the job.

Obama tapped Governor Napolitano in hopes that her political skills would serve her well in dealing with Congress. But Republicans never warmed to her and even some Democrats didn’t like her oversight of ICE and other immigration issues. If the president is seeking another political pro, O’Malley would probably be his choice. And giving a boost to the Maryland governor’s presidential aspirations would be a satisfying way to stick it to the Clintons, although we hope that wouldn’t be near the top of the list of reasons to appoint him.

Bill Bratton has extensive experience, having been a police commissioner in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. But Ray Kelly would bring some unique qualifications to the job, as John Avalon points out:

Democrats retain residual distrust when it comes to national-security issues. True, that traditional gap has closed in part due to the killing of Osama bin Laden, but like Bill Clinton before him, Obama carries the baggage that comes from being a commander in chief who never served in the military. Ray Kelly was a Marine colonel in Vietnam before embarking on his long career in the NYPD, receiving a law degree and Kennedy School study on his way through the ranks. Kelly also played a leading role at Interpol. Moreover, he is better known nationally than Napolitano when she took the position in Obama’s first term. Unkind “Big Sis” characterizations aside, Kelly would communicate considerably more credibility than the former governor of Arizona, who always seemed like more of a political payback and diversity play in the cabinet office least suited to either.

Kelly would walk into the job ready to lead and bringing an informed perspective on the essential roles and responsibilities of the department. In the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster, he would inspire confidence among citizens as well as front-line first responders. This is invaluable and something a current DHS second in command, no matter how capable, would find difficult to match.


Kelly also would enjoy bi-partisan support during his confirmation, as many Republicans have expressed admiration for him during his tenure in New York — the longest in history.

But Obama is under fire from Hispanics, women, and blacks about his choices for cabinet replacements during his second term. This may not bode well for another white male to join the president’s cabinet.



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