The White House is poised this week to announce a handful of Cabinet nominees, most of whom have a few things in common: they all seem like perfectly qualified, distinguished folks. . . and they’re all white men.
President Obama’s picks, including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for secretary of state, former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) for secretary of defense and John Brennan for CIA director, mean that the number of positions that could be filled by women or minorities is dwindling. That’s causing some concern among those who’d hoped to see diversity in the cabinet remain at its historic levels or even increase.
“It’s evident that he’s going to have a less diverse cabinet this term, possibly even less diverse than the George W. Bush cabinet,” says NYU professor Paul Light, who studies political appointments .
The replacement of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — not with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice (a black woman and Obama’s first choice for the job), but with Kerry, and the possible replacement of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu with a white man, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, would mean a net loss of minorities and women.
And don’t look for a gain in diversity at Treasury. As Secretary Tim Geithner plans his departure, the name most often heard as his replacement is Jack Lew, currently the White House chief of staff (and... ding, ding, another white man!).
Still, other top jobs could be filled by minorities or women. The replacement for Lisa Jackson, the first black woman to serve as Environmental Protection Agency administrator, may very well be a woman. And among the names floated for the now-vacant Commerce secretary slot is Xerox chief Ursula Burns, a black woman.
“I’m disappointed so far,” says Terry O’Neill, head of the National Organization for Women. She says one of the reasons that women voters supported Obama’s reelection was that they perceived that he was comfortable “putting women in positions of trust.”
Light notes that Obama may be missing out on the chance to make dramatic statements by nominating women for positions previously only held by men. “Nominating a woman to lead Defense would have been a big, big splash and a change in the culture there,” he says. “A woman at Treasury would be big.”
And it’s not just a matter of gender and race or ethnicity: gay-rights groups are still holding out hope that the Obama second-term cabinet will include at least one openly-gay secretary, though this first round of appointments isn’t likely to include such a candidate.
Of course, there’s still time for the picture to change. There’s only been one official nomination and the game of second-term musical chairs is barely underway.
Video: The Washington Post’s Al Kamen of In the Loop looks at the vetting in Obama’s second term transition.