The moves have disappointed some supporters who said they fear, with Clinton’s departure, a paucity of females among Obama’s top advisers, particularly in the traditionally male-dominated field of defense and security.
Thomas Donilon, the president’s national security adviser, was in the audience, as outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and acting CIA director Michael J. Morrell joined their possible successors and the president.
The pattern is particularly striking for a president who was elected with majority support from women and racial minorities and focused heavily during his reelection campaign on women’s health concerns and equal pay in the workplace. Obama won 55 percent of the female vote to Republican rival Mitt Romney’s 44 percent.
Obama is committed to “finding the very best people for each job,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday, when asked about the lack of women among the second-term appointments. “And that’s what he’s done today, and that’s what he’ll continue to do.”
Among those passed over to lead the Pentagon was Michele Flournoy, who became the highest-ranking woman to serve in the Defense Department when she was confirmed as undersecretary of defense for policy in 2009. Flournoy, 52, resigned from the role last February, citing a desire to spend more time with her family. But she also served as an adviser to Obama’s reelection campaign and was considered a top candidate.
Instead, Obama chose Hagel — who got to know Obama when he was a senator — though the Nebraska Republican has been criticized by GOP leaders and some Democrats for statements on Israel.
“I think he’s blowing a huge opportunity here for reasons I don’t even get,” said Rosa Brooks, a professor on national security at Georgetown University who spent two years working for Flournoy at the Pentagon.
“It would have been fantastic for this president to appoint the first woman secretary of defense,” Brooks said, “particularly given we are so embroiled at this moment in the ongoing conflict in the Islamic world, where the suppression of women is such a major issue. It was a chance for us to show we’re leading by example.”
Carney noted that Janet Napolitano, head of the Department of Homeland Security, and U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice are in top national security roles.
He added that Obama “insists on diversity on the lists that he considers for the job because he believes that in casting a broader net, you increase the excellence of the pool of potential nominees for these positions. But in the end he’ll make the choice that he believes is best for the United States.”