Al Kamen
Al Kamen
In the Loop

Obama’s changing Cabinet

Look for a relatively slow, rolling transition of President Obama’s Cabinet over the next year or so.

There are lots of movable chairs. Here’s what we’ve been hearing:

Al Kamen

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. He began his reporting career at the Rocky Mountain News and joined The Post in 1980. He has covered local and federal courts, the Supreme Court and the State Department. Follow him on Twitter.

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(Hektor Pustina/AP) - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is leaving her position as soon as she can.

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●Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says she’s leaving as soon as she can — if not on Inauguration Day, then not long after.

Possible replacements: The Democrats’ larger majority in the Senate probably enhanced the chances of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), since his departure — and the possible subsequent return of now-defeated Sen. Scott Brown (R) — wouldn’t hurt the party as much. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s star appears to have dimmed a bit after the uproar over Benghazi — though not in the Oval Office. She’s also a possible fit for national security adviser.

● Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s departure has sparked a frenzy of chatter about replacements, from White House chief of staff Jack Lew to former chief of staff Erskine Bowles and others. There’s been talk, however, that Obama would be much better served by looking for someone from the world of finance in this slot, someone like Suzanne Nora Johnson, former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs.

● Defense Secretary Leon Panetta looks to be leaving after the fiscal cliff gets sorted out and the budget is set, maybe sometime in the spring.

Those mentioned for his job include Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter, who has broad expertise in budget matters. And Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy, who’s politically closer to Obama and has been on the campaign trail of late, may have the edge — if she’s interested.

●Attorney General Eric Holder is said to be on his way out. The only question is whether sooner (before summer) or later, toward the end of the year or maybe as late as 2014?

● Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is looking to replace Holder, but obviously that wouldn’t be for a while.

A number of Cabinet members have indicated that they wouldn’t mind staying, if the president wants. That group includes Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is likely to stay on to implement Obamacare. We’re hearing that Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki are also likely to stay.

Others, despite some pressure from household members to leave and earn an honest living, may stay on for a bit longer. That group includes Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — an Obama favorite and the only Republican in the Cabinet — and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had been on the “stay” list if his wife won her race for a House seat in Iowa. But her defeat Tuesday may make his tenure less long-term than thought.

Those said to be most likely to leave soon include Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. Former senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) or perhaps outgoing Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) might be on the list for Energy. (Though we’re hearing the latter is enjoying the pace in Santa Fe these days.) Ernie Moniz, MIT’s director of energy initiatives and an Obama energy adviser, might also be considered.

For the EPA, Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board, was the runner-up last time, but it’s not clear whether she’s available. Bob Perciasepe, No. 2 at EPA, could possibly be a contender.

Those looking for a huge, quick turnover may be disappointed. We recall that Labor Secretary Elaine Chao stayed for all of the George W. Bush administration. (Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would have stayed, but for finding himself under a bus in 2006.)

In Bill Clinton’s administration, Attorney General Janet Reno stayed for both terms, as did HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Education Secretary Richard Riley.

Win some, lose some

The 2012 election was a mixed bag for Loop Fans. The great news was that Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), the antiabortion physician who pressured his patient and mistress to have an abortion, easily won reelection. By the way, a second woman reportedly claimed she had an affair with him in 2000 and smoked pot with him.

We were concerned when a leading Tennessee conservative said DesJarlais had reached “a level of hypocrisy that is simply untenable” and then when DesJarlais stopped appearing in public for a while.

But the voters came through. DesJarlais trounced his Democratic challenger with 56 percent of the vote, a local paper reported Wednesday.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), after a bit of a scare, squeaked through in a close race. Good thing she raised a cool $13 million.

But Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), who has said, among other things, that 80 House Democrats are members of the Communist Party, appears to be out. At last count he was down by 2,500 votes, less than 1 percent . His opponent has claimed victory and media outlets agree, but West hasn’t conceded and is talking about a recount. (This is Florida, so anything could happen.)

Finally, a hearty Loop welcome back to the entertaining — or way-over-the-top, depending on your point of view — Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.). Grayson, an ultra-liberal (one of his bumper stickers said “Bush lied, people died” ) trounced his opponent by a whopping 25 percentage points to reclaim a House seat.

With Emily Heil

Alice Crites contributed to this column. The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

 
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