Those choices are likely to continue over the next week or two with the highly anticipated announcement of a replacement for outgoing Treasury Secretary Timothy F.Geithner. The leading candidate for the job is reportedly White House chief of staff Jacob J. Lew; Lael Brainard, Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, has also been mentioned.
Lew, in turn, could be replaced by deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough or Ronald A. Klain, a former aide to Vice President Biden. With Attorney General Eric J. Holder Jr., an African American, likely to remain in place, that could leave as few as three women among 15 official Cabinet posts, though several others serve in Cabinet-rank positions, such as U.N. ambassador.
Paul C. Light, a professor at New York University who studies presidential appointments, said Obama is likely to have a less diverse Cabinet in his second term than his first, and it could be even less diverse than George W. Bush’s Cabinet. Terry O’Neill, head of the National Organization for Women, said she was “disappointed so far” by the president’s selections.
During the campaign, Obama made women’s issues on health and equal pay a core tenet of his reelection message. Many Democrats mocked Romney when he said during a debate that he had asked for “binders full of women” when he was trying to fill top jobs while serving as governor of Massachusetts.
Obama picked up on the line during his stump speeches, telling one audience that “when the next president and Congress could tip the balance of the highest court in the land in a way that turns back the clock for women and families for decades to come, you don’t want someone to ask for binders of women.”
But the president has also been criticized for having relatively few women among his insular group of trusted advisers, and critics continue to note that Obama plays golf — one of his favorite recreational activities — and basketball almost exclusively with male friends.
Inside the White House, Valerie Jarrett remains one of his closest advisers, but a book published in 2011 reported that friction over the roles of women was so strong at one point that Obama took steps to reassure his female staff.
Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, praised Obama’s record on diversity and said she will reserve judgement on his second-term Cabinet. Greenberger said that the “general principle is that it’s always an occasion for celebration” when women “break those ceilings” in traditionally male fields.
“I think it’s a stronger team when there is diversity and women’s perspectives and expertise are represented,” Greenberger said. “We don’t know the full picture yet.”
Emily Heil contributed to this report.