Slow going on Obama’s Cabinet

Al Kamen
Columnist February 12, 2013

Now that we’ve been reassured that the state of our union is just fine, thank you very much, what about the state of Cabinet nominations?

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Open positions

Eight jobs are awaiting nominees — the incumbents have announced that they’re leaving, but the White House has yet to name a replacement.

Commerce secretary: One of the leading contenders is Penny Pritzker , a businesswoman and mega-bundler for President Obama.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator: Gina McCarthy , assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, is all but a lock to replace Lisa Jackson.

Labor secretary: Since Hilda Solis announced she would return to her native California, Tom Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, has emerged as a top candidate for the job. Ed Montgomery, dean of the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, is also thought to be in the mix.

Energy secretary: The slate of names circulating to succeed Steven Chu includes former Colorado governor Bill Ritter and former senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.

U.S. trade representative: Among those said to be under consideration for the job vacated by Ron Kirk are Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez and Fred Hochberg, president of the Export-Import Bank.

Office of Management and Budget director: Jeff Zients , acting head of the OMB, is another potential replacement for Kirk. Among those who might take the helm for good are Sylvia Mathews Burwell, head of the Walmart Foundation.

Transportation secretary: Debbie Hersman, National Transportation Safety Board chairman, is said to be on the shortlist to replace Ray LaHood .

Small Business Administration chief: Karen Mills announced Monday that she is leaving the administration, and a list of contenders for the job has yet to emerge.

Nominations pending

Defense secretary: Confirmation hasn’t been an easy ride for former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). His nomination cleared committee Tuesday — but on a party-line vote of 14 to 11, with all his former GOP pals opposed.

Treasury secretary: White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew’s ritual Hill grill begins this week.

CIA director: John Brennan is finishing up hearings, and indications are that a committee vote could happen as soon as this week.

Interior secretary: Obama named Sally Jewell, CEO of outdoor-gear company REI, to the post last week.

Pace

The administration has been slow off the mark in moving second-term nominees. Only one Cabinet secretary has been confirmed so far (John Kerry at State), which lags behind the clip set by Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Some of the delay can be chalked up to pressing policy matters (see Cliff, Fiscal). And the Senate hasn’t exactly been moving at a lightning pace on Hagel or Brennan.

The diversity tally

The White House has at least eight slots to fill, so Obama has plenty of chances to live up to his promises. (He has urged people to “wait until they’ve seen all my appointments . . . before they rush to judgment.” )

Women look to be a relatively strong presence on the second-term Cabinet, with Jewell in line to replace a male predecessor and women as leading candidates for several jobs, including commerce secretary.

Hispanics, though, are at risk of losing ground with the departure of the Cabinet’s two Latino members, Hilda Solis and Ken Salazar. There are strong contenders, though, to restore such diversity, especially Tom Perez to be Solis’s replacement.

Steven Chu’s departure leaves only one Asian American (Eric Shinseki at Veterans Affairs), and two of the four black Cabinet members are leaving.

Confirmation prospects

Early signs are that this round of nominees could face particularly choppy waters in the Senate. A filibuster of a Cabinet nominee would be a historic first, but this Senate seems particularly willing to at least murmur the F-word, as Republicans have on Hagel and one Democrat did on Brennan.

On the move

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder is leaving his post in Brussels to become president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs starting in July.

Daalder, who was director for European affairs on President Clinton’s National Security Council, was tapped by Obama for the NATO posting in 2009.

We’re hearing that the Dutch-born academic, who was also a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, beat out some heavy competition for the job, including some of his fellow ambassadors and some State Department officials.

No word yet from the White House on a successor, but don’t get out your résumés. This job usually goes to a foreign policy type, not the typical big bundler.

Speaking of the NATO job, Daalder’s predecessor there was Victoria Nuland, the well-liked and highly regarded State Department spokeswoman who may soon be replaced, chatter has it, by Jen Psaki, former Obama White House deputy communications director and more recently the 2012 traveling campaign press secretary. (Her first job, Loop Fans may recall, was working for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign, starting in Iowa.)

Psaki was also very much in the running two years ago to replace Robert Gibbs as White House press secretary, but she was edged out by Jay Carney.

Nuland has had a most bipartisan career. She was chief of staff to Clinton Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and later worked as a foreign policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney before her appointment by President Bush to the NATO job.

Buzz at State is that “she’ll be well taken care of” in her quest to get back to policy — and not because she doesn’t like us — either with a fine ambassadorship or more possibly as assistant secretary of state for Europe, which may be open when the current assistant secretary, Phil Gordon , moves to the National Security Council.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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