U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst.)

eye-opener-logo6Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Friday that she would resign to head the University of California system, leaving President Obama to fill a Cabinet position that will be central to implementing a potential overhaul of the immigration system.

Napolitano plans to step down in September, giving Obama more than a month to mull over his options for a replacement. White House press secretary Jay Carney offered no timeline for naming a nominee and no indication of who is in the running during his last press briefing last week.

Senate Republicans, who have put up a strong fight over some of the president’s other top Cabinet picks this year, are likely to demand someone who promises toughness on border security — an issue many GOP lawmakers have named as their priority in the immigration talks.

One can only speculate at this point about whom Obama will tap, but here are some logical options for replacing Napolitano:


W. Craig Fugate: He heads the Federal Emergency Management Agency and served in similar capacities for two Republican governors in Florida. The White House thinks highly of Fugate and has credited him with improving FEMA since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

John S. Pistole: Current administrator of the Transportation Security Administration and a former deputy director of the FBI. He has maintained good relations with Congress for the most part, but many lawmakers criticized his recent plan to allow small knives on board airplanes for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — a plan he has since abandoned.

Rand Beers: Napolitano’s acting deputy, he is a career civil servant with more than 30 years of experience in Democratic and Republican administrations who is considered to be an expert on counterterrorism. He quit George W. Bush’s National Security Council five days before the start of the Iraq war in 2003, arguing that the conflict would harm the nation’s ability to fight al-Qaeda.

Alejandro Mayorkas: Recently nominated to become deputy secretary at DHS,  he ran the department’s Citizenship and Immigration Services division. He was born in Cuba, meaning he would add a Hispanic member to Obama’s Cabinet if nominated and confirmed.

Richard Danzig: Former Navy secretary under President Bill Clinton and a member of Obama’s first-term transition team. He is known as a progressive pragmatist.


Thad W. Allen: A retired Coast Guard admiral who helped lead the federal response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. He was appointed to serve as commandant of the Coast Guard during the George W. Bush administration.

Raymond W. Kelly: Served during the past 11 years as New York City police commissioner, earning a national reputation for creating the first municipal counter-terrorism bureau. He turned down a chance to become FBI director during the Clinton administration but served as commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service from 1998 until 2001. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has already recommended Kelly as a replacement for Napolitano.

Bill Bratton: Served as chief of police for the Boston, New York and Los Angeles police departments. The National Journal described him as an internationally renowned law-enforcement expert in a preview of potential second-term Cabinet picks.

For what it’s worth, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee has expressed support for all of these outsider candidates to replace Napolitano.

“Any three of those coming in would gain a lot of respect from the House Republicans and could help us at a time when we’re trying to push this border security measure out of the House of Representatives,” said committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) during an interview on Fox News Sunday.

The House does not vote on whether to confirm Cabinet picks, but an endorsement from someone like McCaul can be a sign that Senate Republicans would offer little resistance to a nomination.


Susan Collins: A moderate Maine Republican and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, she knows the issues and would face virtually no opposition from GOP senators. She has a fairly positive relationship with Obama, having met him in person at the White House and voiced support for his first Supreme Court nominee, Justice Sonya Sotomayor.

Joe Lieberman: A former Connecticut senator who sided with Republicans on many national security issues, he spent most of his political career as a Democrat but ended it as an independent. He could make for a relatively uncontentious pick for members of both parties.