Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, though highly regarded by President Obama, indicated in 2011 that he was leaving at the end of the first term. But then he seemed to hedge, most recently saying he and Obama needed to chat. (Alex Brandon/AP)

A “White House official” set off a bit of consternation — okay, maybe panic — in a number of agencies Wednesday when he (or she) apparently confirmed that Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki were staying.

Some of “The Unlisted,” such as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, were almost certainly staying, sources said. But others, such as Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, were seen as possible departures. Some were somewhere in between.

LaHood, though highly regarded by President Obama, indicated in 2011 that he was leaving at the end of the first term, but then he seemed to hedge, most recently saying he and Obama needed to chat. (Which still sounds as if he’s edging out.)

There are a fair number of names being heard as possible LaHood successors, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa , who is seen as quite knowledgeable on transit matters.

One tiny problem appears to have surfaced, however, in the form of a Los Angeles Times story Wednesday and a picture that actor Charlie Sheen, former star of “Two and a Half Men,” tweeted showing him with his arm around Villaraigosa last month at the opening of Sheen’s bar in Baja California, Mexico. The mayor “knows how to party,” Sheen said.

Villaraigosa said he had been there only a few minutes, but Sheen countered this week that it was more like a couple of hours in his hotel suite, surrounded by a number of beautiful women.

Sheen apologized, noting that many other people were there and saying he was trying to make a joke.

This sounds like much ado about very little — Sheen’s relationship to matters of space and time seems to be a bit distant these days — but it’s not the kind of news the White House wants to read.

Another name mentioned for the Transportation Department job is former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, a major name in Democratic politics for years. His closeness to Obama, however, has been in doubt.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman also appears to be decidedly in the mix. Hersman, a former Senate aide, is in her second five-year term at the NTSB. She was appointed to the board by President George W. Bush and then reappointed by Obama, who named her chairman.

Hillary watch

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton , chatting briefly with reporters Wednesday at a department function, said she was “thrilled to be back” after her recent illness and hospitalization.

“It’s obviously somewhat bittersweet,” she added, “because I’ve had the most extraordinary experience. . . . But I’m very much looking forward to doing everything we can these last few weeks to resolve and finish up wherever possible and then to have a very smooth, seamless transition to Senator Kerry.”

“And then retirement?” a reporter asked.

“I don’t know that that’s the word I would use,” she said, “but certainly stepping off the very fast track for a little while.”

Clinton fans know her usual response is to deflect questions about her future plans or to say something like what she told New York Times columnist Gail Collins in November: “I am so looking forward to next year,” Clinton said. “I just want to sleep and exercise and travel for fun. And relax. It sounds so ordinary, but I haven’t done it for 20 years.”

It’s not much if you’re a Clintonophile, but if she’s not retiring . . .

Just a little bit longer?

The Obama administration has come under fire from women’s groups over the trio of white men (including a Republican) recently nominated for top-tier Cabinet jobs.

Minority groups are also growing concerned. Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson , an African American, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who is Hispanic, are resigning, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu , who is Asian American, and U.S. Trade Rep Ron Kirk, an African American, are expected to follow suit.

The White House has been at pains to point out there are indeed women in top jobs, with one of the “pictures of the day” it tweeted out Wednesday prominently showing three top women in a group shot of aides behind Obama. And of course the White House offered that point about Holder, Sebelius and Shinseki staying.

But perhaps we should pause to ruminate on what — in the context of Cabinet musical chairs — “staying” means.

It doesn’t, for example, mean staying for four years — or even four months, for that matter. One wise source said it means “the White House is not nominating anyone now to fill those jobs.”

But that, of course, raises the question of the meaning of “now.”

Merriam-Webster’s third definition of “stay” is “remain,” but then offers as an example: “stay put till I come back.”

So when we hear Holder is likely staying, that, as we have noted, most likely means he’s at Justice maybe until he goes to Martha’s Vineyard in August, or that perhaps he’s remaining at his post until year’s end. “Staying” is no guarantee that he’s on the job for another four.

Ditto with “going,” which means “likely to be going in the near future.” (Raising the question of the meaning of “near.”) Kind of like “anon.”

Writing right

White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, as expected, got the nod to be Treasury secretary. But it came with an assignment from the big boss.

President Obama joked Thursday that his offer was conditional on Lew’s promise to work on his penmanship (after news reports, including the Loop’s, poked fun at his oddball signature that likely will grace dollar bills).

“I had never noticed Jack’s signature, and when this was highlighted yesterday in the press, I considered rescinding my offer to appoint him,” Obama said in concluding the public announcement. “Jack assures me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency should he be confirmed as secretary of the Treasury.”

With Emily Heil

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