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Here Are The 12 Top Contenders For Barack Obama’s New Cabinet
Fresh clues about President Barack Obama’s Cabinet reshuffle emerged this weekend, with new reports stating that the President has decided to nominate Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.
At least six Cabinet members are expected to depart over the next few month, leaving vacancies at several important posts, including Secretaries of State, Defense, and the Treasury.
According to insiders, Obama is expected to announce his new national security team — including his picks for Secretaries of State and Defense, and CIA Director — before Christmas, although the events in Newtown, Conn., have reportedly delayed any announcement until at least the end of this week.
After that, the next step will be finding a replacement for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who is expected to depart once a deal is reached on the fiscal cliff. And additional openings are expected at the top of the departments of Commerce, Energy, Transportation, and the Interior.
Here’s a breakdown of the top names on Obama’s shortlist — and who we think he will choose to join his inner circle.
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE)
Bloomberg reported Thursday that Hagel is at the top of Obama’s shortlist to replace Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense, and met with the President last week to discuss the position. According to the report, Hagel has passed the vetting test, and insiders say he is definitely the preferred pick over other contenders, including Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Panetta’s low-key No. 2.
Hagel, a Vietnam combat veteran, would be the second Republican to head the Pentagon under Obama, an attractive prospect for an administration that has struggled to find GOP allies. Hagel’s familiarity with the inner workings of Congress will also make him an asset as the Pentagon grapples with pending budget cuts.
Hagel’s political affiliation should make his confirmation relatively smooth, although his moderate foreign policy positions — and longstanding friendships with Obama and Biden — has put him at odds with some of his former colleagues. In particular, Hagel could run into problems over his often critical stance toward Israel, and for his past support for open, unconditional negotiations with Iran.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)
Kerry emerged as the frontrunner for the Secretary of State post last week, with United Nations Amb. Susan Rice’s abrupt decision to withdraw her name out of consideration for the job. According to weekend news reports, Obama has already decided to nominate Kerry, and will make the announcement sometime in the next few weeks.
Although Rice was initially the top contender, Kerry has always been the easiest choice to replace Clinton, who will step down soon. The Massachusetts Democrat is well-liked in the Senate, where he chairs the Foreign Relations Committee. Top Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), have basically guaranteed a painless confirmation.
But Kerry’s departure from the Senate will also cause problems for Democrats. The last thing the party wants is another special election in Massachusetts, especially if Republicans run outgoing Sen. Scott Brown. To add to the headache, Kerry’s spot on the Foreign Relations Committee will likely go to Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a combative Democrat who has been embroiled in several scandals this year.
White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew
Lew, a former White House budget director, is widely thought to be the frontrunner to replace Geithner at the Treasury Department. The personality conflicts and management problems with Obama’s first economic team have been well-documented, so it makes sense that the President would want to put a trusted advisor at the helm this time around.
Moreover, Lew is a veteran Washington budget aide with a deep understanding of the tax and spending issues dominating the White House’s dealings with Congress, qualities that would make the Treasury transition relatively seamless.
There are a few reasons why Lew might not get the job, though. Reports have suggested that Lew’s heavy-handed approach to the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations alienated Republicans and Democrats, and even rankled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Nominating Lew would also mean Obama would have to find new chief of staff — his fourth in almost as many years.
Still, Lew has definitely outpaced the other top contender for the Treasury post, former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, the co-chair of Obama’s debt commission. While picking Bowles would send a strong signal about deficit reduction, Democrats are unlikely to go in for Bowles’ plans for entitlement reform.