Obama Cabinet Picks: Women and Minorities Will Dominate 2013


Like most two-term presidents, President Obama is likely to have a fair amount of turnover in cabinet and high-ranking positions. Cabinet members are not known for hanging around for a full second term. Having traded lucrative positions in the private and/or academic sector for power and influence in the public sector, cabinet members usually look to either take some time off and/or capitalize on their political relationships and cash out of public service to return to the private sector and the inevitable book tour.

Indications are strong that, despite any overt challenges, President Obama will nominate UN Ambassador Susan Rice to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Obama is likely to have to replace at least two of the big four (Defense, State, Treasury, and Chief of Staff) immediately after his inauguration. Obama has one of the most diverse cabinets in history and is expected to maintain that diversity in his new cabinet. Fourteen of the current 22 cabinet and cabinet-level positions are held by women (8) or minorities (9).  

Lining up replacements is anybody’s guess, but Nerdwallet found that Obama prefers law school and academic experience, over business school and private sector experience for his team. Looking at the past 20 years, Nerdwallet found that lawyers like Clinton and Obama leaned towards legal training ,while business men like Bush preferred business training.

Here are some of the changes we know are happening.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and Press Secretary Jay Carney have already announced that they will not be returning for a second term. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to resume his position for at least one more year, as is Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. We can expect that their replacements will be very diverse.

Minority appointee, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has not made his plans known, but most of his team has left so he is likely to return to academics. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has hinted that she may be homesick. Napolitano may have an eye on running for Senator John McCain’s seat in her home state of Arizona.

Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will stay on to oversee the full implementation of Obamacare and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinkseki has unfinished business surrounding better benefits for veterans. Obama will also have to replace General David Petraeus who recently resigned as CIA director. This could be the end of the old male order at the CIA.

In another triumph for women in this administration, Valerie Jarrett could become the first female White House Chief of Staff if Lew moves to Treasury. Jen Psaki, the Obama campaign press secretary, is likely to be rewarded by replacing Jay Carney. And in terms of minority leadership, Ray Lahood (Transportation) is an Arab American. Hilda Solis (Labor) is the first latino woman ever to serve in the cabinet; and Ken Salazar (Interior) is also hispanic. 

If Holder leaves expect Obama to name California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris to be the nation’s first minority, female, U.S. attorney general. In this configuration, with Rice at State and Harris at Justice, America would have for the first time a bi-racial man in charge of the executive branch, a minority woman in charge of diplomacy, and a bi-racial woman in charge of justice. That’s a good day for America.