- The Washington Times - Monday, November 12, 2012

President Obama took a few days after the election to regroup, play some golf and let his re-election victory sink in, but that didn’t slow Washington speculation about the expected reshuffling of his Cabinet.

So far, only Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has made clear she plans to leave early next year, although congressional inquiries into the Benghazi attack have put a crimp in any plans to exit immediately. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner also likely is on his way out the door, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. seems to be leaning toward departing as well, refusing recently to say whether he will stay.

Plenty of second-tier Cabinet positions are in play, largely because the Obama Cabinet historically has had low numbers of departures during the first term. One position, however, must be filled right away: The Commerce Department’s top job has been vacant since John Bryson resigned in June after a car accident.

Although he was not a Cabinet member, CIA Director David H. Petraeus‘ surprise resignation last week only added more intrigue to the perennial postelection parlor game of figuring out who’s in and who’s out in a second-term administration.

White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to make any Cabinet personnel announcements Friday during his first briefing since the election. The president may decide to make some Cabinet news Wednesday when he holds a full-fledged news conference. It will be the first time he has faced reporters and taken their questions in eight months.

Before the election, all eyes focused on Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, as the most likely candidate to succeed Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state. He delivered a bold prime-time defense of Mr. Obama’s record on national security at the convention in Charlotte, N.C., two months ago, which seemed to make him a shoo-in for the foreign-affairs post.

But picking him would set up a special election for his Senate seat, and after Elizabeth Warren booted GOP Sen. Scott P. Brown Nov. 6, Mr. Brown would be well-positioned to take the seat Mr. Kerry would leave behind.

Mr. Obama also could tap U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice or national security adviser Tom Donilon, both of whom have the president’s ear and respect.

At Treasury, Mr. Geithner has been signaling his desire to leave Washington for more than a year, and the president wouldn’t have to look far for a replacement for the most important position in the Cabinet when it comes to the still-struggling economy. Last week, Mr. Carney said Mr. Geithner would be staying through the inauguration and play a key role in the fall’s “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

Chief of Staff Jack Lew, who previously served as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, is a leading contender to succeed Mr. Geithner. If Mr. Lew leaves, though, Mr. Obama will have to find a new chief of staff, his fourth so far.

With that in mind, a lot of talk has focused on Erskine Bowles as a successor to Mr. Geithner. Mr. Bowles served on the president’s deficit-reduction panel, the Simpson-Bowles commission, and previously was former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff.

Mr. Holder, who has faced the most scrutiny of any Cabinet member because of the Justice Department’s ill-fated Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal and his attempt to try several terrorism suspects in civilian courts, likely will move to the private sector early in Mr. Obama’s second term.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano could transition easily into the top role at Justice; she was elected Arizona governor twice and served as the state’s attorney general. But moving her into the job would leave an opening in her department. Other top contenders include Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

It’s a full plate for Mr. Obama at a time when the Washington rumor mill already is working overtime with the intrigue surrounding Mr. Petraeus‘ fall from grace over an extramarital affair. Mr. Petraeus‘ deputy and temporary successor, Michael Morell, is the strongest candidate to replace him permanently. It’s the second time he has served as acting director, having served briefly as interim director before Mr. Petraeus was appointed and just after Leon E. Panetta resigned.

The president also may have to fill the Pentagon’s top civilian job. Mr. Panetta over the past four years has served as CIA director and secretary of defense and may want to return to his home in California. If he decides to go, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy or Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter could move into the top job. If selected, Ms. Flournoy would be the first female defense secretary in history.

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