Even though the White House Cabinet turnstile seems to be spinning out of control in recent weeks with first-term secretaries bolting for the private sector and fresh faces coming in rapidly, President Obama is still weeks behind in putting together his second-term team compared with the pace set by the previous two presidents.
On Wednesday, Mr. Obama nominated Sally Jewell, the CEO of outdoor recreation gear company REI, as the next interior secretary after tapping Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough to be his chief of staff last week to replace Jacob Lew, who is moving over to Treasury. He also has named former New York U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Earlier this month, he chose successors for the critical top spots in his national security team: former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska for defense secretary, former Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts to be secretary of state, and his top counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan to fill the post of CIA director left vacant when Gen. David H. Petraeus resigned late last year amid a sex scandal.
His choice for defense secretary, Mr. Hagel, is facing serious opposition, and Mr. Obama is still trying to respond to criticism from the left and the right that his second-term lacks diversity after choosing four white men for the most important portfolios.
“The president has addressed this, and his views are quite clear. He believes that diversity is important because it improves the quality of debate and, therefore, the quality of decision-making,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. “He certainly believes he has found an excellent candidate in Sally Jewell.”
Still, nearly three weeks into Mr. Obama’s second term, only one of his nominee, Mr. Kerry at State, has been confirmed by the Senate and has started work.
In comparison, Mr. Bush had nominated seven new Cabinet members by Dec. 10, 2004, and all but Alberto Gonzales for attorney general had been confirmed by the end of January. Mr. Gonzales was confirmed by Feb. 3, 2005.
Mr. Clinton also got an early jump on reshuffling his Cabinet, nominating Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen by Dec. 5. Mrs. Albright, the first woman to become secretary of state, and Mr. Cohen, a Republican, were unanimously confirmed by the Senate by the end of January.
While Mr. Obama doesn’t have to worry about selecting another attorney general — his first-term choice of Eric H. Holder Jr. is staying on — two of Mr. Obama’s choices for top positions in his national security team — Mr. Hagel and Mr. Brennan — are far from shoo-ins.
Democrats on the committee delayed votes on Mr. Hagel’s nomination Wednesday after Republicans said they aren’t getting the information they need to make a judgment. Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and panel chairman, said he had hoped to hold a vote on the panel on Thursday, but said the “committee’s review of the nomination is not yet complete.”
But Democrats may have had little choice. Republicans were prepared to throw a wrench in the works by taking their grievances to the Senate floor if Democrats tried to power the nomination through committee without Mr. Hagel turning over more information.
On Wednesday, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who sits on the intelligence panel, made a thinly veiled threat to filibuster Mr. Brennan’s nomination if he doesn’t get more access to the administration’s legal analysis for targeted killings of U.S. citizens suspected of being terrorists.
Mr. Wyden told reporters Wednesday he would “pull out all the stops” to get the actual legal analysis, because without it “the administration is practicing secret law.”
The president also has yet to name his choices for such important vacancies in the top posts at the Environmental Protection Agency and at the Labor, Energy, Transportation and Commerce departments. He must also choose a new U.S. trade representative.
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.