President Obama will begin his second term with a much different leadership team than his first four years, with several of the key chairs in his Cabinet room yet to be filled.
Leaving are some of the most prominent players during Mr. Obama’s first term, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is expected to stay for another year at most.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu is likely departing as well, after a tenure that was marred by costly solar-energy funding scandals such as Solyndra. Another administration lightning rod, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, also has confirmed she is heading for the exit.
The president has encountered problems filling some of these posts almost immediately after his re-election on Nov. 6. Early on, the White House signaled that Mr. Obama hoped to nominate U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice to replace Mrs. Clinton at the State Department. But Mrs. Rice’s candidacy was scuttled by her election-year role in promoting a misleading characterization of the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died.
Her withdrawal all but clinched Mr. Obama’s decision to formally nominate Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as his next secretary of state. Senators of both parties say the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee will win a relatively easy confirmation.
Mr. Obama has already declined to take the easy route with two of his top national security choices, announcing Monday that he would proceed with the nominations of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, as defense secretary and John Brennan, his counterterrorism adviser and a career Central Intelligence Agency officer, to succeed retired Gen. David H. Petraeus as the head of the CIA, despite the flak that both choices have already drawn.
Mr. Hagel is a Vietnam veteran who opposed the troop surge in Iraq in 2007 under then-President George W. Bush. Jewish groups are questioning his commitment to Israel, while gay activists have highlighted what they say are past comments by Mr. Hagel seen as insensitive to gays.
Mr. Hagel would be Mr. Obama’s second Republican defense secretary. Robert M. Gates served for more than two years at the Pentagon under Mr. Obama as a holdover from Mr. Bush’s second term.
The CIA post opened up unexpectedly after revelations of Mr. Petraeus extramarital affair in November. But Mr. Brennan has been criticized for his record during the Bush administration for what some say was a failure to block waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques practiced in the early years of the war on terrorism.
For the Treasury job, the president is considering his current chief of staff, Jack Lew, and Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express Co. Mr. Lew, who has led the White House Office of Management and Budget and worked at Citigroup, is viewed as the front-runner. Mr. Chenault could end up serving as a presidential adviser or leading the Commerce Department, where Rebecca Blank has served as acting secretary since the resignation last June of John Bryson. Mr. Geithner probably will not step down until after all the issues involved in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations with Congress are ironed out in the coming months.
At Energy, among the names being mentioned as replacements for Mr. Chu are former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter; John Podesta, founder of the liberal Center for American Progress; and Kathleen McGinty, former chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality in the Clinton administration. At EPA, Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe is considered a candidate to replace Ms. Jackson, who has come under fire for, among other things, using a secondary email account to conduct official business.
Mr. Holder, a target of Republican lawmakers who accuse him of stonewalling their investigation into Justice’s Fast and Furious gun-walking operation, is likely to stay on temporarily. One of the possible candidates for the job is Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
Also expected to stay in Mr. Obama’s Cabinet for the time being are Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis. It’s not clear whether Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano will stay on. She told a newspaper a few months ago she was thinking of moving back home to Arizona after Mr. Obama’s first term.
Democratic aides also have said they have heard no inklings that Rob Nabors, who leads the president’s legislative-affairs office, is planning to leave. He’s been in the high-burnout job for about two years.