Washington Abuzz with Speculation over Staff Change in Team Obama

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By Frank Islam | November 12, 2012 4:17 PM EST

Now that the presidential election dust is settled, Washington is abuzz with speculation over the composition of the next Obama administration. Two questions doing the rounds in this town are, "Who will stay on, and who will leave?"

There are nearly two-dozen members in the president's cabinet, including 15 secretaries heading key departments such as Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, State and Treasury. Top administration officials such as the White House Chief of Staff, the United States Trade Representative and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations are also cabinet members.

It is common for presidents to make personnel changes at key departments. During his eight years at the White House, Bill Clinton had two secretaries of State, three at the Defense and Treasury and four at Commerce. He also had four White House chiefs-of-staff. 

Other than Vice President Dick Cheney, only one key member of George W. Bush's cabinet served the entire eight years of his administration: Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. 

Obama's first term has been remarkably stable, with the secretary-level changes occurring at just two departments, Defense and Commerce. If history is any predictor, that will certainly change in the next four years. Large-scale staff changes are routine during the second terms of presidents and it looks like that will be the same for the Obama administration as well, as various news sources are reporting.

"Big changes are coming to President Barack Obama's administration," the Associated Press wrote. "Planning for a second term has been under way for months," wrote Politico, adding that the "staff process has been gossiped about by the staff, but details have been kept secret, even from insiders."

According to various news accounts, several high-profile cabinet members are expected to leave the administration in the new year, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Clinton had indicated, as early as March 2011, that she would be leaving the administration at the end of the president's first term. Similarly, Geithner had also signaled last year that he was considering leaving the job. The timing of the departures could very well change, however, based upon recent developments related to the events in Libya and the so-called "fiscal cliff" respectively.

The opinion on both sides of the aisle is that the former first lady has done a stellar job at the State Department. Three candidates are mentioned as possible Clinton replacement as the Secretary of State: Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and former Utah Governor John Huntsman.

Kerry, who ran against George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election, is one of the foreign policy heavyweights in the Democratic Party. A key surrogate of the president during the campaign, he also played the role of Mitt Romney during Obama's debate preparations.

The Mandarin-speaking Huntsman, a moderate Republican tapped by Obama to serve as the U.S. ambassador to China, ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primaries against Mitt Romney.

Rice, a Rhodes scholar, is the country's first African American woman representative to the UN. 

Geithner's has been one of the most scrutinized jobs in America these past four years, as the country moved back from a painful recession. The White House has said that he will stay at the job at least through the president's second inauguration, playing a key role in the fiscal cliff talks.

Among the names that are discussed as Geithner's likely successor are White House chief of staff Jack Lew and former Bill Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles.

Holder has not made any commitments about serving at the Justice Department beyond this year. The attorney general told University of Baltimore law students, reported Reuters, that "he still must speak with both Obama and his own family while considering what he would contribute if he stayed."

One of the names touted as Holder's likely successor is Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who was a key speaker at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. If Patrick gets the nod, he will become the second African American attorney general of the United States - Holder being the first.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican, is also reportedly considering leaving the administration, and so is Obama confidante and White House senior adviser David Plouffe. There are numerous other rumors regarding other key positions.

At this point, however, who will leave where and when and whom will replace those who depart is purely a matter of conjecture. It makes for interesting cocktail hour conversation and gossip but not necessarily a reporting of the facts or even the full range of the possibilities.  

So, if we want the full story and the whole truth, we'll have to wait a little and then a lot longer. As the saying goes in the United States, "Breaking News at 11."

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