Susan Rice, John Kerry At Top Of List For State And Defense Departments
With the election over, speculation is now turning to what will happen to President Obama’s Cabinet during his second term. On the domestic side, we already know that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wants to leave Washington at the end of Obama’s First Term. On the foreign policy side, Hillary Clinton let it be known last week that she would like to leave office as soon after Inauguration Day as possible and it would appear that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has also expressed a desire to step down in the very near future. This leaves the President with two very big holes in his foreign policy team, three if you include the recently vacated position of CIA Director. Several names have already been suggested for both positions, but it would appear that the list is quickly narrowing to a select few.
(CBS News) President Barack Obama is putting together his cabinet for a second term, including a new CIA director. So far, only Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has confirmed she will leave. And Republicans are already objecting to her potential replacement.
CBS News has learned that President Obama is likely to nominate Susan Rice, the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to replace Clinton as Secretary of State.
White House sources say the president feels he should be able to choose the cabinet members he wants, and they say that Rice has performed well on Iran and North Korea. But Rice was the public face of the administration’s response to the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, saying that they were prompted by a spontaneous protest — not terrorism — and she has come under fire from Republicans.
At the Pentagon, it looks like Senator John Kerry, who had originally been on the list for Secretary of State, is likely to replace Panetta:
If President Barack Obama asked John Kerry to become secretary of defense for his second term, he would bring a seasoned foreign policy hand into the Cabinet but a major question mark into the Pentagon.
According to a Washington Post report late Monday, Obama “is considering asking” Kerry, the senior Democratic senator from Massachusetts, to take the reins at the Pentagon. It would be part of “an extensive rearrangement of his national security team,” also driven by the need to replace David Petraeus as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Post said.
Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has widely been seen as a potential contender to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she leaves the administration, but Post reporters Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller wrote that her job is saved for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.
Instead, the Post’s story said Obama might ask Kerry to replace Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who is not expected to remain at the Pentagon much longer. Panetta is 74 and commutes home to California every weekend; few defense insiders believe he’ll stay past the spring or summer of 2013.
As The New York Times points out, both potential nominees could present some problems:
Both Ms. Rice and Mr. Kerry have a reservoir of good will in the Oval Office, and if she gets the nod, officials said, Mr. Kerry could be considered for defense secretary. But politics will inevitably play a part in Mr. Obama’s decision, especially in the wake of the sex scandal that brought down David H. Petraeus as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The decision, administration officials said, will likely hinge on whether Mr. Obama would rather risk a bruising confirmation battle for Ms. Rice or the loss of Mr. Kerry’s seat, which could be picked up by Scott P. Brown after the loss of his own seat last week.
“The question is, does the president want to launch a major fight with Congress over his choice of secretary of state?” said Aaron David Miller, a longtime diplomat who is vice president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
The Senate and House have scheduled hearings on Benghazi this week, which will keep the heat on Ms. Rice as the White House begins its deliberations. At least one influential Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has already come out against her. “I’m not entertaining promoting anybody that I think was involved with the Benghazi debacle,” Mr. Graham said Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “Susan Rice needs to be held accountable.”
The White House stoutly defends Ms. Rice, noting that in her remarks on Benghazi, she was reading from a briefing prepared by the intelligence agencies. The administration, citing new evidence, subsequently confirmed that the attack was an act of terrorism.
“Anyone who opposes Susan, based on one day’s comments, will have to reconcile that with what the intelligence said on that day,” said an administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In the unforgiving climate of Washington, though, Mr. Kerry might profit from Ms. Rice’s misfortune. He would likely breeze through a confirmation hearing with his Senate colleagues. And he has been a loyal soldier for the administration on a variety of issues. In 2009, the White House dispatched Mr. Kerry to Afghanistan, where he helped talk President Hamid Karzai into accepting a runoff election. In the Senate, Mr. Kerry has pushed for Obama initiatives like the New Start treaty with Russia.
With his patrician bearing and Massachusetts roots, he was an obvious stand-in for Mr. Romney during debate preparation. While the president’s lackluster first debate almost capsized his campaign, his aides said they did not blame Mr. Kerry.
Nor does the loss of his Senate seat appear quite as problematic as it did before last Tuesday. Senator Brown, who was defeated by Elizabeth Warren, left the door open to another run. But some political analysts in Massachusetts say he might be more inclined to run for governor, given that the state once elected a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican — Mr. Romney — to that post. Even if he did run for the Senate, Mr. Brown would face a robust bench of Democrats.
Among the potential candidates for Mr. Kerry’s seat is Gov. Deval Patrick, who is close to Mr. Obama. On Friday, Mr. Patrick and his wife, Diane, flew to Washington for a private dinner with Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, at the White House.
Mr. Patrick may have his eye on a cabinet post like attorney general. But there are other formidable Democrats, like Representative Michael E. Capuano and Martha Coakley, who lost to Mr. Brown but has since rehabilitated her image as the state attorney general.
“I think the administration could feel relatively confident that they will hold on to the seat,” said Thomas Whalen, a political historian at Boston University. “When you look back on Brown, it was a special election against an exceptionally weak Democratic opponent.”
Weighing against Mr. Kerry, officials said, is that he would be replaced as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee by Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey. With his Cuban roots and hostility toward the Castro regime, Mr. Menendez would likely impede any diplomatic overture by Mr. Obama.
The bigger concern with Rice at State, at least for me, is her role in the initial Libya intervention last year and her advocacy of the flawed and irrational “Responsibility To Protect” doctrine. I would much prefer that her confirmation hearings, if they occur, concentrate on this issue and the direction in which she might push American foreign policy in a second Obama term. As for Kerry, I don’t have any particular objection to him at the Pentagon and, as noted above, he’s likely to sail through the Senate in any event.