When Ambassador Susan Rice chose to step down and eliminate any further turmoil over her possible nomination as secretary of State, the Obama administration probably lost its last opportunity to have a person of color or a woman in his cabinet, unless his longtime friend and associate Valerie Jarrett is counted. And this is presuming that EPA chief Lisa Jackson; Attorney General Eric Holder and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin will no longer be anywhere near the inner circle and at the president’s beck and call.
It appears that his newly formed cabinet will resemble the Alps: The higher you go, the whiter it gets.
To date, most of the key nominees have been white men, including Sen. John Kerry as secretary of State, John Brennan to head the CIA and Chuck Hagel as defense secretary.
This does not augur well for those who believed that Obama’s second term would be dramatically different when it came to matters of race and gender, though there were–and may continue to be–a number of Black women on the second tier as commissioners and deputies.
Even the prospects for white women are not that promising, and it’s to be seen if Michele Flournoy will assume the helm at the Pentagon or if Lael Brainard will replace Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary. Many pundits believe this position will go to Jacob Lew, the president’s current chief of staff, and there is a lot of speculation about who would then take his place.
Meanwhile, Holder has yet to make a final decision about his status, and should he depart, there is speculation that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Nap olitano will head the Justice Department. The often outspoken Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney in Manhattan, could be tapped to carry on for Holder, and rumors about Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick in the slot are also being circulated.
Obama could really shake the political firmament should he nominate John Berry, the current director of Office of Personnel Management, as the replacement for Ken Salazar as secretary of Interio`r. Berry is gay, so that would be an unprecedented move by the president.
With 20 women now in the Senate, Obama would do well to emulate the changes occurring in Congress, and if not, it would be of interest to see to what extent he maintains a number of women and people of color at the ranks just below his talented but all-white inner circle of advisers.